Don’t let sleeping dragons lie
Location: at home
Date Played: January 15, 2022
Team size: 2-4; we recommend 1-2 kids and at least one adult
Duration: 1.5-2 hours
Dig It Up! Crack the Crate – A Dragon’s World was a strong kid-focused tabletop escape game that was unique for its inclusion of three “magic” orbs/ eggs (i.e. diggable clods of clay containing clues). Depending on your perspective, this integration with Mindware’s Dig It Up! product line either enhanced or interrupted the game. Kids throughout my house raved about the orbs and chiseled with an uncharacteristic persistence, eager to earn their prizes. Adults weren’t as enthralled, mostly because the diggable objects awkwardly disrupted progress for sizable chunks of time, sidelining the majority of our team.
Aside from the divisive issue of magic orbs, the puzzling was the star of this game, with nine entertaining puzzles that were remarkably well constructed for young players. These puzzles won’t challenge experienced players, but I still felt genuine admiration for how they combined interesting objects, motivating scenarios, and simple interactions to engage us.
The overarching story was a bit convoluted, stretching to justify some of the orbs. Even so, the themes of magic and dragons persisted throughout every aspect of the game and gave sufficient coherence to the experience.
This would be a lovely game for experienced puzzlers to play with their younger apprentices. Kids will be able to do most of it on their own, and they’ll love the gimmicks. More experienced players will appreciate much of the design and wish things like this existed when they were kids.
Who is this for?
- Young puzzlers (we recommend ages 8-14)
- Fans of chiseling toys
- Families with children
- Newbies of any age
- To share a solid set of puzzles with the children in your life
- To redirect your kid’s love of making messes into a puzzling hobby. It’s worth a try?
After the disappearance of the ancient dragons, the Kingdom of Valoria fell under the curse of Darkness. This was clearly bad, so we set off to find a hidden dragon egg, fulfill a prophecy, and drive Darkness away.
To navigate through the dragon world, we read a series of Story Cards that advanced the story, explained the next puzzle, and indicated which game materials to focus on for the task at hand. Some puzzles “unlocked” one of three crates, providing access to magical orbs or eggs that must be soaked in water and then chiseled away to unearth important objects for future puzzles. After solving a puzzle, we verified our answer by locating it on an Answer Card and scratching off the adjacent scratch-off material. Correct answers revealed the number of the next Story Card; incorrect answers showed an X.
Note that the chiseling process made just as much of a mess as you might expect. Do it outside.
Rather than provide a hint system, the game came with a Solution Guide, which, as its title suggests, contained solutions, not hints. To avoid spoilers, whoever reads it must translate the information into granular nudges. I highly recommend having an adult moderator manage this responsibility.
Mindware’s Dig It Up! Crack the Crate was a kid-focused tabletop escape game that alternated typical escape room puzzles with the intense chiseling tasks that the Dig It Up brand is known for. Considering an audience of ages 8-14, the puzzles had a moderate level of difficulty and involved making connections, searching, and making logical deductions.
Kids can expect to spend roughly half their time puzzling and half their time chiseling.
➕ The kids in our family loved the digging component and were delighted with their discoveries. They kept the treasures they earned and have been using them for their own adventures.
➖ The adults in our family did not love the digging component because it bottlenecked the game and disrupted the flow of the story. Only one person could chisel at a time, leaving the rest of us to twiddle our thumbs for 15 minutes and forget our narrative motivations. The game could engage more players by including multiple smaller orbs per chiseling interlude.
➕/➖ Digging unavoidably makes a mess. If you’re eight and love caking yourself in clay, this is a dream. If you’re any age and have to clean up, you might cry. To Mindware’s credit, soaking the objects before chiseling did make this brand of diggables more manageable than others we’ve tried.
➕ The puzzles were well designed, highly approachable, and rewardingly tactile. The game’s treasures were well integrated in a way that felt authentic (even if the orbs that contained them seemed a bit of a stretch at times).
➕ Each puzzle explicitly listed the game components to use, which prevented my kids from getting overwhelmed with options while still leaving them space to make connections. This was an excellent design choice for the game’s main audience.
➖ One puzzle was solvable without unearthing the “required” object from an orb. My 9-year-old was quite pleased with herself for discovering this, but it broke the magic a bit for the rest of us.
➕ The scratch-off answer verification system was unique and entertaining on its own. My kids listed it as one of their favorite parts of the game. However, for maximum enjoyment, don’t look at the answer choices before trying to solve a puzzle. Even kids might get too many unintended clues from reverse-engineering answer options.
➖ Substituting a Solution Guide for a granular hint system was disappointing. Crafting helpful but not-too-helpful hints requires time and skill, so shifting that burden from the game onto a player or moderator felt lazy.
➖ A central game piece was called an “amulet” on the Story Cards, but it lacked most hallmarks of being an amulet. My kids had a hard time trusting that we were using the correct thing for a while and carried this grudge until the end of the game. I promised I would report this…and now my work is done.
Tips For Players
- Space Requirements:
- Table or floor space to spread out game components
- Somewhere that you can make a mess of tiny particles that cling to things
- Required Gear:
- Deep bowl of water
- To avoid spoilers and ensure a smooth hint experience, we recommend having an adult monitor the game and deliver hints based on the Solution Guide. Otherwise, players must expose themselves to the solutions when they get stuck.
- To maximize the challenge, avoid looking at the Answer Card until you have a possible answer for a puzzle. The Answer Cards show four options for each puzzle, which provides information outside the scope of the puzzle design.
- If your team has more than one player who wants to chisel, alternate 1-minute chiseling turns rather than promising one orb to one person, another to someone else, etc. Each orb takes at least 10 minutes to process.
Buy your copy of Mindware’s Dig It Up! Crack the Crate, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Disclosure: Mindware provided a sample for review.