Area 51.5 Review | Well known alien hunter and conspiracy theorist, Professor Ross Well lives at 51½ George Street. After years spent collecting, and hunting evidence of extra-terrestrial life, he got his lucky break and came across a crash site up on the moors, complete with a live alien! He brought the alien back to his house with the intention of keeping him, but the mothership has tracked their friend down and arrived to collect him! You begin your mission outside Professor Ross Well’s house – what you will find in there is anyone’s guess! But what you do know is that you only have one hour to return the alien back to the mothership, or our planet will be destroyed!
Date Played: October 2023 Time Taken: ~40 minutes Number of Players: 4 Difficulty: Medium
Hidden away in the entirely unhidden town of Halifax, is Escaporium. Now, my entire family since the beginning of time is from Yorkshire, so how the heck have I never been to Halifax before?! It’s so incredibly lovely. Even posting random Instagram stories from around the city resulted in many replies from friends along the lines of “wow Halifax! You have to go to this place” or “you must visit here”. Halifax is a popular place. But now I have an even more compelling reason to come back – and that reason is Escaporium.
A couple of weeks ago I spend a weekend in Sheffield with my co-writers Al and Ash, and our friend Tasha. For us, this meant a weekend of board games, delicious food, and of course… Escape rooms. Newly opened just a short drive away was the sci-fi room “Area 51.5”. The Escaporium is also fairly close to a few other standout companies and rooms in the area – notably Project Breakout, and although Al and Ash have played all of their rooms multiple times, we made the detour just so I could play there too. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get back to The Escaporium.
Welcome to The Escaporium
We were greeted on arrival by our enthusiastic host in the warm and well decorated lobby area. There are actually two Escaporium locations in Halifax, both just a minutes walk from each other. At the same location as Area 51.5, you can also play Operation Moonshine, and their seasonal Christmas game. On arrival, we were given the usual pre-game briefing – here at the locks, here are the keys, nothing is too high up, and so on. We were then led into the room, directed to a short video, and before long we were off!
The story goes that Professor Ross Well, a man whose house you need to break into, has been hunting evidence of aliens. It’s rumoured he’s keeping one such alien under life support within his very home, and with the mothership about to obliterate planet Earth in search of this missing alien, it’s up to you to get in there and rescue it before it’s too late. So we had three missions:
Break into Professor Wells house
Find the alien and rescue it
Though I suppose ‘escaping’ wouldn’t really be one of those missions only, the goal of every escape room is to technically escape, so I’m putting it there too.
Aliens and Anagrams
…Though not actually anagrams, I just wanted to use the word for ✨alliteration✨
Area 51.5 is a multi-room experience. Put shortly, there’s a huge amount of stuff to do in every new area you discover. I don’t think there was a single moment in the whole experience where we weren’t doing anything. Between working together and splitting up to cover more ground, it was all hands on deck from the first second to the last – and I love that.
Of those many, many puzzles, I genuinely enjoyed them all. That’s saying a lot. Even the best escape rooms often have duds. But of all the puzzles I took part in and watched my co-escapees tackle, everything just made sense and above all – was fun to complete. There was a good mix of logic, maths, visual puzzles, as well as a few brilliantly tactile ones as well. Tactile puzzles aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but when they work, they just work.
In our particular run-through the team were testing a new item in the room. I don’t want to give too many spoilers because mainly – I don’t know if they’ll keep the item in the exact iteration we discovered it in. But essentially it’s a printed version of something which was previously delivered via audio. For us, this was a huge help – and I mean that in the best possible way. It gave us an anchor point to return to every time we needed to move onto the next puzzle. Probably part of the reason the room felt like it had this big, overall cohesion to it.
Easter Alien Eggs
One of my absolute favourite thing about this room was it’s decor. Seriously, if anything there could have been fewer puzzles – if only to give me the time to really appreciate the environment we were in. This room is packed with references from pop culture, and all integrated seamlessly into the environment in subtle and delightful ways. It’s a feast for the eyes – and in some cases, other senses too- oh god no wait don’t lick the alien eggs I didn’t mean that!
At the end of our experience, our Games Master stuck their head in and talked us through the experience pointing out little bits and bobs we might have missed the first time. I really enjoyed the recap, not least of all because it gave me a chance to experience anything I might have missed.
The only downside to the room, and it’s really very small, is that we had to wait upwards of two weeks to receive our team photo. Only a downside because I really just wanted to post about the room immediately, and tell the whole world how great the game was right there and then. I also wanted to write this review whilst the experience was fresh in my mind… But perhaps a little time between playing and receiving your photo only makes the heart grow fonder? Perhaps.
Either way, in a day and age where photos are usually taken on the customer’s phone, or sent immediately based on the email we give during the waiver signing process, it was an unusual experience. I was reminded of this meme.
Overall, I loved Area 51.5. In fact, in my whole trip down to Yorkshire to visit Al, Ash & Tasha, this was my very favourite room I did – and I’d be surprised if it didn’t make a regular appearance on all the enthusiast lists in the future.
I’m also choosing to award it a special badge:
For that reason, I’m awarding this one a “Best in Genre” badge for being just a really fantastically stand-out sci-fi room. I mean, I’m a sci-fi super fan, so that also had to count for more, right? The whole room was just packed with little sci-fi Easter Eggs from video games, films, and TV series. My nerdy brain was in overdrive.
If you want to book Area 51.5 at Escaporium in Halifax, you can head to their website here.
Escape Room Cottage Tewkesbury | A holiday cottage cross escape room – Can you solve the puzzles, unravel the story, and gain the prize… all in one long weekend? The house is filled with puzzles and clues, all woven together into a story for you to discover.
Date played: July 2023 Time taken: Played over a long weekend (Fri-Sun) with approx 10-12 hours of puzzling Number of players: 4 Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (different puzzle levels available)
A Weekend of Puzzles
Playing escape room games is a bit like (I imagine) being addicted to drugs. That first game you play gives you a massive, excited, cerebral high, sending you back out into the world buzzing. It feels so good that you’re soon back, searching for a repeat of that high and, for a while, each new game also gives you the sought after buzz. But it’s not long before one game at a time isn’t enough. The comedown after a single game sends you scurrying to book a second straight away and pretty soon you’re booking escape room days of five or six games in a row. By this point you are a fully fledged ER addict. So when an opportunity to actually live in an escape room, where you can eat, drink, shower and sleep surrounded by puzzles, comes along, it doesn’t take much persuasion to hand over your cash for a full weekend of ER highs.
And at the Escape Cottage in Tewkesbury a weekend of highs is exactly what you get.
Escape Cottage? What Is That?
The Escape Cottage in Tewkesbury is an AirBnB property run by the lovely (and very responsive) Caroline and Rich. And honestly, the cottage itself and Tewkesbury would be more than worth the price of the weekend. The cottage is really a three floor house right in the centre of medieval Tewkesbury. It is a little jewel box of a property, filled with eclectic, quirky and lovely artwork, sculptures and books, that can accommodate up to 5 guests across three bedrooms (a double, twin and single) and with three separate bathrooms. It is beautifully decorated, luxuriously comfortable and spacious and has everything you need for a weekend break, including a fully equipped kitchen. It sits in the heart of the lovely town of Tewkesbury, which is rammed with characterful, wonky, beamed medieval and Tudor buildings, as well as narrow, atmospheric lanes and alleys and a stunning Medieval abbey. Tewkesbury was the site of a key battle in the War of the Roses, commemorated throughout the town with colourful banners representing the many warring families, and there are plenty of self-guided walks around the key historic sites available. And even if history is not your thing, Tewkesbury’s location as a point where the River Avon and the River Severn meet, creating the Severn Ham nature reserve, means there are wonderful riverside and country walks also on the cottage’s doorstep. Also just outside the cottage door are a great variety of independent cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops. There’s no private parking at the cottage (though a cheap long stay car park is a few mins walk away) but, honestly, once you’ve arrived everything you could possibly need for a weekend is all within walking distance.
