About Karen Myers

Karen is based in London, UK and covers news and tabletop games.

EscWelt: Orbital Box Constructor & Space Box | Review

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“3D Puzzle Orbital Box is a new form of intellectual logic game designed to play the story and scenarios of the EscapeWelt quest. After assembling the constructor, get to the secret compartment with your loved ones without leaving home! Double the fun! A thrilling experience, tricky traps, and intricate puzzles of the quest room await you. 3D Puzzle Orbital Box is designed by experienced engineers who have developed unique puzzles and multi-level challenges.”

EscWelt

 

Completion Time: 1 hour each (to solve), 2 hours (to construct)
Date Played: December 2022
Party Size: 1
Difficulty: Hard

Love ERs?  Love flat pack furniture DIY? Want to meld the two into an afternoon’s entertainment and/or frustration (depending on your level of dexterity and patience)? Then the Orbital Constructor set is ideal for you.

I’ve waxed lyrical about my love for wooden puzzle boxes before when I reviewed EscWelt’s House of the Dragon.  And I still get real childlike pleasure from finding them in IRL escape rooms, especially in any of the brilliant games at Escape Plan where carefully themed and hand-crafted puzzle boxes frequently replace the erstwhile padlock. So I was first with my hand up when EscWelt asked us to take a look at two of their other puzzle games – Orbital Constructor and Space Box.

 

Where to Start?

Orbital and Space Box sit alongside EscWelt’s range of hand built, complex 3D puzzles and you can buy them already set up and ready to go.  But if you fancy a double challenge you can also buy their ‘constructor’ kits and do the building yourself.  Which is what I sat down to do one grey day in that confusing nowhere time between Christmas and New Year.  From the very start it’s easy to see why EscWelt is proud of its reputation for quality hand-built puzzles because right from the get-go it was obvious that putting the Orbital together was going to be some mean feat.

 

 

With the box open, the sheer number of pieces of laser cut puzzle parts was suddenly quite daunting, as was the rather hefty instruction/build manual that accompanied them.  The puzzle pieces come in 6 sheets and my childish, ‘I don’t need to read the instructions’ instinct meant I wanted to start popping out all the parts straight away.  I can only say this is very much not a good idea.  Resist the popping urge.  The pieces are numbered but sometimes the numbers are on the surrounding sheet rather than the piece itself so had I given into my initial instinct I would have had one big pile of pieces and no clue which was which.  Thankfully I did actually read the instructions (my late DIY loving dad would be so proud of me!) and realised that I needed to do this build in an organised and coherent fashion.

 

DIY Puzzling

The actual build process is fairly simple if you follow the instruction manual carefully.  For those with middle aged eyesight like me the writing and the pictures are pretty small and you do have to be able to see the detail as some pieces are very similar and can fit in ‘wrong’ places.  But if you pay attention, double check you’ve got the right piece facing the right way, then it’s a step by step process clearly laid out.  There’s no glue, sticking, cutting or similar involved as all the pieces slide or click into place.  The only extra you might want to have on hand is a candle as some of the parts that you’ll need to slide or rotate when playing the actual game will be easier to move if they’ve been waxed.  (This is one part of the instructions I missed and it did make it difficult to move a few integral parts later on).

 

 

Once you’ve done all the construction you’re left with a substantial little box that has a hinged opening lid and space inside to fit a gift or surprise if you intend to hand this on to someone else to solve.  You insert a couple of ‘keys’ and the box is locked until either you or your giftee has solved the 3D challenges that it poses.

 

 

You might think that having built the box from scratch, the ER puzzle-solving part of the Orbital box would be spoiled or far too easy.  But it’s really not.  Yes, you might already know that you need to slide a few pieces around, rotate a disc or two but that’s all the help the construction process gives you.  Once the box is locked, getting back into it is still a challenge.  The puzzle part is similar to EscWelt’s other 3D challenges, and other similar products on the market – figure out where to start to generate a code that you can enter into a certain part of the box to release the lid and plunder the goodies in side.  The only thing missing for me with the Orbital was the narrative element.  When I played ‘House of the Dragon’ there was a leaflet explaining a brief narrative reason for the game but my instructions for the Orbital didn’t include anything similar.  When I had to go to the EscWelt’s website for a hint in solving the box (see, I told you it wasn’t easy even after you’ve built it yourself!) I realised there was supposed to be a space theme but, for me, that isn’t clear in the box itself.  That’s a minor niggle though.  The box can be played simply as a collection of mechanical puzzles to solve and is just as enjoyable.

I also played EscWelt’s Space Box (already constructed) at the same time.  The mechanics are very similar to Orbital (and House of the Dragon) and will feel familiar if you’ve played any 3D challenges before.  Both offer enough of a challenge to get you thinking (finding the point to start can take a while) but aren’t so thorny that you get frustrated and give up.  And the EscWelt’s website offers video hints to help you on your way if you do get stuck.

 

Final Thoughts 

As I said at the start, I love a puzzle box and these from EscWelt are satisfyingly challenging to solve.  If I’m honest, I think I’d skip the ‘construction’ part in future, I’d rather get straight to the puzzles, but if you’re of a model making mind then this is a good way to get two fun hobbies out of one item.

Natural History Museum: Mystery at the Museum – The Search for Dippy | Review

Mystery at the Museum: The Search for Dippy Review | The year is 1905 and you have been invited to a special preview of the newest display at the Natural History Museum – ‘Dippy the Diplodocus’.  But when you arrive the curators are in a panic and you realise something is amiss – you’ve found a note that tells you several parts of Dippy the Diplodocus are going to be stolen before the display opens!  Follow the clues around the Museum, question the suspects and track down the culprit before the King arrives for the display’s launch. Can you help the curators prevent a national scandal?

