Munich, Aug 2017
Fox in a Box has grown into a significant international franchise, but until now I’d never quite managed to play one of their rooms. The branch in Munich seemed like a good chance to change that, and we booked into their Bunker 17 game.
The bunker in question is the Cold War era hideout of one Mr. Fox, who has decided to end his life along with most of humanity by triggering nuclear Armageddon. This translates into plenty of combat gear and Soviet insignia, and a tendency for the puzzles to use wires and technology.
There’s a particular look I associate with games built by larger companies which may have multiple copies of a room in different location: they tend to be quite lavish and simultaneously a little generic. After all, if the same room is built it different locations, then it has to be suitable for installation in different physical spaces, and so can’t be too closely tailored to the space or the building. I got that impression here, but it was a high quality version of it. The game involves plenty of custom electronics, and even if many of the puzzles are designed around deriving arbitrary numbers as codes, the style and theming gives it enough of a high-tech spy feel to be satisfying.
Bunker 17 had one element that I found highly unusual, and that was a piece of equipment that gets reused throughout the game. That’s not a key or anything of that sort, but a large chunk of custom electronics that forms a part of several of the game’s main puzzles, being used in a different way each time. In most cases object reuse is something I’d frown on, but here it worked, partly because it was very clear how the team were intended to use it, and partly because each use of it was different and connected to a distinct stage of the game. It also fitted the game’s theme and style.
Beyond that, Bunker just had plenty of puzzles and tasks I enjoyed. One tricky skill-based section could have been a frustrating bottleneck, but for us it lasted exactly the right amount of time – though since we were a team of two, there was less danger of players standing around waiting than there’d have been with a larger group. There were other potential sticking points, such as when we triggered something and it took a while to work out what effect it had had; but those were outweighed by the strong points, such as a well-designed co-operative task.
Even with a couple of minor quibbles, it added up to a thoroughly solid, enjoyable game. The wires and electronics and army paraphernalia build the theme very well, though the emphasis is less on exact fidelity to theme and more on presenting puzzles clearly – they don’t hesitate to add extra markings where needed to prevent unnecessary confusion for players. The design sets out to prioritise puzzles and fun, and it does so successfully.