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

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

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

 

Night at the Museum

 

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

 

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

Impressive Game Space

 

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

 

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

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

 

Prehistoric Puzzling

 

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

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

 

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

 

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

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

 

Dippy’s Dino Denouement

 

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

 

The Verdict?

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

Local Bonus

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

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

 

Edinburgh Treasure Hunts: Fantastic Creatures | Review

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Edinburgh Treasure Hunts Review | Professor M has arranged for you a day of creature-hunting. It’s all about using your special map wisely and keeping your eyes peeled. There’s so many secrets hidden in the beautiful Old Town.

Completion Time: ~2 hours
Date Played: 17th July 2022
Party Size: 2
Location: Edinburgh Old Town
Difficulty: Moderate

I (Mairi) have just moved to Edinburgh from London and I wholeheartedly insist that the very best way to explore a new city is to immediately book yourself in for an outdoor treasure trail. What’s not to love?! New sights, hidden alleyways, history, and most importantly… Puzzles!

One of the most, if not THE most loved treasure hunt company in Edinburgh is the aptly named “Edinburgh Treasure Hunts“. A solo-run and operated business by your incredibly awesome host Sabi who, as a part-time tour guide, is an expert in all things Edinburgh. The company is also one of the first to start running games of this kind with many of their trails being well over 5 years old and host to thousands and thousands of players over the years.

In particular, Edinburgh Treasure Hunts is a hugely popular game to play during the Edinburgh Fringe. They take you right past many of the largest and most popular venues as well as plenty of popular landmarks on lesser trodden streets. Being self guided, there’s also no need to hurry. You can take the trail at your own leisurely speed (well, within reason!), so breaks to see the fun sights of the city are encouraged.

Over our very first weekend in the city, Rebecca and myself decided to book ourselves into two of the trails: Fantastic Creatures, and Sherlock. Let me just say, we were not disappointed! Let’s get into why…

 

 

Fantastic Creatures (and Where to Find Them in Edinburgh!)

If you’re into witches, wizards and magical places, then the Fantastic Creatures trail will be your cup of tea. At the Chamber arches on the Royal Mile, we met up with Sabi- or should I say, the Professor’s Assistant Sabi who set us off on our lesson in magical creatures around the city. We were first sorted into a magical house (House of the Haggis, if you were wondering what our team went for), then given a tote bag filled with curious objects including a bestiary, an old locked box, and a map of the city with carefully labelled locations.

Our ultimate goal was to find the fabled Unicorn, a rare creature from history with mythical properties. We had a sub-goal of finding (and I suppose, rescuing) our teacher, the Professor, who had a terrible accident. Our tertiary goal was to have a lovely day out and enjoy ourselves puzzle solving. Tick, tick, tick all round.

Unlike Sherlock, Fantastic Creatures had a web-app counterpart we could load on our phones. The broad structure of the game was that we followed a physical map around the city and at each marked point we had a challenge to complete – locate a particular mythical creature in the environment from our bestiary, read about it, and answer a location-based question. The experience was challenging on a few levels. Firstly, we had to find the actual location designated a single letter on the map. A task easier explained than done for a team of players new to the city, who aren’t yet familiar with it’s little hidden alleys. Then, we had to look very closely at our surroundings, taking care to stand exactly on the right spot, before we could answer the questions.

…And listen, this game was surprisingly educational! Yes, yes, the creatures are fantastical. Yet I learned a lot about their myths, legends, relationship with Edinburgh and more. It was very well done!

Unlike Sherlock, we finished Fantastic Creatures in a comfortable amount of time – around 2 hours. However despite it being on the easier side, more appropriate for family groups, we still managed to get a lot of questions incorrect. So some advice from us: read the question very carefully to figure out what it’s asking before wasting guesses (and points) on incorrect tries.

Any team that manages to score 25 points or above will win a special bonus prize. I say bonus as we were delighted to find that on discovering the final location for our trip a little treat waiting for us behind a lock. But then, as our host scootered over to collect our bags from us we were presented with a further prize for scoring a coveted 29 points!

 

 

Edinburgh, City of Hills

One of the things we loved the most about Fantastic Creatures was the trail itself. Although, ‘trail’ is a strong word as it’s largely self-guided and with just a map to guide you, you can take any route you like. On the one hand, at times we were worried we’d taken a wrong turn. On the other, we were glad to not be wedded to a specific route around the city, as it gave us a chance to stop off for a snack, a drink, and an ice cream cone. Which, if you’re interested, we recommend lunch at the tiny, family run Olly Bongos and ice cream at Alandas Gelato, both en-route around the trail.

Edinburgh truly is a really beautiful city though. No matter which specific road on the map you choose to take, you’re sure to discover a new hidden gem, or a beautiful sight around a corner at the top of a hill. In fact, the trail starts right up near Edinburgh Castle, which is the perfect tourist spot for snapping lovely photos of the surrounding area. It ‘ends’ nearer Underbelly, making it again, an excellent place to springboard you into an Edinburgh Fringe show, or to round off the day after one.

The only thing that we felt could have been improved about the route was that occasionally we doubled back on ourselves. Not because we’d answered anything incorrectly, but because the route required us to. Towards the end, you find yourself in an area of town, and are sent back to the start of your route. Only to walk back up the long street and need to turn right back around to head even further in the other direction. It was a curious choice! It didn’t bother us too much as, being new to the city, find every little alleyway delightful, but we definitely saw the same few streets multiple times over.

 

 

The Verdict

We really enjoyed Fantastic Creatures. After playing Sherlock’s Secret Challenge the day before we had high hopes and once again Sabi and her company absolutely outdid our expectations. For sure, there were some minor bits that didn’t completely click with us – a few difficult puzzles we struggled to get the answer for for example. But overall we had a fantastic experience once again. Edinburgh Treasure Hunts is a super hidden gem in the city and will be the first place I recommend folks new to the city book themselves into.