Date played: October 2022
Time taken: 90 mins
Number of players: 3
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

 

Night at the Museum

 

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

 

Which of us wouldn’t leap at the chance to sneak around behind the scenes in a museum after the public have been ushered out and the doors locked behind them? And when that museum is London’s Natural History Museum in South Kensington the appeal is even greater.  London’s museums and galleries have long embraced the idea of late, after dark openings with extra access to exhibitions alongside bars and live music.  But the NHM’s ‘mystery’ evening might be the first time a museum has allowed eager ER enthusiasts and puzzle hunters to roam its corridors in search of suspects and solutions.  Trying to temper my excitement that, at nightfall and behind closed doors, the exhibits might come to life for me as they did for Ben Stiller, I headed down to South Ken to find out if my detectoring skills were up to solving the mystery at the museum.

Impressive Game Space

 

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

 

First up, wow.  Just wow.  When we arrive at dusk the Natural History Museum is looking glorious in the gloaming.  It really is a stunning piece of Victorian architecture which lives up to it’s ‘Cathedral of Nature’ epithet.  Entering under the main arch is thrilling when you realise that you’re really about to have this vast space to yourselves for the evening.  Well, you and probably 75 other people.  And only a few of the galleries.  But still.  You still feel… special.

But if there’s anything that’s guaranteed to make you feel insignificant rather than special it’s the humungous skeleton of a blue whale that greets you as you enter the central Hintze Hall.  Suspended dramatically from the ceiling and lit up in startling red, the whale certainly draws your attention.  There’s not much time, however, to feel the vast inferiority of the human species because as soon as you arrive a game card is pushed into your hand and you are whisked off to meet Inspector Lestrade.  The game, it seems, is already afoot.

 

Prehistoric Puzzling

 

One word of warning – although the publicity for this event promotes it as an ‘escape room-like game’, it is most definitely not an escape room.  Arrive expecting an ER and you will be disappointed.  Attempt to rummage around the museum, opening drawers and searching cabinets as you would in an ER and you’re likely to be expelled!  But while it isn’t an ER that doesn’t stop it being a whole heap of fun.

To get started you need to read the game card you were given on arrival.  It outlines the mystery that faces you.  The unveiling of the new exhibition featuring the skeleton of Dippy the Diplodocus is due to take place tomorrow.  But a suspicious note has been found, suggesting a crime will take place before the grand opening and which could plunge the museum into unwanted scandal.  The game card also gives you the names and brief bios of six suspects who have been ordered to stay in the museum by Lestrade until the case has been closed.

 

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

 

Lestrade also gives you a copy of the note and your next task is to decipher it.  This is really the only actual puzzle involved in the game and it’s not especially hard but does get you moving around the galleries that surround the main museum hall.  And stopping to ask a few of those suspects some penetrating questions along the way will also help your case solving.

Because this is mostly about interacting with those suspects.  It’s really a traditional ‘whodunnit’ and you will get the most out of your evening and the event if you spend time grilling the suspects (whose period costume makes them easy to spot) and honing your theories.  You can question them as often and for as long as you like, or listen in as other players ask their own questions.  Although they may tell you a few lies, they will also give you some nuggets of truth and if you can unpick their elaborate webs of accusations, fabrications, deflections and evasions, you might just be able to work out, in the words of Mr Sherlock Holmes himself, who had the “means, motive and opportunity” to commit the crime.

 

Dippy’s Dino Denouement

 

Once you’ve solved the opening puzzle, interrogated your suspects and worked out a convincing theory you can take your hypothesis and test it on Sherlock.  Holmes solved the mystery in 17 minutes himself so he’s happy to throw you a bone or two if you’re not quite on the mark.  And if, after a couple of guesses, you’re still not 100% correct, Holmes will take pity on you and give you the full story.  Because no-one wants to go home without knowing who really did design to destroy Dippy’s debut.

 

The Verdict?

 

Overall, if you approach this as a mystery solving game along the lines of a traditional murder whodunnit then you will have loads of fun.  The mystery is sufficiently knotty to keep you questioning suspects and untangling theoretical threads for well over an hour and, for the adults, there’s an in venue bar to keep your whistle wet and your mind sharp.  Full kudos to the actors playing the suspects who handle even the most obscure of questions with aplomb, keep in character throughout and manage to retain details of the multiple narrative threads all while dropping gentle hints and prods to get you moving in the right direction.  And the venue itself, the access to certain areas of it after hours and when it’s empty of tourists, is worth the price of admission alone.

A few minor niggles.  Any expectations of difficult tradition ER puzzling will be disappointed and I think, personally, that they should remove the reference to an ‘escape room-like game’ from promotional material and instead focus on the massive positive of it being a strong mystery-solving evening.   Those ER players who don’t enjoy engaging with live performers will want to steer clear as well.  Talking to the actors throughout is the only way to play this game.

There were also some weaknesses in communication that left us unaware we had to take our final conclusions to Holmes to be checked.  It was only when we eavesdropped on other groups that we realised.  And there’s no satisfyingly dramatic conclusion when the culprit is officially unmasked.  Because the event has a staggered start time with groups arriving and getting started throughout the evening, everyone reaches their final answer at different times.  Once we’d reported to Holmes, that was it.  Game no longer afoot.  So the evening sort of petered out.

We had a fun evening though.  Not too strenuous on the little grey cells, but a nice little mystery to solve in a fantastic location.

 

This event runs for a limited number of days in October and November. Book via the Natural History Museum website here.

