Unicorn Quest Birthday Adventure

Last month was quiet here at Small Home Family, but it was a busy time in our lives at home. Between work vacations and school starting and birthday celebrations, we had a lot on our plate.

We're back again to share a fun idea with you for a child's birthday party, because this is life, and this is what we've been doing with ours lately. (We admit that it's not really small-home related other than the fact that we reserved our church for the party because our house isn't big enough. But we had a lot of fun, and we wanted to share anyway!)

Our older daughter turned six recently, and her only request for her birthday party this year was "unicorns."

Not a lot to go on, right? Happily for us, unicorns are in style right now. (I mean really, do they ever go out of style? But it is easy to find unicorn decorations and activities at the store these days.)

As part of our desire to be more mindful of the items we bring into our home (and give others to take into theirs), we wanted to do our best to avoid handing out a goodie bag filled with trinkets that will soon be abandoned and forgotten. When I discovered this My Little Ponies play set on Amazon for just over $40, I thought that would be a great alternative to offering party favor bags. (As of this writing, the price has increased to nearly $60.)

We also wanted to do something fun with the party since we weren't planning on doing a big event at the local indoor play gym like we did for Sweetheart's birthday earlier this year. Incorporating the pony characters into the party games seemed like a good way to go.

For this adventure, we leaned heavily into an escape-room-type quest as our inspiration, and we want to share exactly what we did in case anyone would like to host a Unicorn Adventure for their own child's birthday party this year.

The Location

We hosted our daughter's party at our church, but any location with a smaller connecting room with a door would work. Even a house with a living room and a bedroom down the hall would be good. If the second room cannot be immediately seen from the main room, that will make the "treasure hunt" more exciting. Bonus points if the door unlocks using a key or combination code.

Things You Need

Enough "magical creature" toys for every child in your party. We purchased this set on Amazon and added several figurines from Safari Ltd that we found on clearance for our guests who we suspected would not be excited about unicorns and ponies. Something like this set would work as well.

Three small lockable chests. We recently purchased and played Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment by Mattel, and I re-purposed the locking containers from this game for our own adventure. Something like this box would work as well. (Feel free to use larger locking containers if you have them available.)

Two small combination locks and one small key lock. We used the locks that came with the containers in the Escape Room game previously mentioned. They are very cheaply made, though, as they are primarily intended to be used only one time by adults. I think if we do something like this again, I will probably purchase more sturdy locks with changeable combinations. Whichever route you take, be sure that your locks are small enough to fit on your small containers.

One large locking chest with a combination or key lock. The chest must be big enough to hold all of your magical creatures. For Sunshine's birthday party last year, my dad made me a beautiful wooden treasure chest for a little game we did, and I used that chest again this year. If you can find or borrow an old locking trunk, that would be perfect. If you can't source something like that, you can get creative. An old suitcase or a cooler that can be locked might work in a pinch. If you can't find a solution in the proper size that locks, you can have an adult stand guard and require a password to "unlock" the final container.

A jigsaw puzzle that is challenging enough for your party-goers to complete in five or ten minutes. We purchased this Melissa and Doug floor puzzle, and it worked well, though I think it would have taken a little too long if we hadn't had a few older kids to direct things. (Our guests who participated ranged in age from two to eleven.)

A Pin the Horn on the Unicorn party game. We used this one.

A piñata filled with candy and a stick with which to beat it as well as bags for kids to collect candy. We found a unicorn piñata at a local store, but it can be anything as long as it can pass as a creature guarding the treasure.

A large box (cardboard works) in which to hide the initial puzzles. Last year we made the mistake of leaving our puzzle out in full view, and one of our guests actually solved it before it was time to start playing. We avoided that this year by keeping everything hidden away until it was time to begin.

A willing adult to play the part of a guard to the secret lair. Chris humored me on this one and did a great job. He wore an old cloth viking hat that we had lying around and held a play sword to complete the effect.

Things to Create

Opening Statement. When your guests are ready to begin their adventure, your gamemaster will need to read off an introduction to set the scene and give them their first task. This is the wording that we used:

You have been invited to the Kingdom of the Unicorns for a celebration in honor of Princess Sunshine’s sixth birthday.

You arrive on the day of the party only to find an abandoned castle with no one to welcome you. 

The only clue you discover to help you figure out what has happened to your friends is a box in the corner containing three small locked containers and the pieces of a large puzzle.

To begin your journey to rescue the unicorns and their magical friends, assemble the puzzle and find the code to open the first box.

Code to the first combination lock. Prior to the party you need to assemble the puzzle and use a permanent marker to write the code for the first lock somewhere on the puzzle. We were able to carefully lift the puzzle after it had been assembled and write the code on the back, but you could just as easily write it somewhere on the front of the puzzle as well.

