Body of Evidence Review | From the devious minds at the Mysterious Package Company comes a new type of game: Body of Evidence. Dissect the clues in this grisly web of deception and intrigue. Body of Evidence will test your skills of observation, pattern recognition, and will push players to the cutting edge of a detective investigation. A murder mystery experience, with a twist!
Date Played: August 2023 Time Taken: ~2 Hours Difficulty: Easy Number of Players: 2
Please Note: We received a complimentary, pre-launch copy of Body of Evidence with the expectation of a review. This does not affect the content of our review.
The Mysterious Package Company, a company based over in Canada and best known for the Curious Correspondence Club series, among other spookier experiences, recently gifted us an exclusive sneak peek of their new game ‘Body of Evidence’ which will soon be launching on Kickstarter! Although there are still a few production elements to finalise (such as the construction materials and some of the writing) this was a great insight to what we can expect from the finished product.
Photo provided by Mysterious Package Company
Unlike a traditional ‘murder mystery’, the premise of Body of Evidence is that it’s a murder mystery, but one you will primarily be solving via an autopsy of the victim. As well as your standard murder mystery evidence, such witness interviews, the victim’s belongings, maps of the location, and details about the crime scene – you benefit from being able to get your hands on and explore the physical body of the victim as well. As well as of course, your own knowledge.
To guide you through your autopsy of the victim, you have on hand a handy “Coroner’s Handbook” which helps you understand what you’re looking for and what this could mean. This Coroner’s Handbook is the meat of the puzzle part of the experience, as these guiding steps are smaller, bite-sized puzzles. I really enjoyed this aspect, and found it very unique and different to other games on the market in both the “murder mystery” and “tabletop puzzle game” genres. I felt very immersed, all the way noting down my observations and reading the information to understand the implications.
At various points your start to open up the body, and I was so impressed by the depth of detail they included, and the way this happens! But since this is the real ‘centrepiece’ of the experience, we’ll not put spoilers here and instead let you experience that part for yourselves.
Alongside the autopsy there are various other pieces of information to read through, including witness statements, call logs and sometimes seemingly irrelevant papers. These all did a fantastic job of painting a full story of the city of Thornhill, the restaurant where the murder itself takes place, and the various suspects that could be found in the case. Once I’d completed the game I looked at these again and noticed lots of small hints and features that made so much more sense once the killer was uncovered. But equally, as a lot of murder mysteries do quite well, were a lot of realistic red herrings and plot twists that didn’t contribute to the killer’s narrative. It all added together to make this a very layered experience.
My favourite ‘puzzle moment’ was creating a timeline from all the witness statements, trying to figure out who was lying and who was just misremembering. Again, the way the witness were fuzzy/vague on the timings felt very realistic and this was so much fun for me to sit down and puzzle through.
The case is solved at each stage via ‘Evidence cards’. Each folder contains two questions that you answer by drawing the correct cards from a deck – if the ‘red threads’ on the front of the cards match, your answer is correct. If not, you’ll have to go back and take a closer look at your deductions.
Eventually, you create a full timeline using these threads, which leads you directly to the killer. I thought this was a really fun and thematically suited mechanic, as well as providing a very clear signpost each time for what I was meant to be solving. As the case fell into place, my red threads connected throughout like building a gigantic murder board.
The overall experience took me around 2hrs, and I found it very enjoyable and unique. I only got stuck at one point, but I was able to move pass this without too much frustration and complete the game. A departure from the traditional murder mystery – Body of Evidence gives you a hands on experience as you explore the autopsy. The narrative pulls you in with red herrings and interesting plot twists that make this an amazingly layered experience. I really recommend backing this one!
A new lead turns up old doubts about an ‘Unsolved Case’. A trap, or a copycat killer? In this co-op puzzle game prequel to the award-winning Cryptic Killer series, put on your detective badges as you collaborate and communicate to crack the codes, solve the riddles, and catch the Cryptic Killer.
Date Played: April 2023 Number of Players: 2 Time Taken: 30 mins Difficulty: Easy
Although we became very familiar with digital escape rooms over the course of the pandemic, it’s been a while since I’ve played one. Last year I covered “Parallel Lab” by Eleven Puzzles, and greatly enjoyed it, so when I saw they had just released a new (free!) game, I absolutely had to play it. This is actually the first part of a larger game set to be released soon, which is even more exciting!
Much like their previous game, this game requires two players on separate devices. This game actually supports cross-device playing, which meant I was able to Skype my mum and play on my computer, while she used her iPad, which she is more used to than playing on a computer. Part of the reason I love the Eleven Puzzles games so much is their ease of play – you are not tied to what the other person is doing and are fairly free to roam and interact as you like, and the gameplay is pretty much just point and click, so no tricky key combinations to figure out – any difficulty is just about the puzzles themselves!
In ‘Unsolved Case’ we return to the partnership of Ally and Old Dog, who have just received a mysterious briefcase each in their own apartments. These apartments happen to be fairly similar, and hold all the clues needed to crack the case open…
All the puzzles in this game require cooperation, not just one or two. However, they’re also unique and creative in the way they require this teamwork. Certain puzzles may require you to do the same thing, with different results, while others require the sharing the information. One thing I noted as we played was how well-balanced these puzzles were – I never felt like I was missing out on the ‘aha’ moments, and similarly didn’t feel I was encountering them all. If there was ever a puzzle where I felt my mum was having all the fun, there was soon to be a similar puzzle where the role was reversed (although different enough that it wasn’t a cut-and-paste).
example with minor spoiler
At one point there is a puzzle that required my mum to essentially work out a maze (I think), and all I did was click a button to go left, right or forward. However, there was also a similar puzzle where I had to figure out which ‘doors’ to open or close and all my mum had to do was click a button with specific colours on. It’s a great example of balancing the gameplay with similar experiences, without it feeling identical.
In fact, I thought a lot of the puzzles were really well done – they were all creative while still being logical, if not too simple. At each stage, there is a padlock to unlock the next part of the story, with icons clearly showing which puzzles to solve to find the numbers. This meant we knew what we were doing and worked our way through each, even directly affecting each other’s rooms while doing so, which was a really fun.
I really enjoyed playing this – the playability was easy, puzzles were fun and interesting and it’s got a neat, comic book style. It’s a shame it was so short, but as it’s free I think this is a minor point! I would also say it would’ve been nice if there were slightly more independent puzzles too, to make it slightly less linear and bring a little more freedom. Overall though this is a really fun game to play, especially if your teammate is long distance, and I can’t wait to play the full game when it’s released soon!
… Suddenly you glimpse something white in the distance. It’s the White Rabbit! Wonder where he is heading? You run after him but can’t quite catch up. Quite unexpectedly he disappears behind a door. You can’t sustain your curiosity and crack it open to take a look… You can’t quite make out what’s inside, you take a step forward – the door closes shut right behind your back! You look around and realise that it’s not just a room – it’s Wonderland!
Completion time: DNF Date played: March 2023 Party size: 2 Difficulty: Hard?
On our recent weekend trip to Dublin one of the only things we booked was called ‘Dublin’s Best Kept Secrets Tour‘. It’s a four or so hour tour, which I highly recommend and happened to end at the escape room, ‘The Clockwork Door’. This was a really lovely and special place, and something I wish existed in more cities – but hold up, we’ll cover more about this at the end!
Before the Dublin trip I had naturally researched escape rooms in Dublin, but the theme of Alice in Wonderland, and the website in general had put me off slightly (as well as the fact we were limited on time, so wanted to prioritise the escape room on a boat). However, after speaking to the owner I found myself convinced to book, due to just how lovely he seemed and his own love of escape rooms. I mean, anyone who has been to Budapest just to play is clearly an enthusiast!
