Moments before Guy Fawkes lit his fuse an anonymous letter tipped off the authorities and foiled his dastardly plot… Who wrote the letter? Nobody knows, but a dusty diary found beneath the floorboards of an old York pub could finally expose him, and this is where you come in…
Date Played: August 2023 Time Taken: 3 Hours Number of Players: 3 Difficulty: Easy
The Guy Fawkes Inn in York is famous for a couple of things. Firstly, the pies. Steak and ale with a beautiful pastry. Very tasty indeed. The other thing (arguably the main thing) is being the birthplace of Guy Fawkes – hence the name…
Yup, Fawkes is kind of a big deal around these parts. Him, Dick Turpin and Vikings. If you’re looking for a theme, then one of those three will probably do the job, and in The Gunpowder Snitch the notorious plotter’s deeds take centre stage.
Presented in a colourful, well-put-together booklet, The Gunpowder Snitch has you eliminating suspects, colours, seasons, and several other things Cluedo style until you are left with the pieces required complete the final puzzle. These allow you to discover exactly who was responsible for the writing of secret letters that, ultimately, foiled the plan. You do this by following a route, finding the relevant landmark, and then using it to somehow decipher a coded message before moving onto the next. Between the puzzles are background details, diary entries and antiquitorial titbits to help fill out the story.
Location, Location, Location
York is the perfect city for such an activity. It’s dripping in history – both horrible and otherwise – and you can’t kick a bush without several ‘most haunted’ pubs scurrying out. There are so many interesting nuggets lurking around, that this mystery barely covers a quarter of the famously condensed city, however that’s not to say there’s a lack of content. The distance travelled was just over three kilometres, took roughly three hours, and included many points of interest that could be missed easily as a tourist. In fact, even having lived there for over a decade, some of the plaques and shields that were required for the puzzles had somehow managed to evade us until this book pointed them out.
The Hunt for the Snitch
Following the clear directions on the pages will see you traverse a section of the famous walls, duck through a snickelway*, and witness plenty of other quirks. Though, if you wanted, you could easily stretch the experience out to a full day by exploring on your own between clues.
Usefully, when the planned routes presented potential hurdles (no dogs allowed or the steepest, narrowest stairs ever created) an alternative was always provided. Though, York can get extremely busy at weekends and some of the areas you need to pass through are obstacle enough in themselves. Especially if you’re looking to stop, stare and ponder instead of being pushed along with the crowd. One puzzle required us to locate and read something that was literally being smothered by a street performer and the huge crowd that had gathered to watch. Another was in one of York’s smallest and busiest streets where every molecule of space was filled with people queuing to secure themselves a small pottery ghost**. Thankfully this has been thought of and, as well as further hints on the back of the book, the clues are available via QR code should you simply be unable to reach your desired destination.
York-based Family Fun
The challenges themselves shouldn’t tax seasoned puzzlers. Most of the tasks are simply a case of finding a particular object and substituting letters for symbols in one form or another. It’s fairly basic, but that’s by design. The bright colours and cartoony Horrible Histories feel telegraphs the experience as one for the family and kids will love searching for clues and helping with some of the easier decoding. There’s certainly a little something for the adults too, though… As well as starting and ending in two of York’s oldest pubs, there are another two visited along the way, offering suitable points to sit, grab a drink and – in our case – argue about what Minerva was the goddess of*** without succumbing to Google. Fun times.
The Verdict: The Mystery of the Gunpowder Snitch
This isn’t a breakneck, high-octane race around York full of fiendish puzzles. It’s a great family day out. It’s also an excellent way to see some of the sites if you’re visiting for the day and partial to the odd anagram. If that’s what you’re after, then you’re sure to have a great time.
* Essentially a narrow street. A portmanteau of snicket, ginnel and alleyway. Legend has it that the Barghest roams them waiting to prey on lone travellers, so maybe bring a friend.
** The York Ghost Merchants on the Shambles benefitted from their model ghosts going viral on TikTok. They are VERY popular.
*** Loads of oddly unrelated stuff, apparently. Including justice, weaving, wisdom, medicine, trade and strategy. It’s no wonder we couldn’t pin it down.
Old Town Edinburgh Treasure Hunt Review| In 1695, Edinburgh’s Old Town was haunted by a mysterious grave robber known as the ‘Midnight Body Snatcher’, who when supply ran out.. turned his hand to murder!
Date Played: July 2023 Time Taken: 3 Hours Number of Players: 2 Difficulty: Easy
Here at the Escape Roomer we all kinda have that one thing we write about “the most”. For example, I actually don’t write about (or play) nearly as many escape rooms as my co-writers. But what I do obsessively play are outdoor puzzle trails. The moment I spot a new one on the market, come rain or shine I’m out there with a pen and paper ready to explore. There’s just something so much fun about combining puzzles with exploring an urban space. You get to see things in a new light, you learn historical facts, and you get a pretty fun work out too…
…Well, this particular trail gave me quite literally the work out of my entire life. But even that was kind of cool in itself!
So when I heard about Mystery Guides, I had to get my hands on one. They sounded absolutely awesome. And you know what? They were! But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the start.
So, what are Mystery Guides all about?
Mystery Guides is a company based out of Portsmouth. They’ve got that small, independent feel, and you can tell the creator really loves what he does. Fast forward a few years from their foundation and now Mystery Trails has setup popular trails in many, if not most major cities around the UK. Luckily for me, one of those trails is in Edinburgh.
The format of a Mystery Guide is fairly straightforward. With your order you’ll receive a physical, printed clue book. These books are lovingly illustrated and come packed with puzzles that guide you around the city. With each new puzzle section, there’s a snippet of map showing you where to go next, the actual clue to be solved, and then a snippet of story. In our case, this was in the form of diary entries. Many clues also had local information about the history of the area, or useful tidbits about local businesses / street names / and fun facts.
The games are very much intended for single-use, as you’ll need to write all over them to solve the puzzles.
The Midnight Body Snatcher
In our case, the Old Town Edinburgh Treasure Hunt was a story about “The Midnight Body Snatcher”. Set in the cold winter of 1695 where the streets of the city were gripped by tales of a shadowy body snatcher. In true Burke and Hare fashion, we were hot on the heels of a body snatcher trying to figure out exactly who they are thanks to environmental clues.
I say “hot on the heels”, but what I actually mean was that we were playing in 2023. A new piece of evidence in the 300 year cold case has proven to be the key we need to figuring out who the body snatcher was. The fact he’s probably been dead for centuries didn’t detract from the real sense of urgency to solve the case. And for that, it was a lot of fun.
In terms of gameplay, the Midnight Body Snatcher sort of plays out like a logic grid. Well, sort of anyway. There isn’t too much ‘logic grid’ to it, but the idea is there are:
Five items of jewellery
And with each puzzle solved you can eliminate one of these. The puzzles were a mix of more well known puzzle styles, and ones that were totally unique to the environment. But, in most cases we arrived at a landmark and had to use the physicality of the landmark to solve. Sometimes that meant looking at a plaque, other times it meant counting the letters, or getting up close and personal with a particular landmark to try to find a hidden detail on it.
At first I was a little surprised the categories of “symbol” and “jewellery” felt… Well… Quite random. But then as we neared the finale it all fell into place beautifully with the local history, in a satisfying and fun climax.
Puzzling around Edinburgh City
I played this game in a team of two with my co-writer Rebecca. The game arrived, and no sooner than it did we made a plan to play together on the next Sunday. The fact the weather forecast said it was due to rain all day almost put a dampener on our plans – but not quite. Because it turned out the weather forecast was completely and utterly wrong, as it was a beautiful sunny day. So sunny, we even stopped for ice cream!
