About Georgie Cozens

Georgie covers escape rooms in and around London, and throughout Wales.

TED X Marriott: The Curiosity Room | Review

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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!

 

The Curiosity Room can be booked on the London Marriott Hotel County Hall website.

Interview with Jamie from Challenger Escapes

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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!

 

Sound interesting? You can contact Jamie Pollard-Jones via the Challenger Escapes website

Compendium: UI-55 | Review

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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).

 

Baffles

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!).

Accessibility (spoilers!)

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.

The Verdict

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!

UI-55 can be booked by heading to Compendium’s website here.

Compendium Bury: Laboratory, Bedlam, Wrong Turn | Review

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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.

Accessibility (Spoilers!)

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!

Accessiblity (spoilers!)

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!

Accessibility (spoilers!)

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.

Phantom Peak | Review

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WELCOME TO PHANTOM PEAK

Welcome to Phantom Peak, known far and wide as the Venice of the West! In this fully-realised steampunk mining town, nothing is what it seems… What is hiding in the vestiges of the mines? What does the charismatic founder of corporate JONACO really seek in this sleepy town? Was the Blimp Crash really just an accident? Dine, shop, play games, go sightseeing, collect clues… explore the town and uncover its mysteries at your own pace for up to five hours in an immersive open-world adventure the likes of which you’ve never seen before!

Time spent: 5 hours
Date Visited:
August 2022
Party Size:
4
Mysteries solved:
7

First of all, an important note! I am not an immersive theatre fan. I have only been to one other Immersive Theatre show in London, and in general, I tend to steer away from anything immersive – I even hate live actors in escape rooms! Therefore this review is from my perspective, as a lover of escape rooms and mysteries, rather than immersive theatre. Keep an eye on our site though, as we will be sure to update this with the review from our resident immersive theatre lovers once they have had a chance to visit!

If you’ve become immersed in the Escape Room Industry at all you’ve probably heard the name “Nick Moran” crop up a few times. Nick is the genius behind “Sherlock: The game is now”, Hackers’ new rooms, and “Spectre & Vox”. Now he joins the creative team behind “Phantom Peak”, so we knew this was easily going to be one of the most mysterious immersive experiences in London, hopefully with the emphasis placed on the mysteries rather than the immersion!

So what is Phantom Peak? Phantom Peak is a cowboy / steampunk town that has recently opened in East London. On one hand, you can go and enjoy the food, drinks and various games around town. However, for the more curious amongst us, there are (currently) 16 different mysteries occurring in this small town, with many more set to come as the town expands in the future.

 

Entering Phantom Peak

 

 

The first thing to acknowledge is that, from the outside, Phantom Peak doesn’t look like much. Based a short walk from Canada Water station we found ourselves in a rather dusty car park, looking at a wooden fence. However, just before our entry time (11am) a couple of “townspeople” came out (including Nick himself) to give a bit more of an explanation of what to expect inside the town, and get us set up on our phones (which are crucial for this). We then answered a few questions to get our first trail assigned, and we were ready!

Unfortunately, rather than the nice, large double doors you see here, we were let in the smaller side door, which meant there was a bit of a backlog going in. However, once we were in our expectations were definitely met – we were presented with a real life “boardwalk” from the Wild West, leading to a lake, and even a cave. The set design is beautiful and fully realized, with no half-finished sets or rough finishes. There are so many big and small features of the town, it’s so worth just taking some time to look around. The attention to detail is fantastic, and due to the number of mysteries, you never know if or when something will be relevant! It lead to quite a few fun moments when we finally realised what a certain poster was alluding to, or immediately knew where to go next because we’d noticed something previously. The costumes that the cast were wearing were so beautiful without being over the top, and I also loved that a lot of the guests had also committed to the Wild West steampunk vibe – I’ll definitely need to make more effort next time!

 

Starting off on the right foot

 

 

As mentioned, a lot of Phantom Peak relies on following a mystery on your phone. You answer a few questions, get given the name of your trail, your initial story point, and a place to start and you’re off! These trails make use of the whole of the town, moving back and forth and venturing into a variety of locals. Luckily the people of the town tend to stick to their zones (whether that’s propping up the bar, running their store, or canvassing for votes), so once you know who’s who it’s easy to find them.

To unravel the mystery you will need to talk to a range of characters, utilise the various machines around town, and even do a bit of subtle sleuthing. I also want to give a shout out the gender neutrality of the names – the logical side of me knows this is so that actors can be switched in and out for the same character (which also shows how talented these actors are), but the liberal side of me is excited that at no point do you know whether the character you’re searching for is a man or woman, and even the titles are all gender neutral (‘post-person’, ‘supervisor’).

