#847 – The Witching Hour [Spoiler-Free]

Base price: $97.
2+ players. Probably made for two, given portioning, but a four-player version is also available.
Play time: ~90 minutes.
Buy directly!
Logged plays: 1 

Full disclosure: A review copy of The Witching Hour was provided by Nordo’s Room Service. Photography courtesy of Nordo’s Room Service, as well.

I was watching a Christmas movie because I thought I had already finished this review, and then I flipped the tab back to this one so I could finish up, only to find out that I hadn’t started this paragraph at all whatsoever. So that was fun, and I’m doing that now. There’s something inspiring about the mild sense of panic that emerges when you have a lot less done than you were pretty sure you did, but here we are. The stuff is getting written and we’re making progress. Today, we find ourselves with another box from Nordo’s Room Service, this time, The Witching Hour!

In The Witching Hour, players find themselves ready to be initiated into the Society of Nocturnal Mysteries! Always exciting. Love it when that happens. But weird things start to happen as the boundary between the worlds begins to weaken, so your fledgling magical power might be critical to restoring balance. You’ll also need to solve some puzzles along the way! But first, pour yourself a drink! You’ll need it.

Contents

Setup

There are a bunch of components in this one! Thankfully, they almost all come bagged. Here, though, you’ll just follow the instructions in the first envelope you find! It’ll tell you what to do. Just, one critical thing: if you’re not playing immediately, put the cold black container into the fridge! Everything else will keep for a while, but you don’t want the dessert to go bad.

Beyond that, to start things up, take out the altar cloth, set it up, light the candle and place it in the center. Make sure you have the drinks prepared and you should be good to go! Leave the bagged objects sealed until you’re otherwise told. You’re good to go!

Gameplay

Playing through The Witching Hour is as much a content experience as it is a gameplay one. To start, enter the URL that you’ve been given into a laptop (the buttons don’t work as well on a phone, from experience, or at least a phone that’s emotionally bonded to Portrait Mode, like mine is). Watch the video, and you’ll get a challenge at the end. To solve it, use the materials you’ve been given and unlocked to make progress.

Generally, you’ll get some kind of password after solving a puzzle that you can use to advance to the next video (and consequently, the next puzzle). Keep moving forward and solving puzzles until you reach the end! Once you do, I have it on fairly good authority that there’s dessert waiting for you.

I’m the authority. I already ate the dessert that was included. It’s great.

Player Count Differences

This time, there was one! Nordo was very accommodating and sent us additional ingredients and snacks for our extra players, so we had enough food and drinks for everyone. That said, that’s not really going to be a problem you’ll encounter when you play. Instead, there’s a nice split in the middle where we had two puzzles kind of going at the same time, so we split into two groups and that worked very well. Probably dropped 15 minutes or so off of our play time? That felt great, but I figure doing the puzzles serially probably wouldn’t have been too bad, either. I wouldn’t expect too big of a player count difference between players. I’d probably stay away from the four-player end of this (just because there aren’t a ton of components and there’s a fair bit of reading), but if you can get extras of the snacks and drinks most players are perfectly able to mellow out while they wait. Beyond that, it played fine with three people! We had stuff to do and could take breaks while other folks puzzled things out.

Strategy

It’s, as always, a bit hard to speak to specific strategic tips when you’re talking about a spoiler-free review of a puzzle-box game, but here’s some light and general advice. One thing might be a bit less general than the others.

