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


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

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

So, what is The Key of Dreams?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Key of Dreams

Meet The Collector

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

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

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

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

The staircases inside the Key of Dreams

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

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

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

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

One of the rooms in The Key of Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

How to book The Key of Dreams?

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

The Key of Dreams Poster

Marketing Tabletop Puzzle Games on Kickstarter — A Case Study


This article was originally posted on Medium.

Kickstarter is an incredibly powerful tool not just for securing the funds to create a game, but also for marketing the game itself. In this article, I look at the very specific niche of “tabletop puzzle games” and using case studies, go through what works well and what might not be working quite so well.

What is a ‘tabletop puzzle game’, and why am I so fixated on them?

Tabletop puzzle game, play at home escape room, mystery box, puzzle board games… Whatever you want to call them. I’m a Game Designer, and even in our industry we haven’t settled on an exact name for exactly what it is we make. Or an exact genre for that matter. But, in general terms:

Tabletop puzzle games are a specific sub-genre of board games that are typically (but not always) single-play mystery experiences, packed with puzzles to solve. Think “you are trapped in a room and you have 60 minutes to escape”, or “you’ve inherited this mysterious box. You solve the puzzles and complete actions with a singular goal in mind. These games are often collaborative, not competitive, and they’re best played either solo or in a small team.

Some notable examples from Kickstarter include:

Sometimes tabletop puzzle games remain quite niche, popular in the “Puzzle People” communities where 3,000 or so of us share and chat about our favourite new puzzle games. Others break into the mainstream. You might recognise some of the following:

Graphic image from The Panic Room’s online website

And why is this topic so interesting to me? Well, it goes back to the idea of the communities who play these games. In other words:

“The “Puzzle People” communities where 3,000 or so of us share and chat about our favourite new puzzle games”

The most successful Kickstarter groups capture the attention of these people first. A successful first day means a game is all the more likely to be a Kickstarter “Project We Love”, and thus be shown to thousands, if not millions of new players out there. And it all starts with those Puzzle People. But marketing your game to such a small group comes with it it’s own challenges.

This crowd are the Puzzle People, and Nic Cage’s head could be your game.

Show Me the Numbers

To support this article, I went through every single English-language Kickstarter funded game in this ‘genre’ I could find, and compiled them in a spreadsheet here. In the time it took me to finish the spreadsheet, I managed to drink three cups of coffee. But hey, I enjoy crunching numbers whilst absolutely buzzed and excited. So here they are:

  • I was able to find 80 games in this genre since 2015
  • Most were from the USA. A whole 35%.
  • The next ‘most’ was the UK, with 25%.

Of course that might just be Kickstarter deliberately showing me British Kickstarters because of where in the world I am, but I was still surprised to see it.

  • Canada and the Netherlands were the next most represented countries, with 8 and 7 campaigns respectively.

Which companies are raising the most TOTAL moolah?

Well, to make things fair I converted all currencies into USD. These figures are accurate as of May 2023, but given currencies fluctuate they may not accurately represent what the Kickstarters took home at the time.

How much does it cost to make a game? Like, a million bucks?

At the very top, we see:

  • The Shivers, who raised $576,892.00 for their game
  • Mysterious Package Company (and their sister company, Curious Correspondence) who raised $501,637.00 on their most recent 2022 game, $446,281.00 in 2016, and $310,792.00 in 2015.
  • iDVenture, who consistently raise between $271,494.00 — $394,314.00 on every campaign
  • Spectre & Vox, the small British team who raised $308,764.00 in 2020
  • And last but not least, PostCurious’s impressive suite of games raising at most, $290,088.00 in 2020.

The Shivers on Kickstarter

Which campaigns have the highest number of backers?

The numbers start to look interesting if we instead filter the spreadsheet by number of backers. At the top we see:

  • Again, The Shivers at 6,794 people
  • Mysterious Package Company drops off the top-10, with one notable exception: Doomensions, which was a collaboration with Curious Correspondence. They had 5,338 backers.
  • iDVenture shoots right up to the top with a spooky 3,980 backers across both their campaigns, a year apart.
  • PostCurious, with a consistently high number of backers, their highest being 3,734 on Light in the Mist.

Doomensions on Kickstarter

Which campaigns have the highest spend per customer?

This is when things get even more interesting. I decided, out of interest, to divide the total raised by number of backers to see how much people are spending on campaigns. Or in a cynical way: Which companies have the richest backers?

  • A Killing Affair, a new name, comes in at top with just 86 backers who spent each $257.28 on Blind Faith. This isn’t surprising since the lowest pledge level was $125 and the highest $335.
  • Mysterious Package Company is no surprise here, with a very high cost of individual games. Their campaigns see between $238 — $249 per customer spend.
  • The Enigma Box is a new name in the top list again, their 2017 campaign saw an average spend of $221.
  • Similarly, The Detective Society rears it’s head as the company with the 4th highest spend per customer at $215. This again makes sense, since they were selling whole seasons of games.
  • Interestingly, or painfully, the 5th is a Kickstarter campaign called The Boundless Library which was never fulfilled. Backers pledged an average of $200.

Filigree in Shadow on Kickstarter

How about Player Spend by Year?

  • In 2015, I found 1 Kickstarter and it raised $310,792.00 (per backer spend of $240.74)
  • In 2016 I found 3 Kickstarters and they raised $590,410 (per backer spend of $139.47)
  • In 2017 I found 2 Kickstarters and they raised $422,142 (per backer spend of $207.64)
  • In 2018 I found 3 Kickstarters and they raised $38,250 (per backer spend of $24.51)
  • In 2019 I found 10 Kickstarters and they raised $389,792 (per backer spend of $51.24)
  • In 2020 I found 18 Kickstarters and they raised $2,275,464 (per backer spend of $90.29)
  • In 2021 I found 20 Kickstarters and they raised $1,059,446 (per backer spend of $63.03)
  • In 2022 I found 19 Kickstarters and they raised $1,589,997 (per backer spend of $83.18)

What the heck happened in 2018? Well, I don’t know, Kickstarter reported record funds, so maybe folks were just spending their money in other categories. It was a uniquely record-breaking hot summer, perhaps folks weren’t spending a lot of time playing board games? I tried looking up significant events in 2018, as well as any major scandals that might have impacted consumer trust in games. Ethiopia signed a big peace deal with Eritrea, which is awesome, but somehow I don’t think it had much of an impact on Kickstarter either.

My conclusion is that 2018 was a record low year for puzzle games simply because: The biggest names in the industry at that time simply didn’t run any campaigns that year. Yes, I’m looking at The Mysterious Package Company (who raised $446,281.00 and $310,792.00 the years before), Escape Room in a Box (who raised $135,429.00 the year before), Simulacra Games (who raised $244,175.00), and Enigma Box (who raised $177,967.00 the year before).

How to market your puzzle game on Kickstarter

Okay, so now we can get to the part of the article you’re really here for:

How?! How do I do it?!

How’d it get funded?!

The answer: There is literally no right or wrong answer.

I don’t have the answer. Folks who create campaigns that end up being funded $1m + also don’t have the answer. Following every trick in the books won’t guarantee a successful Kickstarter campaign.

