Escape rooms are basically what happens when an entire generation of point-and-click adventure fans grew up and lamented that the fun ended at the keyboard. The idea has been a staple of the video game world for years, but the notion of real-life escape rooms is fairly new – we’re just shy of its 10th birthday. What started off as an geeky mix of gaming meets social experiment has quietly grown into a minor cultural phenomenon. Interest has exploded in recent years, evidenced by the fact that there are now nearly 3,000 escape rooms worldwide. They’re also now being referenced on network sitcoms, in travel brochures, and they’ve even gotten the reality TV treatment.
So…yeah, it’s not much of a stretch to say that escape rooms are most assuredly a thing at this point. In fact, chances there’s at least one in a city near you.
The idea of an escape room is pretty simple, really. Take one or more people and stick them in a locked room with only one means of escape and a limited amount of time to figure out how to do so. To win, you must uncover clues, solve a variety of puzzles, uncover hidden items – pretty much anything that would make for a mentally challenging obstacle. The objectives of escape rooms can range from solving a murder, to finding a hidden key, to stopping some impending catastrophe. If done right, escape rooms are a fun but tense team-based experience that leaves you wanting more.
Whether you’re an escape room junkie or someone considering your first jaunt through a labyrinthine maze of puzzles, riddles, and codes, you’re about to find the process of trying one a little easier. Because if all goes well, the whole thing will soon be available to you in a handy home version.
At least, that’s the plan from Juliana Patel & Ariel Rubin, designers of the upcoming Escape Room In A Box game series, currently launching on Kickstarter. In their inaugural title, The Werewolf Experiment, your goal, should you choose to accept it, is to survive.
See, here’s the thing about mad scientists: they’re not to be trusted.
In The Werewolf Experiment, a crazy scientist lady decided it was a good idea for the sake of her research to experiment on herself (like you do). As you’d expect, things went completely awry, and now she’s an unstable werewolf. You and your dutiful investigative crew decided to dig into her research in the hopes of reversing the process. It was a solid idea. It was a noble idea. Except she went and booby trapped all her data, exposing you to a poison that will transform you all into werewolves too unless you can locate and open the antidote in time. Apparently she wants a whole family of werewolves, and she’s decided to adopt you.
The Werewolf Experiment is an ambitious project to say the least, but one of the most impressive parts of the entire game is that it’s almost entirely self-contained. The only things you’ll need besides the fairly unadorned box itself is a timer, a cup of water, and 2-6 inquisitive minds looking for a unique adventure.
From the moment you open the box, you and your fellow victims will have around an hour to decipher all of the game’s perplexing and varied puzzles, trying to find the necessary answers to open the precious antidote vial. Puzzles like this one:
Just kidding. We can’t actually show you the puzzles, because much like a real escape room, you’re only going to get one shot at it, and we don’t want to spoil the surprises. But here are a few teasers:
It’s hard to detail the gameplay without divulging the secrets of your survival, but what we can say is that The Werewolf Experiment definitely succeeds at what it’s attempting to do. We were skeptical at first, but from start to finish, the game does a great job conveying its theme by way of nearly 20 different different puzzles contained within. It strikes the essential escape room balance between being too easy and punishing you for not being able to recite what the Broadway hit of 1878 was. Rather, this game provides a wonderful combination of seriousness as you progress from one obstacle to the next with the various musings of a clearly unstable scientist, ensuring that you’ll both be amused and rewarded for your efforts.
The Werewolf Experiment also does a masterful job providing much of the same time-based angst and team-based camaraderie as a full-fledged escape room. Time is your true enemy in this game (well, besides the insane werewolf), and that pressure will definitely drive your group forward.
For many, one possible catch to the game is its one-shot nature. Although the designers are planning for bonus materials to create an additional playthrough or two, there’s no hiding that this is a one-and-done runthrough. Because of this, detractors may be inclined to lump The Werewolf Experiment alongside legacy-style games such as Pandemic: Legacy and TIME Stories.
While such games are similar in price and have limited replayability, they serve two completely different audiences. Legacy games allow you to feel a sense of permanent progression across multiple playthroughs, using that permanency to tell a thematic story. The Werewolf Experiment is a story, albeit an often madcap one where you may die in 60 minutes if you’re not careful.
For this reason, think of Escape Room In A Box as less of a one-time game and more of a social activity in a game box. Its primary purpose is meant as a fun, entertaining, and brain-burning event to play with a group of friends in the luxury of your own home – at a fraction of the cost of a normal escape room outing. All of which it succeeds at.
Plus, it saves you the trouble of trying to turn your living room into an ill-conceived homebrew attempt.
Look, just take it from experience – it’s a bad idea.
While this ultimately may not replace a true escape room adventure completely, Escape Room In A Box still makes for a fantastic alternative. The model of an escape room the size of a shoe box is innovative, and the idea was a bit of a gamble. But that gamble has paid off here. The Werewolf Experiment provides just the right blend of thoughtful mind games, tongue-in-cheek humor, and anxiety-inducing tension due to the relentless ticking of the clock.
And the whole thing may cost each group participant less of an investment than ordering takeout.
If you’re up for a room-sized adventure in a pint-sized box, then grab some friends and a little kibble (just to be safe), and head on over to this game’s Kickstarter before its time runs out too.
This project has earned the Seal of the Republic