Exciting Escapes Croydon: Change the Record | Review

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Exciting Escapes Croydon: Change the Record Review | It’s 1998, and a seemingly innocent looking Record Shop is actually a front for a spy network determined to destabilise the British government. While the owner is out and the shop remains empty, the opportunity presents itself to upset their plans…. Your Mission: Get in, get the documents that are hidden cleverly inside, and then get out before the owner returns. Oh, and don’t get too distracted by the awesome 90’s soundtrack too!

Date Played: 12th June 2022
Number of Players: 4
Time Taken: 30 Minutes
Difficulty: Tricky!

Ahhh, the 90s… A time of AOL’s slow dial up tones, Y2K panic, the Spice Girls, Tamagotchis and Blockbuster. I mean, I don’t actually remember most of these things, but it’s okay the era lives on nostalgically in my mind. Which is why when my brilliant escape room buddy Marissa invited me to come and play an escape room that had a 90s theme, I leapt at the idea. This would surely be my time to shine?!

On a sunny Sunday morning we booked ourselves in to play Exciting Escapes Croydon’s 90s themed, “secret agents in a record shop” room called Change the Record. After filling our stomach with brunch from the nearby Breakfast Club in Boxpark, we were off to a flying start and ready to solve some puzzles!

 

About Exciting Escapes Croydon

Exciting Escapes are a small chain of escape rooms located in Croydon, Portsmouth, Basingstoke and Southampton. Of these, Change the Record can also be found in Southampton – though with one key variation: it’s set in the 80s instead of the 90s.

Located in a sleepy shopping centre, you’d be forgiven if you walked right past Exciting Escapes several times. Sure, there are signs around the centre for an escape room – but the front door itself is actually a carefully disguised tailor shop. They’ve spared no expenses recreating something that looked and felt like it was directly out of Kingsman. The walls are lined with suits of all sizes and there in the centre is a rickety old desk where your Games Master sits, waiting to welcome you into the site.

 

Team Escape Roomer at a mysterious tailor shop…

 

Once we’d arrived, we were led into a secret second room for our briefing. It was a simple room with a simple premise – to tell you that this whole organisation and tailor shop is a front for MI5. This briefing was given over a video recording that lasted just a few minutes, during which time we could sign the waiver and explore the various leader board times we had to beat.

From the briefing room we emerged into a much more modern space and were lead downstairs a series of steel steps to a rather curious looking front door that looked perfectly in place for a record shop in 1998. Here, our adventure began. Before entering the room the final words our Games Master left us with was a warning not to get too distracted by the background music. This is after all, a record shop. A warning I very quickly ignored as Britney Spears started playing over the speakers.

We stepped out into a very convincing record shop adorned with bright yellow walls, colourful musical murals, and plenty and plenty of CDs, VHS tapes and vinyl records to pour over. All hiding their own puzzles we couldn’t wait to get stuck into.

 

Image (c) Exciting Escapes

 

Records are Always a Sound Purchase…

The premise of Change the Record follows that this, the record shop you find yourself in, is actually a front for a super shadowy criminal organisation. The owner has stepped out for just 60 minutes and in that time you must break in and figure out where a package containing top-secret intelligence is being stored. The owner is no fool though, he’s hidden it in such a complex and deviously challenging way that it’ll require all your brainpower to find it.

Change the Record is the most difficult escape room at Exciting Escapes Croydon, but that didn’t stop us having an absolute blast playing through and solving the puzzles. For me, the puzzles were the best thing about the room. They flowed very well together and felt just the right level of challenging without being impossible. We used just two clues. The first was just a simple thing we’d missed in our hurry, and the second was when we struggled to get a box open and needed to confirm if we were doing it right.

Beyond these two little nudges we needed, we thoroughly enjoyed racing through the rest of the room. It is a mix of linear and non linear. That is to say at any given time all four of us were working on different puzzles – but they all came together to contribute towards the one collective whole. There was a fun mix of roleplaying, physical action *cough cough* dancing around, and cerebral challenges. There were quite a few particularly satisfying puzzles I’d never seen in any other escape room before. Whats more, I really enjoyed interacting some excellent puzzles making brilliant use of 90s technology I’d all but forgotten. Between our band of players born 1996-1999, we just about managed to figure out how to use the vintage technology, to much amusement.

There were plenty of locks and keys, and if you’re semantic about it I’d probably class this room closer to “gen 1”, which makes sense. It’s been around since 2017. For those reasons it’s probably not perfect – a little bit of wear and tear around the edges, but nothing broken and nothing illogical.

As a final note on the puzzles, surprisingly none of the ones we encountered required sound to be solved. This is always a consideration for accessibility reasons, but also the truth of the matter is… I’m terrible at sound puzzles! But besides a brief moment on a telephone, not a sound puzzle to be seen. Excellent!

 

Image (c) Exciting Escapes

 

That’s a Record!

When all is said and done, we didn’t quite break the record – but our escape time cements us squarely in 3rd place for the month.

It’s a challenging room, but it’s nothing insurmountable and instead, incredibly satisfying when you finally crack the codes and figure out what to do. More than anything I just enjoyed being in the physical space. Bopping along to the 90s hits we had a great rhythm in this room and a very fun interaction with our Games Master afterwards. So much so, we immediately booked another room to play directly after.

We’d recommend this one for pretty much everyone. It would be a fun room to try as your very first, and will surely give even the most experienced players a challenging run for your money. Above everything it’s just a fun little room in a definitely lesser known room (well, compared to others in London anyway) and one I’d definitely love to return back to some day.