 

 

All of Edinburgh Treasure Hunts’ games can be booked by heading to their website here.

Treasure Trails: Kidderminster | Review

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Treasure Trails: Kidderminster Review | Police intelligence has discovered a plot by international carpet thieves to target a unique collection of extremely valuable carpets secured for a charity event. The Midlands Crime Agency has put together a list of suspect volunteers… they need YOU, our best detectives to help catch the Carpetbaggers!

Kidderminster? Where’s That?

I can already hear you asking that question. First off, Kidderminster is my hometown. It is located in the West Midlands approximately 25 miles south-west of Birmingham.

More importantly however, the history and heritage. Kidderminster is historically known for two main things: carpet factories and Rowland Hill, the creator of the first ever postage stamp; The Penny Black.

Today, I have been tasked with undertaking Treasure Trails: Kidderminster. As a Kidderminster native, I have brought a friend (Alakazam) along, who is not from Kidderminster to help me. Is this a good idea? We shall find out!

One more thing… I made sure I was suitably dressed!

 

 

What’s Inside a Treasure Trails Booklet?

The adventure trail is formed as a nice, tidy, A5 size booklet. The first two pages have the introduction, briefing and safety notes, alongside the hint system for when you get stuck.

The objective is to deduct clue-by-clue, who is the Carpetbaggers insider and what weapon they used during the heist. On the back of the booklet are a list of suspects and potential weapons to eliminate.

The hint/answer system is text message based. Each clue in the booklet has a unique reference number to send. There, you receive the answer (up to a maximum of 3) with the details of where the answer lies.

There is also a bonus A3 activity sheet for children to fill in and play with outside of the trail itself, which is a welcome addition; what kid doesn’t like free stuff?!

 

 

The booklet also includes where to begin and where to park your car (if you arrived via car!).

Off we go to clue 1!

 

…Are We Going The Right Way?

Right off the bat with the first clue, we came across a stumbling block. We couldn’t access the area where the answer lay due to the building being cornered off by metal grate fencing. Not to worry we thought, we can at least look through the grating and see if we can find the answer we are looking for…

Again no sadly. The answer was covered by a large amount of wild foliage, it took our eyes to squint really hard to find the answer. See below: I’m not one for giving answers away but this one is nigh impossible to find without using the answer system at this point in time.

 

 

Moving on to clue 2, we had another stumbling block. Namely, this sign.

 

 

Ok so we weren’t drivers per se, but it did make be feel nervous passing this sign to get to the next clue. The answer to clue 2 was a little difficult to find due to erosion, however once we found what we needed we swiftly returned to the public pathway!

 

A Shaky Start But Uphill From Here!

From clue 3 onwards, its was mostly enjoyable. Clues involved walking around Kidderminster’s largest church site (and finding lush greenery round the back that I had never seen before!), walking along a canal and seeing Kidderminster’s oldest secular building. More importantly, both the old carpet factories and Rowland Hill are referenced towards the last half of the trail. In terms of theming and historical research, I can’t fault it. Furthermore, it gave me the gift of standing still and truly taking in the wonderful architectural designs and nuances of Kidderminster’s industrial history.  

The puzzles themselves are primarily observational (sharp eyes are required due to some erosion), alongside code-cracking. These are ideal for families as per the recommendation on the front of the booklet. The route that the trail takes you is mostly linear with the exception of the end…

 

The Last Leg Of The Trail

For the final four clues, the trail changed from being completely linear to more criss-cross. As a result of this, we struggled with where to go/what to look for and used up 2 of our 3 clue/answer limit. I feel that the last four clues could have been rearranged to be completed in a linear fashion and it wouldn’t have caused any problems with the endgame.

 

 

For The Kidderminster Native Or Newbie?

As it says on the trail’s booklet, this is perfect for families to do. It has a small learning curve, you just need to be ok with a look of looking around and occasionally, checking your phone online for some bits of outside knowledge. Furthermore, because there is a competition to win £100 in a monthly prize draw if you submit the correct suspect and weapon, the maximum amount of answers you can get from the clue system is 3. To get around this, I would suggest taking 2 (or more) phones with you to get more answers if required. This is especially important if obstacles like for clues 1 and 2 become more apparent.

As mentioned in the booklet also, please be advised that the trail has accessibility issues and is not recommended for wheelchair or pram/buggy users.

The trail is priced at £9.99 for approximately 2 hours of activity time plus the additional activity sheet included. This is a good price point overall.

 

 

The Verdict

Whilst I wholly appreciate the input of the trail’s design (ie: setting up the clues, using actual Kidderminster historical information and turning it into clues), there are some sustainability issues that will naturally occur in this town (or any for that matter) where routes can become blocked off, over the course of time. That being said, it is on the whole, a great way to spend 2 hours around a town with a rich depth of heritage.

 

If you want to play the Kidderminster Treasure Trail, head to their website here.

Phantom Peak | Review

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WELCOME TO PHANTOM PEAK

Welcome to Phantom Peak, known far and wide as the Venice of the West! In this fully-realised steampunk mining town, nothing is what it seems… What is hiding in the vestiges of the mines? What does the charismatic founder of corporate JONACO really seek in this sleepy town? Was the Blimp Crash really just an accident? Dine, shop, play games, go sightseeing, collect clues… explore the town and uncover its mysteries at your own pace for up to five hours in an immersive open-world adventure the likes of which you’ve never seen before!

Time spent: 5 hours
Date Visited:
August 2022
Party Size:
4
Mysteries solved:
7

First of all, an important note! I am not an immersive theatre fan. I have only been to one other Immersive Theatre show in London, and in general, I tend to steer away from anything immersive – I even hate live actors in escape rooms! Therefore this review is from my perspective, as a lover of escape rooms and mysteries, rather than immersive theatre. Keep an eye on our site though, as we will be sure to update this with the review from our resident immersive theatre lovers once they have had a chance to visit!

