Looking for the Perfect Holiday Gift?
Check out our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide and treat your friends, family, or yourself to some fun.
Check out our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide and treat your friends, family, or yourself to some fun.
Note, supplies are limited and they need to be shipped in advance, so if this is something you’re interested in, act now.
Lisa and I are a couple with few annual traditions; we like trying new things and visiting new places.
However, for the past 4 years we’ve made an annual trip to Massachusetts for Club Drosselmeyer. We adore this reimagining of the Nutcracker as a World War II era techno-conspiracy. (Past reviews)
This event blends so many of our favorite things into one giant spectacle… puzzles, immersive theatre, music, swing dancing. When we went to the first one I said, “It felt like someone made this specifically for us.”
Well, we can’t travel to Boston this year. There is no real-life Club Drosselmeyer, and the last time we went out dancing was at last year’s Club Drosselmeyer.
There is a digital Club Drosselmeyer, the Drosselbox.
I really have no idea what to expect from this. I know that it will be a profoundly different experience, simply because it can’t be a giant puzzle and dance party. I am just happy that any amount of Club Drosselmeyer will be bottled up and sent to warm our home and keep up our annual tradition.
This is a ticketed event, not just a boxed game. There is one show on December 12 and two shows on December 13.
I can’t wait to see what it’s like.
The Comedy of Terrors is a point-and-click adventure game created by Wild Hare Escapes.
Style of Play: point-and-click hosted experience, not synced across player devices
Required Equipment: computer with internet connection
Recommended Team Size: 2-4
Play Time: 75 minutes
Price: $25 per player
Booking: book online for a specific time slot
Using Zoom to communicate with your teammates and the gamemaster, The Comedy of Terrors functions similarly to a point-and-click adventure game made for any video gaming platform. You collect items that are automatically added to your inventory, and click and drag each item to another item in the space to use it. The interface is not synced across devices, so each teammate can simultaneously play locally, or one teammate can screenshare over Zoom for others to watch.
Read more about our new Hivemind Review format.
There is only one week left to vote for your favorite escape rooms as part of the 2020 Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Award, TERPECA. This a community-driven endeavor to help surface the industry’s best escape rooms.
Even if you haven’t played many real-life escape games this year, if you’re eligible to vote, you can and should add your voice.
A participant is required to have played at least 50 rooms to be eligible to rank rooms.
Due to the emergence of online escape rooms in 2020, you can include online games in your count of 50.
Also, online escape rooms have their own category this year; you’ll rank them separately.
Rankings (votes) are due November 30 at 11:59 PM Pacific.
Ranking is hard. Oh boy, do we understand. We are each ranking more than 80 rooms, played over the course of almost 5 years. You can do it!
The more people who rank, the more meaningful the rankings will be.
If you’re unfamiliar with TERPECA, I invite you to read more about it here, in our piece calling for voters last year.
You can also read TERPECA FAQs on their website.
I will remind you that David and I share a vote on the TERPECA board. It is not our project, but we do our best to help guide it along with a few other well-intentioned folks.
Welcome to our 5th Annual Holiday Buyer’s Guide. The fact that we’ve been doing this for 5 years blows my mind. As always, we’re here to help you solve the puzzle of what to get family and friends.
Each year we assemble a list of puzzles, games, tools, and some truly random stuff that we think would make fantastic gifts for the escape room or puzzle-curious people in your life.
We do not (intentionally) repeat items, so feel free to check out our past Holiday Buyer’s Guides for additional inspiration. They have all been crafted with love and we still stand behind them:
We cover a lot of ground here, so puzzles are broken out into sub-categories for your convenience.
