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In-Depth Escape Room Reviews

Review: Boda Borg Boston (Part 2)

RATING: 4 Keys

Boda Borg makes guests feel like players on a 90s Nickelodeon game show. In this second part of our Boda Borg feature we look at the remaining eight quests, and further discuss their classification of games and the trial and error nature of gameplay. Read part one here for an overview of the venue’s unique game style and the first eight of its quests.

Boda Borg’s quests are broken up into three different categories. Green, red, and black. Green quests can be completed with minimal physical effort and are primarily mental. These are all wheelchair friendly. Red quests involve a moderate amount of physical activity. Likely there will be crawling or minimal climbing.

Black quests are the most physical. In their marketing, Boda Borg calls these on the level of Ninja Warrior challenges. While physically trying, they don’t quite meet that scale of difficulty. For anyone who hasn’t visited a gym or physically exerted themselves recently, these black challenges may seem impossible. With determination and the right amount of balance, these quests can ultimately be conquered.

Each quest type has a unique feel to it while maintaining the flavor of experience the sensor driven puzzles bring. For the most part, I found the Red quests to be the most satisfying experiences. These were able to find the right balance between the unique physical challenges and existing within a story world. The physical aspects of the black quests are enjoyable, but their more scenic bare-bones nature make it difficult to classify them as must-see attractions.

Quests

bbratsRats

When the cats away, the rats will play? In this quest you are a rat facing different survival scenarios with the goal of staying alive. Rats is an extra cartoony take on a Tom and Jerry episode. While scenically low-budget feeling, it somewhat fits within a cartoon aesthetic. The challenges with the quest make players think like rats to succeed. The true sign of quality at Boda Borg.

We played Rats first and went through quite a few iterations of trials to complete the first room. The “first quest” anyone plays will seem more difficult than it is as players adjust to the way quests work at Boda Borg. Rats is better saved for later in your day at the venue.

We ran out of time at the venue to beat this quest.

bbjungleJungle

This Jungle adventure takes guests through four different environments as they try to make their way without disturbing the animals. It’s the best blend of physical challenge, mental challenge, and scenic environment on offer at Boda Borg.

Every room forces players to use a different means of balance and dexterity to traverse unstable paths all while following a set of unknown rules of the jungle. Failing occurs spectacularly in Jungle because of the stretches one must make to succeed. We probably spent the most amount of time laughing at each other in this quest.

We reached the end of the final room, but believe it may have been broken.

bbstepStep Up

Of all the quests at Boda Borg, this is the worst. It’s hard to really even call this a quest. Two nearly empty rooms hold a three-sided pillar. Each side has a step on it. On a specific cue players must step up, then step down. Over and over again. That’s the entirety of the quest. It should be completely avoided.

It’s somewhat baffling that this quest exists alongside some great quests like Alcatraz, or even Tough, Tougher, Toughest. The very uneven nature of quests at Boda Borg is its main weakness. The good thing is the building, and really the structure of how the venue operates, allows quests to be changed out without having a negative financial impact beyond the cost of installing a new quest.

We completed this quest.

bbspookSpook House

On a dark and stormy night, the Spook House calls for one last fright. This horror-themed quest was produced with scenic help from 5 Wits. There’s a noticeable difference in quality between the 5 Wits quests and those made without their assistance, even if a person had little eye for it. Each room is a separate mini-story within a haunted world as opposed to one over-arching narrative being presented.

From a puzzle perspective, these challenges are all mental. One of the more difficult puzzles for us was in this quest. Our main stumbling point was trying to think of solutions like a group would in a traditional escape room instead of thinking what a more “realistic” solution could be. This type of thinking is often the key to many of Boda Borg’s puzzles.

One notable problem we experienced with this quest was tech related. After multiple attempts at solving the final room with what appeared to be the correct answer we kept failing. We tried every combination of answer and kept failing. Groups around us kept failing. Eventually we fully gave up on solving the final room. Later we got in touch with the venue to try and figure out what the correct solution could possibly have been since we believed we had tried every possibility. As it turns out, the room was broken but due to its low success rate the staff just assumed everything was working right throughout the day until the problem was discovered during one of their checks. This is where the issue of unmonitored games really becomes a problem. It’s one thing to have difficult quests without hints, an entirely different one if guests can be failing because of tech issue without a real way to see that there’s a problem.

We completed the final room, but it was broken.

