In the not-too-distant future (somewhere in time and space), TV entertainment options have all but run out. After all, who wants to watch the 90th season of Survivor (on Mars!) or Who Wants to be a Trillionaire? However, there is one hot new reality show on the market, one where the contestants’ lives are literally on the line… It’s a simple premise, really: drop a few strangers in a dangerous and ever-shifting maze of rooms and have them try to work together to find their way out in the allotted time. Oh yeah, and throw a few guards into the mix to keep it from being too easy on the prisoners. And who cares if a few of them die in the process? Anything for ratings, right?
In Room 25 (and its expansion/sequel Room 25: Season 2) players take on the role of “prisoners” who are trapped in a mysterious and deadly complex, and they have to explore the unknown rooms in search of Room 25, the way out. But while some rooms can help the players out, others will hinder their progress or can even kill them! And on top of that, some of the players could be guards whose job is to prevent the other players from escaping. Can you work together with your fellow players to make it out alive?
[Note: Room 25: Season 2 adds a few things to the game, but ultimately the gameplay is the same as in the base game. We’ll be reviewing both here, and will try to call out the features specific to Season 2.]
There are several gameplay modes in Room 25, but they all center around the core theme of escaping the complex via the eponymous Room 25. There is a Solo mode, and a fully cooperative mode, as well as a competitive mode where 2-3 players control two characters each. However, the mode that really shines, and will be described in detail here, is the Suspicion mode, where there may be one or two Guards in the mix that are actively (or subtly) working against the other players. This semi-cooperative gameplay mode is perhaps the best way to experience Room 25.
To begin, all players choose one of the characters to play as. In the base game, the characters were just referred to by their role, such as the Nerd, the Bimbo, or the Colossus, while in Season 2 they are actually given names. Take the figurine associated with your character, the rectangular token depicting your character, the round token with your character’s picture, and the set of four square action tokens with your character on them. In Season 2, you also get a fifth character-specific action, and an Adrenaline token.
Next, you must build the complex. Place the Central Room face up in the middle of the table and set aside Room 25, then refer to the rulebook for a suggested breakdown of the other rooms. This will be some combination of green (safe), yellow (intermediate), and red (dangerous) rooms. Shuffle the room tiles and place eight of them face down around the Central Room and four more in each of the cardinal directions. This should form a diamond-like shape. Then, shuffle Room 25 with the remaining tiles and place them in the remaining spots on the board. The end result will be a 5×5 grid, with Room 25 in or adjacent to one of the four corners and only the Central Room revealed.
All players place their minis in the Central Room, and before the game begins everyone can secretly peek at one of the rooms orthagonally adjacent to the Central Room. You should also shuffle up the loyalty tokens and distribute them to the players to determine if they’re a prisoner or a guard. There should be one more token than the number of players, and one guard with 4-5 players and two with 6 or more. This way, there is some uncertainty as to the number of guards in the game, or even if there is one at all! Determine a starting player and put the rectangular tokens associated with each character on the time track, beginning with the start player and continuing clockwise around the table. The last player’s token should be on the space marked “10” — this indicates the current round. Now you are ready to start!
Each round consists of a programming phase and an action phase. During the programming phase, players take up to two of their action tokens and place them face down on the indicated spots on their player board. The actions are Peek (secretly look at a room adjacent to the one you’re in), Move (move to an adjacent room), Push (push a player in your room to an adjacent room), and Control (shift a row or column of rooms by one space). In addition, with Season 2, all characters get a special action that only they can perform, such as carrying another player with them to an adjacent room, or destroying the room they’re in (turning it into an empty room). Players’ actions will be carried out in turn order — the first player’s first action, the second player’s first action… then the first player’s second action, the second player’s second action, and so on. So it’s wise to try to think ahead and predict other players’ moves when programming actions. It is also possible to program only one action — if you do this, you may decide to do it during the first action phase or wait until the second. Finally, with Season 2, all players get an Adrenaline token that they can use once during the game to give them a third action. The third action can be any of the four basic actions, and it can be decided on the spot when it comes to performing that action, but the use of adrenaline must be declared during the programming phase.
