Enigmailed: Puzzle Wrapping Paper | Review

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This is paper guaranteed to be recycled – as a seasonal puzzle game! What can you do for the loved one in your life who likes solving problems, adores a challenge, or even thinks they are the smartest in the room?

Completion Time: 1 – 2 hours
Date Played: November 2022
Party Size: 1
Difficulty: Moderate

Well, my first present is wrapped and waiting to be placed under the Christmas Tree. You know what that means? It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know Enigmailed is one of my favourite places for puzzles. From their individual games, wacky Kickstarter campaigns, to consistently fantastic Chocolateral series (puzzles, and chocolate? Um, yes please!). So, when I placed a large order before Christmas, I was surprised to find an extra goodie arrived in the package: A few sheets of wrapping paper.

In typical Enigmailed fashion, this is not ordinary wrapping paper. This wrapping paper is quite literally packed with puzzles. No, no, I don’t think you understand. Literally. Packed.

But with such excellent wrapping paper, I had to wrap equally excellent gifts up in it. So I suppose all those Chocolateral bars I’d just bought should probably now be sent off to friends instead of eating them all myself like a chocolate fiend… Ahh well!

 

 

Ho ho hope I can solve all these…

The first thing that struck me with each sheet of wrapping paper is how well the puzzles are laid out. Most wrapping papers print little pictures of snowmen or Christmas trees. This wrapping paper does as well, but hidden within each of those illustrations… A puzzle!

Some of the puzzles are spread out over multiple images hidden around and others are a little more self contained. For such a compact, A2 sheet of wrapping paper, there’s a lot of puzzle for your money. In fact, there are 12 puzzles to solve. They are:

  • The Hexagon Jigsaw
  • The Backwords
  • The Sphere String
  • The Buried Treasure
  • The Crossblock
  • The Net Maze
  • The Antlerbet
  • The Tree Gift
  • The Michael Bauble
  • The Star Crossed
  • The Holly Wood
  • The Poppers

Once solved, each of these puzzles gives a single word answer: A festive word, for a festive wrapping paper.

In terms of difficulty… Listen, I always find Enigmailed games err on the harder side. However, this wrapping paper broke that rule slightly in that I found each individual puzzle fairly straightforward to crack. A few easy wins, and a few which took longer to think through. I didn’t do them all in one go, but I did solve most of them solo – all in all, maybe an hour’s worth of puzzling? Maybe a little longer? It’s a ‘game’ best played dipping in and out of and tackling when you need a break from eating Mince Pies and playing Christmas music.

My favourite of the puzzles was probably “Buried Treasure” or “Poppers”, which were functionally similar to solve – and the two I attempted first! Several others ramp up in difficulty, but as you progress you’ll begin to see patterns and understand how the game flows.

 

 

Reuse & Regift this Puzzle Wrapping Paper

The second thing I was struck by is what good quality the wrapping paper is! It arrives neatly folded in a protective sleeve, and each sheet is A2 in size and 115gsm silk paper in quality. The colours are bright and poppy – even more so than I’ve been able to capture in these photos, making it a perfect paper to use with yellow or black ribbon. The first gift I tried to wrap with it (a large board game) the paper came in a little too small. I could have used two sheets, but then I pivoted to something more appropriately sized so I could use the one sheet per gift.

The wrapping paper comes in sheets say, rather than a whole roll, as you’ll need to use the entire sheet to solve the puzzles – some details might be hidden elsewhere on the sheet, so if you cut a sheet in half you risk it becoming unusable. For that reason, pick a gift that uses one sheet in it’s entirety for the best puzzling effect for your recipient!

Then of course, the best thing about this? It’s totally reusable. The paper is such good quality it’s unlikely it’ll tear between gifts, and after wrapping, it folds back down into a neat stack to be popped in a cupboard and used again next year. Whilst I’m giving my sheets away this year, wrapping up a set of lovely puzzley presents for friends… I’m quietly hoping those friends will save the paper and wrap their own gifts up in it next year too. Perhaps the sheets will make their way back to me by this time next year, who knows.

 

 

The Verdict

Given the Christmas theme of the puzzles, this wrapping paper is only really good for Christmas – but it’s incredibly good value. For at least one, if not two hours worth of puzzling fun for yourself and for your lucky recipient, it’s well worth elevating a fairly normal gift into something extraordinary. With your order, you receive 3 sheets of high quality, brilliantly reusable A2 wrapping paper. Christmas mornings won’t quite be the same again, not least of all because I’ll be instating the rule “all puzzles must be solved before you can open your gift”. So better get puzzling before you hit the Bucks Fizz this year.

