Wicked Horror had the good fortune to spend some time chatting with The Wild Optimists (Ariel Rubin and Juliana Patel) the ultra talented and surprisingly humble women behind the new board game sensation, Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment. We got the details on taking the project from the conceptual stages to the marketplace, how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign and so much more. If you haven’t already tried the game out, it is available from Mattel at Target and via Amazon! Do yourself a favor and check it out. I’ve had the pleasure of playing a promotional game the ladies put together for the release of the feature film, Escape Room and my copy of The Werewolf Experiment is currently being shipped from Amazon. You can check out the ladies’ official website right here!
Wicked Horror: You ladies beat the odds and launched the wildly successful Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment on Kickstarter, which eventually secured distribution via Mattel. How did you manage to succeed where so many others have failed?
The Wild Optimists: The first step was research and paying attention to that research. There is a wealth of information on the Internet about how to run a successful kickstarter. Jamey Stegmaier and James Mathe, particularly, are incredibly generous with their expertise and have created blogs with pretty much everything you need to know from what time of year is best to launch a Kickstarter, to how to navigate worldwide shipping, to which reviewers accept Kickstarter submissions. We followed pretty much every piece of advice we read. The second step was having an excellent product and garnering support for it before we launched. We emailed probably a hundred reviewers and asked if we could send them a prototype of the game. Most didn’t reply. Some said they’d love to play. And now, some of our biggest supporters (call out to RoomEscapeArtist.com) said something along the lines of “this sounds like a terrible idea, but, sure I guess I’ll give it a shot.” When they played the game and loved it, they were particularly vocal about spreading the word which helped our numbers enormously. The third thing, and this was mainly luck, was that we were the first to market. No one had heard of doing an escape room tabletop game before, so the fact that we were unique was a huge help.
Wicked Horror: How big of a challenge was it to scale down the life size concept of an escape room and turn it into something anyone can play on their coffee table at home?
The Wild Optimists: Dreaming up ideas was easy. Creation was harder. Play testing was a real eye opener and manufacturing was brutal. We came at creating Escape Room In A Box from the perspective of enthusiasts, so it was incredibly important to us that it have physical elements: real boxes, locks, searches, surprises. We started by writing down a list of all our favorite puzzles and types of puzzles we had encountered in rooms. Then we narrowed that down to what could conceivably fit in a box, then what we could make in our garage and then which puzzles fit our narrative and how they could all flow together.
Wicked Horror: How on earth did you get Elan Lee (creator of the massively successful game Exploding Kittens) to take notice of and back your project?
The Wild Optimists: We thought the same thing when we saw his name on the backer list! We are such fan girls. Elan, we now know, is a crazy escape room enthusiast and a Kickstarter superbacker. He ran a hilarious blog for a while called “Elan Backs Everything” so it was really the perfect storm. He is also one of the smartest escape room players we’ve ever seen. Seriously, playing a room with him is like a master class in how to play escape rooms. But I think what’s important is that we were paying attention to every single backer, sending them a personalized thank you. So when we saw that he was a backer, we reached out and said he could play test our prototype which led to us hanging out about midway through the Kickstarter. Elan was incredible with offering help and advice, truly one of the nicest guys out there.
Wicked Horror: Did either of you have any experience with creating board games before creating Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment?
The Wild Optimists: We did not. But we both had a lot of experience playing board games and escape rooms, which was a really solid foundation.
Wicked Horror: Then, how on earth did you manage to create such an intricately and well designed product with no prior experience?
The Wild Optimists: Wild optimism! Also, play testing and trusting our players. Our first attempt at the game took players, like, four hours and left everyone hating life. So, we iterated and tried again and learned from our mistakes and asked advice and took advice and tried again and again…and again until people were having fun playing. Like everything else in life, you have to be willing to learn, willing to listen, and willing to change, and if you are you can make something truly special.
Wicked Horror: The success of The Werewolf Experiment led to you collaborating with Sony on a press mailer for an Escape Room in a Box exclusively for journalists. How did that differ from your previous venture?
The Wild Optimists: Since licensing Escape Room In A Box to Mattel we’ve founded our company, The Wild Optimists where we create puzzles and games for events, themed attractions, tabletop games, etc. The Sony Box lives somewhere between Escape Room In A Box and these larger immersive experiences. Probably the biggest difference is 1. The game didn’t have to be able to be reset and 2. You all signed a waiver so if you got hurt you wouldn’t sue us. What this meant is we were able to create something more bespoke, edgy and, just a bit, dangerous which was incredibly fun and also really fit with the movie.
Wicked Horror: One of the things that impressed me most about the press mailer I played was the attention to detail. You had a key embedded in a candle that was only revealed after the candle was lit and a secret Instagram account that was only visible by peeling off the Fragile sticker from the box the product shipped in. Where do you guys come up with the these incredible ideas?
The Wild Optimists: We always start with the narrative and we know from experience that players’ favorite moments are when there is an unexpected reveal. In the movie, the characters all receive a priority mail box with a puzzle box inside – so we knew we had to do that. But we didn’t want the priority mail box to just be trash, so we thought about what would be on it. The game would be fragile, we’d need a Fragile Sticker, what could we do with that? What wouldn’t players expect? Similarly, in the ice scene in the movie there is a key hidden in an ice cube that the characters need to heat to get to. We couldn’t include ice, but we could include a cube with a key that you needed to heat and since the secondary purpose of the game was providing everything players would need for an at home movie night, we thought a candle would be a nice keepsake to add a bit of atmosphere to your evening in.
Wicked Horror: The game that I had the good fortune to play can only be played once. As I haven’t yet had the chance to play The Werewolf Experiment, can you explain how it differs with repeat plays?
The Wild Optimists: Like a brick and mortar escape room, once you’ve solved the puzzles in Escape Room In A Box you will know the answers and can’t really replay. However, it is entirely able to be reset: EscapeRoominaBox.com has all the puzzle papers for reprinting and instructions on where everything goes.) We also wrote a Host Script, so if you want to host the game for your friends you can play as the evil mad scientist werewolf Dr. Cynthia Gnaw. When you host, there are elements of the game that are removed and put into your control and one puzzle that changes entirely to something you set up around your house. Also, based on our play-testing, if you wait a year you can totally play again, very few people have that good of a memory.
Wicked Horror: Thank you so much for speaking with us. It was a pleasure and you two are truly going places.
The Wild Optimists: Thank you!