David: “Jinkies, this game was adorable. It was about as Scooby Doo as it could have gotten, and it’s the perfect family-friendly tabletop escape room.” (Review)
Lisa: “It’s a dollhouse. You turn the game box into a dollhouse, and then you play it like it’s a real-life escape room. Sure, it had a couple of bumps, but it’s so much fun. And did I mention that it’s a dollhouse?” (Review)
David: “This one really surprised us. It was teed up as a single player experience (but we played it as a couple). We didn’t know what to expect or what we were getting into… and in the initial moments it seemed like it might disappoint, but wow. Must play. Few tabletop puzzle games have pushed the idea as far as Box One did.” (Review)
David: “We had Sarah Willson review this one because Lisa volunteered to play a part as one of the witches. In both my opinion and Sarah’s… this game is great. Also, I think that one of the witches in this game is really hot.” (Review)
David: “This is a beautiful and unique take on the subscription game. It has an entirely different feel and style from anything else we’ve seen and puts a heavy focus on challenges and fiction that feel more real than purely puzzley.” (Review)
Lisa: “We loved the Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks and said as much in our review… but we loved its prequel/ harder followup Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks even more. That review is coming soon. These are quality, approachable puzzle games.” (Review)
Lisa: “Root of All Evil built a grim fictional world and truly sold it through an attention to detail that rivals anything else we’ve seen in the tabletop mystery market. I’ve never enjoyed reading a journal more than in this experience.” (Review)
David: “As an jigsaw puzzler, I always thought that buying dedicated sorting trays was a decadence that I didn’t need. Turns out, it’s a decadence that I love.” (Review)
David: “The book The Devil in the White City is fantastic on so many levels. It also introduced me to the real and insane story of H.H. Holmes and his murder castle. This illustrated puzzle brings the stories to life. It’s an interesting jigsaw puzzle because it has so much detail and the act of assembling it really makes sure that you take in every little bit.”
Lisa: “You think you’re a good jigsaw puzzler until a 29-piece puzzle kicks your butt. This thing is loaded with intrigue and smart design. Have fun figuring out what the deal is with that 5th corner piece.”
Brett: “A series of challenges with one simple rule: place the starting pieces in specified locations, then figure out where the remaining pieces fit. It escalates from easier puzzles to quite difficult ones, but always producing an attractive color block pattern. Challenge cards and pieces are packaged in a clever case, making it good for portable puzzling.”
David: “I’m a big fan of puzzles and locks… so blending them together is a no-brainer for me. In the annals of puzzle locks, the Dan Lock is a puzzle that really established a lot in this niche genre. I’ve never owned one, but I did solve a friend’s.”
David: “ClueBox is a really clever puzzle. It blends mechanical puzzling with escape room-style clue structure. The result is approachable fun for newbies and experts alike.” (Review)
Lisa: “We took a bit of a break from puzzle books in 2020, but Master Theorem was the exception. It has a unique voice and an assortment of quality puzzles that we kept returning to.” (Review)
David: “About 15 years ago I read a science fiction novel called Daemon (which is fantastic and could make a great gift as well). The book passively mentioned bone conduction headphones. It wasn’t essential to the plot, but it captured my imagination. In 2020, I’ve spent a lot of time in headphones and I don’t like over-ear or earbuds, so I tried a pair of these bone conduction headphones and they are really cool. They leave your ears completely open. There is also a more expensive waterproof/ exercise model.”
Lisa: “It has been a long time since we’ve gone out to a bar, so we’ve been mixing our own potions. Gin & tonic is an easy choice, but most people buy inferior tonic. Splurge for the good stuff; it will completely change the way you think of the classic gin & tonic.”
David: “A non-trivial portion of the joy that I’ve experienced in 2020 has been from exploring spices and hot sauces. The gift set from Flatiron Pepper Co is by far the most versatile product that I’ve found. These pepper blends are so fresh, flavorful, and vibrant. There’s a pepper blend for every meal in this box. Give the gift of 🔥.”
David: “I learned about this cheese grater in an unusual Facebook thread over in the Everything Immersive group where Haley E R Cooper educated me. As is so often the case… she was right. If you want to read the original conversation, have at it. You’ll just have to join the Everything Immersive Facebook group first.“
Lisa: “It turns out traditional soy sauces are amazing. I wouldn’t cook it into something, but in the right places, this stuff is an outrageous finishing touch.”
David: “I’ve been playing Magic The Gathering on and off since I was about 10 years old. I love brewing up decks, and I truly enjoy the complexity of the game… but I don’t really like to keep up with buying tons of cards. The Challenger Decks are amazing because most of them are legitimately good out of the box, and with a few upgrades, it’s easy to turn these things into powerhouses. All 4 are interesting, but I think that Cavalcade Charge and Flash of Ferocity are the strongest out of the box.”
David: “If you’re brand new to Magic, the Arena Starter Decks are really good – Magic has a dodgy history when it comes to starter deck quality. These also come with the added bonus of working in Magic’s digital format, Arena, as well (which is also where I do most of my playing these days).”
