Room-in-a-box, Sep 2017
Back in early 2016, there was a Kickstarter campaign for a boxed version of an escape room. At the time it was an entirely novel concept and excited backers poured in close to seven times the funding goal. Crowdfunded products have a tendency to slide past their estimated deadlines, and following various delays (including some due to an admirable dedication to game component quality) the product eventually reached backers in summer 2017. By this time of course there was a wide selection of play at home games on the market, so despite the warm reviews from the lucky few who’d got early access copies, I was prepared for this game to turn out to be merely mediocre. I’m glad to say it wasn’t.
Play at home escape games seem to be increasingly moving to card-based mechanics and away from physical components. Werewolf Experiment is in this respect a throwback to the earlier style of game, with metal tins fastened by actual padlocks and a selection of other curious components. Despite that, it came in a surprisingly small box – though the size is kept down by some very efficient use of space.
The initial set of puzzles had a surprising and disheartening reliance on pen-and-paper puzzle types that you might find in a puzzle magazine. However, it quickly became apparent that these are only used as a starting point. The real task is not so much solving these as working out what to do with them, and as we got deeper into the game we were repeatedly surprised by the clever use of the box contents.
Almost every play-at-home escape game released so far works fine for solo play, and most of them cope badly with more than three players, with too many people crowding around small components. This one is better designed for divide-and-conquer than most, and up to four people should be fine.
Players are expected to write on components, and one item is unavoidably destroyed in the course of the game. However, the box includes a refill pack with a generous number of replacements for that item plus a link for printable replacements for the paper items. Although it takes a little work to package everything back up again for another group to play, the designers have obviously taken pains to make sure it’s as replayable as it can be. In fact, it includes very thorough instructions and a script for hosting the game for friends, so that you can run it as gamemaster.
In the rapidly evolving world of play-at-home escape games, Werewolf Experiment already feels a little old fashioned in its design. But it makes that a virtue, with its satisfyingly physical components, its ingenious surprises and meticulous attention to detail resulting in a rock solid product. The campaign updates suggested a creative team who passionately cared about getting it right and making the best game they could, and that clearly shows through in the final result. Of all the home escape games I’ve tried, this one seems the most carefully playtested.
The game has been licensed to Mattel for general release, with the mass-market edition described as having “a few differences” but “basically the same game”. I suspect the changes for the second edition may include a stingier refill pack and a less lovely final prize, and may make it feel a little less special and bespoke. But even if that happens, it’ll still be the clever and wittily entertaining game that it is now. Despite the many quality games that have appeared while it was in production, Werewolf for now narrowly leads the pack.