All in all, I am so excited to give gifts wrapped up in this wrapping paper as gifts. In fact, I’m more excited for them to see the wrapping paper than unwrap what is inside. No wrapping paper has ever made me feel that way about gift giving, and honestly? I think this wrapping paper will be a regular feature of my gift giving for years to come.

I’d recommend buying the wrapping paper as part of the Chocmas Lucky Dip bundle presently priced at £19.50. In this bundle, you get:

  • Three sheets of wrapping paper in a protective sleeve
  • Three different puzzling bars
  • A handmade puzzle ornament for your tree

You can buy this, and more, by heading to Enigmailed’s website here.

Escape Advent Calendars: The Mystery Of The Half Eaten Carrots | Review

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The Mystery Of The Half Eaten Carrots Review | Solve the mystery of the half-eaten carrots. The store has been raided. Question the reindeer; one of them must be the greedy culprit!

Date Played: 26th February 2022
Number Of Players: 2 (+1 cat)
Difficulty: Easy
Time Taken: 1 Hour

But It’s Not Christmas….

Yes alright, I know. But when Mairi offers up an escape game to review with the promise of free chocolate, I’m not going to pass this up, Christmas themed or otherwise.

Plus who loves chocolate more than I do? My wife; and who am I to deprive her of delicious chocolate treats for solving puzzles? Not me I assure you.

Let’s Get Started

We have a copy of the advent calendar. The product is of good quality, is attractive inside and out. It’s nicely compact and everything that is required to complete the entire contents, is either on or in the product itself. The back of the calendar gives simple instructions to get you started; alongside pigpen, braille and tap-code ciphers.

Finally, there is a clue to direct you to which reindeer should be interrogated first. Should you be correct, a chocolate with the number 1 (in flashy art deco font) will appear and another clue will point in the direction of the next reindeer to interrogate. Rinse and repeat this process to interrogate all reindeers in the right order, thus receiving the chocolates numerically and most importantly, success in playing.

Do I Feel Christmassy?

It’s a good question to ask, especially during the end of February. Theming wise, this advent calendar ticks all the boxes. Fun holiday theme ✅, chocolate in Santa-red-and-gold wrapping ✅, more reindeers than you can shake a stick at ✅. Not much else to say, top marks for this section!

Let’s Interrogate Some Reindeers!

In terms of puzzles, the functionality and logic of them are all sound. The hints system is nicely considered on the Escape Advent Calendars website; each of the 25 puzzles has a good number of progressive hints before the solution is revealed. My only qualm however is that to access the hints, you have to sign up for an account on the website. I’m not sure about the prospect of giving my personal data to access some hints for an escape game that accumulatively lasts around an hour. Maybe a purchase code to unlock the hints (and thus, proving purchase) might be more suitable?

Regarding innovation, the concept behind the game is certainly original. It’s really great to see companies like Escape Advent Calendars, breathing new life into the standard advent calendar. The puzzles I feel, are not that innovative however. Almost all of the puzzles I have seen countless times, in some variation or another in conventional escape games. Puzzle types include but are not limited to; code decipher, directional, colour-coding and observation.

Nelson Strikes Again…

You know who had fun? Nelson my cat. As you can see below, she was very happy rolling around with the puzzle components whilst we did the hard work! In all seriousness, this was a light-hearted and fun way to spend a Saturday evening. Yes, we completed the product unconventionally; I.E.: not doing one puzzle a day, for 25 days, but it didn’t dampen the fun at all.

How Many Carrots To Buy?

The recommended retail price is at £19.99. Considering the overall accumulative time spent playing and the puzzles presented, I feel that this price point is a little too high. I’d recommend looking out for a sale price on The Panic Room Online (where we purchased this copy) or another retail supplier to capitalise on the value.

For The Advent Apprentice Or Expert?

I’d recommend this to families with children and adults who aren’t necessarily into puzzles. The very small learning curve and overall accessibility would be perfect for these player demographics. Based on the price however, I’m not sure if escape room enthusiasts will get enough out of this in terms of challenge.

Rating

Overall this is a suitable and accessible escape-room-advent-calendar which can be enjoyed, especially by families with children. What it lacks in puzzle innovation and the steeper end of sale prices, makes up in overall holiday theming, fun and good quality. If you can find it on sale, out of season, I’d snap it right up ready for the upcoming holiday period… or right now if you prefer!

The Mystery of the Half Eaten Carrots can be purchased for £20 from The Panic Room’s website here.

Wacky Wheels: Longest Night in Bell-Ville | Review

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Longest Night in Bell-Ville Review | Winter is coming to Bell-Ville and the villagers are totally unprepared. Not only do they have to prepare the celebrations of The Longest Night, they also have to make sure that they safely cross ‘The Frozen Wastelands’. Can you help them get ready on time?

Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: December 2021
Party Size: 1
Difficulty: Medium
Recommended For: Families

A puzzle wrapped in a story between the pages of a magical book that arrived on my doorstep just before Christmas Eve… What could be more magical and festive? The Longest Night in Bell-Ville is the latest “Mystery Story” from Netherlands-based creators, Wacky Wheels. With their very highly rated play at home games finding a lot of popularity in the escape room industry, I was very excited to finally have my hands on a Wacky Wheels experience.

But how did it hold up? And what exactly is a mystery story?

Wacky Wheels Mystery Stories

To put it simply Wacky Wheels’ mystery stories series (this being the second, after The Fugitive’s Escape) are puzzle games in a book. If you’re familiar with play-at-home escape rooms in general, you’ll know that most can be printed at home, mailed to your home, or even bought in a box. There’s no reason Longest Night in Bell-Ville couldn’t have been any of those things, but the creator has made the choice to put this story in book format. And heck, it works so well.

The reason this works so well for this particular game is how the story is set up. It’s a linear experience where players read each page as they work their way through the game. The main character (in this case, you!) works their way through different locations in the fictional town of Bell-Ville and the story slowly unfolds across the 30 pages towards a conclusion.

Of course, there are puzzles along the way too – no puzzle game would be complete without them of course. These can be found at the bottom of every page and can be solved in any order. So if you’re stuck, you’re encouraged to come back to a puzzle later. To validate your answers along the way, you’re given a QR code and will need to create an account on the website to log your answers as you go. In all honesty, you can still play the game without doing this… But more on that later!

Welcome to Bell-Ville

The story of The Longest Night at Bell-Ville is an excitingly festive one. You play a resident of Bell-Ville, a floating world travelling the world from within a giant snow globe. One of the biggest annual celebrations – the longest night – is nearing, but the town is woefully underprepared. What’s more the town is about to pass over the Frozen Wastelands – a dangerous place! No wonder everyone in this town is panicking!

And yet despite that, your job isn’t easy. One quote in particular around mid-way through the book sums up my thoughts exactly:

Why is everybody in Bell-Ville always communicating in riddles?!

To ‘save the day’, you must complete 11 tasks, and each task comes with it’s own puzzle to solve. These tasks range from finding food, music, activities, lighting the lights, and so on. Typical party preparation stuff.

But despite the drudgery of running around and doing everyone else’s jobs for them, the story is so light hearted and fun it’s a joy to read-or should we say, play? The Longest Night in Bell-Ville perfectly plugs that post-Christmas, pre-New Years Eve week when you lose track of what day of the week it is anymore. The characters are written well, the illustrations across the book are absolutely gorgeous, the dialogue is fun, and the puzzles are enjoyable too!

So, how did I get on?

In terms of puzzle difficulty, we’d put this at around ‘medium’. A few took just minutes to solve, and others had me scratching my head for a while – and roping in family members to take a second look over my shoulder.

I chose to play The Longest Night in Bell-Ville as a solo puzzler, and did so whilst on a family break with almost no access to the internet. Which in hind-sight was possibly a mistake. On the one hand, I had a great time reading and playing through he book curled up in front of a fireplace with a mug of mulled wine at my side. On the other hand, I missed out on some of the competitive, leader board fun.

When I later did gain access, I’d forgotten most answers and one of those I did remember my phone’s auto-correct unhelpfully corrected into an incorrect answer. Or so I think? The online element doesn’t provide correct answers, simply logs your score on the leaderboard. So it’s hard to tell!

In the end I decided to skip on the online- part altogether and simple enjoy the game as a fun, book-based analogue experience. The truth? I kinda prefer it that way! I like my books more when I don’t have my phone with me and it would have been nice to be able to check my answers too – but that’s just my humble opinion! The Longest Night in Bell-Ville can be played in any way you like and is just as fun.

The Verdict

The Longest Night in Bell-Ville is a fantastically fun little festive themed puzzle book that we think would have a perfect Christmas gift for families or solo puzzlers of all ages. Despite some tech issues (my fault), playing the game was a real highlight of my Christmas break and I’d be sure to recommend this. It’s very well-priced at £8.50 and is available in both English and Dutch.

To purchase The Longest Night in Bell-Ville, head to Wacky Wheels’ website here.

Play Dead London: The Elf Who Stole Christmas | Review

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The Elf Who Stole Christmas Review | In the run up to Christmas, Santa’s workshop is in chaos! There’s so much to do and to make matters worse… SOMEONE has stolen Santa’s Naughty and Nice List! Can you solve the mystery and work out which Elf it was?! This family friendly mystery will be great fun and a way of our detectives young and old to test their interrogation skills!