Yes, Yes, Sounds Lovely, But What About The Escape Room?
TBH I wasn’t sure what to expect of the escape room element when I booked the cottage. I thought that perhaps, in order to appeal to the widest audience possible, the puzzles might be too simplistic for my team of experienced ER nerds, or that it would simply consist of nothing but padlocked boxes dumped in a room. Oh how wrong could I be? The puzzling element of the cottage blew our minds and vastly exceeded every expectation we had by miles and miles and miles.
The puzzling starts even before you’ve arrived, as in your welcome email your host sets up the story behind your weekend adventures and gives you the first puzzle that will give you the code for the property’s keybox. OK, this puzzle IS fairly simple but then you don’t want your guests to spend hours sitting outside your property wondering how on earth to get inside! But once inside, the puzzle world expands and the house becomes a treasure trove of clues, secret messages, mysterious locked boxes and intriguing artifacts. While areas of the house that are definitely NOT part of the puzzle world are clearly marked (by locked doors and stickers), and you are told before arrival that most clues will be straightforward to find so “you won’t need to pull everything off the walls and disembowel the furniture” there is an element of ‘searching’ needed to get puzzling properly. And inspiration and clues can strike at any time – even an innocent mid-puzzle trip to the loo can suddenly reveal a detail hidden up until then.
There is a clear narrative thread to the puzzles, and hints and clues are found in letters and postcards discovered as you move through the property. My advice is to read them carefully because at the end of the puzzles you will have to make a decision based on all you’ve read beforehand. While that narrative winds its way throughout the game play, once you’ve reached a certain point (I won’t say what as it’d ruin the excitement of the discovery for future players), the order in which you tackle the various puzzles no longer matters. Through some very clever tech, you can choose which puzzles you want to focus on, or jump around between the different ones if something stumps you and you need to think about something else instead. From that ‘certain point’ mentioned above hints are easily available if needed, but hosts Caroline and Rich are also accessible via phone or AirBnB messages if you really get stuck.
The variety of puzzles is impressive – there are some purely physical ones, as well as ones for the mathematician in your group, or the music-loving team member or the crossword obsessed player, the logic puzzle solver or that player who just enjoys a good jigsaw. There are some lovely little moments of puzzling and discovery magic that delighted my entire team and had us squealing with excitement, racing up and down the stairs, or just saying “wow” repeatedly. As a team we’ve pretty much seen and played it all before, but there were some elements here that had us genuinely surprised and excited. And to stop the puzzle-hardened obsessives from simply locking themselves inside for an entire weekend, also built into the experience is an outdoor puzzle/treasure hunt that takes you through much of medieval Tewkesbury, giving you puzzling pleasure, a tour of the town and a dose of fresh air all rolled into one. My team failed to find a part of the initial set up for this treasure hunt but still had a lovely time wandering the streets of the town and managed to find all the answers we needed.
And there are differing levels of involvement and commitment to the weekend too. You can choose to take things at a leisurely pace, solving just a handful of puzzles that get you to a certain narrative point, or you can keep going and solve more, or, as we did, commit to the completionist experience and make sure you’ve solved every single thing in the house including the few ‘bonus’ puzzles. Overall I think our team of four puzzled hard for around 10-12 hours in the cottage (but we also squeezed in 11 other escape rooms in Cheltenham and Worcester, on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday) so you can take your time, enjoy the luxurious cottage space and the beautiful town it’s in, and still play through most of puzzles on offer.
In other words, this escape room cottage experience can be enjoyed by anyone who likes to puzzle. There’s enough to keep a diehard ER enthusiast busy and satisfied, while a relative newbie or a family group could also play and have an absolute blast of a weekend. In short, this escape room cottage surpassed my expectations by a (beautiful) country mile and is amazing value for money, given the loveliness of the house and town and the sheer quantity of puzzles squeezed in. Would 100% highly recommend to pretty much anyone and everyone.
A Note on Accessibility
The listing on AirBnB makes it clear that this is an old house split over 3 floors with only stairs for access, so unfortunately it may not suit those with mobility issues, especially as the puzzle-solving requires quite a lot of going up and down across all three floors. Some of the puzzles use colours or sound so may be harder for those with restricted vision, colour blindness or hearing loss.
Full details of the cottage and how to book are here.
Photos in this review are either (c) Cottage Owners (from AirBnB), or Karen Myers, Jake Andrews, Jane Blackwell.
Mega Bite Review | Yo dudes and dudettes! Put down your Boom Box and step into a world beyond your wildest imagination, where the lines between reality and the virtual world blur. You’ll be transported through a Zombie arcade game and thrown into a carbonic, mad-capped world that will have you on the edge of your seat. MEGA BITE is not your average escape game. It’s a multi-dimensional experience that will push you to your limits. You’ll have to use your wits, skills and teamwork to escape this fantastical world and make it back to reality.
Date Played: 6th July 2023 Time Taken: 53 mins 13 seconds Number of Players: 4 (3 adults, 1 child (12)) Difficulty: Easy to Medium
Ok, so, lets cut to the chase here – if you’d spotted my Facebook and Instagram posts on the day we played this game, I simply said five key words – YOU.MUST.PLAY.THIS.GAME!
And here is why….
Firstly, if you’ve played Clue Cracker games before, you already know that you are in for a treat. Having played Jail Break, Diamond Dogs and Temple Quest here, there has become a certain expectation that they create high quality immersive experiences, on a level only dreamt of by other companies. Clue Cracker have a very obvious style which is visible across all of their games in terms of decoration, puzzles and game flow.
But before I pinpoint how this game exceeds all expectations, lets talk customer service…
The Warmest of Welcomes at Clue Cracker
Clue Cracker has two separate locations within Tunbridge Wells. Their original is based at The Shuffle House, a beautifully appointed restaurant with some food to die food – so Id highly recommend that after a brain taxing hour in an escape room. Their newer location is literally just over the road (so no excuse to still not grab a bite to eat!) and houses both Temple Quest and their newest addition Mega Bite.
The reception at Clue Cracker is quirky yet practical. Some big comfy sofas, a handful of lockers and a two player arcade machine – this kept my son Fin quiet for a good twenty mins whilst we chatted with owner Ben.
Now, lets be honest here, as an owner, you’d expect a certain level of enthusiasm and pride in your product, however chatting with Ben for the first time was a complete delight. As we were there for opening day, there’s no doubt that this would have been a very stressful day, and as the last team of the day at 9.15pm, I wouldn’t have been surprised to be met with a slightly bemused GM and owner who was ready for the clock to hit home time – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Ben was engaging, genuine, humorous and thoughtful; clearly proud of the creation we were about to face. And, he had every right too, as he guided up down to the brightly coloured neon entrance to the room.
Up Down, Left Right and START!
Given that this is a brand new room, we were yet to have seen any reviews, and the website is a little sketchy in terms of a full disclosure about the game, we were chomping at the bit with anticipation not knowing behind what was behind the door. Quick normal pre-game health and safety talk, and game rules completed, Ben accompanied us into the room.
However, this game started very differently to how we were expecting – its tricky to go into detail without creating a spoiler here, so forgive my approach… He guided us around the initial room with some do’s and don’ts, quickly followed by a phrase that all owners must dread to say to their teams on opening day “Ah crap, this is embarrassing. Day one of opening, and the main feature of the room isn’t bloody working. Give me a minute and I will see if I can fix it”
…..And with that, he walked off and shut the door.
Bemused, we looked at each other, until it dawned on us – ooohhhh, that’s what we need to do to escape! Game On!
