“For me personally, I think I just enjoy movies about vampires or werewolves because it’s not an everyday thing. It’s something you can really escape into.” Agnes Brucker
Escape Rooms (or “How LARPing hit the mainstream”) are a pretty new form of live gaming. It works like this: A group of people get locked in a room, and they have to work together to solve a series of puzzles in order to get out of the room. Really, it’s right there in the title.
Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment (now funding on Kickstarter) attempts to take the feel of an Escape Room and recreate it in the comfort of your own home. Or whomever’s home you’re doing this in. Whatever. Once the box opens, the toxins are released and you have one hour to solve the puzzles to open the antidote jar or everyone becomes werewolves! Judging by what I chose to name this post, you can guess how my group did.
I like to think that I am at least in part a well-versed gamer. I try to play titles of all sorts of genres, themes and mechanics, not just because they’re fun, but because if people want me to scribble words about them, it helps that I have at least some understanding of what I’m talking about. So what happens when something brand new and novel hits? Something I have no frame of reference to help cushion my experience into recognizable shapes? What happens is lightning strikes.
While I have not myself participated in a “real” escape room, a few of the people I played this with had. As soon as I explained the premise to the group, everyone was super excited to get started. Bladders were emptied, drinks refilled, timers set. Once we hit go, everyone was busy with something. Now the trick here is not to spoil anything, because unlike most games I review, you’re buying this less for the game and more for a unique experience. So where I would normally talk about what kinds of things you’ll come across, spoilers of something like this should be held with the same threats of violence to those who spoiled things what happened in The Force Awakens. So while from an author’s standpoint it feels weird to skip over so much, I’m going to get right to my main takeaways from this.
Things What I Liked About Escape Room in a Box
Price Point! While a prototype copy was provided for the (p)review, this is actually one of the game’s better selling points. Literally. Escape Rooms are expensive. Like, really expensive. Averaging $30 a head, so with a 5 person team, collectively you are spending $150! Which doesn’t count gas to get there, dinner and/or drinks which are likely events when out with friends. Meanwhile, the Escape Room in a Box is $45. For everything. If you have 5 people kicking in on it, each person spent $9. That’s $21 extra for each of you to blow on slide whistles and moon pies. Even taking other costs like refreshments to serve into consideration, this is a serious savings.
Props to the Props: While this was a prototype and many of the game materials in it were not in their final version (assumedly), there was a lot of really creative implementation of the props involved. I expect that the finished version will take this up a notch as well.
No Easy Way Out: Naturally, the first thing we tried to do is find shortcuts, (that’s not technically cheating), but the inanimate objects were ready for us. Due to the way the puzzles are all latticed together, there’s no way out but through, and we were certainly looking for them!
I See What You Did There: Many of the puzzles layer into each other in really novel ways that you don’t necessarily see coming. There were several points where I found myself seriously impressed by the work it would have take to arrange such a thing and entertained with the meta puzzle.
Who Will Like This?
As I mentioned previously, my group was a mix of people who had been in a “real” escape room and people who had not. When it was over, all of the players were quite satisfied with the experience, even having lost by just a few minutes. The people who had prior Escape Room experience said that this was a great time that did an excellent job recreating the feeling you get from an Escape Room, all things considered. Obviously there will be differences between the two experiences, but the feeling was intact, which is definitely the whole reason to do something like this. If your group likes puzzles, this is a no-brainer and well worth the price of entry. You’re saving a ton of money and keeping it to the comfort of your own home. To many of us, that’s a big deal. One of the many reasons we’re gamers is so we don’t have to leave our Hobbit holes.
There’s honestly a lot more I could say, but it’s hard not to spoil anything, and I really feel that this is an experience that you’ll want to have for yourself. The puzzles are challenging, the writing is entertaining, and there is plenty to keep you on your metaphorical feet. In fact, the ONLY real critique I could give this is that it’s a one time use. Once you’ve gone through it, you know the puzzles and it holds nothing more for you. However, this is mitigated by two factors, 1) The Kickstarter includes a “refill pack” which will allow you to reload the box and gift it to another group of friends further extending the value of the investment OR you can repack it and play with another group of friends as a GM of sorts. You know the puzzles so you shouldn’t be an active player, but it would be pretty fantastic to have a cackling antagonist lobbing terrible wolf puns at us. 2) It’s pretty obvious from the one play that the designers have a lot of fertile creative ground for different setups/scenarios.
The Werewolf Experiment was a lot of fun and not at all what I expected. The designers have already stated that there are other plans in the works, and if they are executed as well as the debut (and most times we get better at things the more we do them) then we are all in for a series of increasingly panicked and maddening treats.