Marketing Tabletop Puzzle Games on Kickstarter — A Case Study


This article was originally posted on Medium.

Kickstarter is an incredibly powerful tool not just for securing the funds to create a game, but also for marketing the game itself. In this article, I look at the very specific niche of “tabletop puzzle games” and using case studies, go through what works well and what might not be working quite so well.

What is a ‘tabletop puzzle game’, and why am I so fixated on them?

Tabletop puzzle game, play at home escape room, mystery box, puzzle board games… Whatever you want to call them. I’m a Game Designer, and even in our industry we haven’t settled on an exact name for exactly what it is we make. Or an exact genre for that matter. But, in general terms:

Tabletop puzzle games are a specific sub-genre of board games that are typically (but not always) single-play mystery experiences, packed with puzzles to solve. Think “you are trapped in a room and you have 60 minutes to escape”, or “you’ve inherited this mysterious box. You solve the puzzles and complete actions with a singular goal in mind. These games are often collaborative, not competitive, and they’re best played either solo or in a small team.

Some notable examples from Kickstarter include:

Sometimes tabletop puzzle games remain quite niche, popular in the “Puzzle People” communities where 3,000 or so of us share and chat about our favourite new puzzle games. Others break into the mainstream. You might recognise some of the following:

Graphic image from The Panic Room’s online website

And why is this topic so interesting to me? Well, it goes back to the idea of the communities who play these games. In other words:

“The “Puzzle People” communities where 3,000 or so of us share and chat about our favourite new puzzle games”

The most successful Kickstarter groups capture the attention of these people first. A successful first day means a game is all the more likely to be a Kickstarter “Project We Love”, and thus be shown to thousands, if not millions of new players out there. And it all starts with those Puzzle People. But marketing your game to such a small group comes with it it’s own challenges.

This crowd are the Puzzle People, and Nic Cage’s head could be your game.

Show Me the Numbers

To support this article, I went through every single English-language Kickstarter funded game in this ‘genre’ I could find, and compiled them in a spreadsheet here. In the time it took me to finish the spreadsheet, I managed to drink three cups of coffee. But hey, I enjoy crunching numbers whilst absolutely buzzed and excited. So here they are:

  • I was able to find 80 games in this genre since 2015
  • Most were from the USA. A whole 35%.
  • The next ‘most’ was the UK, with 25%.

Of course that might just be Kickstarter deliberately showing me British Kickstarters because of where in the world I am, but I was still surprised to see it.

  • Canada and the Netherlands were the next most represented countries, with 8 and 7 campaigns respectively.

Which companies are raising the most TOTAL moolah?

Well, to make things fair I converted all currencies into USD. These figures are accurate as of May 2023, but given currencies fluctuate they may not accurately represent what the Kickstarters took home at the time.

How much does it cost to make a game? Like, a million bucks?

At the very top, we see:

  • The Shivers, who raised $576,892.00 for their game
  • Mysterious Package Company (and their sister company, Curious Correspondence) who raised $501,637.00 on their most recent 2022 game, $446,281.00 in 2016, and $310,792.00 in 2015.
  • iDVenture, who consistently raise between $271,494.00 — $394,314.00 on every campaign
  • Spectre & Vox, the small British team who raised $308,764.00 in 2020
  • And last but not least, PostCurious’s impressive suite of games raising at most, $290,088.00 in 2020.

The Shivers on Kickstarter

Which campaigns have the highest number of backers?

The numbers start to look interesting if we instead filter the spreadsheet by number of backers. At the top we see:

  • Again, The Shivers at 6,794 people
  • Mysterious Package Company drops off the top-10, with one notable exception: Doomensions, which was a collaboration with Curious Correspondence. They had 5,338 backers.
  • iDVenture shoots right up to the top with a spooky 3,980 backers across both their campaigns, a year apart.
  • PostCurious, with a consistently high number of backers, their highest being 3,734 on Light in the Mist.

Doomensions on Kickstarter

Which campaigns have the highest spend per customer?

This is when things get even more interesting. I decided, out of interest, to divide the total raised by number of backers to see how much people are spending on campaigns. Or in a cynical way: Which companies have the richest backers?

  • A Killing Affair, a new name, comes in at top with just 86 backers who spent each $257.28 on Blind Faith. This isn’t surprising since the lowest pledge level was $125 and the highest $335.
  • Mysterious Package Company is no surprise here, with a very high cost of individual games. Their campaigns see between $238 — $249 per customer spend.
  • The Enigma Box is a new name in the top list again, their 2017 campaign saw an average spend of $221.
  • Similarly, The Detective Society rears it’s head as the company with the 4th highest spend per customer at $215. This again makes sense, since they were selling whole seasons of games.
  • Interestingly, or painfully, the 5th is a Kickstarter campaign called The Boundless Library which was never fulfilled. Backers pledged an average of $200.

Filigree in Shadow on Kickstarter

How about Player Spend by Year?

  • In 2015, I found 1 Kickstarter and it raised $310,792.00 (per backer spend of $240.74)
  • In 2016 I found 3 Kickstarters and they raised $590,410 (per backer spend of $139.47)
  • In 2017 I found 2 Kickstarters and they raised $422,142 (per backer spend of $207.64)
  • In 2018 I found 3 Kickstarters and they raised $38,250 (per backer spend of $24.51)
  • In 2019 I found 10 Kickstarters and they raised $389,792 (per backer spend of $51.24)
  • In 2020 I found 18 Kickstarters and they raised $2,275,464 (per backer spend of $90.29)
  • In 2021 I found 20 Kickstarters and they raised $1,059,446 (per backer spend of $63.03)
  • In 2022 I found 19 Kickstarters and they raised $1,589,997 (per backer spend of $83.18)

What the heck happened in 2018? Well, I don’t know, Kickstarter reported record funds, so maybe folks were just spending their money in other categories. It was a uniquely record-breaking hot summer, perhaps folks weren’t spending a lot of time playing board games? I tried looking up significant events in 2018, as well as any major scandals that might have impacted consumer trust in games. Ethiopia signed a big peace deal with Eritrea, which is awesome, but somehow I don’t think it had much of an impact on Kickstarter either.

My conclusion is that 2018 was a record low year for puzzle games simply because: The biggest names in the industry at that time simply didn’t run any campaigns that year. Yes, I’m looking at The Mysterious Package Company (who raised $446,281.00 and $310,792.00 the years before), Escape Room in a Box (who raised $135,429.00 the year before), Simulacra Games (who raised $244,175.00), and Enigma Box (who raised $177,967.00 the year before).

How to market your puzzle game on Kickstarter

Okay, so now we can get to the part of the article you’re really here for:

How?! How do I do it?!

How’d it get funded?!

The answer: There is literally no right or wrong answer.

I don’t have the answer. Folks who create campaigns that end up being funded $1m + also don’t have the answer. Following every trick in the books won’t guarantee a successful Kickstarter campaign.

So instead, what we can do is look at what other campaigns did well. I’ll use this article to look at what some of the most successful Kickstarters in the ‘puzzle game’ niche did well, and some pitfalls to avoid.

Make Good Games: A Case Study of, Well, Everyone!

A successful Kickstarter starts months and years before you actually hit ‘Publish’ on your campaign. It starts with making good games. With good games, comes trust.

But wait, I’ve never published a game before!
That’s why I’m going to Kickstarter!

There are other ways designers can build up trust with their audience, so fear not if you’re planning your first game! Why not try:

  • Making a short mini-game that backers can try out?
  • Publishing mini-puzzles on social media?
  • Sending your game to ‘influencers’, and reviewers ahead of the campaign?

