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!
Mystery at the Museum: The Search for Dippy Review | The year is 1905 and you have been invited to a special preview of the newest display at the Natural History Museum – ‘Dippy the Diplodocus’. But when you arrive the curators are in a panic and you realise something is amiss – you’ve found a note that tells you several parts of Dippy the Diplodocus are going to be stolen before the display opens! Follow the clues around the Museum, question the suspects and track down the culprit before the King arrives for the display’s launch. Can you help the curators prevent a national scandal?
Date played: October 2022 Time taken: 90 mins Number of players: 3 Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
Night at the Museum
Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London
Which of us wouldn’t leap at the chance to sneak around behind the scenes in a museum after the public have been ushered out and the doors locked behind them? And when that museum is London’s Natural History Museum in South Kensington the appeal is even greater. London’s museums and galleries have long embraced the idea of late, after dark openings with extra access to exhibitions alongside bars and live music. But the NHM’s ‘mystery’ evening might be the first time a museum has allowed eager ER enthusiasts and puzzle hunters to roam its corridors in search of suspects and solutions. Trying to temper my excitement that, at nightfall and behind closed doors, the exhibits might come to life for me as they did for Ben Stiller, I headed down to South Ken to find out if my detectoring skills were up to solving the mystery at the museum.
Impressive Game Space
Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London
First up, wow. Just wow. When we arrive at dusk the Natural History Museum is looking glorious in the gloaming. It really is a stunning piece of Victorian architecture which lives up to it’s ‘Cathedral of Nature’ epithet. Entering under the main arch is thrilling when you realise that you’re really about to have this vast space to yourselves for the evening. Well, you and probably 75 other people. And only a few of the galleries. But still. You still feel… special.
But if there’s anything that’s guaranteed to make you feel insignificant rather than special it’s the humungous skeleton of a blue whale that greets you as you enter the central Hintze Hall. Suspended dramatically from the ceiling and lit up in startling red, the whale certainly draws your attention. There’s not much time, however, to feel the vast inferiority of the human species because as soon as you arrive a game card is pushed into your hand and you are whisked off to meet Inspector Lestrade. The game, it seems, is already afoot.
One word of warning – although the publicity for this event promotes it as an ‘escape room-like game’, it is most definitely not an escape room. Arrive expecting an ER and you will be disappointed. Attempt to rummage around the museum, opening drawers and searching cabinets as you would in an ER and you’re likely to be expelled! But while it isn’t an ER that doesn’t stop it being a whole heap of fun.
To get started you need to read the game card you were given on arrival. It outlines the mystery that faces you. The unveiling of the new exhibition featuring the skeleton of Dippy the Diplodocus is due to take place tomorrow. But a suspicious note has been found, suggesting a crime will take place before the grand opening and which could plunge the museum into unwanted scandal. The game card also gives you the names and brief bios of six suspects who have been ordered to stay in the museum by Lestrade until the case has been closed.
Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London
Lestrade also gives you a copy of the note and your next task is to decipher it. This is really the only actual puzzle involved in the game and it’s not especially hard but does get you moving around the galleries that surround the main museum hall. And stopping to ask a few of those suspects some penetrating questions along the way will also help your case solving.
Because this is mostly about interacting with those suspects. It’s really a traditional ‘whodunnit’ and you will get the most out of your evening and the event if you spend time grilling the suspects (whose period costume makes them easy to spot) and honing your theories. You can question them as often and for as long as you like, or listen in as other players ask their own questions. Although they may tell you a few lies, they will also give you some nuggets of truth and if you can unpick their elaborate webs of accusations, fabrications, deflections and evasions, you might just be able to work out, in the words of Mr Sherlock Holmes himself, who had the “means, motive and opportunity” to commit the crime.
Dippy’s Dino Denouement
Once you’ve solved the opening puzzle, interrogated your suspects and worked out a convincing theory you can take your hypothesis and test it on Sherlock. Holmes solved the mystery in 17 minutes himself so he’s happy to throw you a bone or two if you’re not quite on the mark. And if, after a couple of guesses, you’re still not 100% correct, Holmes will take pity on you and give you the full story. Because no-one wants to go home without knowing who really did design to destroy Dippy’s debut.