Date Played: November 2021
Time Taken: 60 minutes
Number of Players: 1 (with 12 random online strangers!)
Difficulty: Easy-Medium

Who, who, who not Ho Ho Ho!

I’ll start this review of with a bit of a disclaimer! – I have never actually played an online zoom “murder mystery” style game before, so had no idea what to expect. When I say I was blown away, I mean I really was BLOWN AWAY!

First thing to mention is the storyline; a really simple affair – someone has stolen Santa’s Naughty and Nice List. It is for you and your team of detectives to work out who did it! Now, Line of Duty this isn’t BUT it pitches perfectly at the target audience – families, work get togethers etc. You don’t want something too taxing – this storyline certainly made the whole thing massively fun!

A photo of the cast pre-lockdown!

So, “how does it work?!” I hear you cry

Simple! You and your team will each be given a specific Zoom login via email which will take you directly to Santa’s grotto in the North Pole. (Ok, well maybe not his actual grotto, but the Zoom backgrounds looked fantastic!). Here you will be joined by Detective Sleigh Bells who will assist you on your mystery!

Detective Sleigh Bells is on hand throughout the game to give you subtle hints to the identity of the culprit and provide additional evidence which has been supplied as you get into the depths of this ever-evolving mystery. The awesome actor who plays Detective Sleigh Bells certainly has a challenge on her hands in being able to manage the game, the numerous players (I believe I was playing with 12 other strangers!), plus the team of naughty elves, who are our suspects! She done an amazing job in juggling all this at the same time plus staying in character.

The Naughty Elves – I Tip My Hat To You!

Speaking of staying in character, this is where the game excels! How the ladies managed to carry this out was beyond me, however you are also joined by a team of naughty elves within your zoom call. Each has a very unique personality and specific job role within the North Pole (I won’t ruin the surprise by telling you their names, but needless to say, they are just as creative as the rest of the game!).

Evidence is mainly provided by Detective Sleigh Bells within the main forum of the game, however cleverly, the Zoom chat is then taken into breakout sessions where you have direct conversation with the elves and have the chance to really interrogate them about their whereabouts, their relationships and their roles. Each actor was phenomenal in staying wholly in character (despite my best efforts to put them off, or tell silly jokes to take them off their stride!). Even though the game is aimed on the humorous side, this hasn’t affected the depth of each individual characters back story – and their improv game was off the scale! Quick wit, on point, clearly not scripted, I tip my hat to each of these ladies in being able to make comedy characters fully believable and allow me to spend an hour just generally being silly and forgetting about the world!

There’s no need to be a Sherlock!

Of course, in spite of this being a comedic online adventure, you still do have to pay attention to what is going on! There are subtle hints here and there which you should jot down in case you need them to build up your case. You certainly don’t need to be the next Sherlock Holmes however! The evidence is quirky, including some cool audio and visual clues, the occasion sing song (which clearly I sung at the top of my lungs!), however make sure to listen closely when discussing directly with the elves. The massive benefit of playing as a large team (even though I knew no one I was playing with), is that you all build up your file of evidence and then collectively come up with your final suspect. There’s no pressure to succeed but you’ll certainly be fully invested after just five minutes of playing this game!

Sooooo much fun!

I’m often sceptical about things that portray themselves to be “humorous or hilarious” but this game certainly succeeded! I’m never the best on video chats, and despite having almost 2 years of non-stop video chats at my office, I’ve always found myself to be a little self-conscious in front of the camera – not here however! Within minutes, I was happily talking to the other players, liaising with the detective and the elves and generally having an absolutely fabulous time. At no point did I feel embarrassed and I came away from playing the game with a massive smile on my face.

Our game finale was suitably fun and we were pitched off into breakout rooms to divulge our evidence before coming all back together to present it, and acknowledge who we felt was the culprit. And between us, I’m happy to say – we succeeded!

There are very few games that I have played within the last three years of reviewing, that leave a lasting impression. This however is one of them. A proper murder-mystery style game, with a brilliant level of immersion, impressive acting, some cool tech elements with audio and visuals and generally just an overwhelming level of fun. I’d urge families, friends and work colleagues to all come together to play this game. It gave me the festive cheer I didn’t realise I was missing!

To book this experience and see what other experiences Play Dead London are running, head to Design My Night

Ratings

Sara Lee Trust: The Detectives That Saved Christmas! | Review

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The Detectives That Saved Christmas Review | The elves radio beacon is in the shape of a star and when the time has come, they climb the tallest Christmas tree they can find, place the star at the top and await the reindeer. The elves stored the star in the community centre but when, after the twelfth week in Great Snoring they went to pick it up it was gone. Only a dozen people have a key to the community center and as there were no signs of a break in it must have been taken by one of them.

