The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks

5.8 Overall
Component Quality
Puzzle Design
Game Experience
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The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks

  • Played October 2020

  • 1-4 players
  • $17
  • Good for families

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The incredible folks at Bluefish games are back at it again with The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks! It’s a smaller companion game that can be played either as a prequel (or sequel) to The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks. If you read ERA’s review of their first game, you could see the scores didn’t necessarily do the game justice, while at the same time leaving our team with the hope for more development in future games. Did The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks take a step forward and touch up on those areas we identified? Let’s dive in and find out!

The component quality had some of the same pros and cons as it did with their previous game. In the game box you’ll find a lot of thin paper used as the main component. This is great for easy storage and lower production costs, but for those who now have to play their in-home games outdoors (thanks a lot Covid!), it created some headaches in how often the paper gets wet, blown away, or damaged. On the pro side, the game box is manageably small, easy to repack, and the online interface created that same ‘playful’ tone through animation as it did in the first game. It should also be noted that for better or worse you get a LOT of paper for only four puzzles.

Ok so maybe a lot of paper isn’t best friends with the outdoors or high production values… but what about the immersive experience of The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks? This was the one area we hoped to see the most improvement from The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks. In retrospect we probably needed to wait until the third game in this series to see some notable upgrades with the immersion. Why so? Chances are, both ‘Stairs’ and ‘Elevator’ were created around the same time (and therefore are designed in the same manner). Story presentation and development isn’t a strong suit in this series, but it isn’t without some charm either. Again, the game does a good job of keeping the visuals ‘light and playful’ in how it’s presented. What we felt was missing once again was an engaging story to explain ‘why’ we’d started this quest, and ‘what’ was motivating us to keep going from puzzle to puzzle through the game. In its current immersive presentation, the game starts with a fun introductory video that tells you to solve puzzles… then you solve the puzzles… then the game ends with another short video. And this is fine for those who might only want a box of puzzles, but we have to admit our team typically needs a bit more of an ‘immersive hook’ to keep our interest in a game.

Let’s pause for a moment to look at what happens behind the scenes in ERA’s world shall we? Each year we’re blown away by the dozens of applicants we get from enthusiasts who want to be part of the ERA team. We’ve met some great enthusiasts this way who’ve become good friends with our members in fact! Unfortunately what most applicants (and/or people starting their own review websites), don’t fully understand are the disadvantages that come with writing reviews. There’s deadlines, annoying schedule conflicts, debates amongst team members (spoiler: ERA’s members are purposely chosen to be diverse in age, culture, experience, lifestyle, and preferences which inevitably leads to differences in perspective), there’s pressure to create new content, never ending social media, and to top it off, it’s all volunteer work for the love of the industry! Yup… all ERA monies go towards our basic costs and organizational need; we’re not in this for personal gain or glory. But without a doubt the BIGGEST downside of being an escape game reviewer/consultant is the amount of hurt we sometimes see on the faces of friends who are also owners and designers when one of our review teams didn’t enjoy the escape experience they created. We don’t just hate those times… we loathe them! It’s because of those horrible gut-wrenching feelings we see many industry reviewers avoid these situations by taking one of two approaches: The most natural (and easiest) is just to give a falsely positive impression when reviewing a friend’s (or powerful industry associate’s) escape game. It avoids hurt feelings and helps the reviewer gain fast popularity and standing. The other approach is ‘chef Gordon Ramsay’, where a reviewer will be so abrasive, rude, and critical that they avoid any hurt feelings because they’re already known for being that type of person. This comes with the advantage of fooling others into believing the harsh criticism must be a sign of their authority because it happens consistently. Before we sound like self-praising saints, we want to admit if it weren’t for our desire to be both honest and helpful, we’d probably end up taking one of these approaches also (who doesn’t want to be liked and respected all the time?) But ERA’s leaders decided a long time ago we don’t have the right to avoid those feelings at the cost of being honest (with our followers) and helpful (to owners and designers)… As you’ve probably guessed by now, this is one of those times. We love the people at Bluefish Games. They’re among the nicest, hardest working, and most dedicated people we know in the escape game industry. It was hard when we had to discuss the weaknesses in immersion for The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks. Sure, it was honest… but how was this helpful or encouraging? Then we were reminded “Hey we’re not done yet! There’s still the puzzles… and we liked those!’’

Thank goodness! It made us feel much better when we focused on the puzzles for this game. The four puzzles in this companion game are good and even borderline better than average! The team even unanimously agreed that we loved one puzzle, struggled with one other puzzle, and the remaining two were fairly good standard escape puzzles. Not bad at all! The one puzzle that we struggled with needed a bit more direction and less cryptic instruction, but this could also be our own brain fog from trying to be mindful of our environment. The one puzzle our team loved was so creative, different, and straight forward that everyone wanted to get right in there and solve this one. Best of all each of our members were able to work on it because it was inclusive. In fact, all four puzzles are inclusive by nature, even if there isn’t any specific team-building puzzles (we’re still waiting for a game that integrates team-building into their design)! Having only four puzzles however, it seems appropriate to call this a ‘companion-game’ (which is somewhat of a new trend for in-home escape games). We had a range of experienced puzzle solvers on our team, and each person was able to engage in one of more of the puzzles based because of the variety in puzzle types. It may not be overly doting, but our team was pretty happy to say these puzzles are good, decently average puzzles on the whole which should appeal to most groups.

So what final thoughts do we have, and did we have fun? Yep, we had a decent amount of fun. Are there a couple areas the Bluefish team can address moving forward? Again, yes. The immersion and component quality could use a bit of sprucing up. But was there enough within the puzzles and overall enjoyment of the game to make us recommend this to others? Absolutely! It’s only four puzzles so you won’t be at it all night long and it’s age appropriate for pretty much everyone from 10-99 years (if you’re 100 years old, you also deserve to play… rules be damned!) In short, if you’ve played and enjoyed The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks you’ll enjoy this game also. In fact, if you haven’t played either of the two games, we’d recommend this one first because it’s a shorter version of the full game. This will allow you to see if these type of games are your style. And hey, remember how we wished there was an honest way to reward good character of the people we meet? We just remembered… there is! We’re not wizards or professional fortune tellers (not that we can talk about publicly at least), but we do have enough experience over the years to make solid predictions on which designers are likely to trend upwards. And yes, the Bluefish team are definitely headed in the right direction because of who they are. We can’t wait to see what they have coming out next because we know they’ll pour the best of themselves into it, and won’t rest until everyone has a big smile after playing their games!

We want to hear your thoughts on this game! Be sure to comment in the section below or send us a message via ERA’s email, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or Twitter… As always, happy escaping!

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