The Best Boxed Escape Game Deals for Cyber Monday 2021

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Lauren Bello. She originally shared this write-up on her Facebook on November 20. For this re-share on November 28, we’ve edited it a bit, since it’s now a week later. This version also includes links back to Room Escape Artist reviews. Lauren’s write-ups are spot on and you can find many of her favorites in our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide and 2021 Holiday Gift Guidealong with more gift ideas for your puzzle-loving friends. Thank you to everyone in our community who pointed us toward Lauren’s amazing deal sleuthing.

Guess what? I played 228 boxed/enveloped escape games, narrowed down the cream of the crop, and found their sales so you don’t have to!

Top Tier

Bluefish Games – Hincks

Initial opening of the box shows a wide variety of paper components.

Bluefish Games’ entire Hincks line is a treasure. Spectacular puzzles full of “aha!” moments, a charming and unusual world, and ridiculously affordable prices. Start with Curious Elevator of Mr Hincks, and if you enjoy it, move on to the Hincks Gazette (you can order back issues) and the Curious Stairs of Mr Hincks.

20% off everything in the Holiday Store through Cyber Monday with the code HOHOHINCKS.

Dark Park Games – Witchery Spell

A pentagram surrounded with decorative symbols, with a lit candle in the center.

If you’re willing to splurge and wait on shipping from the Netherlands, DarkPark Games’ award-winning Witchery Spell is pretty much universally beloved. Quality artifacts, quality story, quality puzzles. Shipping stays the same no matter how many items you order, so to make shipping worth it, consider finding someone else local who wants to play and make a group order. You can also order refill kits so you can share or resell after. Their Conspiracy-19 game is also worth playing, and a new game called Never House is coming soon.

Witchery Spell is currently 25% off and there are only 29 boxes in stock, so HURRY.

Box One by Theory11

Hand holding a gold Box One challenge coin over the game's box art.

The less you know going in, the better. Savor the surprises.

Usually cheapest at Target, where it frequently goes on sale as part of a buy-2-get-1-free deal. Currently on sale at Walmart for only $20! No idea how long this deal will last!

Editor’s note: Lauren is right about surprises, but if you want to know just a little more, here is the Room Escape Artist Review and a podcast interview with the creator. I recommend the interview for AFTER you play the game.

Solve Our Shirts

Red and teal puzzle shirts folded and laying beside one another.

Solve Our Shirts’ first shirt, the delightful Escape from the Maze of the Minotaur may genuinely be the most comfy T-shirt I own. Just be sure to solve it before you wash and wear it! Their second shirt just went up for sale (preorder) this week, and I can’t wait to play.

Team up with someone to buy a pair for a discount, and/ or get an additional discount through November: 15% off $100+ with code SENDINGOUTANSOS.

Society of Curiosities

An assortment of maps, star charts, and other beautifully designed items.

Society of Curiosities is a subscription-based game where you combine handcrafted artifacts and polished websites to progress through a serialized adventure. My favorite game of theirs (and you’d be totally fine starting here instead of Chapter One: Madok’s Lost Treasure) is Chapter Two: The Posie Ring and the Chapbook.

Until November 21, you can get 10% off subscriptions or 15% off games. They don’t have sales often, so get on it!

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately this sale has ended, but let us entice you anyway with Matthew Stein’s interview with creators Michelle Rundbaken and Yacine Merzouk about the tech behind the scenes in these games

Key Enigma – Hack Forward

Key Enigma’s Hack Forward is quite fun, but it ships from Spain, so it will take some time to arrive in other countries. It might be too late to make a good Christmas gift, but still – absolutely worth playing. Another combination of physical items and websites: you’re using a chat interface to communicate with characters about what you find. I haven’t yet received their new game Calling Card, but it looks fantastic. (You can skip Butterfly Curse, in my opinion.)

35% off through Black Friday with discount code BLACKFRIDAY… which appears to still be applied site wide at the time of this posting.

Crack-A-Nut Mysteries

A large assortment of books, letters, newspaper articles, ID badges, and other items.