At one point I was scolded by the Saloon owner for saying I loved a ‘lady boss’, and she quite rightly told me it was just ‘boss’, no need to qualify it or bring gender into it! It was points like this that shows how brilliant the actors were – I really enjoyed talking to them, having fun with them, and have proper conversations with them that made it clear they weren’t just following a script. This aspect made them really feel like fully rounded characters.

It would’ve been nice if things you discovered in one trail (or ways you interacted) carried throughout the day, as at points we finish one trail and discover some sort of big twist, but 5 minutes later we’d talk to the same character and it would be as if it never happened. However, with such a large crowd I understand why this may have been a little challenging.

However we did find the phone aspect a little too hand-holdy in parts, particularly where the casts and clues were giving us some clear directions to follow, only to realise we had a few more questions to answer in the phone before we got to that point. However, it was also a nice safety net so we weren’t totally in the dark at any point, and the townsfolk were all very knowledgeable and ready to lend a clue if needed.

 

The Puzzle Posse

At this point, I need to talk about the mysteries themselves, because oh my word they were so much fun! If you are thinking the mysteries will just be about missing hats and rogue bandits you’re so wrong (mostly), and even the ones that started quite meekly had an interesting twist. There’s also one facet of every story that will appear quite quickly, and I absolutely loved this part of the town lore. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but let’s just say the town has a clear mascot, which I adored and found so creative. The way it features in each story and throughout the town was so much fun and so creative.

The mysteries themselves weren’t that hard – for the most part, they involved talking to a townsperson, using one of the machines to find some information, or finding a hidden clue on a poster or in a certain location (which we were mostly guided towards). I would say don’t come into this expecting complex puzzles and the need to be Sherlock Holmes, but that’s ok! It wasn’t until we were discussing our experience for this review that we realised we didn’t really ‘solve’ all that much, but somehow we hadn’t noticed at the time because we were having so much fun. The story building was also thorough and immersive – we always knew why we were going somewhere, and what we were meant to be doing next.

In the end, we managed 7 trails, out of a possible 16 (so far). I’m not sure how you’d get over 8 (due to the nature of the questions), but apparently, I’m metagaming here, as I know some people managed 11 during the 5-hour slot! This included taking plenty of breaks for delicious food, necessary water, and of course a romantic (?) boat ride. You receive a souvenir at the end of each trail, but other than being a keepsake these didn’t appear to have been used for anything. I’d love to see these used for something in the future, or even have some form of souvenir ‘guidebook’ you could purchase to store them in (and therefore see all the uncompleted trails you have yet to do!). I’d also love some sort of specific souvenir to display on your person (such as a badge) so that as you wander around you can see what other people have done, and it might also give the characters more material to play with.

In terms of the machines, they were all fun and easy to use, but by the 3rd or 4th time using them the shine wore off a little. I think this could easily be solved by just not saying which machine needed to be used – we became familiar with what number of letters/numbers led to each machine fairly quickly, and then that would have added a small amount of puzzle solving to the puzzle instead. Either that or potentially making them a little more complex to use. In fact, it might have been nice to have some more complex trails to do – we did one that could potentially be called ‘adult’, but I think it would’ve been easy enough to tone down the content for a family.

Mystery trails aside, there was clearly a larger mystery at work in the town. We worked out enough (from the wider lore and stories) that something was a miss, but never worked out the overall mystery or how to solve it. I absolutely love this. There’s clearly a lot of wider lore that is dropped into each mystery if you pay attention, and many conversations to have. I’m not sure if there’s much ‘hidden’ around the town that wasn’t part of one of the 16 trails, but then again I wasn’t looking for anything in particular.

 

Rooting and Tooting

 

Of course, there is plenty more to do here when you want a break from a puzzle (especially as the time slots are 5 hours). There are 3 food stores (4 including Gelato) as well as a couple of bars. We tried the burgers, chips, and tacos and they were all absolutely delicious. I also have a ‘beer float’ from the Gelato stand, which was perfect on such a hot day.

 

 

As well as food and drink, there’s also a variety of fun carnival games, which are harder than they look, and you’ll need to beat 3 of them to become a real citizen of the town. Unfortunately, I only managed to earn one rosette, so I have no clue what happens when you have all three!

