Lost Sock Studio: Escape from Mystwood Mansion | Review


Escape from Mystwood Mansion| In this first-person puzzle escape room game, you are trapped in the mysterious Mystwood mansion. Explore the mansion and find hidden compartments while solving puzzles and deciphering codes to find a way out. Will you escape or linger to uncover the mansion’s final secret?

Developer: Lost Sock Studio
Date Played: September 2023
Console: Steam
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 100 minutes

I don’t know why but I get really excited when I see a new name or new game studio pop up in our little ‘escape room’ niche corner of the internet. So when I started hearing about Escape from Mystwood Mansion from the brand new studio “Lost Sock”, I was more than intrigued! Lost Sock are about as indie as it’s possible to get – they’re a game developer duo from Sweden and this is their first release. And, well, for a first release, I was super impressed! Tt’s polished, the puzzles satisfying, and it’s comfortable to play. It’s also very marketable. I mean, that spooky old mansion and launching right before Halloween, it’s *chefs kiss*.

But enough about the marketability of a game like Escape from Mystwood Mansion, and let’s get into the nitty gritty of why I enjoyed this game!


Deliver a Package to the Library or Face the Consequence

Escape from Mystwood Mansion opens with you, the protagonist, stepping out of your delivery truck with a package. You knock on the door, the door swings open, and very quickly you find yourself trapped. You are Test Subject Number 83, and it’s clear from the narrative of the game you’re not the first to be locked in by the house – nor will you be the last!

What follows is a classic escape room adventure as you move from room to room, solving puzzles, finding keys, cracking codes, and uncovering secret doors. Sometimes you’re breaking things too. I love breaking things.



At the very beginning, you’re given the instruction to “deliver the package to the library”. I actually never got to deliver the package to the library – I think I lost the package somewhere along the way, although I did (for a while) try to keep it with me. Whether this means I ‘won’ or not, I’m not sure, but I certainly escaped and so I’m calling my 110 minutes in the game a resounding success. I escaped from the library itself, as well as a lovely conservatory room, several secret (and slightly creepy) hidden passages, and the foyer.

Now, on my successful exit from Mystwood Mansion, I discovered a secret door that hinted that there were a few tiny details I had missed. At the time of writing, I’ve unlocked two out of the three secret locks to the secret room, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to going back and figuring out what is behind the mysterious final door. But for the meantime, the game is complete.

It’s very hard not to compare this game to Escape Simulator. Thematically, it’s quite similar to the Escape Simulator levels set in a spooky old mansion. The controls feel the same, the movement feels the same, and even a few puzzles are very similar. The game gives me the feeling of playing an Escape Simulator level, for example one from the vast wealth of community workshop escape rooms available on it’s platform. One of the most memorable puzzles in Escape Simulator was a ‘butterfly sequence’ puzzle in which you could move the butterflies around in order to complete the sequence. Now, sequence puzzles are common, but sequence puzzles specifically involving butterflies… Less so!


The View from the Butterfly Room


But for each ‘this is similar’ puzzle, there were countless others which were wholly original – so there’s a balance for sure. It also differs from Escape Simulator in a few marked ways. The levels are enormous, and each room rolls onto the other to build up a big picture of a large house. There’s an underlying story, and touches of light humour I really appreciated. Fans of Escape Simulator will love this.


Puzzling Through Mystwood Mansion

In terms of puzzles, I really enjoyed these. In fact, the puzzles were some of my favourite things in the whole experience. They really felt like escape room puzzles in the classic sense of the word. A few I recognised right away – there’s some pretty common ciphers in there, including Morse Code, Pigpen, as well as a few dashes of anamorphic text and negative space puzzles. But even then, there were plenty other puzzles I didn’t recognise at all and gave my brain a run for it’s money! Over the course of the game, I used very few hints – just a few to confirm what I already knew if something wasn’t working quite the way I expected.

Escape from Mystwood Mansion probably errs on the side of a little short for a game in the genre. For a seasoned escapist who wants to complete everything in the game, you’re looking at around 120 minutes. I took 110, with plenty of breaks, and didn’t quite complete everything. So let’s add on 30 minutes for “going back in and looking for hidden clues I missed”. To get 100% achievements, you’re probably looking at 3 hours. Each ‘room’ itself takes around half an hour to solve, so you’ve travelling through the game quite quickly.

I had almost no technical issues with the game. I say almost, because I did tweak the settings in order to make my playthrough slightly more comfortable (I like my mouse sensitivity as low as possible!), and secondly because I’m convinced that after searching a room top to bottom that a key item was missing – and needed to reset the level in order to find it in it’s place. Personally, I think the extra item disappeared into the ether. Knowing me I probably picked it up and moved it, but after a good 15 minutes of searching, I had no choice but to reset the room.



