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 Time Traveller’s Space Bytes Review: Super computer G.P.S. has travelled back in time to better understand humans and find the missing data that’s causing it to glitch! You and your team of space cadets have been called upon to find this data on a journey through Space & Time. Along the way you will travel to different eras… expect to devour delicious pizza with the Romans, sip spectacular cocktails with movie stars & indulge on a sweet dessert in the Seventies. Buckle up and prepare yourself for an epic adventure!
Date Played: 6th June 2023 Time Taken: 47:45 Number of Players: 4 Difficulty: Easy Location: Mayfair, London
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. Puzzles AND FOOD?! Sign me the heck up. Gourmaze is just about one of the most unique things you can do in the capital city. It’s the quintessential good vibes, special occasion, summer activity- and no, I’m not just saying that because I seem to always book and play Gourmaze on my birthday.
Team The Escape Roomer is on the quest!
The Time Traveller’s Space Bytes starts in a cute little pub in Mayfair – perfect for having a quick drink in before you get started on your mission. Like with many “outdoor puzzle hunts”, clues are delivered via a back and forth on your mobile device. In this case, Whatsapp. Every member of the team gets a link, joins the party, and when you’re all ready you type START to begin your delicious time travelling quest.
Gourmaze: Food Thats Outta This World
The story of the Time Traveller’s Space Bytes is fairly simple and fun. You’re guided by a robot called G.P.S. whose goal is to understand humans and what makes them tick. Unfortunately their data is incomplete, which is where you come in. You and your robot companion over the course of two, maybe three hours (if you eat slowly) must journey through the worlds of TV and film trivia, the musical world, religion, and of course food and drink. All the things that make the world turn round – and they can all be found here in London.
Our first clue arrived!
Unfortunately my player 2 and I had since moved out of London up to Edinburgh, and there’s absolutely nothing like this up north. So it was really nice returning to the capital and seeing how everything had changed. Over the course of our walk, we learned new things about our city, saw some seriously cool new streets and perhaps most importantly – discovered some new favourite places to eat and drink. As I write this, I’m back in Edinburgh and already missing the delicious smells and bustling hubub of some of the places our puzzle trail took us. How soon until I can come back to London and go back to all those places? The pizza is calling me!
Pizza is Calling, The Escape Roomer Answers
Gourmaze has been going for some time now and at the time of writing they have three puzzle trails available. One is themed around desserts, the other about Asian food. This one is all about pizza. My favourite! In terms of food it did not disappoint. In this review, we’re not allowed to disclose where the locations are – which is fair – the puzzles are all about actually finding them and saying the secret code to your waiter in order to get your food. We wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. So instead of giving away their locations, I’ll just describe the food instead:
Our first stop – pizza!
Our first stop, piping hot and extra cheesy pizza in an absolutely gorgeous building. Probably the least likely building I would ever expect to find pizza in. But there it was, waiting to be taken out the oven and served to us.
Our second stop, a cheeky cocktail spot hidden excellently behind a bookcase. For real! If we didn’t know it was there – we wouldn’t have spotted it at all.
Have you ever tasted smoking popcorn?
Our final stop? Dessert! And to a place I’d actually been fortunate enough to pop into earlier that very same week and already knew exactly what I wanted to order. This final place was in an excellent spot for toasting our success with a drink or two, and for catching a train home after as the sun set over the city.
Bitesized Puzzles for the Hangry Mind
In terms of puzzles, Gourmaze won’t be for the hardcore enthusiast. I’ll be upfront about that for sure. They aren’t the most difficult puzzles – but here, I think that really works. There’s nothing worse than a HANGRY group of puzzlers, so we rather appreciated having a quick win to get food in us. One of the things this trail did do fairly well however was make use of the waiting time once we’d ordered our meal. In more than one case, we were given something physical with our order – a laminated piece of card, or paper we needed to solve. These were designed to be solved whilst we waited, or whilst we ate, and the solution would come in handy for our next stop.
Similarly, these weren’t overly challenging – in all cases we spotted what we needed to do and got on with it. What they lack in difficulty, they make up for in being well placed and fun to play. They used up otherwise quiet down time, and then once we did get back on our feet we found that the exact routes the puzzles took us were almost always unique and exciting lesser-trodden paths.
A puzzle with our pizza? Don’t mind if I do!
I really, really enjoy Gourmaze. Whenever people ask me for recommendations for something to do in London that’s a little bit different but still scratches that escape room itch, I think of Gourmaze first. It’s perfect for fans of food (I mean who of us isn’t?) and it’s perfect for puzzle enthusiasts as well. Whether it’s just a more fun way to do date night, or a full-blown corporate shindig, Gourmaze is a lovely way to celebrate.
My only caveat, and it’s really quite a small caveat, is Gourmaze does come with a hefty price tag. This trail is around £49.99 per person. Let’s assume the average pizza is about £14, the average cocktail about £10, and the average dessert around £8 (hey! I did say this was London, didn’t I?). Your total food, bought outside of the game probably only comes to about £32. Lets round it up to £35 when we include the service charge. Of course, you also get a discount at each of the locations for extra drinks and snacks, which we did go for… And perhaps most importantly you also get an excellently good fun puzzle game that takes you between each location. But this means you’re paying about £15 pp for the game, and about £35 pp for the food. I’ll let you be the judge of it – you know your own budget, and who knows how much food will cost by the time you’re reading this, what with the spiralling cost of living crisis. But for me, and considering I saved this for a special occasion (my birthday), it felt worth it! By comparison, the closest competitors are probably Hidden City (at around £25 pp but no food), or Street Hunt (£16.50 pp and also no food). For a more affordable Gourmaze alternative, The Sweet Escape is (at the time of writing) £27.99 pp, and the Talisman Treats £39.99 pp.