There are also a couple of events that only happen at a certain time, likely to give everyone a chance to explore the town a bit more first. I only took advantage of one of these, but will be sure to do the other next time! You can also browse the variety of shops for your variety of needs (and walk away with some nice souvenirs). The town itself was also completely accessible – everywhere was flat, which ramps up and down where necessary. We didn’t use any stairs and believe all the doorways were wide enough for a wheelchair. We were there for 5 hours, which was actually the perfect amount of time. I was personally getting a bit frustrated by my non-enthusiast friends who were taking lots of breaks, and definitely flagging by the end, but I admit I probably wouldn’t have wanted to stay much longer.

 

This town ain’t big enough…

I absolutely loved our time, and I will absolutely be returning, but there were definitely a few niggles here and there which will hopefully be ironed out as the experience expands. For a start, we heavily relied on my phone, which meant the battery ran down quickly. Luckily I had packed a portable charger, but even then I was down to 30% when we left. For such a phone-heavy experience, I was surprised by the lack of charging stations in the town – I can imagine some rentable power packs would be a big hit here!

The walkways are also quite narrow, so we often found ourselves walking slow behind a queue of people, or waiting a while to get into a shop. This died down at certain points throughout the day (down to events, food breaks, or just people leaving), but it was definitely a bit harder at the start. Staggered start times would solve this, but then of course it would be hard to monitor when people’s 5 hours were up. In a similar vein, there were times we were essentially following another couple doing the same trail, either waiting for them to finish their conversation with a character so we could have the same one, or just listening in. Sometimes this was fine, due to the occasional puzzle that needed some time to solve, but otherwise, we got into the groove of using those moments to grab another drink rather than following on their tail. I’m not sure what the plan is for the expansion, but I’d love to see some bigger areas, perhaps with new characters to talk to and new machines to use!

 

What’s the verdict?

 

 

This is hands down my favourite experience I’ve done in London. I’d even go so far as to say I’d rather come back here than go to another London escape room. At less than £40 for a ticket, which covers 5 hours, it’s a real steal on price too!

You can be as immersed as you want to, but the characters don’t necessarily approach you or force you to put on an accent if you don’t want to, which was great for my friends who were less sold on this aspect. The mysteries were just really fun stories, and although the puzzles weren’t that complex I don’t think you’d be disappointed because so much else is going on.

I will be recommending this to anyone and everyone, and cannot wait to return to Phantom Peak.

Tickets for Phantom Peak can be booked on their website

Layered Reality: The Gunpowder Plot | Review

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The Gunpowder Plot Immersive Review | London, 1605. A city divided. The fuse of rebellion is lit. The peace of the nation balances on a knife edge… Step into a world where spies and informants hide in every shadow. Your mission is to go undercover and unmask the mysterious figures behind history’s most infamous plot. But when you’re surrounded by ‘traitors’ who can you trust?

Date Visited: 17th July 2022
Number of Players: 3
Time Taken: ~120 Minutes

Remember, remember the 5th of November… Gunpowder, Treason and Plot! For I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.

The Gunpowder Plot Immersive is London’s newest immersive experience created by the award winning team behind War of the Worlds Immersive, and located in the iconic Tower of London vaults. From the very moment the experience was announced months ago, we were very excited. Layered Reality have built up an excellent reputation of blending immersive theatre, actors, jaw-dropping set design, all to tell brilliant stories.

As such, it’s not really your ‘typical’ escape room experience, but since most of us are big fans of the immersive, anything with Layered Reality’s name stamped on it is well worth checking out. Layered Reality experiences differ from other immersive theatre as your experience is guided by a series of actors around an environment and the story plays out around you as mostly-passive viewers. But unlike regular theatre, you’re thoroughly in the thick of it. Take care to notice all the little details and interact wherever you can. You won’t regret it.

But how did their newest immersive experience, Gunpowder Plot fare? In this joint review between Georgie, Mairi and Karen we’ll pick apart what worked, and what might not have worked so well, and who we recommend this for.

Let’s Dive into the Past…

 

Mairi: If in doubt where Gunpowder Immersive is located, look out for the enormous Tower of London. Yep, that one! This experience is located quite literally underneath, and accessible via a well-signed doorway near the All Hallows by the Tower church. It’s conveniently located right near a train station, many bus stops, and plenty of other iconic tourist attractions, cementing itself squarely on the “must see” list if you’re a tourist visiting London who also wants to sample some of the local history.