Murder on the Moon on Kickstarter

Case Study: Detective Society’s Murder on the Moon
The $1 Pledge Mini Game

In their most recent campaign, The Detective Society are seeking backers for Murder on the Moon, a murder mystery puzzle game set in space. Now, The Detective Society have published many games so there’s no doubt they’re good at what they do. But this time they have added something unique to the campaign: a “mini game”, which backers can gain access to for just a $1 pledge.

This mini game is digital only, accessible via an online password protected portal. For backers new to The Detective Society, it means they can try out their puzzles before committing to the full game.

The $1 pledge is similarly very smart. Backing a Kickstarter campaign means receiving their Kickstarter updates. It’s like giving away a $1 ticket to an event where you get to advertise a full priced product over and over (*cough cough* like those cheesy Home Convention Shows I somehow keep applying for free tickets to). The Detective Society have the duration of the whole campaign to convince an individual backer to pledge the full amount for the game.

The Early Bird catches the wriggly worm of Kickstarter success

Since this is probably the most important point to make, I’m doubling down on it from a slightly different angle:

A successful Kickstarter starts months and years before you actually hit ‘Publish’ on your campaign.

By making good games, you naturally build up an audience. Having an audience before you start a Kickstarter campaign is probably the single most important thing you can do for the success of your campaign. So, what do I mean?

  • Have a strong social media presence
  • Build up an email marketing list
  • Attend conventions, meet your customers
  • Have good press about your company and games

I won’t go into all the details, for each of those bullet points is it’s own pillar of marketing. Plus, building up a presence won’t be the same between two companies. The company killing it on Tiktok might not be focusing on their emails. The company with 500,000 customers on their mailing list might not have time for a convention, and so on.

So instead, here’s how one puzzle game studio did it:

Case Study: Mysterious Package Company and Curious Correspondence’s Doomensions

One of the companies who has historically done very well on that “community” front is Mysterious Package Company. It shows with their latest 2022 Kickstarter campaign, Doomensions. MPC is the kind of company that historically built up a lot of intrigue and FOMO with their customer base — a “join our mysterious society”, before mysterious societies were available, and “we will drop this mysterious box at midnight and there’ll only be 15 available” in a way your local designer t-shirt label probably does today. They also ran a message board called Curios and Conundrums, as well as countless invite-only message boards and Facebook groups that blurred the lines between fiction and reality.

But that’s not all, with Doomensions they collaborated with Curious Correspondence Club who are the organisers of the annual Puzzletember event in September, a free puzzle activity that pulls big audiences. Small, but mighty, Curious Correspondence also had a track record of shipping their own compact envelope games and a dedicated community that probably didn’t have too much overlap with the older, most established, higher spend-per-customer MPC.

It’s a good example of Kickstarter collaboration (more on that later), but more than anything just how building up a community and track record over years and years can help when it counts.

Make Beautiful Games: The 3 Seconds to Make an Impression

Research shows that most people make a first impression of a person within 7 seconds.

Some people say it’s actually 0.1 seconds…

…And in the video game world, the statistic often thrown around is “5 minutes”.

I don’t know if anyone has ever researched how long someone spends on your Kickstarter campaign page. If they have, I couldn’t find the numbers. But lets assume it’s a really short amount of time.

So how can you make an impact?

  • Use the Title and Subtitle to explain what the game is, and what is unique about it.
  • Use striking visuals and short and snappy headers to take users on a visual journey through your campaign. Who are you? What is your game? Why should they back?
  • Show, don’t tell. Include as many eye-catching images as you can — photographs, animated GIFs, illustrations.

But none of these are particularly new or ground breaking ideas, so let’s look at some case studies from the puzzle world:

Pretty Game vs Pretty Campaign

Light in the Mist on Kickstarter

Case Study: PostCurious’ Light in the Mist
Or as you might know it, the prettiest game on the market. Like, ever.

Light in the Mist was a collaboration between PostCurious and illustrator Jack Fallows. Looking at their campaign, it seems like they knew their strength: The physical game itself was incredibly, incredibly pretty. Therefore, the Kickstarter campaign focuses on photographs of the game first. From hand-drawn tarot cards, gorgeous box poster, and add-on prints I’m quietly seething I didn’t pledge for at the time.

Both creators are well known for creating really high quality and beautiful games. But when they came together and made a Kickstarter for Light in the Mist? It was just pure…

*chefs kiss*

Case Study: The Shivers
Or as you might know it, the prettiest looking campaign ever.

On the other hand, we have the most successful game in the genre: The Shivers. Can I just print out this campaign page and frame it? The Shivers put a lot of time and effort into making their campaign page absolutely gorgeous. From high quality animated GIFs showing the game, to eye-catching illustrations. It’s a very image-heavy campaign, but it paid off.

The Shivers on Kickstarter

The TLDR; If you want to make a good first impression with your puzzle game, do like PostCurious or The Shivers and put the most visually appealing thing about your game on a pedestal.

The Power of Puzzle People

Now is a good time to bring it back to the very first thing I said in this whole article: The puzzle game community. The English speaking puzzle game community is around 3,000–5,000 people strong. They hang out in Facebook Groups, Discord Channels, Reddit, on social media and at in-person events (don’t believe me? Try Puzzled Pint!)

If you’re launching a Kickstarter campaign for a puzzle game, your campaign will live or die by how well you engage the puzzle community.

Kickstarter campaigns that do well are often:

  • Are from creators who are active, helpful and kind in the Puzzle Community. In fact, I think almost every campaign I’ve ever backed was because the creator made a personal effort.
  • Sending out previews of the game to reviewers, ‘influencers’, and other game designers in the industry.
  • Actively nurturing their own community, whatever that looks like. Do you have an ARG? Why not try setting up your own Discord channel or message board about the game.

Lost in the Shuffle on Kickstarter

Case Study: Lost in the Shuffle
From an Unknown Designer to Successful Campaign

Lost in the Shuffle is a really lovely case study and card game that launched on Kickstarter in 2022. It’s a very deceptively simple game. It’s quite literally just a deck of cards. Objectively (and no shade here) there’s nothing particularly eye catching about the visuals either — handwritten text, black and white illustrations, and a sketchy pencil-like quality. It was also by a solo game developer, Spencer is Puzzling who was relatively unknown in the industry.

And yet, Lost in the Shuffle was funded with over 480 backers.

So what did they do right? Well, besides making a game that was really good, they did a few things in the community really right:

  • They sent out copies of the game ahead of time to a number of reviewers and ‘influencers’ in the puzzle game niche.
  • They were active in the puzzle communities, kind and thoughtful about their responses to threads.
  • They appeared on talk shows, podcasts, and the like.

Lost in the Shuffle on Kickstarter

It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this *hands you a collaboration*

The puzzle game niche is small, and we all know each other. But that doesn’t mean that bringing other creators can’t add something new to your campaign.

Game design skill, illustration skill, marketing skill… No one person is perfect, and no one person can do it all…

Not even him

… So there’s always something to add by inviting a collaborator into the fold. A number of Kickstarter campaigns have been very successful in their collaboration, such as:

  • Doomensions, a collaboration between Mysterious Package Company and Curious Correspondence
  • Light in the Mist, a collaboration between PostCurious and Jack Fallows
  • The Medusa Report, a collaboration between Diorama and Sherlocked

I myself will be collaborating on a puzzle experience later in the year with Enigmailed.

THAT SAID: Just be careful out there when you do collaborate — protect yourselves, protect your heart, and protect your intellectual property! Make sure the person or business you’re collaborating with is able to fully commit, is someone you trust, and has a track record of successful delivery of projects.

Paid Ads, and All That Jazz

Not being intimately acquainted every puzzle game’s budget and ad spend, I can’t give any case studies for this — but I will say as a marketer myself, one of the important things you should also consider is Paid Ad Spend. This is the part of your campaign where you cast your net wider than the Puzzle People group and try to attract folks with overlapping interested.