If we had just one criticism about the whole experience, it would have more to do with the city than the game, and that was: THE HILLS. I’m writing this review days later and my calves are still aching. Yes, yes, Edinburgh is a hilly city. I live here and I’ve made my peace with it. But The Midnight Body Snatcher took us up and down and up and down and up and down. The whole thing takes place within a fairly small “central city” area. The beautiful old town around the Royal Mile. We began at the Royal Mile, then went up, then down, then back up to the Royal Mile, then back down the other side, then back up the Royal Mile. It’s a good job I don’t skip leg days at the gym.
But one of the good things about Mystery Guides is that the experience is entirely self-led. If you need to take a break, you can. In fact, our trail offered three opportunities to take a break in pub stops.
The Verdict: Mystery Guides Edinburgh
We really enjoyed Mystery Guides’ Edinburgh Trail. There’s fewer pleasures in life than spending time in the sunshine with a friend.
We’d in particular recommend it for families – it struck just the right balance of educational vs fun in an almost Horrible Histories style, and we felt the style of puzzles that pushed us to search about the physical environment would go down a hit with a younger audience. We would also recommend setting aside a full day for this. It does recommend around 3 hours to finish, but there’s so much to see and so many wonderful places you might want to stop and stay a while in. Plus that will definitely break up the hill-climbing!
“The Locksmith’s Dream is a series of genre-defying, immersive overnight experiences filled with narrative delights and magical puzzles. Step into a 17th Century manor house seemingly trapped in the 1920s. Unravel the narrative mysteries, solve puzzles and enjoy the unique atmosphere of the house and its grounds. Join fellow guests in sifting through the history of the house and previous inhabitants, supported by the curious staff who seem deeply connected to the property. Dine by candlelight in opulent oak-clad halls and as night falls, don your unique mask to wander in the strangeness of ‘The House of the Moon’.” – from The Locksmith’s Dream website.
Date played: April 2023 Time taken: 12 hours (including overnight stay) Number of players: 2 in my party (22 guests overall) Difficulty: Moderate-Hard
Photos in this review (c) The Locksmith’s Dream or Karen Myers
Everything about The Locksmith’s Dream is otherworldly. A curated luxury immersive overnight experience, it has its home in Treowen, a gloriously creaking pile of a 17th Century manor house in the marchlands between England and Wales. And just as the house is trapped between two countries, the story it tells is trapped between, or maybe entirely outside, time(s). As an arriving guest you are very much of the modern world, but step inside ancient Treowen and you’ll find your genial, generous hosts appear forever frozen in a hazy 1920s vibe. But in The Locksmith’s Dream nothing is ever quite as it might first appear. Within Treowen’s walls are a myriad mysteries to unravel. Where you start, what questions you ask, what puzzles you attempt to solve is entirely up to you.
What is The Locksmith’s Dream?
Like the ‘between times’ nature of the house and the narrative it contains, the event itself is liminal and elusive. It slips between genres, playfully evading definition and refusing to be trapped by conventional labels. There are elements that are escape room or scavenger hunt-like, with keys to be sought and riddles to be solved, but it is neither entirely an escape room or a scavenger hunt. There are elements that borrow from the Punchdrunk brand of immersive theatre, where you can follow and interact with a character to piece together their personal narrative and their place in the mystery, but it is also not that alone. And although I’ve never LARPed, there are some influences from that world too, where you can inhabit an identity of your own to engage with the cast. And yet it’s not fully a LARP either.
So what is it? It’s impossible to define, but playfully and deliberately so. Choosing to exist between genres, there is an angle here for almost anyone who enjoys puzzles, immersion, direct performer interaction, mysteries, narrative complexity and exploration.
No, But Seriously, What Is It?
Ok, look, the world-building for this event is outstanding. The depth of detail involved in creating the mythos that exists within the mysterious walls of Treowen is immense, and crafted with passion, affection and intelligence. It is, quite simply, mind-blowing and overwhelming. So to try and explain what ‘it’ is within the confines of this review would do it a severe disservice and be at risk of being spoiler-heavy but a bare bones precis might go something like this:
Treowen exists on a threshold between worlds, and sometimes secret gods, known as the Hours and who appear in the form of birds, converge on the house to trade secrets in a meeting known as ‘the Roost’. When they depart, they leave behind “divine gossip and treasures” or ‘birdsong’. Your arrival at Treowen in the immediate aftermath of ‘the Roost’ has been arranged by a sponsor from an occult organisation who finds value in this birdsong. It is your job, once inside the house, to search it out, in any of its myriad forms. And when you find it you have a choice to make – to assign it to your sponsor who may use it for good or ill, or maybe you can trade it for information, a secret or an insight.
Physical ‘birdsong’ aren’t the only secrets hidden around the house. Treowen is staffed by a curious band of characters – from attentive butler, Hawthorn, to the wily but circumspect Inspector of the Suppression Bureau, from the dusting-obsessed servant, to the excitable but oh-so-sad Curator. They all have their own stories, woven into the very fabric of the house, and while they hold their own mysteries close they can often be persuaded to part with a detail or two if you take the time to chat, gently easing away at least part of their masks. Even those who have long left the house leave secret traces that endure – your occult sponsor might want physical birdsong but they might also like you to uncover what happened to previous residents, some of whom have met mysterious ends.
And just when you think you’ve found your bearings in this complex puzzle box of a house, night falls and, after a delicious 7 course feast of a candlelit dinner, you are invited to don the mask provided by your sponsor and explore the house anew. Because in ‘the House of the Moon’ so many things are oh so very different.
Throughout Treowen and throughout the 24 hours of your stay, enigmas and conundrums surround you on so many levels. And this is where The Locksmith’s Dream is unique to any other immersive experience I have taken part in. The path you choose to take through the event is entirely up to you. You can spend your time searching for the physical puzzles that litter the house, where every nook and cranny, every uneven floorboard and knot in the woodwork could hide a key or a riddle or a puzzle box waiting to be unravelled. There are a whole host of props and paperwork to engage with and peruse, from your own personal, leather-bound journal (which warrants careful attention!), to letters and guest books and dolls houses and chessboards and paintings, all of which may reveal a delicious sliver of information. Or you can mingle with the staff and other guests, ask some canny questions, share a joke or a moment of kindness and learn a secret or two about the house and its residents. Every conversation can unwrap another layer of the narrative and even mealtime encounters might open a new door or two. And if any of the above sounds just too darn exhausting, then you could, if you wished, retire to the inhouse bar for the entire time and just drink the cocktails while admiring the countryside views. In short, there is no right or wrong way ‘to do’ The Locksmith’s Dream. The options are multiple and the opportunities are endless.
It is easy to be bewildered by the complexity of the world created inside Treowen. There is a lot to get your head around as so much detail has been poured into every angle of the narrative and the puzzling. To get the most out of it, if you want to be fully immersed and engaged, then taking time to read and digest all the documents and paperwork you are given is key. I often fail at this in escape rooms when I’m so keen to get on to the puzzles that I ignore the narrative and skim read documents. But everything is so carefully woven together into one cohesive whole in The Locksmith’s Dream that soaking up the detail will pay huge dividends as you explore.
And when documents and written detail aren’t giving you the answers you need, it is the superb cast who step into the breach. The actors who flesh out the weird and wonderful staff of Treowen are supreme. Masters of nonchalant improvisation, the team of performers remain in character from the moment you arrive to the moment you depart. They seem entirely inbuilt into the fabric of the house and remain unphased by being asked the most obtuse and obscure of questions while they are also trying to pour you a cup of tea or make you a cocktail. Because these guys really do do everything – carry your bags to your rooms, serve tea and coffee, pour your wine and remember complex, arcane details about ancient rituals and the indepth back stories of the chamber maid.
