A subscription box service version called Escape the Crate came to my attention, and here’s a SPOILER FREE look at my first experience with them.
The subscription service delivers a new “crate” every other month. Some of their “retired” (past) boxes are available for individual purchase (at a higher price than getting them blind as they come out through the subscription). It’s nice to have the option to pick up old ones, and makes sense to offer them as possible given the effort that goes in putting this type of experience together.
The box for Escape the Circus Heist contained an introductory letter directing the player to a required website, a few props, several cards, envelopes, and sheets for the puzzles, and a dedicated sheet to be cut up and written on that can be reprinted (so the other elements remain undamaged and the box can be reset/replayed). There are also a number of puzzle and theme related elements printed on the inside of the box itself, which is a wonderful, immersive touch.
I was a little trepidatious about the required internet aspect but it really adds to the experience. Most of the actual puzzle elements are in the box, with the website providing setup, story, and hints (if wanted). It allows the game to be deeper and more fully formed and makes it very clear at any point which items are in play. There are also extra touches like recordings of the framing elements to play if preferred to reading them.
Every visited page is password protected, with general pages for the box being played requiring a password given in the introductory letter and puzzle solutions (generally a series of numbers or letters) used as the passwords for subsequent pages as the player advances. It’s a clever way to do things, as it means means players can check their solutions without spoiling the right answer if they are incorrect.
Of course the most important part of something like this is the puzzles themselves. They were solid, logical, and fun. I thought the difficulty was reasonable, neither so difficult to be frustrating nor so easy to be boring. Experienced puzzlers won’t struggle with this, but it was quite satisfying progressing through. The target time is an hour to an hour and a half depending on the player’s experience, which is standard for games of this type.
The nature of this type of production model makes it more expensive than some of the other options available, but I found this worth it so far (and unlike examples like the Exit games these are resettable).
Overall I really like how this all came together, and am looking forward to playing another.