Heavy on the printer, but worth it
Agent Lisa Hammersmith has discovered Professor Blacksheep’s evil plan. For some time now, the despicable sheep has secretly been kidnapping top scientists, and forcing them to join his attempts at world domination. Agent Hammersmith has been captured, but in one final act of courage she was able to transfer her files to HQ before being taken prisoner. Your mission is to decode Agent Hammersmith’s secret messages, to find and free her. Together you can stop Professor Blacksheep in his tracks, and bring our top scientists home.
Three weeks ago the world turned upside down, and the escape room industry has without a doubt been hit hard by the current situation. “Escapes from home” aren’t exactly new; puzzle-based video games have been on the scene since the beginning ( I don’t know how many hours of my life went into Myst in the ’90s), and of course, more recently with the Exit the Game series and Unlock! Games, plus a host of others, there really isn’t a shortage of options on the market, but it’s been particularly interesting to see how companies with live escape games have adapted to the changing times – and there are a number of adaptations available to the puzzling public.
Prior to the apocalypse, we would try to get together with our extended team every month or two for an escaping binge. Gord and I (plus some of the other team) had played a few of clueQuest’s live games, including Operation BlackSheep and cQ: Origenes, so when it was decided that it might be nice to start a weekly virtual escape with the team, their new play-at-home game was among the first on the list to try, in the hopes that the virtual mission might live up to the live ones.
clueQuest’s live escape games are all tied together with a host of characters, but most noticeably Mr Q and his nemesis, Professor BlackSheep, and Stolen IQ is no exception. Professor BlackSheep is indeed up to his old tricks again, and it was up to us to stop him. Armed with a speedy internet connection and three households on a Zoom call, plus three copies of the PDF materials (sorry trees), once we had everything cut out, it was time to stop a maniacal sheep from the comfort of our living rooms.
Puzzles ranged in style and difficulty. Many were actually similar in style to those that one would find in a live escape experience: spotting codes hidden in plain sight, scouring materials for the information needed and putting it together, etc. Whenever playing with a group communication is always essential, but a specifically communication-based challenge was noticeably absent from the game, allowing this game to be enjoyed as a group or solo. On the plus side, for me, the game was self-contained. There was no expectation that players would just go to the internet to search for a piece of information that they may be missing – something I have seen in crop up in this new breed of online-based puzzle experience. In general, though, Stolen IQ benefited from a selection of just solid and clever puzzles that were mostly logical, with some lateral thinking required. Being adept at spatial relations will also be rather advantageous.
Stolen IQ is split into three chapters – handy for knowing which of the 24 printed pages might be useful when. But as we progressed through the game, I noticed that it wasn’t simply one and done. Yes, materials only related to a specific chapter, but just because you had solved one puzzle, entered the code, and progressed, that didn’t necessarily mean that the pieces used or the information gleaned wouldn’t become useful again, as puzzles within chapters linked, just as the games under the clueQuest umbrella link.
Stolen IQ had a similar feel to the escape-in-a-box and text-based games that we’ve played, in that you have to imagine that you are actually going to the places described in the text, audio files, or videos that appeared as we progressed, rather than having your location of safe at home woven directly into the story. Split into chapters, the game also progressed in a semi-linear manner, but within each chapter, part of the challenge was determining which piece of evidence or clue was needed next, and we often found ourselves hyper-focusing on things that appeared to go together, only to realise that a key piece of information had been incorrectly discounted.
In a way, this structure gave the game a more traditional live escape room feel, as though you had just entered the room and needed to perform your search to find the relevant materials before getting down to the puzzle-solving, and repeating again once you found the secret room(s).
Buyer beware: You may end up with an RSI from the amount of cutting. Just kidding, it wasn’t that much, but it did take me about 20-30 minutes to cut out all of the materials (I am rather fastidious when cutting though, thanks to a childhood filled with paper dolls), so follow the instructions and cut out everything prior to starting, lest you may find your experience is happening in fits and starts as you stop to cut.
Like other Escape from Home experiences we’ve played, this game has a hint system built in, with several clues available, and finally the solution. We did take one hint on the final puzzle, as we just weren’t getting the correct solution despite thinking we had solved the puzzle correctly.
Gord had actually made a suggestion regarding what to try prior to clicking on the hint button, but this is where the issues of playing via Zoom while sharing a screen becomes apparent, as the household in charge of the computer had already clicked the first hint button. As it turns out we were doing the correct thing, we just hadn’t followed through, and hint number one simply confirmed that Gord was right. Had we been completely stumped, hint number one was just cryptic enough to send us back to the materials to have another look at what may have been discounted.
clueQuest was one of the earlier UK companies to bring their own Stay-at-Home game to market, but given the quality of the experience, I imagine this may have been in the works as an additional revenue stream for some time. As it is, this was a solid game that was incredibly well priced at £12 for the print at home version. Alternatively, you can get this for free (at time of writing) with the purchase of clueQuest’s Super Supporter package, which includes this game and a £50 gift voucher for a live game, or pay an extra fee to have the materials printed and posted to you if you are lacking the facility to print. Now to wait for Episode 2.
- Laptop/Computer with an internet connection
- Printer + 24 pages of paper (or select Print and Post at checkout)
- A pen and paper may be helpful.
|Value for Money|
Team: 5 players – working remotely from three locations
Time Taken: Approx. 90 minutes (including some cutting time)