While Treowen is a stunning, magical location and the narrative world-building complex and rich, it is the actors who make it all so very, seductively, real. Particular kudos to Emily Carding as the Curator, who was by turns all giddy excitability then heartbreaking loss. Her mournful breakfast monologue over the fate of a teaspoon was devastating. While my friend and I failed on so many levels to complete most of the challenges posed by the Locksmith’s Dream our one success was on a task for the Curator and her reaction to our resolution provided one of the most blindingly bonkers but wonderful and warm encounters of the whole weekend. The cast gathered together for this event is definitely one hell of a Locksmith’s Dream team.
But What Do I Get?
To book a place in the Locksmith’s Dream you chose one of Treowen’s 11 unique bedrooms, distributed across the top 3 floors of the house, from the smartest on the first floor to the attic spaces on the top floor. That bedroom comes with an identity – one assigned to you by your occult organisation sponsor – along with a letter from your sponsor and a series of tasks to complete (if you so wish to of course, you could ignore them completely). You’ll get a small leather bound journal full of information and space for note taking (essential!), masks to wear for the ‘House of the Moon’ event and a pin badge (who doesn’t love a pin badge) identifying your sponsor. You also get a delicious lunch on arrival, a small but perfectly formed afternoon tea, a seven course fine dining feast in the evening (including wine), a hearty breakfast the following morning and, most extraordinary of all, 24 hours of magical immersive fun.
The Locksmith’s Dream is a rarefied event – there is a large price tag, but that price envelops so many layers, experiences, details and engagements that just aren’t happening anywhere else in the UK at the moment. Having thrown myself at most immersive events that have taken place in the last ten years, I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced anything like this. It is impossible to define and impossible to compare to other immersive events, escape rooms, puzzle hunts or similar to match price points. It’s just not like anything else.
The only niggle I’d have about this whole weekend, is that while the house is historic and fascinating and gorgeous, it is also so old and protected the amenities aren’t luxury in the ‘luxury hotel’ meaning of the word. Our room in the attic (‘Seraphim’) was lovely with exposed beams and sloping floors but our twin beds were very narrow and our bathroom shared with another bedroom was a tiny cubicle with only just space for a shower and a toilet. It is not something that would put me off returning and it didn’t stop us having huge amounts of fun (especially as we spent very little time in our room) but it is something to be aware of if the price point is above your normal budget so you can manage expectations.
A Dream to return to?
The Locksmith’s Dream clearly has a potent pull. Several other guests who shared our weekend were returning for their second visits and still finding new layers to uncover and puzzles to explore. The venue is seductive enough to call you back and, especially if you’re a completist, the sense of so much left undiscovered is a powerful draw to consider a return visit. There are just so many different angles and avenues to take that no-one, not even the speediest of searchers or riddle-solvers, could do everything within one weekend.
The Locksmith’s Dream is unique. It is special. It is bewildering and magical and frustrating and exhilarating and sad and hilarious. It is laden with puzzles. It is a joy to explore and search. It is peopled with endearing, multi-layered characters performed by masterclass performers. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea (no matter how well Hawthorn the butler makes it) but for those who are willing to step outside the tedium of modern life and engage with the mystical and the magical, to suspend disbelief and be fully immersed, it will be an unforgettable, bewildering, intoxicating dream come true.
The Escape Room Adventures take you on a journey of discovery as you puzzle your way through the gameplay and unlock the many secrets within. The easiest room is Mutiny, our pirate-themed room, which is ideal for beginners, families, or a group with mixed experience. Our most challenging adventure room is Nethercott Manor – our haunted manor, which is a fast-paced challenge. We would recommend Dodge City, The Outfitters & our newest room SpellCraft for teams that have some previous escape room experience.
Date Played: December 2022 Number of Players: 5 Time Taken: ~40 Minutes each Difficulty: Expert!
Tulley’s gained its reputation for being one of the best companies in the country a few years ago and has managed to retain it when many others failed to move with the times, or unfortunately closed due to the pandemic. It had long been on my to-do list, but I had been prevented from trying any of their 5 games for a number of factors – namely location, cost, and the necessity to have an expert team to even attempt the rooms!
Luckily for me, the stars aligned at Christmas (well, boxing day) last year – my parter was gifted the day as part of a brand deal, my mum happened to be visiting us (as it was Christmas) and had a car, making transport that much easier, and I had confirmed the availability of the final two members to make us up to a team of 5 experienced players! It may not have been most people’s choice for how to spend their boxing day, but for us it was magical…
Tulley’s has 5 rooms, ranging in theme and complexity, so this is really going to be a whistlestop tour! I also want to highlight their amazing GMs who looked after us throughout the day – Adam, Dan, Ellie, Ed, Jamie, and Tyler – and of course their boss – Sooty the cat.
Dodge City in 2127 remains a stronghold of the wild west. The constant tussle between the Sheriff and local gunslingers means there’s opportunity abound for some creative bank robbery for those with wits and courage. As a member of the Notorious ‘Barn Door’ Gang you’ve been caught by the local sheriff breaking into the bank. Locked away with little hope, hired by an unnamed outlaw and facing the ruthless justice of the old west you’re left with only one option. As the sun sets the race is on to break out, reclaim your supplies, pull off the bank job of the century and get out of Dodge City.
Dodge City was our first room…and one of their hardest! Immediately on entering it’s obvious how Tulley’s have earned their reputation – the set design is amazing and extremely immersive, and there are surprises throughout the game. Even as a hardened spotter of fake doors and moving bookshelves, I soon gave up trying to anticipate what was coming next.
This room started with one of my favorite tropes – being separated! We were placed in separate cells, and this obviously required good communication from our newly assembled team, as well as a neat form of contact between us. We then progressed to all things cowboy and outlaw related. I don’t want to give away too much, but the set design and theming were amazing and definitely felt like you were progressing through Dodge City as you progressed through the room. There was only one point in which we were truly stuck, and this was largely due to a breakdown in communication and confusion over who a hint was intended for. Otherwise, this room was one of the most fun rooms we did all day, with some unique puzzles I’ve not seen before (or seen used in a different way), really appealing to different skills. As a team of 5, we only made it out with 4 minutes to spare, which was a great way to get the adrenaline going for the rest of the day!
It’s 1926 here in Chicago, and depression is still rife. Jobs are few and far between and the Prohibition has been in force for six years now. Everyone still drinks, nothin’ has changed. But now the mob control the streets, the supply and the money. The influence of the Outfit is far-reaching. Most of the cops are even under their control. Who can put them in the joint? You can, that’s who. The Commissioner has put together a special task force of straight, trusted cops and you’re on the team. You’ve spent the last few months infiltrating their network and now tonight is the night to get the evidence you need to put them away forever. But it won’t be easy, your cover might be blown! Do you have what it takes?
The natural progression from ‘cowboy’ is ‘mobster’, right? We moved almost straight from the Wild West into a mafia front in Chicago. We entered into an unassuming tailors shop, before discovering all was not what it seemed… The use of space at Tulley’s continued to be a lovely surprise, although the set felt a little more tired and rough around the edges in this room. That’s not to say it wasn’t good though – hidden information was the name of the game for Outfitters (what more could you expect from Gangsters), with themed puzzles and ’20s mechanisms running the room.