  • The game will tell you when you need to use each of the bags. Like, it’ll make it very explicit. There’s a symbol at the end of the video. Don’t open the bags, otherwise.
  • I believe all the passwords are Titlecase, first letter capitalized and the rest lowercase. I’m pretty sure that’s correct, but generally, the screens tell you or you should be able to get the password based on whatever prompt or puzzle you’re solving.
  • Pattern-match aggressively; a lot of things are made easier if you have items grouped by a common symbol. Things are not too hard to match up to their relevant pattern, but the altar cloth makes it pretty clear which objects are grouped where. Solving those groupings early will help you down the line.
  • Thinking about the overarching narrative of the puzzle may help guide you to some of the answers, as well. There is a narrative to this, after all; what makes sense within that narrative? Why would things be that way? Can you use that to solve any puzzles? It certainly helped us get un-stuck at least one time.
  • If you’re stuck, use a hint! The hints are there for your benefit, and they don’t penalize you or make fun of you or anything like that. They’re just there to help. I appreciate hints that don’t punish the players with lost points or something for using them. People buy these games (in a lot of cases), so let them decide how difficult they want the experience to be. This is board games, not Dark Souls.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • I really enjoyed the videos? They were fun and bombastic; they kind of made me think of a like, 80s VHS on joining a secret society of magic. The guy who played Will did an excellent job, and I found the whole thing entertaining in a fun, kitschy way.
  • The ambient music was nice. Also very witchy! You gotta have the right ambiance for these kinds of games. Usually, my housemate plays some relevant soundscapes, but this time we had some included with the game itself, which I appreciated. It might have run out at some point while we were playing? I can’t really remember, but we had the videos to guide us between events, so we didn’t really notice.
  • There are delightful physical components included! My housemate is all about the rocks. They really made her day. I won’t tell you everything that’s inside (though a lot of it is in the pictures), but there are some very pleasant rocks inside. I mostly asked to review this box because my housemates are really into the theme
  • Thematically, I like this quite a bit. It’s fun and witchy. I think this is a particularly enjoyable box for folks who are into witchy / magic-y stuff, but aren’t looking for a Harry Potter-style magic experience. This is much more like, skulls and tarot-themed, not wizards and stuff. I’m a fan of tarot (thematically), so, this ends up more in my part of town. There are some exceptionally fun other puzzle / narrative elements in here that I won’t spoil, but found delightful.
  • One of my preferred puzzle types in this one! There’s a really good cipher-ish puzzle in there. I just like word puzzles and puzzles that play with words, and we got a pretty solid one.
  • Having the drinks as the starter and the dessert as a finale for the puzzle box was a nice touch. It had a good flow from drinks while you puzzle and watch at the beginning to a dessert you can enjoy as a conclusion to all the puzzling effort. Honestly, more escape rooms and escape room games should have dessert at the end. Maybe we’ll make that a thing, post-pandemic. I could use more snacks.

Mehs

  • This isn’t really a Well-Researched Opinion, but this puzzle box felt a bit lighter on puzzles than The Interrogation of Alice? It’s not necessarily bad, since I preferred the narrative, but just something we noticed. There’s a trade-off here, since of my standard puzzle group I’m the Puzzles Person, not the Narrative Person. This means that for things like, one of the Hunt a Killer boxes I tried, which was much more narrative-focused, I’m less engaged than I am with things like the EXIT series or Doctor Esker’s Notebook, which are significantly more puzzle-heavy than narrative-heavy. I will say, though, that the ideal outcome for me is the perfect marriage between narrative and puzzle, like The Light in the Mist or The Emerald Flame.
  • Similarly, though I quite like the narrative and fun components of this game, it was occasionally difficult to tell what was puzzle-relevant and what was just fun flavor. I think there’s probably a bit of both to everything, but some of the content was more world-building than plot-relevant. That’s mostly fine since we’re not really on a timer or anything, but if you’re just here for the puzzles, you might find yourself less interested.
  • As with most games involving a direct flame, be careful; especially since the candle doesn’t really fit into its candle holder. It’s probably best to melt the bottom of the candle a bit before putting it in the candle holder or lighting it. End of the day, it’s a small candle, so like, a cup of water handy for Emergencies is probably fine, but still, you do kind of want the candle to stick in there, so using a bit of wax to adhere it before you start playing is probably wise. Beyond that, be careful with fire.

Cons

  • We hit a weird snag with one of the puzzles. We couldn’t figure out how to attempt the puzzle, the hint wasn’t necessarily steering us in the right direction, and we ended up just checking the answer? It felt like we were missing a component of some kind to point us at what we were looking for. Narratively, the answer made sense, but we couldn’t figure out what the game wanted us to search through to arrive at that point.

Overall: 7.5 / 10

Overall, I think Nordo’s The Witching Hour is a lot of fun! Narratively, this is much more up my alley than The Interrogation of Alice, but that’s going to be one of those things that’s just … try the box with the theme you prefer. This isn’t exactly an insight. My one qualm here was that I felt like the box was a bit more narratively-focused than puzzle-focused, which, while fine, I would have loved to see more puzzles (especially since we got weirdly stuck on one?). Beyond that, though, I think The Witching Hour has a lot to offer fans of escape rooms, puzzle narrative adventures, or just snacks and witchy stuff. The food and drinks are, as always, impeccable (and the drinks are non-alcoholic, which is neat), and Nordo continues to really make a great experience on that front. I think starting with the drink and finishing with dessert allowed for a nice through-line for the entire box. I think Nordo’s focus on the experience of the box does it a lot of favors, even if I’m left looking for a couple more puzzles, overall. If you’re looking for a solid date-night experience, you want to just have a light puzzly evening with 1 – 3 friends, or you just like witchy stuff, however, The Witching Hour might be up your alley! I’ve certainly had a nice time with it.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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