If you’ve become immersed in the Escape Room Industry at all you’ve probably heard the name “Nick Moran” crop up a few times. Nick is the genius behind “Sherlock: The game is now”, Hackers’ new rooms, and “Spectre & Vox”. Now he joins the creative team behind “Phantom Peak”, so we knew this was easily going to be one of the most mysterious immersive experiences in London, hopefully with the emphasis placed on the mysteries rather than the immersion!

So what is Phantom Peak? Phantom Peak is a cowboy / steampunk town that has recently opened in East London. On one hand, you can go and enjoy the food, drinks and various games around town. However, for the more curious amongst us, there are (currently) 16 different mysteries occurring in this small town, with many more set to come as the town expands in the future.

 

Entering Phantom Peak

 

 

The first thing to acknowledge is that, from the outside, Phantom Peak doesn’t look like much. Based a short walk from Canada Water station we found ourselves in a rather dusty car park, looking at a wooden fence. However, just before our entry time (11am) a couple of “townspeople” came out (including Nick himself) to give a bit more of an explanation of what to expect inside the town, and get us set up on our phones (which are crucial for this). We then answered a few questions to get our first trail assigned, and we were ready!

Unfortunately, rather than the nice, large double doors you see here, we were let in the smaller side door, which meant there was a bit of a backlog going in. However, once we were in our expectations were definitely met – we were presented with a real life “boardwalk” from the Wild West, leading to a lake, and even a cave. The set design is beautiful and fully realized, with no half-finished sets or rough finishes. There are so many big and small features of the town, it’s so worth just taking some time to look around. The attention to detail is fantastic, and due to the number of mysteries, you never know if or when something will be relevant! It lead to quite a few fun moments when we finally realised what a certain poster was alluding to, or immediately knew where to go next because we’d noticed something previously. The costumes that the cast were wearing were so beautiful without being over the top, and I also loved that a lot of the guests had also committed to the Wild West steampunk vibe – I’ll definitely need to make more effort next time!

 

Starting off on the right foot

 

 

As mentioned, a lot of Phantom Peak relies on following a mystery on your phone. You answer a few questions, get given the name of your trail, your initial story point, and a place to start and you’re off! These trails make use of the whole of the town, moving back and forth and venturing into a variety of locals. Luckily the people of the town tend to stick to their zones (whether that’s propping up the bar, running their store, or canvassing for votes), so once you know who’s who it’s easy to find them.

To unravel the mystery you will need to talk to a range of characters, utilise the various machines around town, and even do a bit of subtle sleuthing. I also want to give a shout out the gender neutrality of the names – the logical side of me knows this is so that actors can be switched in and out for the same character (which also shows how talented these actors are), but the liberal side of me is excited that at no point do you know whether the character you’re searching for is a man or woman, and even the titles are all gender neutral (‘post-person’, ‘supervisor’).

At one point I was scolded by the Saloon owner for saying I loved a ‘lady boss’, and she quite rightly told me it was just ‘boss’, no need to qualify it or bring gender into it! It was points like this that shows how brilliant the actors were – I really enjoyed talking to them, having fun with them, and have proper conversations with them that made it clear they weren’t just following a script. This aspect made them really feel like fully rounded characters.

It would’ve been nice if things you discovered in one trail (or ways you interacted) carried throughout the day, as at points we finish one trail and discover some sort of big twist, but 5 minutes later we’d talk to the same character and it would be as if it never happened. However, with such a large crowd I understand why this may have been a little challenging.

However we did find the phone aspect a little too hand-holdy in parts, particularly where the casts and clues were giving us some clear directions to follow, only to realise we had a few more questions to answer in the phone before we got to that point. However, it was also a nice safety net so we weren’t totally in the dark at any point, and the townsfolk were all very knowledgeable and ready to lend a clue if needed.

 

The Puzzle Posse

At this point, I need to talk about the mysteries themselves, because oh my word they were so much fun! If you are thinking the mysteries will just be about missing hats and rogue bandits you’re so wrong (mostly), and even the ones that started quite meekly had an interesting twist. There’s also one facet of every story that will appear quite quickly, and I absolutely loved this part of the town lore. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but let’s just say the town has a clear mascot, which I adored and found so creative. The way it features in each story and throughout the town was so much fun and so creative.

The mysteries themselves weren’t that hard – for the most part, they involved talking to a townsperson, using one of the machines to find some information, or finding a hidden clue on a poster or in a certain location (which we were mostly guided towards). I would say don’t come into this expecting complex puzzles and the need to be Sherlock Holmes, but that’s ok! It wasn’t until we were discussing our experience for this review that we realised we didn’t really ‘solve’ all that much, but somehow we hadn’t noticed at the time because we were having so much fun. The story building was also thorough and immersive – we always knew why we were going somewhere, and what we were meant to be doing next.

In the end, we managed 7 trails, out of a possible 16 (so far). I’m not sure how you’d get over 8 (due to the nature of the questions), but apparently, I’m metagaming here, as I know some people managed 11 during the 5-hour slot! This included taking plenty of breaks for delicious food, necessary water, and of course a romantic (?) boat ride. You receive a souvenir at the end of each trail, but other than being a keepsake these didn’t appear to have been used for anything. I’d love to see these used for something in the future, or even have some form of souvenir ‘guidebook’ you could purchase to store them in (and therefore see all the uncompleted trails you have yet to do!). I’d also love some sort of specific souvenir to display on your person (such as a badge) so that as you wander around you can see what other people have done, and it might also give the characters more material to play with.

In terms of the machines, they were all fun and easy to use, but by the 3rd or 4th time using them the shine wore off a little. I think this could easily be solved by just not saying which machine needed to be used – we became familiar with what number of letters/numbers led to each machine fairly quickly, and then that would have added a small amount of puzzle solving to the puzzle instead. Either that or potentially making them a little more complex to use. In fact, it might have been nice to have some more complex trails to do – we did one that could potentially be called ‘adult’, but I think it would’ve been easy enough to tone down the content for a family.