In this room, there were a few moments where mechanisms didn’t trigger or triggered when they shouldn’t have, and we were much less active than we had been in Dodge, with only a couple of us solving puzzles at a time. We managed to escape with a respectable 19mins remaining and an eagerness to sink our teeth into the next one (after lunch). Although this wasn’t a bad room, I’d say it was fairly average, and if this was the only room we’d done…I would have been disappointed.
The SpellCraft twins, Evilinda & Spellinda, two witches, two paths, two shops, two worlds, two journeys, their two magical worlds collide, and you find yourself in the middle of their story. SpellCraft will take you on a magical adventure, you’ll need to work together, but in the end there’s always a battle, will you escape and who will win?
Our next room was the newest room at Tulley’s, and the room that has quickly become a favourite of most players (myself included) – Spellcraft! When I first heard it was a magic-themed room my reaction was probably similar to many other enthusiasts – “not another one!”, “How is this going to be any different from all the other magic rooms?” , “why do people love this so much? What’s so good about magic?”
However, it was unlike any magic room I’ve done before, and has truly earned its place at the top of many lists. Firstly, you can tell from the waiting area that the set and story are going to be completely different from any other magic room. There are no “wizard school” or 4 “magical houses” that happen to be primary colours…
Instead, we were once more split into teams – this time “good” and “evil” – and given wands, which stayed with us and were used throughout the game. We were also given cauldrons to collect/carry things with us, which was a nice touch I’ve not experienced anywhere else. Inside the room, the set design was once more delightful and surprising. The set is huge, but of course, you don’t realise this at first. However, there is a truly magical mechanism within the room and we were transported again and again to extremely different settings and places. There were a lot of fun puzzles here too – some familiar, others less so, and the climax of the room brings together the two teams in a fierce battle of good and evil, which we obviously won.
Overall, while I can’t remember (or didn’t see) quite a few of the puzzles the experience itself blew me out of the water with the magic and joy I felt. As a team of 5, we escaped with 16 minutes remaining, and I enjoyed every second. This is an amazing room, one of the best in the country I’d say, and makes me excited to see what they do next.
It’s the year of our Lord 1672, and you be right in the height o’ the golden age o’ piracy… After years of sailin’ the high seas, you and your crew have succeeded in your fair share of ambushes, and as a result – your ship is teemin’ with bounty. Yet you’re still suffering beneath the cruel wrath o’ Captain Starling – a notoriously bloodthirsty buccaneer, and your shipmates have decided you all shall take matters into your own hands. After all… you fought for the gold, so the gold is yours for the taking, aye? Once the old seadog has retreated to his berth for the night, you make your move. Get in, get the treasure and get out. You won’t have long before he starts to stir – and Starling shows no mercy to ANY soul…
After that amazing experience we needed to calm down a little, so found ourselves upon a ship in the easiest room. This was again misleading – although our initial perception was that of every other pirate game I’ve played (as we solved it as such, by guessing digits in combination locks and skipping steps), once we were out of the cabin we had clearly been played.
As you might expect for a ship, this game required more physicality than others, but these were more to reveal/solve puzzles than being the puzzle itself. There was one particularly unique feature of this room, which was fun to build and use, but otherwise, this was your average pirate room, just more polished and better executed. Ultimately we escaped with 22 mins left, and we had fun doing so, but we were looking forwards to the final room.
The old manor house is entwined with local legend, the living don’t remember the Nethercott’s, the family’s hay day was long ago. Local folk talked, whispers were heard, rumours began, lights were seen within. The Nethercott’s are long gone but something remains, an essence, a smell, a feeling, it’s in the fabric, in the walls, under the floor boards … it ticks, it creeks … take a trip into the past, uncover the family’s many secrets and glimpse their fleeting souls?
Finally, the room that put Tulley’s on the map (for me at least) – their largest and hardest (I think), as I didn’t even see half of the room – more like 1/3! It was also the one I was most nervous before, being a massive wimp and this being a haunted house. Nevertheless, I couldn’t pass the experience up, so I steeled myself and forged ahead.
The atmosphere is obvious from the start, finding ourselves outside the front door of an abandoned house, with an atmospheric soundtrack doing nothing to ease my nerves. The immediate puzzles were fairly easy, clearly luring us into a false sense of security before we entered the manor itself. Once inside, the set is appropriately dimly lit (until you’re able to find the fuse box at least), with many old-fashioned items of decor and themed puzzles attached. This is also when you get your first taste of the spirits that haunt the house, and it became clear that I was an easy mark for the GM.
For those of you of a similar disposition to me, I will just reassure you that nothing physically jumps out at you, but there are a lot of loud noises, which the GM can, and will, trigger whenever they feel like – especially if you are an obvious target stood next to the item in question.
This first room had the most frustrating puzzle I’ve seen in any room…ever. We found out afterwards that even the GMs will struggle to complete it, so usually, they take pity on the players and allow them to bypass it (ourselves included). Usually, this type of time sink would annoy me, especially in a room as large as this, but we actually addressed most of the room at the same time as this ‘puzzle’, and the GM clearly knew the right time to give us a nudge that gave us a chance of solving it, without feeling frustrated.
From this point, we barely saw each of our teammates again until close to the end of the room. I found myself with my mum solving a series of logic puzzles while being terrorised by the GM ghost. We also encountered a smell test, which worked well given we were in the kitchen. From what we saw afterwards, our teammates were working through similarly well-themed puzzles for their respective rooms, across a large variety of skills.
The final puzzles were once more of the deductive style (my favourite), before quite a fun/creepy ending (depending on your perspective). We managed to escape with 9.34 left, which is quite an achievement given they used to sell this as an 80-minute room, and I know many people who didn’t manage to escape! This was definitely a great way to end the day, and almost my favourite room.
The team at Tulley’s were fantastic, and the rooms were large and immersive, while still delivering high quality puzzles. We appreciated the drink offerings, and usually they serve food on the farm too. The introduction videos are also worth mentioning – very entertaining, and slightly unhinged, but they weave into an overall lore, which I’ve only seen a handful of other rooms do as effectively.
This is definitely a must-visit for any enthusiast. Although we could award this nearly all of our badges, we definitely think they’re most deserving of our “I believe” badge, for just how immersive and expansive their rooms were.
Audio – nearly all the rooms require some form of communication between players. Spellcraft, Nethercott and Dodge also featured audio puzzles/prompts, although not everyone will need to do these.
Vision – Nethercott, Mutiny and Outfitters all had fairly low lighting at points. Dodge required a small amount of colour identification, as did Nethercott and Outfitters.
Smell – Nethercott has a smell puzzle!
Spatial – In Dodge you start in a small cell, so if you have issues with space I recommend being the only person in yours. There are also some small spaces in Nethercott, Outfitters, Mutiny and Spellcraft, but none require all team members to enter. There are some smoke effects in Spellcraft, as well as Nethercott.
These rooms can be booked on the Tulleys website here
Ashes of Persepolis Review | Travel to Ancient Greece to solve a mystery of Persepolis, the priceless Persian city burned to ashes by Alexander the Great. The hero’s secrets are interwoven into an intricate puzzle guarded by Olympian Gods and an all-seeing Oracle. Only the mightiest can read Oracle’s cards to find out what really happened in Persepolis.
Completion Time: 1hr30 Date Played: February 2023 Party Size: 3 Difficulty: Hard
I have been waiting a very, very long time for a game that’ll pique the interest of my partner. You see: they’re not really into puzzle games. Their idea of a good time is a museum or two with a pub break in the middle. Don’t get me wrong, that sounds excellent, but after our museum and pub trips I love nothing more than sitting down to a puzzle or two. Anyway, there’s a good reason I play a lot of at-home escape rooms solo. That was until the wonderful duo behind Scarlet Envelope announced their latest game: Ashes of Persepolis.