So instead, what we can do is look at what other campaigns did well. I’ll use this article to look at what some of the most successful Kickstarters in the ‘puzzle game’ niche did well, and some pitfalls to avoid.

Make Good Games: A Case Study of, Well, Everyone!

A successful Kickstarter starts months and years before you actually hit ‘Publish’ on your campaign. It starts with making good games. With good games, comes trust.

But wait, I’ve never published a game before!
That’s why I’m going to Kickstarter!

There are other ways designers can build up trust with their audience, so fear not if you’re planning your first game! Why not try:

  • Making a short mini-game that backers can try out?
  • Publishing mini-puzzles on social media?
  • Sending your game to ‘influencers’, and reviewers ahead of the campaign?

Murder on the Moon on Kickstarter

Case Study: Detective Society’s Murder on the Moon
The $1 Pledge Mini Game

In their most recent campaign, The Detective Society are seeking backers for Murder on the Moon, a murder mystery puzzle game set in space. Now, The Detective Society have published many games so there’s no doubt they’re good at what they do. But this time they have added something unique to the campaign: a “mini game”, which backers can gain access to for just a $1 pledge.

This mini game is digital only, accessible via an online password protected portal. For backers new to The Detective Society, it means they can try out their puzzles before committing to the full game.

The $1 pledge is similarly very smart. Backing a Kickstarter campaign means receiving their Kickstarter updates. It’s like giving away a $1 ticket to an event where you get to advertise a full priced product over and over (*cough cough* like those cheesy Home Convention Shows I somehow keep applying for free tickets to). The Detective Society have the duration of the whole campaign to convince an individual backer to pledge the full amount for the game.

The Early Bird catches the wriggly worm of Kickstarter success

Since this is probably the most important point to make, I’m doubling down on it from a slightly different angle:

A successful Kickstarter starts months and years before you actually hit ‘Publish’ on your campaign.

By making good games, you naturally build up an audience. Having an audience before you start a Kickstarter campaign is probably the single most important thing you can do for the success of your campaign. So, what do I mean?

  • Have a strong social media presence
  • Build up an email marketing list
  • Attend conventions, meet your customers
  • Have good press about your company and games

I won’t go into all the details, for each of those bullet points is it’s own pillar of marketing. Plus, building up a presence won’t be the same between two companies. The company killing it on Tiktok might not be focusing on their emails. The company with 500,000 customers on their mailing list might not have time for a convention, and so on.

So instead, here’s how one puzzle game studio did it:

Case Study: Mysterious Package Company and Curious Correspondence’s Doomensions

One of the companies who has historically done very well on that “community” front is Mysterious Package Company. It shows with their latest 2022 Kickstarter campaign, Doomensions. MPC is the kind of company that historically built up a lot of intrigue and FOMO with their customer base — a “join our mysterious society”, before mysterious societies were available, and “we will drop this mysterious box at midnight and there’ll only be 15 available” in a way your local designer t-shirt label probably does today. They also ran a message board called Curios and Conundrums, as well as countless invite-only message boards and Facebook groups that blurred the lines between fiction and reality.

But that’s not all, with Doomensions they collaborated with Curious Correspondence Club who are the organisers of the annual Puzzletember event in September, a free puzzle activity that pulls big audiences. Small, but mighty, Curious Correspondence also had a track record of shipping their own compact envelope games and a dedicated community that probably didn’t have too much overlap with the older, most established, higher spend-per-customer MPC.

It’s a good example of Kickstarter collaboration (more on that later), but more than anything just how building up a community and track record over years and years can help when it counts.

Make Beautiful Games: The 3 Seconds to Make an Impression

Research shows that most people make a first impression of a person within 7 seconds.

Some people say it’s actually 0.1 seconds…

…And in the video game world, the statistic often thrown around is “5 minutes”.

I don’t know if anyone has ever researched how long someone spends on your Kickstarter campaign page. If they have, I couldn’t find the numbers. But lets assume it’s a really short amount of time.

So how can you make an impact?

  • Use the Title and Subtitle to explain what the game is, and what is unique about it.
  • Use striking visuals and short and snappy headers to take users on a visual journey through your campaign. Who are you? What is your game? Why should they back?
  • Show, don’t tell. Include as many eye-catching images as you can — photographs, animated GIFs, illustrations.

But none of these are particularly new or ground breaking ideas, so let’s look at some case studies from the puzzle world:

Pretty Game vs Pretty Campaign

Light in the Mist on Kickstarter

Case Study: PostCurious’ Light in the Mist
Or as you might know it, the prettiest game on the market. Like, ever.

Light in the Mist was a collaboration between PostCurious and illustrator Jack Fallows. Looking at their campaign, it seems like they knew their strength: The physical game itself was incredibly, incredibly pretty. Therefore, the Kickstarter campaign focuses on photographs of the game first. From hand-drawn tarot cards, gorgeous box poster, and add-on prints I’m quietly seething I didn’t pledge for at the time.

Both creators are well known for creating really high quality and beautiful games. But when they came together and made a Kickstarter for Light in the Mist? It was just pure…

*chefs kiss*

Case Study: The Shivers
Or as you might know it, the prettiest looking campaign ever.

On the other hand, we have the most successful game in the genre: The Shivers. Can I just print out this campaign page and frame it? The Shivers put a lot of time and effort into making their campaign page absolutely gorgeous. From high quality animated GIFs showing the game, to eye-catching illustrations. It’s a very image-heavy campaign, but it paid off.

The Shivers on Kickstarter

The TLDR; If you want to make a good first impression with your puzzle game, do like PostCurious or The Shivers and put the most visually appealing thing about your game on a pedestal.

The Power of Puzzle People

Now is a good time to bring it back to the very first thing I said in this whole article: The puzzle game community. The English speaking puzzle game community is around 3,000–5,000 people strong. They hang out in Facebook Groups, Discord Channels, Reddit, on social media and at in-person events (don’t believe me? Try Puzzled Pint!)

If you’re launching a Kickstarter campaign for a puzzle game, your campaign will live or die by how well you engage the puzzle community.

Kickstarter campaigns that do well are often:

  • Are from creators who are active, helpful and kind in the Puzzle Community. In fact, I think almost every campaign I’ve ever backed was because the creator made a personal effort.
  • Sending out previews of the game to reviewers, ‘influencers’, and other game designers in the industry.
  • Actively nurturing their own community, whatever that looks like. Do you have an ARG? Why not try setting up your own Discord channel or message board about the game.

Lost in the Shuffle on Kickstarter

Case Study: Lost in the Shuffle
From an Unknown Designer to Successful Campaign

Lost in the Shuffle is a really lovely case study and card game that launched on Kickstarter in 2022. It’s a very deceptively simple game. It’s quite literally just a deck of cards. Objectively (and no shade here) there’s nothing particularly eye catching about the visuals either — handwritten text, black and white illustrations, and a sketchy pencil-like quality. It was also by a solo game developer, Spencer is Puzzling who was relatively unknown in the industry.

And yet, Lost in the Shuffle was funded with over 480 backers.

So what did they do right? Well, besides making a game that was really good, they did a few things in the community really right:

  • They sent out copies of the game ahead of time to a number of reviewers and ‘influencers’ in the puzzle game niche.
  • They were active in the puzzle communities, kind and thoughtful about their responses to threads.
  • They appeared on talk shows, podcasts, and the like.