Crack-A-Nut Mysteries’ games are all lovingly hand-crafted and personalized to the recipient. S.O.U.P. is on the easy side, but fun nonetheless. Double Major has a gripping story in which you play a major role. (Root of All Evil is story-driven, with few puzzles.) Not sure if you want to splurge? Room Escape Artist has written glowing reviews of all of these.

Currently 10% off all orders through the end of the month with code OHNUTS10. Orders will also receive a free pin!

Editor’s note: Thanks for the shoutout, Lauren. Reviews are now linked above for everyone’s convenience!

Second Tier

Puzzling Pursuits

Puzzle portfolios part 1 & 2 with a welcome booklet.

On a slightly lower tier but still great fun, Puzzling Pursuits is fun and affordable – I especially enjoyed La Famiglia.

From November 26 to November 29, get 20% off with code BLACKFRIDAY.

Editor’s note: REA review of Blackbrim: 1876 is coming soon.

Trapped Takeout

An assortment of parody DVD boxes beside a bowl of popcorn including, "The Boonies" "Indiana Bones," and "Mandibles."

Trapped Takeout games are great fun and have hours of content, usually with clever word-based puzzles. That said, they’re mostly paper-based and not always packed efficiently, so cost with shipping can be a bit much.

BUT… Bluefish Games is teaming with them to offer a discount: BLUEFISH20 for 20% off.

Editor’s Note: Here are the hivemind reviews for Taco Twosday and The Spielburger Box Set. Review of Confectionary Countdown is coming soon.

The Detective Society

The Detective Society is funny and tongue-in-cheek, though their humor may not be for everyone. (Here’s a good way to tell if they’re for you: want to buy something illegal? Just click here.) Their stories frequently involve doing things like logging into emails and bank records, through websites packed with jokes and bonus content. They ship from the UK, and to be honest, they can feel overpriced, but they’re so unique in tone that they may still be for you.

No known holiday sales yet.

Curious Correspondence Club

Curious Correspondence Club is a challenging puzzle subscription that frequently involves papercraft assembly. I’ll be honest, it divides a lot of puzzle fans. I personally love it, but even I get a bit frustrated when one fuzzy detail derails a puzzle. Still, there’s nothing else quite like it. Each game has a strong “time-spent-puzzling to cost” ratio, I love the company for hosting “Puzzletember” on Instagram this year, and I always rush to play it the moment it arrives.

Free pin promotion if you purchase through the link on their Instagram.

25% off the box set with code BLACKFRIDAY, and 50% off the first chapter in a subscription with code WELCOME.

The Enigma Emporium

Puzzle envelopes for the 4 games.

The Enigma Emporium postcard games are tough and cipher/process heavy, but if that’s your jam, they’re fun, cheap, and packed with puzzles.

No holiday sale, but they’re inexpensive enough that a sale would be overkill.

Editor’s Note: Here are the reviews for Wish You Were Here, Blowback, and Cycle of Learning.

Subscription Games

Subscription games that can be hit-or-miss on an individual basis but that are still worth checking out include the following:

Enigma Fellowship

Enigma Fellowship prides themselves on using only recyclable materials in sustainable packaging. They’ve also got some of the lowest prices on the market. They’re still working out how much signposting each puzzle needs, in my opinion, but they’re absolutely lovely people, totally available on email, excited to hear feedback, and worth checking out.

Their new non-subscription game The Magical Tale is currently on pre-sale for $25 off through Dec 1 (and subsequently $15 off until Dec 25), and the rest of the store is up to 20% off until Saturday with code BFRIDAY10.

Escape Mail

Escape Mail had a rough start, in my opinion, but they improved over the course of the year, and Chapter 10 in particular was a blast. They’re also extremely affordable, especially if you bundle.

20% off through November 29!

Gruzzle

Envelopes with different items printed on them.

Gruzzle is a small company that creates mostly paper-based puzzles. Honestly at first I thought they were competent but unexciting, but they’ve been eager to implement feedback and the quality of their boxes has evolved. They’ve really grown on me, especially the bonus puzzles after each box: string them together to solve a meta-puzzle, and you’ll receive a special challenge coin and bonus puzzle in the mail.

$5 through Cyber Monday with the code BLACKBOX.

Editor’s Note: Here’s our review of The Will.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon, Etsy, or Art of Play after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

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.