Historical? Yay! Ancient Greece? Woohoo! Absolutely drop dead gorgeous graphics? Check, check, double check.
But why do I bring up my partner? Well, they studied this very topic at university for their Undergraduate and Masters. In short, I had a veritable expert playing next to me, and one just as enthusiastic for a game as I was!
History and Mythology Come to Life
In Ashes of Persepolis, we found ourselves completely immersed in the part-fiction, part-truth world of Ancient Greece. Similarly, the story of Ashes of Persepolis spares no detail. Throughout this game we experienced a captivating tale set in ancient Greece that weaved together myth and history to create a rich and immersive, puzzle filled world. The game is based on the mystery surrounding the burning of Persepolis, the Persian city that was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 BC.
Some Scarlet Envelope chapters are material-light and online-heavy, and others the opposite way around. In this one, there was a perfect balance. The envelope is thick, weighty, and filled with some of the prettiest little things you’ve ever seen. Peculiar, triangular shaped oracle cards, an enormous map of Ancient Greece on one side and stars on the other, and a few other trinkets that come into play as the game progresses. The game spares absolutely no detail, and is so gorgeous looking I’m genuinely considering hanging the map of Ancient Greece on my wall – yes! Really!
This story unfolds not just via the puzzles but also through cinematic content. You see, between each puzzle was a short, well put together video which revealed a little more of our strange quest each time. The videos add a sense of drama and intrigue, and provide a welcome respite between puzzles to sit back and relax. To play this game, we also Googled “Ancient Greek covers of modern songs” and let me tell you there are some fantastic ones out there. In short, the scene was set, candles lit, and we were well and truly immersed.
It’s all Greek to Me…
Once we got stuck in, we particularly enjoyed doing unexpected things with the physicality and unique shapes of the oracle cards – though no spoilers here. You’ll have to play the game if you want to see exactly what I mean! My favourite of the puzzles was probably the one involving the aforementioned map of Ancient Greece, or a particular little delight moment whilst on the Artemis card (unsurprising, as they’re my favourite of the Greek gods). Each puzzle felt like a step forward in uncovering the mystery of Persepolis, and the video segments that followed were a great reward for solving them.
In terms of puzzles, well… This game was hard. Maybe the most difficult of the series yet. We also found the game to be slightly front-weighted in terms of difficulty, with the first few giving us the most difficulty. As the game unfolded, we found our rhythm eventually and it mellowed out from “wait, what?!” to a comforting level of challenging. If I had to give exact reasons why I believe we struggled (and I probably should, given this is a review), I’d say the following:
When ordering your Scarlet Envelope you get to choose between easy or difficult. Though I’ve never confirmed with the creators (I fear their answer might be the opposite of what I expect), I assume I’m getting the difficult edition.
Our third player was brand new to not just Scarlet Envelope, but tabletop puzzle games in general
The lighting was low, and this game has a lot of small finnicky parts
We lost one of the parts
Yes… You read that last one right.
Annoyingly, on the very first playthrough we lost a very important item – the item that would take us to the clues page. Emphasis on: We lost. It’s not impossible to solve without it, but we got very, excruciatingly, frustratingly stuck. We managed to bypass the clues page with a little guesswork and a little help from others, but came up against another issue when something else on that missing item proved to be vital to the gameplay. So we skipped that puzzle to the best that we could, and played on.
It was only a whole three days later when I finally found the missing piece. I can only assume it had fallen out when I first opened the envelope, and been brushed underneath a piece of furniture, because boy did we look at the time. Funnily enough the missing item was a coin. Where did I find it? Nestled against a few actual coins. I think my apartment is a ‘coin sink’ and somehow managed to suck in this pretend coin along with it. Hah.
I only mention it as – if it seems like we struggled on this game, it’s probably got more to do with my own losing of a vital piece. But thankfully the support team replied immediately (despite being in a very different time zone) and did their best to help at short notice. But if you’re reading this review and looking for advice before you start playing, my advice is: don’t lose anything.
Sure, but if we struggled so much – why do we still rate this game so highly? Well, its a very good game. What you get for the price with Scarlet Envelope is second to none, and Ashes of Persepolis might be one of their best looking tabletop experiences yet. I admire everything Scarlet Envelope create, and they’ve once again outdone themselves with Ashes of Persepolis. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
In terms of who we’d recommend this for… Probably only for more seasoned puzzlers – it’s better played as a part of the full Scarlet Envelope series, so by the time you get to this chapter you’re familiar with how the games work. Maybe invite your favourite history buff along (it helps, especially with the Greek language in the game), for the best experience.
In all, another solid addition to the Scarlet Envelope series.
Compendium UI-55 Review | A German U-boat named UI-55 was found in the river Thames. Have you and your team got what it takes to sneak aboard and retrieve all of Britain’s wealth before the German soldier’s return?
Date Played: March 2022 Number of Players: 2 Time Taken: ~50 Minutes Difficulty: Expert!
When we were planning our mini-break to the North we chose Manchester due to the escape rooms. I had heard such fantastic things about UI-55 that it was a bit of a no-brainer. This room has actually won multiple awards, and (spoiler alert) is one of the few rooms I’ve done that I think is well deserving of the hype!
All Aboard UI-55!
The premise of UI-55 is that you have discovered a German U-boat, hoarding plenty of British treasure, and you only have an hour to recover as much as possible. The first thing you’ll realise upon ‘boarding’ is just how massive this room is. For context, it fills an entire floor and is apparently the size of two normal escape rooms put together! However, if you’re worried that this looks like a big rectangle, don’t be! It’s very much structured as a submarine, with long corridors and windy passageways to traverse. I loved the general size, and the attention to detail in that every nook and cranny reads as ‘submarine’. I had great fun running up and down, as the puzzles absolutely cover the space, and you will need to get elements from each area to complete some.
The other thing to be aware of is the sheer amount of puzzles, especially given the 60-minute time. In a normal room, you might expect to complete 10-15. Here there are nearly 30 to complete alone, which each give you a task to complete and then a key to use to retrieve some loot (depending how quickly you locate the right locker). Luckily, you don’t need to complete all of the puzzles – from memory, you only need to complete 21 within the time, with a very clear (and very fun) indication of when you should really move into the final phase of the room (the loot grabbing).
As you might expect in a room with such a large variety of puzzles, they are all completely different with a fantastic variety. If one puzzle isn’t your forte (*side eyes the dexterity puzzle*) that’s ok! There is always another puzzle to do instead. Some of these puzzles are available upfront, some require you to complete others to gain the materials you need. It’s fairly obvious which bits go with which puzzles, and what you need to do. There are also clues scattered all over the place in the decor, and even some answers which are available to you right from the start! Completing a puzzle gives you a code, which you use to get some tokens, which are then used to gain keys, which are then used to unlock lockers. Luckily, as a duo the ‘gaining keys’ stage can be skipped, as I can see that this would take quite a bit of time, and personally, I feel is a step too far for any team.
I can only remember what a few of the puzzles were in the game, as I was very much running around like a headless chicken, completing one puzzle and then moving on, but I know I’d love to redo the room just to have the same experience again! I also know I only saw around half the puzzles, with my mum clearing half the sub by herself and me clearing the other half. If you or your teammates are the sorts of people who want to know what everyone has done so far or how they’ve reached their conclusions…this is not the room for you. We had to trust that we each had a grip on what we were doing and that we would call for help if needed, or if there was a puzzle we couldn’t figure out. Even when it came to the co-op puzzles we were so aware of the time we just trusted each other’s instincts, and if we ever found objects we weren’t sure of we checked in with each other to see if they had an idea. Honestly, it’s probably the best teamwork we’ve ever had as we didn’t have time to argue!
