Cast your mind back to 2021. Yep, a whole two years ago. I was halfway between 20 and 30 and probably feeling listless and directionless about live (oh, hello 20s) and decided to make myself an “escape room bucket list” for all the things I wanted to achieve before I turned 30. A lot can happen and a lot can change in two years – but I’m still here, and more important I’m still playing escape rooms.
But now, on the 2 year anniversary of making that list, seemed as good a time as any to revisit what I’ve achieved, what is still on the list, and what advice I can share to other folks making their own [number before age] list for themselves.
Playing Escape Rooms… Around the World?
Reeling from being locked up for about two years at this point, it’s unsurprising a lot of my bucket list items involved travel. So, how did I do?
Play an escape room in Central Europe
Play an escape room in North America
Play an escape room on the other side of the world
Bonus: Play an escape room in another language
Well, the first three are easy enough. Though I’m not quite sure what I meant by “other side of the world”. Probably Asia, Australia or New Zealand. In that case, not quite yet – but I did recently play some in Canada, the Netherlands, and Poland. As for an escape room in another language, I was really hoping to do something clever and play a ‘language-less’ escape room. But I’m not quite sure they exist, so I’ll settle for French. Another tick. Or should I say il est complété!
Playing Escape Rooms… With Specific People!
The next category of escape room 30s before 30 seem to be about playing escape rooms with specific people:
Introduce all my friends to escape rooms
Play with friends from around the world
The first I’m working on every, single, day. *shakes fist at friends who haven’t played one yet*
They say you should never meet your idols but that’s false because I met mine and they were the best people. As for playing rooms with friends around the world, I have my Canada trip to thank for that! It was a whirlwind adventure in that I got to meet so many of my absolute favourite people in the world, all in one place. The escape room communities of Toronto and Montreal were amazingly welcoming, and I had the most wonderful time. Cheers to all of you! 🥂
Playing Specific Rooms
The next category of ‘bucket list’ items I can group by seem to be centred around playing specific rooms. These were:
Play a horror escape room
Play the first room in the UK
Play the Crystal Maze
Participate in a Zombie event
The first one was always going to be an easy win. I think I booked a horror room the very next month after writing my list. How was it? Terrifying. But nothing as terrifying as this year playing one of the world’s scariest: Stay in the Dark by DarkPark in the Netherlands. Sometimes I still wake in a cold sweat thinking about it, hah! As for the Crystal Maze, Zombies, and first in the UK – I’m still working on those. It doesn’t help that I moved away from London, but since that’s not in the spirit of things I’ll mark them as “pending”. There’s still time before 30!
Shooting for Gold on the Leader Board
My next few ‘bucket list items’ concerned leaderboard scores. Namely:
Come first on a leaderboard
Achieve a puzzle game speed run record
Compete in the Red Bull championships
I’m simultaneously not sure I have, and absolutely certain I have achieved something of all. As for those escape room scores, I just can’t say for sure which one. Plus, with many escape rooms resetting their leaderboard monthly, it’s quite likely if I go back through the list, any went for in the first day or two of the month are strong contenders. With regards to the Red Bull championships, sadly those don’t exist anymore – but I have been enjoying ER champ these last few years. Last year Team Escaping the Closet (consisting of myself, Al, Ash and Tasha) placed 36th in the world and 2nd UK team! Not bad.
Team Escaping the Closet takes 36th!
Creative Escape Room Goals for the Next 3 Years
Besides playing rooms, it’s clear from my bucket list I made back then that I wanted to focus on designing more.
Publish a digital escape room
Work on a new murder mystery
Publish a board game
and so on
Well, 25 year old me would be very proud, as I’m now able to say being a puzzle game designer is my full time job. I’ve completed all of the above, and more. It’s been a wild few years (mostly of burnout), but I’m proud of everything I’ve achieved and how far I’ve come. I won’t list them all here, but if anyone is interested I have a portfolio available here.
Last But Not Least: The Escape Room Tattoo
Argh! How could I have forgotten this one? Well no. I haven’t got that tattoo yet. But I still really want to. If anyone knows of any tattoo artists in the UK who might be up for designing me something, please do let me know!
What’s Next? 2 years? 5 years? 10 years?
There are a number of fun things on the bucket list I still need to achieve, and that’s great – I’m getting round to them for sure. But this also seems like an excellent opportunity to take stock and suggest some new things for my 30 before 30 bucket list. Such as:
Play 100% of all escape rooms in Edinburgh
…And why not also try to play 100% of all escape rooms in Scotland too!
Reach 500, physical, in person rooms played
Play an escape room in Japan
The home of escape rooms. Big bucket list item for me!
Visit a Punchdrunk experience
How have I reached this ripe old age and managed to miss them all? I’ll never know.
Beat 33rd in the world in the ER Champ
Collaborate on a puzzle experience with [specific person]
Note, I’m not actually going to name said person (or tbh, people, there are a few who are dream collaborators). But I’ll reach out when the time is right for sure.
Collaborate on a puzzle experience with [specific business]
Again, same reason. I know who they are. THEY probably know who they are due to my ‘Adoring Fan’ nature
Start a podcast about the puzzle industry
I have the format, I just need to get a move on. Haha, the story of my life.
Launch Escape Industry Jobs
A little project to help job seekers in the industry that I’ve had brewing in the background for a while
Bucket Lists, Are They Worth It?
Yes, and no. It really depends on what you want to get out of it. It’s a lot of fun making a list of things you’d like to do, and an excellent resource to look back on when you feel like you’re in a rut. Writing one really lets you lay out your priorities and in some ways can hold you accountable in a fun way. By not achieving something – you’ve only letting your younger self down.
But by that metric, it’s important to keep in mind they are fun. That’s one of the reason I wanted to write one about escape rooms and not say, my general life. Escape rooms are fun, playing them is fun, and my lists are just fun reminders to get out there more and seek out more exciting adventures in my life!
If you want to write your own bucket list, escape room or otherwise, I’d suggest setting a “before a certain date” on it. That way you have a target, and a milestone to pause on and look back at how far you’ve come.
Writing Your Own Escape Room Bucket List
So you’ve read this far, and you’ve thought “okay I want one of those”. Having looked back on mine, I’ve been reminded of the things I actively worked on, and doubly reminded of those things I completely forgot about. But armed with that knowledge, I wanted to share some advice.
Having escape room goals like “travel to far away place” or “win competition” are excellent – but only if they’re realistic. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t afford to travel, or enter the competition and only come 2nd place. The point is you put your heart into something, and that counts for a lot.
Ask for recommendations
In the escape room world, everyone loves talking about their favourite rooms – so this is a great opportunity to get recommendations for escape rooms and venues to put on your own bucket list. What are your friends favourite room? What are the experts’ favourite rooms? Ask around, and you’ll be amazed at the answers – and probably discover some new hidden gems along the way.
Get your A-team
Lets be real, most escape room bucket list items will need a team. Unless one of your bucket list items is to “play a room solo”. Which would be pretty cool if it were! Once you’ve written your list, share it with your friends and start getting a team together to help you play through or achieve new targets with your rooms.
So this is an ‘out there’ tip, but I’ve found many folks bucket lists are all thing they want to do, but for their own personal reason are waiting. Maybe they fear people will laugh, or say no when you invite them along with you. A good friend told me about the “100 rejections” challenge. You aim to collect 100 rejections in the course of a year. By aiming for rejections, you apply for the things and ask the questions you’re sure you’ll be rejected for. Out of those 100, you’ll surely collect a few “yes” replies, won’t you? 😉
Want to try designing an experience yourself? DO IT.