The Verdict

I’m giving Escape from Mystwood Mansion a solid 4.4/5. Yeah! That’s quite high, but I stand by it. I genuinely had fun playing the game. There’s been a big “escape room game” shaped hole in my life right now that nothing on Steam was quite scratching, and this game came along at the perfect time. It felt spooky, and cosy and exciting in all the right ways, and I felt the designers attention to detail was second to none. I’m also genuinely in awe that it’s the company’s first game. It had a really professional level of polish and I’m absolutely certain this game will be a success.

Is it perfect? No, of course not. But is it good? Yeah! It really is.

I’d recommend this game for just about anyone, but if you’re a big fan of physical escape rooms, this one is fantastic.


Please Note: We were offered a free Steam key in exchanged for an honest review. This does not affect the content of our review.

Escape from Mystwood Mansion can be downloaded from Steam.

Meet the Creators of ‘The Key of Dreams’, a brand new immersive experience in the UK


For fans of the weird, the wonderful, and the utterly immersive… Something exciting is coming in 2024. From the creators of The Locksmith’s Dream comes an announcement of a new experience: The Key of Dreams.

We sat down with the two creators, Ivan and Laura, a super-team of designers and creators to find out just what The Key of Dreams is, and what can players expect.

So, what is The Key of Dreams?

Laura: The Key of Dreams is a bit tricky to categorise – maybe we need to coin a new phrase for it. It shares some DNA with escape rooms, immersive dining experiences, Secret Cinema, Punchdrunk immersive theatre and experiences like Phantom Peak, but yet isn’t directly comparable with any of these. In the most basic form it is an overnight immersive and interactive experience with an unrivalled attention to detail and a feeling of consequence.

Ivan: As part of that, guests explore a 17th Century manor house in Wales, discovering secrets that are both real history of the place and parts of the stories we weave there. There are a range of puzzles to solve, from simple trails following paths of clues to unlock boxes, narrative told in snatches of letters, journals, artworks and objects to discovering the stories of the characters of the house through interacting with the actors. The actor to guest ratio is four to one, this combined with the length of the experience means that people develop strong opinions about the characters, their trustworthiness and motives.

There are a range of puzzles to solve, from simple trails following paths of clues to unlock boxes, narrative told in snatches of letters, journals, artworks and objects to discovering the stories of the characters of the house through interacting with the actors.

Laura: Hospitality is also a huge part of the experience for us. The twenty fours hours that the experience lasts comes with all the meals you’d expect – and more. There’s an arrival lunch, an afternoon tea, a banquet dinner with stories and mysteries woven through the dishes and after dinner nibbles served in the bar where you can relax with a cocktail to celebrate your excellent sleuthing. The following day, a hearty breakfast sets you up for the final investigations.


You’ve compared it to other immersive experiences – but what else sets The Key of Dreams apart?

Ivan: At its heart, the Key of Dreams is about connection.

These can be human connections with other guests, the actors or characters in the stories. Moments of realisation provide another spark of connection, whether it happens when a puzzle clicks satisfyingly into place; when a piece of music suddenly makes everything come together and make sense; when you realise who a character is and how they were involved with one of the stories you have followed; and the friendships made along the way with other guests.

Laura: We are huge fans of weird fiction and of role playing games like Call of Cthulhu. We love the depth of description and attention to detail that helps to make the deductions, and to help us feel truly immersed in the world. While we consider the word immersive to be overused, it really is what we are trying to create here. That for the twenty four hours you exist in the house, you are part of the strange, timeless place; the outside world seems distant and less real while you are there and you happily give yourself over to the dream-like quality of the experience.

Just sitting in an ancient house, in front of a roaring fire surrounded by the ghosts of history, is an experience that cannot be translated into another medium. When you weave ‘imagined’ history through that experience, the ghosts of the real people with the imagined, factual events with the phantasmagorical, then it becomes truly extraordinary.

Meet The Collector

What was the design process like for creating an experience like this?

Laura: Much of our design process revolves around the concept of ‘apophenia’ which it turns out is a much more recent and less commonly used word than anyone who knows us might expect! Apophenia is “the human tendency to see connections and patterns that are not really there”. But in our world of course they often are!
Ivan: We take all of the details we have, historical facts, characters, places in and near the house, objects, sounds, colours, flavours and smells and then create links between them. Attention to detail is a big deal. When attending our events, we want the suspension of disbelief to happen naturally, to slowly creep over you, like the dawning realisation that comes over a character in a Lovecraft story. You won’t find any bits of paper with roleplay effects, you won’t be told how you are feeling, and you won’t be expected to believe anything is something other than it appears to be. But if we’ve done our job right, you’ll find yourself muttering over scraps of paper in a corner lit by lantern-light, pointing at some feature of the craved wall, or telling a character your deepest fear (even though you strongly suspect that by doing so you may be imperilling your mortal soul).
Laura: When we write, we become pretty deeply immersed in everything ourselves and I’m not sure how good it is for our own sanity! But apophenia works! We recently had a guest message us to say that he was convinced that we’d hidden a secret message in our website and he’d been scouring it for hours to try and work it out! And of course – he may be right…

