Trapped: The Art Heist | Review

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In Art Heist, the obscenely-rich Harrington family invites you to an exhibition of their priceless art. Upset that his family hoards wealth, though, their youngest son, Charles, asks your party to steal a painting… Fearing detection, Charles leaves only a series of clues to help you find the right artwork. But you’re not alone! Charles has also convinced one of the staff to help you escape… Can you find the painting, steal it and flee the scene – all in 60 minutes?

Rating: Different!
Completion Time: 45 minutes
Date Played: 23rd June 2021
Party Size: 3
Recommended For: Families or a Party Game

Every Wednesday in my household is board game night. We’re not technically supposed to double book ourselves with anything on that day, but on this particular Wednesday my player two had invited a friend a friend over…

“No worries, we’ve got ourselves a 3rd player. That means it’s HEIST TIME!”

The Art Heist has been sitting on my shelf for an embarrassingly long time. But in my defence, it’s been a long lockdown and The Art Heist is definitely best played in a group setting. There’s a bit of set up required as you empty the box and follow instructions on each item: Pin this to a wall, put this on a door, put this item on a coffee table. If it’s your kinda thing, here’s me setting up our game over on TikTok:

Escape Room in Your Home

What Trapped does quite differently from most other ‘boxed escape room’ companies on the market is turn your space into an actual escape room. Ordinary items can become extraordinary within the context of the game and even the host can play too. Just pick a door, set the scene, and try to escape! It’s pretty cool, really.

On the back of each item in the box is a few lines of instruction, indicating where best to put it: “Place this on a wall” or “This goes on a windowsill or coffee table”. The rest is up to your imagination – but it helps to keep everything roughly in the same general place so your guests aren’t wildly searching through your cupboards to find the next clue.

I also reckon this game would be fantastic for a family setting. Got a group of kids in your house? Give them a name badge, an art collectors pamphlet, and let them figure it out for themselves. It’s wonderfully fun exploring and looking for hints, and leaves a lot to the imagination!

What I also love about this style of gameplay is that it fits so perfectly with the setting: An Art Gallery. The only rule? Don’t look too suspicious. It’s so easy to get lost in the immersion of the game, that you’re just an inconspicuous group of art collectors quietly perusing an art gallery before BOOM stolen painting and lets get the heck out of here.

…Well, that’s the idea anyway, though it didn’t completely go to plan. Why’s that?

“Alexa, play some heist music”

Cue Alexa to DROP THE BASS. Apparently searching for heist music via an Alexa device plays a hilarious medley of hardcore electronica music, but we thought to ourselves, “Hey, why not? Let’s roll with it.”

Combined with a couple of beers on an otherwise really quiet Wednesday afternoon, the whole experience was quite surreal! I couldn’t stop laughing, except to take this one ‘serious’ photo.

How to Play The Art Heist

There are two stages to The Art Heist:

  • First, you need to identify which painting you’ve been tasked to steal. No, no – Charles wouldn’t just tell you which painting to steal, that would be too easy. You’ve got to follow his trail of breadcrumbs and figure it out for yourself!
  • Second, you need to escape with the painting undetected. It’s a good job the painting is so small I could just slip it right into my pocket! Haha!

We may have missed something (I’ll blame the beer and confusing electronic music), but we spent around 90% of the time on Part A and only 10% of the time on Part B. There was also one item which I realised after packing up that we’d not used either…. Days later I still can’t figure out what it’s for, but perhaps we’re just that good of art thieves we didn’t need it.

If at any point you find yourselves needing a clue, the clue system is an absolute delight. Trapped provides a ‘clue book’ which, at first glance, looks like gobble-de-gook. By overlaying another object found in the box and lining up the numbers, a secret clue is revealed. It’s a really nice touch if you want to avoid spoiling the game for yourself!

So how did we steal the painting?

Not without help of course! The clues our handler Charles had left behind were tricky… But not too tricky! Nothing frustrating, and as a very casual play through we didn’t mind checking for a hint or two to keep us on the right track and having fun.

Puzzle solving veterans will probably immediately recognise certain puzzle types and be able to figure them out quickly, but new players will benefit from a hint or two I’m sure.