 

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

Local Bonus

If you want to get into a suitable detective frame of mind before the game, or want to continue afterwards, then I highly recommend a visit to the Evans and Peel detective agency (about a 15 minute walk away).  A secret speakeasy bar with a fantastic, and inventive, cocktail menu, you need to provide a good cover story before you can gain access.  The more imaginative and bonkers the better.  It’s advised to book.

Evans and Peel Detective Agency, 310c Earls Ct Rd, London SW5 9BA

 

36 Inch Penguin: The Society | Review

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The Nayland Rock Hotel, once Margate’s most glamorous destination, visited by the rich and famous. A downstairs bar, The Crescent Suite, hosted regular meetings of a little known Society. When the Hotel closed for renovations in the 1980’s the Society and the bar’s Landlady vanished without a trace.

​The Crescent Suite never reopened.

​For years rumours have persisted of valuable items hidden away in the suite and then, with the death of an American man in 2021, clues came to light of those items whereabouts. The dead man’s children, The Twins, live in the US and can’t come to find them themselves, but…

​…with the help of a friendly security guard they can get you inside.

​Can you help ?

Date Played: 23 April 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: ~40 Minutes
Difficulty: Medium

 

We slid into Margate’s The Society on the back of a four escape room day.  We’d played Quick-E-Mart, Detention, Frankenscape and Spacescape at Ctrl Alt Delete back to back, with the time so tight between the end of Spacescape and the start time for The Society that we’d had to throw ourselves in a cab and make a desperate dash across Margate’s seafront.  We literally fell in through the door at the Nayland Rock Hotel, brains fried, energy depleted, a little dazed and confused.  Luckily the “friendly security guard” who met us took pity on us and let us grab a quick breather and chocolate snack. So we were soonfuelled up and ready to get back on the escape room treadmill.

Atmosphere

The pause also meant we had a bit of headspace to take in our surroundings.  And it’s definitely worth the pause to absorb it.  Because The Society takes place in a unique environ.  This isn’t an escape room carved out of an industrial space, a warehouse or railway arch, an empty office building or high street shop front.  This isn’t an escape room that’s repurposed a space that has no connection to its story.  This is a game that takes place in an actual abandoned, empty hotel.

Built in 1895 it was once a famous seafront holiday destination, where Charlie Chaplin vacationed and where Mick Jagger hosted his parents’ Golden Wedding anniversary party.  But now the hotel is a shadow of its former self.  When cheap overseas holidays lured us Brits away from our seaside towns, once fashionable resorts like Margate fell into a decline and hotels like the Nayland Rock struggled to survive. 

The doors closed in the 1980s and while a room or two is still rented out (I think), on the day we visited, most of it was empty apart from some of the larger rooms being used as prop storage for the shoot of Sam Mendes’ upcoming “Theatre of Light”.  There are apparently plans to renovate the whole hotel and try and return it to its former glory, but for now it’s a ghostly shell and the perfect space for a creepy (but not scary) ER.

Down into the Bar

And when 36 Inch Penguin’s publicity material say that you’ll be exploring a hotel bar that hasn’t been touched for nearly 40 years, they really mean it.  There’s a real visceral thrill in being given a couple of small torches (don’t worry more lighting comes on later) and pointed in the direction of some ropey looking stairs down to a dark and ominous basement bar.  Before you head off to investigate you first need to listen to a recording from ‘The Twins’ who’ve hired you to explore the hotel.  Now I’m not massively keen on ERs that lean heavily on narrative and expect you to wade through a lot of reading material.  I want to be playing puzzles, not reading essays.  But paying attention to the recording at this point is kind of important for everything that follows.  From then on in the narrative is delivered in fairly small doses, often in quite intriguing and unusual fashion, and which are easy to digest and don’t feel like roadblocks in the way of the puzzle flow.

Once you’re inside the bar, the unique location of a real hotel space really comes into its own.  Despite being a real, historical location, the escape room designers haven’t just stuck a load of padlocked boxes in the middle of the room to figure out.  This escape room directly engages with the space it is in.  The narrative is part of the fabric of the room itself and the actual fabric of the room is sometimes a literal part of the puzzle.  It feels really good to be able to get properly hands on with physical puzzles that are built into the historic rooms themselves.  One of them had me asking “the hotel owners really let the designer do that?”.  But they did.  And it’s great fun.

Hand Crafted and Theatrical

In terms of puzzles, there aren’t a vast number and my escape room enthusiast team of two moved through it fairly quickly, but there were several puzzles I had not seen in any other escape room I’ve played.  They were clearly lovingly handmade puzzles, both small and large.  At one point you get to see the mechanical back of the puzzle you’ve just solved and I was wowed by the craft behind it.  There is theatrical ingenuity on display here and when you look at the designers’ history as creators of immersive theatre that’s really no surprise.  The room definitely has ‘atmosphere’ and is probably the most genuinely immersive escape room experience I’ve had.  The theatricality means that there’s the right level of creepiness (at least for me) without being a full on scare or horror room.  All the creeps come from the shadowy spaces and your own (over-active) imagination.

The sound design is also a huge factor in this game, again thanks to the theatrical background of 36 Inch Penguin I suspect.  At one point I genuinely thought we were going to be finding actual live actors in the space because the sound design was so effective. And if you’re an 80s kid like me, you will love the music design too.  It’s hard to resist just enjoying the disco even when you’re supposed to be puzzle solving.

For me, this room had the almost perfect blend of narrative, searching, small hand held puzzle props and larger physical puzzles.  One part of the game involves a physical challenge (but not a difficult one) that only one member of the team can do as the other watches.  As the one doing the watching in my team it was hilarious.  I’ll say no more because it would be a spoiler but I was crying with laughter as my teammate valiantly carried on.