Lost in the Shuffle on Kickstarter

It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this *hands you a collaboration*

The puzzle game niche is small, and we all know each other. But that doesn’t mean that bringing other creators can’t add something new to your campaign.

Game design skill, illustration skill, marketing skill… No one person is perfect, and no one person can do it all…

Not even him

… So there’s always something to add by inviting a collaborator into the fold. A number of Kickstarter campaigns have been very successful in their collaboration, such as:

  • Doomensions, a collaboration between Mysterious Package Company and Curious Correspondence
  • Light in the Mist, a collaboration between PostCurious and Jack Fallows
  • The Medusa Report, a collaboration between Diorama and Sherlocked

I myself will be collaborating on a puzzle experience later in the year with Enigmailed.

THAT SAID: Just be careful out there when you do collaborate — protect yourselves, protect your heart, and protect your intellectual property! Make sure the person or business you’re collaborating with is able to fully commit, is someone you trust, and has a track record of successful delivery of projects.

Paid Ads, and All That Jazz

Not being intimately acquainted every puzzle game’s budget and ad spend, I can’t give any case studies for this — but I will say as a marketer myself, one of the important things you should also consider is Paid Ad Spend. This is the part of your campaign where you cast your net wider than the Puzzle People group and try to attract folks with overlapping interested.

Here are a few tips:

  • Define your target audience, specifically the demographics and behaviours of the people you think will be interested in your campaign
  • Utilise the video and visual content you’re creating for your campaign and repurpose it for any advert campaign.
  • Retarget interested users. If anyone has interacted with your website or brand in another meaningful way, now’s the time to reach back out to them with ads.

Other, outside of the box things you might want to try

Kickstarter is all about experimenting. Especially in the puzzle game niche. What works for [big popular company] or [indie solo developer] might not work for you, so you should try and forge your own path. Figure out what makes you and your game unique, and lean into that.

Create a Series of Puzzles to Support the Campaign

Puzzles that link into your campaign can be used on social media to advertise the game, or just as a way of keeping folks engaged and interested in your campaign. Doomensions did this well.

Offer Limited Edition Content

Remember when I said I was kicking myself for not adding a print onto my Light in the Mist order? You can be absolutely sure I’m getting all the “limited edition” add-ons for the projects I back today.

Offer Retail Copies of your Game

Don’t forget to include a pledge for retailers interested in stocking your game.

Last but not least: When to launch your campaign?

In the puzzle game niche, it’s more important not to launch at a particular time of year, but to be mindful not to launch at the same time as another campaign. We’re a small but mighty group, and the last thing you want to do is ‘compete’ for the attention of the same 3,000–5,000 people.

Yes, the community is collaborative, but at the end of the day your backers don’t have unlimited money. I myself can commit to backing a new puzzle game a month. But two a month? Three a month? I’ll have to be more careful with my pledge. Making your players choose between your fantastic game and the next team’s fantastic game is no good for your business, or for your audience.

If you have launched your campaign at the same time as someone else, take a leaf out of Diorama and The Detective Society’s group and see if there’s a way you can work together and make a fun spin on it!


Mairi, what the heck?! You wrote so many words! I’m not reading all that.

You, scrolling through this article

Okay, okay, okay I got carried away. It’s all that coffee I drank, remember? Here’s the short version, with animated GIFs:

Make sure the game you’re Kickstarting is good. Enough said.

Am I getting through to you Alva?

Prove to people you can make a really good game. Previously published games? Great! Nothing previously published? Send this game to reviewers, press, and influencers.

Start early, and build up your community. Your game will live or die by how well you’re able to mobilise your community — so don’t leave it up to chance!

Make really, really pretty games. It’s worth investing in graphics or illustrators.

Your game, but beautiful.

Engage the Puzzle Community! Make a mini game, or share mini puzzles. This one is a bonus because you can also show off how fun your puzzles are.

Collaboration can be good. But also make sure you protect yourself!

This could be you and your co-collaborators

Paid Ads = Good. They get your game in front of new, non-puzzle people.

Don’t launch your game at the same time as another game. It’s not ‘competition’, it’s just logistics. Puzzle people are a small group, don’t make them choose.

Thanks for Reading!

All that’s left to do is to go out there and make good games and launch them on Kickstarter.

Oh and, don’t forget to tell me about the games you launch. Mainly because I want to support your cool puzzle project and shower your campaign with love and attention!

This is me when I see a new puzzle game has been launched on Kickstarter

Crowdfunding at a Glance: How to raise money for your escape room with crowdfunding


In addition to my role as writer at The Escape Roomer, I’m the Head of Community and Theatre at, a British Crowdfunding Platform designed for and by creatives.


Greenlit launched in 2019 with a mission – to be the very best place to crowdfund your creative project. Originally, we concentrated on film projects; our success means we’ve expanded to support all kinds of creative work.

Making a film, a game, a play, an album is hard. And the big crowdfunding platforms offer little help – your work gets lost among the hundreds of gadgets and products. At Greenlit, we only deal with creative work and people, and we want your project to succeed.


We would love to give advice to any escape rooms who may be interested in crowdfunding, so here’s our sheet about crowdfunding at a glance:

Crowdfunding at a Glance

This sheet covers:

  1. How much can I raise?
  2. What’s my timeline?
  3. Making money
  4. Your pitch
  5. Common terms


Some exclusive crowdfunding tips for The Escape Roomer:

  • Use your backers! It’s a great idea to have experience rewards, so why not use your backers as Beta Testers? Remember, they’re already invested (literally and figuratively) in your success.
  • Shout it out! Make sure people feel appreciated for backing. Giving them a shout out on social media helps make them feel special AND boost your reach. A real win-win!
  • Upgrade it! Have different stretch rewards so people know exactly what their money is going towards. Entice them to give more so they can get more!



If you’re interested in crowdfunding, you can reach out to me directly at!

13 of the best outdoor puzzle trails to play in London


Inspired by Georgie’s recent article on great team building experiences in London, I found myself looking back on all the outdoor puzzle walking trails I’ve done in London in search of the hidden gems I’d recommend above all others. Being the capital means there’s a hub of fantastic puzzle game creators using the rabbit warren of tight alleyways, historical buildings and local curiosities as their blank canvas for creating innovative and exciting games. I myself even designed a game for the (unfortunately) now-retired company Locked City back before lockdown.


London Outdoor Puzzle Trails by Area

If you’re in London and looking to get your puzzle fix whilst sightseeing, look no further! Here we have split each of our favourite walking trails by geographical area.



Hidden City – The Enchanted Mirror

Start Location: South Kensington Station Arcade
Areas Covered: Kensington
Length: 3-4 hours
Distance: 4 Miles


The story of The Enchanted Mirror is a classic fairy tale of good vs evil in a quest to discover a mysterious enchanted mirror. The Queen sets you a challenge to best her. A challenge of your wits and cunning but, since so many before you have failed and disappeared, you’ll need more than a little help if you’re to best her and save the land once and for all.


The Escape Roomer plays The Enchanted Mirror


Secret City Trails – Hampstead

Start Location: Belsize Park Train Station
Areas Covered: Hampstead
Length: 2-3 hours
Distance: 2.5 Miles


This playful walk across London’s Hampstead sharpens your senses and encourages you to appreciate the most wonderful – and often hidden – details around you.