Unfortunately, after playing the experience, I probably should’ve trusted my gut instinct…
Alice in Wonderland: The Set Design
When we entered the room I could immediately tell I had made a mistake. The room visually looked quite tired and rough around the edges. The lighting was dim, the door didn’t close behind us, and we could very loudly hear what was going on in the rest of the place. Not to mention, the objects and decor around the room were fairly damaged too.
I think wear and tear in an escape room is understandable,and not everyone has the space or budget to be truly transformative, but there was something about Alice in Wonderland that felt a little too worn down, and particularly disappointing for the price (which was about £30 per player). To make things even worse, a couple of people actually barged into the room halfway through. We presume they were there to see what work needed doing as they were noting things down, but the whole thing felt quite weird and unprofessional.
Curiouser and Curiouser Puzzles
I was determined to make the most of it (a.k.a I’m too stubborn to admit I had made a mistake), so we persevered. However, it’s clear right from the first puzzle that we were in trouble. We knew what we had to do to ‘decode’ the puzzle, but the ‘solution’ barely made sense. We managed to vaguely figure out what we had to do but in doing so found that this became a common theme throughout the room. The clues barely making sense, the puzzles with no links between them, and little to no logic underpinning the gameplay flow.
Furthermore, hints came via a projector, projecting the necessary clues on the wall. This came unprompted without indication, such as light or sound to draw our attention to the clue, meaning often we just happened to look up and notice some text on the wall without warning. The hints themselves were unhelpful, emphasised by the fact we didn’t complete the room.
A number of times I asked for a specific hint and didn’t receive it – perhaps the pre-written text didn’t have a clue for the particular thing we were asking for a hint on? My partner spent a good 20 minutes trying to solve/decode a puzzle, only to discover (much later) that he didn’t have all the information he needed to do so. In other escape room experiences, we might have expected a hint to redirect attention or push us toward obtaining the correct information. However, instead, we were essentially stuck for a third of our time, becoming more and more frustrated.
They eventually gave us the solution to the puzzle with about 5 minutes left, but with no explanation or hint to what had occurred during the previous puzzle, which would have given us the ‘key’, the remainder of the room was no good. I attempted to rush through the final couple of puzzles, but to no avail.
When the Games Master came to tell us the game was over, it was a different member of the team to the one who had started us off – which, we’d love to add had given us quite a good brief. I asked our new team member about a number of the puzzles, but he wasn’t able to give us any answers or explanations. For example, it turns out I had indeed solved the previous puzzle that should’ve given us the ‘key’, but when the numbers didn’t work in any of the lock or for any other puzzle, he wasn’t able to explain why. Without giving spoilers on the particular puzzle – we suspect it was a reset error in the room, essentially a detail not picked up on by the reset team, or whichever Games Master was supervising us wasn’t picked up, and we couldn’t progress.
A single mistake is understandable, but this happened over and over again – another set of numbers deciphered at the beginning, and nowhere to put them, without an explanation from the Games Master. Perhaps they were in puzzles we hadn’t yet reached, but we’ll never know.
We left very frustrated indeed, particularly as there was no one else around we could talk to. We ended up leaving, and rushed off to the airport to fly home. On the way home, I decided to email the owner. I will say now that I am in two minds about how this went.
My initial email was just asking for clarifications over a couple of the puzzles and their solutions, and explaining the GM hadn’t been able to tell us how it was supposed to work. I wasn’t too surprised when the response was essentially that they didn’t give any written solutions, and assured me that the GMs are very knowledgeable about the room and can decide best when to give help. After a little back and forth, the team acknowledged that our Games Master wasn’t actually trained to give post-game debrief, as they weren’t familiar with the puzzles.
Whilst out of fairness, we’re wondering if our experience was down to a bad Games Master, or if there were genuine problems with the room. Here at The Escape Roomer we like to give the benefit of the doubt, and second chances with other rooms where applicable. But after reading a number of other similarly disappointing experiences in very similarly disappointing ways, we wonder if this might instead be a “give a miss”.
The Clockwork Door
Although I had a very dissatisfying experience in this room, I think The Clockwork Door is a really lovely place and definitely worth a visit – though perhaps to try a different room on their list! The venue itself has a video game room with both modern and retro games, a quiet study room, and a ‘main waiting area’, which feels like a large sitting room, full of sofas and board games. They also have a kitchen where you can help yourself to tea, coffee, and biscuits. Despite all, we do recommend visiting the venue – but just avoid Alice in Wonderland.
The Clockwork Door is up a flight of steep stairs, so it won’t be accessible for anyone with mobility issues.
One person will need to be able to crawl, and there is a colour puzzle not suitable for colourblind players.
Alice in Wonderland can be booked on the Clockwork Door website here
You and your team are trapped on an abandoned, crippled boat. Your mission is to gather information, repair the boat and escape – before it’s too late! // You and your team are convicts, imprisoned on the good ship Zorg Ella. Using your wits, intelligence, and teamwork, can you work together to escape before the ship departs for the colonies?
Completion Time: 30 mins // 62 mins (out of 90)
Date Played: March 2023
Party Size: 2
Whenever I go to a new country, or even city, I love to find a local escape room to do, as it’s often very different from what is available near me. Usually, this involves a lot of research on blogs, travel sites, and Facebook, but for our recent trip to Dublin, I immediately knew where I was going to book – Escape Boats. It has been on my list for a while as I’d heard it was an escape room…on a boat…that really utilised the fact it was on the boat.
Luckily for me, since first learning of ‘Escape Boats’ they’ve introduced a second room, so we booked both for the same morning.
We started with their original room, the one I heard so much about. We were first lead to the steering cabin (probably not it’s technical name), which is where the GMs monitor the games from, before a door was revealed, leading us to the belly of the ship. This is where we began the game, so right from the start you are fully immersed in ‘boat’ aspect. The concept of ‘SOS’ is that you wake up on a sinking ship, so it was particularly cool that we started next to the actual engine of the boat!
From there we really raced through the room (completing it in half an hour!), as it was totally linear (one puzzle led to the next). For the pair of us this was absolutely fine – we worked on everything together, but for a larger team I can see this being a little frustrating. However, the puzzles were all well thought out and fun to solve, and fit in perfectly with the theme and story. The room really did feel like it was progressing throughout in a natural way – first we had to turn on the electricity, then find a way to communicate and send an SOS message, and then find a way out. It also felt pretty spacious given we were just on a boat, which actually fit two separate escape rooms – they’ve done a really good job of giving you the impression of size via clever tricks and sparse (but still relevant) set dressing.
It’s the final room that really sets this experience apart though. If you don’t want a spoiler I’ll just say…think boat. For those of you who do…
To solve the final room you have to flick a lever…which starts filling the room with water! Luckily I had already spotted a couple of pairs of wellies conveniently placed as we had progressed through the room, and made sure we put them on before entering this room!
I was actually very impressed and excited by how quickly the water came in – the room is probably larger than it seems, as although the water appeared to flow very quickly it only made it up to our ankles before we managed to stop it.
Not only was this every exciting (and the reason I had heard about this room in the first place), but it just shows how well this company have designed the room and taken on feedback. Apparently, many early teams had managed to solve the puzzle before, or just after, flicking the lever to trigger the excitement, so didn’t get the full experience. They have therefore modified the puzzle to stop it to only be ‘active’ once it has been triggered, and completely randomised so you can’t figure it out beforehand!
Overall, although this room was a very quick experience for us, we enjoyed it a lot. It was on the easier side, as we didn’t need help at all and only used half the time, but this also meant we were never frustrated. All the puzzles made logical sense and were fun to do, and the room itself was fantastic.