The Verdict

I was worried that playing The Society as the last game of five in a single day would mean that I was too tired or brain fried to enjoy it.  But it is such a great experience that I left totally buzzing.  For enthusiasts the complexity of the puzzles might not be too challenging (although a few did leave us head scratching for a while) but the atmosphere, the cleverness and creativity behind the puzzles and the physical interaction with a genuine space are massive plus points.  I’m a huge immersive theatre addict and could feel the strong immersive credentials of 36 Inch Penguin at play here.  The joy is as much in the atmosphere as the puzzling.  I really hope the designers are already working on their next immersive escape room experience because I will genuinely be the first in the queue.

As the Nayland Rock Hotel is scheduled to be refurbished at some point, there’s always a chance that The Society might have to move out and move on.  I suspect the gameplay will be just as excellent even in a new location, but you can’t replicate the environment that the game is currently in.  It is a character in its own right.  So get down to Margate without delay!

The Society is currently open for bookings between 22 July and 4 September 2022.  You can read more and book here

ESC WELT: House of the Dragon | Review

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House of the Dragon Review | An aging Japanese carpenter felt abandoned by his son who had left home and started a family of his own.  But when a dragon came to the carpenter in his dreams and told him he still had time to bond with the grandchildren he’d never seen, the carpenter designed and built a wooden toy.  The toy was a puzzle box that children alone couldn’t open so children, parents and grandparents worked together to solve the mystery of the ‘House of the Dragon’.

Date played: May 2022
Time taken: 60-90 mins
Number of players: 1
Difficulty: Medium

 

Puzzle Box Joy

First up, I love wooden puzzle boxes. They are beautiful little works of art.  I had a money box as a kid that was a simplified puzzle box with panels that you had to slide around to find a hidden drawer with a key, then do some more sliding to find the keyhole.  I loved it, even when I’d done that sliding so many times it was no longer a puzzle.  I guess that was when the ER bug first bit, even though there was no such thing as ERs at the time.  It also explains the little jolt of joy I get in ERs like those by ‘Escape Plan’ where they use cute little wooden puzzle boxes in place of the ubiquitous padlocks. So much of the pleasure I get from ERs is that they are safe spaces for adults to indulge in childlike play and I guess wooden puzzle boxes are a direct, visceral link between adult me and the little kid I once was.

Which is a very long winded and philosophical path to saying that when EscWelt asked us to review their latest puzzle, House of the Dragon, I jumped at the chance.  I hadn’t played an EscWelt game box before, though had taken on similar puzzles by iAdventure, so was excited to unbox it.

 

Handmade Heaven

‘House of the Dragon’ looks and feels lovingly hand-made, a fact confirmed by a signed slip inside the box from the EscWelt bod who put it together.  In keeping with the Japanese theming and narrative, with the back story laid out on a paper insert, the puzzle box takes the form of a miniature pagoda, crafted from sustainable birchwood.  There’s lovely carved detailing and beautiful etching on every side, with cherry blossom tumbling down one side, and a dragon wrapped around the roof.  Each side and each section has a unique design and feel and a quick scan around the box gives you the sense of multiple puzzle elements.

But Where Do I Start?

But that’s where I came a bit unstuck.  The iAdventure games I’d played previously had a handy ‘start’ etched somewhere on them to give you a clue where to begin. ‘House of the Dragon’ doesn’t.  It’s clearly designed to be trickier and that’s no bad thing but it can also lead to frustration.  Maybe because I’m singularly dense, or maybe because I was playing alone, with no-one to bounce ideas off, I just couldn’t spot an obvious ‘way in’ to the sequence of puzzles.  So I spent a lot of time just turning the box around and around in my hands trying to get an insight into where to start. Which is ok for a while but my patience did erode fairly quickly.

 

Let It Flow

Eventually after a bit of wiggling of box parts, I made the first step and after that things flowed a little more, although you still have to be a bit experimental and willing to try some random poking around, in some cases literally.  After the first element was solved and I’d done a bit of Japanese language translation, I realised I was looking for a specific sequence (of what I won’t say coz spoilers).  And from then on, the puzzle flow around the box was more satisfying and fairly slick.  Constrained by the size of the box, there aren’t a huge number of puzzle elements and I probably took longer figuring out where to start than I did actually solving it all but the sheer physicality of the puzzling is very satisfying.  And, like in any good ER, the revelation at the end is worth all the effort that preceded it.

 

The Verdict?

My minor niggles would be that lack of a clearing start point and the fact that the playability of the box is impacted by some parts being too stiff and some too lose.  In some case parts don’t move easily, meaning you feel like you haven’t solved that element when you actually have.  Some parts also move but have no function other than looking pretty.  On my box the roof element rotated so I spent ages thinking there must be a significance to that.  But there wasn’t.

However, these are minor issues in a puzzle box that is beautiful to behold.  The tactile physicality of the box is the true selling point.  When you can’t get hands on with an ER out in the real world, and online or paper ER type games just aren’t hitting the right spot then a puzzle box like ‘House of the Dragon’ is a treat.  Sliding panels, buttons to push and pull, secret doors and secret codes.  All in the comfort of your own home.

There’s a QR code system to get access to EscWelt’s tips and hints on the puzzle box and once you’re done and found out the secret at the heart of the labyrinth, there’s also a resetting video so you can play again or pass the box on to someone else.  Maybe you could even hide a little treat inside and see how long it takes someone else to get inside ‘The House of the Dragon’.

 

‘House of the Dragon’ and other puzzle box games from EscWelt can be bought at their online store or at other online retailers. 