Hidden City – Moriarty’s Game

Start Location: 93 Marylebone High Street
Areas Covered: Marylebone, Mayfair
Length: 3-4 hours
Distance: 1 Mile


Moriarty’s Game is a must for fans of Sherlock Holmes. Follow in Sherlock’s footsteps as you go into physical locations, discover hidden clues, choose your allegiance, and crack the case Watson has given you. Hidden City is immersive like no other outdoor game you can play in London and is well worth playing.


Treasure Trails – London’s Little Venice

Start Location: Paddington
Areas Covered: Little Venice
Length: 2-3 hours
Distance: 3 Miles


Treasure Trails is fantastic if you’ve got kids, and the best part is the whole thing is completely offline. You’ll be sent a booklet ahead of time packed with puzzles to take you from location to location. If you solve the whole quest, you’ll be entered into a monthly prize draw too!


Londons Little Venice



Hidden City – The Hunt for the Cheshire Cat

Start Location: 91 The Strand
Areas Covered: Strand, Charing Cross, Waterloo
Length: 3-4 hours
Distance: 3 Miles


The Hunt for the Cheshire Cat is the walking puzzle tour that made me discover my new favourite pub in all of London – but no spoilers, you’ll just have to play the whole thing yourself to find out where that is! Follow the cat through London’s alleyways, going into landmarks and cafes to speak secret codes and find secret items along the way.


AIM Escape – Operation Mindfall

Start Location: Temple
Areas Covered: Temple
Length: 2-3 hours
Distance: ~




Secret City Trails – Picadilly Circus

Start Location: Criterion Theatre
Areas Covered: Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Houses of Parliament
Length: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
Distance: 1.3 Miles


This playful walk across London’s vibrant neighbourhoods sharpens your senses and encourages you to appreciate the most wonderful – and often hidden – details around you.


The Secret City – Secrets of the Squares

Start Location: Picadilly Circus
Areas Covered: Picadilly Circus, Soho
Length: 2.5 – 3.5 hours
Distance: 2.8 Miles


A cryptic trail through the bustling parts of central London and a great spot for tourism, shopping, and eating out.



Street Hunt – Colombia’s Finest

Start Location: Shoe Lane Library
Areas Covered: Blackfriars, Temple, St. Pauls
Length: 2 hours
Distance: ~


One of my personal favourites on the list, Colombia’s Finest is a fantastically unique walking puzzle game from up and coming Street Hunt games. If you like your coffee with a dash of sinister organisation, illicit drug trade, and of course murder, then it’s a great day out!

The Escape Roomer takes on Colombia’s Finest


AIM Escape – Operation Mindfall

Start Location: Monument
Areas Covered: Monument, Tower of London
Length: 2-3 hours
Distance: ~


Operation Mindfall is without a doubt in my mind one of the most creative and high-tech outdoor games on the market. AIM Escape’s version in particular takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of London but through the eyes of the super secret spy organisation W.I.S.E. It’s perfect for tourists and locals alike!


Treasure Trails – A Tale of Two Bridges

Start Location: Tower Bridge
Areas Covered: Tower Bridge, London Bridge
Length: 2-3 hours
Distance: 3 Miles


Treasure Trails is fantastic if you’ve got kids, and the best part is the whole thing is completely offline. You’ll be sent a booklet ahead of time packed with puzzles to take you from location to location. If you solve the whole quest, you’ll be entered into a monthly prize draw too!


Honorary Mentions

CluedUpp – The Ripper

Start Location: Multiple!
Areas Covered: Multiple!
Length: 2-3 hours
Distance: 3 Miles


CluedUpp gets an honorary mention on this page because it’s not tied to one specific location. In fact, you can play CluedUpp from practically anywhere in the world. There are a number of ‘events’ running at a number of cities where teams are encouraged to dress up, solve puzzles, and crack cases. We played The Ripper at Kensington and had a great time (although it probably wouldn’t challenge enthusiasts).


Team The Escape Roomer taking on The Ripper

Foxtrail – Lancelot

Start Location: St. Pauls
Areas Covered: St. Pauls, Borough
Length: 4+ hours
Distance: 5 Miles


Foxtrail is now sadly retired but was easily my favourite outdoor adventure game in all of London, and I keep it on the list in the hopes that it will one day return! Foxtrail is easily the most ambitious walking trail, with boxes and interactable hidden across the capital. Your ticket also includes a boat ride and several stops, making it a must-do!

Team The Escape Roomer plays Foxtrail


That’s all for our list! Have we missed your favourite? Let us know in the comments below.

8 HIDDEN GEMS to look out for in the Cerebral Puzzle Showcase!


Today is launch day of the much anticipated ‘Cerebral Puzzle Showcase‘! Here at The Escape Roomer, we absolutely love a good puzzle game, and this Steam showcase is absolutely packed with them. Running from the 19th to 23rd May this showcase is full of demos, live streams, and even discounts for plenty of games that are designed to make you think!

There are over 100 games in this year’s showcase (too many to list here). Yesterday we shared our top 8 puzzle games launching or being demo-ed for free. Today, here are 8 hidden gems we’re particularly excited for:


🐉 Dungeon Time


Dungeons and Puzzles

Dungeon and Puzzles is a dungeon adventure themed Sokoban game. The movement and direction are restricted, and the adventurer’s ability can be changed by equipment at hand. Think through every step, destroy every monster and find a way to the end of the dungeon where the treasure awaits.

Why we’re excited: We love a dungeon crawler, but the added puzzle aspect takes this to the next level! This game has what you’d expect of a dungeon games – dungeons, monsters, and weapons! However, you really have to think through your decisions based on the movement and abilities they grant.

Fidel Dungeon Rescue

A critically acclaimed roguelite where you can REWIND to find the optimal path through monsters, treasure and secrets. Quick to play. No grinding. No filler. Deep gameplay.

Why we’re excited: This is a dungeon crawler with less emphasis on the ‘crawling’ – instead of repeatedly dying, reloading, dying reloading…in ‘Dungeon Rescue’ the whole point is to rewind time and do it better, which is a great concept and very ‘Groundhog Day’! Also, you’re a dog. What could be better?


🖱️ Point and Click


The ground starts shaking, light bulbs are breaking – and something rather unusual is happening right behind the walls of your very room. Equipped with nothing but wit and courage, you slowly descend into a world inhabited by avian folk and seemingly deadly furniture monsters.

Why we’re excited: From cute to creepy, this game is a quintessential point and click with a touch of unnerving!


🗝️ Playing with Rooms

Hiding Spot

A difficult puzzle game about isolating yourself. Build a safe place, huddle up and get cozy.

Why we’re excited: This is the introvert’s dream. This whole game asks you to rearrange the room to create a little hiding spot for yourself. Sounds simple right? It seems like there is a lot more to this game than it appears!



Moncage is a unique puzzle adventure game where you explore a fascinating world trapped inside a mysterious cube. With each face displaying a unique scene, you’ll have to leverage the illusions and discover the hidden links to solve the puzzle.

Why we’re excited: Everything revolves around you… Revolving a cube, which sounds simple but the beautiful scenes within and how they interact with each other is bound to get your scratching your head pretty quickly!