Here are a few tips:

  • Define your target audience, specifically the demographics and behaviours of the people you think will be interested in your campaign
  • Utilise the video and visual content you’re creating for your campaign and repurpose it for any advert campaign.
  • Retarget interested users. If anyone has interacted with your website or brand in another meaningful way, now’s the time to reach back out to them with ads.

Other, outside of the box things you might want to try

Kickstarter is all about experimenting. Especially in the puzzle game niche. What works for [big popular company] or [indie solo developer] might not work for you, so you should try and forge your own path. Figure out what makes you and your game unique, and lean into that.

Create a Series of Puzzles to Support the Campaign

Puzzles that link into your campaign can be used on social media to advertise the game, or just as a way of keeping folks engaged and interested in your campaign. Doomensions did this well.

Offer Limited Edition Content

Remember when I said I was kicking myself for not adding a print onto my Light in the Mist order? You can be absolutely sure I’m getting all the “limited edition” add-ons for the projects I back today.

Offer Retail Copies of your Game

Don’t forget to include a pledge for retailers interested in stocking your game.

Last but not least: When to launch your campaign?

In the puzzle game niche, it’s more important not to launch at a particular time of year, but to be mindful not to launch at the same time as another campaign. We’re a small but mighty group, and the last thing you want to do is ‘compete’ for the attention of the same 3,000–5,000 people.

Yes, the community is collaborative, but at the end of the day your backers don’t have unlimited money. I myself can commit to backing a new puzzle game a month. But two a month? Three a month? I’ll have to be more careful with my pledge. Making your players choose between your fantastic game and the next team’s fantastic game is no good for your business, or for your audience.

If you have launched your campaign at the same time as someone else, take a leaf out of Diorama and The Detective Society’s group and see if there’s a way you can work together and make a fun spin on it!


Mairi, what the heck?! You wrote so many words! I’m not reading all that.

You, scrolling through this article

Okay, okay, okay I got carried away. It’s all that coffee I drank, remember? Here’s the short version, with animated GIFs:

Make sure the game you’re Kickstarting is good. Enough said.

Am I getting through to you Alva?

Prove to people you can make a really good game. Previously published games? Great! Nothing previously published? Send this game to reviewers, press, and influencers.

Start early, and build up your community. Your game will live or die by how well you’re able to mobilise your community — so don’t leave it up to chance!

Make really, really pretty games. It’s worth investing in graphics or illustrators.

Your game, but beautiful.

Engage the Puzzle Community! Make a mini game, or share mini puzzles. This one is a bonus because you can also show off how fun your puzzles are.

Collaboration can be good. But also make sure you protect yourself!

This could be you and your co-collaborators

Paid Ads = Good. They get your game in front of new, non-puzzle people.

Don’t launch your game at the same time as another game. It’s not ‘competition’, it’s just logistics. Puzzle people are a small group, don’t make them choose.

Thanks for Reading!

All that’s left to do is to go out there and make good games and launch them on Kickstarter.

Oh and, don’t forget to tell me about the games you launch. Mainly because I want to support your cool puzzle project and shower your campaign with love and attention!

This is me when I see a new puzzle game has been launched on Kickstarter

Escapable: The Great Loudini | Review


The Great Loudini is a one-of-a-kind adventure that combines the thrill of an escape room with the wonder of live magic performances.  You have been tasked by Harry Houdini himself to help retrieve one of his stolen diaries. Taken by the imposter that is ‘The Great Loudini’… However that’s not all,  Loudini has been working on a way to predict the future! Can you retrieve the diary in time and help Houdini secure his place, as the greatest magician of all time…

Completion Time: ~50 minutes
Date Played: 12th May 2023
Party size: 4
Difficulty: 3.5 out of 5 

After returning from our epic escape room holiday in the Netherlands, we were a bit worried that rooms in the UK would not be able to measure up to the leaderboard topping rooms we had played the week previous. However, we struck gold with our visit to Escapable in Wakefield, where we had an all round magical evening celebrating Ash’s birthday. 

The Great Loudini was an escape room that has been blowing up the recommendation pages, and since it launched we’d spotted plenty of shout-outs to Tom and the team via the various enthusiast Facebook pages. So naturally, we were very excited to see what Escapable had in store for us! 

Take your seats for the Magic Show!

Upon arriving at the venue, we were greeted by our Games Master Tom, who appeared very much in character as a magician apprentice for ‘The Great Loudini!’. We are such big fans of an immersive start and arriving at Escapable did not disappoint. From there, we were taken through to the theatre to where Loudini would be performing. Our Games Master then gave us a glimpse into the fun we could expect from this experience, drawing us in with some of the best live magic any of us had ever experienced. Seriously, live magic in an escape room? We love it!

The Great Loudini was so much fun and truly jaw dropping (huge shout out to Tom for his magic abilities, I have so many questions!). After we’d had our minds blown with some magical mischief, we were blindfolded to sneak through to Loudini’s room. Our first mission would be to sneak into his dressing room to see if we could find Houdini’s stolen diary!



Perfectly Puzzling Puzzles 🪄

Once we were released into the room to explore, we were delighted to find the room’s physical space and decor very much on theme. Everything in the room was well through out and had a purpose, there were references to magic everywhere, and even some very special hidden surprises! As a group of four, we totally clicked with this room and would recommend this as the perfect size. With this group, the puzzles flowed beautifully, and they were delivered on theme in a satisfying way. 

With a typical group of four, we tend to split to tackle different parts of the room at different times, but with The Great Loudini, we found ourselves coming back together on purpose, just so we could all experience the puzzles on offer. Not to mention tyring to figure out exactly how on Earth some the puzzles had come to be… It literally could only be magic! In The Great Loudini we also came up against a couple of absolutely stand out puzzles, and more than one we’d be left feeling beyond-perplexed as to just what we’d witnessed.



Knock Knock! Who’s There? It’s Tom.

Throughout the experience, Tom returned to us a number of times (in character), to provide some additional information about Loudini, and to provide us with some ‘tools’ we would need to complete some of the puzzles in the space. These ‘tools’ were presented wonderfully. It’s not exactly a live-actor room, but those touchpoints of interaction were some of the most pleasant interaction with a live actor any of us had ever experienced. These interludes were spaced out perfectly well, and didn’t feel clunky or disruptive in the slightest. Each one was a welcome ‘break’ from the puzzling and into the magical narrative of this superb experience. 

Without giving away too many spoilers, one of the most unique moments of the room was when one of the final puzzles left us all feeling very confused, as we questioned the loyalty of our own as the puzzle and solution was revealed (looking at you Tasha!). It was the best way to finish the experience, and had us all laughing and discussing for many hours after how we had managed to locate the missing diary. 

Escapable: Above and Beyond

Since we were playing on Ash’s actual birthday, I (Al) had reached out to Tom earlier in the month to ask if he had any particularly magical ways of producing cake. Anyone who knows us knows that cake is an integral part of our lives, not just for a birthday! Tom was wonderful and obliged in surprising the birthday girl with an excellent magic trick that yes – actually produced cake too! 

Having played The Great Loudini, we can see why this room has skyrocketed in popularity with the UK escape room community. It was just so different! It was lively, it was funny, it was packed with brilliant puzzles and a smooth and seamless logical flow we all love to see. I cannot recommend this room more, we had an absolute blast.

If you want to play The Great Loudini in Wakefield it can be booked on Escapable’s website here.