‘The Boys’ Get the V | Review

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‘The Boys’ Are Back in Town

The Boys Get the V Review | To launch season 3 of the explosive comic book adaptation ‘The Boys’, streaming platform Amazon Prime and UK based immersive theatre big guns Swamp Motel team up for “a f**king diabolical immersive experience”. Warning – this one’s “not for pussies”. An immersive experience that might just literally blow your head off. It’s your chance to help Butcher and The Boys infiltrate Vought’s London HQ to smuggle out some contraband Temp V. Unless you get caught, in which case – you’re f*cked.

 

Date Played: 31st May 2022
Time Taken: 25 minutes
Number of Players: 2

 

 

Ultra-gory, scabrously sexy and liberally littered with expletives, the Amazon Prime adaptation of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s ‘The Boys’ comic books has pushed buttons and boundaries since it started streaming in 2019.  Now back for a third series (with the first episode due to drop on Fri 3 June, then eps following weekly), this is a darkly cynical, gloriously grotesque and twisted take on the superhero genre and for just a few days London is playing host to an immersive version of its particular brand of death and debauchery. 

 

But what’s it all about?

At the heart of ‘The Boys’ is a gang of superpowered All American heroes, known as ‘the supes’ who regularly save the day, to the delight of an adoring public who lap up the media frenzy that surrounds the shiny, super-suited idols. But underneath the Supes sleek surface is a corrupt heart. These heroes are the manufactured products of the Vought Corporation who pump the Supes bodies full of a superhero serum known as V, and pump their already inflated egos to bursting point. The Supes may look like the good guys but in reality they’re a bunch of dark-hearted whack jobs who don’t care how many bodies they trample over in pursuit of sex, power and a dose of V.

Only a few people know the truth and this is where the real heroes, ‘The Boys’ come in.  Led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban on his best beardy, sweary form) these guys have made it their personal mission to bring the Supes and the Vought Corporation to their knees.

 

And Why Do I Care?

Because to launch season 3 Amazon Prime has teamed up with immersive theatre geniuses, Swamp Motel, to create an experience which promises to be explosive. And very possibly bloody. And almost definitely sweary.

As a huge fan of the TV show and as an even bigger fan of Swamp Motel (whose trio of online ‘Isklander’ games were a highlight of 2 years of lockdown and whose immersive show/escape room ‘The Drop’ was a beautifully built thrill ride) I couldn’t wait to see what they’d concocted.

 

What’s the Plan, Stan?

Billy Butcher is in town and needs your help. He’s got intel that our very own Foreign Secretary has teamed up with the Vought Corporation to smuggle in doses of ‘temp V’ – a version of the Supe drug that’ll give anyone superhero powers for 24 hours. Butcher knows that getting hold of the temp V could even up the playing field as he and the boys take on those dangerous Supes. But he needs a local squad to break into Vought’s secret London base. He needs brave souls. And very probably dispensable ones too.

 

Inside Job

So after receiving a an email mission briefing from Butcher himself, me and a few brave/foolish/expendable (delete as applicable) teammates arrived at Vought’s London HQ to find there’d been an incident. A very gory incident. A random body parts and bloody puddles incident. A security guard with his intestines hanging out kind of incident. And when our ‘handler’ also met an explosively sticky end it was up to us to figure out how to infiltrate Vought’s security systems, navigate our way around some mutant Supes and get our hands on some samples of temp V. Severed hands and bloodied eyeballs might have played a part.

 

 

 

This brief immersive foray into the world of the Supes vs The Boys is just that, brief. We were in and out in 25 mins. And this definitely isn’t an escape room or puzzle hunt – apart from a couple of short-lived searches for security codes and/or information, the immersive element mostly involves walking round blood-splattered offices, picking your way over copious corpses and being shouted at and abused by Vought operatives, who, fair play to them, threw themselves into the roles with both gusto and a varied vocabulary of insults.

This is immersive action very much in the vein of the show – gory, darkly funny and rude. Very very very rude. Those of a sensitive disposition should stay well clear but fans of ‘The Boys’ will revel in the show’s standard level of sheer filth brought to technicoloured life. Even for a short-lived pop-up promo Swamp Motel’s high quality production build is as evident as ever, and the sheer scale of the enterprise is impressive with multiple sets spread throughout a roomy office block.  And the cast is committed, fast-witted and brave. Staged fight choreography is hard to pull off at close quarters but Swamp Motel’s team give it a game go at the event’s climax and the … erm … appendages, that some of the cast are asked to lug around takes supe-level chutzpah to carry off.

 

 

Despite being an official Amazon Prime season launch promo and an event that will inevitably appeal mostly to the show’s fan base, there was surprisingly, and disappointingly, little footage from the show itself featured.  A video briefing from Butcher or an abusive warning off from top Supe (and sleaze) Homelander would have been a nice touch.  A little more time to free roam the various sets and admire the details and Easter eggs that fans enjoy would also have been welcome, but with only 4 days of shows and very limited tickets it’s maybe no surprise that you find yourself unceremoniously dumped out on the street fairly quickly, insults still ringing in your ears.

 

The Verdict

Direct comparisons with Swamp Motel’s superb ‘Isklander’ and ‘The Drop’ games are probably unfair as ‘Get the V’ is a very different beast both in intent and execution.  This is very much a guided journey with limited scope for audience autonomy.  But it is also still a filthily funny immersive adventure into the gory, grimy world of ‘The Boys’, where expletives, exploding heads and dick jokes are common currency.  And while we might never get to sample the infamous ‘V’, this is a satisfyingly bawdy appetiser for those of us who are frothing at the mouth at the thought of season 3. 

The Boys is running for a limited time and can be booked by heading to their website here.