Georgie: From the moment we walked in, Gunpowder Plot felt immersive – we made our way down some stairs into the start of the vaults, where we were offered lockers and guided to the dungeon-esque themed bar. Once our group was called we were led to the ‘briefing room’, which is where the experience begins. Our host launched into a partially themed- partially factual briefing about who we were, where we were, and what to expect. She did a fantastic job of separating the initial, ‘admin’ information from the more dramatic introduction. This introduction really set the scene for the experience to come, and even as someone who knows the history fairly well, I learned some new facts about the context of the plot, and some of the reasoning behind it.

 

Remember, Remember…

Georgie: We were then guided through the experience by ‘the wick of rebellion’, which is in fact a firey-themed light that surrounds the doors to move through. Helpful to know where to go and this fitted really well with the theme in the dimly lit corridors!

From the first room, it is obvious what is meant by ‘immersive theatre’ – we found ourselves in the cells of the tower, meeting a prisoner and hearing his tale. He told his story through words, action, and the environment. Although you are not expected to be particularly active (which suited me well) and were largely there to observe.

This first room did an excellent job of laying out the story, why we were there and giving us a taste of how the rest of the experience would pan out. It was also a great introduction to the live actors, who were superb throughout. I will also say that despite all the many warnings we read in the waiver, there were no jump scares or unnecessary scare tactics, which I greatly appreciated!

Mairi: And what a story it is too! As we explored each environment in a larger group of around 12-20 people, the story of the Gunpowder Plot diverged a little from what I had expected, with brilliant consequences. We won’t go too much into the actual tale since there’s an element of choose-your-own adventure and some delightful moments of surprise, but we really enjoyed the story aspect of the experience. Characters flitted in and out of the experience and much later we’d be reunited by characters we thought we’d abandoned earlier.

 

…The 5th of November

Georgie: Throughout the experience the low lighting, small spaces and eerie soundtrack keep the sense of atmosphere and immersion. The actors did a great job of flawlessly handing over the narrative to subsequent characters, keeping the story moving and never leaving us alone for too long. The story was really engaging and fascinating as it developed, and they did a fantastic job of showing both sides of the story (and their rationale). The location itself is huge, with seemingly endless corridors and vaults to move through, with authentic sets and surprises round every corner.

Mairi: If the experience sounds large, I’d add that it is well paced! With a bar at the start, the end, and one right in the middle, the whole experience is broken up into ‘bitesized’ chunks. In particular, I loved the middle ‘rest’ area, a much needed break. Players were sorted into various tables made up of your own friends and family, and total strangers. We quickly realised there was no such thing as a stranger in this experience however, as we all jumped right into conversation, speculating about what would happen next and what had already been. With a plot this thick with backstabbing an intrigue, there’s a lot to mull over a pint (or two, if you have the time).

The Past meets The Future

Georgie: One of the features that sets this experience aside from others is the use of Virtual Reality (VR) technology. At 3 separate points we were asked to put on a VR headset to experience a facet of the story which would be hard to create otherwise, removing the headset to find the room somehow transformed or a new actor appeared. I have previously felt motion sick when using VR, but fortunately didn’t feel anything like that here, so I was able to full enjoy the experience.

The first two Virtual Reality segments are accompanied by a moving element, and again there were no fake scares, just excitement. The final experience allowed us to free roam a little more, although this wasn’t made clear so anyone not familiar with VR may not have known to do this. The VTs also featured an amazing performance by Tom Felton, who has proved what an incredible actor he was. In reality, and in the virtual space!

Mairi: Agree! Virtual Reality is something Layered Reality does really well! Unlike War of the Worlds Immersive however, I found there to be slightly more VR. Where Layered Reality’s first experience often creates more physical sets, like slides, or moments where you have to jump, due to the physical limitations of it’s location, Gunpowder Plot leans more into the VR. No bad thing – just a consideration! If any player struggles with VR, they can bypass these sections quite easily.

Finishing the Tale

Georgie: Just to jump back to the story, we’re going to attempt to talk about the ending without giving away too many spoilers, although given this story is over 400 years old I think you probably know what happens. The final room features the peak of the drama, followed by the final dramatic VR. From here we were guided to the exit, with a really excellent video explaining the factual and fictional aspects of the experience. I really enjoyed this little wrap up, and nod to the story.

Again, they did a great job of highlighting the contrasting moralities and beliefs at play, whilst mainting the elements of mystery we still don’t know about. There is a classic photo opportunity too, although this will cost you a little extra.

Mairi: One thing players may not be expecting however is that you are given a choice at one point in the game. I’m unsure how much this choice actually affects the ending – probably not at all since, well, we all know what happens. But convincing the rest of your team to make the ‘right’ choice will certainly ease your conscience, so you can emerge back into real life afterwards knowing that you did all you could.