🧩 Puzzle Time



Carto is a charming adventure game wrapped around a unique, world-altering puzzle mechanic. Use this power to explore mysterious lands, help a quirky cast of characters, and guide Carto on her journey back to her family.

Why we’re excited: We love the cute art style and story mixed with interesting puzzle and adventure elements!


Cosmic Express

Plan the train route for the universe’s most awkward space colony!

Why we’re excited: There’s something comforting about planning a train route, so let’s take that to space to make it even more fun!


Yugo puzzle

Yugo Puzzle is a minimalistic, challenging, and satisfying puzzle game. You move jelly blocks left and right to combine them with the same color. It may sound easy, but it can be challenging. Enjoy lots of mind-blowing moments.

Why we’re excited: Sometimes the most simple-looking games have the most interesting mechanics, and we’re looking forward to getting our head around this one!


You can sign up for all the news about the Cerebral Puzzle Showcase this week by heading to the Cerebral Puzzle Showcase website. Check out this post to read our top 8 new releases of the showcase, and keep an eye out for another up-coming post where we’ll be detailing some of the fan favourite games in the Cerebral Puzzle Showcase.

Build Your Own Escape Game Artefacts! Part 5


Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articles on how you can approach creating small, but effective artefacts for your own game designs.


In part 4, we have our basic countdown timer product. Part 5 will look at potential bonus features you can add to your product to make it even better!

You Will Need

Fundamental Equipment

1x Arduino Uno (or open-source copy)
1x Arduino Uno USB connector
A laptop or desktop computer
A download of the Arduino IDE
A power adapter for the Arduino Uno (see part 1 for guidance)
4x male to female dupont cables (1x red, 1x black, 1x yellow, 1x blue)
2x male to male dupont cables (1x black, 1x brown)

Specific Equipment

1x TM1637 4-digit, 7-segment display timer – (Look here for examples)
1x Emergency stop button with locking mechanism when pressed – (Look here for examples)

Extra Feature #1 – Stop & Reset Button

Picture this. You’ve got 5 seconds left on the clock in an escape room, and you’re about to stop the clock just in time by hitting a big red switch. Sounds amazing right? Let’s make it.

Red – 5V -> VCC
Black – GND -> GND (Timer)
Yellow – Pin 2 -> CLK
Blue – Pin 3 -> DIO
Black – GND -> Button Pin
Brown – RESET -> Button Pin

If this diagram looks unfamiliar to you, please revert to the original one in part 4. This is merely an addition to that. Depending on which type of emergency stop button you have purchased, it might have either 2 or 4 pins to connect. This will be a case of trial and error; swapping the dupont cables to different pins to achieve the desired result.

The desired result will be the timer freezing once the button is pressed and subsequently, locked in (again I stress, buy a locking mechanism button!), and when the button is twisted to unlock, the timer should reset back to 60:00.

Extra Feature #2 – LOSE At The End Of The Countdown

Picture this. (This one isn’t so fun). You’ve got 5 seconds left on the clock in an escape room and you’re about to stop the clock just in time by hitting a big red switch… but you don’t make it quick enough and in place of the timer, you see LOSE. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Sounds um, less amazing…right? Let’s still make it.

Included in the <TM1637Display.h> library which we are already using for our timer, you can add up to 4 characters on the display before or after the countdown.

Here, I will show you how to show LOSE, once the countdown has reached 00:00.

Above, is a diagram of the 7 segments a single display character can hold, alongside a letter (A-G).
First off, we need to work out what segments we need to display the word LOSE. Feel free to work it out yourself, or look below for the solution.

L = Segments D, E & F
O = Segments A, B, C, D, E & F
S = Segments A, C, D, F & G
E = Segments A, D, E, F & G

Now that we have our segments worked out per character, we need to:

  • Declare these in the code we already have
  • Create a function called void lose()
  • Add a condition for it to show once the display shows 00:00

Declaring The Segments

Add this code in your // Display function:

const byte LOSE[] = {



void lose()

In between the void setup() and void loop() functions, add the following:

void lose() {

delay(1000000000) – holds the LOSE message on display for approximately 277 hours, when activated – ie: long enough!

Adding The LOSE Condition

In your void loop() function, add the following after the first of 3 right curly braces (}):


Test Your Code

Now is time to check your code is error free. Click on the tick in the IDE. If that is error free, now click the right facing arrow button (with your Arduino Uno connected to your computer) to load your updated code in. You may want to temporarily change your timeLimit to 10 seconds for swifter testing.

If you receive an error at any point, please use my troubleshooting tips in part 4 as a starting place to fix your bug.

If you are feeling brave, you could even try to change LOSE to show a different set of characters – eg: STOP.

If you are feeling even more brave, try putting a 4 character message before the countdown begins.

End Of Part 5

That’s all for now, for the time being. I hope this has been fun for you to build! I’ll return later this year with a new project, but for now, take care!

Build Your Own Escape Game Artefacts! Part 4


Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articles on how you can approach creating small, but effective artefacts for your own game designs.


In part 3, we created real code out of our pseudocode and placed it into our IDE. Part 4 will involve testing both the code and the connections between the Arduino Uno and the TM1637 timer component.

You Will Need

Fundamental Equipment

1x Arduino Uno (or open-source copy)
1x Arduino Uno USB connector
A laptop or desktop computer
A download of the Arduino IDE
A power adapter for the Arduino Uno (see part 1 for guidance)
4x male to female dupont cables (1x red, 1x black, 1x yellow, 1x blue)

Specific Equipment

1x TM1637 4-digit, 7-segment display timer – (Look here for examples)

So Far…

  • We have planned our objective:

We want to code a timer that counts down from 60:00 minutes to 00:00 minutes.

  • We have designed our coding workspace (IDE) to have 4 functions or ‘containers’.

Library, Display, void setup() and void loop().

  • We have written our code in the workspace.

Next, we will connect our hardware components, power up and test the artefact!

Setting Up The Hardware

Go ahead and use your dupont cables to connect the Arduino Uno and the TM1637 display timer like so.

Red – 5V -> VCC
Black – GND -> GND
Yellow – Pin 2 -> CLK
Blue – Pin 3 -> DIO

Make sure the dupont cables are snug when connecting. Next, take your USB connector and connect the one end to the Arduino Uno and the other into your computer. The power on should light up on the Arduino Uno; the computer may take a few minutes to download any required drivers, and should let you know when it is done.

Testing The Code

Open up your IDE with your code from part 3, and go to
Tools > Board > Arduino/Genuino Uno
Tools > Port > COMx (Arduino/Genuino Uno) – The x will be a number of the Arduino’s choice.

Next, click the tick button, right below the file option. This will check the code for any errors.
If you have any errors, you will need to troubleshoot them. Two good starts to this would be:

  • Checking that your code is identical to that presented in part 3.
  • Pasting the error description into google and see if any of the forums have already answered/resolved the issue you have.

Should the code be error free, it should show a message starting

Sketch uses x bytes (x%) of program storage…

Once you see that message, go ahead and click the right-pointing arrow button, next to the tick button. This will transfer the code to the Arduino Uno and subsequently, the TM1637 display timer.

Should this be successful, the TM1637 timer should light up and start counting down!