Overall, players can expect to encounter some folding puzzles, puzzles that involve finding details in blocks of text, puzzles that involve looking at things from a certain angle, some pretty cool maths puzzles, and so on. As you can probably tell, it wasn’t the most challenging game, but heck it was fun and I’m really glad I picked up a copy.

The Verdict

A fun and silly Wednesday afternoon’s worth of fun! Particularly great for a larger party of a family setting, but we had an excellent time over a crate of beer as a group of three non-puzzley 20 something year olds. It’s got great mass-market appeal and would be an awesome game to introduce to a group of friends not used to puzzle games.

I would say that the size makes it sit a little awkwardly on my board games shelf, but as a one-use game it’s already been packed up and sent to my co-writers here on The Escape Roomer and I can’t wait to hear what they thought of the game too.

Trapped: The Art Heist can be purchased from most major online distributors for around £13.

Quarantini Boredom Escapes: Escape from Catland | Review

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In 2001, eccentric scientists Nethel and Malbert Birman began working on a formula to turn people into cats. Shunned by the scientific community for years, their work went largely unnoticed, but more of an interest was taken in recent years when some of their top detractors started going missing. 

Since 2015, countless people known to the couple have disappeared and – around the same time – several cats and kittens have been sighted in or near their home. Help Dr Woofred Barker (VGB) find and destroy the secret turning-people-into-cats microchip… to save us all from being turned into cats!

Ratings

Theming: 5/5
Puzzles: 4/5
Online Interface: 3/5
Fun Factor: 4/5
Difficulty: 4/5
Overall: 4/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Review

A few weeks ago, on a less than sunny day during lockdown, we decided on spontaneous afternoon escape plans with our good friend Mairi. The first challenge? Well as this was a spur of the moment plan, the key question was which game to choose. We took some time browsing through top new online digital escape games (and saw SO MANY we wanted to try in the process!), but one especially caught our eye from its title alone- Escape from Catland.

Now, we know we very much play ourselves into some stereotypes here, but we can’t help it. We. Love. Cats. I mean, we are big animal lovers, so a dog or bunny theme would certainly be a great way to catch our eye too, but yes the cat theme drew us gay ladies straight in!

We have experienced an IRL cat lady themed room before and it was BRILLIANT (Feline Fiasco at Real Life Games in Ramsgate), so we are speaking from experience- cat themed games are fun! But for any cynics out there, just to reassure you, the theme isn’t ‘twee’- much like with our previous experience, there is a darker side to this kitty story.

The Story

In Escape from Catland, Bethel and Malbert Birman, a pair of eccentric scientists, have been working on developing a formula for years which turns people into cats, and it seems they have now been successful! Apparently their plan is to turn everyone in the world into cats. Now, we didn’t think that sounded so bad- in fact, a life of lounging around and sleeping for 16 hours a day sounds ideal! But, Dr Woofred Barker explains that it is not known how long a human can survive in this form, but the transition is almost certainly a long and painful process! We’re not sure how much we trust WOOFred BARKer’s motivations, but it’s probably not worth the risk… better get saving the world then, hey!

The Tech

The platform for this game is a simple digital one, using point and click and password protection to move you through the story- we’d recommend having a Zoom call set up with any players in separate locations as you’ll need to do a lot of chatting to bounce solution ideas off one another.

The Graphics

The game’s graphics are nice and bright, which we really enjoyed, and it was very easy to get into this game as all the puzzles fit in with the storyline. As a sci-fi room, not only were we dealing with the cat formula, but also TIME TRAVEL! We had to flit between the past, the present and the future to track down what we needed to know to be able to prevent the formula being set out into the world. In the future, we came across human-cat hybrids who were just as sassy as you would expect cat-people to be in giving us cryptic messages to puzzle out. (We think our cat, Tilly, must have come with us to visit this strange future- look at her all dressed up!) 

The Puzzles

The storyline and password protection format meant that this game was quite linear- while there were a couple of puzzles we could work on at a time in places, we generally had to follow through the full story together. There were some really challenging puzzles that took us a while to figure out, and some really original stuff in there. A real favourite of ours required us to use books how we’ve never used books before!