After comparing the naughty list with the list of key holders the elves have made a list of the 6 suspects. Can you help the elves find their star? Pull yourselves together and walk a mile in their pointy shoes!

Completion Time: 20 minutes
Date Played: 28th November 2021
Party Size: 1
Difficulty: Easy

This time last year Play Helps in partnership with the Sara Lee Trust released a charity escape game for Christmas: The Detectives that Saved Christmas! I was slightly gutted to have missed it- I mean, I’m a little bit obsessed with Christmas. It’s totally normal to be updating The Escape Roomer in a Santa hat in November, right? Anyway…

I was very excited to hear that this game is making a comeback this year – bigger and better than ever, 100% of the proceeds for the game go directly to charity. Wahey! Take my money!

There’s something a little magical about doing what I love – playing escape rooms – and knowing you’re doing it for good and the money you spent is going to a really, really good cause. The Sara Lee Trust are a local charity in Hastings that look after those affected by cancer. The charity was chosen after the game’s designer (Shaun Shrubsall) was helped by them, and it’s his way of giving back!

For this reason, we are generally very favourable about the game because we believe as many people as possible should go out and purchase it. For sure, your average enthusiast will not be challenged by it – as it’s not a difficult game at all – but look at it this way: Since it’s got such a family focus and a wide market appeal, this could be just the game to introduce to your puggle (puzzle muggle) friends to get them hooked on whodunnits.

About The Detectives That Saved Christmas

The Detectives That Saved Christmas is a classic whodunnit game. Rather than being in a physical room, the game is played looking top-down at a table with all the suspects and the evidence spilled out upon it. Since the game was built in Telescape, I’m used to 360 views of rooms, so it was really creative to see the escape game platform used in a different way.

Your goal is simple: find the elf that did the crime. This can be done by eliminating each of the elves’ alibis. Six elves and one crime committed in the sleepy town of Great Snoring. You start the game with just the descriptions of the elves, and as time ticks along more and more evidence appears on your desk. Each time a new piece of evidence appears, a little jingle bell sounds. The first time this happened I had my volume set to maximum and nearly screamed. The second and third time was a lot more gentle and festive! As each piece of evidence appears, you can click and drag them to each relevant elf and mark their portraits with a cross to eliminate them or a tick if you think they’re the culprits.

A Winter Whodunnit

In terms of pure puzzles – there aren’t a lot, as this game’s beauty is in logical deduction. If this, then that, which means that elf could not have done it. However I did particularly enjoy using a lot of maths to calculate the exact timings to figure out whether it was technically possible if an elf could have driven to the crime scene in time. Thankfully you’re provided with Google maps, but I like to whip out the calculator too!

It’s not particularly challenging, but I reckon that in a bigger group there’d be a lot of fun debate. This game is nothing if not fun, and when it’s not packed with hilarious elf puns and light hearted jokes, it causes you to question and chat out loud about what you’re solving. In short: making it a perfect family game to get everyone involved in.

Another of my favourite parts was at the very end of the game. once you’ve made your choice, the time skips forward and the credits roll with a funny “where are they now” montage of all the suspects you didn’t chose as the criminals. In a silly kind of way, I was very emotionally invested in these elves and was glad to see they all lived happily ever after… Well, perhaps not all of them.

The Verdict

The Detectives That Saved Christmas is fun, but don’t expect the world of it. After all, its’s a game designed for mass market appeal, to bring the family together – wherever they are in the world – to solve a Christmas mystery. Any game where the proceeds go towards charity is worth grabbing a ticket for!

Play The Detectives That Saved Christmas here.

Ratings

Online Escape Rooms Ireland: Santa’s Sleighcation | Review

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Santa’s Sleighcation Review | Everyone needs a break from time to time, and Santa is no exception. It has been a very busy year, and Santa is taking a little holiday to restore his energy for Christmas Eve. But Santa enjoyed the sunshine so much, that he decided not to return to the North Pole for Christmas! He told the elves to deliver the presents themselves this year. But… Santa has the keys to the Magic Sleigh with him! No one can deliver that many presents on Christmas Eve without the Magic Sleigh!​

Completion Time: 30 minutes
Date Played: 27th November 2021
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Easier

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… Oh yes! One of my favourite times of the year. Made all the better for all the festive escape rooms that pop up around this time. Which is why when we heard Online Escape Rooms Ireland had made a Christmas game, we couldn’t wait to get cracking on it!