Overall, if you approach this as a mystery solving game along the lines of a traditional murder whodunnit then you will have loads of fun. The mystery is sufficiently knotty to keep you questioning suspects and untangling theoretical threads for well over an hour and, for the adults, there’s an in venue bar to keep your whistle wet and your mind sharp. Full kudos to the actors playing the suspects who handle even the most obscure of questions with aplomb, keep in character throughout and manage to retain details of the multiple narrative threads all while dropping gentle hints and prods to get you moving in the right direction. And the venue itself, the access to certain areas of it after hours and when it’s empty of tourists, is worth the price of admission alone.
A few minor niggles. Any expectations of difficult tradition ER puzzling will be disappointed and I think, personally, that they should remove the reference to an ‘escape room-like game’ from promotional material and instead focus on the massive positive of it being a strong mystery-solving evening. Those ER players who don’t enjoy engaging with live performers will want to steer clear as well. Talking to the actors throughout is the only way to play this game.
There were also some weaknesses in communication that left us unaware we had to take our final conclusions to Holmes to be checked. It was only when we eavesdropped on other groups that we realised. And there’s no satisfyingly dramatic conclusion when the culprit is officially unmasked. Because the event has a staggered start time with groups arriving and getting started throughout the evening, everyone reaches their final answer at different times. Once we’d reported to Holmes, that was it. Game no longer afoot. So the evening sort of petered out.
We had a fun evening though. Not too strenuous on the little grey cells, but a nice little mystery to solve in a fantastic location.
Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London
If you want to get into a suitable detective frame of mind before the game, or want to continue afterwards, then I highly recommend a visit to the Evans and Peel detective agency (about a 15 minute walk away). A secret speakeasy bar with a fantastic, and inventive, cocktail menu, you need to provide a good cover story before you can gain access. The more imaginative and bonkers the better. It’s advised to book.
The Curiosity Room London Review | Sparking curiosity from the start, guests embark on the adventure immediately upon entry to the room. The entire room is a puzzle box waiting to be solved. Puzzle elements have been seamlessly hidden within the décor; solving them all will lead guests to a grand finale and series of surprises and rewards. The puzzles have also been customized to the three destinations, featuring and celebrating local landmarks, culture, and more. Guests will uncover hidden messages, hunt for puzzle pieces, and experience elements of the room in unexpected and delightful ways. The room’s Curiosity Journal serves as the guide and connection to the one-of-a-kind in-room journey, with hints available in case guests need a helpful hand. When the final challenge has been completed, guests receive a certificate of completion and can celebrate with a complimentary dessert in the hotel’s restaurant.
Completion Time: 1 hour Date Played: 2nd October 2022 Party Size: 6 Difficulty: Easy
As escape room enthusiasts we often travel to experience the escape room scene in other cities. Escape rooms and travel go hand in hand… So its surprising that no one had really capitalised on this until TED teamed up with Marriott Hotels to bring a unique escape room twist to their hotel rooms. “The Curiosity Room” is the first of these experiences, a collaboration of immersive experience and physical, in-person hotels and is popping up at the Marriott Hotels in San Francisco, Bangkok and right here in London. We couldn’t wait to try it!
Our First Impressions of the Curiosity Room
When we arrived it was very clearly the 5-star service you would expect from London Marriott Hotel County Hall. The staff were all very polite and welcoming, and once we entered the room it was so immaculate and beautiful. The initial starting point was immediately obvious, in a very tantalising way, so we were soon off searching the room for further clues and admiring the beauty within.
TED X Marriott on Puzzles
In terms of puzzles, those in The Curiosity Room were quite linear, but this worked fairly well given this is very much a self-guided room. Clues were given via a journal and a web page, which provided an increasing level scale of hints until finally giving the answer. We found many ‘wow’ moments throughout but often realized we had come to a puzzle too early, so put it back until that point arose.
For traditional escape room players, this was one of the slight negatives in the room. All escape room players know how to search for clues, but this proved detrimental here (despite the first puzzle requiring you to search), as often it meant jumping ahead, potentially confusing the story or ruining the surprise of a later puzzle.