It was only natural to book both rooms at the same time, so after a quick coffee break at a nearby cafe we returned for their newer game. This is designed to be a head-to-head game, but unfortunately we weren’t able to do 1-v-1 as I had hoped due to the nature of a couple of the puzzles, so instead we did both sides…one after another. I think this is fairly unique – most head-to-head rooms tend to be mirror copies of one another, but in ‘convicts’ the two sides were similar, with a couple of the same mechanisms used for a different puzzle, but different in a lot of ways. We didn’t feel like we were repeating ourselves at all when we were into the second half – we were still experiencing new things and having to think how to solve certain puzzles. This was also a fairly unique aspect – rather than playing one side through, then the other, the first half lead to the second half before leading to the common final room.
Once more, this room does a fantastic job of feeling big and spacious, when actually it covers any space at all. This was partly achieved via the small rooms packed with puzzles, but also the method of moving between rooms – tunnels. These were great fun for us, but I can see this being a real issue for anyone with mobility issues or spacial concerns. However, I thought it was a really novel idea that meant the rooms themselves could capitalise on more space, and surprise you with your route to the next step.
This room was definitely harder than the last, and we were stuck a few times. There were more puzzles, which were a little trickier but this also meant they were more interesting. Once again, everything was themed really well, and there was less linearity at the start.
We escaped in 61 minutes – I believe we had 90mins available as we were playing both rooms. Technical issues hampered the ending slightly, but this is easily forgiven and explained by a very quick turn around to get us in early after the previous team had finished.
Overall, I’d probably still recommend ‘SOS’ over ‘Convicts’ for the novelty aspect, but why not do both?!
Vision: Convicts starts in the dark, with near to no light until you complete the first puzzle. There are also a couple of puzzles that are done in low lighting, and one requiring colour recognition. SOS is a little dim, due to the nature of the room.
Sound: Hints are delivered via a speaker, so there will need to be someone who is able to hear to utilise this. There is an audio puzzle in SOS, and a puzzle requiring communication between two (or more) teammates in Convicts.
Physical: This may be one of the least accessible rooms I’ve done! The spaces are very small – it felt crowded at times for even two of us. I could see it easily becoming too cramped and warm with more! There was climbing required for all teammates in both rooms, as well as crawling required for Convicts (for all teammates). Convicts also starts with very low headroom (I am 5ft3 and had to crouch to start), and to access and exit both rooms you need to climb up/down ladders. I would advise against doing this room if you have claustrophobia, mobility issues, or are unable to fit into small spaces for any other reason.
Location and overall verdict
The location was fairly easy to get to from central Dublin, although we got a bit lost trying to find the boat itself (both
Google and Apple Maps were sending us to the wrong part of the canal). It is based just over the bridge from a handy Caffè Nero and independent cafe, which also have toilets for use.
I think this was a fantastic pair of rooms, clearly designed and ran by people who care. Our GM was really friendly and welcoming, and did a great job of hosting us. We had a lot of fun, and I highly recommend you visit if you are going to Dublin! I am also awarding this our ‘Wow award’ as a I think what they’ve created for both room is very unique and innovative!
SOS and Convicts can be booked on the Escape Boats website here
The Escape Room Adventures take you on a journey of discovery as you puzzle your way through the gameplay and unlock the many secrets within. The easiest room is Mutiny, our pirate-themed room, which is ideal for beginners, families, or a group with mixed experience. Our most challenging adventure room is Nethercott Manor – our haunted manor, which is a fast-paced challenge. We would recommend Dodge City, The Outfitters & our newest room SpellCraft for teams that have some previous escape room experience.
Date Played: December 2022 Number of Players: 5 Time Taken: ~40 Minutes each Difficulty: Expert!
Tulley’s gained its reputation for being one of the best companies in the country a few years ago and has managed to retain it when many others failed to move with the times, or unfortunately closed due to the pandemic. It had long been on my to-do list, but I had been prevented from trying any of their 5 games for a number of factors – namely location, cost, and the necessity to have an expert team to even attempt the rooms!
Luckily for me, the stars aligned at Christmas (well, boxing day) last year – my parter was gifted the day as part of a brand deal, my mum happened to be visiting us (as it was Christmas) and had a car, making transport that much easier, and I had confirmed the availability of the final two members to make us up to a team of 5 experienced players! It may not have been most people’s choice for how to spend their boxing day, but for us it was magical…
Tulley’s has 5 rooms, ranging in theme and complexity, so this is really going to be a whistlestop tour! I also want to highlight their amazing GMs who looked after us throughout the day – Adam, Dan, Ellie, Ed, Jamie, and Tyler – and of course their boss – Sooty the cat.
Dodge City in 2127 remains a stronghold of the wild west. The constant tussle between the Sheriff and local gunslingers means there’s opportunity abound for some creative bank robbery for those with wits and courage. As a member of the Notorious ‘Barn Door’ Gang you’ve been caught by the local sheriff breaking into the bank. Locked away with little hope, hired by an unnamed outlaw and facing the ruthless justice of the old west you’re left with only one option. As the sun sets the race is on to break out, reclaim your supplies, pull off the bank job of the century and get out of Dodge City.
Dodge City was our first room…and one of their hardest! Immediately on entering it’s obvious how Tulley’s have earned their reputation – the set design is amazing and extremely immersive, and there are surprises throughout the game. Even as a hardened spotter of fake doors and moving bookshelves, I soon gave up trying to anticipate what was coming next.
This room started with one of my favorite tropes – being separated! We were placed in separate cells, and this obviously required good communication from our newly assembled team, as well as a neat form of contact between us. We then progressed to all things cowboy and outlaw related. I don’t want to give away too much, but the set design and theming were amazing and definitely felt like you were progressing through Dodge City as you progressed through the room. There was only one point in which we were truly stuck, and this was largely due to a breakdown in communication and confusion over who a hint was intended for. Otherwise, this room was one of the most fun rooms we did all day, with some unique puzzles I’ve not seen before (or seen used in a different way), really appealing to different skills. As a team of 5, we only made it out with 4 minutes to spare, which was a great way to get the adrenaline going for the rest of the day!
It’s 1926 here in Chicago, and depression is still rife. Jobs are few and far between and the Prohibition has been in force for six years now. Everyone still drinks, nothin’ has changed. But now the mob control the streets, the supply and the money. The influence of the Outfit is far-reaching. Most of the cops are even under their control. Who can put them in the joint? You can, that’s who. The Commissioner has put together a special task force of straight, trusted cops and you’re on the team. You’ve spent the last few months infiltrating their network and now tonight is the night to get the evidence you need to put them away forever. But it won’t be easy, your cover might be blown! Do you have what it takes?
The natural progression from ‘cowboy’ is ‘mobster’, right? We moved almost straight from the Wild West into a mafia front in Chicago. We entered into an unassuming tailors shop, before discovering all was not what it seemed… The use of space at Tulley’s continued to be a lovely surprise, although the set felt a little more tired and rough around the edges in this room. That’s not to say it wasn’t good though – hidden information was the name of the game for Outfitters (what more could you expect from Gangsters), with themed puzzles and ’20s mechanisms running the room.
In this room, there were a few moments where mechanisms didn’t trigger or triggered when they shouldn’t have, and we were much less active than we had been in Dodge, with only a couple of us solving puzzles at a time. We managed to escape with a respectable 19mins remaining and an eagerness to sink our teeth into the next one (after lunch). Although this wasn’t a bad room, I’d say it was fairly average, and if this was the only room we’d done…I would have been disappointed.
The SpellCraft twins, Evilinda & Spellinda, two witches, two paths, two shops, two worlds, two journeys, their two magical worlds collide, and you find yourself in the middle of their story. SpellCraft will take you on a magical adventure, you’ll need to work together, but in the end there’s always a battle, will you escape and who will win?