Visually Mind Melting
Now with a theme which is so called 80’s Zombie Arcade, you’d expect bright, loud, neon. And that’s exactly what you get! As you can see from the images kindly supplied by the guys at Clue Cracker in this review, you are immersed into a wacky world of 80’s animation, with a booming sound track, with a little hint of Stranger Things. You truly are thrown back in time, and its truly wonderful. Its quirky, unapologetic approach is a full blown attack on the senses, which fills the brief and then some! All this, whilst keeping the same Clue Cracker style that is seen across all their games.
There are some truly remarkable aspects of technology in this room, more than a handful of wow moments that will take your breath away, and some brilliant surprises that you are unlikely to have encountered anywhere else.
Puzzles… This Ain’t Pacman
When first chatting with Ben prior to the game, he discussed the need for this game to have a much more family friendly approach which is accessible to all. As enthusiasts, this concerned us a little as I didn’t want to smash the door down, be there for 30 mins and walk away without the brain getting a decent work out. But, never fear! Our concerns were alleviated when hit with puzzle number one! We all know what happens to those of us who have played far too many games – you get a bit puzzle blinded and “oh, i’ve seen this before” overthinking brain kicks into gear. And that’s exactly what happened to us! Don’t be fooled by the animations, visuals and outstanding effects in this room; there’s clearly moments when the brain cells need a work out!
Every puzzle fitted into the theme perfectly. The loud, bright animated approach isn’t just the set design, but the puzzles too. The game is very tangible so there’s lots to pick up and move around. There is very little to read, which for a family friendly game is perfect – you’re never stuck in bits of paper and you’re not hunting around for tricky maths equations. Its all big, chunky and impactful. But, don’t forget to search – look high, look low and question everything. Its easy to be bamboozled by the colours in here, but the colours may well be the thing that help you!
Sorry Alan Sugar, Atari Has Nothing on This
Whilst there is no doubt this is 100% a family friendly game, with puzzles galore, team work is the name of the game. One area of games that often gets overlooked, is the manner in which they flow; including how you work as a team. A great aspect of this game is how is separates you at moments and then pulls you back together – many puzzles need open discussions, where as others can be a solo mission. At no point did you really feel like you were completely lost, but similarly, the flow of the game meant that it challenged everyone enough to get a subtle hint to push you on your way.
Speaking of hints, the clue systems in this game were a lot of fun. A well loved “character” from the 80’s may likely make an appearance, and well, you may well need the help of another character in the game, who has a bit of an issue of his own too.
One thing that Clue Cracker have done well in, particularly in both Temple Quest and Diamond Dogs, is heighten the sense of pressure nearing completion of the game. And Mega Bite follows that same pattern. Don’t expect to just open a door at the end and walk out, with the obligatory “well done for escaping” comment from your GM here. Expect full blown action, sweat dripping, music booming-type escape, with a huge smile on your face.
Mega Bite: The Verdict
I think if you have read this far, you can clearly see quite how amazed we were by this game. Our de-brief for every game we’ve played in the car on the way home, usually revolves around one key subject “what would you change?”. And guess what, this is the first game we’d played where there was absolutely nothing! The customer service, game play, puzzles, theming, technology, effects, ticked every single box with a huge green permanent marker!
I often try to not get drawn into the “what’s your favourite room” conversations, as it often depends on the context. One place may have strong puzzles to make it a favourite, one might be due to the immersion, others might be how visually simulating it is. However, this room has to feature in every single one of them categories.
Clue Cracker have always been a company that, within their games, haven’t taken themselves too seriously, and upon each new room, that continues to demonstrate their enthusiasm, passion and devotion to their craft. This room, yet again shows, that the love of the game, produces a lovely game. And, without doubt, I leave you with the same five words that we started with… YOU.MUST.PLAY.THIS.GAME!
Heaven and Hell Review: Ever wondered what happens when you die? Does heaven exist? What if you’re sent to hell? As mere mortals we do not have the answers to these questions, but now you have the opportunity to find out. You will enter a state of hibernation. This will last for one hour and give you the chance to explore the afterlife. After your adventure you will need to use a defibrillator to return to life. However the defibrillator only works for one hour! If you do not find it in time, you may be stuck in hell forever! It could also be heaven, but in this case it’s nearly the same thing…
Date Played: June 2023 Time Taken: 46:52 Number of Players: 3 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
This was exactly what happened when I mentioned in passing that I was travelling to Cambridge to play a few escape rooms.
“Oh, you’ve got to try Heaven and Hell while you’re there!”
Oh yes. You can be absolutely sure that this was the first room we booked – and in fact, the very room we planned the trip around!
Visiting Cambridge was also a super fun trip because I was playing with one of my co-writers, Georgie! Since moving up to Edinburgh I don’t get down South as much, and so we wanted to make the most out of a brief visit for my birthday and play as many escape rooms as we could possibly cram in on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. After a brief stop for lunch, the third in our trip was the ever-exciting and mysterious Heaven and Hell.
Cambridge Escape Rooms is tucked away off a busy road near a bus stop a short ride from the station. Buses run regularly so you can be fairly safe in both getting there by bus and getting back on bus as well. The lobby space is welcoming, and there’s physical puzzles you can play with whilst you wait – and the usual shelves of play at home puzzle games if you’d like to buy one and take one home with you.
As Above, So Below
A question enthusiasts love to discuss is “which escape rooms have the most exciting ending?“. But with Heaven and Hell I’d like to submit it for the discussion category of “escape rooms with the most exciting BEGINNING“. You see, Heaven and Hell is a game played in the afterlife… Hence the name. So in order to enter the escape room you’re going have to die. Yep, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you. I just hope you’re ready to meet your maker.
Getting the pesky concept of “dying” out of the way, what followed was an exciting journey through the after life and indeed – to Heaven, and Hell. Our central goal throughout our trip was to come back to life. And of course, as expected, we had just one hour to complete this goal within else risk being trapped on the other side forever.
*dun dun dunnn*
Heaven and Hell wasn’t always available at Cambridge Escape Rooms. In fact, the room was originally created by E-Exit in Budapest. The room has been lovingly recreated here in the UK, but from what I can tell from a quick Google online, Cambridge Escape Rooms has added their own twist on it. Whilst many, if not all of the puzzles are exactly the same, the set design itself seems to have had an overhaul. This is at least based on some photos I found of the Budapest version, and my own memory of being in this room.
Which is interesting, because the set was definitely the thing I loved most about this room. From the fun technology, to the “wow moments” every time we opened up a new door and discovered a new part of the afterlife, lovingly rendered in fluffy white clouds (or indeed the flames from the bowels of hell). Heaven and Hell as an experience was a really pretty one. Always something new to look at and always something fun to discover.
It’s almost impossible to choose between a favourite moment in the room – the hell portion, or the heaven portion, or even the exciting moments that built up to those two. There was something uniquely magical about stepping into the heaven room, all fluffy clouds and white doves. Equally, some of the interactions with the set in the hell portion were hilariously good fun. What can I say? I enjoy being in hot places being prodded by devils with pitchforks*
*there aren’t actually any devils prodding you, don’t worry!
Note: This is a photo from the Budapest edition of this room which differs in set design from the Cambridge version.
In terms of the puzzles, these were smooth sailing. Well, mostly. We were actually stumped on the very first puzzle for the longest time, which wasted a large amount of time we rushed to catch up on after. But a little nudge from our Games Master and we were off on our way.
We found that we didn’t get too stuck on anything after this point, which is probably why we’ve given this an Easy-Medium rating. Medium for that one puzzle, and Easy for everything else. There was a mixed bag. Some of the puzzles were a little too easy to bypass for my liking, and a few others felt a little contrived, but for each that didn’t totally click with us there were plenty which absolutely did.
Heaven and Hell: The Verdict
The original Heaven and Hell in Budapest is an immensely popular game, and this version of it in the UK has been faithfully recreated in case anyone can’t make the trip out to Central Europe. We really enjoyed our experience at Heaven and Hell, and spent a lot of the trip back into London discussing which was our favourite of the two we played at Cambridge Escape Rooms, this one or The Secret Clubhouse.