Escape Plan: Battle For Britain | Review

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Escape Plan Battle for Britain Review | The day is 18th August 1940 and the Luftwaffe have launched a resurgent attack on Britain, where your air base has been hit by the first wave of heavy bombing. As the only survivors, you must access the strategic ops room and mobilise the full force of the RAF to save Britain. But with a second attack imminent, can you also save yourselves?

Date Played: April 2022
Time Taken: 34 mins 55 secs

Planes shot down: 70 out of 71
Number of Players: 5
Difficulty: Medium

Whenever that age-old question “What’s the best escape room in London” comes up in ER enthusiast forums, there are a few company names you can guarantee will feature in the answers. Escape Plan is one of them. Currently housed in the Rich Mix arts complex in Shoreditch, Escape Plan have been on the London scene since at least 2015. And their reputation as one of the best in London is well deserved based on their consistent theming, the attention to detail and the sheer number of puzzles their rooms contained.  You can tell from the moment you enter their basement space that people at Escape Plan love what they do.

 

I’d played both of Escape Plans other games, The Adventure Begins and Roll Out the Barrel (which has been hanging onto my top game spot for a while now) previously so it was with a lot of excited anticipation that I arrived with my team of fellow ER nerds to take on Battle for Britain.  Only recently reopened in Shoreditch, the game is already the rave of the ER scene, with glowing reviews and promises of an extraordinary and nail-biting finale.  So with expectation piled up on top of my anticipation could it possibly live up to the hype?

 

Top Secret Mission Briefing 

All of Escape Plan’s games are set during or shortly after World War II and the narrative for Battle for Britain takes place on one very specific date, 18th August 1940.  The Battle of Britain has been raging for a month and on this date, known as ‘the Hardest Day’, the German Luftwaffe made an all out effort to completely destroy Britain’s Fighter Command.  With that historic backdrop, the game makes you members of the RAF and the only survivors of a bombing raid on your airbase.  Under continuing enemy fire your first task is to gain access to the strategic ops room.  Once inside you must then take control of the full force of all available RAF squadrons and push the German planes back out of British airspace.  Your final aim is not to escape, but to shoot down as many aircraft as you can before your time runs out.  It is this last angle that makes Battle for Britain stand out as different to most trad ERs.  You are told from the very start that your goal is not to escape from the room in under 60 mins but to bring down as many of the German planes as possible.  The maximum it is possible to shoot down is 71 – the real number of German losses inflicted on that day in August 1940.

 

“Never was so much owed by so many to so few”

The game is effectively in two parts, although they aren’t equal in complexity or time needed.  The first part is closer in style to a ‘normal’ ER in that involves solving several puzzles that will allow you to open the door to the strategic ops room.  Escape Plan love a good meaty, physical prop repurposed into a puzzle and this room has you tackling challenges involving bikes, barrels and road signs.  Logic, spatial awareness and code breaking all come into play in this room and every puzzle is substantial and satisfying.

So far so linear.  But once you’re in the Ops room the game becomes much less of a straight line from one puzzle to the next and it’s very easy to split up and figure out several puzzles at the same time.  As in Escape Plan’s other games, the physical puzzles are a real joy.  The set design and build are probably the best in London (IMHO) with the clear love for both puzzles and crafting evident in the high quality, hand built nature of the props.  Why buy in an everyday padlock when you can build your own miniature puzzle boxes?  And as with the first room, there are lots of period props and objects that have been converted into puzzles, some of which are beautifully novel and unlike anything I’ve seen in other ERs.

The puzzles aren’t just beautiful, they are myriad.  There is a lot to do in this second room, with each individual puzzle helping you towards the meta puzzle that is the game’s climax.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  The sheer number of puzzles means that even a big team can split up and work on separate elements, feeding their results back into the bigger picture of the final puzzle.  But it does also mean that you can feel like you’ve only played a fraction of the room.  My team of 5 ER regulars and enthusiasts all left saying that we felt we’d only seen a small proportion of the puzzles.  What we had solved was very satisfying but we felt we’d missed out on quite a lot.  That, however, is the fault of our decision to put five puzzle-addict, ER geeks in the same room at the same time, not a fault of the game itself.

Once the individual puzzles are solved, you are ready to complete the final challenge.  I won’t give away details as part of the joy of the game is the discovery of how the climax happens.  But it is a nail-biting, nerve-jingling conclusion to the game that will make even the most cynical player feel patriotic and proud to have served in RAF colours.  It is inevitable that whoever plays, there will be cheering.


Our Verdict

While Roll Out the Barrel still remains my favourite of their games, Battle for Britain is another string in Escape Plan’s ‘one of the best ERs in London’ bow.  It has all the same loving attention to detail, hand crafted props and vast range of puzzle styles and challenges that have made their other games so popular.  The slight twist on a traditional ER structure makes for an interesting change to the norm, while there’s also enough satisfying individual puzzles to keep even the most experienced of players entertained.  To make the most of the room, I’d advise any ER enthusiasts to play with a max of 2-3 people so you get to see and play as many of the puzzles as possible, while for less experienced players, around 4-6 would make it easier to get everything done.  And as a final piece of advice from a team that managed to shoot down 70 of the 71 planes – double check your workings before committing to the final challenge or that last Luftwaffe bomber might just escape to raid another day.

Battle for Britain can be booked by heading to Escape Plan’s website here.

Mission: Breakout: Underground 2099 | Review

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Underground 2099 Review | May 2027, the world was turned into a blazing hell. Nuclear weapons launched by our national leaders set all cities aflame in minutes. There were no winners, only losers. Humanity was plunged into chaos in which morality, solidarity and dignity burned. London 2099, 72 years have passed since the Great Fire; among the radioactive debris of this once-great city, rats have survived and transformed, trying to take the lead in this new disfigured world. Your mission is to thwart the plot of their leader, King Rat, hidden within the depths of the London Underground.