That said, many of the puzzles themselves were actually quite unique and exciting to discover. There weren’t too many jumps in logic, and even as a team of experienced players we still found ourselves excited by many of the techniques used. It was certainly more puzzle-y than I had anticipated going in, which was a bonus! They clearly put a lot of thought and passion into these puzzles, which were all varied and interesting; mixing physical, hands-on puzzles with wordy brainteasers. The fact this room isn’t timed is also a nice touchs – we were able to slow down and really enjoy each puzzle together as a team. This will also appeal to families staying in the room, as many of the puzzles used physical elements to trigger/solve the puzzles.
A ‘Hotel’ly New Escape Room
In terms of the room itself, The Curiosity Room is first and foremost a room to stay in. It was beautifully decorated with a large mural of London (by artist Caleb Morris) on the wall, which was a nice touch to the theming and almost outshone the amazing view from the window. The use of space was really well thought out, although the puzzles were largely contained to the sleeping area. It may have been nice to see the puzzles extend to more of the physical space. But we understand the physical limitations.
On the other hand, we felt that although it’s called ‘The Curiosity Room’ there weren’t that many elements that played with this theme. There were a few books about London and one or two puzzles which might have been fun for younger players to figure out, but otherwise not too many things that taught us new things or sparked our curiosity about London itself.
A Note on Technical Issues
In our particular playthrough, there were some technical issues which stopped us for over an hour. Not the worst thing in the world, as we enjoyed the opportunity to simply relax on the very comfy beds and have a chat to each other while the staff fixed those issues. But in general, technical issues like the ones we experienced do hamper an escape room’s flow.
As we were amongst the first teams to play the room, it’s not surprising that there were issues or that it took time for them to be fixed. We imagine, or rather we hope it will be much smoother in the future!
When everything did work the technical elements were impressive and would have thrown up some sweet little surprises if our mechanical issues hadn’t pre-empted them. Teething issues aside, we think it’s clearly a high-quality room and high-quality production.
The Curiosity Room: The Verdict
Before discussing the verdict of the room, we need to mention the elephant in the room. The price, which will likely be the biggest barrier for any escape room enthusiasts interested in playing. One night at the London Marriott Hotel County Hall is a minimum of £405, and I believe you have to book this room for at least 2 nights. It does sleep 4 (and it’s a very high-quality room with a glorious London view), but that’s obviously quite a bit of commitment, especially as you can’t pay to play the game element of the room alone. To reiterate, you do have to book to stay overnight in order to experience The Curiosity Room.
If you remove the price element, this was a really fun and special room. The Curiosity Room is targeted at families, so the level of puzzling isn’t overly challenging but the combination of quirky interactions with the room itself and some lovely ‘wow’ moments it’s definitely a great overall experience. And if you’re an escape room player with a sweet tooth there’s an added attraction. Solve the puzzles and you’ll win a sharing dessert from the London Marriott Hotel County Hall’s restaurant, Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar, where you can also indulge in locally sourced steaks and, if all that puzzling has left you with a thirst, choose from over 100 gins.
If you were considering staying somewhere for a similar budget anyway then we’d definitely recommend this. Similarly, we would recommend checking it out if they ever opened any slots for just the escape room alone, but otherwise, I count myself lucky that I had a chance to play!
Date played: March 2022 Time taken: 48 minutes / 46 minutes / 45 minutes Number of players: 2 Difficulty: Easy / Hard / Medium
As someone who lives in London, I don’t often get the chance to venture ‘up north’, but there are quite a few companies that are making a name for themselves! Just outside of Manchester (an easy tram ride away) is the small town of Bury, home to “Compendium Escapes”. We decided to tick off all their rooms at once, so here I’m covering the first three, and leaving their award-winning final room for a post of its own!
Compendium: Laboratory | Review
You and your friends have been given the challenge to find and steal a Laboratory’s TOP secret remedy needed to cure a deadly disease. You have been entrusted with all the information you need to gain entry to the lab but no idea how to find the antidote undetected and once inside you find yourselves trapped. Do you have what it takes to save lives and escape the lab with the antidote?