Normally I would talk about flow, but honestly here there is so much to do in so little time we were never stuck, bored or frustrated. The team are so slick with their clues too – they know exactly when to give us a nudge, what sort of nudge we needed and clearly could tell what we were each working on.
This room is also an example of my favourite type of room – the type where you don’t need to 100% complete it, but if you have the time and skill you can. This meant we were determined to grab all the loot, so really pushed the time at the end to get all the lockers unlocked and money in the bags.
I could go on and on about this room, but it’s honestly the best room I’ve ever played, and I could easily go and replay it (especially as I know there are a lot of puzzles I didn’t even see the first time!).
As I mentioned in my previous review for the other Compendium rooms, there are some steep stairs to reach the room. However, there are chairs to sit on inside the room itself. It’s a bit dim in places, with lots of reading and colour requirements. There are a couple of puzzles requiring hearing, and some requiring dexterity. No crawling in this one though! You should also be fine if you’re concerned about claustrophobia, as although this was set on a submarine it was actually pretty spacious.
This is a short review because the verdict is simple. This is a must-play room, and we are awarding it our highest award; The Badge of Honour.
I’ve played many of the top rooms in the TERPECA and ‘Escape the review’ lists, but this is hands down my favourite. It’s going to be a long time before this gets knocked out of number one for me!
The Gunpowder Plot Immersive Review | London, 1605. A city divided. The fuse of rebellion is lit. The peace of the nation balances on a knife edge… Step into a world where spies and informants hide in every shadow. Your mission is to go undercover and unmask the mysterious figures behind history’s most infamous plot. But when you’re surrounded by ‘traitors’ who can you trust?
Date Visited: 17th July 2022 Number of Players: 3 Time Taken: ~120 Minutes
Remember, remember the 5th of November… Gunpowder, Treason and Plot! For I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.
The Gunpowder Plot Immersive is London’s newest immersive experience created by the award winning team behind War of the Worlds Immersive, and located in the iconic Tower of London vaults. From the very moment the experience was announced months ago, we were very excited. Layered Reality have built up an excellent reputation of blending immersive theatre, actors, jaw-dropping set design, all to tell brilliant stories.
As such, it’s not really your ‘typical’ escape room experience, but since most of us are big fans of the immersive, anything with Layered Reality’s name stamped on it is well worth checking out. Layered Reality experiences differ from other immersive theatre as your experience is guided by a series of actors around an environment and the story plays out around you as mostly-passive viewers. But unlike regular theatre, you’re thoroughly in the thick of it. Take care to notice all the little details and interact wherever you can. You won’t regret it.
But how did their newest immersive experience, Gunpowder Plot fare? In this joint review between Georgie, Mairi and Karen we’ll pick apart what worked, and what might not have worked so well, and who we recommend this for.
Let’s Dive into the Past…
Mairi: If in doubt where Gunpowder Immersive is located, look out for the enormous Tower of London. Yep, that one! This experience is located quite literally underneath, and accessible via a well-signed doorway near the All Hallows by the Tower church. It’s conveniently located right near a train station, many bus stops, and plenty of other iconic tourist attractions, cementing itself squarely on the “must see” list if you’re a tourist visiting London who also wants to sample some of the local history.
Georgie: From the moment we walked in, Gunpowder Plot felt immersive – we made our way down some stairs into the start of the vaults, where we were offered lockers and guided to the dungeon-esque themed bar. Once our group was called we were led to the ‘briefing room’, which is where the experience begins. Our host launched into a partially themed- partially factual briefing about who we were, where we were, and what to expect. She did a fantastic job of separating the initial, ‘admin’ information from the more dramatic introduction. This introduction really set the scene for the experience to come, and even as someone who knows the history fairly well, I learned some new facts about the context of the plot, and some of the reasoning behind it.
Georgie: We were then guided through the experience by ‘the wick of rebellion’, which is in fact a firey-themed light that surrounds the doors to move through. Helpful to know where to go and this fitted really well with the theme in the dimly lit corridors!
From the first room, it is obvious what is meant by ‘immersive theatre’ – we found ourselves in the cells of the tower, meeting a prisoner and hearing his tale. He told his story through words, action, and the environment. Although you are not expected to be particularly active (which suited me well) and were largely there to observe.
This first room did an excellent job of laying out the story, why we were there and giving us a taste of how the rest of the experience would pan out. It was also a great introduction to the live actors, who were superb throughout. I will also say that despite all the many warnings we read in the waiver, there were no jump scares or unnecessary scare tactics, which I greatly appreciated!
Mairi: And what a story it is too! As we explored each environment in a larger group of around 12-20 people, the story of the Gunpowder Plot diverged a little from what I had expected, with brilliant consequences. We won’t go too much into the actual tale since there’s an element of choose-your-own adventure and some delightful moments of surprise, but we really enjoyed the story aspect of the experience. Characters flitted in and out of the experience and much later we’d be reunited by characters we thought we’d abandoned earlier.
…The 5th of November
Georgie: Throughout the experience the low lighting, small spaces and eerie soundtrack keep the sense of atmosphere and immersion. The actors did a great job of flawlessly handing over the narrative to subsequent characters, keeping the story moving and never leaving us alone for too long. The story was really engaging and fascinating as it developed, and they did a fantastic job of showing both sides of the story (and their rationale). The location itself is huge, with seemingly endless corridors and vaults to move through, with authentic sets and surprises round every corner.
Mairi: If the experience sounds large, I’d add that it is well paced! With a bar at the start, the end, and one right in the middle, the whole experience is broken up into ‘bitesized’ chunks. In particular, I loved the middle ‘rest’ area, a much needed break. Players were sorted into various tables made up of your own friends and family, and total strangers. We quickly realised there was no such thing as a stranger in this experience however, as we all jumped right into conversation, speculating about what would happen next and what had already been. With a plot this thick with backstabbing an intrigue, there’s a lot to mull over a pint (or two, if you have the time).
The Past meets The Future
Georgie: One of the features that sets this experience aside from others is the use of Virtual Reality (VR) technology. At 3 separate points we were asked to put on a VR headset to experience a facet of the story which would be hard to create otherwise, removing the headset to find the room somehow transformed or a new actor appeared. I have previously felt motion sick when using VR, but fortunately didn’t feel anything like that here, so I was able to full enjoy the experience.
The first two Virtual Reality segments are accompanied by a moving element, and again there were no fake scares, just excitement. The final experience allowed us to free roam a little more, although this wasn’t made clear so anyone not familiar with VR may not have known to do this. The VTs also featured an amazing performance by Tom Felton, who has proved what an incredible actor he was. In reality, and in the virtual space!
Mairi: Agree! Virtual Reality is something Layered Reality does really well! Unlike War of the Worlds Immersive however, I found there to be slightly more VR. Where Layered Reality’s first experience often creates more physical sets, like slides, or moments where you have to jump, due to the physical limitations of it’s location, Gunpowder Plot leans more into the VR. No bad thing – just a consideration! If any player struggles with VR, they can bypass these sections quite easily.
Finishing the Tale
Georgie: Just to jump back to the story, we’re going to attempt to talk about the ending without giving away too many spoilers, although given this story is over 400 years old I think you probably know what happens. The final room features the peak of the drama, followed by the final dramatic VR. From here we were guided to the exit, with a really excellent video explaining the factual and fictional aspects of the experience. I really enjoyed this little wrap up, and nod to the story.