Date Played: 7th April 2022
Number of Player: 4
Time Taken: ~60 Minutes
Difficulty: Medium

How better to welcome a new player to The Escape Roomer team by taking on an escape room together!? No sooner than we brought the lovely Karen onboard, we all headed down to Mission: Breakout’s brand new room – Underground 2099. In this case, we were joined by two friends. On a previous visit Mairi had enviously noticed other players in the briefing room getting kitted out with very cool looking futuristic backpacks and neon green glasses, but other than that we weren’t sure what to expect.

So, without further adieu, here is Karen and Mairi to talk about the exciting new escape room, Underground 2099…

 

Team The Escape Roomer

 

Karen: If nothing else Mission: Breakout can certainly lay claim to having one of the quirkiest and most original locations for an escape room in London.   Based in an actual, real life, genuine, honest to god abandoned tube station, to play their games you must head into the underground bowels of the old South Kentish Town Station.  Trains only ran from this ghost station between 1907 and 1924 but there is still much of the old station’s infrastructure in place and built directly into their games.  Transport fans (I’m looking at Mairi here) will love it.  Those of a more claustrophobic nature might be a little less enthusiastic although I’m honestly not a lover of confined spaces and I didn’t find it a problem because it’s just so much darned fun.

 

Mairi: Yep! If anyone spotted in an earlier review for The Lost Passenger, you’ll know the thing I love the most about Mission: Breakout is the environment. An old disused train station? SIGN… ME… UP! It makes it the perfect location for an escape room like The Lost Passenger about descending into the bowels of an old train station in search of a missing person (and finding ghosts instead). But this new room, Underground 2099, has a completely different theme. It’s sci-fi with a little dash of time travel in it. But this isn’t your “mom and pop” time travel escape room, as the future that awaited us was dystopian and depressing. In other words, the dark vaulted caverns of the train station made it a perfect place to travel to.

 

Karen: Mission: Breakout’s other games definitely trade in on the historic setting – Lost Passenger tells the spooky story of a missing commuter doomed to wander the tunnels forever, while Codebreakers recalls the station’s use as an air raid shelter during World War 2.  Underground 2099 heads in totally the other direction.  To the future.  A future in which a nuclear winter has devastated most of the world and a time-travelling scientist needs help to stop a race of irradiated mega-sized mutant rats overrunning London through the tube network.  Imagine a nightmare version of ‘Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh’.  It’s like that.  But with puzzles.

 

Photo (c) Mission: Breakout

 

Karen: Once the team have been kitted out with energy back packs which are needed to trigger the start of the game (no spoiler – your GM tells you this right from the start), it’s off to your time-travelling shuttle where, ensconced under what is obviously one of those 1960s old fashioned hair dryer hoods, your puzzling begins.  From the start the game is fairly linear with the team passing from one game space to another as puzzle solutions open doors, but in most cases there are enough elements to figure out that the team can split up to work on different puzzles simultaneously.  I say in most cases because there were a couple of points where a team member or two was left spinning their wheels while others worked on the main puzzle.  As a team of four that didn’t happen often enough to be a major annoyance, but a bigger group, especially of enthusiasts, might find it more of an issue.

 

Karen: Mission: Breakout’s use of the limited space amidst the existing tube station infrastructure is impressive.  This game takes place mostly in the old elevator shafts, with satisfyingly curvy walls, and although there are a couple of pinch points where a bigger team might find it a bit of a squeeze (or an opportunity to get to know each other better) for an underground bunker it’s surprisingly roomy and Mission:Breakout have even managed to build in some larger scale physical puzzling.

 

Mairi: I agree, in terms of space, Underground 2099 felt simultaneously a huge escape room and sometimes a very cramped space. This is due to the limitations of the physical space – taking place in the old engineering tunnels and lift shaft, the designers are limited by the physical space. But by contrast, there are a LOT of rooms to discover in this escape room. I counted at least 8 distinct and unique spaces in this whole experience. In some of those, we split up, but most of the time we were all together and with so much stuff to do we almost ran out of time!

 

 

Karen: Just as Mission Breakout blends old and new, history and future, into the themes of their games, they manage the same blend with their actual puzzles.  While some feature nicely modern tech which will satisfy the gamers and the lovers of little shiny lights (or is that just me?), others offer more old school, practical, hand built puzzles, including one particularly tactile game that I had never seen before and found particularly joyful to complete.

 

Mairi: Post-game, we all remarked as a team that there were several puzzles in this escape room that we’d never seen before. Between us, we’ve probably played in the region of 400 escape rooms, so that’s no small praise to say we encountered very unique puzzles. Otherwise the types of things players can expect to encounter include plenty of physical puzzles – be prepared to put your hand inside holes, pull levers, reattach mechanical equipment and operate big machinery. 

 

Karen: The varied puzzles offer tests of dexterity, memory, communication, teamwork (and miming ability!) with a few little jumps and a bit of theatricality thrown in for good measure.  The basic narrative, that you need to stop the mutant rats’ leader, King Rat, before he overruns London is simple enough to keep in mind throughout play and builds to a satisfyingly comic climax.

 

Mairi: The puzzles may have been slightly easier if not for an absolutely terrifying rat king that kept popping up when I least expected it. In escape rooms, I like to dawdle. This means I frequently found myself the last to leave a room, only to turn around to find a giant rat monster lurking out of the corner of my eye. Cue screaming. I assume if you don’t like scary rooms you could ask the hosts to tone any jump scares down. But honestly? I loved the host-I mean, the king rat interaction.

