I’m on a Zoom call with eight others, including our storyteller Graham. Set against the backdrop of an underground stone tavern, the other participants and I are getting the introduction to what we’ll be up to for the next hour in a charming Scottish brogue when he says something that stands out “I will tell ye a grand story, but ah will not keep ye safe.” It turns out he’s not kidding. Before long we find ourselves sucked back in time and on the run in A Highland Adventure, frantically searching for a way back home, a couple bad rolls of the dice away from a bad end.
Highland Adventure is a roughly 60-minute remote immersive experience for up to twenty participants that takes place over Zoom. It is perhaps best described as cooperative storytelling – participants are guided through the narrative by a narrator (in this reviewer’s performance it was Graham, played by Shelby Bond), but are called on at various points to interact and make decisions that effect the outcome of how things proceed. Adding a layer of randomness to Highland Adventure is a simple dice mechanic: for important actions, players roll (or have someone roll for them) one or two dice, and depending on the result events unfold in a favorable or unfavorable way. In terms of structure Highland Adventure has four “acts,” though three are really warm-up for the fourth (which comprises the bulk of the experience): a brief meet-and-greet section; a scavenger hunt positioned as gathering supplies for the adventure, where participants have to attempt to locate items in their own home ranging from rope to herbs and more; a trivia portion where participants split into two teams and attempt to answer questions about Scottish history; and finally the adventure itself, which frequently calls back to the warm-up sections.
The company responsible, Mind’s Eye, started off focused on providing experiences for children, but Highland Adventure marks its debut into experiences aimed at grown-ups. This becomes evident in some of the storytelling and engagement techniques used, but it’s not a bad thing. Keeping things simple and lighthearted makes the experience more accessible, and the scavenger hunt and competitive trivia that serve as a warm-up are effective at getting participants of any age energized and engaged, and toss in a bit of history education.
From a thematic standpoint, Highland Adventure deals heavily in cooperation, exploration, and a bit of wonder. Participants step into history, where they are confronted by a world that is not as idyllic as it seems and must work together in order to find their way home. Depending on how lucky (or unlucky) they are with their dice rolls, this might include breaking their friends out of jail, treating life-threatening wounds with basic materials, or even doing battle with English soldiers. But running throughout is the feeling of being on a grand adventure, daring the odds and finding a way through a strange “new” world. Fans of tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons will feel right at home. But unlike your typical DnD session, there are no rules or mechanics to memorize. All that’s needed is a willingness to play along.
Given that it’s literally a single cast member guiding the entire group through the experience, A Highland Adventure places a heavy burden on the shoulders of the storyteller. In the production this reviewer attended, said storyteller (Shelby Bond, though his character was “Graham”) was up to the task. Part of that, and not one to be understated, was due to how effectively he assumed the role of a gracious highlander host, with a distinct character and warm enthusiasm that made participants right at home. But perhaps more than that, A Highland Adventure works because of Bond’s ability to effectively manage the group and incorporate a participant’s responses during the warm-up activities into the story itself. Everyone gets their turn in the spotlight, in ways that have a material impact on the plot, while still being guided by the narrator. Rather than outline things in detail, it’s a “what do you do?” in general terms, followed by a dice roll to help determine the outcome. This helps keep things interactive without putting audience members on the spot too much. A choose-your-own-adventure-style dynamic like A Highland Adventure employs strikes a balance, offering agency to those who crave it without forcing those who’d rather be passive to play out a whole conversation in character.
A Highland Adventure is fairly well-balanced and well-paced, but it might be worth shortening the scavenger hunt piece a little. The “go run and find this” loop is fun the first few times, and no doubt works wonders for burning off children’s excess energy. But it probably doesn’t need to many iterations for a group of grown-ups, and cutting it down would allow the main act to be beefed up a little. But beyond that, Mind’s Eye have hit on a solid formula, and it will be interesting to see how it translates into their upcoming horror and wild west adventures.
In A Highland Adventure, Mind’s Eye has managed to create a fun, accessible cooperative storytelling experience that’s a great time if you’re a fan of Scottish history (or even just Scottish accents). The 60-miniute runtime is manageable, the various sections are all engaging, and the storyteller knows their business well. It’s also a format you don’t see a lot of, and that may make it worth checking out in its own right.
Bookings are $100 for groups of up to 10, $150 for groups of 11-20, and $225 for a fully custom experience. You can contact Minds Eye to make a reservation or learn more on their website here. Check out our Event Guide for more immersive entertainment throughout the year.