Coach

The design coach didn’t show up on the day this quest was built. It’s the Olympics, and you’re on the basketball team for either the USA or Sweden; it’s not quite clear. This is the smallest quest at Boda Borg in terms of square footage and only takes place in two rooms instead of the usual three to four. Scenically this quest is bare-bones. The first room has a large orange box in it and the second a pair of basketball goals. Beyond that, the rooms are basically empty.

Coach’s gameplay involves arcade style basketball skills. Brawn over brain for this one. This quest reminds me a lot of Rock and Roll from part one of our Boda Borg review. The design process for both of these quests appears to have been to take a simplistic yet known activity and place that within a room without much other consideration for theming.

This is a true filler quest that can be skipped by all. Only play along if you’re looking to collect every stamp.

We completed this quest.

Spider

In this quest, you’re the prey navigating through a network of super strong spider webs. Players must crawl, contort, and squeeze through dimly lit spaces traversing a messed tangle of bungee cords. When I first looked at the web I was confident this would be an easy task. Quickly I was proven wrong. The amount of resistance these bungees produce is astounding, and moving through them takes great physical exertion and balance.

As players move through the rooms they face tight spaces, open spaces, and twisting corridors. And if the physicality of the quest wasn’t enough to trip up players, there are hidden objects to find in order to progress.

Spider is a fun physical challenge, but among the more scenically minimalistic games. Story-wise there’s not an indication of why players are in giant spider webs—or is it the players that are small? One must create a bit of narrative in their own mind for this one.

We ran out of time at the venue to beat this quest.

bbsuperbb4Superbanan

Another highly physical game focused on balance and coordination. This is a “Floor is made of Lava” game where players must traverse narrow ledges and other obstacles to reach the exit. Sometimes players must work together to trigger elements at the same time.

While utilizing a different physical skill set than Tough, Tougher, Toughest, Superbanan feels like a close relative. There’s a bit more theming in this quest. The paint job is meant to evoke a volcanic feel, but ultimately these are still flat walls with a bit of graphic paint. There’s not a story in this quest, but the existing theming does provide a bit of context to where players might be. I do prefer having some amount of theming like Superbanan does as opposed to the hyper-minimalistic Tough, Tougher, Toughest.

Boda Borg claims this is their hardest and most popular quest.

We ran out of time at the venue to beat this quest.

bbquizQuiz Show

A smartphone app quiz game split into three rooms. If you enjoy trivia there’s some fun to be had here, but this type of quest feels very out of place at Boda Borg. There’s a small amount of puzzle solving to do in each room to determine what one must do to properly input answers, but beyond that this quest is mostly about pop-culture knowledge.

The game had three different categories to choose from, each coloring the questions you’ll receive for the duration of the game. Completing each version unlocks a different stamp, so there are three different outcomes possible for this one.

We completed the entertainment version of this quest.

Overall

Boda Borg has brought an incredibly unique gaming concept to the United States and should cause designers to consider new ways to engage players. There’s a rush that comes with a purely physical activity and adults still find unbridled joy when playing “The floor is made of Lava.”

I find the no hints/trial and error nature of quests to be a fascinating design decision. Operationally this allows Boda Borg to work with fewer staff, but also gives a greater sense of accomplishment to players when they finally solve a challenge as they know it was fully because of their skill and strength. The joy of puzzle solving is often that endorphin rush that comes from an acknowledgement of one’s personal ability. Especially when it’s against seemingly impossible odds.

The place where it becomes an issue is when players move into a place of either believing the challenge is fully impossible, or that they simply aren’t clever enough to solve it. Often with the smallest of hints groups can be set on the right track. And for the physical challenges one is just encouraged to work on improving their own skill set. To me, the best scenario would be maintaing the trial and error nature of quests but devising a system in which after a specified number of attempts, the peak frustration level, groups could obtain the most minimal of a hint in order to progress.

Boda Borg is a must-see attraction for those into physical challenges. The “game-ification” of these activities is truly one-of-a-kind at present. If you’re just an escape room fan and the thought of crawling around or hanging off rock wall holds doesn’t sound appealing, there’s not as much on offer for you. There’s certainly quite a few quests that don’t have a high level of physical activity, but they aren’t as rewarding of an experience. Boda Borg’s concept for gaming is strong, and with time we believe they’ll refine their formula and open more quests in-line with their higher quality ones.

Venue Details

Venue:  Boda Borg

Location: Malden, Massachusetts

Number of Games: 17

GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:

Duration: Variable

Capacity: 3-5 people

Group Type: Private  / You will not be paired with strangers.

Cost: Two hours: $18 per person / Unlimited: $28 per person

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