My wife – with interjections here as Muscle Wife – and I got this game from Escape The Crate as a gift from her sister, and didn’t receive or ask for any promotional consideration from the maker. Though I did enjoy the usual “leave us a good review on Yelp or whatever if you had a good time” appeal. Buddy, if you want a review, I have a slightly bigger platform I can use for that.
Escape rooms were having a moment for a while there, weren’t they? Now that being stuck in an enclosed space is closer to our everyday living hell than it’s ever been, the idea of going to a different room and getting locked in there with other people has lost a bit of the sheen. You’re already in an escape room, as it turns out, but the impossible riddle you have to solve in order to leave is finding sanity in a world increasingly hostile to the very idea. Which could happen if everyone tried harder, but we didn’t feel like it, so we won’t do it.
Escape the Crate is a company offering a lockdown-friendly spin on the concept, using a variation on the Loot Crate model to let you pretend that any room is an escape room. You can escape the room that the crate represents; even if you’ll never escape your actual physical room, the crate offers the promise of hope, which is a nice feeling that we probably remember having before.
Muscle Wife: If I’m being honest, given our history with escape rooms there wasn’t much hope that we would actually be any good at this, and as you will see – boy was I right. Because the wife is always right, as Greg likes to say (and he’s right about that too). But there was hope that this would be a distraction for a few hours that would shake up our regular activities that had gotten stale, and we were successful in that endeavor. At least it wasn’t another movie.
(She’s right, by the way. I’m an unapologetic Wife Guy)
The individual crates are structured as “missions”, set in a wider narrative. There’s a frame story involving you playing a sort of Doctor Who-esque time narc, which you can safely ignore if you want, since it’s just a way to explain how the same dorks keep getting stuck in rooms ranging from ancient Greece to the Wild West. We picked this one because it seemed cool, and despite skipping the first 16 missions didn’t have a problem jumping in mid-stream.
Muscle Wife: I didn’t really get the whole time travel arc and how that plays with the friggin’ Mothman but I guess that’s a whole thing in all of their boxes, traveling through time and solving mysteries. As a hardcore Whovian myself—I definitely have not cosplayed as the eleventh doctor at our local renaissance faire—the story appealed to me.
The Box, and Box Accessories
The particular mission here is Escape the Mothman. Set in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the 1960s, it drops you amidst a series of terrifying sightings of a big flying weirdo, who never actually does anything but does seem to be around when things happen. I am also being informed that the Mothman has a dumptruck ass (Muscle Wife: hell yeah), and can Get It. The box comes with some clues that you’ll use to solve the puzzle – a map, some crayons, a pair of sunglasses, various other paper printouts – and a couple of sealed envelopes (more on those later). The box itself is even used as a prop. Nothing wasted, but it did barely fit on our coffee table. A proper dining room table might be the play here.
Muscle Wife: So let’s talk a bit more about all that cake – I don’t want to skim over that part, because it was important – nay, essential – to my decision to choose this box. Because yeah, it was date night, and let’s just say it did not hurt the mood to google image search the Mothman’s ass. Well, the interpretation of the Mothman’s ass by whoever made the statue of him that currently resides in Point Pleasant, WV ’cause DAMN. Mothman thicc af, double cheeked up on a Thursday afternoon as the saying goes. Anyway, I love my husband.
The part I wasn’t expecting, and actually did a lot to sell me on it, is that the items in the box are only part of the game, and there’s an online component as well. The first step in the mission is to enter a password at the URL provided, which starts the clock ticking, and offers some basic instructions on how the game works. You use the clues – some of which are in the box, and others on the website – to solve a puzzle (these are fairly linear, but in a few spots you’re given multiple options that can be solved in whichever order you’d prefer), and then enter the solution into a form, which either tells you you’re wrong, or takes you to the next page and the next puzzle, and the process repeats. The puzzles themselves are a mix of logic puzzles, ciphers, hunting for clues in images, and wordplay – the typical escape room mechanics – and none of them seem to repeat often enough to wear out their welcome.
The online segments are done well, with written and voice-acted content that advances the narrative setup and provides clues, as well as instructions for when to open the sealed envelopes, which are effectively different “rooms” with their own challenges. It’s a pretty good core gameplay loop, and I never felt bored as we played through it. Also, in this particular box, you hear the Mothman call in to the local radio station a couple of times and make fun of you, which is something I think more games could use.
Muscle Wife: In fact, the voice actor is so good at playing a creature from (presumably) another world that we couldn’t understand a damn word he was saying. Just another layer of challenge!
This all means you’ll have to have a laptop or tablet handy, though a phone could work in a pinch. You’ll also want a pen and paper, but otherwise everything you need is either in the box or online.
The set-up step does give you some guidelines for timing – expert players should be able to complete it in 60 minutes, dumb-dumb idiots in 90 (it took us about 2 and half hours) – but if you’re not interested in keeping score you have the option of just letting the timer run, or not setting one at all.