Some of my absolute favourite puzzle games and even escape rooms were designed by people who didn’t think they knew how, or did have any experience. Trust me, you can do this. And hey, if you want tips on where to get started – I wrote this guide here!
This is the absolute most important one of them all. We’re all in this escape room industry to play games and have fun. Making an escape room bucket list is first and foremost all about having fun. As you write your list and work your way through them – don’t forget that!
Okay yes, so this is “The Escape Roomer” and yes, we almost exclusively review UK escape rooms. That is, barring the few awesome “play at home” ones which we invariably did play from the comfort of our homes here in the UK… But then sometimes you go on an ‘escape room road trip’ to another country and are just so downright blown away by what you experienced you immediately come home and open up a “New Post” to start writing about them. This is one of those times.
So, if you’re reading this blog looking for a good escape room to play in the UK – stop what you’re doing and book a train to the Netherlands instead!
I’m sure this list of rooms will come as a surprise to absolutely no-one, since our trip was “Let’s play as many of the best escape rooms in the Netherlands as we possibly can“, but there are of course a number of rooms we just didn’t get round to playing this time. So this list isn’t an exhaustive, complete list to ‘the best’ rooms, but more a general look at what we loved most about the ones we played.
If you want a complete list of the best rooms to play, I highly recommend checking out the latest TERPECA winners. Simply head to this page and CTRL+F “Netherlands” and you’ll quickly see how well represented this fantastic country is in the rankings. At the time of writing, the Netherlands has, in the global rankings:
2. Down the Hatch’s “Molly’s Game”
3. Mama Bazooka’s “The Dome”
9. Darkpark’s “Stay in the Dark”
32. Kamer 237’s “Lost and Found”
35. Darkpark’s “The End”
40. Epic Escape’s “Illusion”
74. Rock City Escape’s “Soup du Jour”
82. Escape Room Junkie’s “Corpse Inc.”
95. Kamer 237’s “Room 237”
99. Logic Lock’s “The Amsterdam Catacombs”
10 out of the top 100 escape rooms in the world are here. For the 22nd smallest country in the world (and 6x smaller than the UK), that’s not bad. Not bad at all.
The Netherlands Escape Room Itinerary
Comprised of a team of myself, Alice & Ash from Escaping the Closet, and our good friend Tasha, we took the overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam on Thursday night. We checked into our Airbnb in Rotterdam, and then hurried off to play our first game.
Mama Bazooka @ Bunschoten
Rock City Escape @ Amersfoort
Darkpark @ Zoetermeer
Next Level Escapes @ Eindhoven
Darkpark @ Vlaardingen
Darkpark @ Delft
Down the Hatch @ The Hague
In terms of transport, the Netherlands is incredibly well connected by train, bus and tram. In fact no two escape rooms we needed to travel by took more than 1 hour, or cost more than about €14. We stayed in Rotterdam which is South-Central, and a lot less expensive than somewhere like Amsterdam.
Escape Rooms in the Netherlands – General Observations
Before I get into the details of each room, I wanted to share a few observations we noticed about Dutch escape rooms in general.
Firstly, there’s this amazing trust system in the lobby that simply would not work in the UK, and that is that you can help yourself to drinks and snacks before and after. Usually the lobbies are unmanned, but you can pick up a little checklist if you plan to take a bunch of stuff. This includes alcoholic drinks, and often merchandise too. This was a really nice touch. In the UK you’re lucky if there’s an old vending machine in the corner. In the Netherlands it was much more “please make yourself comfortable” and I loved that.
Mama Bazooka’s “Self Serve” counter
Secondly, briefings are given in-character. We often (but not always) arrived to be greeted by someone absolutely in character, not breaking for a second. It was interesting seeing how people offered us the use of lockers and bathrooms ‘in-character’. I enjoyed this, although we did get caught out with a “you’re late!”, only to start to argue that we were 20 minutes early, before realising this was part of the briefing.
Thirdly, many rooms were ‘self-triggered‘. What do I mean by this? After your briefing, we were told to enter the room by ourselves, without the Games Master around. I’m sure it’s because the Games Masters were off getting set up in their office, but it always worked so well in the theme. Go up to a door and knock three times? Or solve a puzzle to actually ‘get into’ the game. Excellent!
A final point to raise is that Dutch escape rooms – or at least the ones we played – tended to be more expensive than the average UK escape room. Yes, even more expensive than London. We paid in the region of £30 – £50 per person, per room. That said, they were all absolutely worth it – but be sure to factor that into your budget!
The Dome – Mama Bazooka
We started and ended the trip with the two rooms that have been ‘competing’ for the number 1 spot. The Dome, and Molly’s Game. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and first lets talk about The Dome.
The Dome is a ‘sci-fi’ escape room. Well, sort of. In fact, it’s the kind of room that really defies categorisation because a week later and I’m not even totally sure I understood the things that happened to me in that room. You enter the experience as laboratory assistants, but things take a surreal turn when you accidentally ingest an hallucinatory substance. From this point onwards there’s a “wait, what?” level of disbelief and astonishment. The physical space is impressive, it’s twisting and turning corridors that do not take you to where you expected to go, and those moments of looking back at something you’d already completed only to find subtle, eerie differences that leave you questioning your sanity. There’s a good amount of physicality to the experience, but you’re mostly running on pure excitement and adrenaline. What it lacks in a complex narrative, it makes up for in visual, thematic and technical impressiveness. For that, I absolutely adored this room. The focus was squarely on the puzzles – as brilliant as they were – and the set design. It was a fantastic room.
It’s best played with very little expectations (though I suppose being for a while #1 in the world does come with it a certain level of expectation), so I’ll leave the review with just one final question:
Does it live up to the hype? Absolutely.
Soup Du Jour – Rock City Escape
Next up on our itinerary was “Soup Du Jour”. I approached this escape room with a very uneasy feeling in my stomach. I’m not a fan of scary or horror games and this one certainly verges on the side of “creepy”.
We approached the unusual building (a hidden door tucked away in something that looks a lot like an actual monastery), and were greeted by our stern Games Master who boldly barked “you’re late”, before giving us a nun outfit each and ushering us into the Monasterie Restaurant to help set up for the day. But something peculiar is afoot at this restaurant Nuns have been going missing. As we explored the physical space, we couldn’t help but shake the feeling that we might be next on the menu.
Soup Du Jour is a creepy room. There are a few more ‘jump scare’ elements than the average room (including one hilarious one we all screamed our heads off at), and a definite feeling of tension throughout. Where Soup Du Jour really shined for me were the puzzles. There’s a mix of linear, non-linear, and really creative solutions. Whether I’d personally agree it’s the 74th best escape room in the world… I’m not sure. It’s certainly better than the hundreds of others I’ve played in my life so far, and it certainly brought us a lot of delight, but it’s hard not to compare it to the other Dutch rooms. If this were in another country it would be exceptionally outstanding. Because it’s in the Netherlands, it’s simply “brilliant”. Make of what whatever you will!
In this room we ‘escaped’ with a comfortable time of around (I forget exactly) 45 minutes. Success!
Honeymoon Hotel – Darkpark
More horror?! For this scaredy cat?! It’s likelier than you think. But thankfully after a stormy and atmospheric day, the sun finally decided to come out and so the approach to our final room of the day wasn’t quite so creepy.
Honeymoon Hotel was my first taste of the infamous Darkpark… A company I’ve loved since I played their at-home puzzle game The Witchery Spell. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Darkpark that is they do horror really well, and Honeymoon Hotel is an excellent opportunity to “dip your toes in” to the theme and style the company goes for to see if their other (scarier) games are for you.