Our next room was the newest room at Tulley’s, and the room that has quickly become a favourite of most players (myself included) – Spellcraft! When I first heard it was a magic-themed room my reaction was probably similar to many other enthusiasts – “not another one!”, “How is this going to be any different from all the other magic rooms?” , “why do people love this so much? What’s so good about magic?”
However, it was unlike any magic room I’ve done before, and has truly earned its place at the top of many lists. Firstly, you can tell from the waiting area that the set and story are going to be completely different from any other magic room. There are no “wizard school” or 4 “magical houses” that happen to be primary colours…
Instead, we were once more split into teams – this time “good” and “evil” – and given wands, which stayed with us and were used throughout the game. We were also given cauldrons to collect/carry things with us, which was a nice touch I’ve not experienced anywhere else. Inside the room, the set design was once more delightful and surprising. The set is huge, but of course, you don’t realise this at first. However, there is a truly magical mechanism within the room and we were transported again and again to extremely different settings and places. There were a lot of fun puzzles here too – some familiar, others less so, and the climax of the room brings together the two teams in a fierce battle of good and evil, which we obviously won.
Overall, while I can’t remember (or didn’t see) quite a few of the puzzles the experience itself blew me out of the water with the magic and joy I felt. As a team of 5, we escaped with 16 minutes remaining, and I enjoyed every second. This is an amazing room, one of the best in the country I’d say, and makes me excited to see what they do next.
It’s the year of our Lord 1672, and you be right in the height o’ the golden age o’ piracy… After years of sailin’ the high seas, you and your crew have succeeded in your fair share of ambushes, and as a result – your ship is teemin’ with bounty. Yet you’re still suffering beneath the cruel wrath o’ Captain Starling – a notoriously bloodthirsty buccaneer, and your shipmates have decided you all shall take matters into your own hands. After all… you fought for the gold, so the gold is yours for the taking, aye? Once the old seadog has retreated to his berth for the night, you make your move. Get in, get the treasure and get out. You won’t have long before he starts to stir – and Starling shows no mercy to ANY soul…
After that amazing experience we needed to calm down a little, so found ourselves upon a ship in the easiest room. This was again misleading – although our initial perception was that of every other pirate game I’ve played (as we solved it as such, by guessing digits in combination locks and skipping steps), once we were out of the cabin we had clearly been played.
As you might expect for a ship, this game required more physicality than others, but these were more to reveal/solve puzzles than being the puzzle itself. There was one particularly unique feature of this room, which was fun to build and use, but otherwise, this was your average pirate room, just more polished and better executed. Ultimately we escaped with 22 mins left, and we had fun doing so, but we were looking forwards to the final room.
The old manor house is entwined with local legend, the living don’t remember the Nethercott’s, the family’s hay day was long ago. Local folk talked, whispers were heard, rumours began, lights were seen within. The Nethercott’s are long gone but something remains, an essence, a smell, a feeling, it’s in the fabric, in the walls, under the floor boards … it ticks, it creeks … take a trip into the past, uncover the family’s many secrets and glimpse their fleeting souls?
Finally, the room that put Tulley’s on the map (for me at least) – their largest and hardest (I think), as I didn’t even see half of the room – more like 1/3! It was also the one I was most nervous before, being a massive wimp and this being a haunted house. Nevertheless, I couldn’t pass the experience up, so I steeled myself and forged ahead.
The atmosphere is obvious from the start, finding ourselves outside the front door of an abandoned house, with an atmospheric soundtrack doing nothing to ease my nerves. The immediate puzzles were fairly easy, clearly luring us into a false sense of security before we entered the manor itself. Once inside, the set is appropriately dimly lit (until you’re able to find the fuse box at least), with many old-fashioned items of decor and themed puzzles attached. This is also when you get your first taste of the spirits that haunt the house, and it became clear that I was an easy mark for the GM.
For those of you of a similar disposition to me, I will just reassure you that nothing physically jumps out at you, but there are a lot of loud noises, which the GM can, and will, trigger whenever they feel like – especially if you are an obvious target stood next to the item in question.
This first room had the most frustrating puzzle I’ve seen in any room…ever. We found out afterwards that even the GMs will struggle to complete it, so usually, they take pity on the players and allow them to bypass it (ourselves included). Usually, this type of time sink would annoy me, especially in a room as large as this, but we actually addressed most of the room at the same time as this ‘puzzle’, and the GM clearly knew the right time to give us a nudge that gave us a chance of solving it, without feeling frustrated.
From this point, we barely saw each of our teammates again until close to the end of the room. I found myself with my mum solving a series of logic puzzles while being terrorised by the GM ghost. We also encountered a smell test, which worked well given we were in the kitchen. From what we saw afterwards, our teammates were working through similarly well-themed puzzles for their respective rooms, across a large variety of skills.
The final puzzles were once more of the deductive style (my favourite), before quite a fun/creepy ending (depending on your perspective). We managed to escape with 9.34 left, which is quite an achievement given they used to sell this as an 80-minute room, and I know many people who didn’t manage to escape! This was definitely a great way to end the day, and almost my favourite room.
The team at Tulley’s were fantastic, and the rooms were large and immersive, while still delivering high quality puzzles. We appreciated the drink offerings, and usually they serve food on the farm too. The introduction videos are also worth mentioning – very entertaining, and slightly unhinged, but they weave into an overall lore, which I’ve only seen a handful of other rooms do as effectively.
This is definitely a must-visit for any enthusiast. Although we could award this nearly all of our badges, we definitely think they’re most deserving of our “I believe” badge, for just how immersive and expansive their rooms were.
Audio – nearly all the rooms require some form of communication between players. Spellcraft, Nethercott and Dodge also featured audio puzzles/prompts, although not everyone will need to do these.
Vision – Nethercott, Mutiny and Outfitters all had fairly low lighting at points. Dodge required a small amount of colour identification, as did Nethercott and Outfitters.
Smell – Nethercott has a smell puzzle!
Spatial – In Dodge you start in a small cell, so if you have issues with space I recommend being the only person in yours. There are also some small spaces in Nethercott, Outfitters, Mutiny and Spellcraft, but none require all team members to enter. There are some smoke effects in Spellcraft, as well as Nethercott.
These rooms can be booked on the Tulleys website here
Compendium UI-55 Review | A German U-boat named UI-55 was found in the river Thames. Have you and your team got what it takes to sneak aboard and retrieve all of Britain’s wealth before the German soldier’s return?
Date Played: March 2022 Number of Players: 2 Time Taken: ~50 Minutes Difficulty: Expert!
When we were planning our mini-break to the North we chose Manchester due to the escape rooms. I had heard such fantastic things about UI-55 that it was a bit of a no-brainer. This room has actually won multiple awards, and (spoiler alert) is one of the few rooms I’ve done that I think is well deserving of the hype!
All Aboard UI-55!
The premise of UI-55 is that you have discovered a German U-boat, hoarding plenty of British treasure, and you only have an hour to recover as much as possible. The first thing you’ll realise upon ‘boarding’ is just how massive this room is. For context, it fills an entire floor and is apparently the size of two normal escape rooms put together! However, if you’re worried that this looks like a big rectangle, don’t be! It’s very much structured as a submarine, with long corridors and windy passageways to traverse. I loved the general size, and the attention to detail in that every nook and cranny reads as ‘submarine’. I had great fun running up and down, as the puzzles absolutely cover the space, and you will need to get elements from each area to complete some.
The other thing to be aware of is the sheer amount of puzzles, especially given the 60-minute time. In a normal room, you might expect to complete 10-15. Here there are nearly 30 to complete alone, which each give you a task to complete and then a key to use to retrieve some loot (depending how quickly you locate the right locker). Luckily, you don’t need to complete all of the puzzles – from memory, you only need to complete 21 within the time, with a very clear (and very fun) indication of when you should really move into the final phase of the room (the loot grabbing).