Mystery trails aside, there was clearly a larger mystery at work in the town. We worked out enough (from the wider lore and stories) that something was a miss, but never worked out the overall mystery or how to solve it. I absolutely love this. There’s clearly a lot of wider lore that is dropped into each mystery if you pay attention, and many conversations to have. I’m not sure if there’s much ‘hidden’ around the town that wasn’t part of one of the 16 trails, but then again I wasn’t looking for anything in particular.

 

Rooting and Tooting

 

Of course, there is plenty more to do here when you want a break from a puzzle (especially as the time slots are 5 hours). There are 3 food stores (4 including Gelato) as well as a couple of bars. We tried the burgers, chips, and tacos and they were all absolutely delicious. I also have a ‘beer float’ from the Gelato stand, which was perfect on such a hot day.

 

 

As well as food and drink, there’s also a variety of fun carnival games, which are harder than they look, and you’ll need to beat 3 of them to become a real citizen of the town. Unfortunately, I only managed to earn one rosette, so I have no clue what happens when you have all three!

There are also a couple of events that only happen at a certain time, likely to give everyone a chance to explore the town a bit more first. I only took advantage of one of these, but will be sure to do the other next time! You can also browse the variety of shops for your variety of needs (and walk away with some nice souvenirs). The town itself was also completely accessible – everywhere was flat, which ramps up and down where necessary. We didn’t use any stairs and believe all the doorways were wide enough for a wheelchair. We were there for 5 hours, which was actually the perfect amount of time. I was personally getting a bit frustrated by my non-enthusiast friends who were taking lots of breaks, and definitely flagging by the end, but I admit I probably wouldn’t have wanted to stay much longer.

 

This town ain’t big enough…

I absolutely loved our time, and I will absolutely be returning, but there were definitely a few niggles here and there which will hopefully be ironed out as the experience expands. For a start, we heavily relied on my phone, which meant the battery ran down quickly. Luckily I had packed a portable charger, but even then I was down to 30% when we left. For such a phone-heavy experience, I was surprised by the lack of charging stations in the town – I can imagine some rentable power packs would be a big hit here!

The walkways are also quite narrow, so we often found ourselves walking slow behind a queue of people, or waiting a while to get into a shop. This died down at certain points throughout the day (down to events, food breaks, or just people leaving), but it was definitely a bit harder at the start. Staggered start times would solve this, but then of course it would be hard to monitor when people’s 5 hours were up. In a similar vein, there were times we were essentially following another couple doing the same trail, either waiting for them to finish their conversation with a character so we could have the same one, or just listening in. Sometimes this was fine, due to the occasional puzzle that needed some time to solve, but otherwise, we got into the groove of using those moments to grab another drink rather than following on their tail. I’m not sure what the plan is for the expansion, but I’d love to see some bigger areas, perhaps with new characters to talk to and new machines to use!

 

What’s the verdict?

 

 

This is hands down my favourite experience I’ve done in London. I’d even go so far as to say I’d rather come back here than go to another London escape room. At less than £40 for a ticket, which covers 5 hours, it’s a real steal on price too!

You can be as immersed as you want to, but the characters don’t necessarily approach you or force you to put on an accent if you don’t want to, which was great for my friends who were less sold on this aspect. The mysteries were just really fun stories, and although the puzzles weren’t that complex I don’t think you’d be disappointed because so much else is going on.

I will be recommending this to anyone and everyone, and cannot wait to return to Phantom Peak.

Tickets for Phantom Peak can be booked on their website

Layered Reality: The Gunpowder Plot | Review

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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.

 

Remember, Remember…

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.

 

The Verdict

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!

 

The Gunpowder Plot Immersive may be booked by heading to this website here.

From now until 30th September 2022, use code ESCAPE10 for £10 off your tickets!

Edinburgh Treasure Hunts: Sherlock’s Secret Challenge | Review

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Edinburgh Treasure Hunts Review | Arthur Conan Doyle has left you a letter. Not just a letter! A challenging puzzle that could reveal to you the secret behind his famous character: Sherlock Holmes. That is, if you prove to be a puzzle-solving mastermind first.

Completion Time: ~3 hours
Date Played: 16th July 2022
Party Size: 3
Location: Edinburgh New Town > Edinburgh West End
Difficulty: Moderate

I’ve lived in Edinburgh for over 12 years, so you’d think I’d have explored the whole city by now, right?! Wrong!

It turns out treasure hunts are now my favourite way to discover the hidden secrets of your surroundings – and you get to do it whilst solving puzzles and getting some steps in! The games from Edinburgh Treasure Hunts are the highest rated hunts in Edinburgh, and I’d like to tell you why this is a spot they deserve.

The brains behind the operation is the incredible Sabi, company director, game designer and Edinburgh tour guide. Their knowledge and passion shone through when we met them outside the Conan Doyle pub, gazing over at the street where the creator of Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle was born. It was an apt setting for the journey ahead of us, and hearing some of the history of a street I walk by weekly was an exciting start.

 

Team Escape Roomer takes on Sherlock’s Challenge

The Challenge

Out task was to channel Sherlock Holmes and master the power of deduction to find the secret that lies behind his character. To do this, we were handed a locked backpack, a beautifully illustrated map and a mysterious letter from beyond the grave. You’d better believe spooky voices were used to narrate the tale! We were then left to solve the first puzzle, and our walking adventure begins!

Now, it was 9am so it did take a while for our brains to wake up and figure out the first challenge – but once we clocked it we were on our way to unlocking the backpack and discovering the next puzzle, all of which are hidden in various containers. Once you’ve solved a puzzle, you’ll be directed by the clues to your next location. The game was really easy to navigate due to the numbered clues and the fact that certain items weren’t unlocked until they were needed for the puzzle in front of you.