The game begun as H. H. Holmes’ latest bride entering his infamous murder hotel. So far, so good. Our goal was quite simple – to try not to die. What followed was a lot of darkness, loud jump scares, and creeping banging noises looming all around us in the dark. In fact, the best (or funniest) jump scare came when we’d forgotten to lock the main door behind us and the Games Master has to creep back and close it loudly behind us.
As with many Dutch rooms, Honeymoon Hotel is a multi-space experience that takes you on a visual and puzzling journey through the depths of the hotel as you try to find your way out. It has a labyrinth-like quality to it, confusing and horrifying in all the best ways. There isn’t a live actor in the room, but there’s something about the impressive atmosphere they’ve created that really makes you wonder “wait a second, is there actually someone in here with us?!”
My favourite thing about Honeymoon Hotel by far was the finale. All that atmosphere, all those noises, culminating in something seriouslty impressive. I won’t spoil it, but I will say I squealed with delight when I realised what was happening. Not exactly the noise I expected to make in a ‘scary’ room, but I was thrilled!
We finished with 44:20 on the clock!
The Suspicious Farmhouse – Next Level Escapes
Day two and we were off to Eindhoven – a fantastic city in the South of the country. But unlike other cities, there was just one escape room company on our list: Next Level Escapes. Next Level is located behind a very fun looking bar / social space, and up some stairs. Their two rooms:
The Suspicious Farmhouse, and
Catch Me if You Can
are sequential, one after the other. The characters you meet in the former will make a reappearance in the latter. That’s not to say you couldn’t play them out of order… But for the best experience, I recommend doing them this way round.
In the former, you enter what is essentially your grandma’s farmhouse. Think kitsch furniture, cute wooden shelves, and some very fun light-hearted puzzles about looking after the farmhouse. At about the 50% mark, the game turns out to be about something very different indeed. I knew there was something “suspicious”, but the twist took me by surprise in all the best ways. I loved the reveals and hidden details which turned out to be important, and the final puzzle really brought the whole experience together in one fell swoop.
I don’t know if I was just a little out of sorts in The Suspicious Farmhouse, but I would say that of all the rooms we played, this one didn’t totally click with me. This was a room in which we ended up asking for many hints, and at times I felt like due to the linear-nature of the experience, there was always one of us (usually me) not contributing to an active puzzle solve. There was also a lot of searching. If we needed a hint, the answer was usually “have you searched more in this place”, only to find something that was almost impossible to spot without help.
That said, we immediately followed it with Catch Me if You Can which was, to me, a stellar room. So they balanced out in the end.
We finished with 02:28 left on the clock!
Catch Me if You Can – Next Level Escapes
After a quick break between the rooms, in which we almost lost Ash (see below, oh no!)
We were once again called back in and ready to take on the sequel – Catch Me if You Can. Now I’ve never seen the film of the same name, but I think the story in this room is something similar – except we were playing the FBI agents! The experience began with us hot on the heels of the criminal we were uncovering in the first game. Unlike the first one, I immediately fell in love with this escape room from the moment I stepped foot inside. Then, if you can believe it, the experience kept getting better and better.
After having played multiple horror rooms, I was secretly thrilled to be playing a super high quality escape room that is about as far from horror as you can imagine. Furthermore, Catch Me if you Can featured one of the most impressive ‘sets’ I’ve ever seen. I really don’t want to spoil it because the reveal of “wait, surely they don’t have…” is well worth the anticipation. There’s a certain cinematic quality to this escape room that I appreciated a lot. It felt like more than just being ‘in an escape room’, we were quite literally the main character in our own film for the duration of an hour. It also allowed me to fulfil one of my bucket list items for my life. Not something I expected I’d be saying about an escape room trip, but there you go!
In terms of puzzles, with a few exceptions we required a nudge for, Catch Me if You Can really stood out in these. As with it’s predecessor we finished with an almost picture-perfect 2 minutes on the clock, which really added to the heightened tension of racing to the end. If you can’t tell from the jubilation on our faces in the photo, Catch Me if You Can was a real stand out in it’s genre!
As a brief non-escape room recommendation, after playing at Next Level Escape we stumbled upon the most fantastic eatery about 1 minute around the corner: Down Town Gourmet Market. This is a marketplace that has a bunch of different hot food stands and you can order from any of them all from your table!
Stay in the Dark – Darkpark
Okay, lets get one thing straight. None of us slept well the night before. Tasha even stayed up until 1am reading every single review on EscapeTalk.nl trying to anticipate what this experience would be like. On the train there, we all sat in stony silence, occasionally saying things like “pozzy vibes” to brighten the mood. But all that to say, we were really nervous going into Stay in the Dark.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Stay in the Dark is probably one of the scariest escape rooms out there. It certainly has the reputation for being so. It’s also won a lot of awards and one of those “you absolutely must not miss” rooms, and so there was no chance we weren’t going to do it. In fact, we planned our whole trip around securing a booking for Stay in the Dark. So there you go.
First things first, there is a live actor. Secondly, it’s 2hr30 long. Thirdly, if you need to leave the experience there’s no going back. That’s it.
In honesty, I’d probably say it isn’t really an escape room. It’s a live immersive experience much closer to something like Burnt City, or Colab Theatre’s Spy City, or a Swamp Motel immersive experience. I say this as throughout the experience I counted maybe three, maybe four “puzzles” in the sense of the word. There’s about one puzzle per “area”. But for an experience like this where you feel like you’re fighting for your life, that’s a good level. There were moments when we got slightly stuck on a puzzle, but this had more to do with the environment around us than the puzzles themselves. In short, it’s not terribly puzzly.
But what it lacks in puzzles it makes up for in immersivity. There’s sequence of pitch blackness, there’s strobe lighting, and there’s a horrifying somebody or some-thing following you. There’s strange blood spatters I’d rather not think of. The whole thing is utterly immersive. From the distant creaking of a door, or a dog’s bark, or a shadow crossing across your vision, the whole thing is thrilling. My favourite ‘part’ of the experience is towards the end and it involved the largest room (and largest props) I’ve ever seen in any escape room ever. Whilst my teammates were solving a puzzle I had my face pressed up to a window saying “wow I hope we get to go in there!!”. Sure enough, the puzzle’s success state unlocked that very door and off we went.
Is it scary? Oh yes. Is it unsurmountably scary? No. Should I book it if I don’t like horror? Yes. -Wait, what? Well, the reason I think everyone should book this is because they actually tailor it to your comfort level. Yes it’s terrifying but if you’re full of bravado, they’re going to dial it up. If you’re crouched in the corner screaming, they’ll dial it down. And if you’re so scared you can’t move, somebody will come in and help you out. At the end of the day Darkpark are escape room designers and they really want you to have fun, so they’re going to make it fun. The worst part of the whole thing was the beginning- and that’s really just the fear of the unknown. Once you ‘know’, it’s not so scary anymore. And this is coming from someone who is mortally afraid of scary escape rooms.
As a final note on this mini-review of Stay in the Dark, I want to give a particular shout-out to our host Ruud. Ruud absolutely made the experience as perfect as he was. He was flawless in his judgement of how much scare we could handle as a team, his acting was fantastic, and his upbeat personality really brought such a smile to our faces. I always try to remember our host’s names but sometimes days later they’ve slipped my mind, but it was impossible to forget Ruud. We’re planning to come back some day and I am hoping with all my might that the next time I play a Darkpark game we’ll have Ruud as our host once again.