As you might expect in a room with such a large variety of puzzles, they are all completely different with a fantastic variety. If one puzzle isn’t your forte (*side eyes the dexterity puzzle*) that’s ok! There is always another puzzle to do instead. Some of these puzzles are available upfront, some require you to complete others to gain the materials you need. It’s fairly obvious which bits go with which puzzles, and what you need to do. There are also clues scattered all over the place in the decor, and even some answers which are available to you right from the start! Completing a puzzle gives you a code, which you use to get some tokens, which are then used to gain keys, which are then used to unlock lockers. Luckily, as a duo the ‘gaining keys’ stage can be skipped, as I can see that this would take quite a bit of time, and personally, I feel is a step too far for any team.
I can only remember what a few of the puzzles were in the game, as I was very much running around like a headless chicken, completing one puzzle and then moving on, but I know I’d love to redo the room just to have the same experience again! I also know I only saw around half the puzzles, with my mum clearing half the sub by herself and me clearing the other half. If you or your teammates are the sorts of people who want to know what everyone has done so far or how they’ve reached their conclusions…this is not the room for you. We had to trust that we each had a grip on what we were doing and that we would call for help if needed, or if there was a puzzle we couldn’t figure out. Even when it came to the co-op puzzles we were so aware of the time we just trusted each other’s instincts, and if we ever found objects we weren’t sure of we checked in with each other to see if they had an idea. Honestly, it’s probably the best teamwork we’ve ever had as we didn’t have time to argue!
Normally I would talk about flow, but honestly here there is so much to do in so little time we were never stuck, bored or frustrated. The team are so slick with their clues too – they know exactly when to give us a nudge, what sort of nudge we needed and clearly could tell what we were each working on.
This room is also an example of my favourite type of room – the type where you don’t need to 100% complete it, but if you have the time and skill you can. This meant we were determined to grab all the loot, so really pushed the time at the end to get all the lockers unlocked and money in the bags.
I could go on and on about this room, but it’s honestly the best room I’ve ever played, and I could easily go and replay it (especially as I know there are a lot of puzzles I didn’t even see the first time!).
As I mentioned in my previous review for the other Compendium rooms, there are some steep stairs to reach the room. However, there are chairs to sit on inside the room itself. It’s a bit dim in places, with lots of reading and colour requirements. There are a couple of puzzles requiring hearing, and some requiring dexterity. No crawling in this one though! You should also be fine if you’re concerned about claustrophobia, as although this was set on a submarine it was actually pretty spacious.
This is a short review because the verdict is simple. This is a must-play room, and we are awarding it our highest award; The Badge of Honour.
I’ve played many of the top rooms in the TERPECA and ‘Escape the review’ lists, but this is hands down my favourite. It’s going to be a long time before this gets knocked out of number one for me!
The Curiosity Room London Review | Sparking curiosity from the start, guests embark on the adventure immediately upon entry to the room. The entire room is a puzzle box waiting to be solved. Puzzle elements have been seamlessly hidden within the décor; solving them all will lead guests to a grand finale and series of surprises and rewards. The puzzles have also been customized to the three destinations, featuring and celebrating local landmarks, culture, and more. Guests will uncover hidden messages, hunt for puzzle pieces, and experience elements of the room in unexpected and delightful ways. The room’s Curiosity Journal serves as the guide and connection to the one-of-a-kind in-room journey, with hints available in case guests need a helpful hand. When the final challenge has been completed, guests receive a certificate of completion and can celebrate with a complimentary dessert in the hotel’s restaurant.
Completion Time: 1 hour Date Played: 2nd October 2022 Party Size: 6 Difficulty: Easy
As escape room enthusiasts we often travel to experience the escape room scene in other cities. Escape rooms and travel go hand in hand… So its surprising that no one had really capitalised on this until TED teamed up with Marriott Hotels to bring a unique escape room twist to their hotel rooms. “The Curiosity Room” is the first of these experiences, a collaboration of immersive experience and physical, in-person hotels and is popping up at the Marriott Hotels in San Francisco, Bangkok and right here in London. We couldn’t wait to try it!
Our First Impressions of the Curiosity Room
When we arrived it was very clearly the 5-star service you would expect from London Marriott Hotel County Hall. The staff were all very polite and welcoming, and once we entered the room it was so immaculate and beautiful. The initial starting point was immediately obvious, in a very tantalising way, so we were soon off searching the room for further clues and admiring the beauty within.
TED X Marriott on Puzzles
In terms of puzzles, those in The Curiosity Room were quite linear, but this worked fairly well given this is very much a self-guided room. Clues were given via a journal and a web page, which provided an increasing level scale of hints until finally giving the answer. We found many ‘wow’ moments throughout but often realized we had come to a puzzle too early, so put it back until that point arose.
For traditional escape room players, this was one of the slight negatives in the room. All escape room players know how to search for clues, but this proved detrimental here (despite the first puzzle requiring you to search), as often it meant jumping ahead, potentially confusing the story or ruining the surprise of a later puzzle.
That said, many of the puzzles themselves were actually quite unique and exciting to discover. There weren’t too many jumps in logic, and even as a team of experienced players we still found ourselves excited by many of the techniques used. It was certainly more puzzle-y than I had anticipated going in, which was a bonus! They clearly put a lot of thought and passion into these puzzles, which were all varied and interesting; mixing physical, hands-on puzzles with wordy brainteasers. The fact this room isn’t timed is also a nice touchs – we were able to slow down and really enjoy each puzzle together as a team. This will also appeal to families staying in the room, as many of the puzzles used physical elements to trigger/solve the puzzles.
A ‘Hotel’ly New Escape Room
In terms of the room itself, The Curiosity Room is first and foremost a room to stay in. It was beautifully decorated with a large mural of London (by artist Caleb Morris) on the wall, which was a nice touch to the theming and almost outshone the amazing view from the window. The use of space was really well thought out, although the puzzles were largely contained to the sleeping area. It may have been nice to see the puzzles extend to more of the physical space. But we understand the physical limitations.
On the other hand, we felt that although it’s called ‘The Curiosity Room’ there weren’t that many elements that played with this theme. There were a few books about London and one or two puzzles which might have been fun for younger players to figure out, but otherwise not too many things that taught us new things or sparked our curiosity about London itself.
A Note on Technical Issues
In our particular playthrough, there were some technical issues which stopped us for over an hour. Not the worst thing in the world, as we enjoyed the opportunity to simply relax on the very comfy beds and have a chat to each other while the staff fixed those issues. But in general, technical issues like the ones we experienced do hamper an escape room’s flow.
As we were amongst the first teams to play the room, it’s not surprising that there were issues or that it took time for them to be fixed. We imagine, or rather we hope it will be much smoother in the future!
When everything did work the technical elements were impressive and would have thrown up some sweet little surprises if our mechanical issues hadn’t pre-empted them. Teething issues aside, we think it’s clearly a high-quality room and high-quality production.
The Curiosity Room: The Verdict
Before discussing the verdict of the room, we need to mention the elephant in the room. The price, which will likely be the biggest barrier for any escape room enthusiasts interested in playing. One night at the London Marriott Hotel County Hall is a minimum of £405, and I believe you have to book this room for at least 2 nights. It does sleep 4 (and it’s a very high-quality room with a glorious London view), but that’s obviously quite a bit of commitment, especially as you can’t pay to play the game element of the room alone. To reiterate, you do have to book to stay overnight in order to experience The Curiosity Room.