Ivan: There’s actually a quote I love from the Sherlock Holmes reimagining Elementary that sums it up this part of the design and the experience perfectly:

“It has its cost, learning to see the puzzle in everything. They’re everywhere. Once you start looking, it’s impossible to stop. It just so happens that people, with all the deceits and illusions that inform everything they do, tend to be the most fascinating puzzles of all.”

The staircases inside the Key of Dreams

Connections between people (and things) is at the centre of this experience, could you talk more about how The Key of Dreams brings people together?

Laura: We say that our events have no ‘right way’ to experience them and it really is true. For previous events we have run, we’ve had people turn up in character and hold their role all weekend in how they interacted with the actors and other guests. We had people come along with their partner or family members who knew nothing about the experience that they were coming to, we had escape room folks who came and sped off around the house following clues, interrogating the characters and  solving puzzles, and everyone loved it.
Laura: Creating an experience like this can be a bit overwhelming, by design there is far more than people can experience in one sitting. We make sure there is plenty of story to follow and we try very hard to ensure that there isn’t just one way to solve each problem. For instance, when writing trail clues, we usually have three ways to solve them: there is the ‘I’m a fan of the stories’ who has the knowledge, the ‘I’ll put in the legwork’ who can go and discover the answer from a specific place in the house and the ‘I’m a researcher’ who can find the answer in the commonplace book that they are given on entry in to the house.
Ivan: In a roleplaying game, whether of the tabletop or live action variety, if someone isn’t in character when they should be they break the social contract which makes the game less enjoyable for the other participants. We want to *invite* our guests to play a role when interacting with the actors, to believe in the stories and events, but on their own terms and at their own pace. As they get deeper into the stories and the experience it becomes easier, and all the more delightful to unexpectedly find yourself trading dark secrets with a denizen of the house, or making a connection that makes complete sense within the dream-like logic of the house.
Laura: As someone who suffers with anxiety and can easily become overwhelmed, the experience is designed to include the opportunity to be in a quiet space while still being near the flow of the action. We have puzzles in the bar and in the quiet sitting room, which develop the story, but also help people just to take some time to reset. Additionally, building in some structured activities like a house tour, or dance class with the actors, is a great way for people to learn more about the lore without feeling awkward about approaching people.

The Key of Dreams is set in the past, how does technology factor into the experience?

Ivan: While we don’t force people to have to accept that they are experiencing time travel, the house is itself out of step with the real world, even more so at night. Because of the 1920s vibe that the place has, we aim for the experience to be as diegetic as possible, from music to objects and the technology/science elements. We don’t want people to be wondering how they should be reacting to something, a speaker behind a picture might be able to play atmospheric music, but from the context it isn’t clear how you should respond to it, pretend it isn’t there, or consider who and why it was placed there.
Ivan: Our aim is for the technology to always be in service to the experience and the story, so that they contribute to that little moment of delight that the guest will remember and tell their friends about. We have some utterly delightful embedded technology planned for the Key of Dreams, which should really give a sense of magic. We aren’t ready to reveal our secrets at this time, But we have been dabbling with psychometry and spirit photography!

One of the rooms in The Key of Dreams

Finally, what do you hope people will take away from their experience at The Key of Dreams?

Ivan: A sense of magic and wonder. To be drawn into a world both familiar and unfamiliar in an extraordinary place. To have stories to tell about the little moment of delight. There are physical mementoes of course as well, from the ‘Commonplace book’ crammed with clues, and diversions that each guest will get, to other ephemera that they will get to take away.
Laura: The world we live in can be a hard one; it can be relentless and unforgiving. There is a joy to be found in letting go of that for a day, exploring a strange and mystical place, even if you’re interacting with some sinister beings and unravelling some unpleasant stories. There is a special quality to a shared experience, whether that is dining with fellow investigators, exploring a house, uncovering secrets, and plotting with (or against). There is a Lovecraft quote which captures our hopes that our guests will,

“clothe life in embroidered robes of myth and look through the ivory gates into that world of wonder which was ours before we were wise and unhappy.”

Laura: We love our growing community of cultists, investigators and enthusiasts!  Your readers should have a peek at The Key of Dreams website, and if it appeals can sign-up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook or Instagram. We also have a blog on our site, which is where I get to talk about my passion for literature and we’ll talk more about the design or inspirations as they arise.