In terms of accessibility, there were several moments of big claustrophobia. One of them seemed to be compulsory for every player – although if you let the venue know in advance, they’ll let you skip this part. The others were optional, in that you can pick one member of your team to be the sacrifice and get in the small space. In our team, I was that person – but hey I kinda enjoy the small spaces! There is also a smoke machine in this room which can be disabled if you request it.
I’d recommend this escape room to anyone who can make the trip over to Cambridge. It’s a very unique experience and well worth it!
Heaven and Hell can be booked at Cambridge Escape Rooms. This room is also available at some sites in Madrid and Budapest.
The Great Loudini is a one-of-a-kind adventure that combines the thrill of an escape room with the wonder of live magic performances. You have been tasked by Harry Houdini himself to help retrieve one of his stolen diaries. Taken by the imposter that is ‘The Great Loudini’… However that’s not all, Loudini has been working on a way to predict the future! Can you retrieve the diary in time and help Houdini secure his place, as the greatest magician of all time…
Completion Time: ~50 minutes Date Played: 12th May 2023 Party size: 4 Difficulty: 3.5 out of 5
After returning from our epic escape room holiday in the Netherlands, we were a bit worried that rooms in the UK would not be able to measure up to the leaderboard topping rooms we had played the week previous. However, we struck gold with our visit to Escapable in Wakefield, where we had an all round magical evening celebrating Ash’s birthday.
The Great Loudini was an escape room that has been blowing up the recommendation pages, and since it launched we’d spotted plenty of shout-outs to Tom and the team via the various enthusiast Facebook pages. So naturally, we were very excited to see what Escapable had in store for us!
Take your seats for the Magic Show!
Upon arriving at the venue, we were greeted by our Games Master Tom, who appeared very much in character as a magician apprentice for ‘The Great Loudini!’. We are such big fans of an immersive start and arriving at Escapable did not disappoint. From there, we were taken through to the theatre to where Loudini would be performing. Our Games Master then gave us a glimpse into the fun we could expect from this experience, drawing us in with some of the best live magic any of us had ever experienced. Seriously, live magic in an escape room? We love it!
The Great Loudini was so much fun and truly jaw dropping (huge shout out to Tom for his magic abilities, I have so many questions!). After we’d had our minds blown with some magical mischief, we were blindfolded to sneak through to Loudini’s room. Our first mission would be to sneak into his dressing room to see if we could find Houdini’s stolen diary!
Perfectly Puzzling Puzzles 🪄
Once we were released into the room to explore, we were delighted to find the room’s physical space and decor very much on theme. Everything in the room was well through out and had a purpose, there were references to magic everywhere, and even some very special hidden surprises! As a group of four, we totally clicked with this room and would recommend this as the perfect size. With this group, the puzzles flowed beautifully, and they were delivered on theme in a satisfying way.
With a typical group of four, we tend to split to tackle different parts of the room at different times, but with The Great Loudini, we found ourselves coming back together on purpose, just so we could all experience the puzzles on offer. Not to mention tyring to figure out exactly how on Earth some the puzzles had come to be… It literally could only be magic! In The Great Loudini we also came up against a couple of absolutely stand out puzzles, and more than one we’d be left feeling beyond-perplexed as to just what we’d witnessed.
Knock Knock! Who’s There? It’s Tom.
Throughout the experience, Tom returned to us a number of times (in character), to provide some additional information about Loudini, and to provide us with some ‘tools’ we would need to complete some of the puzzles in the space. These ‘tools’ were presented wonderfully. It’s not exactly a live-actor room, but those touchpoints of interaction were some of the most pleasant interaction with a live actor any of us had ever experienced. These interludes were spaced out perfectly well, and didn’t feel clunky or disruptive in the slightest. Each one was a welcome ‘break’ from the puzzling and into the magical narrative of this superb experience.
Without giving away too many spoilers, one of the most unique moments of the room was when one of the final puzzles left us all feeling very confused, as we questioned the loyalty of our own as the puzzle and solution was revealed (looking at you Tasha!). It was the best way to finish the experience, and had us all laughing and discussing for many hours after how we had managed to locate the missing diary.
Escapable: Above and Beyond
Since we were playing on Ash’s actual birthday, I (Al) had reached out to Tom earlier in the month to ask if he had any particularly magical ways of producing cake. Anyone who knows us knows that cake is an integral part of our lives, not just for a birthday! Tom was wonderful and obliged in surprising the birthday girl with an excellent magic trick that yes – actually produced cake too!
Having played The Great Loudini, we can see why this room has skyrocketed in popularity with the UK escape room community. It was just so different! It was lively, it was funny, it was packed with brilliant puzzles and a smooth and seamless logical flow we all love to see. I cannot recommend this room more, we had an absolute blast.
The Library of Enchantment Review: Ever wanted to step inside a story? The Library of Enchantment is a fun-filled thrilling family-friendly escape room, full of seafaring adventures, time travelling tricks and a pesky old bookworm who’s always up to meddlesome mischief! Join us for an enchanting experience that requires your puzzling skills, logic, persistence and, most of all, teamwork. Can you help capture Billi the bookworm and put the chaos right before the Library Inspector arrives within the hour?
Completion time: about 50 minutes Date Played: 8th April 2023 Party size: 4 Difficulty: 3.5 out of 5
We were lucky enough to be asked to come and try out Z-Arts newest addition to their arts centre, to see if we could help restore calm within the library walls before the (gasp) ‘Library Inspector’ arrives!
Z-Arts: First things first – the Z-Cafe!
First things first, let’s talk about the Arts Centre itself. It was super easy to get to (accessible very easily from the tram or walking distance to the city centre). The space was wonderful: all bright colours and smiling faces. Put simply, there is so much going on in here and the atmosphere is very welcoming.
We started off by checking out the café (well, of course), where we got a coffee and a (vegan!) cake for £4.50. The perfect way to fuel up and get our heads in the game, before the main event. For this escape room, we invited Al’s parents along for the ride – so technically we fit the bill. We were a ‘family’ playing the escape room, some adults and some ‘kids’ (us!). Having played in this size group, I would say 4 is the perfect number for this game. It allows everyone to have something to do, but also making sure you have enough people to get through all the different spaces within the allocated 60 minute slot.
Photo (c) Lizzie Henshaw
Talk about ‘Reading the Room’…
Our first impressions were excellent. The game opened up brilliantly, beginning long before you even got through the main door, which is always a nice touch. It also started with a puzzle that was very much on theme, helping to get us into the swing of things right from the start. Throughout the game, we were welcomed into a number of different spaces, guided by our lovely host, El, who provided us with a new book each time for each room, to help us with where to go next. Each one of these books matched the theme of the new rooms we found ourselves in, and it was a really nice touch that tied the whole thing together in a neat, comprehensive package.
Having a host in the room with us throughout the experience was something that we haven’t come across before. Usually we want to play with just our team, or more likely desperately wanting the non-members of our team to be out of the room – as from our experience, actors in the room are usually a form of demon, ghost, or other unwanted presence to make us jump! However, and most importantly, as this room is built to be suitable for children to complete the experience alone, the presence of a games master throughout definitely makes sense. El was brilliant throughout our escape room experience. They knew exactly when to step back and let us puzzle on, and knew the perfect moment when we needed a slight nudge in the right direction.
From start to finish the escape room felt well balanced. The puzzles were varied and exciting – there were physical puzzles, there were logical puzzles, we did some searching, we did some ‘pondering’. We were kept very busy throughout the whole experience, moving through the different spaces to finish all our tasks in order to proceed to the next room. No spoilers, but one of the room transitions was up there with the most fun we have had moving from room to room!! Even Al’s dad had a go, and judging by his smile – he absolutely loved it!
