Balthazar Snapdragon: Adventure Box review – magical distractions for lockdown

·3 min read

They’ve done it again. Last summer, production company The Big Tiny brightened up lockdown with the multimedia “adventure box” Charlotte Holmes, which combined puzzles and videos to spin a mystery about a code-cracking evacuee. Now, as children around the UK face further weeks of home-schooling, with bleak weather outside to boot, they have released a follow-up, Balthazar Snapdragon. It’s similarly designed to be played over seven days and weary parents and carers will breathe a sigh of relief when they open the parcel to find a pile of colourful envelopes and packets containing tricks, treasures and myriad activities. Distraction guaranteed!

Charlotte Holmes was a carefully considered creation that revealed a clear empathy with children whose schooling and summer holidays had been disrupted by the pandemic. Balthazar Snapdragon recognises the joy that a simple bit of post can bring during lockdown. It’s the tale of a magical postman, whose patchwork jacket makes him look as if he’s escaped from a Joseph revival. Players must help Balthazar as he delivers letters to the witches and wizards who live in the Valley of Trix, represented by an animated map online.

By the time we’ve finished playing the game with our girls, seven-year-old Hilda and 10-year-old Aggie, the room looks like Christmas Day all over again: ripped colourful envelopes, bits of string and tissue paper and the contents of what would have been a posh set of crackers lie scattered around.

The challenges posed by the game test the whole family’s knowledge, logic and, at times, patience. Hilda and Aggie agree that the map who speaks in riddles is decidedly creepy (Hilda: “I don’t like it when his head spins!”) but they manage to answer most of his questions. Then they both enjoy banishing grownups from the room to learn some sleight-of-hand magic from Sven Gali. There’s a conspiratorial delight between them when they do the tricks themselves. We all groan when Goblinda proposes some paper-folding (Aggie: “Urgh, she’s going to torture us with origami!”) but still enjoy playing with our misshapen jumping frogs at the end of it. When we finally access the Endless Caves, the whole family cheers.

Designed for children aged seven to 12, the game has its own distinct rhythms, with frequent head-scratching pauses and frustrating dead ends followed by bursts of excitement. The temptation is always to rush ahead when you’ve solved each section but it’s better to take your time and savour each activity – most of them are designed to help you in the game but can be enjoyed independently, too. Both girls were still playing dominoes and doing magic tricks days after we completed it.

There are some grumbles along the way – too much of the comedy relies on groansome puns and it’s sometimes not clear when you should open the next envelope, but you can always refer to the website’s Parents’ Page for clues. Without wanting to sound Gradgrind-ish, I found myself wanting more facts about the real magicians who are occasionally namechecked.

But this is still a special delivery, packaged with care and performed by actors – including TV magician Paul Zenon – who have all the mischief and glee of kids running riot after raiding the dressing-up box for fright wigs and sparkly costumes.

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