 

Help! We Need a Hint!

Am I going to continue blaming the fact I’m not an early riser for my slow puzzle solving skills that morning? Probably. But we did get super stuck. There was an amazing moment when we realised half of what we had to do, yet we still completely overthought to the point we were googling different cypher types. We should add that Google is not needed at any point in the game.

Lucky for us, this meant we got to experience the hint system which was me calling Sabi and sheepishly asking for help. My biggest tip for this hunt is

Easier said than done though, so we got a response immediately, and proceeded to kick ourselves to the next clue.

 

 

Once You Have Eliminated the Impossible…

In terms of puzzles, there were 2 styles of padlock to unlock: The familiar 4 digit combination and a date lock which I’d never seen before!

The puzzles were a really nice mix which tested everything from your observational skills to decoding hidden messages. My favourite involved a few steps to find a particular piece of text in your surroundings and use that to unlock some cyphered text. I also loved the navigational aspect, it encouraged you to spot things you wouldn’t have thought to look at otherwise. Overall, they were quite difficult, so I recommend that if doing this with a family to take slightly older kids, 13+ I’d say would keep the game enjoyable for everyone. For a game aimed at a much younger audience, definitely try out Edinburgh Treasure Hunts’ other trail, Fantastic Creatures.

 

 

The Case of the Final Problem

I loved the location of the end of the game. It felt like everything came together really nicely and you discover some really interesting history about the story of Sherlock Holmes. There’s a really nice touch which I imagine is quite satisfying by the end of the day. You’re then directed to a safe place to drop the backpack near the end location and the centre of town so you can rest your legs and debrief!

I will say, it’s quite the walk and towards the end we clambered up a big hill.

In the end, we took just over three hours to complete the game (but we did stop for a cold drink as it was so warm!)

 

 

It’s almost Fringe time!

The festival is almost upon us, and we’re all ready to grab our highlighters and circle our top picks of the programme – Sherlock’s Secret Challenge should be one of them! Why? The City of Edinburgh is your venue, and you’re in charge of making sure the story unfolds. If you’re visiting Edinburgh for the Fringe, I’d really recommend taking half a day to pop on your deerstalker to take a stroll and discover some hidden gems.

 

All of Edinburgh Treasure Hunts’ games can be booked by heading to their website here.

Treasure Trails: Brockenhurst | Review

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Treasure Trails: Brockenhurst Review | A single red rose, a one way ticket to Brockenhurst, and a cryptic message in Latin intrigued secret agent Lady Blanche as they were intended to do! Blanche recognised them as the handiwork of rival spy, Sir Pent, relative of the infamous Snakecatcher. She deciphered the Latin to discover that snakes are being held captive inside a crypt locked with a secret code deep in the forest. A rival gang working for Sir Pent is operating in the area, trying to keep the snakes under lock and key by changing the code – but they’re friendly local snakes, so Blanche has asked MI5 HQ for help in releasing them. We want YOU to solve a series of Clues that will help discover the secret code before the rival gang can change it – are you up for this dangerous mission?

Completion Time: 3+ hours
Date Played: 28th May 2022
Party Size: 3 (+ a dog)
Location: Brockenhurst, Hampshire
Difficulty: Easy

Treasure Trails have such a soft spot in my mind as being one of the oldest and most reliable treasure trail companies in the UK. I can pretty much guarantee that if you’re taking a weekend camping trip or city break anywhere in the UK, you can find a Treasure Trails route in the vicinity. From there, you know what to expect – a booklet (or printed out PDF) of fun puzzles that take you around the local area. In short, an excellent way to discover a new place, perfect for families, and a consistently good fun afternoon out wherever you are in the UK.

This was exactly what we had in mind when I decided to take a quick weekend break outside of London to the small village of Brockenhurst in the New Forest. I needed a bit of a mental health break spent somewhere in the sun and, with a small cottage booked for me and my family, the first thing on my to-do list was to check if there was a Treasure Trails available. Brockenhurst similarly also has a soft spot in my heart as it’s a part of the world I spent much of my childhood in. Since growing up and becoming a boring adult I hadn’t been back in years, but had fond memories of splashing around in the river, eating lunch at the village pub, and stroking the hair of the wild horses. So, it’s no understatement to say I was excited!

We set off as a team of 3… Well, 4 if you count our dog! Consisting of myself, my mum and my younger brother. The company make it super easy to order in advance and receive a little pre-printed booklet, or simply go for the PDF version that you can print out yourself last minute. We opted for the latter for ease and convenience, but there’s no price difference.

 

 

Brockenhurst: The Legacy of the Snakecatcher

The story of the Brockenhurst Treasure Trail is steeped in local history as legend has it a man by the name of the Snakecatcher used to live in this own and… You’d never guess what his job was.

*pause*

Oh, go on then. He caught snakes. Up to 30,000 in his career! Story has it that in this Treasure Trails adventure, there are a number of snakes being held in a nearby crypt locked with a secret code. A rival gang keeps changing the code, and the snakes are trapped in there. It was our job to find the code and the crypt and let the snakes out. There’s nothing like a little bit of eco-terrorism, unleashing a bunch of snakes onto the town, for a Saturday morning, right?

Funny plot holes aside, this meant that the trail took us past a lot of very interesting local plaques, sculptures, buildings and relics dedicated to the history of the village and the Snakecatcher. Expertly interwoven and good fun all round learning about the history of the town.

 

 

If you go down to the woods today…

As with most Treasure Trails, the route started by the train station and took us in a 2.5 mile round trip around Brockenhurst. Some highlights included the graveyard where the Snakecatcher is located, a very cool archway, some brooks across the road, past more than one herd of cows, several hidden pathways over the railway line, and to some excellent lunch spots in town. The whole route was dog friendly and ours absolutely loved frolicking through the grass and forest. The route also takes you past several cool Geocaches, if you want to do double the puzzling fun for your time.

