Ever since Exit: The Game rocked onto the tabletop scene in 2016 (wow, has it really been that long), escape room games have been coming out at a steady pace. Exit itself has released over 20 sequels, with Unlock nipping at its heels in terms of the sheer volume of releases. For puzzle game fans, there is really no shortage of options to stretch those mental muscles.
Yet, every now and something new comes along to up the ante. Escape Room in a Box did it with their use of physical locks, as did The Tale of Ord with its unique production values. But hold on to your hats fellow sleuths, because today we are going to look at The Witching Hour, an immersive storytelling box from Cafe Nordo in Seattle. This is not so much a game, as an entire experience that promises to use all five of your senses.
This will be really short and sweet. It’s a box that has puzzles for you to solve (and so much more), and uses a website to help enhance the experience, let you input answers, and give you hints. But the how to play isn’t the star of the show here, it’s the experience The Witching Hour provides. So, let’s get right to that.
For Cafe Nordo’s storytelling box, this is why you are here. Their “puzzle in a box” is unlike any of the other escape room style games I’ve played—and I’ve played a lot of them. If you simply looking to stretch your mental muscles to cram in as many creative puzzles as you can over a stretch of 60 minutes, then you are probably better with one of the Exit or Unlock games. For everyone else, read on.
What sets The Witching Hour apart from other games in this genre is that they are trying to create an experience for you. Everything comes in a nice-sized box, and after opening it, you have some brief instructions on how to get started. This involves going to a website, setting up some thematic components on your table, and reading some backstory information. After that, you get to make your cocktail (or mocktail for those that don’t imbibe the spirits). That’s right, this game starts you off with a drink!
And then you launch an excellently produced video that sets the mood for the evening. It gives you instructions on how to get started that will have you opening bags, reading documents, and hunting for answers. I’m going to keep this spoiler-free, so I’ll gloss over the puzzle specifics. But I can tell you that there are a handful of them, and they range from clever to simple to obtuse. They really ran the range of the gamut for us. A few times, we got the answer right away, while other times we had to unashamedly get a hint. But overall, we found the puzzles enjoyable, and enjoyed a high five when we solved a particularly clever one.
As you work your way through the puzzles, you’ll reveal more videos, thematic documents with lots of backstory, and unique props. You can tell a lot of work went into this experience. There are handwritten notes, ancient-looking pieces of parchment with scrawling text, and a variety of actors in the videos. The Witching Hour doesn’t seek to just give you a game, it wants to give you something unique to enjoy.
As you dive deeper into the box, you’ll find components that not only add to the mystery, but to the overall story. It actually reminded me a bit of a video game where you come across a book or document and you need to figure out if it’s just background lore or a piece of a puzzle to be used later. The entire experience took us about two hours to complete, and overall, we had a lot of fun.
And that’s what I loved most about it. In a time of Covid where my wife and I have missed going out on dates, this was a breath of fresh air for us. Once the kids were asleep, we opened the box, made the cocktail, and got into the game. It was a chance to do something different, even from the confines of our own home. And on that level, it’s a win. Oh, and I didn’t mention the best part. The reward for successfully solving all the puzzles is a delicious dessert they call Fairy Mine Pie (which was totally worth the wait).
It’s hard to judge The Witching Hour because it’s truly unique in the tabletop realm. It sets out to create an experience unlike any other and in this reviewer’s opinion, it succeeds. Sure, the puzzles aren’t really going to knock anyone’s socks off. But that’s not the goal here. If you just want to solve some puzzles, there are way better games for that.
But if you are looking for something different, perhaps a way to connect with your partner while the little one’s sleep, then there is something here. The components engage each of your five senses, from aromatics to yummy treats to tactile stones. While it’s not cheap ($122 for a game you won’t be able to repeat), I don’t think you can look at this through the lens of a board game. This is a replacement for an evening out when you otherwise couldn’t go. You’ve got drinks, dessert, and excellent entertainment.
Cafe Nordo has also offered a discount on their room service boxes for BGQ readers. Use code “QUEST21” at checkout for 10% off! Happy sleuthing!