After finishing Scooby-Doo! Escape from the Haunted Mansion and being very impressed with the Coded Chronicles system I was very pleased to hear that a second game in the series had been announced, this one based on the horror movie The Shining.
The Shining Escape from the Overlook Hotel is an escape room in a box style board game that uses the Coded Chronicles system and is based on the movie The Shining based on the book by Stephen King. In this puzzle game, you play Wendy and Danny who are trying to avoid Jack and escape from the Overlook Hotel.
Disclosure: The Op awesome enough to send me a review copy of this escape room game. Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What do you get with The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel the second Coded Chronicles game?
The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel was designed by Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim, the same team behind the first Coded Chronicles game, Scooby-Doo! Escape from the Haunted Mansion. Both of these games were published by The Op.
This escape room in a box style board game plays one or more plays and is split over two acts. Each act will take about ninety minutes to two hours to complete.
To see for yourself what you get in this puzzle-filled game check out our The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel unboxing video on YouTube. Don’t worry we don’t spoil any of the puzzles, I just show off the first couple of cards and the other components.
The first thing you will find in the box is the rulebook. The rules walk you through how to use the Coded Chronicles system and introduce the setting. There are only seven pages of rules, short enough to read to your group when sitting down to play. It’s worth noting here that unlike the Scooby-Doo game you only have two characters, Wendy and Danny, but each character has two skills. Also, Wendy’s USE skill works a bit differently from the other skills.
There are four booklets in this particular Coded Chronicles game, you have two journals for Wendy Torrence, a composition book for Danny Torrence, and the visitor booklet for The Overlook Hotel. While it’s a little thing I dig the graphic design work that went into the covers of these.
The tarot sized cards are forty-four clue cards that will be revealed during play. The square cards are room cards for the characters to explore, one of which will start in play at the beginning of the game. There are a total of eleven envelopes all of which contain more content for the game that is unlocked as you play. There is also one larger envelope that is used to save your game between acts one and two, if you don’t feel like playing the full game in one sitting. Finally, we have two thin card standees, one for each of the characters. These need to be folded in order to stand up.
How do you actually Escape from the Overlook Hotel in The Shining?
You start a game of The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel by reading a specific entry in one of the books. This entry sets the tone and also directs you to set up the first room and put one of the characters in play. You do this by putting the room card out and putting the appropriate standee in the room.
The story here starts in media res and really does a great job of ramping up the tension right from the start. How? Well, you are going to have to play to find out for yourself. I will just say it was very well done.
From here, players will be working together using the characters who are present to interact with the items in the room. Each character has two skills. Wendy can LOOK and USE and Danny can LOOK and SHINE. When using a skill you place the character standee next to the number of the item in the room and get a four-digit number, you then look up that number in the appropriate book and read to see what you have discovered.
Reading entries in the book will often unlock new things in the form of clue cards being flipped up or envelopes being opened. These will add new rooms to the map and new things for the characters to interact with.
Wendy’s USE ability works a little bit differently. First, you must have discovered an item with a single-digit number on it. You will then combine this number with a different two-digit object, either on another item card or on the map, and the number of Wendy’s USE skill (2). This will lead you to a four-digit number that will again lead you to read a passage in one of the books.
Some entries may bring you to what the game calls an Unscripted Ending. This means that your group did something wrong, you had the wrong answer to a puzzle or went the wrong way. You record each time you get an Unscripted Ending and then go back and try something else, kind of like saving your spot in a which way book and going back and picking the proper path.
In addition, there’s a timing element to this game that is unlocked early on which I don’t want to spoil here. I will just say that it gives you an additional incentive to not waste time and an additional penalty for when you try a code combination that isn’t in any of the books. Note this is all in-game, you aren’t on an actual timer here.
If you get stuck there is a list of the main puzzles in the game with entry numbers you can look up for clues. There can be a penalty for looking at these but you don’t penalize your team for a clue that didn’t give you any additional information.
A nice touch, that has been present in both Coded Chronicles games, is that after you solve a particular puzzle the game has you clean up any clues you used that you won’t need anymore. I appreciate this both as a form of keeping things organized and for letting you focus on what is still important.