Lisa: “Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a collaborative fantasy, adventure, and strategy game. It is the little sibling of Gloomhaven (2018 Buyers Guide), an epic tabletop game designed to be played over dozens of sessions… and we have been playing it throughout 2020. The smaller version is far less of a commitment in terms of playtime, price, and complexity… but it’s still really fun.”
Lisa: “Truthfully, we haven’t played this yet, but it’s sitting next to our table waiting for us to play it in December. We recommended Season 1 & 2 in past guides and they were a marvel of game design. I can’t wait to see what catharsis Season 0 has in store for us.”
David: “It’s a ducky in a 20-sided die! Do I really need to sell you on this?”
Lisa: “I’m pretty sure that every dungeon master we’ve ever played with secretly sips from this. You know who you are and what you’ve done.”
David: “The Wera screwdriver that I recommended last year is my go-to fix-most-things tool… but this cheap, silly little tool has worked miracles for me in tight spaces. I don’t always need it, but when I do, I am so happy that I have it.”
David: “This is a small safe designed to teach you how to crack safes. If you’re into mechanical puzzles, lock picking, or you’re the kind of person who likes to know how to do things, this product is incredibly cool. The only reason that I do not own one right now is that I know that I don’t have the time to get really good at this… yet.”
Lisa: “If it’s wrong to love a pencil, I don’t want to be right. This mechanical pencil slowly rotates as you write with it so that the graphite wears evenly. It’s magnificent. David and I both use them when puzzling. Buy extra graphite; the pencil doesn’t ship with much in it.”
Lisa: “I’ve always loved origami. Any scrap paper or candy wrapper turns into a bird in my idle hands. I also really enjoy folding my way through these squares while we watch TV.”
David: “Now is the time that I entertain and educate you. This silly little key goes to the most commonly-used lock on office furniture, cabinets, and RV compartments… and it shows up in a lot of escape rooms. It’s a dirt cheap lock that manufacturers keep using out of laziness and stupidity. So buy yourself a “skeleton key” to keep on your key-chain… and seriously make sure that you are never locking up something important behind a lock keyed to CH751.”
Lisa: “If you’re looking to open the world of puzzling up to your primary-school age child, The Mad Hacker is an adorable and beautifully illustrated entry point.” (Review)
Lisa: “If you asked tiny me what I wanted for the holidays, the answer was always Playmobil. My obsession was intense. What I love about this particular playset is that it’s a great way to introduce kids to mystery, adventure, and trap doors. Teaching your kids to love trap doors is just good parenting.”
Recommendations for Avatar-Guided Online Escape Games – In these games, you interact with the escape room through an in-game avatar who is your eyes, ears, and hands in the physical game space.
Recommendations for Play On-Demand Online Escape Games – These are games that are always available to start now – no need to book a time slot.
David: “Whether you play in real life at your friendly neighborhood escape room business or try one of the countless digital escape room variants, these companies absolutely need the business. It has been a hard year, and supporting them is as important as it is fun.”
Lisa “For the first time, we finally have REA logo swag available and we’re super excited. If you’re debating between the items, let me tell you that the hoodie is so soft and comfortable. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a hoodie. The mug is also really great.” (About REA Merch)
Brett: “If you are looking for something high-end, this puzzle box has hours of play value. With more than 100 different configurations, taking from 6 to 115 moves to open, you won’t soon run out of challenges. Made by Kagen Sound, one of the best puzzle craftspeople out there, it is also a beautifully precise piece of woodworking.”
David: “Every year I explore the internet in search of something completely bonkers for the person who has everything. I keep imagining how funny it would have been running RECON from something this ridiculously super villainous.”
The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.
Box One is a tabletop escape game presented By Neil Patrick Harris.
Style of Play: tabletop escape game
Required Equipment: an internet-connected device
Recommended Team Size: 1
Play Time: While active playtime was under 2 hours, you will not be starting and finishing this game in a single evening; don’t try.
Price: about $29.99
Box One is a tabletop escape-room-esque experience that describes itself as “an ever-evolving game of trivia, codes, puzzles, and discovery – only from the mind of Neil Patrick Harris.” It was explicitly designed for a single player to enjoy on their own, but there is nothing about the game that prevents more players, beyond designer’s intent (which ain’t nothing). Saying much more than that about its structure will spoil things that ought not be spoiled.