Online, May 2021
For months hard to acquire outside the US thanks to an exclusive distribution deal with Target, Box One is finally available from various suppliers in other countries too, though generally at an eyebrow-raising cost. The glossy box comes with the equally glossy imprimatur of celebrity puzzle fan Neil Patrick Harris, who also features prominently in the content. It is presented as a ‘game for one’ and is well-suited to solo play, though if you prefer to play with others there’s absolutely no reason not to play it that way.
Describing exactly what’s inside the box and how the game works would be venturing into spoiler territory. But expect to need internet access, and also expect appearances to be deceiving. This game is sold via the mass market, presented for the mass market, and might initially give the impression of something very mass market… but it’s a lot more singular and imaginative than that. If you’re likely to play it, then you might want to stop reading at this point and come back after you’ve done so – this review avoids spoilers, but you might best enjoy the game knowing as little as possible about it.
If you’ve already played it, or wish to know a little more about how it works: what’s in the box is only part of the game, and it quickly branches out into a smartly self-referential story that combine the physical clues with a set of tasks and puzzles provided through the web portal. The online sections are as polished as the offline bits. Experienced players won’t find the format or the puzzles revolutionary, and there’s a certain amount of filtering through all the materials provided to find the minority that include clues; but the puzzles are well designed and logical, and they build an amusing narrative that holds the game together well.
For me most of the highlights related to the ingenuity of the physical box components. The main pitfall there, particularly for enthusiasts, is that several of the hidden surprises are not too difficult to discover ahead of time. If you’re used to playing at home escape boxes you may spot half the game’s physical secrets in short order, in the way that an experienced player might walk into a physical room and instantly note the scrape marks on the floor in front of the bookshelf, the suspiciously bulky wall clock, and the hinges on three of the paintings. That’s not really a reflection on the game construction, which is high quality throughout, but more that it’s aimed at a wider audience than just puzzle addicts.
We did indeed spot several things earlier than seemed intended, but there were at least as many secrets that we didn’t see coming, and in any case the physical components are only one part of it, so the risk is more of confusing yourself and losing the game’s thread than of accidentally spoiling the experience. We struggled with that a little, but the comprehensive website hints provide a backup option for getting back on track if really needed.
There’s no time limit or timer, and in fact the hour or two of game time is not intended to be played in a single session. (It is possible to do so, though might take a little effort.) Playing the game destroys none of the components (well, it might lightly mark one of them, but that’s easily avoided). There’s no reset guide that I’m aware of, but it’s not too tricky to put back together for another person or group to play through.
My main hesitation in warmly recommending it is the price, and that’s purely due to the import duties – for those lucky enough to be able to purchase it in the US it’s very reasonably priced. For those of us in other countries, it may only be available priced as a very premium product, and that sets expectations at a level that – for all the game’s wit and cleverness – it may struggle to live up to. With that caveat, and with a warning that it’s tailored to a slightly more mass market than hardcore puzzle enthusiasts, I’d rate it as one of the stronger home games currently on the market, combining physical and online components in a way that gets the best out of both.