Northamptonshire, Aug 2018
Once again you are humanity’s last hope – this time on a mission to Mars to find a mysterious artefact that is our last chance to repair the ravages of runaway global warming. Or something like that, anyway. Trapp’d provide printed cards with verbose backstories for their games, which are usually little more than background colour and easily skipped. However, the game sets the scene more than adequately with its decor and physical design.
Exordium shows a peculiar combination of very ambitious set design with some very back-to-basics improvisation in its details, such as random pieces of electronics glued to the walls to make it look more sci-fi. Curiously, the most impressive part of the set is the bit you never physically access.
The physical layout is innovative and clever, designed to force a lot of movement and/or teamwork in a relatively small area. I can see it might irk some teams, particularly those who’d be happier not having to move around too much, but I found it successfully boosted the energy and the sense of urgency in the game.
I consider it a weakness for a game to start with a non-trivial search or observation task, where if you fail to notice or find something then you’re stuck until you receive a hint. That’s the case in Exordium – but then again, we managed to find the thing in question, despite being some of the world’s worst searchers, so I guess the difficulty level is fair. Also, there are relatively few game elements to be distracted by at that stage, so if you haven’t spotted the relevant thing you’re likely to quickly realise you’re stuck, which is far better than wasting lots of time investigating puzzle items that cannot yet be solved.
Deeper into the game we got stuck for a short while due to something that I blame on a loose board and a structural bias against left-handed players (the struggle is real…), but the gamemaster was quick to intervene and nudge us back on the right direction. Otherwise, the puzzles are bread-and-butter but broadly free of flaws. They do the job, with a couple of fun physical mechanisms that would have thrilled me much more a couple of years ago and which therefore may be highlights for less jaded players; but I wouldn’t expect much of the puzzle content to stick in your mind two months after playing. It takes a back seat to the set, which despite the homemade edges is absolutely the best reason to play this game.
As with their 46 Below room, enthusiasts will likely find Exordium a short game – many experienced teams will finish in less than half an hour. If you’ve read my other reviews for this venue then you might notice that at the Billings Aquadrome you have a choice of, on the one hand, two games with beautiful sets and broadly acceptable puzzles that don’t last very long; or a challenging game full of content badly marred by design flaws and lacklustre decor. I definitely suggest picking the former over the latter – as long as you’re happy to get what will probably be considerably less than 60 minutes of game, this is a cool and enjoyable game that I’m happy to recommend.