Room-in-a-box, Nov 2017
A small disappointment with the Crate series has always been that despite the name they actually arrive as a plain brown cardboard box. The fifth chapter is a nice step up in this respect – although it’s certainly not an actual crate, it’s now a much more attractively presented cardboard box.
Inside the box they’ve been investing in the physical components too, and the puzzles feature an array of lovely little knick knacks. Since much of the game uses ad-hoc printed pieces of paper, these really help make the game feel more interesting and better value for money.
I was not as impressed with the puzzle content. Repeating one of the less impressive features of the series, it opens with a rather mediocre riddle, and includes two or three later puzzles that seemed to me doubtful to a greater or lesser degree: one that relies on an intuitive leap, another with an accidental ambiguity, and a third that implements a clever idea in a way that players may struggle to follow even if they’ve correctly guessed the intention. Your mileage may vary, and if you’re not too judgemental then none of these are glaring weaknesses; and if you like logic problems and deduction then the game should keep you happy anyhow.
This game briefly appears to be by far the most non-linear of the Crate games so far, in that it appears to offer you a choice of different puzzles to tackle, but this is an illusion, with only one puzzle being solvable at any time. Each envelope in the game states the format of the answer expected to open it, and this is sometimes needed to help you work out which target your solution applies to. That’s a note of artificiality in a game that otherwise takes pains to tie everything to its story: ideally it should be clear that I’m opening the envelope for such-and-such a building because I know from the story I’m trying to get into it, and because the puzzle relates to it, rather than because I’ve solved a puzzle that gave me a five letter code and I have an envelope that expects a five letter code.
I’d also like a little more clarity on when it’s permissible to look through the items remaining in the crate. In previous episodes it’s been important not to do so until instructed, but here one of the puzzles can only be solved if you’ve searched through, and the game does not give you clear instructions to do so (unless or until you take a hint).
On a more positive note, they include an optional one-shot puzzle which players can attempt, and which gives them permission to take five minutes off the clock if they are correct; and one logic puzzle offers a choice of attempting an easier version or a harder version. Both of those are small but pleasant ideas for letting players tailor the game to their level and play style.
The Crate games have a homemade feel not just with their heavy reliance on paper clues and the variability of their puzzle quality, but also in the way they keep experimenting with the format. I’ve focused mainly on the rougher edges here, but even so I’m not inclined to judge the result too harshly. It’s clear they’re working hard on adding in new ideas not just settling into a comfortable and repetitive groove, and they’re also improving the physical quality of the box and its contents, and there’s enough that’s fresh and good to make me overlook the occasional dodgy puzzle.