Whilst Z-Arts have pitched this as a family friendly escape (which it definitely is), we think puzzle lovers, both adults and children alike, will have an absolute blast playing The Library of Enchantment. We know from experience that central Manchester is not the *best* place to find escape rooms, so Z-Arts have created a very, very welcome addition to the escape room scene, and one we wholeheartedly recommend!
The Verdict: A real hidden gem!
If you like puzzles, you appreciate set design, and you want a challenge that will fill up the full hour slot for most teams, we would 100% recommend getting yourself to the Library of Enchantment!
“The Locksmith’s Dream is a series of genre-defying, immersive overnight experiences filled with narrative delights and magical puzzles. Step into a 17th Century manor house seemingly trapped in the 1920s. Unravel the narrative mysteries, solve puzzles and enjoy the unique atmosphere of the house and its grounds. Join fellow guests in sifting through the history of the house and previous inhabitants, supported by the curious staff who seem deeply connected to the property. Dine by candlelight in opulent oak-clad halls and as night falls, don your unique mask to wander in the strangeness of ‘The House of the Moon’.” – from The Locksmith’s Dream website.
Date played: April 2023 Time taken: 12 hours (including overnight stay) Number of players: 2 in my party (22 guests overall) Difficulty: Moderate-Hard
Photos in this review (c) The Locksmith’s Dream or Karen Myers
Everything about The Locksmith’s Dream is otherworldly. A curated luxury immersive overnight experience, it has its home in Treowen, a gloriously creaking pile of a 17th Century manor house in the marchlands between England and Wales. And just as the house is trapped between two countries, the story it tells is trapped between, or maybe entirely outside, time(s). As an arriving guest you are very much of the modern world, but step inside ancient Treowen and you’ll find your genial, generous hosts appear forever frozen in a hazy 1920s vibe. But in The Locksmith’s Dream nothing is ever quite as it might first appear. Within Treowen’s walls are a myriad mysteries to unravel. Where you start, what questions you ask, what puzzles you attempt to solve is entirely up to you.
What is The Locksmith’s Dream?
Like the ‘between times’ nature of the house and the narrative it contains, the event itself is liminal and elusive. It slips between genres, playfully evading definition and refusing to be trapped by conventional labels. There are elements that are escape room or scavenger hunt-like, with keys to be sought and riddles to be solved, but it is neither entirely an escape room or a scavenger hunt. There are elements that borrow from the Punchdrunk brand of immersive theatre, where you can follow and interact with a character to piece together their personal narrative and their place in the mystery, but it is also not that alone. And although I’ve never LARPed, there are some influences from that world too, where you can inhabit an identity of your own to engage with the cast. And yet it’s not fully a LARP either.
So what is it? It’s impossible to define, but playfully and deliberately so. Choosing to exist between genres, there is an angle here for almost anyone who enjoys puzzles, immersion, direct performer interaction, mysteries, narrative complexity and exploration.
No, But Seriously, What Is It?
Ok, look, the world-building for this event is outstanding. The depth of detail involved in creating the mythos that exists within the mysterious walls of Treowen is immense, and crafted with passion, affection and intelligence. It is, quite simply, mind-blowing and overwhelming. So to try and explain what ‘it’ is within the confines of this review would do it a severe disservice and be at risk of being spoiler-heavy but a bare bones precis might go something like this:
Treowen exists on a threshold between worlds, and sometimes secret gods, known as the Hours and who appear in the form of birds, converge on the house to trade secrets in a meeting known as ‘the Roost’. When they depart, they leave behind “divine gossip and treasures” or ‘birdsong’. Your arrival at Treowen in the immediate aftermath of ‘the Roost’ has been arranged by a sponsor from an occult organisation who finds value in this birdsong. It is your job, once inside the house, to search it out, in any of its myriad forms. And when you find it you have a choice to make – to assign it to your sponsor who may use it for good or ill, or maybe you can trade it for information, a secret or an insight.
Physical ‘birdsong’ aren’t the only secrets hidden around the house. Treowen is staffed by a curious band of characters – from attentive butler, Hawthorn, to the wily but circumspect Inspector of the Suppression Bureau, from the dusting-obsessed servant, to the excitable but oh-so-sad Curator. They all have their own stories, woven into the very fabric of the house, and while they hold their own mysteries close they can often be persuaded to part with a detail or two if you take the time to chat, gently easing away at least part of their masks. Even those who have long left the house leave secret traces that endure – your occult sponsor might want physical birdsong but they might also like you to uncover what happened to previous residents, some of whom have met mysterious ends.
And just when you think you’ve found your bearings in this complex puzzle box of a house, night falls and, after a delicious 7 course feast of a candlelit dinner, you are invited to don the mask provided by your sponsor and explore the house anew. Because in ‘the House of the Moon’ so many things are oh so very different.
Throughout Treowen and throughout the 24 hours of your stay, enigmas and conundrums surround you on so many levels. And this is where The Locksmith’s Dream is unique to any other immersive experience I have taken part in. The path you choose to take through the event is entirely up to you. You can spend your time searching for the physical puzzles that litter the house, where every nook and cranny, every uneven floorboard and knot in the woodwork could hide a key or a riddle or a puzzle box waiting to be unravelled. There are a whole host of props and paperwork to engage with and peruse, from your own personal, leather-bound journal (which warrants careful attention!), to letters and guest books and dolls houses and chessboards and paintings, all of which may reveal a delicious sliver of information. Or you can mingle with the staff and other guests, ask some canny questions, share a joke or a moment of kindness and learn a secret or two about the house and its residents. Every conversation can unwrap another layer of the narrative and even mealtime encounters might open a new door or two. And if any of the above sounds just too darn exhausting, then you could, if you wished, retire to the inhouse bar for the entire time and just drink the cocktails while admiring the countryside views. In short, there is no right or wrong way ‘to do’ The Locksmith’s Dream. The options are multiple and the opportunities are endless.
It is easy to be bewildered by the complexity of the world created inside Treowen. There is a lot to get your head around as so much detail has been poured into every angle of the narrative and the puzzling. To get the most out of it, if you want to be fully immersed and engaged, then taking time to read and digest all the documents and paperwork you are given is key. I often fail at this in escape rooms when I’m so keen to get on to the puzzles that I ignore the narrative and skim read documents. But everything is so carefully woven together into one cohesive whole in The Locksmith’s Dream that soaking up the detail will pay huge dividends as you explore.
And when documents and written detail aren’t giving you the answers you need, it is the superb cast who step into the breach. The actors who flesh out the weird and wonderful staff of Treowen are supreme. Masters of nonchalant improvisation, the team of performers remain in character from the moment you arrive to the moment you depart. They seem entirely inbuilt into the fabric of the house and remain unphased by being asked the most obtuse and obscure of questions while they are also trying to pour you a cup of tea or make you a cocktail. Because these guys really do do everything – carry your bags to your rooms, serve tea and coffee, pour your wine and remember complex, arcane details about ancient rituals and the indepth back stories of the chamber maid.
While Treowen is a stunning, magical location and the narrative world-building complex and rich, it is the actors who make it all so very, seductively, real. Particular kudos to Emily Carding as the Curator, who was by turns all giddy excitability then heartbreaking loss. Her mournful breakfast monologue over the fate of a teaspoon was devastating. While my friend and I failed on so many levels to complete most of the challenges posed by the Locksmith’s Dream our one success was on a task for the Curator and her reaction to our resolution provided one of the most blindingly bonkers but wonderful and warm encounters of the whole weekend. The cast gathered together for this event is definitely one hell of a Locksmith’s Dream team.
But What Do I Get?