“Poor old England to Overthrow”

Georgie: I had a great time, but there were a few small parts I didn’t like as much, which it’s worth being aware of ahead of time.

Firstly, there was little in the way of interaction – most of the time a character might ask you a simple yes or no question, or tell you something which you also immediately tell another character. It felt more like watching an (admittedly amazing) play than taking part ourselves. Where there was a decision, it definitely wasn’t unanimous and I think the cast could have done a better job of ensuring this was (something like raising hands, giving our group of strangers more than a minute to decide, or even just realising the signs for it not being unanimous). Even then, as Mairi mentions, I’m not convinced the decision had any bearing on the experience other than maybe a line or two spoken by an actor.

Mairi: Also, since this is The Escape Roomer, we have to mention the puzzles. There was also only one ‘puzzle’ in the whole experience so don’t go into this thinking it’ll be puzzly! Although, to be fair, that is one more puzzle than you’ll get in The War of the Worlds. For me, The War of the Worlds still takes the cake as my absolute favourite immersive experience in London, but Layered Reality have taken the same formula and done something slightly different to a different effect here.

Georgie: In terms of the VR, there could’ve been a bit more of a briefing about how to use it. For example, in the last area, you could move around – but none of us knew this fact and stayed rooted to the spot, potentially missing a part of the action.

Finally, Tom Felton’s performance was amazing, but all virtual. This wasn’t exactly surprising, knowing he’s currently appearing in a different play in the West End, but as he played such a key character it obviously presented a conundrum. Rather than subbing in a different actor and asking us to suspend our belief, we are instead presented with someone covering their face and using a speaker to broadcast Felton’s voice. Unfortunately, the effect was more of a robotic-cowboy-scarecrow rather than a heroic-villainous character, and it could have been handled better. It also got in the way of the final scene a little, which already felt fairly chaotic without this.

 

 

A Note on Accessibility

Mairi: If anyone has any hesitation on accessibility, Layered Reality have produced a full access guide here. Whilst the base experience doesn’t feel like it would be accessible to folks in a wheelchair for example, it’s worth noting they do offer special performances which are geared towards accessibility, such as the wheelchair performance. For any other requirements, they encourage players to reach out to them directly.

Mairi: There are a lot of stairs and small spaces to fit into, so a reasonable level of physicality is necessary. Most of the experience is dimly lit, with an atmospheric sound track. Most of the actors project well, although I admit I, as someone with hearing impairments, missed a few things I wouldn’t say this was necessarily essential. Given it was an extremely hot day, the rooms were nice and cool.

 

The Verdict

Mairi: Gunpowder Plot Immersive is a really unique experience. For me, it’s impossible not to compare it to The War of the Worlds which, I’ve said before and I’ll say again, is my favourite immersive experience in London. By contrast, Gunpowder Plot has a more mass-market appeal. From tourists wondering what Guy Fawkes night is all about, to locals who want to be immersed in history in an iconic building. It’s target audience is clear. Whilst that target audience might not necessarily be the overlap between escape room enthusiasts, I personally had a great time!

Georgie: Once I realized there would be no jump scares or unnecessary scares I was able to relax and enjoy myself. I had a really fun time – it was very immersive, did a fantastic job of bringing the characters and story to life, and was a very pleasant way to spend some time in a historic location. I’m not sure I would’ve felt the same had I paid the full price (around £70 per ticket), but then again I’m not sure what the average immersive theatre ticket goes for in London, and I imagine I enjoyed this more than I would enjoy them!

 

The Gunpowder Plot Immersive may be booked by heading to this website here.

From now until 30th September 2022, use code ESCAPE10 for £10 off your tickets!

DecodeXP: Teambuilding | Review

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DecodeXP Review | Problem-Solving, reimagined. Problem-solving capacity is an integral part of success in almost every business endeavour. And yet, it is one we rarely test, understand or develop. At DecodeXP we want to change that. Through the development of immersive problem-solving experiences, the use of video-feedback and innovative methodology we can tangibly develop this capacity within teams.  Founded on the military methodology of train hard, fight easy our programmes place participants into complex scenarios where they must work together as a team, solving problems requiring a wide-range of skill-sets. 

Date Played: 29th June 2022
Number of Players: 8
Time Taken: ~70 Minutes
Difficulty: Medium

A few months ago I joined a new company (unfortunately, playing escape rooms cost money), and if I needed any more proof that I had found a great place, they booked DecodeXP for a team-building day! DecodeXP isn’t an escape room per se, but rather a team dynamic assessment and training day, featuring a 90-minute escape room at the start! I was naturally extremely excited about this, and as I had never heard of this company before (being very much in the corporate space), I think it’s worth giving them a little blog post here. I recommend you check out this video of the room they built for Dyson, which is seriously cool!