When we entered the lab we found ourselves in a relatively large, clean room with plenty of science-y artifacts lying around. The premise is simple; locate and recover the antidote for the deadly pandemic that is ravaging the planet (I swear this was launched long before Covid-19). We immediately split up and started searching for clues, locating a number of interesting items and numbers dotted about. The decor in the room was great – it played into the theme and there quite multiple times when something which initially appeared to be a prop turned into a key puzzle!
Image (c) Manchester Evening News
This room is often said to be the best room for families, and I can see why – the room is full of bright colours and varied puzzles, with most puzzles within reach of small hands and some exciting little spaces to explore. The only issue is that the one main puzzle in the room (to access the parts of the antidotes) would not be possible for younger children, and indeed was not possible for me at 5ft3! However, the GM handled this really well, and let us off as he could see we had made quite a few attempts, but just physically couldn’t manage it. If this had been later in the day I can imagine this would’ve made us quite frustrated, but as it was we brushed past it and chalked it up to a slightly annoying thing.
The location isn’t very physically accessible, being up some quite steep stairs, but the room itself has a chair to sit in and is well lit. There is some reliance on colour, and that pesky physical puzzle. Hints are given via a screen, so otherwise no reliance necessarily on hearing.
Compendium: Bedlam | Review
Bentham Asylum has been standing since the 1900’s. In 1950 Bentham was given the nickname BEDLAM because of the events that happened in those 50 years, In 1974 Cell p23 was mysteriously locked without an explanation as to why. Bedlam has secrets that need to be uncovered. You and your team are the top journalists in your field, you have been tasked with uncovering the secrets that are held behind Cell P23’s walls. Can you go undercover, get in the cell undetected and escape with all the documents that will uncover the secrets of BEDLAM?
I am really not a horror fan. I am a massive coward, so the idea of doing not just one, but two ‘scary’ rooms was a little daunting. However, we spoke to the Compendium team prior to booking who assured me there would be no live actors or jump scares, so we went ahead and booked. Bedlam definitely fits into the ‘creepy’ and suspenseful area of ‘scary’, with atmospheric background music/sounds that felt extremely immersive. I actually found myself really enjoying this! The combination of dingy lighting, a chair with handcuffs, and random screams in the background helped set the mood and get the adrenaline running before any puzzles have taken place.
The room itself is very small – we played as a duo, and I’m not sure I would’ve wanted to play with anymore! Despite this, I was amazed by how much Compendium have fit into this space, and we were constantly surprised by certain discoveries. There are so many hidden areas carefully blended into the padded walls that we really had a sense of excitement and never knew what was coming next.
The puzzles were a fantastic example of thematic design – they all fit the theme perfectly, and to a certain extent helped carry the narrative too. They were fairly non-linear (I know there were a few puzzles I never saw), with a couple that also required some team cooperation. None of the puzzles frustrated us, and all the logic made total sense. There were also some really interesting mechanisms used for these puzzles, but I don’t want to spoil anything!
Like all their rooms, this is very much not accessible. Obviously, you need to climb up some steep stairs to reach the room itself, but there is a chair within the room. There is the requirement for at least one team member to be happy with crawling and small spaces, although this really isn’t the room for anyone with claustrophobia given the general size. The room was fairly dim, but we found a torch which helped!
Compendium: Wrong Turn | Review
You and your friends are driving along route 66 when you notice your gas running low, a friend suggests to make a turn at the next set of crossroads to see if there is a gas station… you don’t find a gas station but decide to explore the one place you have discovered by taking that WRONG TURN…. Will you escape or will you spend your life regretting that wrong turn?
The third room we did at Compendium was another ‘scary’ room – this time we entered the home of a serial killer. Once again we confirmed there were no live actors or jump scares, but unfortunately, there were plenty of mannequins (which is my specific phobia). The team were great though, and removed what they could, giving my mum a warning of where others were so she could deal with them for me. That aside, this room was fantastically creepy in a different way to Bedlam. Rather than screams, the soundtrack was instead an old fashion song and commercial, and the room and set dressing were just off enough to be unsettling.