With the Christmas tree up earlier in the day, Escaping the Closet, our friend Tasha and myself logged in to try and see if we could save Christmas.

A Summer Santa

Santa’s Sleighcation isn’t your typical Christmas game. There’s no snow in sight. Instead it’s set in somewhere hot and tropical like Barbados. Santa has been on holiday and doesn’t want to return, so it was up to us to find the keys to the sleigh. I think a fair few of the decorations may have been borrowed from Online Escape Rooms Ireland’s other room, Beach Bar, but it worked so well! More margaritas anyone?

As with many of the company’s other escape room experiences, Santa’s Sleighcation is based on a real life physical space at their site. With the use of a 360 camera, the creators have digitalised the space so that anyone from anywhere in the world can play it. The best part is it’s built in Telescape so you’ve got a 360 degree view of all the rooms, can see all your fellow player’s mouse points on the screen, and work together collaboratively.

Since the theme of the game is Christmas in a hot tropical climate, there’s a real mix to the decor. Tiki bars decorated with tinsel and baubles and a shining tree in the corner next to a couple of flamingos and talking parrots. I was also particularly tickled to find that Santa would be wearing a brightly coloured Hawaiian shirt!

Crack the Codes, not the Coconuts

Santa’s Sleighcation is adapted from a real life room and therefore those playing the digital version can enjoy a very tactile feel to the game. There’s plenty for a large team to get on with – we felt that us at 4 players was the sweet spot for everyone to be busy. You’ll encounter padlocks and 3 and 4 digit codes, and plenty of times will find yourself running- I mean, clicking your way across the room to cross-reference objects. There’s a handy inventory system to keep track of what items you still need to use. And, conveniently, objects will disappear when you’ve completed them.

Our favourite thing about digital games from Online Escape Rooms Ireland has to be the intro and outro video however. They are simple videos, but the stock videos of different Santa’s doing increasingly bizarre things always makes us laugh. It’s also always nice to be reminded, with a message from the creators, that by playing their games you are supporting local businesses. Dare I say it one of the only good things to come out of lockdown is the emergence of digital escape games – I can now enjoy real life rooms from exciting places around the world from my rainy flat in London (thanks lockdown travel ban!).

The Verdict

Overall, Santa’s Sleighcation is a really fun, lighthearted game. We completed it in just under 30 minutes and found it on the slightly easier side, compared to for example Spirit Seekers Ireland but I’m a big believer in not overdoing it at Christmas. So, I like it a lot. If you’re three boozy hot chocolates in and there’s a festive film in the background, this game would be a fantastic respite that’ll scratch that escape room itch over the festive period but not leave you bamboozled hours.

Santa’s Sleighcation can be booked from Online Escape Rooms Ireland’s website here.

Ratings

Hysteria Escape Rooms: Advent Avenue | Review

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A life-size advent calendar for all the family, 24 puzzle doors and windows to open, can you help save ADVENT AVENUE?

Completion Time: 60 minutes
Date Played: 2019
Party Size: 3
Difficulty: Medium

Hysteria Escape Rooms based in Rochester is a small, yet perfectly formed escape room location. Based between Rochester and Chatham, the exterior of the building with its blacked out windows and dark paint work, sets the scene for the adventure that is about to follow. 

Opening the door, you are met with a warm welcome with a small, yet practical reception area with comfortable seating, toilets and a handful of lockers. 

All games commence with a briefing from a member of the team, who are very clearly passionate about their customer service and the experience that is about to begin.

The entrance doors to all rooms are within the reception area – particularly impressive here, is the fact that even the entrances to each of the rooms have also been lovingly decorated to give you a taste of what to expect inside. These also provide for a good photo opportunity after your escape, without giving any hint of a spoiler. 

ADVENT AVENUE

Feeling the need for a little Christmas cheer?! Doing this room in the middle of February might not be everyones idea of fun, however this room really hits all the right spots when it comes to seasonal entertainment! In terms of story line, the magic of Christmas has been lost and releasing the magic held only in Advent Avenue will send magic around the world! 

Walking through the door of this room, hits you with overwhelming festive cheer. The theme is brilliant and although clearly evident of what tasks lie ahead of you, this non-linear room can send you down multiple different avenues! (pun intended). Festive music, snow, robins, presents, candy canes, gingerbread men. You name it, its inside! For what is a small play area, the volume of puzzles contained within the room is phenomenal. Every puzzle is strong and varied, and a few puzzles we certainly hadn’t seen before. Most puzzles were relatively easy to appreciate with a couple that had some well placed curve balls. Im a big fan of more physical challenges within a room and this room has some really good ones. 

