I'm sat at a table, trying to fill out a crossword puzzle filled with perhaps a few too many wolf puns. My friend and GamesRadar+ news writer Connor Sheridan is next to me, shuffling through several different sheets of paper, trying to figure out what to tackle next. Our timer is counting down the precious seconds until we have to call it quits. I finish the puzzle, take a look at it, and wonder what the hell I'm supposed to do with this now. Connor yanks it out of my hand, takes another puzzle he'd finished earlier, and holds them both up to the flashlight on his phone. Another clue. We write it down and continue onward.
We're not in an abandoned warehouse or locked in some murder basement somewhere - we're on the E3 showfloor on the edge of IndieCade. Ubisoft's weird giraffe is probably dancing a jig in the booth next to us, I can see Natsume's inflatable Harvest Moon tree off in the distance, and on the table in front of us are an assortment of puzzles, locked tins, and gizmos, all of which came inside a box which could probably fit a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle inside it. This is the Escape Room In a Box, a recent Kickstarter success that attempts to put the 'escape room' experience in your own home, and based on our fumbling run through the prototype, it's coming along absolutely brilliantly.
It's a smart idea. Games like Virtue's Last Reward and Danganronpa, along with the word of mouth generated by real-life escape rooms, have created an incredible demand for these intense, hour-long team-based conundrums. The problem is that, because physicality is such an important part of the experience, they're usually only hosted in large cities at specific, scheduled times, and tickets cost about $30 a person. Escape Room In a Box attempts to replicate that experience in your own house, giving players a chance to gather a bunch of friends for a memorable one-and-done experience, similar to those murder mystery dinner parties that were all the rage back in the 1990s.
The Escape Room In a Box works a bit differently than your typical escape room in that you're not trying to break out of anywhere (which would probably be very expensive and damaging to your house or apartment if you were to attempt to do so). Instead, the box you open releases an invisible poison (just go with it) that will transform anyone who inhales it into a werewolf within 60 minutes, and the only way to find the antidote is to work together to solve all the puzzles contained within the box.
Many of those puzzles seem basic at first (like the aforementioned crossword puzzle), but many of them have multiple uses and will reveal several clues by the time you're done. You're required to move things around, write on them, look at items in a different way, or combine them with other clues. And as solutions from one puzzle feed into another, seemingly unrelated puzzle, all of this combines into a seemingly never-ending spiral of 'a-ha' moments. I don't want to spoil anything other than what little I've already mentioned (because the whole point is being surprised by what you discover through solving its challenges), but there's an incredible economy of space with what the Escape Room In a Box provides, and it's impressive how many secrets it hides in such a relatively tiny box.
At $60, the Escape Room In a Box can seem a bit steep for something you break out once at a party (refill packs will replenish some of its materials to let you host the room again, though it doesn't come with anything that will make you forget the solutions), but it's a fraction of the price of getting a full group of friends to run through an actual escape room. And hey, you really can't beat the prospect of solving a bunch of ingeniously-designed, hand-crafted puzzles while lounging on your own couch. If you're interested, you can pre-order a box for yourself here, with the final version expected to arrive in February 2017.