Leeds, Oct 2017
Norris Box reverses the normal escape room concept: instead of a room from which you must escape, each of their products is a box that you unlock piece by piece. Their games are available on a mobile basis, where you order a box and they bring it to you, with a variable delivery charge based on how far you are from their base near Leeds/Bradford Airport. The Kidnapped game that I tried is intended as a short 15 minute experience (their others are designed to take a full hour), and is available either as an add-on to one of their other games, or for larger events where multiple groups can take turns attempting it.
The simplest way to describe Kidnapped is that it’s a padlocked dollhouse. Your mission is to rescue a kidnapped friend from a creepy house, where the ‘creepy’ house is about a foot and a half in height and actually pretty sweet. It has some similarities to the various play at home games available, in particular that you wouldn’t want too many people crowding around it at the same time. I played solo, which was fine, and I’d suggest a team size of 1-3.
Even with a normal escape room it’s difficult to design a game this short. It has to be immediately accessible so that the players can hit the ground running, it has to provide enough challenge while still giving a reasonable chance of success; and while that’s true of full-length games as well, the shorter format gives very little room for error. Kidnapped is perhaps a little on the easy side for enthusiasts, which probably means it’s exactly right for its target audience, with a well-defined start point and a linear structure that delivers a brief but still pleasing experience.
With my ‘mean, jaded reviewer’ hat on I suppose I could critique it on a few points. The way colours are used introduces a little unnecessary confusion; at one point it uses one component that is external to the house itself; and more generally the puzzle design is largely traditional escape room fare (though the puzzles are also varied and have a couple of very neat ideas). But none of that particularly detracted from the game. The very idea of it, of having this miniature reproduction of an escape game environment realised in lovingly handmade detail, won me over from the outset. It inspires the same kind of nostalgic delight as an old-fashioned toyshop full of wooden toys, and it was deeply satisfying to slowly open out the box.
As a mini-game it is of course just a brief taster experience, but it left me eager to try the full size games from this company. I imagine it would also work particularly well as a family game, for groups with some younger players, but it’s charming whatever your age.