30 Before 30? Writing an Escape Room Bucket List


Cast your mind back to 2021. Yep, a whole two years ago. I was halfway between 20 and 30 and probably feeling listless and directionless about live (oh, hello 20s) and decided to make myself an “escape room bucket list” for all the things I wanted to achieve before I turned 30. A lot can happen and a lot can change in two years – but I’m still here, and more important I’m still playing escape rooms.

But now, on the 2 year anniversary of making that list, seemed as good a time as any to revisit what I’ve achieved, what is still on the list, and what advice I can share to other folks making their own [number before age] list for themselves.


Playing Escape Rooms… Around the World?

Reeling from being locked up for about two years at this point, it’s unsurprising a lot of my bucket list items involved travel. So, how did I do?

  • Play an escape room in Central Europe
  • Play an escape room in North America
  • Play an escape room on the other side of the world
  • Bonus: Play an escape room in another language

Well, the first three are easy enough. Though I’m not quite sure what I meant by “other side of the world”. Probably Asia, Australia or New Zealand. In that case, not quite yet – but I did recently play some in Canada, the Netherlands, and Poland. As for an escape room in another language, I was really hoping to do something clever and play a ‘language-less’ escape room. But I’m not quite sure they exist, so I’ll settle for French. Another tick. Or should I say il est complété!



Playing Escape Rooms… With Specific People!

The next category of escape room 30s before 30 seem to be about playing escape rooms with specific people:

  • Introduce all my friends to escape rooms
  • Play with friends from around the world

The first I’m working on every, single, day. *shakes fist at friends who haven’t played one yet*

They say you should never meet your idols but that’s false because I met mine and they were the best people. As for playing rooms with friends around the world, I have my Canada trip to thank for that! It was a whirlwind adventure in that I got to meet so many of my absolute favourite people in the world, all in one place. The escape room communities of Toronto and Montreal were amazingly welcoming, and I had the most wonderful time. Cheers to all of you! 🥂



Playing Specific Rooms

The next category of ‘bucket list’ items I can group by seem to be centred around playing specific rooms. These were:

  • Play a horror escape room
  • Play the first room in the UK
  • Play the Crystal Maze
  • Participate in a Zombie event

The first one was always going to be an easy win. I think I booked a horror room the very next month after writing my list. How was it? Terrifying. But nothing as terrifying as this year playing one of the world’s scariest: Stay in the Dark by DarkPark in the Netherlands. Sometimes I still wake in a cold sweat thinking about it, hah! As for the Crystal Maze, Zombies, and first in the UK – I’m still working on those. It doesn’t help that I moved away from London, but since that’s not in the spirit of things I’ll mark them as “pending”. There’s still time before 30!



Shooting for Gold on the Leader Board

My next few ‘bucket list items’ concerned leaderboard scores. Namely:

  • Come first on a leaderboard
  • Achieve a puzzle game speed run record
  • Compete in the Red Bull championships

I’m simultaneously not sure I have, and absolutely certain I have achieved something of all. As for those escape room scores, I just can’t say for sure which one. Plus, with many escape rooms resetting their leaderboard monthly, it’s quite likely if I go back through the list, any went for in the first day or two of the month are strong contenders. With regards to the Red Bull championships, sadly those don’t exist anymore – but I have been enjoying ER champ these last few years. Last year Team Escaping the Closet (consisting of myself, Al, Ash and Tasha) placed 36th in the world and 2nd UK team! Not bad.


Team Escaping the Closet takes 36th!


Creative Escape Room Goals for the Next 3 Years

Besides playing rooms, it’s clear from my bucket list I made back then that I wanted to focus on designing more.

  • Publish a digital escape room
  • Work on a new murder mystery
  • Publish a board game
  • and so on

Well, 25 year old me would be very proud, as I’m now able to say being a puzzle game designer is my full time job. I’ve completed all of the above, and more. It’s been a wild few years (mostly of burnout), but I’m proud of everything I’ve achieved and how far I’ve come. I won’t list them all here, but if anyone is interested I have a portfolio available here.


Last But Not Least: The Escape Room Tattoo

Argh! How could I have forgotten this one? Well no. I haven’t got that tattoo yet. But I still really want to. If anyone knows of any tattoo artists in the UK who might be up for designing me something, please do let me know!


What’s Next? 2 years? 5 years? 10 years?

There are a number of fun things on the bucket list I still need to achieve, and that’s great – I’m getting round to them for sure. But this also seems like an excellent opportunity to take stock and suggest some new things for my 30 before 30 bucket list. Such as:

  • Play 100% of all escape rooms in Edinburgh
  • …And why not also try to play 100% of all escape rooms in Scotland too!
  • Reach 500, physical, in person rooms played
  • Play an escape room in Japan
    • The home of escape rooms. Big bucket list item for me!
  • Visit a Punchdrunk experience
    • How have I reached this ripe old age and managed to miss them all? I’ll never know.
  • Beat 33rd in the world in the ER Champ
  • Collaborate on a puzzle experience with [specific person]
    • Note, I’m not actually going to name said person (or tbh, people, there are a few who are dream collaborators). But I’ll reach out when the time is right for sure.
  • Collaborate on a puzzle experience with [specific business]
    • Again, same reason. I know who they are. THEY probably know who they are due to my ‘Adoring Fan’ nature
  • Start a podcast about the puzzle industry
    • I have the format, I just need to get a move on. Haha, the story of my life.
  • Launch Escape Industry Jobs
    • A little project to help job seekers in the industry that I’ve had brewing in the background for a while


Bucket Lists, Are They Worth It?

Yes, and no. It really depends on what you want to get out of it. It’s a lot of fun making a list of things you’d like to do, and an excellent resource to look back on when you feel like you’re in a rut. Writing one really lets you lay out your priorities and in some ways can hold you accountable in a fun way. By not achieving something – you’ve only letting your younger self down.

But by that metric, it’s important to keep in mind they are fun. That’s one of the reason I wanted to write one about escape rooms and not say, my general life. Escape rooms are fun, playing them is fun, and my lists are just fun reminders to get out there more and seek out more exciting adventures in my life!

If you want to write your own bucket list, escape room or otherwise, I’d suggest setting a “before a certain date” on it. That way you have a target, and a milestone to pause on and look back at how far you’ve come.



Writing Your Own Escape Room Bucket List

So you’ve read this far, and you’ve thought “okay I want one of those”. Having looked back on mine, I’ve been reminded of the things I actively worked on, and doubly reminded of those things I completely forgot about. But armed with that knowledge, I wanted to share some advice.

Be realistic

Having escape room goals like “travel to far away place” or “win competition” are excellent – but only if they’re realistic. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t afford to travel, or enter the competition and only come 2nd place. The point is you put your heart into something, and that counts for a lot.

Ask for recommendations

In the escape room world, everyone loves talking about their favourite rooms – so this is a great opportunity to get recommendations for escape rooms and venues to put on your own bucket list. What are your friends favourite room? What are the experts’ favourite rooms? Ask around, and you’ll be amazed at the answers – and probably discover some new hidden gems along the way.

Get your A-team

Lets be real, most escape room bucket list items will need a team. Unless one of your bucket list items is to “play a room solo”. Which would be pretty cool if it were! Once you’ve written your list, share it with your friends and start getting a team together to help you play through or achieve new targets with your rooms.

Collect rejections

So this is an ‘out there’ tip, but I’ve found many folks bucket lists are all thing they want to do, but for their own personal reason are waiting. Maybe they fear people will laugh, or say no when you invite them along with you. A good friend told me about the “100 rejections” challenge. You aim to collect 100 rejections in the course of a year. By aiming for rejections, you apply for the things and ask the questions you’re sure you’ll be rejected for. Out of those 100, you’ll surely collect a few “yes” replies, won’t you? 😉

Get creative

Want to try designing an experience yourself? DO IT.

