Room 25 gets some attention in Meeples Together, but it may be a game that you’re not familiar with, so here’s a full case study on the game, which has been growing and expanding since 2012.
This case study was originally published in the Meeples Together blog, which focuses on cooperative game design.
Publisher: Matagot (2012)
Cooperative Style: True Co-op or Traitor
Play Style: Exploration, Simultaneous Selection
In Room 25 players participate in a deadly reality show. They must use “look”, “move”, “push”, and “control” actions to move through a deadly complex or rooms (and to move those rooms!), all in a quest for the fabled room 25.
The game comes with many styles of play. It seems to have primarily been designed for competitive or teamplay. However two cooperative styles are also included: true co-op and traitor.
The challenge system focuses on exploration activation. Bad things happen to players when they enter and explore rooms. As is common for the genre, this turns into movement activation after the rooms are discovered: bad things continue to happen every time someone returns to a room.
For this type of activation to work, something needs to keep players moving forward whether they want to or not. In Room 25 that’s a simple timer. Depending on the style of play, the players have just 8-10 turns to get out of the game show complex!
This would work if the time constraints were tight enough — forcing players to occasionally jump into unexplored rooms. Unfortunately, the true co-op version of Room 25 gives the players too much time. As a result, they can always look at rooms before they enter them, largely neutering the challenge system: the activation of the rooms don’t provide enough danger to anchor the game, except in situations where a malevolent player tries to push someone into a room, which requires competitive, team, or traitor play.
However, even the traitor play is somewhat flawed because the traitor gets very little cover. He has some scope for confusing information, but most “big” moves — such as pushing someone into a bad room — will immediately result in the traitor being outed, degrading the traitor play into badly unbalanced team play.
The cooperation of Room 25 comes about almost entirely through coordination. Players run off in different directions to learn the lay of the land, and to search for Room 25 itself. Once Room 25 has been located, there’s almost no additional opportunity for cooperative play. The “push” command might help players to move a little faster, but that’s the only real interaction.
The traitor gets similarly poor support. He can lie about the rooms’ hidden information during the early stages of the game. Though players could probably keep track of the several unentered rooms at any time, the fact that those rooms can move around with the “control” action makes them just confusing enough to give misinformation some cover. However, if a traitor chooses to misinform, he runs a high chance of being caught out — as any player could look again at a room and reveal that the traitor had lied.
Overall, Room 25 is pretty weakly cooperative — which may not be a surprise given its alternate use as a competitive game.
Room 25 has characters with individual names, so it feels like there should be an adventure-like character system. Sadly, players expecting that will be disappointed. Characters don’t have any specializations and thus are all identical, other than their names and pictures. Special powers for individual characters were, however, introduced with the supplement Room 25: Season Two (2014).
Room 25 does excel in one adventure game category: setting. The idea of a reality game show that players must survive is very evocative — possibly because it’s unusual for the cooperative category of play. It suggests that coming up with a really unique setting (and supporting that setting with appropriate gameplay, as Room 25 does) can help a game to stand out.
Expansions & Variants
Room 25 and Season Two have since been repackaged as Room 25 Ultimate (2016). Two more supplements have since been released, Room 25: Escape Room (2017) and Room 25: VIP (2018). They introduce new gameplay modes and new rooms.
Overall, Room 25 is a bit of a disappointment as a cooperative game. Its challenge system is minimalistic and easy to defeat in true co-op mode; and its cooperative system is similarly bare bones. This is often the result of trying to make one game do too many things: if Room 25 were actually designed as a cooperative game instead of a game for all seasons, the result might have been very different. (In fact, the core design suggests it would be, because Room 25 has intriguing mechanics and fun gameplay.)
French designer Rouzé has just one game to his credit, Room 25 (2012). Besides the core game, he’s also credited on all the major supplements.
The original article can be found on the great Mechanics & Meeples