The route comes full circle, so it’s a good one for just a day trip into town. That said, ours took us what felt like a very long time. I don’t know if it was to do with the fact we were ambling along and taking plenty of stops, or if the route itself is genuinely longer than average – but we split it over two sessions. First, we stopped for lunch and then did around 3/4 of the route. We had to rush back to our cottage as our food delivery was coming, then we decided to take a break and eat some cake and coffee before venturing out to finish off the final bit a sunset.

In terms of puzzles, Treasure Trails are not too challenging at all. You’ll get a few ciphers, and a few moments of scratching your head, but largely the audience is for younger people or families, so it won’t challenge any escape room enthusiasts. By contrast, I think that’s an excellent thing. This route, and others by the same company, are perfect introductory walking trails. I genuinely think that playing these games as a young kid growing up probably made me the puzzler I am today.

 

 

The Verdict

If you’re in the area and looking for something puzzley and fun to do, you can’t go wrong than Treasure Trails. Better yet, pick a sunny day, pair it with a delicious lunch in one of the village’s many fantastic pubs, and be sure to pick up a few Geocaches along the way too.

On the weekend we visited the Queen’s Jubilee was happening so there were actually several more puzzle trails available in the village. If you finish up with Treasure Trails nice and quickly – go into Potpourri, a gift shop on the main run and ask them if they have any other trails. They’ll be sure to point you in the direction of a few locally created ones you might enjoy just as much.

 

The Brockenhurst Treasure Trail can be purchased as a PDF or booklet by heading to Treasure Trails’ website here.

Lollipop: H-Division | Review

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H-Division Review | “Take a deep dive into The Ripper’s mind using both traditional and modern investigation methods. Help me and the Met Police profile this serial killer and experience a bar which relives the Victorian London era. Hats, capes, typewriters, telegrams and of course cocktails come as standard”

Date Played: 9th June
Time Taken: ~1hr 30
Number of Players: 2
Difficulty: Illogical

It was only a few days after we played Lollipop’s well known (and well loved) immersive experience, The Grid that we decided to book ourselves in to play their brand new Victorian themed immersive experience. Where The Grid was light-hearted, fun, energetic, and definitely escape room-y, it’s Victorian counterpart was… Not so good. Much closer to ‘Bletchley’ in style and substance, but whilst I haven’t yet personally played Bletchley, based on the comments of the people I was with, H-Division is surely the weakest of the three.

 

 

Enter Victorian London

H-Division is located in East London, actually directly opposite the fantastic Escape Plan on Bethnal Green Road. It’s about a 10 minute walk from where we live, so we set off a little early and stopped off for a bite to eat around the corner before hyping ourselves up to step into Victorian London. It’s a well-chosen area of

On arriving at the venue, which sits above a Geisha-themed Japanese restaurant, we were led upstairs by a woman in a kimono, past the toilets, and left outside a mysterious red door at the top of the building with the words “POLICE” stencilled over the top. We knocked and were shown to a table by the captain of the police force, where we were promptly given a case file, two bobby hats and a jacket each.

The setup of the room is probably the most impressive part of the whole experience. It felt immersive, like we really were sitting in a busy police department in 1888. There were detective boards all over the walls with red string between different events. There were typewriters and magnifying classes, and Morse code machines, as well as a blacklight torch… Which technically wasn’t used by the police in this period, but we’ll suspend disbelief. Around us, a few other people sitting at tables, enthusiastically getting into their cases.

We were very quickly served our introductory drink, but any subsequent drinks we’d have to work for. I think working hard for your drinks actually makes them taste all the better though – there’s nothing quite like turning a case over to your chief detective and receiving a delicious cocktail for your hard-earned work.

 

 

Jack the Ripper… And His Victims

So, let’s talk about Jack the Ripper’s victims. Consider this a big ol’ content warning for the fact that this experience does deal with Jack the Ripper and themes of murder. But not your light hearted murder in abstract, the game is based on a real event. Let’s discuss.

This is a discourse that comes up a lot in the escape room world and we’ve always got to ask the question whether we’re just being too sensitive, or whether this is a genuine harmful practise. Folks in the escape room world all agree that using historical events or characters the victims’ families would remember is a big no-no. I don’t need to remind you all of the *groans* Greek Escape Auschwitz escape room that was very quickly shut down. I even thought the Jersey War Tunnels was very uncarefully toeing the line with their WWII room that featured certain flags on the wall and certain books on the shelf. Edgy themes are PR nightmares, as our friends over at REA have written about here. But Jack the Ripper is so long ago right? It’s almost fictional at this point? Nobody could possibly be offended? Yes, yes and yes. Except, there’s something distasteful about using the names and photographs of the real, female victims for a fun and light-hearted game. So I’ll just leave the thought open there on the table. Is it okay to sort through files about real women who were brutally murdered, just because it was 134 years ago? I don’t have an answer, but it made me uncomfortable.

 

Could you Crack the Case?

Onto the real reason we were at H-Division… To catch Jack the Ripper! An elusive serial murderer who has escaped the clutches of many an investigator. Now it was our turn to crack the case. So, no pressure! But thankfully we had a series of casefiles to help us out, and some delicious drinks.

The ‘puzzles’ centred around the premise that you had to sort through case files within your team but were supposed to come to different conclusions. Once you’ve made a decision, you convert your decisions and answers into a series of letters and numbers that you then tap out onto a handy Morse Code machine on the table, which the bartender converts into a different cocktail. Hence the need for everyone at a table to submit different answers.