If you remove the price element, this was a really fun and special room. The Curiosity Room is targeted at families, so the level of puzzling isn’t overly challenging but the combination of quirky interactions with the room itself and some lovely ‘wow’ moments it’s definitely a great overall experience. And if you’re an escape room player with a sweet tooth there’s an added attraction. Solve the puzzles and you’ll win a sharing dessert from the London Marriott Hotel County Hall’s restaurant, Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar, where you can also indulge in locally sourced steaks and, if all that puzzling has left you with a thirst, choose from over 100 gins.
If you were considering staying somewhere for a similar budget anyway then we’d definitely recommend this. Similarly, we would recommend checking it out if they ever opened any slots for just the escape room alone, but otherwise, I count myself lucky that I had a chance to play!
Why are we The Escape Roomer, writing an article about the best things to do in London which AREN’T escape rooms? Probably for the same reason as you’re reading this – we have all been burdened with various friends, relatives, and co-workers who want to do ‘something fun’ in the city, but aren’t that into escape rooms! Can you believe it?
Not to worry though – we have you covered. Here are our top 10 things to do in the capital in the summer of 2022 that will scratch that immersive, co-operative itch for you, without resorting to locking your loved ones in a room for an hour.
Image (c) Monopoly Lifesized
I’m personally not a fan of Monopoly – it’s one of my least favourite games and I can’t think of the last time I played an actual game. However, Monopoly Lifesized is in fact nothing like monopoly… Or at least it has none of the bad parts.
For starters, the board has been grown to actual size but reduced to only 12 properties. You play as a team of up to 6, facing up to 3 other teams. Every other turn you role the dice, land on a property, and enter the mini-room to complete a challenge! These challenges are very escape room-esque and vary square to square. Unlike other experiences you may be familiar with, you have a decent amount of time to play and enjoy these – and get your head around them! Plus did we mention there’s a themed bar and restaurant on-site?
We had an absolute blast and will definitely be returning. The only downside? The price runs a little high when compared to escape rooms, and given the experience is still only an hour.
The Grid is what you get when you cross an escape room with cocktails and honestly, what’s not to love?! Our Chief Mairi recently visited this mashup from We Are Lollipop, and you can read our glowing review here! There are many similar cocktail/puzzle experiences across London for example the recently opened H-Division, but The Grid is our favourite and is as close to a physical escape room you can get. It’s got an underground rabbit warren of cyberpunk-like environments, wacky bubbling cocktails, a host of brilliant characters, and a slide.
Price: From £32 per person, which includes 2 cocktails and a welcome drink of your choice each!
One of our favourite things to do in London on a sunny day is an outdoor puzzle trail. We recently covered off our favourites in a post here, so for the purposes of this article we’ll just mention one of our personal favourites – Hidden City. These are the first trails I did pre-pandemic and I love everything about them… From discovering hidden facets of busy streets, to exploring completely new areas where there’s is mystery around every corner.
I particularly enjoy Hidden City for how they integrate the real world into their trails and the style of puzzles. Plus they almost always offer a delicious treat for teams who manage to solve all the puzzles and make it to the finish line. If you’ve only got a day or two in London and want to be guided around by Sherlock Holmes or an Evil Queen whilst exploring the great outdoors, then look no further.
If you prefer something a little less active, why not try out one of the many board game cafés London has dotted around. The best known and one of my personal favourites is Draughts Waterloo. Based in Leake Street tunnels, Draughts is perfectly placed for transport, serves some delicious food and drinks and have quite literally hundreds of games in their library. I love the atmosphere here, and it’s one of my favourite places for a fun time with friends. When you visit, be sure to ask them what puzzle games they have available! Draughts’ second venue is located in Hackney.
Board games not your thing? Prefer something a little more active? Then you should check out Electric Gamebox! Electric Gamebox have absolutely exploded in size recently. Going from one small venue in London Southbank to hundreds across the UK and the USA. The Southbank venue has a special place in our heart as it’s the venue we’ve played at, but wherever your nearest site is located you’ll be sure to find an excellent a variety of games, from puzzles to physical, all played out in a 3D space using a visor. We had great fun making absolute fools of ourselves and we were all kept on our toes throughout.
Location: Southbank or Wandsworth
Price: From £11 for children, £16 for adults (Off-peak)
Take things a step further and go fully immersive in VR. Otherworld is my favourite VR venue – the location is suitably sci-fi themed, with individual pods and even fancy Japanese toilets. It’s an excellent spot to take larger groups and there’s sure to be something for everyone. There are an abundance of games to play from first-person shooters to relaxing painting games and even some puzzle games. If VR is your thing then they also offer a loyalty programme where you can convert your virtual points for real-world food and drinks! Closer to Battersea, you can also check out DNA VR. A similar concept, and just as fun for a trip to a fantastical alternate world.
If you’re looking for something even more unique and varied, check out ‘SENSAS’. This is a multi-sensory experience where for two hours, you will embark on a series of challenges like nothing else in the world. Whilst nothing like an escape room, you’ll certainly be pushed to your limits with a series of zones all designed to test your senses: Taste, Touch, Smell, Sight and Sound. Was it fun? Did we have a good time? Would we recommend it? The answer to all of these questions with SENSAS is a resounding YES. In addition, by surpassing yourself, you will collect a number of SENSAS Charms which will be converted into a donation that SENSAS makes for its partner charity supporting people with disabilities. Have fun and do good in the world? We love it.
If you’re looking for something similar but more relaxed, why not head to Dreamachine – similarly touted as an immersive, sensory experience, but for this one only your mind will be moving!
London is well known for the West End, so if you’re looking for a perfect non-escape room activity, you can’t go wrong by heading to see a show! To appeal to your sense of mystery, we recommend the world’s longest-running play: The Mousetrap. This is the classic murder-mystery play, written by the Queen of Murder Mystery herself.
If you prefer your mystery plays even more interactive, we also recommend another Agatha Christie play – ‘Witness for the Prosecution‘, which brings the audience into the play via the set design.
Finally, if something a bit more light-hearted (and family-friendly) is what you’re looking for I highly recommend checking out ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ – one of the funniest and cleverest plays out there. Fun fact; one of the original creators is also one of the creators of ‘The Mystery Agency‘ play-at-home escape rooms!
Evans & Peel Detective Agency
Photo (c) Evans and Peel Detective Agency
If you want drinks with a side of deception, Evans & Peel is the place for you! This is possibly one of the best speakeasies in London (and their website boasts that they serve they officially serve the World’s Best Old Fashioned – we can attest, it’s delicious!), but still a relatively unknown hidden gem for many! Put on your best dress and conjure up an excellent case to take to the detectives and if they deem it interesting enough, the bookcase will swing out and you’ll be invited into the hidden bar. When we visited, we took the case of the missing whiskey bottle and pointed the finger at the second group of friends joining us. You can either choose to do nothing more than enjoy the atmosphere, live music and refreshments, or throw yourself head first into the ‘mystery’ you’ve created by interacting with the hosts, the detectives and other visitors around you.
Immersive theatre isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but there’s no doubting that there are some outstanding immersive theatre events taking place in London this summer. We’re particularly looking forward to Phantom Peak, the wild west town with a mystery that’s due to open in August. If that’s not your thing, over in the centre of Camden Market you’ll find Tomb Raider: The Live Experience inspired by the infamous Lara Croft video games (though take note, it’s heavy on physical activity and light on puzzles). At the Tower of London there’s a brand new immersive experience by the creators of the brilliant War of the Worlds Immersive, this time themed around Guy Fawkes and called The Gunpower Plot featuring Tom Felton! Finally, one of the highest-rated companies, Punchdrunk, is back with their Trojan-inspired experience. You can’t go wrong with Punchdrunk, so it’s sure to be something special.
With that, we conclude our roundup of the best non-escape room things do to in London this summer.