Laura: Our website has information about what you can expect and about the house and how to book. There is also a section on ‘Investigations’ that is currently rather heavily redacted which will fill up over time with teasers and snippets of lore about the world (prize for the reader that creates the best red string diagram!). Over the next few months there will be more information about the characters, societies of interest and objects of curiosity appearing – so do check back. The best way to keep up to date with everything is to come and join our mailing list. That is where the date announcements, competitions and early access to new details will be in the newsletters.

How to book The Key of Dreams?

The first two events have been announced, and will be on the 27th and 30th of April 2024.
Discount for The Escape Roomer readers! As a special treat for The Escape Roomer fans you can get a 10% Discount for all April tickets until the end of October. Just use the code APOPHENIA when you check out.
You can also book a deposit for a future 2024 event and get a 10% discount early-bird discount as well.
Find out more at The Key of Dreams” and you can book here.

The Key of Dreams Poster

Mystery Guides: The Mystery of the Gunpowder Snitch (York) | Review


Moments before Guy Fawkes lit his fuse an anonymous letter tipped off the authorities and foiled his dastardly plot… Who wrote the letter? Nobody knows, but a dusty diary found beneath the floorboards of an old York pub could finally expose him, and this is where you come in…

Date Played: August 2023
Time Taken: 3 Hours
Number of Players: 3
Difficulty: Easy

The Guy Fawkes Inn in York is famous for a couple of things. Firstly, the pies. Steak and ale with a beautiful pastry. Very tasty indeed. The other thing (arguably the main thing) is being the birthplace of Guy Fawkes – hence the name…

Yup, Fawkes is kind of a big deal around these parts. Him, Dick Turpin and Vikings. If you’re looking for a theme, then one of those three will probably do the job, and in The Gunpowder Snitch the notorious plotter’s deeds take centre stage.

Presented in a colourful, well-put-together booklet, The Gunpowder Snitch has you eliminating suspects, colours, seasons, and several other things Cluedo style until you are left with the pieces required complete the final puzzle. These allow you to discover exactly who was responsible for the writing of secret letters that, ultimately, foiled the plan. You do this by following a route, finding the relevant landmark, and then using it to somehow decipher a coded message before moving onto the next. Between the puzzles are background details, diary entries and antiquitorial titbits to help fill out the story.

Location, Location, Location

York is the perfect city for such an activity. It’s dripping in history – both horrible and otherwise – and you can’t kick a bush without several ‘most haunted’ pubs scurrying out. There are so many interesting nuggets lurking around, that this mystery barely covers a quarter of the famously condensed city, however that’s not to say there’s a lack of content. The distance travelled was just over three kilometres, took roughly three hours, and included many points of interest that could be missed easily as a tourist. In fact, even having lived there for over a decade, some of the plaques and shields that were required for the puzzles had somehow managed to evade us until this book pointed them out.


The Hunt for the Snitch

Following the clear directions on the pages will see you traverse a section of the famous walls, duck through a snickelway*, and witness plenty of other quirks. Though, if you wanted, you could easily stretch the experience out to a full day by exploring on your own between clues.

Usefully, when the planned routes presented potential hurdles (no dogs allowed or the steepest, narrowest stairs ever created) an alternative was always provided. Though, York can get extremely busy at weekends and some of the areas you need to pass through are obstacle enough in themselves. Especially if you’re looking to stop, stare and ponder instead of being pushed along with the crowd. One puzzle required us to locate and read something that was literally being smothered by a street performer and the huge crowd that had gathered to watch. Another was in one of York’s smallest and busiest streets where every molecule of space was filled with people queuing to secure themselves a small pottery ghost**. Thankfully this has been thought of and, as well as further hints on the back of the book, the clues are available via QR code should you simply be unable to reach your desired destination.


York-based Family Fun

The challenges themselves shouldn’t tax seasoned puzzlers. Most of the tasks are simply a case of finding a particular object and substituting letters for symbols in one form or another. It’s fairly basic, but that’s by design. The bright colours and cartoony Horrible Histories feel telegraphs the experience as one for the family and kids will love searching for clues and helping with some of the easier decoding. There’s certainly a little something for the adults too, though… As well as starting and ending in two of York’s oldest pubs, there are another two visited along the way, offering suitable points to sit, grab a drink and – in our case – argue about what Minerva was the goddess of*** without succumbing to Google. Fun times.

The Verdict: The Mystery of the Gunpowder Snitch

This isn’t a breakneck, high-octane race around York full of fiendish puzzles. It’s a great family day out. It’s also an excellent way to see some of the sites if you’re visiting for the day and partial to the odd anagram. If that’s what you’re after, then you’re sure to have a great time.