 

A souvenir of the day!

About the Day

Prior to our team building day, we were asked to complete a quick questionnaire, essentially asking us to say which words we most identified with (are you more a leader or team player? Do you prefer clear steps or an overall goal?). If you’ve ever worked in the corporate world I’m sure you will have done many versions of these previously, but essentially your answers denote your ‘colour’ – you can read more about this here if you’re interested. The escape room portion of the day is ostensibly there to see how everyone acts and interacts where problem-solving and project management is concerned, followed by a debrief after lunch to talk about what you did, what worked, what didn’t work etc. and how to apply that to ‘real life’, before revealing your colour profiles (and discussing).

These are obviously all very interesting factors, which I’ll go into a little more detail afterwards, but we’re obviously just here for the escape room…

Always important to wear the correct PPE

The Escape Room Portion

The escape room portion is really well-positioned in the day –  nice and early to get you engaged and excited for the day, just before lunch so you’ve got a chance to debrief, and really the focal point of everything. It’s also right after the explanation of the colours, so for the first 20 minutes or so everyone is second-guessing their behaviours.

First things first – turns out I am too experienced at escape rooms and would bias some of the actions (totally fair enough), so I was essentially benched.

Yup. I was sat in an escape room but told I couldn’t take part. Nightmare…or was it?

For me, it actually made it even more unique, and actually removed some of those pressures of would we escape, would we beat the other teams’ times, and of course the expectations my team had of me (they had in fact stood there looking at me expectantly, not doing anything until we revealed I had been asked not to take part).

Of course, being an escape room enthusiast I just couldn’t help myself. After what felt like an eternity (although filled with some really interesting escape room-related discussion with Jamie, the founder of DecodeXP) I just happened to take a wander through the room, dropping some (apparently not so) subtle nudges to my colleagues. As the time ticked by I got a little more brazen with my hints, although I did my best not to touch anything!

The way the room is set up is really interesting and really emphasises the team dynamic aspect. As DecodeXP is bespoke and corporate, the room is essentially made up of props/puzzles than can be transported anywhere (although this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re small), so it’s clear the lack of set design has meant more focus could be placed on the puzzles. They were also neatly split out around the room, so for a large team this meant a lot of time with your back to everyone else, huddled over your little puzzle. You can probably guess the issue this lead to…

There was a great mix of puzzles here – from the more basic (find letters, anagram them), to the more complex (identify and combine 2 or 3 different props/pieces of information to find the correct combination), and the usual hidden elements throughout the room too. DecodeXP have done a great job of balancing the difficulty of these puzzles, so they can be solved by varying levels of expertise and capabilities, and addressed many different skill sets. All of the puzzles appeared very simple and logical to me (as an expert) – there were no great leaps in logic required, so I can imagine they were very satisfying to solve.

The room was also non-linear for the most part, which is always a bonus. The overall goal was to track down 14 keycards, and I believe there were 14 puzzles (although a few could only be solved after solving previous puzzles). In fact, there were only 2 areas I think I would mark this down (if this were an actual escape room) – there was no real end goal or final task – once the 14 key cards had been found, that was that. It may have been nice to have had a final, deduction-style puzzle to identify a single name and use that to unlock something or give some other indication of finality. The second thing I would’ve had a minor quibble over was an unsolvable puzzle, requiring the facilitator to step in and explain it, before unlocking the solution. In a real room, this would’ve been a frustrating time sink. In this room…it was pretty funny to watch multiple colleagues fall into the same trap.

Over lunch I had many colleagues lament the fact I couldn’t take part, pity me, and then ask me what I would rate it. I actually had a great time regardless (which I think says something about the room and Jamie), and would rate this pretty highly as a room in its own right. It was an excellent experience – varied puzzles, non-linear, logical solutions…everything I look for!

 

The Debrief

We actually had three separate debriefs – a ‘hot debrief’ immediately after completing the room (5 minutes of initial thoughts and feelings), an ‘unofficial debrief’ over lunch, and then the ‘real debrief’ with Jamie, talking about the things he’d observed and then discussing how to apply these facets in the real world. I’m sure we’ll have another debrief in work, with the other teams who took part too!