Players continue like this, exploring The Overlook Hotel, finding clues and solving puzzles, until they escape. At the end of the game, the group can calculate their final score based on how many Unscripted Endings they have marked off.
At the halfway point of the game, after solving about half of the puzzles, the game gives you a chance to save your progress. Here the game goes through a quick cleanup phase where you remove things you won’t need for the second half. It also makes sure that you have everything you need before going forward. If there is anything you missed the game has you collect that and take Unscripted Ending penalties for anything you missed.
How was The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel
To start I want to point out just how much my entire family loved the first Coded Chronicles game. As you can read in my review of Scooby-Doo! The Escape from the Haunted Mansion, this was one of the best family gaming experiences we’ve had together. I was extremely impressed by the story and the Coded Chronicles system in general. If it weren’t for how much we enjoyed that game I probably wouldn’t have asked to review this one.
The reason this game probably wouldn’t have interested me much at all, without prior experience with the Coded Chronicles system, is that I’ve never read or watched The Shining. I know absolutely nothing about it other than a few cultural references like Redrum, All work and no play, etc. and even those I don’t actually know the context.
This lack of familiarity leads me to my first problem with The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel. While I am familiar with Scooby-Doo!, after playing through that Coded Chronicles game I didn’t feel that you really needed to know the licence to enjoy the game. My kids, who knew the bare minimum about the licence and who were confused by the fact that the dog could talk, had no problem fully engaging with the game. Unfortunately, we didn’t find the same thing here with The Shining.
Right from the start both my wife and I were confused when reading Danny’s entries. We had no idea who Tony was and the game didn’t really do a good job of explaining it. After a few entries, we were able to put together what was going on but I know the early puzzles would have made a lot more sense had we already been familiar with Danny and his particularly “abilities.” We had similar issues with some of the other characters being introduced, being not quite sure why we should care about Grady for example. Along with this, there were many entries that referred to things that had already happened as if we knew about them. I have to assume these are things that happened earlier in the movie before the point where the game starts.
Note that the game isn’t unplayable without knowing the source material but I did feel we were missing out on things and felt quite a bit lost during parts of the story due to not being familiar with The Shining. The game assumes you know who these characters are, why you should care about them, what roles they play and what happened to them before the time period the game starts. Due to this, I do recommend that if you haven’t seen the movie you watch it before playing this game and not the other way around.
Another issue we had with the game is, thankfully, one the rest of you shouldn’t have a problem with. It ends up our copy was an early review printing and, I’m sorry to say, it had some serious issues. In particular, there were a few wrong entries as well as a missing entry in one of our books. This meant that we couldn’t actually solve the first puzzle in the game with what we were presented with. I ended up having to flip through the clue deck looking for a specific card and then once I found it I looked through every entry in the books to see when we should have drawn that card. Sadly there was no entry that would have to lead us to that clue.
Having missing information, which led to an unsolvable puzzle, was highly frustrating. It took us quite a lot of time to figure out a fix that let us progress forward. That said, I do have confirmation from The Op (the publisher) that this issue was noted by other earlier reviewers and that they were able to fix it for the initial retail print run. So no one reading this should have to worry about experiencing this problem. However, I’m sorry to say that it did taint my view of the game overall.
Another issue that will affect everyone with this particular escape room in a box game is the problem of graphic design. For one, some of the text and writing on the cards is very small. This is for information that is required to help solve some of the puzzles. We found that we had to grab a magnifying glass after revealing the first few clue cards. Added to this is the choice of a very dark colour scheme for all of the room and map cards. These are so dark that it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly what a number on a card is referencing. Both combined made puzzles where you have to look for and count things on the various room and clue cards needlessly difficult.
This leads to my final complaint about The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel. There are many items on the room cards that only have two digits. This means that they are objects that Wendy is meant to combine with another object for her USE ability. The problem is you often can’t tell what these things actually are, which makes it very difficult to figure out what you may want to use them with. For the three-digit items if you want to know what something is you can use one of the characters LOOK abilities and the book entry will tell you what the thing is. You don’t get that option for the two-digit items.