* Essentially a narrow street. A portmanteau of snicket, ginnel and alleyway. Legend has it that the Barghest roams them waiting to prey on lone travellers, so maybe bring a friend.

** The York Ghost Merchants on the Shambles benefitted from their model ghosts going viral on TikTok. They are VERY popular.

*** Loads of oddly unrelated stuff, apparently. Including justice, weaving, wisdom, medicine, trade and strategy. It’s no wonder we couldn’t pin it down.


The Mystery of the Gunpowder Snitch can be purchased from Mystery Guides website here.

Note: We were not charged for our experience but this does not affect our review.

The Escape Room Enthusiast’s Guide to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival


The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the biggest and (in my totally un-biased opinion) the best Fringe Festivals in the world. It takes place every year in August, lasts the whole month, and showcases somewhere in the region of 3,800 acts consisting of 50,000 performers.

Assuming every act lasts around an hour, it’d take you 159 days to see them all. And that’s if you didn’t sleep or take a single break…

Wait, what?! But there’s only 30 days in the Fringe!!

Exactly. So if you’re visiting for a day, a week, or the whole month, you’ll want to maximise your time at the Fringe. Especially if you’re an escape room enthusiast, because I won’t let you visit Edinburgh without trying out some of our escape rooms whilst you’re here too. I’m serious.

Since moving to Edinburgh I’ve lived through 2 Fringe Festivals, and before that I’d visited a few times for a show or two. The festival does change every year, but there are a few things that happen in Edinburgh all year round you may wish to take advantage of whilst you’re visiting. In this article, I’ll mention a few shows which I’ve seen return year on year, and a few things which are permanent features of Edinburgh. I’ll also mention a few to avoid (and why), so that hopefully (as an escape room enthusiast) you can make the most of your time here.


The Best Escape Rooms in Edinburgh

There are three Do Not Miss companies in Edinburgh:

Case Closed

In number one position is “Case Closed” which is easily one of the best in the whole UK. But what makes it so special? It’s a 90 minute room in the heart of Edinburgh. So far, fairly normal. There’s no “escape”, and your currency is information: instead of unlocking doors and running away, you succeed by filling out reports to your superintendent, and if your information is correct you may proceed. It’s about as realistic as it gets to solving a real case – think blood spatter analysis, forensics, and guns. Furthermore, there are no leader boards or ‘escape times’, no, you’re supposed to take your time and enjoy it rather than worry about beating a score. It has a spectacular ending which I’m still buzzing about days later. It’s also designed and created by an enthusiast. You can tell the difference between an escape room for profit, and escape room born out of absolute passion and love. Case Closed is the latter.

The Anatomist

In second place, and located in the very heart of the Edinburgh Fringe is The Anatomist by Escape the Past.

Escape The Past have created an incredible game combining Edinburgh’s dark history with an exhilarating escape room. Our team of five were completely immersed in our surroundings, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that the room was designed by Chris Wood, an Edinburgh University History graduate and Zahra Chaudhri, a doctor. The attention to detail is seriously impressive and offers a full sensory experience, which is a rare find.


Locked In

And in third place, for us, is the company “Locked In“. Which room? Honestly, any of them available for booking, but I’m partial to “The Secret Lab”, pictured below. It’s a challenging room for up to 10 players featuring lots and lots of cells. According to the website:

“The lab known as the Kensie Research Lab or the ‘Secret Lab’ was a marvel of the 70’s with technology that no one could ever imagine. It contained the very best equipment money could buy and a group of scientists whose work would go down in history. The genius in charge of the lab was Dr. Lyall Kensie, a brilliant bio-chemist, specialising in virus’ and disease. His experiments were groundbreaking, his ideas were radical but not everything played out how he had hoped.”



The Best Outdoor Scavenger Hunts in Edinburgh

But before you go and book all the escape rooms… I should drop a little reminder that the Edinburgh Fringe takes place in August. The one month of the year where it’s least likely to rain. So why not get your puzzle fix and make the most of the beautiful Edinburgh outdoors at the same time?

Edinburgh Treasure Hunts

In first place position is Edinburgh Treasure Hunts.

One of the most, if not THE most loved treasure hunt company in Edinburgh is the aptly named “Edinburgh Treasure Hunts“. A solo-run and operated business by your incredibly awesome host Sabi who, as a part-time tour guide, is an expert in all things Edinburgh. The company is also one of the first to start running games of this kind with many of their trails being well over 5 years old and host to thousands and thousands of players over the years. Not only cool credentials, but their experiences are just really, really, really good. My favourite is the Pirates Quest.