To book a place in the Locksmith’s Dream you chose one of Treowen’s 11 unique bedrooms, distributed across the top 3 floors of the house, from the smartest on the first floor to the attic spaces on the top floor. That bedroom comes with an identity – one assigned to you by your occult organisation sponsor – along with a letter from your sponsor and a series of tasks to complete (if you so wish to of course, you could ignore them completely). You’ll get a small leather bound journal full of information and space for note taking (essential!), masks to wear for the ‘House of the Moon’ event and a pin badge (who doesn’t love a pin badge) identifying your sponsor. You also get a delicious lunch on arrival, a small but perfectly formed afternoon tea, a seven course fine dining feast in the evening (including wine), a hearty breakfast the following morning and, most extraordinary of all, 24 hours of magical immersive fun.
The Locksmith’s Dream is a rarefied event – there is a large price tag, but that price envelops so many layers, experiences, details and engagements that just aren’t happening anywhere else in the UK at the moment. Having thrown myself at most immersive events that have taken place in the last ten years, I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced anything like this. It is impossible to define and impossible to compare to other immersive events, escape rooms, puzzle hunts or similar to match price points. It’s just not like anything else.
The only niggle I’d have about this whole weekend, is that while the house is historic and fascinating and gorgeous, it is also so old and protected the amenities aren’t luxury in the ‘luxury hotel’ meaning of the word. Our room in the attic (‘Seraphim’) was lovely with exposed beams and sloping floors but our twin beds were very narrow and our bathroom shared with another bedroom was a tiny cubicle with only just space for a shower and a toilet. It is not something that would put me off returning and it didn’t stop us having huge amounts of fun (especially as we spent very little time in our room) but it is something to be aware of if the price point is above your normal budget so you can manage expectations.
A Dream to return to?
The Locksmith’s Dream clearly has a potent pull. Several other guests who shared our weekend were returning for their second visits and still finding new layers to uncover and puzzles to explore. The venue is seductive enough to call you back and, especially if you’re a completist, the sense of so much left undiscovered is a powerful draw to consider a return visit. There are just so many different angles and avenues to take that no-one, not even the speediest of searchers or riddle-solvers, could do everything within one weekend.
The Locksmith’s Dream is unique. It is special. It is bewildering and magical and frustrating and exhilarating and sad and hilarious. It is laden with puzzles. It is a joy to explore and search. It is peopled with endearing, multi-layered characters performed by masterclass performers. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea (no matter how well Hawthorn the butler makes it) but for those who are willing to step outside the tedium of modern life and engage with the mystical and the magical, to suspend disbelief and be fully immersed, it will be an unforgettable, bewildering, intoxicating dream come true.
The Escape Room Adventures take you on a journey of discovery as you puzzle your way through the gameplay and unlock the many secrets within. The easiest room is Mutiny, our pirate-themed room, which is ideal for beginners, families, or a group with mixed experience. Our most challenging adventure room is Nethercott Manor – our haunted manor, which is a fast-paced challenge. We would recommend Dodge City, The Outfitters & our newest room SpellCraft for teams that have some previous escape room experience.
Date Played: December 2022 Number of Players: 5 Time Taken: ~40 Minutes each Difficulty: Expert!
Tulley’s gained its reputation for being one of the best companies in the country a few years ago and has managed to retain it when many others failed to move with the times, or unfortunately closed due to the pandemic. It had long been on my to-do list, but I had been prevented from trying any of their 5 games for a number of factors – namely location, cost, and the necessity to have an expert team to even attempt the rooms!
Luckily for me, the stars aligned at Christmas (well, boxing day) last year – my parter was gifted the day as part of a brand deal, my mum happened to be visiting us (as it was Christmas) and had a car, making transport that much easier, and I had confirmed the availability of the final two members to make us up to a team of 5 experienced players! It may not have been most people’s choice for how to spend their boxing day, but for us it was magical…
Tulley’s has 5 rooms, ranging in theme and complexity, so this is really going to be a whistlestop tour! I also want to highlight their amazing GMs who looked after us throughout the day – Adam, Dan, Ellie, Ed, Jamie, and Tyler – and of course their boss – Sooty the cat.
Dodge City in 2127 remains a stronghold of the wild west. The constant tussle between the Sheriff and local gunslingers means there’s opportunity abound for some creative bank robbery for those with wits and courage. As a member of the Notorious ‘Barn Door’ Gang you’ve been caught by the local sheriff breaking into the bank. Locked away with little hope, hired by an unnamed outlaw and facing the ruthless justice of the old west you’re left with only one option. As the sun sets the race is on to break out, reclaim your supplies, pull off the bank job of the century and get out of Dodge City.
Dodge City was our first room…and one of their hardest! Immediately on entering it’s obvious how Tulley’s have earned their reputation – the set design is amazing and extremely immersive, and there are surprises throughout the game. Even as a hardened spotter of fake doors and moving bookshelves, I soon gave up trying to anticipate what was coming next.
This room started with one of my favorite tropes – being separated! We were placed in separate cells, and this obviously required good communication from our newly assembled team, as well as a neat form of contact between us. We then progressed to all things cowboy and outlaw related. I don’t want to give away too much, but the set design and theming were amazing and definitely felt like you were progressing through Dodge City as you progressed through the room. There was only one point in which we were truly stuck, and this was largely due to a breakdown in communication and confusion over who a hint was intended for. Otherwise, this room was one of the most fun rooms we did all day, with some unique puzzles I’ve not seen before (or seen used in a different way), really appealing to different skills. As a team of 5, we only made it out with 4 minutes to spare, which was a great way to get the adrenaline going for the rest of the day!
It’s 1926 here in Chicago, and depression is still rife. Jobs are few and far between and the Prohibition has been in force for six years now. Everyone still drinks, nothin’ has changed. But now the mob control the streets, the supply and the money. The influence of the Outfit is far-reaching. Most of the cops are even under their control. Who can put them in the joint? You can, that’s who. The Commissioner has put together a special task force of straight, trusted cops and you’re on the team. You’ve spent the last few months infiltrating their network and now tonight is the night to get the evidence you need to put them away forever. But it won’t be easy, your cover might be blown! Do you have what it takes?
The natural progression from ‘cowboy’ is ‘mobster’, right? We moved almost straight from the Wild West into a mafia front in Chicago. We entered into an unassuming tailors shop, before discovering all was not what it seemed… The use of space at Tulley’s continued to be a lovely surprise, although the set felt a little more tired and rough around the edges in this room. That’s not to say it wasn’t good though – hidden information was the name of the game for Outfitters (what more could you expect from Gangsters), with themed puzzles and ’20s mechanisms running the room.
In this room, there were a few moments where mechanisms didn’t trigger or triggered when they shouldn’t have, and we were much less active than we had been in Dodge, with only a couple of us solving puzzles at a time. We managed to escape with a respectable 19mins remaining and an eagerness to sink our teeth into the next one (after lunch). Although this wasn’t a bad room, I’d say it was fairly average, and if this was the only room we’d done…I would have been disappointed.
The SpellCraft twins, Evilinda & Spellinda, two witches, two paths, two shops, two worlds, two journeys, their two magical worlds collide, and you find yourself in the middle of their story. SpellCraft will take you on a magical adventure, you’ll need to work together, but in the end there’s always a battle, will you escape and who will win?
Our next room was the newest room at Tulley’s, and the room that has quickly become a favourite of most players (myself included) – Spellcraft! When I first heard it was a magic-themed room my reaction was probably similar to many other enthusiasts – “not another one!”, “How is this going to be any different from all the other magic rooms?” , “why do people love this so much? What’s so good about magic?”
However, it was unlike any magic room I’ve done before, and has truly earned its place at the top of many lists. Firstly, you can tell from the waiting area that the set and story are going to be completely different from any other magic room. There are no “wizard school” or 4 “magical houses” that happen to be primary colours…
Instead, we were once more split into teams – this time “good” and “evil” – and given wands, which stayed with us and were used throughout the game. We were also given cauldrons to collect/carry things with us, which was a nice touch I’ve not experienced anywhere else. Inside the room, the set design was once more delightful and surprising. The set is huge, but of course, you don’t realise this at first. However, there is a truly magical mechanism within the room and we were transported again and again to extremely different settings and places. There were a lot of fun puzzles here too – some familiar, others less so, and the climax of the room brings together the two teams in a fierce battle of good and evil, which we obviously won.
