I Played It, Like, Twice...
A close up look at some of the cards in Scooby Doo Escape from the Haunted Mansion, featuring portraits from Fred, Velma, Shaggy, Scooby, and the other investigator but her name is cut off and I can't remember it at the moment

Coded Capers: Counting Clues in Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion

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  • I see board games in the store and they always look so cool and then I buy them and bring them home, I’m so excited to open them, and then I play them, like, twice… This column is dedicated to the love of games for those of us whose eyes may be bigger than our stomachs when it comes to playing, and the joy that we can all take from games, even if we don’t play them very often.

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    Released by The Op Games (who are also the makers of Disney’s Sorcerer’s Arena), 2020’s Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion advertises itself as a “Coded Chronicles” game. You would be forgiven for assuming that this might mean that its basic mechanics had been used in other Coded Chronicles games, but you would be mistaken.

    According to The Op’s website, “Coded Chronicles games are the first at-home escape room-style activity that integrates storylines from iconic franchises into the foundation of a unique code-revealing mechanic, which players use to cooperatively and gradually unlock new parts of the game. It’s the same nail-biting excitement of a real escape room, but without the time limit!”

    At the time of this writing, however, Escape from the Haunted Mansion is the first and only Coded Chronicles game that has thus far been released, and it would be hard to conceive of an “iconic franchise” more ideally suited to the form than Scooby-Doo.

    The way the system works is relatively straightforward. The game consists, predominantly, of map tiles, cards, character standees, and a number of different booklets. Pretty much anything that a player might encounter has a numerical code associated with it. These codes are combined to create four-digit numbers that correspond to entries in the various books.

    Each of the classic Mystery Inc. characters is represented, though not all five are always present. If a character is present, they have an ability (represented by a numerical code on their character standee) that is always the first number in the four-digit code in their corresponding book. For example, if Velma wants to Research something (that’s her ability), then she adds a “1” at the beginning of the number to create the four-digit code.

    (Most of the abilities seem useful, such as “Use,” “Investigate,” or, in Scooby’s case, “Smell.” Shaggy’s, however, perhaps unsurprisingly, is “Eat,” which sometimes has consequences both predictable and otherwise.)

    However, while some items that a character might wish to interact with already have three-digit codes, others do not, meaning that you might first have to find a clue to add to the mix. So, for example, if Velma wants to Research a door with a code of “11,” the player might first have to find a key with a number on it, such as “2.” Then, she could combine these to create either “1112” or “1211,” which each have corresponding entries in the various books.

    A picture of the box for Scooby Doo Escape from the Haunted Mansion, as well as the character standees, a deck of cards, a little map tile, another one with a number on it, booklets for every character, and secret envelopes as well

    Interacting with these codes in various ways inevitably guides you through the game, leading you to place map tiles, potentially producing new clues, and sometimes encountering puzzles which need to be solved before you can progress. There are also built-in hints that can be accessed to help you get through the various rooms, but not without a cost of sorts. For every hint that you use beyond the first two in a specific room, you have to “eat a Scooby Snack,” which affects your score at the end of the game.

    This scoring exists for pretty much one reason only: The game isn’t really meant to be played more than once. This is my first time playing a game designed to mimic an escape room experience – though there are several others on the market – so I can’t say how representative this is, but fundamentally, though you can get through Escape from the Haunted Mansion via a number of different methodologies, the storyline and the end result is always the same. Meaning that once you’ve played through once, you’re unlikely to do so again, unless you’re trying to, say, increase your score.

    That’s not really a big deal, though, especially for those of us who only tend to play games, like, twice. It’s a fairly slim and relatively affordable game, with an MSRP of only around $30. Though there’s not a lot to it when it comes to bits and bobs, it boasts a number of map tiles and cards featuring clues, puzzles, characters, and, of course, a ghost.

    There’s a lot of reading involved, which may make it not much fun for younger players, and the narrative is relatively straightforward and familiar. Many reviewers online who have more experience with these sorts of things than I do have hailed it as both one of the better escape room games out there and something that actually feels like playing through an episode of Scooby-Doo, which is probably all you really want out of a game like this, after all.

    The moment seems ripe for an escape room-style Scooby-Doo game like this, as the show feels poised in the cultural zeitgeist right now. In fact, if you happen to be reading this from the Kansas City area, at the time of this writing, my Horror Pod Class co-host is actually putting on a Scooby-Doo-adjacent pop-up+ escape room esque experience.

    As far as art assets go, Escape from the Haunted Mansion can’t stack up to something like the Scooby-Doo board game from CMON or Betrayal at Mystery Mansion, but for players who want something that feels less like a board game and more like an escape room or one of those interactive “murder mystery” mail-order boxes (and can’t make it out to Kansas City for Those Meddling Kids), this is a good time – especially if you’re a Scooby fan.

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    Orrin Grey is a writer, editor, game designer, and amateur film scholar who loves to write about monsters, movies, and monster movies. He’s the author of several spooky books, including How to See Ghosts & Other Figments. You can find him online at orringrey.com.

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