As an observer, I found this really interesting and picked up on things I may not have picked on otherwise (or maybe that’s just because I am already aware of the language and methodology of escape rooms). After this we moved into discussing the colours, what colours we were and how to work together, but I think it would’ve been fascinating to discuss the escape room in that context too, to see whether these ‘colours’ shone in the room, and whether Jamie would’ve pinned us as those colours.

 

The Verdict

I loved this. I found the day really engaging, entertaining and fascinating, and I would love to do any room designed by Jamie. Unfortunately, you won’t find it easy to do one – they are mainly corporate and bespoke, but I encourage you to recommend DecodeXP to your own company! In the meantime, I am going to try and persuade my manager to take us to an escape room where I can really show off my skills…

 

If you’d like to book DecodeXP for your next teambuilding, they can be contacted via their website

The 10 Best Non-Escape Room Things to do in London

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Now I know what you’re thinking.

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.

First up…

 

Monopoly Lifesized

 

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.

Location: Tottenham Court Road

Price: From £49 per person

Website: https://www.monopolylifesized.com

The Grid

 

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.

Location: Southwark

Price: From £32 per person, which includes 2 cocktails and a welcome drink of your choice each!

Website: https://www.thegrid.london/home

Hidden City Outdoor Puzzle Trails

 

Photo (C) Hidden City

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.

Location: Various

Price: £25 per player

Website: https://www.inthehiddencity.com/

Draughts Board Game Café

 

 

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.

Location: Waterloo or Hackney

Price: Cover price is £6 per player

Website: https://www.draughtslondon.com/

Electric Gamebox

 

Photo (c) Electric Gamebox

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)

Website: https://electricgamebox.com/

Otherworld VR

 

Photo (c) OtherWorld

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.

Location: Hackney or Victoria

Price: From £11 (Off-peak)

Website: https://www.other.world/vr-games

SENSAS, A Multi-Sensory Experience

 

Team The Escape Roomer at SENSAS

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!

Location: Vauxhall

Price: £34 per adult

Website: https://london.sensas.top/

Try One of London’s Many Theatre Shows

 

 

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.

Location: Chelsea

Price: Cocktails are around £12

Website: https://www.evansandpeel.com/

Other Immersive Experiences in London this Summer

 

Photo (c) Phantom Peak

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.

Extremescape: Viking | Review

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Extremescape: Viking Review | You have entered the Kingdom of the Viking Gods & you are sat in the House of Thor. In an attempt to prevent Thor’s succession to the throne of Asgard, Lowki, Thor’s menacing brother, has stolen & trapped Thor’s weapon in the golden rings of Aesir. The ice giants have got word of this, and they know Thor is helpless to protect the human race without his enchanted war-hammer. The giants are on their way, their mission to defeat Thor and destroy earth. You must find the Gods and return them to Asgard as they will help you in your quest. You must find the thunder hammer and put it in the sacred place to create a storm like no-one has seen before. You must release Thor’s Hammer from the golden rings and return it to Thrudheim where it belongs

 

Date Played: 24th March 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: ~50 Minutes
Difficulty: Medium

 

After a hearty lunch in the sunny countryside air, we returned feeling invigorated for our final game of the day. The Viking room is the most recent addition for Extremescape, and you can definitely tell in the step up from the previous two. It’s also so impressive, given just how much they’ve used the space!

 

Welcome to Valhalla

Walking into the room definitely feels like walking into a medieval feast hall, with a large wooden table and benches lined with furs. The whole room is within this single room, and it’s amazing just how much they manage to fit in. There are many hidden elements in this room, and I was surprised by almost all of them. It’s honestly amazing how seamlessly they’ve integrated quite large surprises into such a small space, and it’s clear they’ve paid just as much attention to set design and how it drives the story as the puzzles themselves. I also loved how Norse this room was – there was no Marvel cheese here, just good old-fashioned Vikings.

 

Watch out Loki

The puzzles in this room were just as subtle and intriguing as in the other rooms. Although we tackled them fairly linearly, there were enough clues to be finding that we didn’t feel chained together or hindered. The puzzles themselves were all fun to figure out, and definitely felt like Norse puzzles – most were centered around riddle-style/deduction puzzles, which are my personal favourite. We also had no idea what was coming next on more than one occasion, but this added to the excitement! It’s not often that you’re unsure what a puzzle will open, but this room handled it beautifully.

The finale stage itself was also spectacular and so unexpected. Extremescape have done an amazing job of incorporating effects into the room in a way that feels very natural and adds just the right amount of drama. They also introduce this ‘early’ enough that it really feels like a climax, but you have enough time (and gameplay) left to really enjoy it and make the most of it.