Overall, while I can’t remember (or didn’t see) quite a few of the puzzles the experience itself blew me out of the water with the magic and joy I felt. As a team of 5, we escaped with 16 minutes remaining, and I enjoyed every second. This is an amazing room, one of the best in the country I’d say, and makes me excited to see what they do next.
It’s the year of our Lord 1672, and you be right in the height o’ the golden age o’ piracy… After years of sailin’ the high seas, you and your crew have succeeded in your fair share of ambushes, and as a result – your ship is teemin’ with bounty. Yet you’re still suffering beneath the cruel wrath o’ Captain Starling – a notoriously bloodthirsty buccaneer, and your shipmates have decided you all shall take matters into your own hands. After all… you fought for the gold, so the gold is yours for the taking, aye? Once the old seadog has retreated to his berth for the night, you make your move. Get in, get the treasure and get out. You won’t have long before he starts to stir – and Starling shows no mercy to ANY soul…
After that amazing experience we needed to calm down a little, so found ourselves upon a ship in the easiest room. This was again misleading – although our initial perception was that of every other pirate game I’ve played (as we solved it as such, by guessing digits in combination locks and skipping steps), once we were out of the cabin we had clearly been played.
As you might expect for a ship, this game required more physicality than others, but these were more to reveal/solve puzzles than being the puzzle itself. There was one particularly unique feature of this room, which was fun to build and use, but otherwise, this was your average pirate room, just more polished and better executed. Ultimately we escaped with 22 mins left, and we had fun doing so, but we were looking forwards to the final room.
The old manor house is entwined with local legend, the living don’t remember the Nethercott’s, the family’s hay day was long ago. Local folk talked, whispers were heard, rumours began, lights were seen within. The Nethercott’s are long gone but something remains, an essence, a smell, a feeling, it’s in the fabric, in the walls, under the floor boards … it ticks, it creeks … take a trip into the past, uncover the family’s many secrets and glimpse their fleeting souls?
Finally, the room that put Tulley’s on the map (for me at least) – their largest and hardest (I think), as I didn’t even see half of the room – more like 1/3! It was also the one I was most nervous before, being a massive wimp and this being a haunted house. Nevertheless, I couldn’t pass the experience up, so I steeled myself and forged ahead.
The atmosphere is obvious from the start, finding ourselves outside the front door of an abandoned house, with an atmospheric soundtrack doing nothing to ease my nerves. The immediate puzzles were fairly easy, clearly luring us into a false sense of security before we entered the manor itself. Once inside, the set is appropriately dimly lit (until you’re able to find the fuse box at least), with many old-fashioned items of decor and themed puzzles attached. This is also when you get your first taste of the spirits that haunt the house, and it became clear that I was an easy mark for the GM.
For those of you of a similar disposition to me, I will just reassure you that nothing physically jumps out at you, but there are a lot of loud noises, which the GM can, and will, trigger whenever they feel like – especially if you are an obvious target stood next to the item in question.
This first room had the most frustrating puzzle I’ve seen in any room…ever. We found out afterwards that even the GMs will struggle to complete it, so usually, they take pity on the players and allow them to bypass it (ourselves included). Usually, this type of time sink would annoy me, especially in a room as large as this, but we actually addressed most of the room at the same time as this ‘puzzle’, and the GM clearly knew the right time to give us a nudge that gave us a chance of solving it, without feeling frustrated.
From this point, we barely saw each of our teammates again until close to the end of the room. I found myself with my mum solving a series of logic puzzles while being terrorised by the GM ghost. We also encountered a smell test, which worked well given we were in the kitchen. From what we saw afterwards, our teammates were working through similarly well-themed puzzles for their respective rooms, across a large variety of skills.
The final puzzles were once more of the deductive style (my favourite), before quite a fun/creepy ending (depending on your perspective). We managed to escape with 9.34 left, which is quite an achievement given they used to sell this as an 80-minute room, and I know many people who didn’t manage to escape! This was definitely a great way to end the day, and almost my favourite room.
The team at Tulley’s were fantastic, and the rooms were large and immersive, while still delivering high quality puzzles. We appreciated the drink offerings, and usually they serve food on the farm too. The introduction videos are also worth mentioning – very entertaining, and slightly unhinged, but they weave into an overall lore, which I’ve only seen a handful of other rooms do as effectively.
This is definitely a must-visit for any enthusiast. Although we could award this nearly all of our badges, we definitely think they’re most deserving of our “I believe” badge, for just how immersive and expansive their rooms were.
Audio – nearly all the rooms require some form of communication between players. Spellcraft, Nethercott and Dodge also featured audio puzzles/prompts, although not everyone will need to do these.
Vision – Nethercott, Mutiny and Outfitters all had fairly low lighting at points. Dodge required a small amount of colour identification, as did Nethercott and Outfitters.
Smell – Nethercott has a smell puzzle!
Spatial – In Dodge you start in a small cell, so if you have issues with space I recommend being the only person in yours. There are also some small spaces in Nethercott, Outfitters, Mutiny and Spellcraft, but none require all team members to enter. There are some smoke effects in Spellcraft, as well as Nethercott.
These rooms can be booked on the Tulleys website here
Case Closed Review | Max Sinclair, private investigator, has been found dead in his own office. Foul play? Tough times? Or just plain old bad luck? The other cops call it an open and shut case… You’re not like other cops.
Completion Time: 75 minutes Date Played: 12th February 2023 Party Size: 4 Difficulty: Moderate
Okay, stop the press!
Case Closed is without a doubt my new favourite room in Edinburgh. No- favourite in Scotland. And for that matter, a strong contender for my favourite in the UK. If I don’t see Case Closed listed on the 2023 TERPECA nominations for the UK, I’ll be very surprised indeed.
So what does Case Closed have that makes it so special? It’s a 90 minute room in the heart of Edinburgh. So far, fairly normal. There’s no “escape”, and your currency is information: instead of unlocking doors and running away, you succeed by filling out reports to your superintendent, and if your information is correct you may proceed. It’s about as realistic as it gets to solving a real case – think blood spatter analysis, forensics, and guns. Furthermore, there are no leader boards or ‘escape times’, no, you’re supposed to take your time and enjoy it rather than worry about beating a score. It has a spectacular ending which I’m still buzzing about days later. It’s also designed and crated by an enthusiast, who was also our GM for the day. You can tell the difference between an escape room for profit, and escape room born out of absolute passion and love. Case Closed is the latter.
In all, Case Closed has all the ingredients to being a perfect room. We went in with no expectations and came out very pleasantly surprised.
The Case is Not Closed
On arrival, we headed into the building marked “Black Axe Throwing Co” – an impressive axe throwing venue sporting one of the city’s only “zero alcohol” bars (well, axe throwing and alcohol don’t mix). From there, we waited at the sign marked Case Closed and within a few minutes were greeted enthusiastically by our host Ronan. Ronan took us upstairs into a noir-esque office space with a thematically flickering light in the corner, the whole place marked with “crime scene do not cross” tape.
After a short briefing, we were given roles and asked to choose our detective names. I went for Mairi Two-Guns, and a suitable role of “ballistics expert”. Of the other three players in my team, we had Superintendant Ouagadulu, Detective Moose, and Spins. Between the four of us, we represented very different types of escape room players – one of us with over 300 rooms played, one with around 100, one with under 10, and one with 0. For us, it was the perfect mix. Expectations out the door, just there to have a laugh and see how well we worked together as a team of detectives.
Whilst I could make a case that your room begins outside of the entrance, from that moment on we were in the game.
