“A mad scientist is plotting to turn you and your friends into werewolves. Only if you and your team members can solve 19 2D and 3D puzzles in an hour will you be able to escape with your humanness intact! You’ll have to work as a team—so put your heads together and let’s see if you can escape!”
Much like Box One, this is another mass market game that I likely would have walked by in a store without a second thought. Thankfully, though, I heard enough good things from various review sites to give it a chance. Once I had it in hand, a gloomy Seattle Sunday provided the perfect atmosphere to run through this game.
The game series is called “Escape Room in a Box” and, upon opening the game, it became vey obvious that it was serious about attempting to replicate the classic escape room experience. The game wants you to use a 60 minute timer, and stipulates that you lose if you run out of time or use too many hints. This is all, of course, on the honor system; if you don’t want the added stress of a timer or if using hints is more fun for you, there is nothing stopping you from playing it your way.
I decided to roll with the spirit of the game and set myself an hour timer before starting. While I’m typically very happy with my relaxed, get-up-in-the-middle-and-make-a-pot-of-tea style of solo at-home play, it was a nice change of pace to get back into that competitive, timed mindset.
The game succeeds pretty well at replicating the experience of a gen-1 escape room—which was what most escape rooms were in early 2016, when this was made. It managed to hide some surprises in unexpected places and featured three actual, factual locks. The locks are—unsurprisingly given the price point—made of cheap plastic, but they functioned surprisingly well. The game was such a good re-creation of the escape room experience, that I made a mistake1The exact same mistake I made in The Wizard’s Curse, setting a piece to the side without inspecting it entirely early on that I often make in escape rooms, slowing down my early game quite a bit.
The game flowed pretty easily from one puzzle to the next, and the hour went by pretty quickly. I managed to finish in 1 hour, 5 minutes, winning the game2If you’re wondering how I won despite going over the hour time limit, there’s an optional puzzle that grants you extra time. Though if I’d skipped it, I think I would have finished under an hour, so it was sort of a moot point either way. and preventing myself from having a permanent case of lycanthropy. (Phew!)
The narrative design was an unexpected strong point for this game. The setup—you’ve been infected with lycanthropy and only have an hour to find the antidote—manages to both be novel and feel like a classic escape room setup. While you don’t get much more story than that, the theme is reinforced by charming artwork and component theming on the game pieces and puzzles. Also, the name of the antagonist—Doctor Cynthia Gnaw—is just a winner. I live for names like that.
In addition to the materials in the gamebox, the game also has an Alexa integration that includes a soundtrack and hint solution. I don’t have an Alexa-enabled device, so I wasn’t able to test it out, but I think that’s a really smart idea. The soundtrack is also available for download at their website, if you want something thematic to listen to while you play. (For what it’s worth, I listened to John Carpenter’s Lost Themes, which worked pretty well for the theme and atmosphere.)
The game’s description advertises that there are 19 puzzles that you need to solve in order to beat the game. That’s mostly accurate, there are 19 puzzles included with the game, but two are optional, and two were pretty superfluous; I got stuck on one of them, set it aside, and realized after I successfully finished the game that I never went back to solve it.
The puzzles were all pretty well designed and tilted towards the easier side. A little more than half of them were pen and paper-style puzzles with clever ideas and execution; they were uniformly pretty good. The rest were object based, and a little more hit-or-miss. One solved ambiguously, forcing you to figure out which answer—among several possibilities—the designers intended you use. (A bit of a mild pet peeve of mine.) Another, was a simple puzzle to solve, but didn’t signpost which puzzle number it was, leading to a bit of confusion late in the game, when it looked like I was missing a puzzle.
In addition to being pretty well-designed mechanically overall, the puzzles were well-designed thematically. They did a great job replicating the experience of an early escape room, even within the restriction of a $30 box sold by Mattel.
For colorblind folks, do note that one puzzle required being able to distinguish between red and green, as well as blue and yellow. It’s one of the easier puzzles, and you can likely figure out what the game wants without needing to know which color is which, but you may want to have a non-colorblind participant, just in case. The game does come with a book of solutions if you get truly stuck, though it’s not available until later in the game.
Despite my minor quibbles above, I really liked this game! Well enough, even, that I’ve already ordered the sequel: Escape Room in a Box: Flashback, which continues the story of Dr Cynthia Gnaw. (Excellent!)
While this game can be played solo, like I did, I think it would really shine with another player two in the mix. A lot of the puzzles can be solved concurrently, so multiple players will all have something to do as they play through the game.
As an added bonus, in addition to the game’s already affordable price point, the game comes with reset instructions and printable pdfs that allow you to replace used paper components. So, when you’re done with the game, you can pass it along to another puzzle loving friend.
I recommend it to anyone looking to replicate that old school escape room feeling without leaving their dining room.