 

 

By Odin’s eye

The only negative I would say about this room is that it may not be the most accessible. There is a small step and low door into the room, and as the game play takes place within the room there isn’t a lot of space to manoeuver for a wheelchair user. There are plenty of spaces to sit, but there are puzzles and clues beneath knee level so at least one person will need to crawl. There is a minor physical element, so having at least one able-bodied teammate would be a good idea, as well as one point where someone will need to be within a slightly confined space.

For me, I found there were some sensory issues – there were points where the music was a bit too loud for my comfort, the light a little too dim, and room a little too warm. However, these are all minor issues that could be easily remedied (and in fact, they turned the volume down when I asked). If you have sensory issues I advise getting in touch ahead of time too.

In terms of puzzles, there were a few reliant on colour recognition, as well as being able to read something in slightly dim light.

 

Man the longboats

Overall we had a fantastic time, and the experience continued after we left the room. We spent quite a while talking to the owners and had plenty of cuddles with the resident dog (who is a rather large, but beautiful, Rottweiler-style boy).  It’s obvious the passion that has gone into these rooms, and it’s well worth the visit.

Viking can be booked by heading to the Extremescape website here

Extremescape: Pirate Ship | Review

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Extremescape Pirate Ship Review | A long time ago on the Carribean seas sailed the Spanish Galleon, Castoria. Captained by Zak Barrow and crewed by a gang of murderers & merciless cutthroats. Plundering ships of all kinds along India’s Malabar coast, Barrow was a Pirate, one of the most infamous Pirates of all time. Barrow’s ship Castoria battled with the India Merchant, a huge treasure ship of 350 tons. In rough seas, the merchant vessel fired but due to a sudden ocean swell, the shot missed its mark. The pirates threw their grappling hooks, bringing the two ships together. And rapidly boarded the ship, soon Captain Barrow was in the possession of one of the greatest pirate treasures ever. The ship disappeared in 1722 and was not seen again until now!

Completion Time: 73 minutes (out of 90)
Date Played: 24 March 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

As someone who works full time and lives ‘down South’ it can be hard to find the time to travel just for escape rooms, particularly when the journey alone takes over 4 hours! However I found myself with a few days to space are itching to play some rooms farther afield, so we decided to book a couple of days in Manchester! First up we stopped we spent the day in Disley, surrounded by gorgeous views, friendly locals (sheep) and some cracking rooms!

Time to set sail

The first room we tackled was the oldest at the location – opened 7 years ago and barely changed since! Before you even step foot in the room you know you’re in for a good time, with an epic narration to get you pumped and the ship door swinging open to welcome you. Our first impression of the room was similarly excited – it’s beautifully crafted with plenty of hidden elements (some hid expertly in plain sight), and definitely more than one surprising moment.

 

Argh, ye scallywags!

We were told that this room was ‘non-linear’, which is technically true as there were a few different puzzles to solve at a time, but I admit in practice it didn’t feel this way. It may have been the early morning or lack of practice, but we worked on most puzzles together, and only felt like we were progressing as we solved the puzzles.

There were quite a few pieces of information scattered about the room, which appeared similar but required different methods of solving. I appreciated the variety of puzzles, but we ended up relying on hints more than I usually like to, as perhaps some of the leaps were a little too far for me! In particular, one puzzle felt very tenuous, and I’m still not convinced of the answer!

Finally, the signposting wasn’t necessarily ideal – usually, I would expect the respective lock to be near the puzzle, or else be marked in some way. However, there were quite a few locks here which meant quite a bit of trial and error each time!

That being said, there were puzzles we got instantly, or just about managed to figure out, which were satisfying and a little different from others we’ve experienced before. I think the theming and thrill more than makes up for any slight frustrations, and I would strongly encourage you to give this room a chance!

 

Peg legs & eyepatches…not quite welcome

Unfortunately, there are stairs into the venue and up to the room, as well as within the room itself – so not great for those with mobility issues! Hints are delivered both via screen and via a voice-over, so should be suitable for those with either hearing or sight issues. There are some puzzles requiring colour perception, but the light level in the room is generally good and it is fairly spacious.

 

Here be the Jolly Roger

The staff at this room are great and very encouraging. We had a lovely time chatting with them, and even met a special guest (check out my later post to hear about him!). Although the website seems fairly basic, this room is anything but and the location is enchanting.

 

The Verdict

This room was a fantastic room – although I was a little frustrated throughout the experience, the set is so well done and I was still having fun. I highly recommend taking on this room (although I would also book the others at the same time!)

Pirate Ship can be booked at Extremescape here