To say that this game is free to play, there is a LOT to it. It is advertised as a longer game that can take from 90 mins to 3 hours, and there is a suggested breakpoint halfway through the game in case you would rather come back to it at another time. However, you can save where you’re up to at any point (just save the URL and password for the page you’re on). Also to note, there is no in-game clock so if you do want to keep an eye on how long it takes you, don’t forget to set a timer on your phone when you start to play.

We powered through and impressed ourselves by getting through the full game in 82 minutes! That was a lot down to some great teamwork as three experienced escape roomers, but it is a challenging game so don’t be surprised if it does take any time within the suggested 90 mins – 3 hours window.

Overall

There are some really paw-some jokes and Easter eggs throughout the game, which we found a lot of fun, and the conclusion to the game is just brilliant!

As we mentioned, this game is free to play, but the creator at Quarantini Boredom Escapes requests that if you enjoy the game and can afford to, to consider making a donation to one of their recommended charities or to your local foodbank. The UK charities they have suggested are:

  • Blueprint for all (UK) – The new name for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, this excellent charity aims to improve fairness and equity in UK society and offers programmes and tangible opportunities for talented young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and communities. 
  • The Black Curriculum (UK) – A fantastic social enterprise aiming to improve awareness and understanding of Black British history for children in the UK by improving the UK curriculum and offering programmes to improve social cohesion between young people and to promote a sense of identity and belonging.

We think it’s wonderful that Quarantini are encouraging donations to support such an important cause and we have gladly donated to both charities after playing the game. We love that a passion for escape room games could contribute to help raise awareness and support of a society based on fairness and equality for all- two things that we are very passionate about are escape rooms and social justice!

We really enjoyed this game- what a great one to stumble across on a whim! It is a nice chunky challenge to get your paws into and it’s free to play- what more could you want?

You can play Escape from Catland for FREE at Quarantini Boredom Escapes

Swamp Motel: Panic, The Experience | Review

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Popular varsity athlete Noah Kaplan has gone missing from the town of Carp, Texas. You must crack codes and hack websites to figure out where he’s gone, why he’s vanished and why the cops are interested in strange graffiti that’s started to appear all over town. 

Is Noah in danger? Or is the worst yet to come? Work together to follow Noah’s online footsteps before the trail goes cold. Every second counts. Let the game begin. Let the panic set in.

Ratings

Theming: 3/5
Puzzles: 2/5
Online Interface: 5/5
Fun Factor: 4/5
Difficulty: 3/5
Overall:3.5/5

You may have seen Amazon Prime’s new offering, Panic, or at least watched the trailer and been intrigued to find out more. To help promote this new thriller series, Swamp Motel has created an immersive game throwing you into the world of Panic, available for a very limited run and totally FREE!

We love any opportunity to play an escape room so of course we were on this like a moth to a lightbulb- especially after having played the Swamp Motel trilogy in quick succession earlier this spring and loving the unique, atmospheric and creative digital games they had created. So we booked in to play straight away.

The Story

We know from previous offerings from Swamp Motel that storyline is key to their games, making the overall experience one that sticks with you more for the fun of the production than for the puzzles themselves (this is certainly not a bad thing in our opinions- Swamp Motel’s games are MEMORABLE because they’re so different).

So the story starts before you even join the game- the email providing the link to join your game is from Kelly, girlfriend of the missing Noah Kaplan, who is anxious to track down his whereabouts… Our job is to join their High School’s community crisis meeting to help out with trying to find out where Noah is and what has happened to him.

When we join the High School’s online platform, there are rumours flying about that Noah has been involved in the underground viral challenge Panic. Not wishing to tarnish the school’s reputation, the faculty do their best to quash this gossip. However, Panic is definitely the lead we need to take if we want to actually find Noah rather than just…talk about finding him.

This lead sends us off into the online underworld surrounding this challenge competition, finding out that OF COURSE Noah is involved in Panic and actually has been doing pretty well, up until he’s disappeared that is. It’s up to us to find out what’s gone down! Given that this is a competition, you can bet that his ranking and competitors are key clues to narrowing down his whereabouts… Who are Noah’s friends? Foes? Who should we trust?!