Now, Case Closed is a room best played without any expectations, so we’re going to keep spoilers here to an absolute minimum. The basic principle of the room is that you have the solve the case. But it’s not quite so simple. In true bureaucratic style, you solve the case by correctly filling out various case files. You collect evidence, you present your findings, and proceed. To present your evidence, at any time you could submit a case report to the superintendent (the real one, not the friend in the room with us). If the superintendent is happy with your findings, you might receive a thumbs up or the next piece in the puzzle and the case progresses.
To find all the information we needed, we well and truly had to think like a detective. We had to analyse every bit of information available to us, in the room and in the crime scene. Think fingerprints, shoe sizes, ballistics analysis, blood spatter, notebooks, recordings. It’s safe to say this room will make you feel well and truly like a detective. And, between you and me (as someone who did an internship with the Metropolitan Police right out of university), it’s actually pretty accurate too.
The puzzles themselves were a perfect mix of logic, deduction, and critical thinking, making us feel like real detectives as we worked together to crack the case. It’s non-linear, so at times we broke off into groups to solve a different thing, and often came back together to work on a trickier puzzle. The flow of the game was flawless. Since we had a whole 90 minutes, it wasn’t a case of racing through everything but taking your time, understanding and logically solving everything. Like a really, really good boxed murder mystery, but played out in a large physical space.
And that ending?! Don’t get me started on the ending. It was brilliant. But that’s all we’ll say about that for now.
Detective Work at it’s Finest
One of the things that made Case Closed so special to me was that attention to detail, love and care. Case Closed is an escape room created by two enthusiasts and veterans of the theatre and escape room industry. They had a brilliant idea for an escape room, saved up, found a location, and brought the whole thing to life themselves. As I mentioned earlier in the review, you can really tell when an escape room is being built by a faceless corporation to spin a profit, versus created by someone who just loves it, and Case Closed was the latter. We were fortunate enough that one of the creators, Ronan, was also our Games Master, and they took the time to take us through all the details of the experience after.
My first question: “Okay but when are you making another room?!”
Because we’ll be first in line to book it, that’s for sure.
In all, I give Case Closed the highest commendation possible. In all the rooms I’ve done, it’s up there as one of my absolute favourites. This was a surprise for a drizzly, rainy Sunday morning in a city not especially known for it’s escape rooms (though I hope that’ll change). I would almost go so far as to say Case Closed is more than an escape room. It’s immersive theatre. It’s murder mystery. It’s “Escape Room Plus”. To me, that’s very cool.
As a result, we’ve decided to award Case Closed with a special badge – the “Badge of Honour”.
BADGE OF HONOUR The highest award of them all! The Badge of Honour is the best badge The Escape Roomer team can bestow upon a game. These games were incredible!!
In terms of who I’d recommend it for – given it’s more of a mature theme of ‘murder’, the company have a 16+ age rating. In honesty, I think it would be fine for a younger audience since there’s nothing too upsetting or graphic, however this may have more to do with the venue itself (Black Axe Throwing) being a 16+ venue. In terms of “is this for an enthusiast or a newbie?” I’d say both. It’s brilliant when you find a room you can seamlessly take players of all experiences and just know they’re going to have a great time, but Case Closed is one of those places.
After our room, we went round the corner for a drink and a bite to eat at O’Connor’s – which was well priced, delicious and a welcome break from the grey skies. Black Axe Throwing Co also has an excellent bar on premises for that post-game celebratory drink (zero alcohol, of course). And, if you didn’t quite catch the killer, the axe throwing is great to get rid of some pent up anger.
Compendium UI-55 Review | A German U-boat named UI-55 was found in the river Thames. Have you and your team got what it takes to sneak aboard and retrieve all of Britain’s wealth before the German soldier’s return?
Date Played: March 2022 Number of Players: 2 Time Taken: ~50 Minutes Difficulty: Expert!
When we were planning our mini-break to the North we chose Manchester due to the escape rooms. I had heard such fantastic things about UI-55 that it was a bit of a no-brainer. This room has actually won multiple awards, and (spoiler alert) is one of the few rooms I’ve done that I think is well deserving of the hype!
All Aboard UI-55!
The premise of UI-55 is that you have discovered a German U-boat, hoarding plenty of British treasure, and you only have an hour to recover as much as possible. The first thing you’ll realise upon ‘boarding’ is just how massive this room is. For context, it fills an entire floor and is apparently the size of two normal escape rooms put together! However, if you’re worried that this looks like a big rectangle, don’t be! It’s very much structured as a submarine, with long corridors and windy passageways to traverse. I loved the general size, and the attention to detail in that every nook and cranny reads as ‘submarine’. I had great fun running up and down, as the puzzles absolutely cover the space, and you will need to get elements from each area to complete some.
The other thing to be aware of is the sheer amount of puzzles, especially given the 60-minute time. In a normal room, you might expect to complete 10-15. Here there are nearly 30 to complete alone, which each give you a task to complete and then a key to use to retrieve some loot (depending how quickly you locate the right locker). Luckily, you don’t need to complete all of the puzzles – from memory, you only need to complete 21 within the time, with a very clear (and very fun) indication of when you should really move into the final phase of the room (the loot grabbing).
As you might expect in a room with such a large variety of puzzles, they are all completely different with a fantastic variety. If one puzzle isn’t your forte (*side eyes the dexterity puzzle*) that’s ok! There is always another puzzle to do instead. Some of these puzzles are available upfront, some require you to complete others to gain the materials you need. It’s fairly obvious which bits go with which puzzles, and what you need to do. There are also clues scattered all over the place in the decor, and even some answers which are available to you right from the start! Completing a puzzle gives you a code, which you use to get some tokens, which are then used to gain keys, which are then used to unlock lockers. Luckily, as a duo the ‘gaining keys’ stage can be skipped, as I can see that this would take quite a bit of time, and personally, I feel is a step too far for any team.
I can only remember what a few of the puzzles were in the game, as I was very much running around like a headless chicken, completing one puzzle and then moving on, but I know I’d love to redo the room just to have the same experience again! I also know I only saw around half the puzzles, with my mum clearing half the sub by herself and me clearing the other half. If you or your teammates are the sorts of people who want to know what everyone has done so far or how they’ve reached their conclusions…this is not the room for you. We had to trust that we each had a grip on what we were doing and that we would call for help if needed, or if there was a puzzle we couldn’t figure out. Even when it came to the co-op puzzles we were so aware of the time we just trusted each other’s instincts, and if we ever found objects we weren’t sure of we checked in with each other to see if they had an idea. Honestly, it’s probably the best teamwork we’ve ever had as we didn’t have time to argue!
Normally I would talk about flow, but honestly here there is so much to do in so little time we were never stuck, bored or frustrated. The team are so slick with their clues too – they know exactly when to give us a nudge, what sort of nudge we needed and clearly could tell what we were each working on.
This room is also an example of my favourite type of room – the type where you don’t need to 100% complete it, but if you have the time and skill you can. This meant we were determined to grab all the loot, so really pushed the time at the end to get all the lockers unlocked and money in the bags.
I could go on and on about this room, but it’s honestly the best room I’ve ever played, and I could easily go and replay it (especially as I know there are a lot of puzzles I didn’t even see the first time!).
As I mentioned in my previous review for the other Compendium rooms, there are some steep stairs to reach the room. However, there are chairs to sit on inside the room itself. It’s a bit dim in places, with lots of reading and colour requirements. There are a couple of puzzles requiring hearing, and some requiring dexterity. No crawling in this one though! You should also be fine if you’re concerned about claustrophobia, as although this was set on a submarine it was actually pretty spacious.
This is a short review because the verdict is simple. This is a must-play room, and we are awarding it our highest award; The Badge of Honour.
I’ve played many of the top rooms in the TERPECA and ‘Escape the review’ lists, but this is hands down my favourite. It’s going to be a long time before this gets knocked out of number one for me!