Testing The Countdown

One other thing I suggest testing, is if the countdown stays at 00:00, when counted down entirely; ie: no further counting, or no counting up for that matter!

There are two ways you can do this. The easiest but far longest way is to wait until the timer has counted down from 60:00 then check its status. The better way is to temporarily change the timeLimit to 10 seconds, then check. How to do that however, I’ll leave for you to figure out.

Remember, if anything isn’t doing what it should be doing, try my two suggestions for troubleshooting above.

Testing The Power Adapter

Whilst the USB connection powers the Arduino Uno perfectly well, it is highly unpractical to have the artefact permanently connected to a potentially large and bulky computer. Here would be a good time to plug your power adapter (remember to take out the USB connection!) into the Arduino Uno and see if the desired results are the same.

End Of Part 4

At its most basic (but certainly useable), you have your escape game countdown timer artefact programmed and working! Nicely done! Part 5 will look at bonus features you can add to the countdown timer for further usability.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

The Escape Roomer Interviews: Professor Puzzle


Earlier this year Professor Puzzle, the UK based puzzle game company, launched one of the snazziest looking escape games in-a-box we’ve seen in a while: Danger in the Deep. Set on a submarine, players are instructed to “navigate your way through the deserted sub, crack the shutdown code, disable the warheads, and locate the enemy agent. All in two hours!” You can read more about what to expect in our latest review, or head directly to Amazon to pick up a copy for yourself!



We recently had a chance to catch up with James and Elliot, two of the game’s creators to find out more about themselves and what exactly goes in to creating a game like Danger in the Deep. They’re both incredibly busy working hard on designing some fantastic looking games for the future and so we’ve tried to limit this interview to just a few key questions about their most recent game, Danger in the Deep. Though believe me, I could pick their brains for hours!



Meet James, Game Designer at Professor Puzzle

Mairi: Hey it’s so great to meet you both! Please could you introduce yourselves?

James: Ooh, shall I go first?

Elliot: Yeah, I mean I’ve never heard you say your name-

James: It’s James Smith, and we’re not just colleagues but actually long time friends as much as it pains Elliot. Haha! I’m the game designer for Danger in the Deep, so I wrote the story, designed the puzzles, and so on. I joined Professor Puzzle about two years ago, I spent the first summer tweaking a couple of their existing games, but Danger in the Deep was the first time I got to work closely with Elliot!

Elliot: I’m Elliot Humphries, a senior designer at Professor Puzzle. I’ve been with the company for over 10 years, from back when we were just a couple of guys in a room above a warehouse selling metal and wooden puzzles. But over the course of those 10 years we’ve grown from 4 or 5 people to well over 50 of us now! I’ve been involved in the design for a long time, but the escape room games only began around four years ago. That’s what I’m focusing on now. They’re pretty cool because they take the “Puzzle” part of the Professor Puzzle brand but make them a bit more relevant for the modern consumer compared to the puzzles we created 10 years ago.


Meet Elliot, Senior Designer at Professor Puzzle

Mairi: Oh wow, a long time! How did you both get into the puzzle game industry?

James: Me? Definitely not a typical trajectory. I graduated from studying Classics at university… So I’m responsible for 100% of all Greek and Roman references in Professor Puzzle! Then I worked at my local council for about 7 years, and another local council after that. I’ve always been into games, and one day Elliot suggested I come to work for Professor Puzzle. Back then the company was just beginning to focus even more on the escape room games. The thing that appealed the most was the writing aspect of it. So making something that’s not just a pick-up and play game, but a whole story you’re experiencing through the game. That’s sort of inherent in escape rooms in general and I wanted to take our boxed escape room games in that direction.

Elliot: As for me, I joined Professor Puzzle right out of university. I used to live in this small town called Shepperton and that’s where Professor Puzzle first started. The team was a five minute walk up the road, which was basically the other side of town! I started out helping with filling out invoices, helping at the warehouse, and then it became more and more about the design. I very much fell into it but it aligned so well with my sensibilities and that’s what’s kept me here for so long!


Mairi: Cool! And what kind of games inspire you both?

James: I’ve played a lot of Exit and Unlock games! They’re consistently good and very concise – I think my first one was the Pharaoh’s Tomb. But beyond escape room games I play a lot more video games than I do book or tabletop games to be honest. One of my biggest inspirations behind parts of Danger in the Deep was a fantastic video game by Lucas Pope called Return of the Obra Dinn. I think it’s the best puzzle game since Portal. Now I don’t want to give away too many spoilers but one of the puzzles in Danger in the Deep which I call the “Chain of Command” puzzle was inspired by Return of the Obra Dinn. Originally that puzzle was going to be the big finale, but as we came up with more ideas it evolved away from that and now it sits comfortably in the middle.

Mairi: How about you Elliot?

Elliot: Same actually, I’ve done a lot of the Unlock! games and I find those really fun. I do those with my wife and they’re not too hard, not too easy, nicely in the middle! Haha forgive me, I’ve got a little left over brain fog from covid, so the thought of doing one of the more difficult puzzle games out there and expending the brain power needed to solve them terrifies me!

Elliot: One game that really jumps to mind is again, like James, a video game. It’s It Takes Two – from a co-operative angle I thought that game was amazing, and I think that’s something we try to put into our games too. We want to give players stuff they can do together. We’ve even written the words “Collaborative Escape Game” on the box! As you know there’s three books in Danger in the Deep and players have to work together collaboratively as they work through all the information – someone has one piece of the puzzle and another person has another piece of the puzzle, and so solving Danger in the Deep requires a lot of collaboration and communication.

Elliot: From a design side haha, I don’t know. I’m probably the worst (or the best) at pulling inspiration from lots of places and putting strange visual references in these games and hope nobody pulls me up on it!

James: Elliot’s also got a reputation for sneaking himself into every product in the Professor Puzzle line! If you look closely you’ll probably find a photo of Elliot in there somewhere!

Elliot: Haha yeah, there’s only a small handful of games where I’m not in them in some way.

Mairi: Yeah I spotted those, are all the photos of the crew members in Danger in the Deep your colleagues?

James: Mostly! There’s one or two who were stock photos. Originally that puzzle was going to be illustrated, but then Elliot came back with a “What if we do a photoshoot?” It was unfortunately in the middle of the COVID lockdown, so we had some challenges there. The crew members you see in the game is everyone we could get into the office.

Elliot: I ordered a load of boiler suits too, all mediums and large, then two of the guys who I asked to come in are six foot four and they didn’t fit in anything!

James: In the end it was a ‘each person in front of a green screen’ sort of thing. Everyone’s a colleague except for two of them, the commander and the captain, they were stock images-

Elliot: Stock images, but they were your body! I just put an old man’s head on James’ body and no one could tell!

James: Haha, I’ve got the body of an old man!?


Danger in the Deep Puzzle Design – Before and After!


“If we put a detail into the game, there’s a reason!”


Mairi: So tell me more about Danger in the Deep! Where did the idea come from and how did you bring it to life?

Elliot: Ooh, big question! So with any new game we really start with the rough idea then start making loads of lists and ideas. We had the central idea for a submarine, so we knew we wanted a blueprints or a map, then it was a case of thinking “Ok, what is in a submarine and what can we make puzzles out of?” We come up with a quota for how many puzzles and what we want out of them.