Image (c) Manchester Evening News
Rather than entering into the lair directly, we instead found ourselves in an old-fashioned kitchen off Route 66. At first glance, nothing seems amiss, but look a bit closer and you realise that maybe things are not as they appear. The set dressing here was excellent, with a lot of relevant props and accessories to investigate, but not so many that they would count as red herrings (and none dressed as puzzles). The difference between this room and the lair (when you discover it) is very stark, and quite horrific (as you might imagine).
The puzzles themselves were a bit trickier than the other rooms, but still had a great flow and were fairly non-linear. I really appreciated the need to hunt for items and keep track of these throughout the room, as well as the requirement to move between the kitchen and the lair. The space is also a lot bigger than initially anticipated, with a great sense of atmosphere. There were also some unique physical puzzles here, which I quite enjoyed!
In terms of accessibility – again, steep stairs to the location, but chairs inside. There is a requirement to be able to crawl to reach the lair, and there are some smaller, darker spaces to be aware of. You will need to be able to differentiate colours for this room too.
Compendium, The Verdict
I think Compendium is a fantastic company, who clearly pay close attention to all aspects of room design. I have written a separate review about their final room, UI-55, which is currently my number 1 room. Out of these three, I enjoyed ‘Bedlam’ the most, followed by ‘Wrong turn’, but that’s probably my cowardice talking. I would say you shouldn’t be put off my the scary aspect of either room though, as they are worth playing!
The team at ‘Compendium’ are also fantastic – we spent a long time chatting with them and they are top-notch. Given we booked all 4 rooms they’d actually ‘closed’ the place for the day, so we could be a bit relaxed about timings and decide when we wanted to play each room. This gave us time to grab refreshments between rooms, and decide on our lunch break, rather than either rushing out of one room and into the next, or else sitting around in a long gap. This was a little touch that was really appreciated and so unexpected. I also just enjoyed talking to them in general, as they are clearly passionate about what they do (which shines through in the rooms) and so we spent a while comparing and recommending rooms to each other! Compendium is definitely a must-visit for me.
These rooms can be booked on the Compendium Bury website.
Welcome to Phantom Peak, known far and wide as the Venice of the West! In this fully-realised steampunk mining town, nothing is what it seems… What is hiding in the vestiges of the mines? What does the charismatic founder of corporate JONACO really seek in this sleepy town? Was the Blimp Crash really just an accident? Dine, shop, play games, go sightseeing, collect clues… explore the town and uncover its mysteries at your own pace for up to five hours in an immersive open-world adventure the likes of which you’ve never seen before!
Time spent: 5 hours
Date Visited: August 2022
Party Size: 4
Mysteries solved: 7
First of all, an important note! I am not an immersive theatre fan. I have only been to one other Immersive Theatre show in London, and in general, I tend to steer away from anything immersive – I even hate live actors in escape rooms! Therefore this review is from my perspective, as a lover of escape rooms and mysteries, rather than immersive theatre. Keep an eye on our site though, as we will be sure to update this with the review from our resident immersive theatre lovers once they have had a chance to visit!
If you’ve become immersed in the Escape Room Industry at all you’ve probably heard the name “Nick Moran” crop up a few times. Nick is the genius behind “Sherlock: The game is now”, Hackers’ new rooms, and “Spectre & Vox”. Now he joins the creative team behind “Phantom Peak”, so we knew this was easily going to be one of the most mysterious immersive experiences in London, hopefully with the emphasis placed on the mysteries rather than the immersion!
So what is Phantom Peak? Phantom Peak is a cowboy / steampunk town that has recently opened in East London. On one hand, you can go and enjoy the food, drinks and various games around town. However, for the more curious amongst us, there are (currently) 16 different mysteries occurring in this small town, with many more set to come as the town expands in the future.
Entering Phantom Peak
The first thing to acknowledge is that, from the outside, Phantom Peak doesn’t look like much. Based a short walk from Canada Water station we found ourselves in a rather dusty car park, looking at a wooden fence. However, just before our entry time (11am) a couple of “townspeople” came out (including Nick himself) to give a bit more of an explanation of what to expect inside the town, and get us set up on our phones (which are crucial for this). We then answered a few questions to get our first trail assigned, and we were ready!