Gruzzle – The Will [Review]

Consulting Puzzler

Location:  at home

Date Played: March 23, 2020

Team size: we recommend 2-4

Duration: about 2 hours

Price:  $30 per game, delivered every other month; $87 for 6-month subscription, $172 for a year’s subscription

REA Reaction

Gruzzle is a subscription puzzle service. They send a tabletop escape game-style puzzle box to you every other month. The Will was their second game, released in November 2020.

The Will required nothing more than what came in the box and provided a fun and satisfying evening of tabletop puzzle solving. The puzzles were approachable, cleanly clued, and made creative use of paper components.

Envelopes with different items printed on them.

Although the storytelling didn’t resonate with us, it wasn’t the reason to play. This was a game for people who want to solve elegant puzzles at an approachable difficulty level.

With The Will, Gruzzle is poised for a successful subscription model. The components are inexpensive, and the puzzles are well designed. Every other month is a substantial commitment, but if they are able to keep up the quality of puzzles they’ve established with The Will, Gruzzle offers good value in the tabletop puzzle subscription market. We look forward to seeing more from Gruzzle.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Good for less experienced puzzlers

Why play?

  • Nifty tangible interactions
  • Little aha moments throughout the experience

Story

A wealthy philanthropist had passed away and left her fortune to her equally philanthropic grandchildren. However, she’d hid the fortune behind a series of puzzles, and that’s where we came in. The family had hired us to serve as a consulting puzzler to earn their inheritance for them.

The Gruzzle box depicts a child looking through a magnifying glass.
Continue reading “Gruzzle – The Will [Review]”

The Conundrum Box – Sleight of Hand [Review]

Is this your card?

Location:  at home

Date Played: September 8, 2020

Team size: 1-¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 90+ minutes

Price: individually $44.99 for this box (currently sold out); a monthly subscription is $29.99

REA Reaction

On account of RECON, it had been a long while since we sat down and played a proper boxed escape game. The Conundrum Box’s Sleight of Hand was a lovely way to get back onto the old puzzling bicycle.

Closeup ov Professor Conundrum's poster and wand.

This was the second game that we’ve played from The Conundrum Box. (Earlier we reviewed their Christmas Seasonal Escape Room Box, and we have quite a few more Conundrum Boxes on the shelf.) We were quite content playing this game. It was puzzle-centric with a lot of narrative prose. As a monthly subscription service, it met or beat all of our expectations in terms of puzzle quality, materials, and design.

There wasn’t anything that blew our minds, but that’s not what we expect from subscription games. That kind of gameplay comes from one-offs that usually take over a year to develop. A company like The Conundrum Box will crank out a dozen games in that time, and we respect their approach just as much. If you’re looking for a regular puzzle fix delivered right to your door, check them out.

This particular game is no longer available from The Conundrum Box, but we chose to review it to begin exploring this series.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Solid puzzle play and hint system for a subscription service
  • There was a lot of content crammed into the game
  • Clean execution: the materials weren’t fancy, but they didn’t feel especially homemade

Story

Sleight of Hand explored the tragic death of famed magician Professor Conundrum in 1922. He’d left a series of encoded instructions to unravel and follow in the event of his death. Our goal: communicate with the spirit of the passed magician. We’d been hired by his widow to do just that.

Box art for Sleight of Hand, depicting an empty magician's cape with a floating hat, wand, and cards as if an invisible spirit were holding them.
Continue reading “The Conundrum Box – Sleight of Hand [Review]”

Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Cabin [Review]

Murder on a film set of a murder. 

Location:  at home

Date Played: November 11, 2018

Team size: 1-¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $22.50 per month

REA Reaction

From the installment that we’ve played from Deadbolt Mystery Society, it seems they are delivering on the subscription model better than most. It’s tough to crank out subscription puzzle games. It takes a lot of thought and effort to pull together gameplay, narrative, and production on a rapid and constantly looping deadline. 

That doesn’t mean that The Cabin was refined. The Cabin had a sprawling story with a ton of forgettable characters and no gating. It was a bit of a free-for-all at the onset. After we got over the initial surprise, we settled in and honestly enjoyed the puzzles.

