My wife and I were supposed to go out to celebrate my birthday this weekend, but our daughter fell ill so we had to call off the babysitter. Luckily, she slept well through the evening, which gave us a chance to play a game together.

Exit: The Game – Lord of the Rings: Shadows Over Middle Earth

Full discolsure, I have never played an Exit game before. For those unaware, Exit: The Game is kind of like “an escape room in a box”, in that there is a series of puzzles and the goal is to solve them all. What finally pulled my wife and I into this game system was the release of a Lord of the Rings Exit game. We are huge LotR fans, and putting that theme on any game is a great way to spark our interest. I’ll do my best not to spoil any specifics of the puzzles in this segment.

When you first open the box, there’s a rulebook with a stop sign and lots of yellow caution banners. They really don’t want you diving into this willy-nilly. We punched out the thin card stock pieces, laid them all out, and separated the decks of riddle cards and answer cards. The component that makes this system tick is the decoder ring. Each puzzle has a symbol associated with it (like a circle, triangle, etc), and each puzzle should produce 3 numbers. Align those three numbers with the associated puzzle symbol, and it will reveal an answer card in the answer deck. If you’re wrong, you’ll get a big red X. If you’re correct, you’ll be treated to the next bit of the puzzle, and told how to continue.

Our biggest challenge with Exit: The Game – Lord of the Rings: Shadows Over Middle Earth was wrestling with the components. The game is meant to be destructible, so there’s no point in investing any more than the bare minimum on the components. But more than once it asked us to place thin card stock pieces onto the puzzle booklet that wouldn’t lay flat. We ended up getting sticky tack and tape to help keep everything in place.

This box was a 2/5 on the difficulty scale, which, thinking back, makes sense. We had a bit of a rough start in that we didn’t really know what the game was asking us to find. We used at least one hint for the first 5 puzzles, but then fell into a groove and managed to solve the last 5 puzzles without any hints. The hint system was pretty generous, the first hint gives you a light nudge in the right direction, while the second hit is a bit more blunt. Finally, the third card will just give you the answer.

The story was …fine, I guess. It follows the story beats of Frodo’s journey to destroy the ring, but also inserts a character who shouldn’t exist. The entire book of the Two Towers is just skipped, and there are other minor things like forging Anduril from the shards of Narsil when Aaragon reaches Rivendell with the Hobbits.

If you’re a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, don’t take the story too seriously. It’s a series of fun puzzles, and the theme was enough to get some buy-in from my wife and I. We didn’t like the special in-app timer KOSMOS produced as the atmospheric soundtrack was a bit more creepy and didn’t evoke the Lord of the Rings feeling that we’ve grown accustomed to. It was much better when we just put on the film soundtrack in the background. We’re looking forward to our next Exit: The Game date night, maybe we’ll do better and finish the next one in under 2 hours with less than 10 hints.

Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun

Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun took up most of a Saturday afternoon. I spread the board out over the table, erected the titular obeslik, and made my way through the rulebook. Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun, by Daniele Tascini and David Turczi, is an action selection game for 1 to 4 players. The board of Tekhenu is broken into 6 sections, with the spire sitting in the middle that casts a shadow on some of the action spaces. As a result, the action spaces are divided into sunny, shaded, and dark sections. Each round, the obelisk will turn, moving adjusting the shade level on each of the spots.

The light level is important, as it affects if the dice in each of the action spots are pure, tainted, or forbidden. At the start of the game, there will be 3 dice in each of the action spots and every time the obelisk moves, dice equal to the number of players will be rolled into the two shadowed sections. On your turn, you need to take a die from one of the 6 action spaces, and preform that action. The colour of the die will affect where you place it on your player board, either on the pure or tainted sides. After 4 turns, players will have a Maat phase, which will have you evaluate your karmic balance. If your soul has too much taint, you’ll lose points.

There’s a lot to consider in Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun. Many of the actions will change depending on the pip value of the dice in that action spot. So not only are you considering which action you want to do, but which colour of die you’ll take, which may be pure or tainted, and which number. A lot of things have to come together for your plans to work out perfectly, and more likely you’ll find yourself compromising pretty quickly. It’s mildly annoying that after each round when the obeslik turns, you have to adjust all the die on the board to their new purity or taint values.

A game of Tekhenu took us about 3 hours to play, including a rules teach. This was all of our first attempt at this game, and we all agreed that it was fairly enjoyable. Personally, I haven’t been a very big fan of Daniele Tascini’s previous games like Tzolk’in, Teotihuacan, or The Voyages of Marco Polo. I enjoyed Tekhenu more than any of those, but I think I’m in the minority. Tekhenu is also a bit more complex than any of those games that I just mentioned. I have a suspicion that playing at 4 players can skew the economy of the game towards scarcity, but I’ll need to play a 2 player game to confirm that suspicion. That means you can look forward to an updated opinion from me coming soon!