The Dentist – Darkpark
From one Darkpark to another. There was no way anything else could possibly be scary to us after having played Stay in the Dark, so off to Darkpark’s Delft venue we went, full of a newfound bravery. The first escape room on our list at their venue was The Dentist. The Dentist is one of the first ever escape rooms in the Netherlands. As such, it’s fairly Gen 1 in terms of it’s use of puzzles and locks. That said, Gen 1 usually has negative connotations of being basic, but I think the Netherlands needs its own category of escape room generations, because a Dutch Gen 1 room is as visually and immersive-ly impressive as some of the escape rooms opening around the world today in 2023. Despite it’s age, The Dentist was… Awesome!
As the name suggests, you go to visit the Dentist. His room has all the familiar tropes of a creepy dental worker – strange contraptions, blood spattered all over the walls, and dark and sinister secrets to uncover. Nothing like my dentist whose name is Anthony. Anthony is a lovely lovely guy. Shout out to him if he’s reading this.
Our main goal of the experience was to ‘escape’, but along the way we found a myriad of unique and exciting puzzles. There were plenty of ‘search and find’ ones, and some fun physical manipulation and button pressing. We didn’t take any hints on the game until the very end when our host opted to give us one as we were going round in circles on one particular puzzle. The most impressive thing about The Dentist, besides it being a very early escape room to the Dutch escape room industry was again, the atmosphere. Atmosphere is one thing Darkpark does really, really well. Lighting, auditory additions, and an exciting intro delivered in-game makes for a *chef’s kiss* experience.
The Carnival – Darkpark
As with many of these rooms, you’ll notice a theme in my reviewing. The first of each we played I’m like “this was great”, and the second I’m like “oh my god I’ll be thinking about this for the next 100 years”. The Carnival does not break this trend. After waiting in the lobby (and taking use of the self-serve drinks cabinet to have a celebratory prosecco), we proceeded to The Carnival which is easily one of my favourite games from the whole trip. I cannot get over how much I enjoyed The Carnival. However, I might be in a minority here, as for as much as I loved it, it didn’t hold the same weight for the rest of my team. But what can I say? I’m a sucker for a “wait they really want us to do this?” moment.
The Carnival also featured one of the funniest moments of an escape room. A moment where I thought a jump scare was over and went “oh look at that” to my group, causing them all to look at the exact place the very worst jump scare of the experience would pop up.
In all, The Carnival is again slightly less like a traditional escape room and more like a ridiculously fun series of carnival themed mini games. Your goal is simple – escape the carnival. But to do so you must perform, so perform you shall! Think about the most fun things that happen at a carnival and yep, this room has got them. Despite the occasional scare (though by this point we were desensitised and didn’t find it too frightening at all), this room was above everything super fun. I don’t want to give away too much, but it had us giggling and cheering for joy. The puzzles were less about locks (though there were a few) and more about performing actions and engaging with things physically, which I appreciated a lot.
It’s said that this DarkPark in Delft they’re building a third room – the upcoming Rise of the Phoenix which is set to be another ‘not to miss’. Combined with The Dentist and The Carnival, this puts this venue squarely on the map for any enthusiast visiting the country.
Molly’s Game – Down the Hatch
Last but by absolutely no means least, the final escape room on our trip was Molly’s Game. Where do I even start with this one?
10/10 for puzzles, 10/10 for set, and 19/10 for story. Molly’s Game begins with a visually amazing lobby, and a very enthusiastic greeting. After a brief introduction, we were led into the room where we had to break into a doctor’s office under the invitation of the mysterious and enigmatic “Molly”. Who is Molly? Well that was for us to find out. Molly’s Game is slightly Stranger Things themed – but only slightly, you don’t really need to have seen the TV show to understand it, I think it’s more just “set within the same thematic universe” which is pretty cool.
Again, it’s really hard not to spoil this experience as very early in the game it goes from “pretty good escape room” to “wait, what?” in all the best ways. The puzzles were extraordinarily fun and fit beautifully within the environment. There is an incredible amount of love and care gone into this escape room and I can completely see why so many people call this one their absolute favourite room in the world.
But the one thing that Molly’s Game does better than any other escape room in the world is tell a story. By now, I know every ‘escape room story’ like the back of my hand. You’re locked in a room. You escape. Sometimes you’re a pirate, other times you’re a convict. None of that at Down the Hatch. The story they tell is complex, beautiful, sad (oh yes, expect to cry in this one!), full of twists and turns, and very easy to follow. The puzzles are interwoven seamlessly through the environment and through that story. For those who appreciate the set they’ll spot a myriad of hidden clues and details which all add into that central story.
In this game you don’t “win” or “lose”, you experience something magical. It’s an escape room in the truest sense of the world, and a really special one at that.
This has been a very long review to write, and my conclusion really is: they were all amazing.
The Netherlands is a really special place for escape room enthusiasts. I’d often wondered about going – but thought to myself “Heh, how much better than rooms elsewhere in the world can they really be? An escape room is an escape room is an escape room”. But oh how pleasantly wrong I was. The ones we played were so brilliant, so utterly immersive, and so full of love I feel speechless even now.
If you had to make me choose between each escape room, I simply could not. Every single one we played brought something new and unique to the table and is not to be missed. But if you forced my hand, I’d split it by the following:
Best Set Design – The Dome
Most Impressive Set Reveal – Catch Me if You Can
Best Story – Molly’s Game
Best Puzzles – Also Molly’s Game
Most Immersive – Stay in the Dark
Best Host – Stay in the Dark
Most Fun – The Carnival
With that, there’s really just one question left to ask – where shall we travel to next?
The Escape Room Adventures take you on a journey of discovery as you puzzle your way through the gameplay and unlock the many secrets within. The easiest room is Mutiny, our pirate-themed room, which is ideal for beginners, families, or a group with mixed experience. Our most challenging adventure room is Nethercott Manor – our haunted manor, which is a fast-paced challenge. We would recommend Dodge City, The Outfitters & our newest room SpellCraft for teams that have some previous escape room experience.
Date Played: December 2022 Number of Players: 5 Time Taken: ~40 Minutes each Difficulty: Expert!
Tulley’s gained its reputation for being one of the best companies in the country a few years ago and has managed to retain it when many others failed to move with the times, or unfortunately closed due to the pandemic. It had long been on my to-do list, but I had been prevented from trying any of their 5 games for a number of factors – namely location, cost, and the necessity to have an expert team to even attempt the rooms!
Luckily for me, the stars aligned at Christmas (well, boxing day) last year – my parter was gifted the day as part of a brand deal, my mum happened to be visiting us (as it was Christmas) and had a car, making transport that much easier, and I had confirmed the availability of the final two members to make us up to a team of 5 experienced players! It may not have been most people’s choice for how to spend their boxing day, but for us it was magical…
Tulley’s has 5 rooms, ranging in theme and complexity, so this is really going to be a whistlestop tour! I also want to highlight their amazing GMs who looked after us throughout the day – Adam, Dan, Ellie, Ed, Jamie, and Tyler – and of course their boss – Sooty the cat.
Dodge City in 2127 remains a stronghold of the wild west. The constant tussle between the Sheriff and local gunslingers means there’s opportunity abound for some creative bank robbery for those with wits and courage. As a member of the Notorious ‘Barn Door’ Gang you’ve been caught by the local sheriff breaking into the bank. Locked away with little hope, hired by an unnamed outlaw and facing the ruthless justice of the old west you’re left with only one option. As the sun sets the race is on to break out, reclaim your supplies, pull off the bank job of the century and get out of Dodge City.
Dodge City was our first room…and one of their hardest! Immediately on entering it’s obvious how Tulley’s have earned their reputation – the set design is amazing and extremely immersive, and there are surprises throughout the game. Even as a hardened spotter of fake doors and moving bookshelves, I soon gave up trying to anticipate what was coming next.