James: We always start big and need to cut it down so that we’re left with the best stuff!

Elliot: From there we build a narrative flow diagram which is useful in allocating the story beats, such as where puzzles happen, and making sure it’s evenly paced. A flow diagram is a great visual way of telling how and when things interlink. Over time we build up these really crazy maps!

James: It can be a mess for a while but it gets better. It’s super important to establish that theme right at the start too. So it’s not just the setting. We began with ‘submarine’ but there were so many directions it could have gone. It could have been like you’re on the HMS Belfast in London and you’re stuck on it for example. The angle we went with was inspired by James Bond with a dash of The Incredibles as well. That vibe can really inform the puzzles that go in the finished game, so when you go “it’s a spy thriller on a submarine” you’re not just looking at mechanical wiring puzzles, you can have decoding puzzles, you can shutdown nukes, and use gadgets to investigate and interact with the submarine.

Elliot: From a physical standpoint as well, when we were designing Danger in the Deep we had a specific box format to work to with the internal tray fittings the same as the Starline Express and The Grand Hotel. So we thought “what can we do with this?” and started to think about all the things we could fit in and hide into the space.

James: One of the key things for us to to make sure everything has a purpose as well. That’s something we did with this game, a lot of the little details in the booklets and on the box give clues as to how to solve puzzles. There are many puzzles in there that can be approached in different ways too. One player may not pick up on all the details, but if we put a detail into the game there’s a reason. I won’t give any spoilers so let’s just say there might be more than one way to solve a puzzle!


Danger in the Deep – Behind the Scenes


Mairi: What’s coming next for Professor Puzzle?

Elliot: We finished work recently on a new game set in a Gothic castle called “Curse of the Dark“, or as I like to call it, it’s internal codename which James absolutely hates is “Spooky Castle

James rolls his eyes and laughs.

James: So, many of our upcoming games follow a similar format, they’ll be tile based, have a scratch off symbol hint system, have a series of books, and a big centrepiece- like the blueprints. Curse of the Dark is a much bigger game. In Danger in the Deep there are 22 cards, in Curse of the Dark... Let’s think… There are about 60, 65 odd cards. So it’s big, really big! We’re really proud of it!

Mairi: When is Code Spooky Castle– haha I mean Curse of the Dark due to release?

James: We hope we’ll have the finished product back from the factory by April-May time, but it should be in stores by late May.

Mairi: Any others?

James: There’s also a kids escape room game launching this summer set in an aquarium, for ages 8 – 12, again I can’t give an exact time but very soon!


Elliot & James with their upcoming game, Curse of the Dark!


“Make games you’d want to play, make them good and be proud of them.”


Mairi: Okay final question, what advice would you give to somebody who wanted to create puzzle games like yours?

James: Big question! So I suppose we both kind of fell into this ourselves, but my biggest advice would be simple: Just make stuff!

Elliot: I’d also say it’s really important to make things you’d love, or games that you’d want to play. With Danger in the Deep we really wanted to create this game, but a few people had some uncertainty about the theme. We were like “I don’t know if this is going to be a success, but look we’ve got this really good idea and if you let us make this it may not sell well but it will be good.” As a creative person, you obviously want things to sell really well, but more importantly you want them to be good.

James: Yeah absolutely. Make games you’d want to play, make them good and be proud of them. One more thing I’d add is that our first versions of every game were on Word documents and Excel. They’re just scribbles, drawings on a whiteboard or silly cartoon people doing poses. Point being, you don’t need the best tools or funding or a factory to produce your game, your first version can be on paper and card and whatever you can find around your office. Don’t be afraid if the first version is rough. Nobody, certainly not us at Professor Puzzle get it right the first time. You go over your game with a fine-tooth comb and keep improving it.

Elliot: Yeah nobody springs into the world fully formed and makes a perfect game the first time. And if they have then they’re incredibly lucky and they probably won’t be able to replicate that effort the second time round. So yeah, just get out there and make stuff with confidence!



A huge shout out to James and Elliot for taking the time to chat to us. If you’re interested in checking out Danger in the Deep, you can head to Amazon – don’t forget to leave a review!


The Murder on Hemlock Drive – Murder, Mystery & Intrigue


Hey everyone, I am Mitchell Clifford, a mystery novel fiend and game designer working on a new adventure game, The Murder on Hemlock Drive. I am so honored that The Escape Roomer has given me the chance to tell you a bit about my new game! The Murder on Hemlock Drive is a murder-mystery, adventure game built around deduction and risk. I want to make you feel like you are stepping into the pages of an Agatha Christie novel full of lies, intrigue and little gray cells.

Here’s a brief teaser of the story: The year is 1928. You are invited to a New Year’s party by a friend that you haven’t seen since childhood. It seems strange, him reaching out after all this time, but you’re intrigued. You travel to the small town where his family estate sits. You never suspect your night of partying will be the stage for murder! 

The Murder on Hemlock Drive – Screenshot

How does this game transport you into the world of Agatha Christie?  One of distinguishing characteristics of an Agatha Christie novel is how the detective solves the mystery by looking beyond the clues and into the psychology of the people involved. In my game, I put character interaction first. In order to solve the mystery, you have to get to know the characters, find out what makes them tick, and maybe then they’ll reveal to you their secrets or become your ally. But don’t worry my classic adventure game fans– there will be plenty of puzzles to solve and codes to decipher along the way!

One of the hang ups I have with mystery games is that they don’t give you many choices. You start out as a generic detective,  find a piece of evidence until the game tells you you’ve got it all and later the game prompts you with an obvious place to use that evidence. It feels more like the game is doing all the deducing for you. Before this game even begins, you are given the opportunity to assign varying levels of  3 character traits to your protagonist: charisma, class, and intelligence. These traits shape how they interact with the other characters and puzzles throughout the game, and it will be your job to determine what information is important and what is a red herring!

The Murder on Hemlock Drive – Screenshot


A “charismatic” detective is one that everyone may like but not everyone takes seriously. Think of Nancy Drew, Blanche White or Miss Marple. These detectives are down to earth and know how to listen and understand people, but they get underestimated by villains and authorities alike. As a charismatic protagonist, you will be able to pick up gossip and other characters are more likely to let their guard down around you. However, characters that prefer credibility, like the police, won’t tell you everything they know.


A “classy” detective is one that has more privilege when interacting with others. Think Hercule Poirot or Parker Pine. As a classy protagonist, you will be able to learn more information from people who consider themselves of a higher class or who are authority figures, like the police. However, your status as a member of the higher class restricts which characters will be forthcoming with information. Be aware that deference from people below your station may hide secrets. 


An “intelligent” detective has the upper hand as they explore the world, observing and manipulating the environment. Think Sherlock Holmes. As an intelligent protagonist, you will observe people and make deductions about who they are and what they’ve done. Catching people off guard often yields clues that you wouldn’t get otherwise. However, you’re out of luck if the subject is outside the field of forensics. You’ll have to try hard to not come off as a jerk.

The Murder on Hemlock Drive – Screenshot

Assigning character traits isn’t the only choice you’ll have to make in this game, there are also a variety of different ways to influence conversations between characters. Items you’ve collected can be used as a gift or bribe, you can also  push for answers and call people out on their lies. But, these choices also come with consequences — the more brash you are, the more you alert the murderer. Be careful or you might be killed yourself!

