There’s a subscription box in pretty much every category these days. Maybe it's a side effect of pandemic life or just a trend in how people are shopping, but people are seriously showing up for subscription boxes.
In my true crime loving opinion, one of the best subscription services trends is the mystery box.
Naturally, when ChatterSource was offered a chance to sample and review Escape the Crate, I volunteered as tribute.
The excitement of an escape room from the comfort of my own living room in exchange for an honest review? Sign me up!
What is Escape the Crate?
Escape the Crate puts you and your team of players in the role of an E.M.I.T. (Emergency Mediation In Time) time traveler. You and your fellow E.M.I.T. team travel through time to help fix issues caused other time travelers or help solve unsolved mysteries. "A laptop has appeared in Ancient Rome? We go back in time and fix that. The Nazis win a strategic battle in WWII in which they were supposed to lose? We fix that, as well," the game story explains.
Each bi-monthly box includes clues, tools, letters, puzzles and other "why do we have these" objects you couldn't possibly understand until you start the game. There are recurring characters and side stories, but each box contains a standalone escape game.
While the games are designed to be played by adults, they are suitable for kids as young and 13 and even younger if they have the help of an adult.
The themes are family-friendly, mostly. Anytime something is scarier than usual (think P.G. and above), two games are made available. One perfect for family game night and one for the adults to play after the kiddos are safely tucked into bed. Hello, murder mystery!
Past Escape the Crate boxes have included Escape the Mothman, Escape Alcatraz, Escape the Coliseum and Escape the World's Fair Killer.
My time-traveling team and I will be tackling the September 2020 box, Escape the Moon.
Spoiler Alert: If you are currently a subscriber to Escape the Crate and have not yet solved your Escape the Moon box, I will be giving away details of the game and solutions to the puzzles. Skip on down to the conclusion.
Escape the Moon
I assembled my team of time travelers, and we were ready.
Since where I live in California is still under social distancing orders, I had my lovely wife and my one friend that's been allowed in the house the last seven months over for a little game night. The game makers recommend anywhere from 2-4 players, so we were set with a fully charged baby monitor and Friday night drinks in hand.
Escape the Moon finds the E.M.I.T. team attempting a little R&R after a recent increase to their caseload. A little time traveling to the year 2050, where trips to the Moon are commonplace, could be just what the doctor ordered.
First, these actual boxes are the coolest. The cover art was intriguing and drew us in. The whole box was illustrated, and there were clues we needed to find hidden on the inside box art to help solve some of the puzzles.
The instructions were presented right on top, and we started working on the set-up.
Full disclosure, the box's contents were entirely underwhelming until gameplay started. It was a lot of papers, a plastic American flag, a moon rock and a measuring tape. I'm not sure what we were expecting, but a bunch of paperwork wasn't it.
To play any of the Escape the Crate games, you have to have a device with internet access.
While you could use your smartphone, we found it easier for the group to see on a laptop. Most of the game is narrated, and there were video and audio clips to watch for clues and to help solve the puzzles.
Our particular game also recommended scissors, a calculator and scratch paper, which we definitely used.
The set-up instructions were easy to follow, and a diagram showing how to have each item placed was provided to make it super simple. Most of the paper items were double-sided, so it was important to have certain sides face up at certain times, so nothing was revealed too soon.
The game started with an introduction into the story, a who/what/when/where/why scenario. Escape the Crate stories and puzzles are meant to be self-contained, but there were aspects of the storyline that were clearly a continual side story that went from bi-monthly game to bi-monthly game.
We didn't feel like we missed anything by not knowing much about E.M.I.T. and their work. We didn't love the narrator's voice or the personality of the character you viewed the story through, but it didn't derail us.
The introduction reminded me a lot of starting a new game of Dungeons and Dragons. Your DM (Dungeon Master for those that don't speak geek) giving you the lowdown on how your party came to be where they were and some dramatic entrance to each character's story arc. At the end of the audio clip, I half expected to hear the narrator say, "Roll for initiative."
At this point in our game, there was a test puzzle to solve, and then we would ready to start our mission... only for us, this proved to be our end. We didn't want to use the hints, not really understanding how they worked, so we struggled for an embarrassing amount of time trying to figure it out.
Eventually, we just gave up, made some french fries, and decided maybe we had bitten off more than we could chew with this box. I feared what my Escape the Crate review would say.
Deciding we wouldn't be bested by this game; we met up to tackle it again on Sunday morning.
This time we checked the first hint on the test puzzle to see what the hints were all about. This hint simply got you going and looking in the right direction.
After that, each hint walked you through a step in reasoning through solving the puzzle, and the solution was provided if you still couldn't figure it out.
The game is not timed through the online platform, but you can time yourself for an added intensity level. We were just playing for fun, so we didn't give ourselves a time limit.
The puzzles were pretty challenging. We required at least two hints for every puzzle except one. The hints didn't explicitly give you any answers and could allow players of all levels to progress through the game, only revealing as much information as they needed.
With each puzzle's completion, we were helping our E.M.I.T. team land on the moon, repair a damaged spaceship, figure out what happened to our crew, and get us back to earth before the psychotic artificial intelligence system on the ship went into self destruct mode.
Her name is Liz, and she had a serious Red Queen from Resident Evil vibes.
Playing with a group was entirely beneficial, as each of us seemed to have a different puzzle strength. My wife is visual, so she quickly saw that the plastic flag perfectly overlaid one of the paper puzzle pieces showing a message in the red stripes.
Our other player unscrambled word clues almost instantly and kept us organized while reasoning through a problem. I was good at seeing clues that were hidden, and together my wife and I worked to crack codes quickly- #teamwork.
The puzzles were thoughtfully integrated into the storyline, without feeling forced: Screw placement lined with moon phases to give you numerical codes while repairing the ship.
Oxygen tank letters were unscrambled to give you access codes when stabilizing oxygen levels.
Control panel dial placement lined with planetary placement to set a course for your ship back to earth. It all made sense.
As we sailed through each puzzle, we got more and more hyped. It took us just under two hours to complete the entire game (1:49, to be exact), and it felt like the time passed by really fast.
Bottom line: We had a lot of fun. None of the group had any experience with escape room games, so we didn't really know what to expect. We were all happily surprised to have dug the experience so much.
Our team enjoyed using the video visuals and audio recordings, and the production value was pretty impressive. The amount of work that goes into each different adventure is apparent and shows in the finished product.
Escape the Crate will cost you $29.99 per box when you buy them individually through Cratejoy.
We think the price was reasonable, considering the puzzles and stories' attention to detail and complexity.
The teaser for next month's Escape the Ripper storyline had our group planning who would be starting their bi-monthly subscription. Escape the Ripper provides both a family-friendly escape room experience and an adults-only game where you hunt Jack the Ripper or get hunted yourself. A perfect complement to any Halloween game night or date night.
You can usually get a coupon code to save 10-15% on your first box so you can save a little dough while you see if this escape room in a box is for you.
We could all definitely see this as a team-building experience for co-workers as long as you could break down into smaller groups, six people max.
If you don't write on the clues, you can totally box it back up for another group to play. Escape the Crate even provides instructions for doing this at the end of the game. You can also email them for printable copies of the puzzle sheets if something isn't reusable. Our box included a sheet we had to cut out, so there was a way to print and repackage that piece.
Escape the Crate
Want to do more than dinner and a movie for date-night in? This would be a perfect subscription box for couples to work on together. I would have preferred a little more murder with my mystery, but I'll have to wait for my chance to Escape the Ripper.
You may also be interested in: The Top 10 Mystery Subscription Boxes Like Hunt A Killer For Master Sleuths