Now is the time of year for playing Halloween themed board games. To that end, over the last couple of days, we have played through EXIT: The Catacombs of Horror. A rather difficult puzzle-filled board game from Thames & KOSMOS.
The Catacombs of Horror is the largest, longest and hardest of the EXIT series of puzzle games, rated at a four and a half out of five on the difficulty scale. It is split into two distinct chapters and is meant to be played over one or two sittings. Note this review will be spoiler-free.
Disclosure: Thames & KOSMOS provided me with a review copy of The Catacombs of Horror. Some links in this post are affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Other EXIT games we’ve played:
This is the fourth game in the EXIT series that we have played through and reviewed. Our first EXIT experience was with The Secret Lab. While more difficult than we expected, it was at just about the right level of challenge. It is rated as a 3 out of 5 on the difficulty scale.
As you can read in our EXIT: The Game The Secret Lab Review we found it just challenging enough to make us feel good about solving it without quite getting frustrating. Unfortunately, the English version of this does have a printing error and that’s what caused us the biggest problem.
The second EXIT game we played was The House of Riddles. After The Secret Lab we thought trying something slightly easier (it is rated two out of five for difficulty) might be even more fun, but as you can read in our EXIT: The House of Riddles Review, we found it to be a bit too easy. We were solving puzzles almost as quickly as we revealed them and found the linear yet disconnected series of puzzles to be overall disappointing.
Next up we tried out The Haunted Roller Coaster. This is also rated as a two out of five for difficulty and we went in expecting to be somewhat disappointed again. I’m pleased to say we were not at all. As noted in our EXIT: The Haunted Roller Coaster Review we really enjoyed it and found it to be one of the most fun escape room in a box experiences we’ve had.
After a couple of easy EXIT games, we felt it was probably time we check out something harder. Plus it’s mid-October, which means it’s the time of year for playing horror-themed games, so this seemed like the perfect time to break out EXIT The Game: The Catacombs of Horror.
What you get with EXIT: The Catacombs of Horror
EXIT: The Game The Catacombs of Horror was designed by Inka Brand, Markus Brand and Ralph Querfurth. Artwork was provided by Silvia Christoph, Martin Hoffmann, and Michaela Kienle. This escape room in a box was published by Thames & KOSMOS in 2018.
This is the largest, longest, and most difficult, EXIT game that Thames & KOSMOS has published thus far.
Besides coming in a bigger box, most of the contents of The Catacombs of Horror were what we have come to expect from the EXIT series of games.
The game includes a short instruction booklet that explains how the game is played. There is also a small four-fold poster with a warning on it indicating that you shouldn’t open it, a folded up letter, a thin paper “Polaroid” style image, a thin card picture in a frame, three small plastic skulls in red, white and blue, a tea-light candle, a decoder disc and a very thin punchboard containing a number of “strange items”.
Finally, you have three sets of cards, twenty-eight riddle cards, forty-eight answer cards and forty-two help cards, split into fourteen decks of three clue cards each.
The candle is worth noting, as you will be required to light the candle to solve at least one of the puzzles. Due to the fact you will have a live flame at the table, the instruction book has a significant warning section. Similarly, the back of the box has one of the most amusing series of warning icons that I’ve ever seen.
At the start of The Haunted Roller Coaster, the only items you actually have on hand are the Letter, the Polaroid and the Decoder Disk. Everything else you unlock through solving riddles.
There are a total of fourteen riddles to solve in The Catacombs of Horror and, unlike the last two EXIT games we played, these aren’t presented in a linear fashion. In addition, each puzzle isn’t self-contained. Information used to solve for one puzzle may be needed to solve later puzzles.
Like all EXIT games, The Catacombs of Horror is meant to be played right out of the box. There is no preparation required. The rules are written to be read out loud to the players before you play for the first time. As an alternative to reading the rules, you can also download the KOSMOS Helper app, plus The Catacombs of Horror module for it, and then watch and listen to a Tutorial on your mobile device or PC. The app also includes a Timer for the game which plays thematic ambience as it tracks the time you take for each section of this game.
After completing The Catacombs of Horror, you receive a score based on how quickly you managed to escape as well as how many clues you needed to use. This particular EXIT game also has some bonus points that can be earned plus you don’t actually start the timer at the start of the game. The timer gets started only after solving a particular clue.
The story behind The Catacombs of Horror is that you receive a letter from your friend Ben who has gone missing in the Catacombs under Paris where over six million people lie buried. It’s up to the players to look for Ben and help him escape from his unfortunate situation.
The actual gameplay in all EXIT Games is based on looking at the clues you have on hand to reveal a riddle card (this is blatantly obvious for the first riddle). Once that card is revealed you will use the information on hand to figure out a three-digit code which will be matched with a symbol. You will put this into the decoder ring and that will lead you to an answer card. If you are on the right track this will lead you to a further answer card which will introduce the next puzzle, often having you reveal more cards from the riddle deck and/or bringing more of the “unusual objects” into play. This is the basis of gameplay in all EXIT Games but now and then they will throw you a curveball and you will do something else or some variant of this to unlock the next clue.
If you ever get stuck you can turn to the help cards. There are three for each puzzle. The first card just makes sure you have everything you need to solve the clue on hand. As noted earlier many of the puzzles in The Catacombs of Horror overlap and you will often unlock clues long before you actually need them, so it’s easy to start off on the wrong track only to realize you don’t have everything you need yet. The second help card gives you a very strong hint on how to solve that particular puzzle. The final card gives the actual solution to the puzzle.
