Around the World: Boda Borg

Boda Borg logoA few days ago, this site predicted that “There is practically a 100% chance that something incredibly cool, of which this site was not previously aware, will make itself known.” Nobody was expecting a very strong candidate for the title to arrive quite so soon, and a very grateful tip of the hat to Ed Roberts of Breakout Manchester for pointing it our way.

With roots that can be traced back to Sweden in 1995, Boda Borg is a company operating, directly or by franchise, a series of adventure centres. Currently seven are open in Sweden, one in Ireland and two are apparently under construction in the USA, one on either coast. The adventures are played by teams of 3-5, and are suitable for both adults or children aged, perhaps, 8+. (This brilliant writeup suggests that the Swedish centre clientele may be 80% adult; maybe less different from established exit game demographics than you might think.)

Each centre consists of a collection of Quests, which are independent and can be completed in any order. Each Quest consists of a series of 2-5 (possibly fairly small) rooms that must be completed in order. By way of an example, the Irish location, at the Lough Key Forest and Activity Park, has a total of 15 Quests and 47 rooms. (The Boda Borg web site implies that the Swedish centres are larger, with 20-25 Quests each.) €15 per person will get your team access for two hours (during which time, two fully completed Quests is apparently a par score) or €20 per person will get your team access for the whole day.

To complete each room in each Quest… well, that’s up to you, and the reason why Boda Borg is so interesting is that the instructions aren’t explicitly given, and you have to figure them out from context yourself. Quoting the web site, “Once you enter only teamwork using countless different skills, ingenuity, trial and error will allow you to survive the Quests.” Some rooms will pose purely physical challenges, others a mixture of physical and mental challenge; a colour-coding scheme on the doors hint at which are which. The official explanation video hints at the variety of challenges on offer, but also implies that one relatively frequent physical challenge theme is “don’t touch the floor” – but dressed up in sufficiently many different ways, and with such a variety of props to aid you in this, as to maintain interest. That’s cool; that’s fun.

From context, sets of sensors will detect any failure by any member of the team (and working out how failure is defined is part of the challenge) and cause the team to need to start the entirety of that Quest over again – or, perhaps, give a different one a try and come back to that one later. Success through every room of a Quest earns access to that Quest’s ink stamp, with which to emboss your low-tech scorecard. (A scoring system that has been good enough for letterboxers for decades.)

More specifically, this video seems to come from the Irish site and dates from 2009. While Quests are changed from time to time, this may give you a more practical sense of feel for what you might find in practice. (Rabid spoilerphobes might conceivably choose to keep away.)

How does this compare to an exit game as this site knows them? It looks, principally, rather less labour-intensive. Teams are left to their own devices, attempting the Quests in the order of their choice – so, by implication, there is an assumption of good faith and good queueing between the various teams running round the site independently. (If there are many more than fifteen teams, and only fifteen Quests, perhaps the waiting might get a little in the way.) It’s also unclear quite how sophisticated the mental aspects of the various Quests are; presumably there are some deliberately very accessible ones and possibly also some rather more obtuse ones. Noting that Quests are independent of each other, it would be unfair to expect the degree of interconnectedness that you might find in (particularly a relatively story-heavy) exit game.

It all sounds extremely promising, though how it might work in practice is another matter. From a distance, the best way to judge is TripAdvisor – and, as usual, better to read the comments than just go by the (generally very favourable) ratings – and to bear in mind that the people making them may have a wide range of sets of expectations going in. It’s worth bearing in mind that most of the comments reflect the entire park; Boda Borg probably comes off better than the park at large.

A telling recent comment reads: “Took us a wee while to find our feet (14,13 yrs old sons & hubby + me) but it was great fun when we completed a few and got the team work nailed! I took many laughing fits as we struggled to get through some and we all had sore knees climbing & crawling and my hubby who is 6ft 2 banged his head quite a few times but that’s all part of the fun. Will definately be back to beat our poor record best afternoons craic in a wee while. Super activity for all the family provided everyone is reasonably mobile and has a sense of humour!” On the other hand, a different (rather older) comment reads: “Inside, it is cheaply constructed, very poorly supervised and dimly lit. The day we were there, many of the ‘challenges’ were broken, others were in poor condition with important items missing and there were young teenage children running amok inside racing up and down narrow corridors. It was like being in a claustrophobic secondary school playground.

The truth will surely be somewhere between the two extremes; it also seems reasonable to suggest that there were rather more complaints over the standard of maintenance in 2013 than there have been in 2014. It would be very interesting to know what the maintenance schedule is and whether there’s a sense that the site might be at its best “early in the season”. (You might also choose to give higher importance to reviews from, perhaps, a game-ier context at BoardGameGeek.)

If you’re the sort of person who is sufficiently game for a certain sort of laugh that you’re willing to make a journey to play an exit game, or to go out of your way to play with toys and environments so impressive as to be impossible at home, the odds are surely extremely promising for Boda Borg. (It reads like being as close as you’ll get, these days, to the sort of fun from the Cyberdrome Crystal Maze of old – except, twenty years later on, lower-tech.) Definitely one to follow as franchises spread around the world. It would be interesting to know whether the economics might make a site in Great Britain work, or whether our land and installation costs are just too expensive. The capital expenditure would surely be much more than that of a basic (almost modular?) exit game, but the potential daily throughput could be tremendous while being much less labour-intensive than that of a one-moderator-per-team exit game.

The island of Ireland already has quite a tradition of exit games, and growing; the prospect of a tour some day to experience just all the games that it offers, let alone its other appeals, becomes more and more promising. Or, further afield, there are seven Bodas Borg to try in Sweden. Road trip!

3 Comments

  1. Just came across Boda Borg, which I’d seen in passing on your list of exit games. I’d never looked in great detail before, but having now read your article and seen a few comments online, I really, really want it to open in the UK! Can’t believe that something which sounds so good hasn’t opened more widely (also seems remarkably good value from the prices you quote).

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