Again, they did a great job of highlighting the contrasting moralities and beliefs at play, whilst mainting the elements of mystery we still don’t know about. There is a classic photo opportunity too, although this will cost you a little extra.
Mairi: One thing players may not be expecting however is that you are given a choice at one point in the game. I’m unsure how much this choice actually affects the ending – probably not at all since, well, we all know what happens. But convincing the rest of your team to make the ‘right’ choice will certainly ease your conscience, so you can emerge back into real life afterwards knowing that you did all you could.
“Poor old England to Overthrow”
Georgie: I had a great time, but there were a few small parts I didn’t like as much, which it’s worth being aware of ahead of time.
Firstly, there was little in the way of interaction – most of the time a character might ask you a simple yes or no question, or tell you something which you also immediately tell another character. It felt more like watching an (admittedly amazing) play than taking part ourselves. Where there was a decision, it definitely wasn’t unanimous and I think the cast could have done a better job of ensuring this was (something like raising hands, giving our group of strangers more than a minute to decide, or even just realising the signs for it not being unanimous). Even then, as Mairi mentions, I’m not convinced the decision had any bearing on the experience other than maybe a line or two spoken by an actor.
Mairi: Also, since this is The Escape Roomer, we have to mention the puzzles. There was also only one ‘puzzle’ in the whole experience so don’t go into this thinking it’ll be puzzly! Although, to be fair, that is one more puzzle than you’ll get in The War of the Worlds. For me, The War of the Worlds still takes the cake as my absolute favourite immersive experience in London, but Layered Reality have taken the same formula and done something slightly different to a different effect here.
Georgie: In terms of the VR, there could’ve been a bit more of a briefing about how to use it. For example, in the last area, you could move around – but none of us knew this fact and stayed rooted to the spot, potentially missing a part of the action.
Finally, Tom Felton’s performance was amazing, but all virtual. This wasn’t exactly surprising, knowing he’s currently appearing in a different play in the West End, but as he played such a key character it obviously presented a conundrum. Rather than subbing in a different actor and asking us to suspend our belief, we are instead presented with someone covering their face and using a speaker to broadcast Felton’s voice. Unfortunately, the effect was more of a robotic-cowboy-scarecrow rather than a heroic-villainous character, and it could have been handled better. It also got in the way of the final scene a little, which already felt fairly chaotic without this.
A Note on Accessibility
Mairi: If anyone has any hesitation on accessibility, Layered Reality have produced a full access guide here. Whilst the base experience doesn’t feel like it would be accessible to folks in a wheelchair for example, it’s worth noting they do offer special performances which are geared towards accessibility, such as the wheelchair performance. For any other requirements, they encourage players to reach out to them directly.
Mairi: There are a lot of stairs and small spaces to fit into, so a reasonable level of physicality is necessary. Most of the experience is dimly lit, with an atmospheric sound track. Most of the actors project well, although I admit I, as someone with hearing impairments, missed a few things I wouldn’t say this was necessarily essential. Given it was an extremely hot day, the rooms were nice and cool.
Mairi: Gunpowder Plot Immersive is a really unique experience. For me, it’s impossible not to compare it to The War of the Worlds which, I’ve said before and I’ll say again, is my favourite immersive experience in London. By contrast, Gunpowder Plot has a more mass-market appeal. From tourists wondering what Guy Fawkes night is all about, to locals who want to be immersed in history in an iconic building. It’s target audience is clear. Whilst that target audience might not necessarily be the overlap between escape room enthusiasts, I personally had a great time!
Georgie: Once I realized there would be no jump scares or unnecessary scares I was able to relax and enjoy myself. I had a really fun time – it was very immersive, did a fantastic job of bringing the characters and story to life, and was a very pleasant way to spend some time in a historic location. I’m not sure I would’ve felt the same had I paid the full price (around £70 per ticket), but then again I’m not sure what the average immersive theatre ticket goes for in London, and I imagine I enjoyed this more than I would enjoy them!
House of the Dragon Review | An aging Japanese carpenter felt abandoned by his son who had left home and started a family of his own. But when a dragon came to the carpenter in his dreams and told him he still had time to bond with the grandchildren he’d never seen, the carpenter designed and built a wooden toy. The toy was a puzzle box that children alone couldn’t open so children, parents and grandparents worked together to solve the mystery of the ‘House of the Dragon’.
Date played: May 2022 Time taken: 60-90 mins Number of players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Puzzle Box Joy
First up, I love wooden puzzle boxes. They are beautiful little works of art. I had a money box as a kid that was a simplified puzzle box with panels that you had to slide around to find a hidden drawer with a key, then do some more sliding to find the keyhole. I loved it, even when I’d done that sliding so many times it was no longer a puzzle. I guess that was when the ER bug first bit, even though there was no such thing as ERs at the time. It also explains the little jolt of joy I get in ERs like those by ‘Escape Plan’ where they use cute little wooden puzzle boxes in place of the ubiquitous padlocks. So much of the pleasure I get from ERs is that they are safe spaces for adults to indulge in childlike play and I guess wooden puzzle boxes are a direct, visceral link between adult me and the little kid I once was.
Which is a very long winded and philosophical path to saying that when EscWelt asked us to review their latest puzzle, House of the Dragon, I jumped at the chance. I hadn’t played an EscWelt game box before, though had taken on similar puzzles by iAdventure, so was excited to unbox it.
‘House of the Dragon’ looks and feels lovingly hand-made, a fact confirmed by a signed slip inside the box from the EscWelt bod who put it together. In keeping with the Japanese theming and narrative, with the back story laid out on a paper insert, the puzzle box takes the form of a miniature pagoda, crafted from sustainable birchwood. There’s lovely carved detailing and beautiful etching on every side, with cherry blossom tumbling down one side, and a dragon wrapped around the roof. Each side and each section has a unique design and feel and a quick scan around the box gives you the sense of multiple puzzle elements.
But Where Do I Start?
But that’s where I came a bit unstuck. The iAdventure games I’d played previously had a handy ‘start’ etched somewhere on them to give you a clue where to begin. ‘House of the Dragon’ doesn’t. It’s clearly designed to be trickier and that’s no bad thing but it can also lead to frustration. Maybe because I’m singularly dense, or maybe because I was playing alone, with no-one to bounce ideas off, I just couldn’t spot an obvious ‘way in’ to the sequence of puzzles. So I spent a lot of time just turning the box around and around in my hands trying to get an insight into where to start. Which is ok for a while but my patience did erode fairly quickly.
Let It Flow
Eventually after a bit of wiggling of box parts, I made the first step and after that things flowed a little more, although you still have to be a bit experimental and willing to try some random poking around, in some cases literally. After the first element was solved and I’d done a bit of Japanese language translation, I realised I was looking for a specific sequence (of what I won’t say coz spoilers). And from then on, the puzzle flow around the box was more satisfying and fairly slick. Constrained by the size of the box, there aren’t a huge number of puzzle elements and I probably took longer figuring out where to start than I did actually solving it all but the sheer physicality of the puzzling is very satisfying. And, like in any good ER, the revelation at the end is worth all the effort that preceded it.
My minor niggles would be that lack of a clearing start point and the fact that the playability of the box is impacted by some parts being too stiff and some too lose. In some case parts don’t move easily, meaning you feel like you haven’t solved that element when you actually have. Some parts also move but have no function other than looking pretty. On my box the roof element rotated so I spent ages thinking there must be a significance to that. But there wasn’t.