Muscle Wife: I would like to point out that it only took us TWO hours to “escape the room” because while we are in fact “dumb-dumb idiots,” we are not THAT dumb. Also, being good at escape rooms is definitely not a real skill or something I would brag about – my redneck relatives with a high school education can get out of an escape room in under an hour but I’ve been stuck in one with some really educated people that couldn’t get out in front of their own big dumb brains and stop trying to solve a bunch of numbers using like a fibonacci code or whatever, to realize that the blue shapes go with the blue numbers. [Editor’s Note: Jesus Muscle Wife, just @ me next time]
We did it with two people, but the company doesn’t have any hard recommendations here that I could find. Treat it like bar trivia, where you can solo it if you have to, or try to wrangle a bigger team, but probably a group of 2-3 is about right.
Muscle Wife: God, it would be nice to see a third person right about now.
We’ve never been good at escape rooms. I don’t think we’re dumb, but they require familiarity and there’s something about Escape Room Logic that we haven’t really wrapped our heads around yet, so our combined record is zero escapes. Escape rooms are like crossword puzzles, in that there’s a particular sort of vocabulary that they use, and if you’re not familiar with the thieves’ cant you end up wasting a bunch of time either over- or under-thinking things. By way of example – from a different (actual) room we did years ago, so I can avoid spoilers – I’m not sure the best way to figure out the coordinates for reaching a moon lander is “break into mission control and read out every number in order from the front page of the newspaper”. But that’s how Escape Room Logic works – you know you need some number of digits, so you scour the room for anything that has the right number of them, slam them into whatever input device is in front of you, and hope for the best, real-world logic be damned. We killed those astronauts, by the way. Took too long, and the air ran out. They’re on the moon in Hell now.
Muscle Wife: RIP the astronauts. That was a super frustrating experience by the way, but not nearly as frustrating as the time Greg and I did a Jurassic Park escape room with my family. That was a whole other type of Moon Hell, I tell you.
Escape the Crate’s web-based component does offer “hints” to help solve the puzzles, which I put in scare quotes because while most of them are actually hints, the final one in any given set is just “The answer is ___. Enter it into the box”, flat out telling you what you should type in, with an almost audible sigh. We did use the first few hints on a couple of the problems, and they seem to be a good sanity check while working through things, while still giving you some of the dopamine hit from figuring the rest out on your own.
Muscle Wife: Let’s be honest with the readers, babe. We used a hell of a lot of the hints. Especially in the home stretch when we were quite done with the Mothman and his shit. Lots of fun though!
It seems like everyone is thirsty as hell for the Mothman, and at least two people I know bought the thing after I showed it around in the Goonhammer Offices. The story itself was interesting and better than I’d expected. The crate does the best job it can to pull you in, despite the reality of sitting in the same living room you’ve been sitting in for eight months at this point, with a combination of written materials, audio clues to sift through, and a narrated audiobook-style introduction to set the scene. Production values are generally high, but the Mothman’s voice can be hard to make out. Easy enough to workaround – just listen to the recording a bunch of times, no one can stop you – and it was honestly kind of fun trying to suss out what he was croaking about, but at least once we whiffed on an answer because Mothmen can’t enunciate properly (Muscle Wife: Take a fucking lozenge Mothman, we’re trying to solve a puzzle here!) We enjoyed the puzzles, and as a rank novice I didn’t think any of them were either too easy or difficult to the point of being busted or unfair, though I imagine that Real Escapeheads might disagree with that assessment.
Muscle Wife: I dunno, I’m going to have nightmares about that damn quilt puzzle.
Replay value seems fairly low. Once you’ve solved the riddles, it’ll take a while to forget them hard enough to get the same satisfaction from noodling over the same clues. The box itself is fine – a few of the components get written or drawn on, but it’s not super destructive, and you can print new copies from the website, or just write on blank paper in the first place, if you’re worried about that – but unless your memory is somehow more swiss cheese than mine you aren’t likely to play a given mission more than once.
That said, it’s a subscription product, so the intent is clearly to move on to new missions instead of replaying old ones. The box is $40 (cheaper with a subscription), which isn’t a bad deal for a night’s entertainment getting horny about Mothmen, and you can certainly reset the box and re-gift it to someone else. We enjoyed it as a Thing To Do In Lockdown that wasn’t TV or jigsaw puzzles, and would probably do another.
Muscle Wife: I liked it in that it was challenging and different from our usual bullshit but it also seemed like a great way to start a fight if you weren’t careful. Luckily that didn’t happen despite my repeated instance that the [redacted – spoilers] GREG.
If you want to try it out before buying, the Mothman crate in particular has a few online “prequel” puzzles to solve, available here. As an introduction to the concept and to familiarize yourself with the gameplay mechanics they’re good, but I found the puzzles in the actual box to be more complex and well-produced, for what that’s worth.
The escape room premise maybe hits a little too close to home these days, but Escape the Crate offers a solid product, and we found it to be a good way to spend an evening.