The Game

Rather than with some of your more traditional escape room games, think more along the lines of using the internet as your main tool for Swamp Motel’s game. As well as the High School platform, which acts as your means of communication with teammates (and Kelly who is EAGERLY awaiting news of her boyf), the world wide web is your oyster! Lots of the puzzling relies on sourcing out the right information from social media and other websites and using this to decrypt passwords and hack into online databases- virtual ‘trespassing’ is required to reach the information on Noah’s most recent location. Well how do you expect us to track down a missing person without knowing what the police know?! 

We enjoyed the fun of this, and while we generally knew where we needed to look to find the target info, we did sometimes go off on a tangent, enjoying the fun incidental info that makes up a Gen Z high school teen’s social media channels (although it did make us at the sprightly age of 26 feel OLLLDDD!!)

The game culminates with an exciting final sequence and the BIG REVEAL SHOCK TWIST… which we did kind of see coming, but didn’t take away from the excitement. It definitely had the PLL/Gossip Girl/ teen mystery drama vibes which we do always enjoy!

Some high praise indeed for our efforts… to be fair we think being a Panic judge would be more fun than being a participant after seeing what happened to Noah…

Overall

Panic, the experience was a great online experience, much like the previous offerings from Swamp Motel! We had a great time and enjoyed the regular ‘interaction’ with Kelly, which kept the story moving forward and nudged us towards the next stage of our info-gathering mission. As a free game, this had very high production values and had plenty to it, making for a fun evening!

Of course, as a promotional game, a trailer for Amazon Prime’s Panic plays upon completion, and while the series focuses on different characters than who we came to know in the game, it looks like it has the same intensity and excitement we enjoyed from the game. We haven’t yet given the show a go but the trailer did look very much like something that would be up our street, so it has been added to our ever-expanding watchlist for us to binge at some point! 

Not sure how rats were decided as our fear…but look out for us, we’re shady as hell!!! In case you couldn’t tell, we did NOT know a pic was being taken or we would’ve smiled haha!

Panic was available to play for free for a limited time from 2nd-13th June from Swamp Motel

Midnight Quests: The Pyramid | Review

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Welcome to The Pyramid – an online puzzle game for three teams! Each team can be one person, a couple, a family or a group.
You will be between three paths in the pyramid – the red track, the green track and the blue track. In each puzzle, each team will only get a part of the information.

Rating: Good Fun!
Completion Time: 1:25
Date Played: 7th April 2021
Party Size: 4
Recommended For: Everyone, provided there’s at least 3 of you!

Picture the scene: It’s a relaxed Wednesday afternoon after the long Easter weekend and my parents, and 11 y/o brother fancy doing something together on Zoom. Unlike most Easters, we couldn’t meet up – the UK is still in lockdown. But not to worry! “I’ve got this game, The Pyramid!” I say, “It’s been created by a fellow enthusiast and one of my friends and supposed to be really really good! Let’s do it!”

We smashed through the Extreme version of the game in about 1 hour. Our actual time was 1:25 but this was largely down to the three members of my family fighting over who got to be on whose team, we took a couple of breaks for snacks, and at one point a keyboard got broken… But the less said about that part the better! But, for a totally amateur team of 4 from all different walks of life, I reckon we aced it?

Not too difficult and fairly intuitive puzzles whose only rule is “work together”, but let’s get into the details:

The Story

Whilst exploring a desert, you come across a mysterious pyramid. What’s more – there are three entrances: Blue, Green, and Red. So of course, what do you do? You split up and go inside (I say this with a smile because in real life I would never split up and get myself trapped in a pyramid forever, no sir haha).

Your goal is to reach the top of the pyramid – simple enough? Well, there are 10 puzzles standing between you and the top of the puzzle. Each one solved is a ladder to the next floor revealed.

“How do we get back down?” my young sibling asked, when we finished the game. “You don’t.
What did we win?” my dad asks. “This beautiful view of the desert.

The Experience

The Pyramid is played in a platform called Travel Quest (you may recognise it from the Chernobyl: A Puzzle Septology puzzle hunt game). The pyramid has 10 ‘missions’ to complete, and correctly inputting a password in the previous one will unlock the next, and so on. The creator also recommends you have a shared drawing app between you – we used the Zoom whiteboard functionality in our call.