One unique feature of The Catacombs of Horror is that it’s a longer EXIT game, featuring fourteen puzzles (all other games have been ten). At about the halfway point of the game, you are presented with the option to save your game. This is when you open the contents of the second box. The game at that point indicates what you still need out of the box and what you can discard. You can then place what you need back in the box and return to it at a later date.
Note: To play through The Catacombs of Horror, you will need a pen or marker, scissors and a way to light the candle. While you won’t be actually burning anything (the instructions are quite clear about this) you will need somewhere dark to play and you will end up destroying some of the components in this game as you can play. Like all EXIT games, The Catacombs of Horror is one and done. Well in this case it could be two and done depending on if you split the game into two sessions or not.
What did we think of EXIT: The Game – The Catacombs of Horror
Every time I play one of these EXIT Games I’m impressed by the out of the box thinking that goes into making these. Each puzzle is unique and every box has something that totally surprises me by having you do something you wouldn’t expect and The Catacombs of Horror is no exception. The sheer number of “unusual items” and the quality of them is impressive in this particular EXIT Game. There’s really a lot of stuff in this box. The three tiny skulls are probably the coolest board game component I’ve seen and make for a very cool artifact to keep once the game is done. The use of the candle is also rather well done.
The thing with having this much stuff on hand is trying to figure out what to do with it all. Of the other EXIT Games that we have played, this was most like The Secret Lab where it is much more difficult to figure out what you should be doing next. It is not at all obvious in The Catacombs of Horror what order you should be doing things in. This often led to us wasting a lot of time trying to piece things together that didn’t go together or getting partway through a thing only to realize we didn’t have all of the information we needed on hand.
This led to us using more clues than we have ever used in an EXIT game so far. While there were a number of really brilliant puzzles that took us a bit to figure out, and which felt very rewarding when we did, there were also a small handful of puzzles that we just didn’t get, at all. I’ve never felt as lost while playing an EXIT game as I did playing this one. We had three adults playing the game and I think we could have used one or two more just for another set of eyes and another way of thinking.
Even using the clue cards, there was one puzzle in particular that we never would have figured out. This was the only puzzle where we actually used the third clue to look up the solution. Now there was one other puzzle we never would have gotten without a clue, but this last one even with the clues we just didn’t see how anyone would come up with the solution. Now I’m sure there’s someone out there that has, and I applaud them for getting something we never would have.
In the end, we ended up only scoring three out of ten stars and it took us a long time. The box for this game indicates a max of eighty minutes per half of the game. We took almost two hours for each half with a total time of two-hundred and twenty minutes. Added to that is the fact you don’t start the clock right away in this particular EXIT game. This particular EXIT Game also has some bonus points if you manage to solve a final riddle, we failed at that too. It was this final riddle that really stumped us.
As you can tell this box is not easy to solve. It’s definitely the hardest EXIT Game we have played and it definitely fell on the frustrating rather than fun side of things during some puzzles. What I think we needed to do, and what I encourage anyone that plays this game to do, is be more liberal in the use of help cards. Your overall score is affected more by the time you take than the number of help cards you use, and instead of sitting staring at the same puzzle frustrated for fifteen minutes or more, just grab a clue.
It’s important to note that if a clue doesn’t give you any new information it doesn’t count against your score. Just confirming you have everything you need on hand, and what you need out of what you have, can be extremely valuable and enough to get you past a roadblock.
While the puzzles in The Catacombs of Horror were mostly solid, I did find they weren’t as whimsical and fun as the ones in The Haunted Roller Coaster. They felt more like the puzzles in The Secret Lab. I also found the theme more fun in The Haunted Roller Coaster. That game featured more of a Halloween theme with ghosts, skeletons and a Frankenstein’s monster where The Catacombs of Horror was more ritualistic horror. This also makes The Catacombs of Horror much less family-friendly. I’m actually glad we didn’t include the kids in this one.
Overall I have mixed thoughts on The Catacombs of Horror. I clearly remember, while playing, feeling frustrated a number of times and honestly feeling stupid. Looking back on the experience after the fact though, those times don’t seem so bad and I more clearly remember the rewarding moments of putting things together and solving a difficult puzzle. The Catacombs of Horror is definitely quite difficult and I would be shocked and impressed to learn of anyone getting the maximum score on this particular EXIT Game.
I definitely don’t recommend The Catacombs of Horror for anyone who hasn’t played an EXIT game before. If you are looking for a gateway EXIT game pick up The Haunted Roller Coaster and save this one until you have more experience. I would also point people towards the Haunted Roller Coaster if they are looking for a spooky game to play on Halloween. It fits that theme better than the ritualistic horror of The Catacombs or Horror. If you find most escape room in box games too easy, this may just be the box for you. The Catacombs of Horror has some great components that are used in some pretty cool ways and contains a broad range of puzzles that will challenge any group.
Here’s a couple of additional pictures that may spoil things for you. There’s a picture of what we got in the second box and the aftermath of us playing with everything sprawled out on the table:
If you have played The Catacombs of Horror I want to hear how you did! We found this escape room in a box game to be rather difficult and it would be relieving to hear it’s not just us. Let us know in the comments how it went for you.