House of the Dragon Review | An aging Japanese carpenter felt abandoned by his son who had left home and started a family of his own. But when a dragon came to the carpenter in his dreams and told him he still had time to bond with the grandchildren he’d never seen, the carpenter designed and built a wooden toy. The toy was a puzzle box that children alone couldn’t open so children, parents and grandparents worked together to solve the mystery of the ‘House of the Dragon’.
Date played: May 2022
Time taken: 60-90 mins
Number of players: 1
Puzzle Box Joy
First up, I love wooden puzzle boxes. They are beautiful little works of art. I had a money box as a kid that was a simplified puzzle box with panels that you had to slide around to find a hidden drawer with a key, then do some more sliding to find the keyhole. I loved it, even when I’d done that sliding so many times it was no longer a puzzle. I guess that was when the ER bug first bit, even though there was no such thing as ERs at the time. It also explains the little jolt of joy I get in ERs like those by ‘Escape Plan’ where they use cute little wooden puzzle boxes in place of the ubiquitous padlocks. So much of the pleasure I get from ERs is that they are safe spaces for adults to indulge in childlike play and I guess wooden puzzle boxes are a direct, visceral link between adult me and the little kid I once was.
Which is a very long winded and philosophical path to saying that when EscWelt asked us to review their latest puzzle, House of the Dragon, I jumped at the chance. I hadn’t played an EscWelt game box before, though had taken on similar puzzles by iAdventure, so was excited to unbox it.
‘House of the Dragon’ looks and feels lovingly hand-made, a fact confirmed by a signed slip inside the box from the EscWelt bod who put it together. In keeping with the Japanese theming and narrative, with the back story laid out on a paper insert, the puzzle box takes the form of a miniature pagoda, crafted from sustainable birchwood. There’s lovely carved detailing and beautiful etching on every side, with cherry blossom tumbling down one side, and a dragon wrapped around the roof. Each side and each section has a unique design and feel and a quick scan around the box gives you the sense of multiple puzzle elements.
But Where Do I Start?
But that’s where I came a bit unstuck. The iAdventure games I’d played previously had a handy ‘start’ etched somewhere on them to give you a clue where to begin. ‘House of the Dragon’ doesn’t. It’s clearly designed to be trickier and that’s no bad thing but it can also lead to frustration. Maybe because I’m singularly dense, or maybe because I was playing alone, with no-one to bounce ideas off, I just couldn’t spot an obvious ‘way in’ to the sequence of puzzles. So I spent a lot of time just turning the box around and around in my hands trying to get an insight into where to start. Which is ok for a while but my patience did erode fairly quickly.
Let It Flow
Eventually after a bit of wiggling of box parts, I made the first step and after that things flowed a little more, although you still have to be a bit experimental and willing to try some random poking around, in some cases literally. After the first element was solved and I’d done a bit of Japanese language translation, I realised I was looking for a specific sequence (of what I won’t say coz spoilers). And from then on, the puzzle flow around the box was more satisfying and fairly slick. Constrained by the size of the box, there aren’t a huge number of puzzle elements and I probably took longer figuring out where to start than I did actually solving it all but the sheer physicality of the puzzling is very satisfying. And, like in any good ER, the revelation at the end is worth all the effort that preceded it.
My minor niggles would be that lack of a clearing start point and the fact that the playability of the box is impacted by some parts being too stiff and some too lose. In some case parts don’t move easily, meaning you feel like you haven’t solved that element when you actually have. Some parts also move but have no function other than looking pretty. On my box the roof element rotated so I spent ages thinking there must be a significance to that. But there wasn’t.
However, these are minor issues in a puzzle box that is beautiful to behold. The tactile physicality of the box is the true selling point. When you can’t get hands on with an ER out in the real world, and online or paper ER type games just aren’t hitting the right spot then a puzzle box like ‘House of the Dragon’ is a treat. Sliding panels, buttons to push and pull, secret doors and secret codes. All in the comfort of your own home.
There’s a QR code system to get access to EscWelt’s tips and hints on the puzzle box and once you’re done and found out the secret at the heart of the labyrinth, there’s also a resetting video so you can play again or pass the box on to someone else. Maybe you could even hide a little treat inside and see how long it takes someone else to get inside ‘The House of the Dragon’.
‘House of the Dragon’ and other puzzle box games from EscWelt can be bought at their online store or at other online retailers.