Once all players have programmed actions, they are carried out in turn, as described above. It’s important to note that you must carry out the actions you programmed if possible, even if they may not benefit you. For example, if you have a Move action programmed and you don’t know what any of the adjacent rooms are, you have to move blindly and hope you don’t wander into the Mortal Chamber, which kills anyone who enters immediately. Whenever a player enters a previously unexplored room, though, it is revealed and remains face-up for the rest of the game. The Move, Peek, and Push actions should all be fairly easy to understand, while the Control action is a bit trickier. When a player uses Control, they must shift either the row or column that contains the room they are currently in by one space. This means that one of the rooms will be pushed off the edge of the board and will wrap around to the other side. Once a row or column has been moved in this manner, it can only move that same direction in the future, and there are arrow tokens to show this. In other words, a Control action can’t be reversed; instead, you’d have to keep moving the row or column four more times in the same direction to return it to its original position. The important exception to the Control action is that the Central Room can never be moved — it must always remain in the center of the board. Since rooms can — and do! — shift around over the course of the game, all players have a round Memory token that they can use to mark an unrevealed room. This is useful when you want to make sure to avoid a dangerous room, or to bookmark a room that may be useful later on. After both actions for all players have been completed, the round ends. Move the token for the first player on the time board to the end of the line — they are now the last player and the previous second player is now first. Then, a new round begins.
So now that you know how to play, how do you win? To win, all of the players on the prisoner team must find Room 25, be in it, and use a Control action to push it out of the complex before the end of the tenth round. If they run out of time, or if more than two prisoners die, they lose and the guards win. Also, if just one of the prisoners dies, the others can still win, but they must do so on the last round of the game. When the first player dies, their role is not revealed, but when a second player dies, the roles are checked, starting with the first, to see if either of the dead characters was a guard (in which case play continues) or if both were prisoners, which ends the game immediately. Other than that, prisoner characters are not allowed to reveal their role. Guards, however, can reveal their role at any time, and after that point, they no longer have to program actions. Rather, on their turn they can decide which action to take, placing down the action tokens when their turn comes around rather than having to program them ahead of time. When playing as a guard, it can be good to remain incognito for a while, but the benefits you get from revealing your role are pretty good if you can ensure that the other players won’t easily be able to retaliate against you. Either way, the game will almost certainly end with one of the two teams being victorious!
I love the theme of this game and it really fills my secret (or not so secret now) desire to be on a reality TV show. In my opinion, the theme of this game is what really shines, playing off of the movie, “Cube.” While there are different modes of play in this game, I think it plays the best with the traitor mode and with 4 or more players. I believe we’ve played this with two before (much like many of our games), but the secret traitor mode just adds that extra oomph. However, it’s hard to keep yourself secret for long, as there is some pretty clear ways the traitors need to make sure that they win; it’s hard to keep players from Room 25 without making it clear what you’re doing. And with multiple traitors, it seems to make it easier to win, which can be a bit of a downer if you’re on the good guy team. Overall, a fun traitor game, an okay non-traitor game. The expansion added a few interesting new things, such as player powers and the ability to take a third action once per game, but nothing too incredibly special.
- Good with 4-6 players
- Different modes of playing for different groups
- Traitor mechanic mode is better than other modes
- Plays better with more players
I was very interested in Room 25 when I first learned about it, because its theme reminded me of 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (later retroactively retitles to be part of the Zero Escape series), one of my favorite video games. Room 25 is actually a bit closer to (and partially based on) the sci-fi B-movie Cube, with the prisoners trying to escape a complex of ever-shifting rooms, many with dangerous and deadly traps. The theme of Room 25 is really one of its best points — even if you ignore the premise of a futuristic reality TV show, having a ragtag group of people trying to escape, when one or two of their own could be working against them, is pretty cool. As far as semi-cooperative game go, this one is pretty middle-of-the-road. If there are two guards, they don’t know who each other are, which is okay because they’re otherwise really powerful. They can kill another player, and as long as nobody is nearby to retaliate right away, they can get away relatively scott-free. Or, if they declare their allegiance, they no longer even have to pre-program their actions, which makes for an even more intense mind game for the prisoners. With all this, the guards can feel a little overpowered at times, but they can be dealt with or neutralized with good planning and teamwork. Aside from that, one rule that really bugs me about the game is that if one prisoner is killed, the other players can still win, but only on the last turn of the game. This constraint makes an already challenging situation (being down one loyal player) even harder as it’s pretty easy to make it next to impossible to move Room 25 out of the complex before the last turn. In addition, the game can be played with a variety of game modes, but the solo and cooperative modes feel too easy, since all of the players are just working together, and the competition and team modes are a bit too straightforward since you know where everyone’s allegiances lie. I’d really recommend sticking to the semi-cooperative Suspicion mode, which in my opinion is the best way to play, and Room 25 should always be marketed as and considered a semi-cooperative/traitor game. That having been said, I really like the gameplay of exploring the complex, sometimes not knowing what an unexplored tile holds or shifting the rooms around to your advantage, so in the end if you’re looking for an exploration-centric game with a traitor mechanic, you can’t go wrong with Room 25.
- Good theme for a semi-cooperative game
- Cool mechanic of exploring potentially dangerous rooms while being able to shift the rooms of the map around.
- Game can feel a bit unbalanced with two guards (traitors) and four prisoners
- There are five game modes, but only one of them (the semi-cooperative Suspicion mode) is really good.