Unfortunately, rather than the nice, large double doors you see here, we were let in the smaller side door, which meant there was a bit of a backlog going in. However, once we were in our expectations were definitely met – we were presented with a real life “boardwalk” from the Wild West, leading to a lake, and even a cave. The set design is beautiful and fully realized, with no half-finished sets or rough finishes. There are so many big and small features of the town, it’s so worth just taking some time to look around. The attention to detail is fantastic, and due to the number of mysteries, you never know if or when something will be relevant! It lead to quite a few fun moments when we finally realised what a certain poster was alluding to, or immediately knew where to go next because we’d noticed something previously. The costumes that the cast were wearing were so beautiful without being over the top, and I also loved that a lot of the guests had also committed to the Wild West steampunk vibe – I’ll definitely need to make more effort next time!
Starting off on the right foot
As mentioned, a lot of Phantom Peak relies on following a mystery on your phone. You answer a few questions, get given the name of your trail, your initial story point, and a place to start and you’re off! These trails make use of the whole of the town, moving back and forth and venturing into a variety of locals. Luckily the people of the town tend to stick to their zones (whether that’s propping up the bar, running their store, or canvassing for votes), so once you know who’s who it’s easy to find them.
To unravel the mystery you will need to talk to a range of characters, utilise the various machines around town, and even do a bit of subtle sleuthing. I also want to give a shout out the gender neutrality of the names – the logical side of me knows this is so that actors can be switched in and out for the same character (which also shows how talented these actors are), but the liberal side of me is excited that at no point do you know whether the character you’re searching for is a man or woman, and even the titles are all gender neutral (‘post-person’, ‘supervisor’).
At one point I was scolded by the Saloon owner for saying I loved a ‘lady boss’, and she quite rightly told me it was just ‘boss’, no need to qualify it or bring gender into it! It was points like this that shows how brilliant the actors were – I really enjoyed talking to them, having fun with them, and have proper conversations with them that made it clear they weren’t just following a script. This aspect made them really feel like fully rounded characters.
It would’ve been nice if things you discovered in one trail (or ways you interacted) carried throughout the day, as at points we finish one trail and discover some sort of big twist, but 5 minutes later we’d talk to the same character and it would be as if it never happened. However, with such a large crowd I understand why this may have been a little challenging.
However we did find the phone aspect a little too hand-holdy in parts, particularly where the casts and clues were giving us some clear directions to follow, only to realise we had a few more questions to answer in the phone before we got to that point. However, it was also a nice safety net so we weren’t totally in the dark at any point, and the townsfolk were all very knowledgeable and ready to lend a clue if needed.
The Puzzle Posse
At this point, I need to talk about the mysteries themselves, because oh my word they were so much fun! If you are thinking the mysteries will just be about missing hats and rogue bandits you’re so wrong (mostly), and even the ones that started quite meekly had an interesting twist. There’s also one facet of every story that will appear quite quickly, and I absolutely loved this part of the town lore. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but let’s just say the town has a clear mascot, which I adored and found so creative. The way it features in each story and throughout the town was so much fun and so creative.
The mysteries themselves weren’t that hard – for the most part, they involved talking to a townsperson, using one of the machines to find some information, or finding a hidden clue on a poster or in a certain location (which we were mostly guided towards). I would say don’t come into this expecting complex puzzles and the need to be Sherlock Holmes, but that’s ok! It wasn’t until we were discussing our experience for this review that we realised we didn’t really ‘solve’ all that much, but somehow we hadn’t noticed at the time because we were having so much fun. The story building was also thorough and immersive – we always knew why we were going somewhere, and what we were meant to be doing next.
In the end, we managed 7 trails, out of a possible 16 (so far). I’m not sure how you’d get over 8 (due to the nature of the questions), but apparently, I’m metagaming here, as I know some people managed 11 during the 5-hour slot! This included taking plenty of breaks for delicious food, necessary water, and of course a romantic (?) boat ride. You receive a souvenir at the end of each trail, but other than being a keepsake these didn’t appear to have been used for anything. I’d love to see these used for something in the future, or even have some form of souvenir ‘guidebook’ you could purchase to store them in (and therefore see all the uncompleted trails you have yet to do!). I’d also love some sort of specific souvenir to display on your person (such as a badge) so that as you wander around you can see what other people have done, and it might also give the characters more material to play with.