Some of my absolute favourite puzzle games and even escape rooms were designed by people who didn’t think they knew how, or did have any experience. Trust me, you can do this. And hey, if you want tips on where to get started – I wrote this guide here!

Have fun

This is the absolute most important one of them all. We’re all in this escape room industry to play games and have fun. Making an escape room bucket list is first and foremost all about having fun. As you write your list and work your way through them – don’t forget that!

Escape Edinburgh: The Magic Emporium | Review


The Magic Emporium: Three days ago a well renowned supplies shop for all budding wizards closed for the day. However inexplicably the shop never opened again. Sensing that forces of evil are at work you have decided that you are going to investigate the mystery behind Ms Garbo’s disappearance. Don’t get caught!

Date Played: December 2022
Time Taken: 35 minutes
Number of Players: 3
Difficulty: Easy


“I’ve never done an escape room before”, my friend tells me.

Wait, what?! Let’s fix that right away!

Unfortunately by now I have done most of the absolutely excellent rooms in Edinburgh, so my choices to take a brand new non-enthusiast somewhere impressive were slim – but you can’t go wrong with somewhere like “Escape Edinburgh” which is a franchise with venues all around the UK. Back in London, I’d enjoyed a lot of their rooms and being a franchise model of company I figured they’d be pretty good in any city you came across. We’re fans of the ‘magical world’ theme, so The Magic Emporium in Edinburgh (one not available in London) seemed like a good bet to try out.

On a wintery day just after Christmas we took ourselves down to Escape Edinburgh to try out the magical shop themed room as a team of three. Between us, we had a range of ‘experience’ levels with the escape room, making for a perfect mix, and – in my opinion – a perfect team size for a game like this. The lobby area is much smaller than most escape rooms, so as we waited for our friend to arrive, we stood to one side reading through the waiver and making small talk with our host. Just as we were about to be led to the room, an enormous group of around 20 people who had not made a booking showed up asking if they could play a room there and then. I felt for the Games Master as they dealt with the chaos of that group arriving to the world’s smallest lobby all at once, and it did cause a slight delay to the start time of our game as we huddled in the corner patiently. But after a little while, we were at our room’s door and off into the magical world of “The Magical Emporium”.



The room starts impressively as you find yourself in a cobblestone alleyway outside of a row of shops. I really like this “looking into shop front mechanic”, and Escape Edinburgh did well to recreate a magical atmosphere in this space. As we could tell from the offset, there were many more puzzles to be found inside but our first task was simple: Get inside, somehow.


Magic and Mystery in the Air

The room did a fairly good job of taking us through the narrative and puzzling journey in terms of gameplay. It was a fairly linear room, although there were moments when different members of our group were split up from one another, relaying and reciting information we’d found. There was plenty of searching and finding, and plenty of locks to keep us occupied too. At one point did we get stuck and require a clue. The puzzle was something that had been staring us in the face for a while, but after much staring it didn’t quite click for us, so we opted for a clue. Besides this one puzzle, the overall game felt like it had a good balance of fun and puzzling to suit a newbie group (such as ourselves) and still give that magical spark that makes someone want to come back for more escape rooms. My life goal to create more escape room enthusiasts is therefore complete!

Since The Magic Emporium is a franchise escape room available at the Escape group, you might notice a similarly named room available at a number of other locations around the UK. Notable: Chelmsford, Lincoln, Walton Pier, Newcastle, Basildon and of course the venue we visited: Edinburgh. In general, rooms of the same name are the same across different locations. However some may have notable differences. So an experience at another venue may be slightly different than the one we had here. Similarly, being a franchise escape room, I find that sometimes- but not always, there’s a little wear and tear. This holds true for The Magic Emporium which I have no doubt was a stunning room in it’s glory days but now suffers a little roughness around the edges and slight breaks that can’t be easily fixed. That said, if you’re not put off by details like this, it’s still a solid escape room.


The Magic Emporium: The Verdict

A fun little room that suited our newbie group very well. We weren’t overly challenged, but we did have a lot of fun and appreciated the environment and setting a lot. The Magic Emporium would be an excellent room for kids and families alike, as there’s a fun mix of traditional locks and more ‘magical’ activations of hidden puzzles. It might not satisfy the enthusiast’s itch, but still worth a visit if you’re in the area.



The Magic Emporium is available at Chelmsford, Lincoln, Walton Pier, Newcastle, Basildon, and of course the location we did it at: Edinburgh. The room is (as far as we’re aware) identical at all locations.

Diorama Games: The Medusa Report | Review


Diorama Games: The Medusa Report Review | An American nuclear physicist is found dead in the USSR at the height of the Cold War. What happened, and what does any of it have to do with Abby and her enigmatic father?


Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 1.5 hours
Date Played: April 2023
Difficulty: Medium


The prequel to this game, The Vandermist Dossier, is one of those tabletop puzzle games I still talk about. In fact, when I sat down to review this game I noticed The Vandermist Dossier was still one of the six or so pinned games on our homepage, and trust me when I say I only pin games I really, really love.

So I was very unsurprised when I opened up The Medusa Report and immediately fell in love. Then, the game only got better and better as I played it. With each new reveal, each exciting detail, and each twist I thought to myself “Gosh, our industry needs a ‘Game of the Year’ award, so Diorama can win it” and I stand by that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What makes The Medusa Report so good? Well, for starters it was a lot of fun to pick up where The Vandermist Dossier left off. There’s something extra satisfying about meeting old characters again for a new adventure. Secondly, The Medusa Report was perfectly signposted. Signposting is a real bugbear of mine, and there’s nothing I like less than not knowing what to do next. Diorama has none of that, it’s clear exactly what to do in a perfectly lore-friendly, non game-breaking way. Each puzzle rolled seamlessly onto the next. Speaking of puzzles, these ones were *chef’s kiss* good. Well balanced, surprising, and delightful. Last but not least, it’s just such a beautiful game. Goddamn beautiful. Let’s dive into all of those points one by one.



Pick up where you left off…

The Medusa Report is a sequel to the very popular Vandermist Dossier. Like it’s predecessor, The Medusa Report will be available on Kickstarter to begin with, and then will likely be purchasable via their website in a little while. Whilst they’re sequential in ‘story’, I think both are probably fine to play as standalone. There’s a slight cliffhanger at the end of the first one, and the second references the people and places of the first, but otherwise they’re fairly self contained.

That except for the bonus puzzle! Oh yes, if you happen to have a copy of The Vandermist Dossier, you get extra content! Although I don’t want to spoil anything – so I’ll just leave that for you folks to discover yourself. Amusingly, I’d already passed my copy of The Vandermist Dossier to another writer (Rebecca) here at The Escape Roomer. Generally speaking, we like to get as many of us writers across playing a game when we review it. But thankfully, Rebecca lives (thanks to a fortunate move on my part) about a 15 minute walk away!

In terms of that story, in The Medusa Report, we return to the Vandermist family and pick up where we left off with the sister of our main character. Once again we’re rifling through documents and solving puzzles to try to uncover a singular thing: Where is Abigail Vandermist?!



Part Narrative Journey, Part Puzzle Solving

The Medusa Report is story-heavy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean puzzle-light. It has a good balance between the two. The experience begins when you read an envelope titled “Dear Detective” and then, in a lore-friendly way you’re ‘guided’ through the story through the medium of puzzles.

The game plays out in a linear format – meaning as you solve one puzzle, you’re signposted to the very next puzzle. It might be as obvious as one of the characters directly calling out that item in the dossier, or as subtle as something formatted in a way that looks eerily similar to the format of another item. Both are good and, as mentioned, I really appreciate good signposting. It can make or break a game. The Medusa Report has excellent signposting –  game designers take note!