This room started with one of my favorite tropes – being separated! We were placed in separate cells, and this obviously required good communication from our newly assembled team, as well as a neat form of contact between us. We then progressed to all things cowboy and outlaw related. I don’t want to give away too much, but the set design and theming were amazing and definitely felt like you were progressing through Dodge City as you progressed through the room. There was only one point in which we were truly stuck, and this was largely due to a breakdown in communication and confusion over who a hint was intended for. Otherwise, this room was one of the most fun rooms we did all day, with some unique puzzles I’ve not seen before (or seen used in a different way), really appealing to different skills. As a team of 5, we only made it out with 4 minutes to spare, which was a great way to get the adrenaline going for the rest of the day!
It’s 1926 here in Chicago, and depression is still rife. Jobs are few and far between and the Prohibition has been in force for six years now. Everyone still drinks, nothin’ has changed. But now the mob control the streets, the supply and the money. The influence of the Outfit is far-reaching. Most of the cops are even under their control. Who can put them in the joint? You can, that’s who. The Commissioner has put together a special task force of straight, trusted cops and you’re on the team. You’ve spent the last few months infiltrating their network and now tonight is the night to get the evidence you need to put them away forever. But it won’t be easy, your cover might be blown! Do you have what it takes?
The natural progression from ‘cowboy’ is ‘mobster’, right? We moved almost straight from the Wild West into a mafia front in Chicago. We entered into an unassuming tailors shop, before discovering all was not what it seemed… The use of space at Tulley’s continued to be a lovely surprise, although the set felt a little more tired and rough around the edges in this room. That’s not to say it wasn’t good though – hidden information was the name of the game for Outfitters (what more could you expect from Gangsters), with themed puzzles and ’20s mechanisms running the room.
In this room, there were a few moments where mechanisms didn’t trigger or triggered when they shouldn’t have, and we were much less active than we had been in Dodge, with only a couple of us solving puzzles at a time. We managed to escape with a respectable 19mins remaining and an eagerness to sink our teeth into the next one (after lunch). Although this wasn’t a bad room, I’d say it was fairly average, and if this was the only room we’d done…I would have been disappointed.
The SpellCraft twins, Evilinda & Spellinda, two witches, two paths, two shops, two worlds, two journeys, their two magical worlds collide, and you find yourself in the middle of their story. SpellCraft will take you on a magical adventure, you’ll need to work together, but in the end there’s always a battle, will you escape and who will win?
Our next room was the newest room at Tulley’s, and the room that has quickly become a favourite of most players (myself included) – Spellcraft! When I first heard it was a magic-themed room my reaction was probably similar to many other enthusiasts – “not another one!”, “How is this going to be any different from all the other magic rooms?” , “why do people love this so much? What’s so good about magic?”
However, it was unlike any magic room I’ve done before, and has truly earned its place at the top of many lists. Firstly, you can tell from the waiting area that the set and story are going to be completely different from any other magic room. There are no “wizard school” or 4 “magical houses” that happen to be primary colours…
Instead, we were once more split into teams – this time “good” and “evil” – and given wands, which stayed with us and were used throughout the game. We were also given cauldrons to collect/carry things with us, which was a nice touch I’ve not experienced anywhere else. Inside the room, the set design was once more delightful and surprising. The set is huge, but of course, you don’t realise this at first. However, there is a truly magical mechanism within the room and we were transported again and again to extremely different settings and places. There were a lot of fun puzzles here too – some familiar, others less so, and the climax of the room brings together the two teams in a fierce battle of good and evil, which we obviously won.
Overall, while I can’t remember (or didn’t see) quite a few of the puzzles the experience itself blew me out of the water with the magic and joy I felt. As a team of 5, we escaped with 16 minutes remaining, and I enjoyed every second. This is an amazing room, one of the best in the country I’d say, and makes me excited to see what they do next.
It’s the year of our Lord 1672, and you be right in the height o’ the golden age o’ piracy… After years of sailin’ the high seas, you and your crew have succeeded in your fair share of ambushes, and as a result – your ship is teemin’ with bounty. Yet you’re still suffering beneath the cruel wrath o’ Captain Starling – a notoriously bloodthirsty buccaneer, and your shipmates have decided you all shall take matters into your own hands. After all… you fought for the gold, so the gold is yours for the taking, aye? Once the old seadog has retreated to his berth for the night, you make your move. Get in, get the treasure and get out. You won’t have long before he starts to stir – and Starling shows no mercy to ANY soul…
After that amazing experience we needed to calm down a little, so found ourselves upon a ship in the easiest room. This was again misleading – although our initial perception was that of every other pirate game I’ve played (as we solved it as such, by guessing digits in combination locks and skipping steps), once we were out of the cabin we had clearly been played.
As you might expect for a ship, this game required more physicality than others, but these were more to reveal/solve puzzles than being the puzzle itself. There was one particularly unique feature of this room, which was fun to build and use, but otherwise, this was your average pirate room, just more polished and better executed. Ultimately we escaped with 22 mins left, and we had fun doing so, but we were looking forwards to the final room.
The old manor house is entwined with local legend, the living don’t remember the Nethercott’s, the family’s hay day was long ago. Local folk talked, whispers were heard, rumours began, lights were seen within. The Nethercott’s are long gone but something remains, an essence, a smell, a feeling, it’s in the fabric, in the walls, under the floor boards … it ticks, it creeks … take a trip into the past, uncover the family’s many secrets and glimpse their fleeting souls?
Finally, the room that put Tulley’s on the map (for me at least) – their largest and hardest (I think), as I didn’t even see half of the room – more like 1/3! It was also the one I was most nervous before, being a massive wimp and this being a haunted house. Nevertheless, I couldn’t pass the experience up, so I steeled myself and forged ahead.
The atmosphere is obvious from the start, finding ourselves outside the front door of an abandoned house, with an atmospheric soundtrack doing nothing to ease my nerves. The immediate puzzles were fairly easy, clearly luring us into a false sense of security before we entered the manor itself. Once inside, the set is appropriately dimly lit (until you’re able to find the fuse box at least), with many old-fashioned items of decor and themed puzzles attached. This is also when you get your first taste of the spirits that haunt the house, and it became clear that I was an easy mark for the GM.
For those of you of a similar disposition to me, I will just reassure you that nothing physically jumps out at you, but there are a lot of loud noises, which the GM can, and will, trigger whenever they feel like – especially if you are an obvious target stood next to the item in question.
This first room had the most frustrating puzzle I’ve seen in any room…ever. We found out afterwards that even the GMs will struggle to complete it, so usually, they take pity on the players and allow them to bypass it (ourselves included). Usually, this type of time sink would annoy me, especially in a room as large as this, but we actually addressed most of the room at the same time as this ‘puzzle’, and the GM clearly knew the right time to give us a nudge that gave us a chance of solving it, without feeling frustrated.
From this point, we barely saw each of our teammates again until close to the end of the room. I found myself with my mum solving a series of logic puzzles while being terrorised by the GM ghost. We also encountered a smell test, which worked well given we were in the kitchen. From what we saw afterwards, our teammates were working through similarly well-themed puzzles for their respective rooms, across a large variety of skills.
The final puzzles were once more of the deductive style (my favourite), before quite a fun/creepy ending (depending on your perspective). We managed to escape with 9.34 left, which is quite an achievement given they used to sell this as an 80-minute room, and I know many people who didn’t manage to escape! This was definitely a great way to end the day, and almost my favourite room.
The team at Tulley’s were fantastic, and the rooms were large and immersive, while still delivering high quality puzzles. We appreciated the drink offerings, and usually they serve food on the farm too. The introduction videos are also worth mentioning – very entertaining, and slightly unhinged, but they weave into an overall lore, which I’ve only seen a handful of other rooms do as effectively.