Have we missed your favourite activity? Let us know in the comments below.
A few months ago, I completed the DecodeXP teambuilding day with my workplace. Throughout the day I spent quite a bit of time discussing all things escape rooms with Jamie and had such interesting discussions I knew I had to interview him! It took a few months, but we managed to grab a coffee together and he gave me a chance to pick his brains.
Hey Jamie! Great to see you again. One of the things that struck me before was your interesting background. Could you remind me about it?
I was an army officer for about six years, and I still do some things with the reserves. When I was about 25 a group of us took a trip to Budapest and we did three or four more advanced escape rooms there. It made me realise three things – firstly, the complexity of the build in Budapest was way ahead of what there was in Europe at the time, which meant there was the opportunity for the tech to be used better in the UK. Second, we picked up on the fact that the team in the escape room really reflected what we were like in real life, and I was especially interested in the dominant and less dominant characteristics coming out in that environment. Finally, the time you’re in an escape room is completely unique and personal to you, which is an incredibly powerful time that has relevance in the corporate and business world. Earning a free sample or a team photo, rather than buying it or just being handed it, is a massively profound change on the way you think about that.
Long story short we decided to test these theories and we created the first room in the UK to be built in a shipping container! It was 40ft long, called “Heist”, and it allowed us to learn how to build experiences. From there, we kind of wanted to focus on not just commercial experiences, but whether we could get brands to offer this to their people as a retention or internal marketing strategy. We tested this with Dyson, who was our first big client, and I worked with their engineers to build a room harnessing different bits of Dyson technology.
There’s a really cool YouTube video you can watch here!
I saw the video of that! I think it was amazing how you worked the Dyson technology in, and I think it was Dyson’s most popular social media campaign that year? That was pre-covid though – I imagine the pandemic affected your business quite a bit?
Yeah, during Covid we obviously couldn’t run these in-person rooms anymore, but it gave us the time to focus on creating DecodeXP. We took the best we could find in the industry and the army and brought this team of behavioural analysts together to create a product we knew would be valuable once we came out of Covid.
Your experiences are always unique. Do you have a philosophy or method for designing your rooms?
We’re continually iterating on how to make problem-solving a learned skill, rather than just something we do day-to-day but don’t practice. We basically want to focus on the needs of the client first; understanding that and then developing the experience afterwards, which is a bit different from how others maybe do it. Our Samsung room was a great example of this – the initial brief mentioned that it was for an influencer campaign, but it was only after spending time talking to Samsung that we realised the intention was to livestream the room, which meant we wanted to have lots of puzzles which were quick and easy to solve (no one wants to watch someone sat there thinking for a while), and make sure there were lots of flashy effects and wow moments that would look great on camera and make great content.
Of all the experiences you’ve created, what is the most fun or satisfying puzzle you created?
We’re about to launch an escape in the Aviation Gin distillery, which I think is unbelievable. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet Ryan Reynolds, but the marketing agency had a very clear vision which we’ve replicated in the escape room. There are some really fun things in that room, like having to make a cocktail. It’s definitely the most satisfied I’ve been with a room.
Assuming you enjoy escape rooms yourself, what is your favourite trope to see?
The element of surprise. Anyone who has done a few rooms realises there’s an element of continuity, so anytime I’m genuinely surprised by an outcome it’s really cool. There are some great moments in the latest ClueQuest room that kind of completely flip what it is to be an escape room on its head. I think that’s the next stage for more traditional escape rooms – finding ways to break off the narrative. There’s a need to continually innovate now, especially in bigger towns and cities.
What would be your dream escape room to play, and what would be your dream room to design/build?
Before Covid we were talking to Darren Brown for a while. I’m also a fan of how immersive ‘The Crystal Maze’ experience is and the way the actor and set are used there. I think there’s a market for an escape room that offers multiple endings, that you can do more than once as an individual and have different outcomes. We’ve got some rough designs for this already, but I’d need to get funding for it.
Do you find there’s much difference between UK and US rooms?
I think we’re probably still slightly behind America. In America, some of the rooms we did were just next level. Not necessarily in terms of puzzles or narrative, but in terms of set design. The stuff that these guys do is awesome and really immersive. There’s no need for reliance on padlocks anymore – you can get electronic locks and even full puzzles fairly cheaply, so there’s not really any excuse anymore.
What about theme? Is there one theme you haven’t seen that you think is being missed/slept on?
I’ve not yet done a space-based room, certainly in the UK, that I can look back on and go “That was really, really cool.” So maybe a cool space room.
(We here at The Escape Roomer recommend Spacescape at Ctrl, Alt Escape. We’ve also heard there’s a new space room at Co-Decode, and although we haven’t done it their other rooms are great!)
What’s your favourite room you’ve done? Or what is a room you’d recommend?
I hate this question! I always recommend ClueQuest – they’re the only rooms I’ve done in London that have the same standard as I see elsewhere. Other rooms I’ve done in London have unique narratives but are let down by the puzzles. Galactic Warriors in Prague was unbelievable and was probably the most immersed I’ve been.
When it comes to building puzzles, is it always solution first, or do you sometimes immediately know what you want to do?
I think we always have immediate inspiration about the types of puzzles we’re going to use, but there’s a lot to be said for not pre-empting what we’re going to design. Sometimes companies already have ideas, and then we have to explain why they won’t necessary work which obviously isn’t a great foot to start on. We spend a while in the workshop and have a relatively similar structure each time, where we try to understand what the client wants and then sometimes the solution presents itself, rather than needing us to engineer it. Often requirements like certain functionality or results, or time and budget, quite quickly narrows down the options.
After running so many sessions you must have some great stories! Anything you can share?
I think we’ve had a few storm outs. I think people tend to see it as a challenge of their cognitive ability, which it really isn’t – none of the puzzles are that complex, and they’re more designed to generate teamwork, or see where the natural teamwork comes to the fore. Often, we have people inadvertently leaning against clues or completely missing something. I’m a terrible watcher though – it’s hard not to jump in and I have to force myself to be more passive. It’s also interesting seeing how a room of officer cadets might behave versus a team of accountants. The more rooms we do, the more data we get, so we’re redesigning the programme to focus more on different types of puzzles solving, so moving the escape room to later in the day and focusing on individual puzzles and escape room boxes to start with.
Has there ever been a case where someone has behaved completely differently in an escape room than you thought they would be, or afterwards seemed completely different?
We actually ran a session where my ears pricked up because one of the girls in the room had found the perfect solution but just as she was speaking someone else spoke directly over her and said “we need to go and do this”, so I started a stopwatch. They carried on and around 18 minutes later they got back together and said “we can’t solve this puzzle”, to which the girl said “yeah, here’s the solution”, and I paused the stopwatch. In the debrief session (which we always do after a room) we pointed out that she’d had the answer way before and that it had cost them 18 minutes. That sort of thing is fine in an escape room context, but you take that into a meeting room – how many times have you seen someone’s idea in a meeting spoken over and ignored? What if that’s the idea that gets you to the solution?
What’s the spark that keeps you going? What do you really love doing?
Such a good question. I really like the creative phase. I’m really selfish and like the fun bits. My brother Sam, our Operations Manager, very much deals with delivering the product, the setup, making sure the right staff are there and that everything actually works. I’m not very good at that bit, but I like taking a new concept and working out how to get to there. That’s the bit that I really enjoy.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I’d probably still be with the army, or like a manager or consultant. I don’t know – maybe I’d start another business. I like the idea of getting up and being accountable for what I do each day, and if we have a good sales meeting we go out for a nice meal, and if we have a month of bad meetings we go to McDonalds. It’s kind of fun and a more interesting way of doing our day-to-day. We’re lucky – we work with some really cool clients, on numerous different projects, and the longer we keep going the easier it gets from that side.
