02nd Oct2020

‘Star Wars Unlock!’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

The Unlock! series of games has been around for quite a while, and even though I don’t tend to dive into every single one, there are a few that have really appealed to me. The last one I reviewed was subtitled Heroic Adventures and it featured a Sherlock Holmes mystery, a retelling of Alice in Wonderland and a take on an 8-bit pixel-art adventure, all of which appealed to me. With that said, none of those themes even come close to the focus of the latest Unlock! game – which takes place in the Star Wars universe.

Star Wars Unlock! is brand new and features three stories that span some of the most popular settings from the world of Luke Skywalker’s noble Jedi and their eternal battle against the evil Empire. Being more specific, the three stories in Star Wars Unlock! span the three most popular factions in the series. The first “mission” focusses on the Rebel base on Hoth, and the opening will be familiar to fans of The Empire Strikes Back, whilst the second positions us as a smuggler in the employ of Jabba The Hut. Finally, the third mission lets us take on the role of an Imperial spy installed on Jedha – where we must avoid the vengeful Saw Gerrera.

In the first mission, our hero is a Rebel scout who sets out on their trusty Taun-taun to locate and destroy three Imperial Probe Droids. I’ve included a few pictures from this story in this review, but all of those take place during the early scenes, so there are no real spoilers here. Despite being draped in Star Wars lore, the puzzles on offer here are very classic Unlock! and use the full range of augmented reality features as driven by the (free) app that you’ll load onto your smartphone or tablet.

In this first adventure, the puzzles are relatively simple and serve to introduce the player to what Unlock! games are, and this is in addition to a really good, Star Wars themed Tutorial scenario that effectively adds a fourth (albeit extremely brief) story. I think the decision to make this first mission (and indeed all three missions in this pack) relatively simple is because of the mass appeal that Star Wars brings, so if this were to be your first Unlock! game, then I would say it is an excellent place to start.

The basic structure of each mission in the series (not just in Star Wars Unlock!, but in all Unlock! games) is the same. The players begin with a deck of cards and the app in hand. A countdown timer of (usually) one hour will begin, and in this case, thematic music will play to set the right mood. The players will almost always draw a few cards to begin the game – effectively setting the scene. In the case of our first mission here, we have a our Taun-taun mount, some binoculars and a blaster.

In most situations, the player will use the information on these starting cards to decide where to move next by adding, subtracting otherwise calculating combinations of numbers that lead them to the next card. For example, you might be prompted to count a number of things on the current card, and then you’ll search for the next card based on the number you counted. The items in your inventory (like the blaster) can apply modifiers to the calculated number in certain circumstances, most of which are made clear to you.

If players get stuck (which can happen from time to time in the more abstract puzzles) then the app allows players to ask for a hint by entering the number of the card they are stuck on. This applies a penalty that is tracked, and similarly, if a player makes a wrong move or is forced to take a penalty, then the timer will deduct an amount of time. The objective of every mission in this pack and others is to complete the scenario within the time limit, with as few penalties as possible – which is easier said than done in most cases even if Star Wars Unlock! is at the easier end of the spectrum.

It’s difficult to give too many specifics about the three missions in this pack, because the game is so sensitive to spoilers, but what I can say is that I think the three different takes on the Star Wars universe are well chosen, and nicely set. I often feel that big IP’s like Star Wars underuse their marquee locations and characters, but Star Wars Unlock! gets it mostly right. There is an absence of major characters, but the settings (like Hoth and Jedha) are among the best from the main saga and the storylines link nicely to familiar names and places.

There is one completely new addition to the series for Star Wars Unlock! which comes in the form of the inclusive “cheat sheet” or strategy guide. In this booklet, the players can do more than simply seek out a basic hint as to what to do next, and can actually plan and map how they move from one decision to the next. This corrects one of the potential issues with the Unlock! series, which is that it is possible to end up on a card that doesn’t really fit with the decisions you’ve made to that point – likely because you’ve made a mistake that is hard to walk back from.

So Star Wars Unlock! fits nicely into the series as an approachable, entry level game that should appeal to complete novices and fans of the series who enjoy the theme just as much as each other. The puzzles may not be as challenging as some, but they are also less abstract and more practical, in general, which is something I prefer in most cases. The inclusion of the guide or map is a really neat thing that I hope is carried into other games in the series, and the settings in Star Wars Unlock! do justice to both the Star Wars universe and the other games in the series. Overall, Star Wars Unlock! is recommended.

***½  3.5/5

Star Wars Unlock! is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.


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