In terms of the machines, they were all fun and easy to use, but by the 3rd or 4th time using them the shine wore off a little. I think this could easily be solved by just not saying which machine needed to be used – we became familiar with what number of letters/numbers led to each machine fairly quickly, and then that would have added a small amount of puzzle solving to the puzzle instead. Either that or potentially making them a little more complex to use. In fact, it might have been nice to have some more complex trails to do – we did one that could potentially be called ‘adult’, but I think it would’ve been easy enough to tone down the content for a family.
Mystery trails aside, there was clearly a larger mystery at work in the town. We worked out enough (from the wider lore and stories) that something was a miss, but never worked out the overall mystery or how to solve it. I absolutely love this. There’s clearly a lot of wider lore that is dropped into each mystery if you pay attention, and many conversations to have. I’m not sure if there’s much ‘hidden’ around the town that wasn’t part of one of the 16 trails, but then again I wasn’t looking for anything in particular.
Rooting and Tooting
Of course, there is plenty more to do here when you want a break from a puzzle (especially as the time slots are 5 hours). There are 3 food stores (4 including Gelato) as well as a couple of bars. We tried the burgers, chips, and tacos and they were all absolutely delicious. I also have a ‘beer float’ from the Gelato stand, which was perfect on such a hot day.
As well as food and drink, there’s also a variety of fun carnival games, which are harder than they look, and you’ll need to beat 3 of them to become a real citizen of the town. Unfortunately, I only managed to earn one rosette, so I have no clue what happens when you have all three!
There are also a couple of events that only happen at a certain time, likely to give everyone a chance to explore the town a bit more first. I only took advantage of one of these, but will be sure to do the other next time! You can also browse the variety of shops for your variety of needs (and walk away with some nice souvenirs). The town itself was also completely accessible – everywhere was flat, which ramps up and down where necessary. We didn’t use any stairs and believe all the doorways were wide enough for a wheelchair. We were there for 5 hours, which was actually the perfect amount of time. I was personally getting a bit frustrated by my non-enthusiast friends who were taking lots of breaks, and definitely flagging by the end, but I admit I probably wouldn’t have wanted to stay much longer.
This town ain’t big enough…
I absolutely loved our time, and I will absolutely be returning, but there were definitely a few niggles here and there which will hopefully be ironed out as the experience expands. For a start, we heavily relied on my phone, which meant the battery ran down quickly. Luckily I had packed a portable charger, but even then I was down to 30% when we left. For such a phone-heavy experience, I was surprised by the lack of charging stations in the town – I can imagine some rentable power packs would be a big hit here!
The walkways are also quite narrow, so we often found ourselves walking slow behind a queue of people, or waiting a while to get into a shop. This died down at certain points throughout the day (down to events, food breaks, or just people leaving), but it was definitely a bit harder at the start. Staggered start times would solve this, but then of course it would be hard to monitor when people’s 5 hours were up. In a similar vein, there were times we were essentially following another couple doing the same trail, either waiting for them to finish their conversation with a character so we could have the same one, or just listening in. Sometimes this was fine, due to the occasional puzzle that needed some time to solve, but otherwise, we got into the groove of using those moments to grab another drink rather than following on their tail. I’m not sure what the plan is for the expansion, but I’d love to see some bigger areas, perhaps with new characters to talk to and new machines to use!
What’s the verdict?
This is hands down my favourite experience I’ve done in London. I’d even go so far as to say I’d rather come back here than go to another London escape room. At less than £40 for a ticket, which covers 5 hours, it’s a real steal on price too!
You can be as immersed as you want to, but the characters don’t necessarily approach you or force you to put on an accent if you don’t want to, which was great for my friends who were less sold on this aspect. The mysteries were just really fun stories, and although the puzzles weren’t that complex I don’t think you’d be disappointed because so much else is going on.
I will be recommending this to anyone and everyone, and cannot wait to return to Phantom Peak.
Tickets for Phantom Peak can be booked on their website