This is definitely a must-visit for any enthusiast. Although we could award this nearly all of our badges, we definitely think they’re most deserving of our “I believe” badge, for just how immersive and expansive their rooms were.
Audio – nearly all the rooms require some form of communication between players. Spellcraft, Nethercott and Dodge also featured audio puzzles/prompts, although not everyone will need to do these.
Vision – Nethercott, Mutiny and Outfitters all had fairly low lighting at points. Dodge required a small amount of colour identification, as did Nethercott and Outfitters.
Smell – Nethercott has a smell puzzle!
Spatial – In Dodge you start in a small cell, so if you have issues with space I recommend being the only person in yours. There are also some small spaces in Nethercott, Outfitters, Mutiny and Spellcraft, but none require all team members to enter. There are some smoke effects in Spellcraft, as well as Nethercott.
These rooms can be booked on the Tulleys website here
Date played: March 2022 Time taken: 48 minutes / 46 minutes / 45 minutes Number of players: 2 Difficulty: Easy / Hard / Medium
As someone who lives in London, I don’t often get the chance to venture ‘up north’, but there are quite a few companies that are making a name for themselves! Just outside of Manchester (an easy tram ride away) is the small town of Bury, home to “Compendium Escapes”. We decided to tick off all their rooms at once, so here I’m covering the first three, and leaving their award-winning final room for a post of its own!
Compendium: Laboratory | Review
You and your friends have been given the challenge to find and steal a Laboratory’s TOP secret remedy needed to cure a deadly disease. You have been entrusted with all the information you need to gain entry to the lab but no idea how to find the antidote undetected and once inside you find yourselves trapped. Do you have what it takes to save lives and escape the lab with the antidote?
When we entered the lab we found ourselves in a relatively large, clean room with plenty of science-y artifacts lying around. The premise is simple; locate and recover the antidote for the deadly pandemic that is ravaging the planet (I swear this was launched long before Covid-19). We immediately split up and started searching for clues, locating a number of interesting items and numbers dotted about. The decor in the room was great – it played into the theme and there quite multiple times when something which initially appeared to be a prop turned into a key puzzle!
Image (c) Manchester Evening News
This room is often said to be the best room for families, and I can see why – the room is full of bright colours and varied puzzles, with most puzzles within reach of small hands and some exciting little spaces to explore. The only issue is that the one main puzzle in the room (to access the parts of the antidotes) would not be possible for younger children, and indeed was not possible for me at 5ft3! However, the GM handled this really well, and let us off as he could see we had made quite a few attempts, but just physically couldn’t manage it. If this had been later in the day I can imagine this would’ve made us quite frustrated, but as it was we brushed past it and chalked it up to a slightly annoying thing.
The location isn’t very physically accessible, being up some quite steep stairs, but the room itself has a chair to sit in and is well lit. There is some reliance on colour, and that pesky physical puzzle. Hints are given via a screen, so otherwise no reliance necessarily on hearing.
Compendium: Bedlam | Review
Bentham Asylum has been standing since the 1900’s. In 1950 Bentham was given the nickname BEDLAM because of the events that happened in those 50 years, In 1974 Cell p23 was mysteriously locked without an explanation as to why. Bedlam has secrets that need to be uncovered. You and your team are the top journalists in your field, you have been tasked with uncovering the secrets that are held behind Cell P23’s walls. Can you go undercover, get in the cell undetected and escape with all the documents that will uncover the secrets of BEDLAM?
I am really not a horror fan. I am a massive coward, so the idea of doing not just one, but two ‘scary’ rooms was a little daunting. However, we spoke to the Compendium team prior to booking who assured me there would be no live actors or jump scares, so we went ahead and booked. Bedlam definitely fits into the ‘creepy’ and suspenseful area of ‘scary’, with atmospheric background music/sounds that felt extremely immersive. I actually found myself really enjoying this! The combination of dingy lighting, a chair with handcuffs, and random screams in the background helped set the mood and get the adrenaline running before any puzzles have taken place.
The room itself is very small – we played as a duo, and I’m not sure I would’ve wanted to play with anymore! Despite this, I was amazed by how much Compendium have fit into this space, and we were constantly surprised by certain discoveries. There are so many hidden areas carefully blended into the padded walls that we really had a sense of excitement and never knew what was coming next.
The puzzles were a fantastic example of thematic design – they all fit the theme perfectly, and to a certain extent helped carry the narrative too. They were fairly non-linear (I know there were a few puzzles I never saw), with a couple that also required some team cooperation. None of the puzzles frustrated us, and all the logic made total sense. There were also some really interesting mechanisms used for these puzzles, but I don’t want to spoil anything!
Like all their rooms, this is very much not accessible. Obviously, you need to climb up some steep stairs to reach the room itself, but there is a chair within the room. There is the requirement for at least one team member to be happy with crawling and small spaces, although this really isn’t the room for anyone with claustrophobia given the general size. The room was fairly dim, but we found a torch which helped!
Compendium: Wrong Turn | Review
You and your friends are driving along route 66 when you notice your gas running low, a friend suggests to make a turn at the next set of crossroads to see if there is a gas station… you don’t find a gas station but decide to explore the one place you have discovered by taking that WRONG TURN…. Will you escape or will you spend your life regretting that wrong turn?
The third room we did at Compendium was another ‘scary’ room – this time we entered the home of a serial killer. Once again we confirmed there were no live actors or jump scares, but unfortunately, there were plenty of mannequins (which is my specific phobia). The team were great though, and removed what they could, giving my mum a warning of where others were so she could deal with them for me. That aside, this room was fantastically creepy in a different way to Bedlam. Rather than screams, the soundtrack was instead an old fashion song and commercial, and the room and set dressing were just off enough to be unsettling.
Image (c) Manchester Evening News
Rather than entering into the lair directly, we instead found ourselves in an old-fashioned kitchen off Route 66. At first glance, nothing seems amiss, but look a bit closer and you realise that maybe things are not as they appear. The set dressing here was excellent, with a lot of relevant props and accessories to investigate, but not so many that they would count as red herrings (and none dressed as puzzles). The difference between this room and the lair (when you discover it) is very stark, and quite horrific (as you might imagine).
The puzzles themselves were a bit trickier than the other rooms, but still had a great flow and were fairly non-linear. I really appreciated the need to hunt for items and keep track of these throughout the room, as well as the requirement to move between the kitchen and the lair. The space is also a lot bigger than initially anticipated, with a great sense of atmosphere. There were also some unique physical puzzles here, which I quite enjoyed!
In terms of accessibility – again, steep stairs to the location, but chairs inside. There is a requirement to be able to crawl to reach the lair, and there are some smaller, darker spaces to be aware of. You will need to be able to differentiate colours for this room too.
Compendium, The Verdict
I think Compendium is a fantastic company, who clearly pay close attention to all aspects of room design. I have written a separate review about their final room, UI-55, which is currently my number 1 room. Out of these three, I enjoyed ‘Bedlam’ the most, followed by ‘Wrong turn’, but that’s probably my cowardice talking. I would say you shouldn’t be put off my the scary aspect of either room though, as they are worth playing!
The team at ‘Compendium’ are also fantastic – we spent a long time chatting with them and they are top-notch. Given we booked all 4 rooms they’d actually ‘closed’ the place for the day, so we could be a bit relaxed about timings and decide when we wanted to play each room. This gave us time to grab refreshments between rooms, and decide on our lunch break, rather than either rushing out of one room and into the next, or else sitting around in a long gap. This was a little touch that was really appreciated and so unexpected. I also just enjoyed talking to them in general, as they are clearly passionate about what they do (which shines through in the rooms) and so we spent a while comparing and recommending rooms to each other! Compendium is definitely a must-visit for me.
