Review: The Secret Door
Publisher: Family Pastimes
Year: 1991
Players: 1 to 8

Cover shows a spooky house in the distance

how we met

Bill picked up The Secret Door for me at the Kane County Toy Show <3. I love a 90s game, and this one had pretty decent reviews – which is not always the case when I buy a vintage game. Sold!

how it plays

The Secret Door is a simple memory / deduction game. There are 24 VALUABLES cards and 12 TIME cards that all have identical blank backs. Three of these valuables get hidden away and the object of the game is for the team to deduce which objects are hidden before the clock strikes midnight!

Shuffle the VALUABLES cards and set aside three of them face down in the Secret Passage. Keep all of the cards face down and add the TIME cards, shuffling all the cards together. Then place them throughout the mansion, face-down. (NOTE: I highly recommend storing the VALUABLES and TIME cards separately in the box to aid in setup)

A door card and two stacks of other cards, one showing clocks the other various valuables
The door is only there to hide the three secret valuables!

Players work cooperatively, taking turns placing two cards face-up. The goal is to find pairs of VALUABLES. If a player turns up a TIME card, that card goes to the Clock area of the board to indicate another hour has passed.

Because this is a cooperative game, there are a couple of tips that I strenuously recommend:

  • Make sure all players see your cards when you turn them face up. If a player is not paying attention, get their attention and politely ask them to get their head in the game.
  • Do not turn your two cards up super-quickly-one-after-the-other. If you turn up the first card and do not remember seeing its pair, maybe another player does. If you turn them both up boom-boom then an opportunity for a match could be lost.

If you make a pair, place the cards into the Safety Deposit Box and your turn is over.

The board has various rooms shown, like a cut out of a house
A look at the board. I recommend as you uncover TIME cards to place them along the clock section face down so they stick out from the board more than if you place them face up

Once the Clock strikes midnight (all TIME cards have been found) then players must cooperatively make a single guess at which three VALUABLES are hidden away, keeping in mind it’s possible to have more than one of a given type. If you think you know before midnight you can guess earlier. If you guess any VALUABLES correctly, they are saved from the thieves! Any you got wrong are made off with. 🙁

how it went

There’s a lot to be said for a game that is fun, simple and rather quick to play. I played The Secret Door with my ol’ standby gaming group of four. We had a good time and played twice back-to-back.

In our first game, we were only able to identify two VALUABLES cards that were hidden away. In our second game we identified only a single item! I was a veritable magnet for the TIME cards, which probably led to a poorer performance in the second game. Time sure does fly! (The rules make this joke as well)

The TIME cards are one of my favorite aspects of The Secret Door. Knowing you can let your team down by revealing a TIME card brings tension and really helps elevate what is essentially a memory, pair-matching game.

An overview of the board
A look at the end of one of our games. I can practically see my fingerprints on those TIME cards

A common criticism of The Secret Door is the component quality. This is important to note, especially if you find the game used. You want to make sure all the cards are present, and ideally that they do not have damage that would allow you to identify a type of card face-down, like a severe fold or some such thing. My cards are well-worn and bordering on gross, but they do not have markings on their backsides. And if you are worried about it, you can always sleeve your cards. I have seen worse games get card sleeves.

And it’s worth noting, while we did not play with children, many of The Secret Door’s beloved fans enjoy playing with kiddos: improving memory, practicing co-operative play, partial win scenarios, etc.

play or pass

Play. The Secret Door is simple fun, a good filler vintage game. Combining memory with deduction against the backdrop of a spooky mansion and hailing from the early 90s — The Secret Door checks a lot of my boxes! Add to this that it’s family-friendly and quick to play, and it just might check a lot of your boxes too.