For folks who wish to go ‘beyond’ the signposted game, there’s additional content in the experience. You begin with one goal: Find Abigail. But there are other goals woven throughout the game. Not to mention the ‘bonus’ meta content. I’m also imagining that since this game is the second in a trilogy, there’ll be even more hidden details which will come back in the third installment – but we shall see!



In terms of the ‘basic’ puzzles, the ones I encountered were brilliant. I say “I encountered” as even now I look over at my copy of the game and wonder if there’s more to find. Probably there is, but I’ll just have to figure that out myself at a later date. But for the purpose of this review, when I talk about the puzzles I’m talking about the main content of the game. All in, there’s probably around (or just under) 10 puzzles in the experience. Each one took me some 5 – 10 minutes to solve.

If I had to choose, my absolute favourite involved one where I had to return to something I already thought I’d “solved” and look at it again in a brand new way. However – it’s impossible to choose a favourite puzzle in this. They were all so good. I’m not going to say a single word about what the puzzles composed of because it’s best to go into this blind and let the ‘aha’ moments come to you. But just take my word for it when I say they were great. Objectively great puzzles.



A Visual Journey Through the Past

Last but not least, I want to talk about the aesthetics of The Medusa Report. As with The Vandermist Dossier, the whole thing is set in the world of spies – the CIA, the KGB, and some very interesting content from the USSR. It’s such a rich and fascinating era of history, lovingly recreated in print media. Every item in the case file, minus the fact it smelled so fresh and good (a strange thing to mention but hey!), genuinely felt like it were from the era. The graphic design is second to none, and the quality of the documents is absolutely flawless. It’s the kind of game I want to take everything out from it’s box and put it all in vintage frames and decorate my apartment with. Seriously, that beautiful!



The Verdict

If you couldn’t tell from the review so far, I loved The Medusa Report. It’s only April, but I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of my favourite games this year, just like The Vandermist Dossier was when I played that one too. With this impressive second game, Diorama Games are quickly cementing themselves as a household name worldwide, and I have no doubt that this game will be a hit in the puzzle community.

For this reason, we’re awarding The Medusa Report with our coveted “Badge of Honour“, which is only given out to games that excel in every category we ‘rate’ based on. I’d recommend this game for just about everyone – but for the best ‘overall’ experience, go back and play The Vandermist Dossier first! In fact, if you haven’t already, that’s the perfect way to spend your time from now until the game’s Kickstarter fulfilment.

Speaking of, The Medusa Report is available soon via Kickstarter here. Later, you’ll be able to purchase The Medusa Report directly from Diorama’s website here.

Please Note: We received this product for free in exchange for an honest review.

The Escape Roomer Road Trip: The Best Escape Rooms in the Netherlands


Okay yes, so this is “The Escape Roomer” and yes, we almost exclusively review UK escape rooms. That is, barring the few awesome “play at home” ones which we invariably did play from the comfort of our homes here in the UK… But then sometimes you go on an ‘escape room road trip’ to another country and are just so downright blown away by what you experienced you immediately come home and open up a “New Post” to start writing about them. This is one of those times.

So, if you’re reading this blog looking for a good escape room to play in the UK – stop what you’re doing and book a train to the Netherlands instead!

I’m sure this list of rooms will come as a surprise to absolutely no-one, since our trip was “Let’s play as many of the best escape rooms in the Netherlands as we possibly can“, but there are of course a number of rooms we just didn’t get round to playing this time. So this list isn’t an exhaustive, complete list to ‘the best’ rooms, but more a general look at what we loved most about the ones we played.

If you want a complete list of the best rooms to play, I highly recommend checking out the latest TERPECA winners. Simply head to this page and CTRL+F “Netherlands” and you’ll quickly see how well represented this fantastic country is in the rankings. At the time of writing, the Netherlands has, in the global rankings:

2. Down the Hatch’s “Molly’s Game”
3. Mama Bazooka’s “The Dome”
9. Darkpark’s “Stay in the Dark”
32. Kamer 237’s “Lost and Found”
35. Darkpark’s “The End”
40. Epic Escape’s “Illusion”
74. Rock City Escape’s “Soup du Jour”
82. Escape Room Junkie’s “Corpse Inc.”
95. Kamer 237’s “Room 237”
99. Logic Lock’s “The Amsterdam Catacombs”

10 out of the top 100 escape rooms in the world are here. For the 22nd smallest country in the world (and 6x smaller than the UK), that’s not bad. Not bad at all.

The Netherlands Escape Room Itinerary

Comprised of a team of myself, Alice & Ash from Escaping the Closet, and our good friend Tasha, we took the overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam on Thursday night. We checked into our Airbnb in Rotterdam, and then hurried off to play our first game.

Day One

  • Mama Bazooka @ Bunschoten
  • Rock City Escape @ Amersfoort
  • Darkpark @ Zoetermeer

Day Two

  • Next Level Escapes @ Eindhoven

Day Three

  • Darkpark @ Vlaardingen
  • Darkpark @ Delft

Day Four

  • Down the Hatch @ The Hague

In terms of transport, the Netherlands is incredibly well connected by train, bus and tram. In fact no two escape rooms we needed to travel by took more than 1 hour, or cost more than about €14. We stayed in Rotterdam which is South-Central, and a lot less expensive than somewhere like Amsterdam.


Escape Rooms in the Netherlands – General Observations

Before I get into the details of each room, I wanted to share a few observations we noticed about Dutch escape rooms in general.

Firstly, there’s this amazing trust system in the lobby that simply would not work in the UK, and that is that you can help yourself to drinks and snacks before and after. Usually the lobbies are unmanned, but you can pick up a little checklist if you plan to take a bunch of stuff. This includes alcoholic drinks, and often merchandise too. This was a really nice touch. In the UK you’re lucky if there’s an old vending machine in the corner. In the Netherlands it was much more “please make yourself comfortable” and I loved that.


Mama Bazooka’s “Self Serve” counter


Secondly, briefings are given in-character. We often (but not always) arrived to be greeted by someone absolutely in character, not breaking for a second. It was interesting seeing how people offered us the use of lockers and bathrooms ‘in-character’. I enjoyed this, although we did get caught out with a “you’re late!”, only to start to argue that we were 20 minutes early, before realising this was part of the briefing.

Thirdly, many rooms were ‘self-triggered‘. What do I mean by this? After your briefing, we were told to enter the room by ourselves, without the Games Master around. I’m sure it’s because the Games Masters were off getting set up in their office, but it always worked so well in the theme. Go up to a door and knock three times? Or solve a puzzle to actually ‘get into’ the game. Excellent!

A final point to raise is that Dutch escape rooms – or at least the ones we played – tended to be more expensive than the average UK escape room. Yes, even more expensive than London. We paid in the region of £30 – £50 per person, per room. That said, they were all absolutely worth it – but be sure to factor that into your budget!


The Dome – Mama Bazooka

We started and ended the trip with the two rooms that have been ‘competing’ for the number 1 spot. The Dome, and Molly’s Game. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and first lets talk about The Dome.

The Dome is a ‘sci-fi’ escape room. Well, sort of. In fact, it’s the kind of room that really defies categorisation because a week later and I’m not even totally sure I understood the things that happened to me in that room. You enter the experience as laboratory assistants, but things take a surreal turn when you accidentally ingest an hallucinatory substance. From this point onwards there’s a “wait, what?” level of disbelief and astonishment. The physical space is impressive, it’s twisting and turning corridors that do not take you to where you expected to go, and those moments of looking back at something you’d already completed only to find subtle, eerie differences that leave you questioning your sanity. There’s a good amount of physicality to the experience, but you’re mostly running on pure excitement and adrenaline. What it lacks in a complex narrative, it makes up for in visual, thematic and technical impressiveness. For that, I absolutely adored this room. The focus was squarely on the puzzles – as brilliant as they were – and the set design. It was a fantastic room.