It’s very difficult to talk about the experience without straying into spoiler territory, so I’ll instead just say that the ‘puzzles’ were what let the whole experience down. Of course, take this with a pinch of salt – we are The Escape Roomer, so good puzzles are the numero uno of what we look for in an experience. For us, H-Division’s puzzles were a let down. From a completely illogical romp through Victorian England, we found ourselves with a case file that had already been scribbled over by another team, and we also found ourselves accidentally discovering ill-hidden physical clues and being told off by the hosts for ‘jumping ahead’. For sure, I can forgive technology breaking. Which it did twice. But the one thing we didn’t like the most during the whole experience was having to ask for multiple clues as to what to do with a correct answer only to be exasperatedly told by our host that it meant we needed to go and take something from someone else’s desk, as if that was obvious. A week later and I still can’t figure that one out.

From what we could tell, we weren’t the only ones who struggled with the puzzle flow, as more than once other players on other tables leaned over to ours and asked quietly “have you got any idea what we’re supposed to do?” In the end, we didn’t crack the case. Our Jack the Ripper escaped our clutches with a tantalising handwritten note laughing at our inability to police. By the looks of it, neither did anyone sitting nearby us either. But at least the cocktails were delicious.

 

 

The Verdict

If you were planning to try H-Division, we’d strongly recommend instead going for The Grid, or skipping it altogether. That is of course unless you’re there just for the cocktails and the atmosphere. Those were both brilliant, and we absolutely commend the artists behind the bar creating those. But unfortunately you can’t go and just do the cocktails, you’ve got to ‘solve’ the case to win those cocktails, and therein the problem lies. From the problematic use of victim’s real photos and information to support the game, to illogical and misleading puzzles where the answer is “you can write anything down it’s all correct”, to broken technology… Leads to an all round experience that leaves a lot wanting. The silver lining? It is only open for a limited time however, so I’ll cheers to hoping they use the space, or even the basic premise, to make something more fun next time.

When all was said and done, H-Division is okay. But only okay. The full experience costs £38 per person. For this you get 3 cocktails and a game. For full disclaimer, we weren’t charged for the experience, which makes it all the more disappointing that we didn’t enjoy it. Out of all the ~400 or so ‘immersive’ puzzle experiences I’ve played, this is the first one I thought about leaving halfway through. But the cocktails really were delicious, so at a point we stopped trying to overthink the case and just sat back and enjoyed a drink or two and chatted about other things.

For a similar vibe, we think you might also like Evans and Peel Detective Agency.

 

H-Division is located in Bethnal Green and can be booked by heading to their website here.

 

Gourmaze: The Sweet Escape | Review

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Gourmaze: The Sweet Escape Review | General Tasty is in a bit of a pickle. His regiment are leaving Europe in the next few hours and he’s been left behind! Luckily they’ve dropped a trail of breadcrumbs for the General to follow. Escape across the city, uncovering delectable desserts to fuel the stomachs of you, your crew and General Tasty. Be speedy, or he’ll just be another one to bite the crust!

Date Played: 3rd June 2022
Time Taken: 60:36
Number of Players: 4
Difficulty: Easy
Location: Soho, Russell Square

Laughing at all the cheesy desert puns and humming along to the Gwen Stefani song of the same name, this week team The Escape Roomer took on ‘Gourmaze’, a brand new delicious puzzle trail in the heart of London. The sun was shining, we were just a few days away from my birthday, and the streets were full of people celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee. Our very hungry ace team consisted of Grace, Mairi and our two +1s. Between us we had a good level of experience solving puzzles and looking for clues, but the thing we had the most experience of? Eating delicious food.

At it’s heart, that’s exactly what Gourmaze is all about! This makes it… Quite possibly… A one of it’s kind in the whole of the UK.

 

Team The Escape Roomer take on Gourmaze’s Sweet Escape

 

The premise is deliciously simple:

  • You receive a series of clues sent to your phone
  • Each clue gives you directions to a new place of interest
  • Along the way you’ll stop and visit not just one but three dessert places, saying a secret code to the waiter each time and receiving a treat for each member of the team

As well as three dessert spots, there were also two optional pub stops. We made full use of both locations, stopping for glasses of prosecco to toast to our success.

 

Meet Gourmaze’s Hero: General Tasty

The story behind A Sweet Escape was an one absolutely perfect for packing in food related puns. It all started when we met our leader by text, General Tasty. Our mission was to escape across Europe finding hidden deserts to fuel our stomachs whilst we helped General Tasty return to his regiment. General tasty was in a bit of a pickle and it was a race against against time to ‘ketchup’ with his regiment before they left.

As stories go it was silly, light-hearted, and nothing too serious. We had a lot of fun engaging with General Tasty and hearing about his wild antics along the route. What’s more, General Tasty was always ready with a fact or two about our environment – whether it be about a statue, a blue plaque, or just general food-themed London tidbits.

For an automated bot, General Tasty was enigmatic and funny!

 

Gourmaze dessert no.2 being prepared

 

Gourmaze: The Maze Part

Since this is The Escape Roomer, the thing we were looking out for most in The Sweet Escape was the latter part of that portmanteau: The Maze.

In terms of style of puzzles, Gourmaze is nothing wholly new. It errs slightly on the easier side, but that makes sense, being hungry for your next sweet treat makes for harder puzzle solving. There were somewhere in the region of 5 puzzles between each food stop. Of those puzzles, we were usually looking for a detail somewhere in our environment. Something you couldn’t figure out unless you were standing right there in front of it. Cryptic notes about street signs and zebra crossings a-plenty, with the odd anagram or two to force our thinking caps on.

If any team gets stuck along the way, it would have been easy to skip a puzzle. We were presented with two options to type at any time during the game:

  • Decode Directions – to write out the specific directions of where to go
  • I just want food! – to skip the next part of the puzzle

Thankfully we didn’t use any, but we did get one incorrect answer which incur a small time penalty.