I can’t speak to Deadbolt Mystery Society’s larger subscription program at this point, but this was a solid episode from a subscription. If you’re a puzzle-focused player who wants regular tabletop puzzle play, this one might be worth a try. 

In-game: The open box, an assortment of puzzle documents and a pin.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  •  Solid puzzles
  • Regular publication

Story

Decades ago a series of gruesome murders had been committed at Camp Echo. Now a horror movie was being shot at the site of the killings. During filming, the murders started happening again. 

Had the murderer returned? Or was this a copycat? We needed to examine the evidence and solve the mystery before more people died.

The box of The Cabin.

Setup

We cracked open the box that we had received in the mail and found a great many documents pertaining to the past and more recent murders at Camp Echo. We needed to parse through all of the papers, match up the items that belonged together, and then puzzle through their meanings. 

There wasn’t any gating within this game. We started with access to everything that we would have at the conclusion of the game. 

In-game: an assortment of puzzle papers.

Gameplay

Deadbolt Mystery Society’s The Cabin was an atypical subscription-based play-at-home escape game with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around reading, observing, making connections, and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ The Cabin contained a lot of great puzzle content.

➖ The puzzles were buried within tons of papers, all of which were immediately accessible. Without gating, The Cabin felt initially overwhelming with no clear starting place or direction. We played The Cabin on a pretty large table, but constantly left like we were drowning in papers.

➕ Once we got past the initial volume of content, Deadbolt Mystery Society clued which in-play elements needed to go together. This worked well and gave us a way to approach the mystery.

➖ There was a lot of reading material. It felt like a chore rather than a way to connect with the characters and their stories. With so many characters, it was hard to keep them straight and impossible to be invested in their situation. We wanted to solve the mystery because it was a puzzle, but we didn’t care who lived or died.

➕/➖  Deadbolt Mystery Society had an excellent concept. Although The Cabin needed gating and focus, with a bit more direction, it could definitely have created meaningful character/ mystery connections for the players.

❓ The price is a value judgment. The product isn’t refined or fancy. You’re paying for the rapid production and fulfillment. I can’t say whether that’s a good or a bad thing; it’s individual choice. 

❓ Subscription games are tough to fulfill. We commend Deadbolt Mystery Society for delivering a monthly subscription with quality puzzles and interesting concepts. Because of the pace of production, subscription games easily devolve into mounds of paper and Deadbolt Mystery Society had a bit of that going on too. From what we’ve seen thus far, it’s the nature of the beast.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: We recommend a larger table or floor space.
  • Required Gear: Frixion pens, Boogie Boards, or more generic writing supplies.

Subscribe to Deadbolt Mystery Society, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that Deadbolt Mystery Society’s The Cabin was a previous month’s episode and it is now sold out. Your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game.

Full disclosure: Deadbolt Mystery Society provided us a free reviewer’s copy of The Cabin.

The Gray Matter Sodality [Review]

Piece of mind.

Location: at home

Date Played: August 7, 2018

Team size:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 1-2

Duration:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $25 for each monthly installment with a month-to-month subscription, $63 for a 3-month subscription, $114 for a 6-month subscription, $204 for an annual subscription

REA Reaction

The Gray Matter Sodality was a monthly subscription puzzle game. Each monthly package had us solving a single layered puzzle in search of a segment of Albert Einstein’s brain (not kidding).

The story was as humorous as it was clever. The narrow puzzling was kind of refreshing… when it worked well. Unfortunately, The Gray Matter Sodality was hamstrung by issues with puzzle ambiguity, requirements for unusual gear, and an aggressively high price tag.

In-game: A pencil, plastic brain, GMS notebook, map, and a letter from The Gray Matter Sodality.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players seeking a limited and focused puzzle experience
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Fantastic setup
  • Narrow, focused puzzling

Story

When Albert Einstein passed away in 1955, pathologist Thomas Harvey extracted the brain of history’s most famous physicist without permission. Harvey ultimately persuaded Einstein’s son Hans Albert to allow him to keep the brain, under the condition that it would be used for scientific research. After decades of keeping the brain in a jar, Harvey dissected Einstein’s brain into 240 blocks and 1,000 microscopic slides, distributing them to researchers around the world. (This is a true story, by the way.)