It’s best played with very little expectations (though I suppose being for a while #1 in the world does come with it a certain level of expectation), so I’ll leave the review with just one final question:

Does it live up to the hype? Absolutely.



Soup Du Jour – Rock City Escape

Next up on our itinerary was “Soup Du Jour”. I approached this escape room with a very uneasy feeling in my stomach. I’m not a fan of scary or horror games and this one certainly verges on the side of “creepy”.

We approached the unusual building (a hidden door tucked away in something that looks a lot like an actual monastery), and were greeted by our stern Games Master who boldly barked “you’re late”, before giving us a nun outfit each and ushering us into the Monasterie Restaurant to help set up for the day. But something peculiar is afoot at this restaurant Nuns have been going missing. As we explored the physical space, we couldn’t help but shake the feeling that we might be next on the menu.

Soup Du Jour is a creepy room. There are a few more ‘jump scare’ elements than the average room (including one hilarious one we all screamed our heads off at), and a definite feeling of tension throughout. Where Soup Du Jour really shined for me were the puzzles. There’s a mix of linear, non-linear, and really creative solutions. Whether I’d personally agree it’s the 74th best escape room in the world… I’m not sure. It’s certainly better than the hundreds of others I’ve played in my life so far, and it certainly brought us a lot of delight, but it’s hard not to compare it to the other Dutch rooms. If this were in another country it would be exceptionally outstanding. Because it’s in the Netherlands, it’s simply “brilliant”. Make of what whatever you will!

In this room we ‘escaped’ with a comfortable time of around (I forget exactly) 45 minutes. Success!



Honeymoon Hotel – Darkpark

More horror?! For this scaredy cat?! It’s likelier than you think. But thankfully after a stormy and atmospheric day, the sun finally decided to come out and so the approach to our final room of the day wasn’t quite so creepy.

Honeymoon Hotel was my first taste of the infamous Darkpark… A company I’ve loved since I played their at-home puzzle game The Witchery Spell. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Darkpark that is they do horror really well, and Honeymoon Hotel is an excellent opportunity to “dip your toes in” to the theme and style the company goes for to see if their other (scarier) games are for you.

The game begun as H. H. Holmes’ latest bride entering his infamous murder hotel. So far, so good. Our goal was quite simple – to try not to die. What followed was a lot of darkness, loud jump scares, and creeping banging noises looming all around us in the dark. In fact, the best (or funniest) jump scare came when we’d forgotten to lock the main door behind us and the Games Master has to creep back and close it loudly behind us.

As with many Dutch rooms, Honeymoon Hotel is a multi-space experience that takes you on a visual and puzzling journey through the depths of the hotel as you try to find your way out. It has a labyrinth-like quality to it, confusing and horrifying in all the best ways. There isn’t a live actor in the room, but there’s something about the impressive atmosphere they’ve created that really makes you wonder “wait a second, is there actually someone in here with us?!”

My favourite thing about Honeymoon Hotel by far was the finale. All that atmosphere, all those noises, culminating in something seriouslty impressive. I won’t spoil it, but I will say I squealed with delight when I realised what was happening. Not exactly the noise I expected to make in a ‘scary’ room, but I was thrilled!

We finished with 44:20 on the clock!



The Suspicious Farmhouse – Next Level Escapes

Day two and we were off to Eindhoven – a fantastic city in the South of the country. But unlike other cities, there was just one escape room company on our list: Next Level Escapes. Next Level is located behind a very fun looking bar / social space, and up some stairs. Their two rooms:

  • The Suspicious Farmhouse, and
  • Catch Me if You Can

are sequential, one after the other. The characters you meet in the former will make a reappearance in the latter. That’s not to say you couldn’t play them out of order… But for the best experience, I recommend doing them this way round.

In the former, you enter what is essentially your grandma’s farmhouse. Think kitsch furniture, cute wooden shelves, and some very fun light-hearted puzzles about looking after the farmhouse. At about the 50% mark, the game turns out to be about something very different indeed. I knew there was something “suspicious”, but the twist took me by surprise in all the best ways. I loved the reveals and hidden details which turned out to be important, and the final puzzle really brought the whole experience together in one fell swoop.

I don’t know if I was just a little out of sorts in The Suspicious Farmhouse, but I would say that of all the rooms we played, this one didn’t totally click with me. This was a room in which we ended up asking for many hints, and at times I felt like due to the linear-nature of the experience, there was always one of us (usually me) not contributing to an active puzzle solve. There was also a lot of searching. If we needed a hint, the answer was usually “have you searched more in this place”, only to find something that was almost impossible to spot without help.

That said, we immediately followed it with Catch Me if You Can which was, to me, a stellar room. So they balanced out in the end.

We finished with 02:28 left on the clock!



Catch Me if You Can – Next Level Escapes

After a quick break between the rooms, in which we almost lost Ash (see below, oh no!)



We were once again called back in and ready to take on the sequel – Catch Me if You Can. Now I’ve never seen the film of the same name, but I think the story in this room is something similar – except we were playing the FBI agents! The experience began with us hot on the heels of the criminal we were uncovering in the first game. Unlike the first one, I immediately fell in love with this escape room from the moment I stepped foot inside. Then, if you can believe it, the experience kept getting better and better.

After having played multiple horror rooms, I was secretly thrilled to be playing a super high quality escape room that is about as far from horror as you can imagine. Furthermore, Catch Me if you Can featured one of the most impressive ‘sets’ I’ve ever seen. I really don’t want to spoil it because the reveal of “wait, surely they don’t have…” is well worth the anticipation. There’s a certain cinematic quality to this escape room that I appreciated a lot. It felt like more than just being ‘in an escape room’, we were quite literally the main character in our own film for the duration of an hour. It also allowed me to fulfil one of my bucket list items for my life. Not something I expected I’d be saying about an escape room trip, but there you go!

In terms of puzzles, with a few exceptions we required a nudge for, Catch Me if You Can really stood out in these. As with it’s predecessor we finished with an almost picture-perfect 2 minutes on the clock, which really added to the heightened tension of racing to the end. If you can’t tell from the jubilation on our faces in the photo, Catch Me if You Can was a real stand out in it’s genre!



As a brief non-escape room recommendation, after playing at Next Level Escape we stumbled upon the most fantastic eatery about 1 minute around the corner: Down Town Gourmet Market. This is a marketplace that has a bunch of different hot food stands and you can order from any of them all from your table!


Stay in the Dark – Darkpark

Okay, lets get one thing straight. None of us slept well the night before. Tasha even stayed up until 1am reading every single review on trying to anticipate what this experience would be like. On the train there, we all sat in stony silence, occasionally saying things like “pozzy vibes” to brighten the mood. But all that to say, we were really nervous going into Stay in the Dark.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Stay in the Dark is probably one of the scariest escape rooms out there. It certainly has the reputation for being so. It’s also won a lot of awards and one of those “you absolutely must not miss” rooms, and so there was no chance we weren’t going to do it. In fact, we planned our whole trip around securing a booking for Stay in the Dark. So there you go.

First things first, there is a live actor. Secondly, it’s 2hr30 long. Thirdly, if you need to leave the experience there’s no going back. That’s it.

In honesty, I’d probably say it isn’t really an escape room. It’s a live immersive experience much closer to something like Burnt City, or Colab Theatre’s Spy City, or a Swamp Motel immersive experience. I say this as throughout the experience I counted maybe three, maybe four “puzzles” in the sense of the word. There’s about one puzzle per “area”. But for an experience like this where you feel like you’re fighting for your life, that’s a good level. There were moments when we got slightly stuck on a puzzle, but this had more to do with the environment around us than the puzzles themselves. In short, it’s not terribly puzzly.

