Brisbane Escapes: Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat @ home

After winning a health package for Foxcrest Retreat, we found ourselves trapped! Could we uncover the Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat?

General Details

“Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat”
ThinkFun, Escape the Room series
120 minutes (90 minutes if more than 3 players)
3-8 players (I don’t even recommend that many)

How We Played

8 July 2017
3 players
Hints: 0
51 minutes 5 seconds (including bonus mission)

The Experience

Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat is the second in ThinkFun’s escape room board game series, following Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor. Many of the observations I made about that game are true here. Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat has a surprisingly complex narrative communicated via a lot of text. If you prefer puzzling to reading, I’d recommend the Exit or Unlock! games. However, the more complex narrative provides better context for the game and allows the game to have branching pathways (though only to the extent that you may choose whether you complete the final few puzzles for a better ending).

The story in Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat is a lot darker than any other escape room board game I have played. It remains reasonably family friendly, though it’s worth noting that there are some images that are a tad disturbing or grotesque.

Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat is a step up from ThinkFun’s previous game in terms of the tactility of puzzles. I was very impressed with some of the ways the game utilised simple materials to create interesting physical puzzles.

Puzzle Design

Unfortunately, the tactility comes at the expense of teamwork. The recommended player count of 3–8 people is simply ludicrous. We found three players to be pushing it.

The problem is that the game follows an entirely linear structure, and the physical puzzles can only have one person working on them at a time. These puzzles tend to be experiment-oriented, so depend on you manipulating objects. As a result, for most of the game time only one person will have anything to do.

Unfortunately, these are also the most interesting puzzles. The more cerebral offerings that aren’t limited to a single player tend to lack depth, relying on simple observation or association. One or two challenging cerebral puzzles would have made Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat more appropriate for larger groups.

Fortunately, Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat is reusable. I recommend passing the game around a group and completing it separately rather than playing it through once with a large team.

The Bottom Line

Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat offers some of the best tactile puzzles in any escape room board game I have played. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of its suitability for large groups. This is true of most escape room board games, though here the physical nature of the best puzzles makes the issue even more egregious.

Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat provides a strong narrative and thematically appropriate puzzles, making it surprisingly immersive for an escape room board game. I recommend it for small teams interested in playing around with interesting physical puzzles with a decent accompanying narrative.

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