We were recruited by an international organization dedicated to reclaiming and reassembling the scattered pieces of Einstein’s deconstructed gray matter.

In-game: A deck of playing cards and a pair of dice on top of a letter from The Gray Matter Sodality.

Setup

The Gray Matter Sodality sent us monthly envelopes with a letter and some clues to find the location of a piece of Al’s brain. (This review is based on a sample of 3 installments.)

Each envelope contained a few pieces of paper and a key prop like a deck of cards or a cassette.

We also frequently needed to find or acquire other items to solve some of these puzzles.

When we solved the episode’s puzzle, we submitted the solution (the location of the brain fragment) to a website to confirm and complete the challenge.

Gameplay

The Gray Matter Sodality was a monthly mailing with one layered puzzle per envelope. The level of difficulty and time commitment to solve varied broadly across episodes.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and finding the right tools to solve a challenge.

Analysis

+ Turning the real life story of the dissection and dissemination of Albert Einstein’s brain into the basis for an episodic puzzle game was &%^*ing inspired. It’s one of those ideas where I am confident that there will be many other creators wishing that they had come up with it.

+ We really appreciated the focused nature of The Gray Matter Sodality. After playing some massive multi-month subscription games with multi-hour playtimes, backtracking, and lots of information to parse, it was relaxing to open up a small package, find a few items, and know that they all tied to a single puzzle.

The Gray Matter Sodality‘s puzzles had a few layers, so while each installment may have been one puzzle, there was some depth.

– The need for some unusual gear ranged from annoying to infuriating. We were able to get around some of this via free iPhone apps, but one required the real thing…

Spoiler - The infuriating gear...

I’ve gotta vent…

It wasn’t just the gear, but how it was presented.

We needed a cassette player. In 2018. A cassette player. A cassette player.

In-game: a cassette take labeled

Setting aside that we needed a piece of technology that was far more than two decades past being useful for most people, the presentation of this cassette was ill conceived.

When we flipped the cassette we found a label with shortened URL that sent us to a Spotify playlist. When we found that playlist we thought, “Brilliant! It’s a cassette, but the contents are on Spotify. What a clever workaround.”

Then we realized that the playlist was far longer than the capacity of a cassette and so we reached out to the hint system… which confirmed that we needed to listen to the cassette. These were two different threads of the same puzzle, not an inspired workaround.

So I set out to find a cassette player; it was not particularly easy.

David's Facebook post with a poop emoji background asking,

Unsurprisingly, most of our friends and family didn’t have a cassette player. Eventually we got one from Lisa’s aunt who works in radio.

[collapse]

– Some of the cluing felt incomplete. After we solved the main challenge of one puzzle, we spent 15 minutes guessing because there was a shocking amount of ambiguity in deriving the actual solution.

+ The month 7 cards & dice puzzle was really clever.

? The production value was fine. Nothing terrible, but nothing special or visually impactful.

– The variability of commitment was too broad. We solved one of these episodes in less than 10 minutes, another in about 25 minutes… but a lot of it was filling in a cluing gap, and the last one took about an hour. The expectation setting wasn’t great.

+/- There wasn’t a self-service hint system. Despite this drawback, we received prompt email responses to any hint requests (even when we used a friend’s email address.) We don’t know how well this will work for people in diverse time zones.

The Gray Matter Sodality was too expensive. There wasn’t a lot to it. It was mostly printer paper, toner, and postage. Personally, I find it difficult to justify $25 for a 10-minute puzzle. The production value and puzzle quality didn’t do anything to help justify the price tag. Even the $17 per package (if you subscribe for a year) seems a bit steep based on the three episodes that we played.

+ After speaking to someone who has subscribed to more episodes from The Gray Matter Sodality, I’ve heard that there is at least one better puzzle in another mailing that we didn’t receive. I’m glad to hear that there’s a bit more depth.

Tips for Playing

  • The mailings are not fully self-contained. You will need to buy or find additional equipment to solve some of these puzzles.
  • Because the installments are focused, The Gray Matter Sodality is really only a 1-2 person activity.

Order your subscription to The Gray Matter Sodality, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Gray Matter Sodality provided a complementary reviewer’s sample of three mailings.

(If you purchase via our Cratejoy links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)