But what it lacks in puzzles it makes up for in immersivity. There’s sequence of pitch blackness, there’s strobe lighting, and there’s a horrifying somebody or some-thing following you. There’s strange blood spatters I’d rather not think of. The whole thing is utterly immersive. From the distant creaking of a door, or a dog’s bark, or a shadow crossing across your vision, the whole thing is thrilling. My favourite ‘part’ of the experience is towards the end and it involved the largest room (and largest props) I’ve ever seen in any escape room ever. Whilst my teammates were solving a puzzle I had my face pressed up to a window saying “wow I hope we get to go in there!!”. Sure enough, the puzzle’s success state unlocked that very door and off we went.

Is it scary? Oh yes. Is it unsurmountably scary? No. Should I book it if I don’t like horror? Yes. -Wait, what? Well, the reason I think everyone should book this is because they actually tailor it to your comfort level. Yes it’s terrifying but if you’re full of bravado, they’re going to dial it up. If you’re crouched in the corner screaming, they’ll dial it down. And if you’re so scared you can’t move, somebody will come in and help you out. At the end of the day Darkpark are escape room designers and they really want you to have fun, so they’re going to make it fun. The worst part of the whole thing was the beginning- and that’s really just the fear of the unknown. Once you ‘know’, it’s not so scary anymore. And this is coming from someone who is mortally afraid of scary escape rooms.

As a final note on this mini-review of Stay in the Dark, I want to give a particular shout-out to our host Ruud. Ruud absolutely made the experience as perfect as he was. He was flawless in his judgement of how much scare we could handle as a team, his acting was fantastic, and his upbeat personality really brought such a smile to our faces. I always try to remember our host’s names but sometimes days later they’ve slipped my mind, but it was impossible to forget Ruud. We’re planning to come back some day and I am hoping with all my might that the next time I play a Darkpark game we’ll have Ruud as our host once again.



The Dentist – Darkpark

From one Darkpark to another. There was no way anything else could possibly be scary to us after having played Stay in the Dark, so off to Darkpark’s Delft venue we went, full of a newfound bravery. The first escape room on our list at their venue was The Dentist. The Dentist is one of the first ever escape rooms in the Netherlands. As such, it’s fairly Gen 1 in terms of it’s use of puzzles and locks. That said, Gen 1 usually has negative connotations of being basic, but I think the Netherlands needs its own category of escape room generations, because a Dutch Gen 1 room is as visually and immersive-ly impressive as some of the escape rooms opening around the world today in 2023. Despite it’s age, The Dentist was… Awesome!

As the name suggests, you go to visit the Dentist. His room has all the familiar tropes of a creepy dental worker – strange contraptions, blood spattered all over the walls, and dark and sinister secrets to uncover. Nothing like my dentist whose name is Anthony. Anthony is a lovely lovely guy. Shout out to him if he’s reading this.

Our main goal of the experience was to ‘escape’, but along the way we found a myriad of unique and exciting puzzles. There were plenty of ‘search and find’ ones, and some fun physical manipulation and button pressing. We didn’t take any hints on the game until the very end when our host opted to give us one as we were going round in circles on one particular puzzle. The most impressive thing about The Dentist, besides it being a very early escape room to the Dutch escape room industry was again, the atmosphere. Atmosphere is one thing Darkpark does really, really well. Lighting, auditory additions, and an exciting intro delivered in-game makes for a *chef’s kiss* experience.



The Carnival – Darkpark

As with many of these rooms, you’ll notice a theme in my reviewing. The first of each we played I’m like “this was great”, and the second I’m like “oh my god I’ll be thinking about this for the next 100 years”. The Carnival does not break this trend. After waiting in the lobby (and taking use of the self-serve drinks cabinet to have a celebratory prosecco), we proceeded to The Carnival which is easily one of my favourite games from the whole trip. I cannot get over how much I enjoyed The Carnival. However, I might be in a minority here, as for as much as I loved it, it didn’t hold the same weight for the rest of my team. But what can I say? I’m a sucker for a “wait they really want us to do this?” moment.

The Carnival also featured one of the funniest moments of an escape room. A moment where I thought a jump scare was over and went “oh look at that” to my group, causing them all to look at the exact place the very worst jump scare of the experience would pop up.

In all, The Carnival is again slightly less like a traditional escape room and more like a ridiculously fun series of carnival themed mini games. Your goal is simple – escape the carnival. But to do so you must perform, so perform you shall! Think about the most fun things that happen at a carnival and yep, this room has got them. Despite the occasional scare (though by this point we were desensitised and didn’t find it too frightening at all), this room was above everything super fun. I don’t want to give away too much, but it had us giggling and cheering for joy. The puzzles were less about locks (though there were a few) and more about performing actions and engaging with things physically, which I appreciated a lot.

It’s said that this DarkPark in Delft they’re building a third room – the upcoming Rise of the Phoenix which is set to be another ‘not to miss’. Combined with The Dentist and The Carnival, this puts this venue squarely on the map for any enthusiast visiting the country.



Molly’s Game – Down the Hatch

Last but by absolutely no means least, the final escape room on our trip was Molly’s Game. Where do I even start with this one?

10/10 for puzzles, 10/10 for set, and 19/10 for story. Molly’s Game begins with a visually amazing lobby, and a very enthusiastic greeting. After a brief introduction, we were led into the room where we had to break into a doctor’s office under the invitation of the mysterious and enigmatic “Molly”. Who is Molly? Well that was for us to find out. Molly’s Game is slightly Stranger Things themed – but only slightly, you don’t really need to have seen the TV show to understand it, I think it’s more just “set within the same thematic universe” which is pretty cool.

Again, it’s really hard not to spoil this experience as very early in the game it goes from “pretty good escape room” to “wait, what?” in all the best ways. The puzzles were extraordinarily fun and fit beautifully within the environment. There is an incredible amount of love and care gone into this escape room and I can completely see why so many people call this one their absolute favourite room in the world.

But the one thing that Molly’s Game does better than any other escape room in the world is tell a story. By now, I know every ‘escape room story’ like the back of my hand. You’re locked in a room. You escape. Sometimes you’re a pirate, other times you’re a convict. None of that at Down the Hatch. The story they tell is complex, beautiful, sad (oh yes, expect to cry in this one!), full of twists and turns, and very easy to follow. The puzzles are interwoven seamlessly through the environment and through that story. For those who appreciate the set they’ll spot a myriad of hidden clues and details which all add into that central story.

In this game you don’t “win” or “lose”, you experience something magical. It’s an escape room in the truest sense of the world, and a really special one at that.



The Verdict

This has been a very long review to write, and my conclusion really is: they were all amazing.

The Netherlands is a really special place for escape room enthusiasts. I’d often wondered about going – but thought to myself “Heh, how much better than rooms elsewhere in the world can they really be? An escape room is an escape room is an escape room”. But oh how pleasantly wrong I was. The ones we played were so brilliant, so utterly immersive, and so full of love I feel speechless even now.

If you had to make me choose between each escape room, I simply could not. Every single one we played brought something new and unique to the table and is not to be missed. But if you forced my hand, I’d split it by the following:

  • Best Set Design – The Dome
  • Most Impressive Set Reveal – Catch Me if You Can
  • Best Story – Molly’s Game
  • Best Puzzles – Also Molly’s Game
  • Most Immersive – Stay in the Dark
  • Best Host – Stay in the Dark
  • Most Fun – The Carnival

With that, there’s really just one question left to ask – where shall we travel to next?