A Christmas like no other. Festive spirit is at an all time low. The toy factory has ground to a halt, the sleigh’s gathering dust in the garage, and everyone’s looking glum. Can you help Holly and the other elves save the day?
Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: 16th December 2020
Party Size: 2
Recommended For: Families
National Elf Service is a self-described cross between a puzzle game, an online escape room and an interactive audio book. In short, it’s got something for everyone whether you’re new to the genre or if this is your 100th play at home game. In particular, National Elf Service really nails it as a light hearted tale and makes it an absolute stand out game in the whole play at home genre!
The story goes: Holly, an Elf working in the North Pole administrative centre, sends out an S.O.S. to everyone on the Nice List. That’s where you come in! You’re invited to join the National Elf Service to do all you can to prevent a Christmas catastrophe! But not without the help of three National Elf Service Elves who act as your eyes and ears on the ground: Merry, Berry and Sherry. Oh! And Sylvester, the teddy bear.
The problem? Christmas spirit around the world is at an all time low. Yeah, 2020. I feel that a lot.
Through a series of challenges, you work to bring Christmas spirit right back up in time for Christmas Eve. What’s the best way to spread Christmas cheer? It’s to sing loud for all to hear. YES! There’s a challenge where you have to sing. You heard that correctly. A first for any digital play at home escape game, get your singing voices ready for this holly jolly festive romp.
In terms of the ‘how to play’, National Elf Service is unique here too! I’d place a lot of emphasis on the “audio adventure” side of the description as yes, there’s a lot of audio. With a cast of around ~6, it feels like a lot more like an audio drama with the occasional puzzle rather than a puzzle game with audio narration. But in this format, it really works. It’s the kind of game you’d want to cosy up with your family on the sofa and a large mug of hot chocolate. Co-incidentally, this is exactly how Player 2 and I experienced this game. The time ‘between puzzles’ to sit back, relax, and listen was perfect. After all, the narrative skill and story in this game is easily as rich as the hot chocolate I made. The countless hilarious Christmas film references? Well that’s just the cream on top!
You’re presented with a screen with a chat function on the left, audio narration at the bottom, and a main window where the ‘scene’ plays out through brilliant illustration. At the end of each scene, the puzzle of the scene is presented. Those range from quick and easy puzzles that even young members of a family would enjoy, to more puzzling ones that require a bit of thinking outside the box – and pencil and paper!
As a final note, I particularly want to shout out the company for it’s representation. The cast is diverse and normalises characters with physical and mental disabilities as the stars of the show. I don’t want to say “I love that” because it sounds disingenuous, but it’s really really important and makes the game a lot more relatable. Escape rooms, take note!
Overall, if I had to summarise the game – it would be festive, family fun. Really, this is the perfect game for playing round the table with kids, grandparents, and everyone in-between. I’ve no doubt this’ll be a huge hit on Christmas Day and well, if you’re reading this and wondering if you should bring an escape game to Christmas dinner next week – look no further!
National Elf Service can be purchased for £20 per team on the National Elf Service website.
Mairi is the editor-in-chief and covers escape rooms/immersive theatre in London, play at home games, and video games.