The room is highly entertaining and you wont stop smiling from beginning to end (even when you are hit with a few slightly more frustrating puzzles!). All in all, this is a great room, with brilliant use of space, masses of puzzles and a real sense of enjoyment. This is guaranteed to be an experience you wont forget – particularly the room finale which is a great addition, rarely seen at other escape rooms. 

Would I recommend this room?

Yes. Brilliant room. Great theme which is different to any other “seasonal” room, which are often too similar in nature

Who would I recommend it to? 

Beginners and experienced player alike would all love it.

How many players would I recommend?

I would recommend this to be a 4 player game for optimum game play. 

Suitable for Children?

Yes. From around age 6 would love the theme, however some of the puzzles would not suit that age range so I would suggest from age 8/9 would really enjoy this. 

Unfortunately Advent Avenue has now retired, but you can check out and support Hysteria Escape Rooms here.

Ratings

Escape Room Geeks: Saving the Beauty of Winter

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An evil scientist, who hates winter and snow, invents a device that is destroying all the snow in your city. You find his lost, top-secret diary, which might lead to his lab. Now you have a chance to turn off this machine and bring back the magic of winter.

Rating: Playful!
Completion Time:  30 minutes
Date Played: 9th February 2021
Party Size: 1
Recommended For: Families, Kids… Especially to play when it’s snowing!

Saving the Beauty of Winter is a beautifully illustrated family game – I said this about Houdini’s Secret Room and I’ll say it again, the look and the feel of the printed pack is 👌 ! That said, I may need to take out a mortgage on my apartment with the cost of printer ink – I’m kidding! Even so, whilst the game recommends the full pack be printed you could probably get away with just a few pages and in black and white.

The story of this adventure is one part silly, one part charming: An evil (possibly mad) scientist living in your town has decided enough is enough and has ‘cancelled winter’ with his snow reversal machine. By harnessing the powers of the great scientific minds throughout history, the evil scientist manages to stop snow from ever falling on your town again. It’s amusing to be playing from London and we almost never get snow but when we do it’s about 2 millimetres worth. Please could the scientist send all his surplus snow to London, please?

One millimetre of snow is STILL one millimetre of snow… So you bet I had a little photoshoot with this pack out in the garden! Before the snow promptly melted one hour later.

To stop the evil scientist, you must work your way through three levels of puzzles:

  1. Find his laboratory in the town and break in
  2. Enter the snow attractor
  3. Shut it down!

Each step is relatively straight forward – you’re looking for a code to proceed. The game recommends one person be the ‘host’ and know the answers in advance, thereby granting access to the rest of the players when answered correctly. A level up (and more authentic escape room experience) would be to hide part 2 and 3 behind locks with codes bearing those numbers – but that’s up to you! I chose instead to play this game as a solo player and checked my answer at the end of each level.

Whilst not too tricky at all, what Saving the Beauty of Winter does encourage you to do is create some very cool things with paper. Each level involves a bit of cutting, folding and sticking, with cool looking results! This is why it’d be a perfect game for a family setting giving little ones something to do with their hands whilst older ones can crack the codes and solve the puzzles!

Did I enjoy it? Yes, absolutely! I smashed through it in about 30 minutes – including some cutting and sticking time, and found the whole thing to be really rather sweet. It’s nice to have a winter escape game that isn’t explicitly about Christmas – it’s seasonal and fun for the long January and February months too!

Saving the Beauty of Winter can be purchased for $29 USD on Escape Room Geek’s website.

Fast Familiar: National Elf Service | Review

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A Christmas like no other. Festive spirit is at an all time low. The toy factory has ground to a halt, the sleigh’s gathering dust in the garage, and everyone’s looking glum. Can you help Holly and the other elves save the day?

Rating: Light-Hearted!
Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: 16th December 2020
Party Size: 2
Recommended For: Families

National Elf Service is a self-described cross between a puzzle game, an online escape room and an interactive audio book. In short, it’s got something for everyone whether you’re new to the genre or if this is your 100th play at home game. In particular, National Elf Service really nails it as a light hearted tale and makes it an absolute stand out game in the whole play at home genre!

The story goes: Holly, an Elf working in the North Pole administrative centre, sends out an S.O.S. to everyone on the Nice List. That’s where you come in! You’re invited to join the National Elf Service to do all you can to prevent a Christmas catastrophe! But not without the help of three National Elf Service Elves who act as your eyes and ears on the ground: Merry, Berry and Sherry. Oh! And Sylvester, the teddy bear.

The problem? Christmas spirit around the world is at an all time low. Yeah, 2020. I feel that a lot.