Mystery Guides

Mystery Guides is a company based out of Portsmouth. They’ve got that small, independent feel, and you can tell the creator really loves what he does. Fast forward a few years from their foundation and now Mystery Trails has setup popular trails in many, if not most major cities around the UK. Luckily for us, one of those trails is in Edinburgh.

The format of a Mystery Guide is fairly straightforward. With your order you’ll receive a physical, printed clue book. These books are lovingly illustrated and come packed with puzzles that guide you around the city. With each new puzzle section, there’s a snippet of map showing you where to go next, the actual clue to be solved, and then a snippet of story. In our case, this was in the form of diary entries. Many clues also had local information about the history of the area, or useful tidbits about local businesses / street names / and fun facts.


Edinburgh Fringe Exclusives to Look Out For

Now, these may or may not be running on whatever year you’re planning an Edinburgh Fringe visit – so take these with a pinch of salt. But, if you’re overwhelmed by the 3,800 shows on offer, here are some things you might wish to start with.

Darkfield (Hit)

Every year, company called Darkfield sets up a collection of shipping containers where a performance takes place entirely in the dark. Now, I’ve never booked it. Honestly? I’m too scared. But everyone who ever has says they love it. And by “everyone” I mean all my escape room enthuasiast friends. So it’s probably well worth checking out.

Welcome to DARKFIELD. We hope you enjoy your stay. Eulogy is a surreal, otherworldly journey through a dreamlike, labyrinthine hotel that exists entirely in your mind. Performed in complete darkness over 35 minutes, this intense and exhilarating ride uses binaural sound and speech recognition technology to deceive the senses and transport audience members through rooms, down corridors and into the bowels of this strange and not altogether comfortable hotel. How your dream unfolds is, in part, up to you. However, make sure you don’t volunteer to become the subject of the eulogy every guest is preparing to deliver.

Darkfield experiences are actually run all over the world, not just at the Edinburgh Fringe, so the chances are if you can’t make it out here to Edinburgh – you’ll be able to book something a little closer to home.



Punchdrunk (Hit)

That’s right, THE Punchdrunk. Quite often they run a show (or two) at the Edinburgh Fringe, or the Edinburgh International Festival which runs at the same time. In 2023, they ran show called the “Lost Lending Library” aimed at children, to wild success.

At 314 floors high and with 78 spiral side departments, The Lost Lending Library houses the largest collection of books and stories in the world. Books of all sizes and colours are crammed together on its shelves, stories bursting into life from their covers. Inside one department is a trainee library guardian weighed down with responsibility. They need your help to learn how to believe in themselves, and appreciate their own unique talents.

Whether they’ll be returning in the future or not, Punchdrunk is the first name I search when each year’s new Edinburgh Fringe line-up is announced.


Agent November (Miss)

Agent November is a regular face at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s the only real ‘escape room’ experience taking place at the Fringe – consisting of a part outdoor puzzle trail, part tabletop escape room. There are a few experiences on offer, and they run on the hour, ever hour. Don’t get me wrong, we’re big fans of Agent November, but sadly this is probably on my Fringe ‘miss list’. The main down-side being that they do public bookings of up to 10 people per slot which crowded around a tiny briefcase means you definitely do not get your money’s worth at £20 per person.



The GottaGo Room? (Miss)

In 2023 at the Edinburgh Fringe there was a promising looking show called “The GottaGo Room: An Escaping-a-Room Thingy“:

Escape rooms: everyone’s favourite activity to do when you’re going to a birthday party hosted by a virgin or when your company is forcing you to go under the threat of contract termination. Escape rooms famously simulate everyone’s favourite real-life feelings of being stuck in a room with a bunch of strangers, being forced to do puzzles, and having thoughts that if something goes slightly wrong you might die. How are you going to figure out how to escape The GottaGo Room? Here’s a hint: try to solve the clues!

…Unfortunately it was one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I booked tickets with Rebecca, another writer here at The Escape Roomer and we both agreed it missed the mark. It felt like a student performance by a troupe of chaotic individuals none of whom has ever actually been to an escape room. The ‘puzzles’ were odd and imbalanced – an extremely hard maths puzzle next to an incredibly easy spot the difference and an awkward ‘everyone in the audience stand in a circle and hold hands’ that I still don’t really get. We really try not to be negative here on The Escape Roomer, but if they make a return for 2024 or beyond, I’d recommend skipping.


Look! A Clue behind the Curtain!

6 Puzzle Game Jams in 2 Months with Astra (& everything I learned doing them)


(This article was originally posted in full on Medium, but I decided to cross-post here as well, in case anyone is here looking for game design advice!)

I am not a video game developer…

Okay, okay. That’s not quite true. I’m a puzzle game designer. I’ve worked on physical escape rooms, a bunch of tabletop experiences, outdoor puzzle trails, ARGs, and yes… A few video games as well. But I’m also the kind of person who opens up Unity and gets nervous sweats just looking at it. I mean, coding? Me? The last time I coded was some time in the early 00s when I added glitter text to my Neopet’s HTML petpage.

