After two and a half years we finally returned to Boda Borg Boston… and there were some new games.
What’s The Same?
For the most part, Boda Borg was as we’d left it and discussed in great detail in our previous review.
It was still:
- an automated physical challenge/ puzzle facility (now with 17 games instead of 16)
- rough on the knees (kneepads recommended)
- worth spending at least half a day exploring
Some of the games had changed:
- Infrared had dropped from the Boda Borg spectrum, replaced by the affirmational and strangely puzzley Awesome. We won this one quickly and seemed to have surprised the staff by doing so. It was a weird, low-budget game that we got a kick out of.
- Rock & Roll had died, replaced by the communicative Shapes. We loved Shapes even when we encountered what we’re confident was a technical glitch.
- Step Up had stepped down, replaced by ball-based Boll Koll. This was a fantastic addition to the Boda Borg lineup. This teamwork/ physical challenge/ puzzle mashup had a phenomenal ending.
- Potions was entirely new. It’s the main topic of today’s discussion.
Boda Borg is a Strange Beast
I love and hate Boda Borg; I mostly mean this as a compliment.
The hybrid of challenging gameplay, automation, and some basic flaws in the human brain makes Boda Borg both brilliant and messy.
Players learn how to puzzle through each game with trial and error. Failure isn’t just inevitable; it’s how you learn to play in a Boda Borg game.
This gameplay is overseen by automated systems. The systems work really well, most of the time. Occasionally, some of them seem janky. We’ve lost for seemingly no reason in rooms that we knew how to solve. Sometimes this was just a fluke; sometimes it shattered our trust in a game. There is a real opportunity, and need, for Boda Borg to clean this problem up as it can break otherwise fantastic experiences.
This leads to what I call Boda Borg superstitions: situations where we more or less know how to solve a room, but because we don’t quite have it all figured out, we try not to change anything from what had worked before, resulting in us adding an extra step or constraint that has nothing to do with the proper solution to the room.
This play structure is complicated by the occasional unexpected and barely-clued psychotic spike in difficulty.
Boda Borg offers some beastly challenges that would be a nightmare in an escape room because of time constraint and limited freedom. In an escape room, you cannot abandon a puzzle that you aren’t enjoying or cannot solve. In Boda Borg, you can. That’s why this is more than acceptable; it flat out works.
Boda Borg isn’t meant to be fully won. It can be done, but the photos of teams that have successfully completed all available challenges are shockingly few.
Potions is one of the new games, and one of the most – if not the most – aesthetically pleasing installments in Boda Borg Boston (rivaled only by Alcatraz).
Potions was a Potter-esque wizard’s laboratory where each phase took us on a journey to best a dragon. The set had that earthy, medieval vibe that immediately conveyed fantasy.
The first room was a purely cerebral puzzle. It was smart, challenging, and fairly well clued.
When we knew what we were doing, it was possible to complete this first room incredibly quickly.
The second phase of Potions was a mostly self-evident dexterity puzzle. We got to a place where we worked through this challenge with military precision.
There was one massive oversight in this room. The conclusion seemed like it had originally been designed as a far more complex puzzle and Boda Borg had smartly simplified it after play testing. Unfortunately, the remaining infrastructure for the more complicated version was still there and its presence was confusing as hell…
which brings me to room 3.
The third room turned everything that we thought we had learned on its end and presented what I think is the most difficult twist that I’ve ever seen in a puzzle game. It was a total brain melter. (It was also unnecessarily and obnoxiously complicated by that left over puzzle infrastructure from the end of room 2.)
We killed ourselves to figure out the first trick to room 3… but we did it, in part thanks to short lines at Potions and in part thanks to helpful hinting by the friendly staff.
We kind of figured out the second half, but ultimately couldn’t sort it out. We ran out of time and patience before we could complete Potions.
Trial & Error Learning
I don’t think players will trial and error their way through the third room without some form of redirection.
Boda Borg has conditioned players how to think and learn from these games. Potions offered a genius twist on the parameters of gameplay. It expanded what Boda Borg gameplay can be. It was brilliant.
It also wasn’t clued. The solve was clued. The twist was not. Not even a little bit. We didn’t have a fighting chance. We also weren’t going to get lucky. Boda Borg superstition couldn’t help us here.
Potions was a fantastic case study in how Boda Borg is interesting, infuriating, and wonderful; it vacillated among all three.
Boda Borg is pushing the envelope. Potions is pushing that even more. We hope Boda Borg can refine the clue structure just a bit more. We didn’t want to walk away from this one.
The root of what makes Boda Borg special is the freedom to explore, the expectation of constant failure, and the openness of the facility.
If we stopped deriving pleasure from a game, there were always 16 others for us to attempt.