Through a series of challenges, you work to bring Christmas spirit right back up in time for Christmas Eve. What’s the best way to spread Christmas cheer? It’s to sing loud for all to hear. YES! There’s a challenge where you have to sing. You heard that correctly. A first for any digital play at home escape game, get your singing voices ready for this holly jolly festive romp.

In terms of the ‘how to play’, National Elf Service is unique here too! I’d place a lot of emphasis on the “audio adventure” side of the description as yes, there’s a lot of audio. With a cast of around ~6, it feels like a lot more like an audio drama with the occasional puzzle rather than a puzzle game with audio narration. But in this format, it really works. It’s the kind of game you’d want to cosy up with your family on the sofa and a large mug of hot chocolate. Co-incidentally, this is exactly how Player 2 and I experienced this game. The time ‘between puzzles’ to sit back, relax, and listen was perfect. After all, the narrative skill and story in this game is easily as rich as the hot chocolate I made. The countless hilarious Christmas film references? Well that’s just the cream on top!

You’re presented with a screen with a chat function on the left, audio narration at the bottom, and a main window where the ‘scene’ plays out through brilliant illustration. At the end of each scene, the puzzle of the scene is presented. Those range from quick and easy puzzles that even young members of a family would enjoy, to more puzzling ones that require a bit of thinking outside the box – and pencil and paper!

As a final note, I particularly want to shout out the company for it’s representation. The cast is diverse and normalises characters with physical and mental disabilities as the stars of the show. I don’t want to say “I love that” because it sounds disingenuous, but it’s really really important and makes the game a lot more relatable. Escape rooms, take note!

Overall, if I had to summarise the game – it would be festive, family fun. Really, this is the perfect game for playing round the table with kids, grandparents, and everyone in-between. I’ve no doubt this’ll be a huge hit on Christmas Day and well, if you’re reading this and wondering if you should bring an escape game to Christmas dinner next week – look no further!

National Elf Service can be purchased for £20 per team on the National Elf Service website.

Ratings

Headlock Escape Rooms: Cracking Christmas | Review

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Every year, Santa practices his “chimney falling technique”. Last night, he ate too many mince pies and it threw him off balance, making him hit his head inside the fireplace.  So now, Santa cannot remember where he has hidden the naughty or nice list for this year!  Mrs. Claus decided to hire the top rated festive detectives in all the world to help him find it (that’s you)! 

Rating: Brilliant!
Completion Time: ~45 minutes
Date Played: 12th December 2020
Party Size: 5
Recommended For: Christmas Parties & Get-Togethers in December

Fabulously festive and a wonderful hour spent over Zoom with friends I may not have otherwise seen this Christmas. Headlock Escape Rooms have perfected the art of puzzlebox escape rooms via Zoom! Although this game was originally designed to be posted to players, the online / digital format still works beautifully and makes an all round fantastic game. Cracking Christmas is not to be missed!

The Cracking Christmas story goes: You and your team travel to the North Pole in order to help Bob Christmas (our hilarious host) find and retrieve Santa’s Naughty and Nice list. Boy, does Santa take his security very seriously – but it makes sense! You wouldn’t want such an important document falling into the wrong hands.

In true Christmas spirit, you must then search the scene – there’s a chimney, an advent calendar, paintings on the wall, stockings, snow-globes, cookies – well, pretty much everything you’d expect to find at the North Pole, or the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie. Except unlike a Hallmark Christmas movie, each item has an intriguing puzzle to be solved that will slowly crack the Christmas case. Each puzzle as surprising and charming as the last!

Underpinning the story is the ever-present threat of whether you and your team will find themselves on the Naughty, or the Nice list. In fact, at at least one point in the game you get to make choices about whether an action you’ll do is naughty or nice. Play, and make your choices at your peril! * (I’m kidding, there’s absolutely no peril in this game)

Woven throughout the game are also a series of surprising tasks which we loved! Sing a Christmas song? Shout HO HO HO the best? Sit on Santa’s lap? (Yes, really!). It really elevates the game from a regular escape room, to an all round fun Christmas experience. If you’re still looking for an office Christmas activity, or something for the family to do remotely – honestly, look no further. Cracking Christmas will have the whole team in fits of laughter and walking away with a warm fuzzy glow.

In terms of puzzles, I would personally put this on the easy/medium end of the difficulty scale – but I’d preface this by saying that level is ‘just right’ for a game like this. Of course I may also have found it a little bit easier after the success of playing Headlock’s earlier game, The Wizard’s Apothecary. But regardless, this one is a great game for introducing a friend to the genre and it’s absolutely packed with things to do and fun to be had.

Overall, a real hidden gem of a game. I can’t recommend it enough! Be sure to book it before it finishes!

Cracking Christmas can be booked for £35 per team on Headlock Escape Rooms’ website.