These rooms can be booked on the Compendium Bury website.
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!
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.
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
Starting this month we’re pleased to announce that we have…
✉️🌟 A Newsletter! 🌟✉️
Thanks to some fantastic feedback from you (yes, you!) we’ve decided that rather than rely on RSS feeds (or as well as, if that’s your jam), we’d like to put out a monthly newsletter that rounds up the top posts from The Escape Roomer in each category.
Here’s what to expect:
Escape Room News from around the UK
What games we’ve been playing (and our Most Recommended Reviews)
Game Design & Escape Room Design Tips
Local upcoming events in cities near you (that is, assuming you’re in the UK!)
Discounts and Competitions – Our own, and from local escape room businesses
Since we’ve never done a newsletter before, this is a little test for us and one we hope you’ll come along for the journey on – we promise we’ll make it worth your while!
The Roomer Mill
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If you want even more news of course, we recommend our friends over at Escape Industry News (where I myself am a researcher and editor), but in the mean time we hope you enjoy our first issue of The Roomer Mill.
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.
We are super pleased to announce that Rick Porter is joining The Escape Roomer as our newest escape rooms editor in York! Rick joins us with a fantastic history of writing about the video games industry, covering guides, reviews and features for several digital and print-media publications.
Rick is also a huge board game fan, and like a lot of us here at The Escape Roomer, has “a board game cupboard in danger of falling through to the flat below“. Haha yep, I’m sure we all can relate!
We’re all looking forward to Rick’s articles, and he’ll be covering a little of everything – expect escape rooms, board games, immersive events in and around York and more! We’re so excited to have him join the team.
Keep an eye out for Rick’s features coming soon, but in the mean time here he is to introduce himself:
Hey Rick, please introduce yourself!
Hi, it’s nice to be here! Hmmm, what do you need to know about me… Well, I spent a sizable chunk of my life writing, editing and generally tending to videogame magazines and websites in Bournemouth. That was before I decided that I’d quite like my hobbies to be more hobby-like and not all-consuming, Sisyphean burdens. Due to the subject matter, I like to think that it was an industry that helped keep me young, but my 3-year-old son has already done a sterling job of reversing any possible benefit there could have been.
So I now live in York. A beautiful, walled city that – according to legend – has over 365 pubs. Many of which are apparently haunted. As well as potential ghosts, a lot of them also host pub quizzes – something else I really enjoy. I fill almost all my spare time with videogames, boardgames and puzzles and I‘m really looking forward to sharing my findings, experiences and thoughts with the Escape Roomer readers.
How did you get into the world of escape rooms and puzzle games?
I was introduced to escape rooms a fair few years ago when the first one popped up in York. The concept of escaping from a room by solving puzzles was something I’d seen plenty of in digital form, so doing it in real life against the clock really appealed to me. Unsurprisingly, I was hooked. The 18 months that followed saw me complete numerous escapes across York, Leeds, Bournemouth and London. After getting 20-30 rooms under my belt (relatively few, looking at the numbers some of the contributors here have clocked up) I started testing and providing feedback rooms for a company in York, which gave me more insight into how escape rooms are created.
The birth of my son caused an abrupt halt to my escapes, but I’m looking forward to getting back into them now he’s a bit older. I can’t wait to see how things have changed and improved while I’ve not been paying attention.
How about video games, do you have any favourites?
I could name several the usual classics here but, putting nostalgia aside for a moment, I think Portal 2 is certainly up there with the very best.
Every element of it is excellent and the mixture of ingenious puzzles, razor-sharp humour and increasingly oppressive atmosphere combine to make something truly memorable. Its predecessor, Portal, is also incredible and does a superb job of showing that games don’t need to be huge to be exceptional.
If you enjoy escaping from rooms, puzzles and disingenuous promises of cake then I can’t recommend the Portal games highly enough.
The cake is a lie!
What are you playing (…or solving) at the moment?
I’m spinning a couple of plates right now. Videogame-wise I’m gradually making my way through Horizon: Forbidden West, which I’m punctuating with slightly more arduous sessions of Elden Ring. I’m enjoying both a lot, so it’s a constant fight for my free time.
Although I’m currently taking something of a forced hiatus, my last six months have been dominated by the brilliant / daunting / frustrating / rewarding / ridiculous / surprising Taskmaster Treasure Hunt. It’s been an amazing experience so far and I’m sure there’s more in store as the final stages play out.
If you were given a blank cheque to create your dream ‘game’, what would it be like?
I’ve always thought that I’d like to put together a steampunk escape room – it’s a style I love, but it would probably take a huge amount of cash to do properly. The blank cheque would help a lot with the intricate machinery required to really set the scene.
However, now Alex Horne and his treasure hunt have showcased how versatile a book can be when combined with freely available online resources, I think I’d prefer to attempt a book project. Something that combines puzzle, story and art elements to create an experience that people can enjoy for months rather than a single hour.
We are very excited to have Rick on the team and a huge shout out to him for answering all these questions!
If you want to keep up with Rick, you can find him on Twitter.
There are a whole lot of escape rooms in London (TripAdvisor currently lists 103 “room escape games” and experiences), so sometimes the choice can be overwhelming. It can be even harder when adding extra considerations to the mix, such as age, team size, or type of player!
Luckily for you, we’ve put together this handy guide of our top picks for escape rooms to play when that dreaded question of “what shall we do for our work team social this week?” comes to you.
What we’ve considered
When thinking about rooms to play we colleagues there are some key differences that may be important for colleagues, but less important for other team types:
Firstly, many work socials involve a pub (in my experience at least), so rooms near a pub are always great, especially if they’re also near a station for easy commuting.
Secondly, companies that can accommodate larger teams for bigger team events are great, especially if these include some sort of team element.
Finally, I also want to give a nod to outdoor experiences, which may be more fun as the weather heats up.
Rooms near pubs
If you’re familiar with the escape room scene in London you can probably already guess which escape room ‘near’ a pub I’m going to recommend, but you may not have realised there’s a second!
My first pick would naturally be Lady Chastity’s Reserve (previously reviewed). This fantastically spooky room is based above The Hope pub in Farrington – perfectly situated for both drinking and commuting! This is an 18+ room, with a bottle of wine as the price, so is sure to engage those who enjoy a bit of adult humour, as well as fans of spooky atmospheres without being a full-out ‘horror’ room. Although the room only takes 6 at a time the slots run fairly late (later than many rooms) and the pub beneath is a great way to pass the time!
My second pick would be ‘Gangster’s treasure’ by ClueAdventures. This one is further out than Lady Chastity, all the way in Leytonstone (east London) and a little walk from the station. However, it is above The Coach and Horses pub, and boasts two 2-player rooms as well as this 6 player room. I haven’t played this one myself, but can heartedly recommend the 2 player rooms so I’m sure this would live up to the same standards!
Rooms with competitive elements
When it comes to competitive elements there are a few companies that offer the ‘vs’ format, but I’ve picked out 2 who I think do it really well.
First up is ‘ClueQuest‘ near King’s Cross. It’s no secret that we’re a fan of this company, but I didn’t realise until writing this post that they offer an excellent corporate package! For your more formal work social they can cater for up to 66 players, offering extras such as food, drinks and an all-important trophy! Even if you don’t go the official route, their booking system makes it easy to book up to 4 copies of the same room at once (depending on the room) so you can still have a head to head of the same game, as well as also offering a VR experience. The rooms themselves are excellent quality so make a great impression on new players and are well balanced for mixed teams.