 

Melt in your mouth good

 

Gourmaze: The Gourmet Part

The real reason we recommend Gourmaze has got to be because of the food. No, seriously. Escape room enthusiasts won’t be overly challenged by solving puzzles, but if you want a brilliantly fun day out with friends or family… Look no further.

There were three dessert spots on our trail, but we’re under strict instructions not to reveal the company locations or the types of food. So I’ll be suitable vague and say that there was something light and fluffy and delicious, something liquid and warming, and finally something perfect for the sunny weather we found ourselves in! All three were absolutely delicious. Melt in your mouth good, and well balanced enough that you still felt great by the end of the walk – not too sweet, not too bitter. Just perfect.

Of the three dessert places, all three were small family owned businesses which felt fantastic. None were particularly off the beaten track, but they were all ones I’d never heard of before and will definitely, definitely be returning to soon. That was one of the nicest touches of the whole game, at each place we learned about the people who run it and the history of the dessert and the venues. Not only fun and tasty, but educational too!

 

 

The Verdict

Gourmaze was absolutely fantastic. A brilliant puzzle game addition to London and one I hope goes on to expand across the UK and even across the world too. So far they have the Sweet Escape trail and one other, The Talisman Treats, themed around Asian food. If you like delicious food with your puzzle games, then you’re probably going to love this one.

In terms of pricing, A Sweet Escape was very reasonably priced. At under £30 per person, you get three very well sized desserts, fun puzzles to solve, and an excellent walk around some lovely areas of London. Other outdoor puzzle game companies charge similar but don’t include dessert. Why no dessert? I hope all my future puzzle trails include snacks!

In particular, I’d recommend booking a Gourmaze trail for a special occasion, such as a birthday as we did. It’s a great trail for kids, families, friends, colleagues, or anyone… Anyone who likes sweet food at least. The website mentions it not being suitable for those in a wheelchair due to steps, but otherwise there were no low light or audio puzzles to be aware of. So long as you can read text messages, your accessibility needs should be met. But, definitely check with the organisers if you have any concerns.

 

The Escape Roomer takes the win!

 

Gourmaze can be booked in London by heading to their website here.

Mamma Mia! The Party | Review

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Mamma Mia! The Party: Review | Feel transported to the island of Skopelos to dance, dine and have the time of your life! As the sun sets, you’ll take your seats at Nikos’ family-run taverna where you’ll enjoy a delicious four-course Greek meal before dancing the night away at a glittering ABBA disco. Plan your getaway with family and friends to Mamma Mia! The Party for the ultimate Greek holiday experience to remember.

 

Mamma Mia! Here we go again…

A few need-to-know facts about me which may inform this review:

  • I am in the top .5% of ABBA listeners according to my Spotify wrapped
  • The first dance at my wedding will be “I Do, I Do, I Do”
  • I think Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again is one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of the last decade

 

Needless to say, I am the prime target audience for Mamma Mia: The Party. And I am pleased to report that my time in Skopelos more than lived up to my expectations.

My biggest shout out of the evening is the incredible staff who are working throughout the immersive experience. Every person I encountered was friendly, genuine, and quick on the trigger when asking if you’d like them to take a picture of you at the many photo opportunities. This is the perfect place for a night out that you can later post on Instagram. It comes as no surprise that this is a perfect and popular destination for hen-do’s.

We had fantastic seats right on the stage, so we enjoyed our fair share of attention from the performers. But from my perspective, it seemed like every seat in the house had an incredible view and were interacted with at some point. Even your waiter will be a talented performer who joins in on the song and dance.

 

 

We love dinner theatre

The ticket comes with a three course meal. As a serial theme party-thrower, a big pet peeve of mine is when a theatrical-dining experience does not have food that fits the theme. Luckily at Mamma Mia: The Party the delicious menu is straight out of Greece. From the mezze platter starter to the lamb (so good!), the food was delicious. Out of the entire menu, the only thing I didn’t absolutely love was the Lemon Cake which was served with yoghurt, but I’m not a yogurt fan, so your mileage may vary! I’d actually highly recommend getting the Vegan dessert option, donuts, which my friend ordered. They were delicious!

 

Mamma Mia: The Show

Let’s be honest, it’s Mamma Mia, we’re here for the ABBA, not the plot. There is a forbidden lovers storyline which served the many opportunities for song and dance well (we can’t always be finding our long lost father out of three potential candidates). There are various characters and a few side plots and diversions, my favourite of which was an invocation to Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, that happens in a stunning sequence in the dark with an aerial artist. The aerial work in the show, done by Allie Ho Chee, is truly stunning. Her character Bella also has a really fun dance number earlier in the show. Bella and her partner Nina, played by Jessica Spalis, were highlights of the cast for me. They both brought great energy and immense physical talent to Skopelos!

The best part of the theatrical experience of Mamma Mia: The Party was the immersion. I really enjoyed setting “The Party” on Skopelos, the island where Mamma Mia! was filmed. There’s a nice, uncomplicated meta-ness to the parameters of the world. You’ll find a series of informational posters by the complimentary coat check (as they said, it’s Greece so you’re going to be warm!) that include ferry times, maps and concert posters taking place on the island which was a lovely touch of immersion. 

 

Interactivity & World Building in Mamma Mia! The Party

While there’s no escape or puzzle elements to the show (unless you want to escape the music of ABBA and then we can’t be friends), the interactivity is some of the best I’ve experienced. Part of that is the ingeniously simple structure of the night: it is genuinely like you really are just attending a really great Mamma Mia themed party. Despite there being only a few set-up interactive moments, the way the show functions is that every interaction, be it with your waiter, the front of house, or the performers passing by, feels like an experience.

Overall, Mamma Mia: The Party was one of my favourite immersive experiences ever. The ticket prices are steep, but it’s a great value for an amazing and well thought out night out. And it’s certainly the closest I’m going to get to Greece this year!

 

Mamma Mia! The Party can be booked by heading to their website here.