Clue to go inside the first locked box. The first box needs to contain the key to the second box along with the clue for how to get past the guard later in the game. Print or write it on a paper that you can roll or fold to fit inside the box with the key. We chose "mystical creatures" for our password, and the hint looked like this:

Your unicorn friends have been locked away in an evil lord’s secret lair. There is a guard blocking the entry to this room. Remember the password “Mystical Creatures” and whisper it in the guard’s ear when he tries to stop you. But first, you must find the map to the evil lord’s secret hiding place. Use this key to open the next box.

Picture clue to go inside the second locked box. The second box needs to contain a clue for the combination to open the third box. The combination for the lock on our third box was 1-3-5, so I used canva.com to create this picture illustrating the numbers the kids would need to use to open the box. (For the record, our eleven-year-old guest figured it out right away, but I think our younger guests would have needed some prompting.)

A treasure map to go inside the third locked box. If you have artistic skills, you could easily create your own map for your guests to follow to find the location of the secret lair. I chose to use treasuremapgenerator.com to create a rudimentary map of the rooms we used in our church for our adventure. For ideas of features to include, I labeled the stairs as "Mountains and Valleys," our refreshment table as the "Oasis" and the front door of the church as the "Castle Entrance."

A final clue to go inside the piñata. This clue will depend on what container you have used to hide your magical creatures. We used a combination lock with four letters, so I attached a label with the words "LAST clue" to a piece of foam and hid it inside the piñata. The code for the lock was "LAST." If you have a key to unlock the final box, you could just hide that inside the piñata instead. If you don't have a big enough locking chest and you opt to have a guard require a password to open the box you use instead, just write the password on something to hide in the piñata.

Preparing for the Quest

The easiest way to assemble everything is to start from the end and work your way toward the beginning.

1. Put all of your "magical creatures" in your large locking chest, or whatever large container you are using. Put this chest inside your smaller room, a.k.a, the evil lord's secret lair.

2. Place the clue for unlocking the large locking chest inside your piñata along with your candy. Arrange your piñata so that it appears to be guarding the chest. (You don't have to actually do the piñata activity in this room. You can carry the piñata to an appropriate location when the time comes.)

3. Close the door to the room and attach your "pin the horn on the unicorn" game to the closed door from outside the room. Leave the supplies for the game nearby. This is where your "guard" will need to stand to block the doorway to the "evil lord's secret lair."

4. Fold or roll your treasure map so it fits into your third small container. Place the lock with the combination that matches the picture clue you created in this container and lock it.

5. In your second small container, place the picture clue. Attach the key lock to the container.

6. Put the key and the password clue inside the first small container and lock it with the combination lock that opens using the code that you wrote on your jigsaw puzzle.

7. Put the disassembled jigsaw puzzle and the three containers into a box in the corner of your main party room, a.k.a, the castle of the Kingdom of the Unicorns. Tape the box closed if desired/necessary.

8. Have your opening statement nearby, ready to read when it's time to begin the game.

During the Party

Once all of your guests have arrived, gather them together and read your opening statement. If everything goes according to plan, your guests should assemble the puzzle, open the three small boxes, and get past the guard by giving him or her the password.

At this point, they will need to "pin" the horn in place on the unicorn picture in order to open the door. Each of our participants took a turn while blindfolded, and not one of them got it in the right spot. (This is actually preferable as every child will likely want to take a turn.) After they had all tried it blindfolded, we let one child do it without a blindfold, and once the horn was in place, the door "magically" opened.

Once they enter the "secret lair," they will need to fight off the creature guarding the treasure. This is when you do your piñata. Once they've collected all the candy, you may need to prompt them to find the final clue or key if someone has put it in his or her candy bag. Not one of our guests picked up our clue, so it was just sitting on the floor still after all the candy was gone. (Apparently it didn't look important, so they left it!)

After they use the last clue/key/password to open the final chest and free the unicorns, they will each get to pick out a magical creature figurine to take home. I was worried that we might have some fighting over who got what toy, but it all went very smoothly, and all of the kids seemed happy with what they got. We did have a few extra toys since a couple of our guests couldn't make it, so that may have helped.

Guests' Response

Our guests were quite impressed with this activity, even the adults, and the kids had a lot of fun. One of the kids told me the next week that it was a great party. I was a little concerned that someone would be bothered by the lack of logic behind the story--why would there be clues for finding the unicorns? But no one seemed to care, least of all the kids who participated.

I would say that this is probably going to be ideal for kids ages six to maybe twelve. Our younger guests had fun, but I don't think they knew what was going on most of the time. The younger your guests are, the more prompting they will probably need, especially if they have never done an activity like this before. Not one of our kids thought to turn over the puzzle, and they all had to run back to look at the clue to remember what the password was when they reached the guard. Our six-year-old birthday girl got completely lost trying to follow the map and almost ended up in a different part of the church building. But they were all having a good time.

Don't be afraid to give hints to keep the game moving along. The last thing you want is frustrated party-goers who give up and want to do something else!

If you decide to send your party guests on their own magical unicorn adventure, we would love to hear from you in the comments below! And if anything is unclear, please comment or drop us an email at Diane@smallhomefamily.com and let us know so we can explain it better!

Happy Unicorn Questing!