 

 

Mairi: Speaking of our host – a note on our games master Georgina, who was absolutely fantastic by the way. From the first briefing to the last, she ran our room brilliantly. I always love it when a games master really cares about you and your team, and Georgina was super knowledgeable about the room, our team, and the specific ways we solved each puzzle (even if some of them were slightly bizarre, haha!). It’s only my second time at the site, but I just got such a really nice feel from all the people from all the people at the venue both times.

 

The Verdict

Mairi: Mission: Breakout is very quickly going down in my personal hall of fame of “escape rooms you must visit if you’re in London” and Underground 2099 is another fantastically quirky and fun adventure in their catalogue. It’s well worth checking out for the physical location alone. At the risk of sounding like The Escape Roomer resident train enthusiast (a moniker I’ll wear proudly), I love the architecture and heck, there aren’t many places in London you can go and experience a period building so beautifully integrated into an escape room. If the company’s earlier rooms erred on the side of ‘slightly too easy for enthusiasts’, I’d implore those same enthusiasts to come back and try Underground 2099. The designers have levelled up the difficulty comfortably and players will get well over an hour’s worth of challenging puzzles and creative brilliance. Whats more, the team themselves are a thoroughly wonderful bunch of people, so make sure you set aside extra time to have a chat with your Games Master in the briefing room afterwards.

 

Karen: I’m totally with Mairi on this one.  If I’m honest my previous experience with Mission: Breakout’s ‘Lost Passenger’ game wasn’t as positive as Mairi’s had been.  It was just one of those games that left me frustrated.  So I went into Underground 2099 with lower expectations.   But boy were those expectations exceeded.  It was such fun from start to finish.  Venue, theming, puzzle build, puzzle quantity and complexity, GM engagement were all right on the money.  Definitely a fab addition to London’s ‘must play’ games.  Wonder if they can squeeze in one more game down there?

 

Underground 2099 can be booked by heading to Mission: Breakout’s website here.

 

Post-Script: As with many rooms it is likely this one will be tweaked further before the creators settle on the perfect flow that’ll suit every team. Whilst we had a fantastic time, it’s possible the experience may change slightly. For a comparison, please do check out GATAPAE’s review here. who played a week after we did.

Welcome Karen, our newest writer in London!

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We are super pleased to announce that Karen Myers is joining The Escape Roomer as our latest escape room and features writer in London! 🙌

Karen joins us with a wealth of experience and knowledge about immersive theatre, escape rooms and more in and around London. A local escape room evangelist, there’s very few rooms she hasn’t done and we’re so excited to have her join us as a regular contributor on all things immersive puzzle games. But without further adieu, here is Karen to introduce herself:

 

Hey Karen, please introduce yourself!

Hello, my name’s Karen and I’m an escape room addict.  I’m also a born and bred Londoner, a redhead, a travel fan who likes to go off the beaten track, a theatre addict especially if it’s immersive, a baker, a knitter and an occasional mudlarker.  I do like to keep myself busy.  And when I’m not indulging in one of my hobbies, to pay the bills I watch TV for a living.

 

How did you get into the world of escape rooms and puzzle games?

Until 2014 I didn’t even know such things as escape rooms existed! But after discovering the incredible immersive theatre production, ‘The Drowned Man’ by Punchdrunk (which totally blew my mind btw) I started searching London for similar immersive and playful experiences and somehow I stumbled on ‘Hint Hunt’ (now sadly closed).  Once I realised that you could enter an imaginary world, hunt for clues, solve puzzles and answer riddles like a treasure hunt for adults I was hooked. I fell down the ER rabbit hole right there and then and I hope I never stop tumbling.

 

Do you have a memorable escape room story?

There’s no single story but for me there is unending joy in the discovery of a secret door in an escape room.  Even when I can see the hinges by a bookcase or fireplace and I know it’s coming, that moment when a hidden door pops or pushes open is such a delight.  A massive childish delight. And the first time I discovered that hidden door could be inside a wardrobe?  There is almost nothing as delicious as a door in a wardrobe.

 

The secret book case as Breakin’

 

What are you most looking forward to playing?

So far I haven’t played many games outside London so I know there are some real treats out there still waiting to be explored.  Because I love my immersive theatre, I’m really keen on playing games that have outstanding set designs as I like nothing better than feeling fully ‘lost’ in the game world.  On this score, as well as the top notch puzzling, I’ve heard so many incredible reviews of the games at Darkmaster that they’re definitely at the top of my list of ‘must plays’.  And I’m so excited to be getting my hands on the 3D table top game, Spectre and Vox, this summer (fingers crossed).  Puzzle party at my place!

 

What sort of articles can our readers look forward to from you?

I’ve always got my eye out for something new, fresh and quirky in London so I hope I can hunt those down to share with our readers.  I’m rampantly evangelical about the joys of being a grown up who finds time to ‘play’ in fun spaces, whether that’s immersive theatre, escape rooms, treasure hunts or similar.  So I’d love to write articles that persuade the newbies and the nervous that getting involved in escaping, immersing or exploring is nothing to be scared of and that it absolutely can be life changing.

 

If you were given a blank cheque to create your dream ‘game’, what would it be like?

My absolute dream of a game would be Fireproof’s ‘The Room’ series of mobile/tablet games brought to real life by Punchdrunk.  ‘The Room’s gloriously sumptuous visuals and intuitive puzzling meshed with Punchdrunk’s performative flair and world-building skills would be mind-meltingly good.  And if that blank cheque can stretch to the game being housed in a glamorous villa somewhere in the Caribbean all the better.

 


 

If you want to keep up with Karen, you can find her on Instagram as @quaggie26