Box One – What Is It?

Out of all the escape room / puzzle home games, I’ve seen the most hype around Box One. Produced by Neil Patrick Harris, the actor famous for Doogie Howser, How I Met Your Mother, and Doctor Horrible, the game graces the shelves of Target- a rare feat for a niche puzzle game that doesn’t advertise what exactly it is. So does the game live up to the hype?

I’m going to avoid spoilers entirely, so apologies in advance if any of my comments come off as vague because of it. I’ll instead focus on comparisons to expectations as well as particular elements of my experience, and recommendations based on that. I have three major points I’d like to touch on- the overall feel of the game, my experience with it compared to what I heard about it, and who I’d recommend it for.

Firstly, the game has stellar production values. Everything within the box is extremely polished. When you first open the box, you might feel a little underwhelmed by how little is in it, but your perceptions about that might change as you continue to explore the secrets of the game.

The game does one of the best jobs with story that I’ve seen in a game like this. My personal preference for this kind of game is to have a story that evolves through gameplay rather than injecting a story through info dumps along the way. Box One leans on some ARG (augmented reality game) tools of the trade to keep the experience clever and cohesive.

Secondly, I’d like to focus on how the game defies expectations given how much I heard about the game not being what you would think. I’ll say that if you’re an addict of various escape room home games, online puzzle games, and ARGs, you’ve probably seen everything here before, but it’s packaged in such a smooth and elegant format that it still comes across as fresh.

As someone familiar with the types of tricks in this type of game, I broke the intended sequence quite a bit, but ultimately that didn’t hurt the experience in any way- it just saved me time later. The game lasted me about an hour, with a few breaks inserted in between (sometimes by necessity, but I wont share any more about that for spoilers’ sake).

The game emphasizes playing alone, but there’s nothing about it that really requires that, and it would be just as fun playing with a group. I suspect one of the reasons playing alone is encouraged is because some of the elements related to timing may result in awkward dead time for a group game night. For groups, it’s probably best to play along with people who live in the same home so you can step away and come back without having to coordinate multiple schedules.

I will add that I do suspect that the game harbors a few last secrets no one has found yet, and I may casually noodle on digging through its elements like a treasure hunt in the coming weeks. It fits the games motif to a tee to hold an even greater secret within.

Thirdly, regarding the intended audience, I will say that while experienced puzzle solvers will have fun, this game will absolutely blow the minds of anyone who doesn’t have a lot of experience with puzzle-driven home games. It’d make a great gift for the friend or coworker who has maybe played an escape room or two and likes the idea of a mental challenge. The game has at least a dozen “wow” moments where players who don’t obsessively examine every single thing they touch will be caught off guard by finding another secret hidden within something that seemed totally plain. Even when I examined everything under a microscope, there were still a few secrets that I missed until the game led me in their direction.

Experienced solvers will still enjoy it. It’s the most polished home game I’ve played, and I really appreciate that the game doesn’t require permanently damaging any parts of the game. The mental workout is not as strenuous as most other options for escape room home games, but the involved gadgetry and hidden secrets makes this a self-guided magic show that provides entertainment beyond the puzzles. I enjoyed it and I’ll absolutely recommend it to others.

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