Those really were the good old days, weren’t they?

But despite that, someone, somehow saw something in me and decided to accept my application for the 2023 Astra Game Development Fellowship. Which meant I was suddenly presented with a dream come true, unique opportunity to learn all of the things, and learn them really damn fast.

The Astra Games Development Fellowship, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a grant to support the work of a “thinky game developer” for one year. And in case you’re also wondering, a thinky game, for anyone who doesn’t know, is essentially a really cool word to describe a game that makes you think. Puzzles, strategy, or resource management.

Are you braincells being thoroughly stretched out? Well then, you might be playing a “thinky game”.

The first part of the Fellowship focuses on experimentation and development through a series of game jams. And, as I write this, I’ve just ‘finished’ my final game of the six-jam series.

‘Finished’ is a very strong word, and we’ll get into that shortly… But first, I wanted to take time to look back the delicious jam and think on a few lessons. Over the past few months I’ve made some games I love, and some games I hate, I learned to collaborate with other people, and I learned how to discipline myself for solo working as well.

How many jams?! Six jams!

Show me the Jam(s)

The very first jam of the season was titled “Fairytales”. From the first moment the jam was announced, I knew I’d be doing two things:

  1. I’d be making the game out of Twine, and
  2. I’d be making a sci-fi game

You remember the Neopets joke? Well, I was serious. Coding was a big scary black box of doom. I wasn’t ready for C#, but I did feel comfortable with the most basic level of HTML. Yep, the kind I used to make petpages out of.

After a couple of days work, I game up with a very short story idea where the main character has to decode a series of interstellar transmissions. It’s a little more complex than that, but I’ll let the game itself do the explaining.

The background for Distant Outposts

One jam down, five more to go. The idea behind the second game jam was to take a genre that isn’t traditionally thinkyand make it thinky. For example, taking a ‘skateboarding’ game and somehow turn it into a puzzle experience.

This theme, I love! *chefs kiss* But with a new game jam came a new collaboration. For this jam I collaborated with a fellow fellowshiper (fellow fellow?), Caroline. Together, we ran through a few ideas and slowly they converged onto another sci-fi game: This time about a to-and-from conversation between you, the player, and an alien. Originally based on the idea of making a ‘music/beat/ game thinky, we slightly ran out of time, but I’m still immensely proud of the results! I mean, baby’s first foray into Unity coding, heck yes!

Call and Response

Okay, okay, so technically this was the one of the 6 game jams I didn’t actually take part in. Life got in the way and an ill-timed holiday cropped up, you know how it is. But despite that, this was still my favourite prompt. The prompter (the fantastic Ludipe) gave suggestions such as “Dance”, “Fold”, and “Grow”. But of course my mind went to verbs such as “Shout”, “Scream”, “Squat”, or “Search” (why so many S’s, I do not know).

For this non-participation round, I made a bunch of things. Pages in my notebook, a few 3D models, and some sketches. The idea that took hold in my brain used the verb “Whisper”, where the player would walk around a speakeasy trying to solve a murder by carefully listening to the whispers of the NPCs.

Again, feeling not quite ready to take this into Unity, I focused largely on bringing a scene to life in Blender, and then uploaded a number of 360 degree ‘views’ into a platform called Telescape in order to click and move around the environment.

Rejuvenated from my mini-holiday and slightly disappointed that I didn’t have time to submit any the week before, I started week 4 ready to challenge myself. The theme of the latest game jam was “Everyday Things”. Think doing the washing up, or folding laundry. Things you do all the time — but this time, make them puzzley.

I reached deep, deep into the depths of my knowledge, and bolstered by an over-confident declaration that I wanted to try VR — fired up Unity and chose the “VR” option. For this jam, I wanted to make a supermarket. But a really disconcerting maze-like supermarket where every time you picked up an item from the shelf the whole maze subtly changed so the path you just walked is no longer there. So, I did just that. And since my avatar is The Rock, it has a subtle ‘Rock’ themed vibe.

A Dwayne the Rock Johnson themed VR supermarket maze? Okay, that last jam was a little silly. I was having fun in a low-stakes “it’s okay if this turns out terrible” environment. But with Game Jam 5 came the first of the two-week long jams, and time to get serious about the ideas I may carry across into the full grant year.

For local culture, I dug down into an idea I originally pitched when I was first accepted into this Astra cohort. A puzzle game about delivering post in a town that has no street names or postcodes. Essentially a logic puzzle. The local culture was my own, hyper-specific, slightly cottage-core vision of rural England.