There’s a super cool leader board, a chat function, and a tab for ‘missions’ in case you get lost in the game and need to ground yourself. I also think the web application is optimised for mobile devices, although it’s not recommended in this game!

The central premise of the Pyramid is that each player can only see 1/3 of the information. We were not allowed to share our screen with one another but, unless prompted, we could use anything else at our disposal to communicate the information – talk, draw on the screen, mime, shout at each other (oh yeah there was quite a bit of that). So each puzzle opens onto some text and an image, and it’s up to you to figure out what the heck to do.

The Puzzles

As I say, we found the puzzles fairly straightforward and intuitive, taking it in turns at each step to explain what we can see. Players can expect to encounter a really interesting range of puzzles (even if at first glance some puzzles look like they might be solved in the same way). There’s a puzzle that involves sound, there’s puzzles which require you to overlay the information as if in one picture together, there’s puzzles where you’ll need to mime your way out of situations, and visual puzzles that require creatively trying to describe what you see.

Dad: “I can see bricks”
Mum: “What colour?”
Dad: “Grey and grey and this one is grey too”
Brother: *screams*
Me: *screams*

If I remember correctly, we used hints on just one puzzle which was arguably the hardest of the lot. Using hints will cost you points – and we lost dangerously a lot of points on this one puzzle as we asked for hints only to be given information we already knew. *shakes fist at multi-step puzzles*. But in the end, once we got to the right hint we very quickly understood what was to be done.

The puzzles were really fun though, and the whole game reminded me a little bit of Escape from the Two Base Stations, but the best part – this is for THREE players. More players = more fun. In particular I enjoyed puzzles where I needed to mime or draw something on the screen.

Overall

Overall, I loved this! It was a little rough around the edges, as you might expect a puzzle game from an individual rather than a huge company – but this also meant it was PACKED with love. The creator, Lee Ballan, is a puzzle wizard and playing his experience was an absolute joy. I’m particularly pleased I invited my family rather than the usual puzzle people I play with, as they provided a fresh perspective on puzzles I may not have otherwise realised… And, if Lee ever comes up with another game, this family will be first in line to play it!

The Pyramid can be booked for $48 USD + per team over on Travel and Quest’s website.

Exit the Game: The Pharaoh’s Tomb | Review

The Pharaoh’s Tomb Review | The excursion to the Valley of the Kings is the highlight of your vacation to Egypt. As you crawl through the narrow passageways, you lose the rest of your tour group. You enter a mysterious burial chamber. A massive stone door closes behind you. 

Rating: Phar-abulous
Completion Time: 58 minutes
Date Played: 17th of August 2019
Party Size: 3

3 weeks and counting of being stuck at home and I’m definitely getting some escape room withdrawals. So it’s a good job I’ve got a shelf filled with Exit: The Game play-at-home escape rooms!

So here is a throwback to the first one I ever did! Sadly no longer on my shelf, but one I still come back to fondly when I’m trying to recommend an at-home experience. The idea is simple, the game quick, and puzzles challenging! As expected from the theme and title, in The Pharaoh’s Tomb you find yourself trapped in a mysterious tomb. *shudders in ancient egyptian*. The object of the game is to break out – simple, right? Each time you progress through the game and work through the cards, you locate new rooms, find new treasure, spot symbols, and unlock centuries old codes.

The puzzles are themed pretty well for the setting. I’m coming back to this review a while after playing it, but as well as the usual Exit the Game cutting, folding, and unexpected “woah!” moments, in this you can also expect hieroglyphs, animal puzzles, and plenty of mentions of Tutankhamen.

This one is marked 4/5 on the difficulty scale, but with plenty of optional hints it’s still possible to get through in under an hour. In particular, I generally enjoy Exit the Game’s mechanic of cards being picked up in a certain order with dead ends and twists and turns. It’s unique and interesting – but not particularly easy!

Overall, a fun way to spend an afternoon with friends, but a little bit of extra explaining needed if they’re not familiar with the structure of these games. Oh – and if you want to keep your box when you’re finished with it, be sure to photocopy bits! Is that a spoiler? Maybe! But worth mentioning that our experience was definitely one use only.

The Pharaoh’s Tomb can be purchased for £13 on Amazon, or at many local escape rooms.