Who’s been your favourite client?
It has to be Dyson. We were just two guys with a shipping container and they trusted us with this massive campus and project, despite not really knowing how we were going to do it. We got to work with their comms teams, and my fondest memory has to be explaining how to engineer a puzzle to a room of 200 Dyson engineers!
What’s next for DecodeXP/Challenger escapes?
For DecodeXP we’re about to launch residentials – 48 hour-long, more immersive experiences that really test people and take them out of their comfort zones.
For Challenger escapes we’re working on a big project which I can’t talk about yet, as well as launching a video game room at ComicCon and the Aviation Gin room that I mentioned before. We’re also expanding our work with Savilles to do more building-based rooms in the next six months. I don’t know what else we’ll do, but we’ll keep going!
Date played: March 2022 Time taken: 48 minutes / 46 minutes / 45 minutes Number of players: 2 Difficulty: Easy / Hard / Medium
As someone who lives in London, I don’t often get the chance to venture ‘up north’, but there are quite a few companies that are making a name for themselves! Just outside of Manchester (an easy tram ride away) is the small town of Bury, home to “Compendium Escapes”. We decided to tick off all their rooms at once, so here I’m covering the first three, and leaving their award-winning final room for a post of its own!
Compendium: Laboratory | Review
You and your friends have been given the challenge to find and steal a Laboratory’s TOP secret remedy needed to cure a deadly disease. You have been entrusted with all the information you need to gain entry to the lab but no idea how to find the antidote undetected and once inside you find yourselves trapped. Do you have what it takes to save lives and escape the lab with the antidote?
When we entered the lab we found ourselves in a relatively large, clean room with plenty of science-y artifacts lying around. The premise is simple; locate and recover the antidote for the deadly pandemic that is ravaging the planet (I swear this was launched long before Covid-19). We immediately split up and started searching for clues, locating a number of interesting items and numbers dotted about. The decor in the room was great – it played into the theme and there quite multiple times when something which initially appeared to be a prop turned into a key puzzle!
Image (c) Manchester Evening News
This room is often said to be the best room for families, and I can see why – the room is full of bright colours and varied puzzles, with most puzzles within reach of small hands and some exciting little spaces to explore. The only issue is that the one main puzzle in the room (to access the parts of the antidotes) would not be possible for younger children, and indeed was not possible for me at 5ft3! However, the GM handled this really well, and let us off as he could see we had made quite a few attempts, but just physically couldn’t manage it. If this had been later in the day I can imagine this would’ve made us quite frustrated, but as it was we brushed past it and chalked it up to a slightly annoying thing.
The location isn’t very physically accessible, being up some quite steep stairs, but the room itself has a chair to sit in and is well lit. There is some reliance on colour, and that pesky physical puzzle. Hints are given via a screen, so otherwise no reliance necessarily on hearing.
Compendium: Bedlam | Review
Bentham Asylum has been standing since the 1900’s. In 1950 Bentham was given the nickname BEDLAM because of the events that happened in those 50 years, In 1974 Cell p23 was mysteriously locked without an explanation as to why. Bedlam has secrets that need to be uncovered. You and your team are the top journalists in your field, you have been tasked with uncovering the secrets that are held behind Cell P23’s walls. Can you go undercover, get in the cell undetected and escape with all the documents that will uncover the secrets of BEDLAM?
I am really not a horror fan. I am a massive coward, so the idea of doing not just one, but two ‘scary’ rooms was a little daunting. However, we spoke to the Compendium team prior to booking who assured me there would be no live actors or jump scares, so we went ahead and booked. Bedlam definitely fits into the ‘creepy’ and suspenseful area of ‘scary’, with atmospheric background music/sounds that felt extremely immersive. I actually found myself really enjoying this! The combination of dingy lighting, a chair with handcuffs, and random screams in the background helped set the mood and get the adrenaline running before any puzzles have taken place.
The room itself is very small – we played as a duo, and I’m not sure I would’ve wanted to play with anymore! Despite this, I was amazed by how much Compendium have fit into this space, and we were constantly surprised by certain discoveries. There are so many hidden areas carefully blended into the padded walls that we really had a sense of excitement and never knew what was coming next.
The puzzles were a fantastic example of thematic design – they all fit the theme perfectly, and to a certain extent helped carry the narrative too. They were fairly non-linear (I know there were a few puzzles I never saw), with a couple that also required some team cooperation. None of the puzzles frustrated us, and all the logic made total sense. There were also some really interesting mechanisms used for these puzzles, but I don’t want to spoil anything!
Like all their rooms, this is very much not accessible. Obviously, you need to climb up some steep stairs to reach the room itself, but there is a chair within the room. There is the requirement for at least one team member to be happy with crawling and small spaces, although this really isn’t the room for anyone with claustrophobia given the general size. The room was fairly dim, but we found a torch which helped!
Compendium: Wrong Turn | Review
You and your friends are driving along route 66 when you notice your gas running low, a friend suggests to make a turn at the next set of crossroads to see if there is a gas station… you don’t find a gas station but decide to explore the one place you have discovered by taking that WRONG TURN…. Will you escape or will you spend your life regretting that wrong turn?
The third room we did at Compendium was another ‘scary’ room – this time we entered the home of a serial killer. Once again we confirmed there were no live actors or jump scares, but unfortunately, there were plenty of mannequins (which is my specific phobia). The team were great though, and removed what they could, giving my mum a warning of where others were so she could deal with them for me. That aside, this room was fantastically creepy in a different way to Bedlam. Rather than screams, the soundtrack was instead an old fashion song and commercial, and the room and set dressing were just off enough to be unsettling.
Image (c) Manchester Evening News
Rather than entering into the lair directly, we instead found ourselves in an old-fashioned kitchen off Route 66. At first glance, nothing seems amiss, but look a bit closer and you realise that maybe things are not as they appear. The set dressing here was excellent, with a lot of relevant props and accessories to investigate, but not so many that they would count as red herrings (and none dressed as puzzles). The difference between this room and the lair (when you discover it) is very stark, and quite horrific (as you might imagine).
The puzzles themselves were a bit trickier than the other rooms, but still had a great flow and were fairly non-linear. I really appreciated the need to hunt for items and keep track of these throughout the room, as well as the requirement to move between the kitchen and the lair. The space is also a lot bigger than initially anticipated, with a great sense of atmosphere. There were also some unique physical puzzles here, which I quite enjoyed!
In terms of accessibility – again, steep stairs to the location, but chairs inside. There is a requirement to be able to crawl to reach the lair, and there are some smaller, darker spaces to be aware of. You will need to be able to differentiate colours for this room too.
Compendium, The Verdict
I think Compendium is a fantastic company, who clearly pay close attention to all aspects of room design. I have written a separate review about their final room, UI-55, which is currently my number 1 room. Out of these three, I enjoyed ‘Bedlam’ the most, followed by ‘Wrong turn’, but that’s probably my cowardice talking. I would say you shouldn’t be put off my the scary aspect of either room though, as they are worth playing!
The team at ‘Compendium’ are also fantastic – we spent a long time chatting with them and they are top-notch. Given we booked all 4 rooms they’d actually ‘closed’ the place for the day, so we could be a bit relaxed about timings and decide when we wanted to play each room. This gave us time to grab refreshments between rooms, and decide on our lunch break, rather than either rushing out of one room and into the next, or else sitting around in a long gap. This was a little touch that was really appreciated and so unexpected. I also just enjoyed talking to them in general, as they are clearly passionate about what they do (which shines through in the rooms) and so we spent a while comparing and recommending rooms to each other! Compendium is definitely a must-visit for me.
These rooms can be booked on the Compendium Bury website.