We’re more than half a decade into the phenomenon of ‘escape room in a box’ games – single-play, cooperative tabletop games full of clever puzzles. Sometimes you’re actually trying to escape from something, sometimes there’s a mystery to be solved, sometimes it’s something wild like time travel – there have been a lot of entries in the genre with a lot of thematic and mechanical variations. But to me the best games of this type are the EXIT series – there’s just a consistently clever use of components to keep the games fresh (they have, for example, a tendency to hide clues on the box, in the rules, under other components, that sort of thing). EXIT games are sold in a small box and take 60-90 minutes to play. But for the second time this year there is an EXIT advent calendar – The Hunt for the Golden Book.
These EXIT advent calendars (the first one was Mystery of the Ice Cave) are a fantastic idea. Each of the 24 days is its own puzzle. The first day is marked on the calendar, and then the answer to each puzzle tells you which door to open next. Each of those puzzles may involve clues in the story book, images on the inside of the ‘room,’ and possibly riddle cards or ‘strange objects’ contained in the room. As usual for EXIT games, there’s a varied use of components, with the added bonus of being able to cross-pollinate between the rooms (when the game tells you to put a strange object from today’s room into some other room you can bet it’s going to matter later).
There are also a lot of checks to make sure that you don’t accidentally go to the wrong room next. Not only is there a double-check in the puzzle, but part of the function of the story introduction to each day is to say something about the nature of the new room so you can immediately tell if you’re in the wrong place. The story as such isn’t exactly exciting (you’re getting the golden book back for Santa), but I don’t think it’s intended to be; it’s basically a way to deliver clues and make clever references (for example, one of the rooms is clearly in Nakatomi Plaza from Die Hard).
This makes for a great family activity each evening. My kids love the drip-drip of advent, and getting to a do a creative, thought-provoking activity together each night is way better than just shoveling another present at them each day. Exactly how long the puzzle will take each day varies, of course, but my family of four took between 5 and 25 minutes per puzzle, with an average of a bit over 10 minutes (there’s a hint book so you can always consult that if a particular day’s puzzle is taking too long). If riddles and puzzles with the family (with or without kids) seem at all appealing to you, I would strongly recommend checking The Hunt for the Golden Book. These EXIT advent calendars are probably the best advent calendars I’ve ever seen.
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