However, these are minor issues in a puzzle box that is beautiful to behold. The tactile physicality of the box is the true selling point. When you can’t get hands on with an ER out in the real world, and online or paper ER type games just aren’t hitting the right spot then a puzzle box like ‘House of the Dragon’ is a treat. Sliding panels, buttons to push and pull, secret doors and secret codes. All in the comfort of your own home.
There’s a QR code system to get access to EscWelt’s tips and hints on the puzzle box and once you’re done and found out the secret at the heart of the labyrinth, there’s also a resetting video so you can play again or pass the box on to someone else. Maybe you could even hide a little treat inside and see how long it takes someone else to get inside ‘The House of the Dragon’.
‘House of the Dragon’ and other puzzle box games from EscWelt can be bought at their online store or at other online retailers.
Please Note: We received this experience for free in exchange for an honest review.
Extremescape: Viking Review | You have entered the Kingdom of the Viking Gods & you are sat in the House of Thor. In an attempt to prevent Thor’s succession to the throne of Asgard, Lowki, Thor’s menacing brother, has stolen & trapped Thor’s weapon in the golden rings of Aesir. The ice giants have got word of this, and they know Thor is helpless to protect the human race without his enchanted war-hammer. The giants are on their way, their mission to defeat Thor and destroy earth. You must find the Gods and return them to Asgard as they will help you in your quest. You must find the thunder hammer and put it in the sacred place to create a storm like no-one has seen before. You must release Thor’s Hammer from the golden rings and return it to Thrudheim where it belongs
Date Played: 24th March 2022 Number of Players: 2 Time Taken: ~50 Minutes Difficulty: Medium
After a hearty lunch in the sunny countryside air, we returned feeling invigorated for our final game of the day. The Viking room is the most recent addition for Extremescape, and you can definitely tell in the step up from the previous two. It’s also so impressive, given just how much they’ve used the space!
Welcome to Valhalla
Walking into the room definitely feels like walking into a medieval feast hall, with a large wooden table and benches lined with furs. The whole room is within this single room, and it’s amazing just how much they manage to fit in. There are many hidden elements in this room, and I was surprised by almost all of them. It’s honestly amazing how seamlessly they’ve integrated quite large surprises into such a small space, and it’s clear they’ve paid just as much attention to set design and how it drives the story as the puzzles themselves. I also loved how Norse this room was – there was no Marvel cheese here, just good old-fashioned Vikings.
Watch out Loki
The puzzles in this room were just as subtle and intriguing as in the other rooms. Although we tackled them fairly linearly, there were enough clues to be finding that we didn’t feel chained together or hindered. The puzzles themselves were all fun to figure out, and definitely felt like Norse puzzles – most were centered around riddle-style/deduction puzzles, which are my personal favourite. We also had no idea what was coming next on more than one occasion, but this added to the excitement! It’s not often that you’re unsure what a puzzle will open, but this room handled it beautifully.
The finale stage itself was also spectacular and so unexpected. Extremescape have done an amazing job of incorporating effects into the room in a way that feels very natural and adds just the right amount of drama. They also introduce this ‘early’ enough that it really feels like a climax, but you have enough time (and gameplay) left to really enjoy it and make the most of it.
By Odin’s eye
The only negative I would say about this room is that it may not be the most accessible. There is a small step and low door into the room, and as the game play takes place within the room there isn’t a lot of space to manoeuver for a wheelchair user. There are plenty of spaces to sit, but there are puzzles and clues beneath knee level so at least one person will need to crawl. There is a minor physical element, so having at least one able-bodied teammate would be a good idea, as well as one point where someone will need to be within a slightly confined space.
For me, I found there were some sensory issues – there were points where the music was a bit too loud for my comfort, the light a little too dim, and room a little too warm. However, these are all minor issues that could be easily remedied (and in fact, they turned the volume down when I asked). If you have sensory issues I advise getting in touch ahead of time too.
In terms of puzzles, there were a few reliant on colour recognition, as well as being able to read something in slightly dim light.
Man the longboats
Overall we had a fantastic time, and the experience continued after we left the room. We spent quite a while talking to the owners and had plenty of cuddles with the resident dog (who is a rather large, but beautiful, Rottweiler-style boy). It’s obvious the passion that has gone into these rooms, and it’s well worth the visit.
Extremescape Pirate Ship Review | A long time ago on the Carribean seas sailed the Spanish Galleon, Castoria. Captained by Zak Barrow and crewed by a gang of murderers & merciless cutthroats. Plundering ships of all kinds along India’s Malabar coast, Barrow was a Pirate, one of the most infamous Pirates of all time. Barrow’s ship Castoria battled with the India Merchant, a huge treasure ship of 350 tons. In rough seas, the merchant vessel fired but due to a sudden ocean swell, the shot missed its mark. The pirates threw their grappling hooks, bringing the two ships together. And rapidly boarded the ship, soon Captain Barrow was in the possession of one of the greatest pirate treasures ever. The ship disappeared in 1722 and was not seen again until now!
Completion Time: 73 minutes (out of 90) Date Played: 24 March 2022 Party Size: 2 Difficulty: Medium
As someone who works full time and lives ‘down South’ it can be hard to find the time to travel just for escape rooms, particularly when the journey alone takes over 4 hours! However I found myself with a few days to space are itching to play some rooms farther afield, so we decided to book a couple of days in Manchester! First up we stopped we spent the day in Disley, surrounded by gorgeous views, friendly locals (sheep) and some cracking rooms!
Time to set sail
The first room we tackled was the oldest at the location – opened 7 years ago and barely changed since! Before you even step foot in the room you know you’re in for a good time, with an epic narration to get you pumped and the ship door swinging open to welcome you. Our first impression of the room was similarly excited – it’s beautifully crafted with plenty of hidden elements (some hid expertly in plain sight), and definitely more than one surprising moment.
Argh, ye scallywags!
We were told that this room was ‘non-linear’, which is technically true as there were a few different puzzles to solve at a time, but I admit in practice it didn’t feel this way. It may have been the early morning or lack of practice, but we worked on most puzzles together, and only felt like we were progressing as we solved the puzzles.
There were quite a few pieces of information scattered about the room, which appeared similar but required different methods of solving. I appreciated the variety of puzzles, but we ended up relying on hints more than I usually like to, as perhaps some of the leaps were a little too far for me! In particular, one puzzle felt very tenuous, and I’m still not convinced of the answer!
Finally, the signposting wasn’t necessarily ideal – usually, I would expect the respective lock to be near the puzzle, or else be marked in some way. However, there were quite a few locks here which meant quite a bit of trial and error each time!
That being said, there were puzzles we got instantly, or just about managed to figure out, which were satisfying and a little different from others we’ve experienced before. I think the theming and thrill more than makes up for any slight frustrations, and I would strongly encourage you to give this room a chance!
Peg legs & eyepatches…not quite welcome
Unfortunately, there are stairs into the venue and up to the room, as well as within the room itself – so not great for those with mobility issues! Hints are delivered both via screen and via a voice-over, so should be suitable for those with either hearing or sight issues. There are some puzzles requiring colour perception, but the light level in the room is generally good and it is fairly spacious.
Here be the Jolly Roger
The staff at this room are great and very encouraging. We had a lovely time chatting with them, and even met a special guest (check out my later post to hear about him!). Although the website seems fairly basic, this room is anything but and the location is enchanting.
This room was a fantastic room – although I was a little frustrated throughout the experience, the set is so well done and I was still having fun. I highly recommend taking on this room (although I would also book the others at the same time!)