The result was “Delivered”, the first game in this series of jams I felt truly happy to have made. A game that can stand up straight on it’s own legs and no caveat of “well I’m not sure this works but at least I learnt something”.


Last, but by no means least, was the very last jam. One could look on the jam and say ‘this is where she went off rails’ or as I prefer to see it, ‘oh okay, heres where she actually decided what she wanted to do and it wasn’t this’. The final topic was ‘collaboration’ and with a happy co-incidence I went on holiday with the coder who helped me with Jam #5 — my Unity Wizard brother.

I decided to play with an idea of a classic point and click adventure that’s been half-written over countless game design docs and notebooks over the years. The first week… Went well! My brother and I created some Unity scenes together, an inventory system, some simple animations…

A very early sketch of one of the scene’s (behind those windows — a parallax scroll sky!)

…And then I went home and stared at the Unity file unable to make any further changes. Why? Because I already knew the game I wanted to make for my ‘big project’, and it wasn’t this one.

So for the final game jam I submitted (almost) exactly nothing, and I’m thrilled with myself that I did it. Because A) I learnt so much in the first week and B) I used the second week efficiently, building a game design document for my ‘big idea’ and sharing with for feedback with peers.

So, what did I learn about making games?

Going from “haha this is a weird little idea” to having a link you can send to anyone anywhere in the world is… Cool. And all you need to do is literally just sit down and do it. Make the game. It’s as simple as that. Why didn’t anyone tell me this earlier? Damn I wasted 27 years not making cute little video games? That changes now.

Don’t let your dreams be dreams (or something like that anyway)

Nobody can make good games without first making bad games. It’s a tricky lesson to learn and it took me the whole game jam series to not feel bad about making something, well, bad! But game jams are great for that because they’re so short — literally nobody can make something super polished in that time, and I love that.

Without realising it, I had a pattern. Make two games, then take a break. Make another two games, then take a break. That works for me. It might not work for the next game dev, but the important thing is to make sure you’re taking the breaks you need, when you need them!

Me after sending one little email

There’s nothing quite like clicking “play” after thinking your game is finished only to discover 15,382 bugs to fix. The lesson: ‘Finish’ early, and give yourself as much time as possible to tweak later!

I spent all 6 jams telling myself “ok Mairi, we’re gonna do this Unity” and settling for a different system. Along the way I used Twine, Telescape, VR Chat, and cut up paper on my desk. And you know what? I still learned a lot, had fun, and made cool games.

I’d even take it a step further and say there is literally no right or wrong thing to make a game out of. If you want to make a game out of an ice sculpture? Go for it. Mashed potato? Even better!

I’m probably going to stick with Unity, but send me some mash and a plate and I’ll see what I can do.

Potato challenge accepted

Ok so maybe I didn’t learn this right now. I come from a background in board games so paper prototyping is my jam. But since I’m writing about game dev lessons, you can have this one for free.

Sometimes it’s quicker to prove a concept, especially a puzzley one, on paper before firing up the engine.

For example: If you want to make a game that plays top-down on a desk — why not literally go cut out shapes on paper and put it on your desk and see how it looks and feels?

There are experts. Loads of ’em. And they know lots of useful stuff. But the one thing they don’t know about is YOUR GAME. There’s only one expert in your game and that’s Jeff… Wait no, wrong notes. ITS YOU.

Of course, take feedback! But I believe strongly in not trying to please everyone. Even within the puzzle world we all have different expectations of a “thinky game”. One person might love Sokoban, and the next person might want hours of pure mathematics, the next person might be looking for an escape room where they can sort through a bunch of keys. Those are three very, very different things. So, don’t try to make something they’ll all love, just make something you’ll love.

It’s not a Mairi article unless there’s a GIF of Nic Cage in there sorry I don’t make the rules

Thanks for reading! 👋

Whether you’re a game developer yourself, a fellow Astra Fund recipient, or just my mum reading this because you love me (oh hi mum), I hope the article was useful!

For me, my next step with Astra will be making the ✨big game✨. Deciding what sort of a game you want to focus on for the next 10 months is an equally thrilling and nerve-wracking decision, but as I write this I’m feeling hopeful and excited about my idea. It’s my intention to post some development logs as I go. Perhaps on Medium, or perhaps on my personal portfolio, or perhaps on the Game Design section of my escape room site… We’ll see!

As for you, I don’t know what your next step is. Maybe you’re making your own game? Or maybe you’re just making a cup of tea. Oooh, or maybe you’re making a game about a cup of tea?! Or maybe you’re making a cup of tea about a game– no wait, that doesn’t make sense. In any case, go forth and make good things, and bad things, and share them with the world (especially if they’re puzzley) so I can support you!

If you want to learn more about what Astra is, you can read more on their website here.