To demonstrate how all these choices work together, I will break down the initial puzzle of the game. (Skip this paragraph if you don’t want any spoilers!)  

As the game starts, your character arrives on the last train of the evening and you are tasked with finding a way to your childhood friend’s house. Depending on the combination of the 3 character traits you chose, the solution of the puzzle changes dramatically. For example, if you chose high levels of class, the solution is to walk past everything to the train station attendant who will call a taxi for you. As a classy protagonist, you have an air of authority around you that makes people step in line. If you chose high levels of charisa, you can gossip with the traveler in the station until he trusts you enough to give you the task of finding his suitcase. Exploring the station, you’ll find the only place that could hold the missing suitcase is a locked office. You then have to convince the attendant to give you the key to the office where you retrieve the suitcase. The traveler will then give you a ride to your destination in return for your help. If you chose intelligence, authority and persuasion are not your strong suit and you’ll need to find another way out of the station. Talking to the traveler will alert you to the fact that he lost his valet ticket somewhere in the station. Exploring will yield nothing except a locked door and a paperclip from some brochures. Talking to the attendant will give you a clue to where you can find a spare key to the locked office. Once you unlock the office, you will stumble upon the traveler’s locked suitcase that you will jimmy open with the paperclip you found and, voila, a valet ticket! Your way out of the station is secured.

The Murder on Hemlock Drive – Album Art

The Murder on Hemlock Drive is currently in its development stage. Right now  I am crowdfunding to raise money to commission new maps, character and sprite designs, music and animation. I hope you’ll consider supporting the continued development of my game by heading over to and making a donation.

While you’re there, you can also read my blog that details more of my murder mystery inspiration, watch the game trailer, and even download the demo. Hope you’ll make the classy, charismatic, and intelligent choice and join me on this journey! 

Build Your Own Escape Game Artefacts! Part 3


Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articles on how you can approach creating small, but effective artefacts for your own game designs.


In part 2, I spoke about the Arduino Uno microcontroller and getting to grips with the IDE. Part 3 focusses upon evolving our psuedocode into real code.

You Will Need

Fundamental Equipment

1x Arduino Uno (or open-source copy)
1x Arduino Uno USB connector
A laptop or desktop computer
A download of the Arduino IDE

Specific Equipment

1x TM1637 4-digit, 7-segment display timer – (Look here for examples)

So Far…

  • We have planned our objective:

We want to code a timer that counts down from 60:00 minutes to 00:00 minutes.

  • We have designed our coding workspace (IDE) to have 4 functions or ‘containers’.

Library, Display, void setup() and void loop().

Next we will look at what each of these functions will contribute to the objective, alongside adding some real C++ code to it!


Libraries are files embedded to the IDE that add more functionality and ease of use. For our objective, we will be using just one library file; the TM1637Display.h by Avishay Orpaz. This file includes a series of commands that we will use in our code, to allow the Arduino Uno tell the TM1637 display timer what to display in real time.

First off, we need to pull the file into our workspace. We can do this by selecting

Tools > Manage Libraries…

Next, we need to install the latest version (v1.20), make sure you choose the correct file, I’ve highlighted below to help you navigate.

Because I’ve already installed it, there is no install button for me. One for you, should appear in the right hand corner once you hover your mouse over. Once this has installed, we need to return to our workspace and under the // Library comment, type in:

#include <TM1637Display.h>

This now sets us up ready, to tell the Arduino Uno (and subsequently the display timer), what to do.


There are 2 things we need to set up in this Display function.

  • Declaring the clock and data in-out (DIO) pins.
  • Declaring the length of the timer (60:00 minutes).

If you look on the back of your TM1637 display timer, you will notice that you will have 4 pins to connect via dupont cables, to the Arduino Uno; CLK, DIO, VCC and GND.

CLK = Clock, DIO = Data in-out, VCC = Power, GND = Ground

Power and ground pins don’t need to be declared, just the clock and DIO pins. In other words, we need to tell the Arduino Uno what number pins on the digital side (see The Arduino Uno from part 2) of the microcontroller will be connected, to the CLK and the DIO. As a rule of thumb, we don’t use pins 0 and 1; they are for transmitting and receiving signals, and is best not to interfere with them.

For this exercise, we are going to declare pin 2 as the CLK and pin 3 as the DIO. Return to your workspace and under the // Display comment, type in:

const int clkPin = 2;
const int dioPin = 3;

TM1637Display display(clkPin, dioPin);

const = Constant, ie: non-changing
int = integer, the number of the pin (eg: 2)

Now that you have successfully declared your CLK and DIO pins, next; we will declare the length of the timer. It is to be pointed out that whilst the timer will display in minutes and seconds, the length of time in the IDE must be declared in milliseconds.

Return to your workspace, and underneath your CLK and DIO declarations, type in;

unsigned long timeLimit = 3601000;

unsigned = positive value numbers only, prevents the timer from going past 00:00
long = a number with a large value

3601000 milliseconds = 60 minutes and 1 second. The reason for the additional second is that it takes 1 second for the TM1637 display to power up after the Arduino Uno does.

void setup()

There is only one thing to set up in the void setup() function; brightness of the TM1637 display.

Within the void setup() curly brackets, type in:


void loop()

Finally, we will add the code to operate the meat of the artefact; the countdown mechanism.
This will be fairly larger in volume, compared to our current codebase.

Within the void loop() curly brackets, type in:

unsigned long timeRemaining = timeLimit – millis();

while(timeRemaining > 0) {
int seconds = (timeRemaining / 1000) % 60;
int minutes = timeRemaining / 60000;
display.showNumberDecEx(seconds, 0, true, 2, 2);
display.showNumberDecEx(minutes, 0b01000000, true, 2, 0);

if(millis() < timeLimit) {
timeRemaining = timeLimit – millis();

I appreciate that this may look confusing and alienating, so I’m going to do my best here to relay that code into pseudocode.

unsigned long timeRemaining = timeLimit – millis();
This is declaring a large, non-negative, real-time number called timeRemaining which is equal to the timeLimit (which we’ve already declared) minus the time passed. Ie: The value of timeRemaining will reduce by one second, every second and will show on the display.

while(timeRemaining > 0) {
Whilst the timeRemaining figure is larger than 0

int seconds = (timeRemaining / 1000) % 60;
This is declaring the seconds part of the timer as an integer and is equal to timeRemaining divided by 1000 milliseconds (1 second). The % 60 prevents the timer from using a number in the seconds part of the display that is equal to or larger than 60.

int minutes = timeRemaining / 60000;
This is declaring the minutes part of the timer as an integer and is equal to timeRemaining divided by 60000 milliseconds (1 minute).

display.showNumberDecEx(seconds, 0, true, 2, 2);
display.showNumberDecEx(minutes, 0b01000000, true, 2, 0);
These are commands to tell the TM1637 display how to show the timer to us humans in a way that is readable.

if(millis() < timeLimit) {
timeRemaining = timeLimit – millis();
If there is more than 00:00 on the display, remove 1 second off the timer, per second.

End Of Part 3

Next time, we will be connecting the Arduino Uno to our TM1637 display timer and testing out our code!

See you next time and thanks for reading!