Online, Sep 2020
Headlock is an escape room company newly arrived in Norwich, and given the general COVID-19 uncertainty, have decided to launch with remote play-from-home games rather than in-person ones for now. Of their two games, both use a livestream but Wizard’s Apothecary is a tabletop style box game whereas their other is a normal avatar style.
The backstory is that a mad wizard has inflicted three curses upon the world, which you need to break – though you’ll need to work out exactly which curses they are first. In practice, you have an ornate custom puzzle box to inspect (via your Zoom screen with the help of your in-character host) and gradually unlock. I’ve not played many tabletop games, but the ones I’ve seen more commonly involve multiple individually locked boxes. Wizard’s Apothecary instead has a single complex box that gradually releases its secrets one piece at a time, which is considerably more satisfying; if you’ve played the computer game The Room, it has similarities to that.
When playing this game, I recommend connecting with a laptop/desktop with Zoom’s split screen feature enabled. As an alternative to a separate inventory system, the host sometimes provides close-ups of items via screenshare. Since I was using a tablet, that meant I kept losing visibility of the main livestream. (If I’d realised sooner what was happening, I could easily have connected with a second device to keep that from being a problem.)
Wizard’s Apothecary is a puzzle-centric game which feels somewhat basic due to the tabletop style but is also charming and enjoyable. We were their very first non-test group, and my impression was that they’re still fine-tuning both the hosting style and also the puzzles, in some small ways. The couple of points where we ran into the sand felt due to the remote format, in that they were due to missing things that I’m confident we’d have found quickly if physically present; on the other hand, playing remotely added the benefit of the avatar, whose character added nice extra touches of humour.
Enthusiasts are likely to find it an easy game. I believe the company intends to make multiple copies of the game and offer it for corporate team-building, and it’s pitched well for that audience. However, I also thought the puzzles were more interesting and creative than average, with one in particular that I thought was clever and satisfying.
There are of course larger scale and more impressive games, but Wizard’s Apothecary is fun. The main drawback is that you may find it a bit easy, at least barring the sort of search fails that tripped us up; but at the current very cheap price it’s a bargain even so.