As RECON approaches, the team is getting excited to show attendees what amazing things the greater Boston Area has to offer, including Boda Borg. While not a typical escape room experience, there are some important things to note before you go.
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.
Boda Borg is one of the best escape room style game experiences in Massachusetts . Here are our recommendations for great escape rooms in Massachusetts. We also have a guide of recommendations within the city of Boston.
My body ached for two days. Muscles I didn’t even know I had hurt. I want to go back.
Location: Malden, Massachusetts
Date played: February 29, 2016
Team size: 3-5; we recommend 3-4
Price: $18 per person for 2 hours; $28 per person for a day pass
Boda Borg isn’t an escape room…
But it is on the spectrum.
Boda Borg is a large entertainment facility outside of Boston. It contains 16 separate physical puzzle challenges called “quests.”
These challenges range in intellectual difficulty and physicality.
Perhaps the most interesting challenge Boda Borg has to offer is its total lack of hints or instruction.
Like Nintendo in real life
Boda Borg’s quests feel like a physical manifestation of video games on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), for those old enough to remember them (that sentence makes me feel old). NES games were brutally challenging, lacked clear instructions for the players, and often had erratic leaps in difficulty.
You mastered an NES game by repeatedly failing. Each time you failed, you learned another thing that didn’t work. If you did that enough, you’d have the skill and knowledge to complete the game.
That’s Boda Borg. Once you enter a quest, you play until you make a mistake and are subsequently ejected. Then you start again from the beginning.
Everything in Boda Borg was automated. The quests were blanketed in sensors and they reset themselves. When we won, the quests told us. When we lost (and we lost a whole lot), the quests informed us of that as well.
Incredibly well-organized and staffed
In spite of the fact that the quests were automated, Boda Borg’s facilities were well-staffed. If we needed anything, there were always people to ask.
Additionally, everything was exceptionally organized. There were a ton of people visiting Boda Borg, and with the exception of Alcatraz, a particularly popular quest, the lines were never more than a few minutes long.
Boda Borg’s facilities were also far more extensive than what we were accustomed to at escape rooms.
Since we’d pre-registered, our wristbands were ready upon our arrival. We were swiftly given our basic instructions and ushered to a quest.
Snacks, beverages, and a warm lunch were available for purchase. Water was freely available, and Purell® was plentiful.
While the look and feel of the quests varied dramatically from room to room, they were generally attractive. Spook House, Jungle, Platoon, Alcatraz, and Rats looked great.
Some of the more physical quests were on the spartan side, but they were clearly designed for both safety and durability.
Inside of Boda Borg’s walls, we had everything we needed. Outside, the parking situation left a bit to be desired.
Street parking was limited in space and time. Fortunately we were there on a Sunday and the street parking behind the building had no restrictions. (It was a different story in front.)
There was a pay lot, but we didn’t investigate it further.
Boda Borg’s website should provide parking instructions.
Each quest is assigned a color rating: green, red, or black.
This rating isn’t a difficulty rating so much as it is a rating of mental / physical intensity.
Green is mentally intense.
Black is physically intense.
Red is somewhere in between.
Upon reflection, and much to my surprise, I generally preferred the red and black quests. The green quests were considerably less interesting.
Rats was our group’s favorite quest. We played the role of rats in a home. We had to navigate a series of traps and hazards to earn our cheesy goodness. Rated as a “red” quest, it was a mix of physicality, reasoning, and trial and error experimentation. The staging was adorable. Every household object was oversize to simulate the proportions of being a rat. Rats’ look, feel, and overall experience reminded me of the Rescue Rangers NES game.
Another “red” quest, Dansa Pausa was a fun, adorable series of musical and dancing puzzles.
Given a “black” rating, Jungle was a balance challenge that felt like it could have been a challenge on the show Survivor.
Alcatraz was the most popular quest during our visit (and probably most days). It was an escape scenario. This was the most attractive and lushly decorated quest. The lines were too long for us to spend enough time with it, but aesthetically, it was impressive.
I wish we had had time to see it all the way through.
Infra seemed like it baffled everyone who played it. It never had a line and only seemed to hold the attention of people who were really motivated to solve the mystery. We teamed up with another group to try and solve it. We didn’t get far before we got bored.
Rock & Roll
This was some kind of pinball quest. I’m still not sure what was expected of us. We quickly lost interest in it.
This was a pop culture gameshowy quiz.
It broke on us in the middle of the final stage. The screens flashed and then it told us we lost, but we hadn’t even begun the challenge.
The breakage aside, it felt seriously out of place in Boda Borg.
My biggest knock against Boda Borg was their inconsistent use of padding in crawlspaces.
In some locations like Spook House, the padding slid out of place. In other locations such as Rats, there were crawlspaces without any padding.
My knees were displeased.
Eat, hydrate, and dress appropriately
Before you go, make sure you’ve had a good meal. You will burn lots of calories.
Drink water throughout your visit to Boda Borg.
Wear sneakers and comfortable clothes. You will crawl, climb, and jump.
Also… knee pads would have been a good idea.
Should I play Boda Borg?
No one has ever accused me of being athletic. If I’m being completely honest, I was a bit anxious going into Boda Borg. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. That concern was unfounded. There were a few challenges that required far more proportional strength than I had to offer, but just about everything was conquerable. And there were plenty of things that I could do that my teammates struggled with.
That’s why Boda Borg is so intriguing.
The quests placed upon us such a broad range of demands that everyone’s strengths and weaknesses surfaced. In my particular case, strength was my weakness, but I was able to make up for it with dexterity and reason.
Boda Borg is rough if you have mobility issues (and depending upon how sever your mobility issues, it might be impossible).
There were many kids (I’d guess around age 8 and up) and they seemed to be having a blast.
If you’re physically capable of meeting the quests’ demands, intellectually able to take on the challenge, and well-adjusted enough to leave your ego in the locker room, then you are in for one hell of a treat.
Book your time with Boda Borg, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
If I love Boda Borg, what next?
For more mental challenge and less physical exertion check out our New England room escape reviews.
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