My second choice of a competitive style room would be Secret Studio near Aldgate East station. What I appreciated most about the rooms at Secret Studio is that they are the same but different – although most of the core puzzles are the same, the decor and puzzle specifics are slightly different for each team and they are also able to change certain puzzles. This makes it great for replayability – they talk quite a bit about returning visitors on their site, and even give them the chance to get involved (in more ways than one);
When we played previously as a large group my team finished quite a bit before our friends, and I loved being able to watch them and even interact. I think this also opens the doors for excess players to have fun too, or those who are uncertain about playing.
There are quite a few outdoor experiences in London, although I’m not sure how these may have changed since the early days of the pandemic. However, I’m sure the core elements will be the same and I know they’re great for splitting teams up a bit!
My personal top pick would be a Hidden City‘treasure hunt’. My first experience with these style of games was playing ‘The Hunt for the Cheshire Cat’ and I still maintain it was one of the most impressive games I’ve played. For a colleague perspective these games are perfect – they can host up to 300(!), stagger teams start times, have in-built (pub) breaks (often with discounts) and have a final leaderboard at the end. They even offer a virtual hunt for remote workers! The treasure hunt itself is amazing fun – you go into places you never knew existed, as well as those you never think to go into, and hunt for things in plain site. There are also in-built story trees, so you could make one decision and a different team may make another, sending you in different directions.
If you’re after a more traditional escape-room style experience I recommend AIM escape‘s outdoor experience. Although I wasn’t hugely impressed by their indoor offering, I found their outdoor experience to be one of the best I’ve played. Rather than using phones each team is supplied with a kit and must undertake ‘challenges’ (puzzles) at various locations. Unlike other outdoor experiences which challenge you to follow precise directions, AIM instead gives you a map and lets you decide where to go and how to get there, really giving the teams freedom (and the chance to plan strategically). They also provide different routes and staggered starts, so teams won’t be constantly following each other. There are 3 pre-built routes, but also the offer to create your own!
Also I personally haven’t played this one, Mairi tells me I’m missing out with Colombia’s Finest by Street Hunt, a new player to the walking puzzle game genre in London. It’s another route perfectly suited for large teams as different people can take completely different routes in this race to catch the criminal. In a less touristy area of London that is packed with office buildings (Temple, St Pauls area), there are several pubs and cafes on this walk making it a great one for a team social of any size.
Have we missed your favourite? Let us know in the comments!
Anywhere that is within ~1 hour drive of Sheffield, we will have looked into whether there are any escape rooms that we are yet to try out. Brighouse is no exception!
The back story of us discovering Project Breakout is quite amusing – it was Sheffield Pride (which explains the face paint that some of our team members are wearing on the below picture) and it was SO rainy. We had a go on a few of the rides (it’s very amusing watching people ride of mechanical bulls in the pouring rain), but then we soon got chilly and wandered back to our house, looking for something to do for the afternoon…
Of course why not have a look into doing an escape room?!
We had done most of the rooms in Sheffield by this point and we were constrained to places that had last minute availability. After browsing the web, we came across Project Breakout’s room: ‘Operation Clearsafe’. We called them up, and got ourselves booked in. Before we knew it, we were on our way to Brighouse (although Al originally said it was in Pontefract which if you know your Yorkshire geography was quite a lie).
Little did we know what we had got ourselves into! (especially taking two escape room newbies, so sorry guys!!!)
Project Breakout: Operation Clearsafe
Welp! We were led downstairs into the basement of the climbing centre where Project Breakout is based, feeling the chilly air surround us as we were taken further and further away from the safe, light, outside world.
In the briefing, we were asked how scary we wanted the room, to which one of our members said ’10/10′. But we soon shut that down and asked for a medium 5/10, which in hindsight was lucky as I think if we had had 10/10 some of our team members might have actually cried!
The premise of this room is: an experimental laboratory which has been testing on animals and humans, and has recently experienced a disaster, and accidentally (whoopsie) let loose all of the test subjects. Of course, this meant a 60 minute count down until the self destruct of the entire facility. Our aim was to get out of the facility (alive) and avoid any unwanted encounters with the mysterious subjects who were said to be freely roaming around. Luckily, we had help from our technical friend, who kept us up to date on a walkie-talkie with the whereabouts of any unwanted guests.
“He’s got a KNIFE!”
This room is very, very creepy. You are on edge throughout, with a creepy soundtrack, the (very atmospheric) actual chilliness of the basement, and many, many dark corners…
Make sure you are comfortable with the people you go in with, as you will inevitably end up grabbing hold of them, or hiding in places that are way too small to fit one person, let alone two, to avoid being seen! One of our team members took the saying ‘hiding in plain sight’ a bit too literally and decided that sitting on the floor with her eyes closed was the best way forward. She then loudly exclaimed that one of the test subjects was carrying a knife (spoiler, he was not) – and then she was pretty much paralysed with fear for the rest of the game.
It’s amazing how well a spooky atmosphere, story and an actor can escalate into something altogether more scary through the participants’ own imaginations!
The actual physical space the game takes place in is vast- it is definitely one of the biggest escape rooms we’ve played, and as such we would highly recommend taking a bigger team to take on this challenge (not to mention the safety in numbers aspect!).
We talk about this game so much, and think it is one of the only escape rooms we would choose to re-play!
Project Breakout: The Dollmaker
Full of high praise from our first experience at Project Breakout, we knew we had to return! A weekend many moons ago (well, pre-covid so it feels like a lifetime ago) we headed up to Brighouse intending to play one room -The Dollmaker.
This was a dingy, unsettling room, with creepy dolls and plenty of serial killer essentials. It was nowhere near as scary as Operation Clearsafe, but it was quite creepy!
In our team of 4, we settled into a reasonably steady rhythm, navigating the puzzles on offer and taking it in turns to look after Alice when she was jumping at the slightest noise. The room is well suited to a more experienced team, and enthusiasts will find themselves facing some new challenges!
Project Breakout: Project Z – zombies and a secret bunker…
After successful completion of The Dollmaker, we wanted more, and our superb games host kindly squeezed us into Project Z. This room was set in a bunker-one of the best bunker sets we have seen (complete with a secret door none of us saw coming!).
The sound effects were perfect at heightening the immersion, with the zombies scratching and moaning, it was good for keeping you on track (and keeping Alice on edge lol).
We were having a particularly good day when we played this game, and we really clicked with this room and the puzzles.
It is not a scary room, but is effective a creating a sense of unease (Steven was utterly convinced we were going to have a zombie visitor). We escaped in a record (at the time of playing) 26 minutes, but we felt this was a very jam-packed room with some clever puzzles which very much fit into the theme and which we just happened to click with on the day!
Antidote – the cure is always to play more rooms, right?
As we got out in under 30 minutes, Benn (our host for the day) told us we were eligible for a free escape… So we made our way into the Antidote and onto room 3 (thank you Benn for being so flexible!). We were warned that this was their easiest game, but we were excited nonetheless as we knew Project Breakout do what they do very well!
This room starts with a very clever play to spring you straight into the immersive story, it’s something that makes it stand out in our memories for sure.
This room would be absolutely perfect for a beginner group! It cleverly introduces a wide range of puzzles: logic, observation, math, riddle…it was all there, and delivered really well. The storyline was excellent, and we knew our challenge was not to escape, but to solve a bigger problem(!).
Escaping in 22 minutes, we just missed another record!
Overall – The Verdict
We love Project Breakout’s rooms. We have had some great days out playing their games and would be super keen to return when a new room opens. We have no doubt that enthusiasts and beginners would find something to enjoy here.
You can book yourself in to play any at Project Breakout by heading to their website here.