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Can you unlock the secrets hidden in these cards before time runs out?

Designers: Alice Carroll, Thomas Cauët, Cyril Demaegd
Publishers: Asmodee, Asterion Press, Kaissa Chess & Games, Morapiaf, Rebel, Space Cowboys
Players:2 – 6
Time: 45 – 75 minutes

Everything in Unlock: The Formula

So to begin, I really want to stress that I am an avid fan of escape rooms. If you haven’t had a chance, gather some friends, schedule a round, and go try it! These games basically evolved out of the old flash games of the same premise, and now with their growing popularity, there are lots of companies trying to capture the magic in board game form. I have played a few of them but today, we’re going to talk about Unlock.

Unlock has a really neat system to solving the puzzles which strikes me as a mixture of common sense and where’s Waldo. I know, I know, sounds kind of goofy, but it works really well. The game itself is a deck of cards with numbers or letters on the back and images on the front. The setup is extremely simple as the first card of the deck will be turned face up for everybody to view, and the rest ready to be searched.

The room (left), items you find (middle), and remaining cards (right) from the start of the tutorial mission.

As the game starts, the players will start the companion app (which acts as a timer, and an answer checker which we will cover later), and then flip the first card. The cards will be of a few basic types. The first are rooms/overheads that show the room that you’re trapped in. These room cards are meant to give a nice little overview of the room for setting, and be the first big step in finding other clues. As in a normal escape room, when you are first thrown into a room you find lots of different things. On our cards this is represented by hidden numbers in the pictures on the cards. When you find these numbers, you then search through the remaining deck for cards labeled with the same number.

These new cards are typically closes ups of something in the room (like a corner of the room, a shelf, or a diagram) or an item (like a key, cheese, or something random in line with the theme of the deck). These can also be searched for new numbers, or used in the game’s puzzle solving mechanic.

To unlock/solve/open various items depicted in the cards, you use other cards that you already have. For example say you have a key and a lock. Both of these will have a number on the card, you take these two numbers and add them together to get a third number. Then search the remaining deck for this number! If you find it, it’s a new card to add to the current set you can search through.

I found a locked cabinet (35) and a key (11), I then went looking for 46 in the deck (11 + 35) and found a card that had the desk unlocked!

From here on out, just keep following this pattern until you finally make your way out of the room.  The occasional difference is that you get a code or passphrase rather than an item combination. With these codes, you can enter them into the app as a pass key. The app then lets you know if you were correct and gives you new cards that you can find. I cannot stress how much fun I’ve had playing this game. The puzzles make sense, the string of logic the players make, and the creativity that keeps it interesting. But it’s not without it’s faults.

The exit door (left), indicates you need the password which is found (or is it) on the tv card (right).

Like I said before, it is kind of a bit like where’s Waldo. This being the case, if you are stuck, there is most likely a hidden number somewhere that you missed. This happened to my group just about each time we played. There can also be some confusion on what cards have been used and are no longer needed. New cards will tell you to remove the ones you will no longer need, but it isn’t perfect. Last is you can have issues keeping everybody involved. The cards are small, and it’s hard to share them easily. Along with this, my group typically ended up with one person constantly searching the deck for new cards during the first bits of play and missed a good bit of the discovery. So switch it up a bit with who has this job!

So here at the end, where do I stand? Well, I really think these are brilliant little games. They only cost about $15 each and provide a solid hour of play. There isn’t much replay, but they can be gifted (or regifted) so that your other friends can have a chance to play them. At the time of writing this breakdown, there are 6 of these games. I picked up the first three on a whim, and we played through all of them in one night and wanted more! I am completely and totally hooked, and have the newest 3 ready for my next game night.


  • Cheap
  • Easy to teach
  • Fun mechanics and puzzle solving
  • Can handle larger play groups
  • Can be easily given to friends after you’ve played it


  • Single play through only
  • If stuck, you’ve missed a hidden number
  • You have to use those math skills (1+2=4 right?)

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