In any case, back to the review at hand. The Time Traveller’s Space Bytes was a fun, light-hearted and unique play on traditional outdoor puzzle trails. Gone are the days you have to plan your own food breaks into your day out – Gourmaze does it for you. I really can’t stress how much I enjoyed it. It’s not going to impress the hardcore puzzle enthusiast, but who among us isn’t a pizza enthusiast, and it absolutely ticks the box for them!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London
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.
Inspired by Georgie’s recent article on great team building experiences in London, I found myself looking back on all the outdoor puzzle walking trails I’ve done in London in search of the hidden gems I’d recommend above all others. Being the capital means there’s a hub of fantastic puzzle game creators using the rabbit warren of tight alleyways, historical buildings and local curiosities as their blank canvas for creating innovative and exciting games. I myself even designed a game for the (unfortunately) now-retired company Locked City back before lockdown.
London Outdoor Puzzle Trails by Area
If you’re in London and looking to get your puzzle fix whilst sightseeing, look no further! Here we have split each of our favourite walking trails by geographical area.
Hidden City – The Enchanted Mirror
Start Location: South Kensington Station Arcade Areas Covered: Kensington Length: 3-4 hours Distance: 4 Miles
The story of The Enchanted Mirror is a classic fairy tale of good vs evil in a quest to discover a mysterious enchanted mirror. The Queen sets you a challenge to best her. A challenge of your wits and cunning but, since so many before you have failed and disappeared, you’ll need more than a little help if you’re to best her and save the land once and for all.
The Escape Roomer plays The Enchanted Mirror
Secret City Trails – Hampstead
Start Location: Belsize Park Train Station Areas Covered: Hampstead Length: 2-3 hours Distance: 2.5 Miles
Moriarty’s Game is a must for fans of Sherlock Holmes. Follow in Sherlock’s footsteps as you go into physical locations, discover hidden clues, choose your allegiance, and crack the case Watson has given you. Hidden City is immersive like no other outdoor game you can play in London and is well worth playing.
Treasure Trails – London’s Little Venice
Start Location: Paddington Areas Covered: Little Venice Length: 2-3 hours Distance: 3 Miles
Treasure Trails is fantastic if you’ve got kids, and the best part is the whole thing is completely offline. You’ll be sent a booklet ahead of time packed with puzzles to take you from location to location. If you solve the whole quest, you’ll be entered into a monthly prize draw too!
Londons Little Venice
Hidden City – The Hunt for the Cheshire Cat
Start Location: 91 The Strand Areas Covered: Strand, Charing Cross, Waterloo Length: 3-4 hours Distance: 3 Miles
The Hunt for the Cheshire Cat is the walking puzzle tour that made me discover my new favourite pub in all of London – but no spoilers, you’ll just have to play the whole thing yourself to find out where that is! Follow the cat through London’s alleyways, going into landmarks and cafes to speak secret codes and find secret items along the way.
One of my personal favourites on the list, Colombia’s Finest is a fantastically unique walking puzzle game from up and coming Street Hunt games. If you like your coffee with a dash of sinister organisation, illicit drug trade, and of course murder, then it’s a great day out!
The Escape Roomer takes on Colombia’s Finest
AIM Escape – Operation Mindfall
Start Location: Monument Areas Covered: Monument, Tower of London Length: 2-3 hours Distance: ~
Operation Mindfall is without a doubt in my mind one of the most creative and high-tech outdoor games on the market. AIM Escape’s version in particular takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of London but through the eyes of the super secret spy organisation W.I.S.E. It’s perfect for tourists and locals alike!
Treasure Trails – A Tale of Two Bridges
Start Location: Tower Bridge Areas Covered: Tower Bridge, London Bridge Length: 2-3 hours Distance: 3 Miles
Treasure Trails is fantastic if you’ve got kids, and the best part is the whole thing is completely offline. You’ll be sent a booklet ahead of time packed with puzzles to take you from location to location. If you solve the whole quest, you’ll be entered into a monthly prize draw too!
CluedUpp – The Ripper
Start Location: Multiple! Areas Covered: Multiple! Length: 2-3 hours Distance: 3 Miles
CluedUpp gets an honorary mention on this page because it’s not tied to one specific location. In fact, you can play CluedUpp from practically anywhere in the world. There are a number of ‘events’ running at a number of cities where teams are encouraged to dress up, solve puzzles, and crack cases. We played The Ripper at Kensington and had a great time (although it probably wouldn’t challenge enthusiasts).
Team The Escape Roomer taking on The Ripper
Foxtrail – Lancelot
Start Location: St. Pauls Areas Covered: St. Pauls, Borough Length: 4+ hours Distance: 5 Miles
Foxtrail is now sadly retired but was easily my favourite outdoor adventure game in all of London, and I keep it on the list in the hopes that it will one day return! Foxtrail is easily the most ambitious walking trail, with boxes and interactable hidden across the capital. Your ticket also includes a boat ride and several stops, making it a must-do!
Team The Escape Roomer plays Foxtrail
That’s all for our list! Have we missed your favourite? Let us know in the comments below.
Treasure Trails: Kidderminster Review | Police intelligence has discovered a plot by international carpet thieves to target a unique collectionof extremely valuable carpetssecured 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.
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.
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
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!