This led us to make a number of mistakes, trying to combine things because we didn’t know what those things were. “I don’t know what that is so I guess try using the knife on it.” Then we would look up the entry and it would say something about Jack and an Ice pick which had nothing to do with what we were actually doing (which means we had an incorrect entry). This is something that was handled better in Scooby-Doo! Escape from the Haunted Mansion, with each entry in that game listing which room it was for, helping you to quickly see if you had a wrong entry. A number of times with The Shining we would start reading only to realize that the entry made no sense storyline-wise. We took our penalty and moved on, but ended up spoiling a bit of the story each time.
That’s a lot of negatives but I don’t want people to get the idea that this was a horrible experience (well except for the misprinting issues that should now be fixed). So, let’s talk about some of the stuff we liked.
The Coded Chronicles system is still brilliant. Playing these games really does give you a feeling of exploration as you move about the map and look at different things and try to figure out how to put them together to progress the story. The story here is excellent and really starts off with a bang. The in media res intro text perfectly sets the tone for this horror adventure and immediately ramps up the tension. That tension is only increased once the timing mechanic (which I don’t want to spoil) gets added. You really do feel like you don’t have enough time, are on the run, and that you want to be extra careful to not waste your actions.
Most of the puzzles in The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel were just difficult enough for us. There were a couple that had us stumped for a significant amount of time but we managed to solve them by working together. There was one particular puzzle I fondly remember getting frustrated with only to hand it off to Deanna and have her figure it out not long after, pointing out something I missed. Those are the kinds of puzzles I love finding in a game like this. I will say none of the answers were immediately obvious, all of them took some thought.
However, there was one puzzle in this game that completely stumped us due to the fact we failed to find the clues necessary to solve it. This was in act two, and as far as I know, there weren’t any printing issues in the second act of our copy. This was the one case where we had to use all of the hints and check the solution in order to solve the puzzle. This just happened to be the final puzzle in the game which did lead to the game ending on a low note for us.
Back to something more positive, I thought the game’s implementation of Danny’s SHINE ability was very cool and did some neat things component-wise. It was cool to see something I’ve never seen in another escape room style game. With all of the exploration and item finding, then figuring out how to combine those items with Wendy’s USE ability, the system in The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel reminds me of a point and click adventure game even more so than the first Coded Chronicles game, and I think that’s a good thing.
For the most part, my wife and I enjoyed playing The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel. Most of the puzzles were just difficult enough for the two of us and the story was exciting and engaging. I still love the Coded Chronicles system and look forward to future games using it. Overall though Escape from the Overlook Hotel simply wasn’t as fun as Scooby-Doo! Escape from the Haunted Mansion. Scooby-Doo just seemed tighter, more focused, better written, and the mechanics worked better. Plus it didn’t assume or really require knowledge of the source material.
There were many frustrating moments in The Shining. In particular, we found Wendy’s USE skill to be more annoying than neat, especially when combined with the issues we had with not recognizing two-digit items on the map cards. This was compounded with graphic design choices that made cards hard to read and clues hard to find. Then there were the printing issues with our copy of the game. While I realize this shouldn’t affect most people, we still couldn’t help it from tainting our enjoyment of the game. While I’m glad we played The Shining, unfortunately, I can’t give this one a strong recommendation.
What I will say is that if you are a fan of the 1980 film The Shining you will probably find a lot to like in this escape room in a box game. It seems to do a great job of recreating the tension, mystery and horror from the film. I think this game could be a great way for fans of the movie to experience it in a new, rather engaging, way.
If you have played Scooby-Doo! Escape from the Haunted Mansion and really want another Coded Chronicles experience you may want to give The Shining a go. By now the printing issues should be fixed and that should mean you have a much better experience than we did. If you haven’t tried a Coded Chronicles game before I strongly recommend giving Scooby a shot first. It’s simpler, lighter, more fun and a tighter experience overall and thus a better example, to me, of what the system can do.
I have to say that in the last few years I’ve been very impressed by the quality of the licenced games we have been seeing. Ever since my What Makes for a Good Licenced Board Game article we’ve seen more and more excellent board games come out based on existing licences. Games that do a great job of tying mechanics into the theme and giving you experiences that tie back to the property they are based one. That’s one thing I can say for sure about The Shining Escape from the Overlook Hotel it does a great job of recreating the terror, tension and horror of the movie it’s based on.