 

 

Change the Record can be booked at Exciting Escapes Croydon by heading to their website here.

Extremescape: Pirate Ship | Review

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Extremescape Pirate Ship Review | A long time ago on the Carribean seas sailed the Spanish Galleon, Castoria. Captained by Zak Barrow and crewed by a gang of murderers & merciless cutthroats. Plundering ships of all kinds along India’s Malabar coast, Barrow was a Pirate, one of the most infamous Pirates of all time. Barrow’s ship Castoria battled with the India Merchant, a huge treasure ship of 350 tons. In rough seas, the merchant vessel fired but due to a sudden ocean swell, the shot missed its mark. The pirates threw their grappling hooks, bringing the two ships together. And rapidly boarded the ship, soon Captain Barrow was in the possession of one of the greatest pirate treasures ever. The ship disappeared in 1722 and was not seen again until now!

Completion Time: 73 minutes (out of 90)
Date Played: 24 March 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

As someone who works full time and lives ‘down South’ it can be hard to find the time to travel just for escape rooms, particularly when the journey alone takes over 4 hours! However I found myself with a few days to space are itching to play some rooms farther afield, so we decided to book a couple of days in Manchester! First up we stopped we spent the day in Disley, surrounded by gorgeous views, friendly locals (sheep) and some cracking rooms!

Time to set sail

The first room we tackled was the oldest at the location – opened 7 years ago and barely changed since! Before you even step foot in the room you know you’re in for a good time, with an epic narration to get you pumped and the ship door swinging open to welcome you. Our first impression of the room was similarly excited – it’s beautifully crafted with plenty of hidden elements (some hid expertly in plain sight), and definitely more than one surprising moment.

 

Argh, ye scallywags!

We were told that this room was ‘non-linear’, which is technically true as there were a few different puzzles to solve at a time, but I admit in practice it didn’t feel this way. It may have been the early morning or lack of practice, but we worked on most puzzles together, and only felt like we were progressing as we solved the puzzles.

There were quite a few pieces of information scattered about the room, which appeared similar but required different methods of solving. I appreciated the variety of puzzles, but we ended up relying on hints more than I usually like to, as perhaps some of the leaps were a little too far for me! In particular, one puzzle felt very tenuous, and I’m still not convinced of the answer!

Finally, the signposting wasn’t necessarily ideal – usually, I would expect the respective lock to be near the puzzle, or else be marked in some way. However, there were quite a few locks here which meant quite a bit of trial and error each time!

That being said, there were puzzles we got instantly, or just about managed to figure out, which were satisfying and a little different from others we’ve experienced before. I think the theming and thrill more than makes up for any slight frustrations, and I would strongly encourage you to give this room a chance!

 

Peg legs & eyepatches…not quite welcome

Unfortunately, there are stairs into the venue and up to the room, as well as within the room itself – so not great for those with mobility issues! Hints are delivered both via screen and via a voice-over, so should be suitable for those with either hearing or sight issues. There are some puzzles requiring colour perception, but the light level in the room is generally good and it is fairly spacious.

 

Here be the Jolly Roger

The staff at this room are great and very encouraging. We had a lovely time chatting with them, and even met a special guest (check out my later post to hear about him!). Although the website seems fairly basic, this room is anything but and the location is enchanting.

 

The Verdict

This room was a fantastic room – although I was a little frustrated throughout the experience, the set is so well done and I was still having fun. I highly recommend taking on this room (although I would also book the others at the same time!)

Pirate Ship can be booked at Extremescape here

Pressure Point: Murder on the Dancefloor | Review

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Its 1978 and your evening at the 2P’s nightclub has ended in disaster! You hear rumours that the ‘King of Groove’ has been murdered!  With all your belongings inside, there is no way for you and your friends to get home. You find another way in and you can’t help but have a snoop around. Your curiosity gets the better of you. What you are about to find inside is not groovy…

 

Date Played: February 2022
Time Taken:  47 Minutes 13 Seconds
Number of Players: 4
Difficulty: Easy/Medium

 

It really was time to get our groove on with this 1970’s disco extravaganza. A team of four of us were feeling funky so we headed on down to Ashford to see what the noise was all about. Safe to say, we came away feeling as high as Simon Cowell’s waistband!

Greeted warmly by our host, we were first escorted to a funky little briefing room. This clearly is where the fun begins. Yep, there is the normal health and safety stuff and “here is how a padlock works”, however the briefing also had a certain comical charm about it. As ever, no spoilers, however the tongue in cheek aspect works a treat, with little disco references thrown in for good measure, plus a certainly little prop which made us all giggle. This was certainly one of the more memorable briefings we’ve had the pleasure of that’s for sure.

So, tick boxes completed, we strutted our stuff down to the room itself.

 

 

Time to Get Our Groove On

As ever, the first thing that I look at within a room are the aesthetics.  The initial room where you commence the game is a subtle understated affair which plays into the game perfectly. The puzzles are well hidden within the room, yet you have just enough to get you moving. But don’t be fooled – areas like this are often trickier than they appear. And this was one of them.

Worth knowing that there is a slightly different clue system within the first part of the game. Sadly we didn’t actually use it (insert my smug face here!), however I now wish we had, as it looked really cool, if a little disconcerting – but no spoilers, you’ll have to play the game itself to know what I mean here.

Something that we loved about this game in its entirety is the game play and flow of the room. At no point will you find yourself bunching up and having to all try and resolve a puzzle all together. There is a lot going on in this game and the designers have really cleverly been able to utilise this non-linear, multi-puzzle approach.  At no point did we get the dreaded escapees block, where you just look blankly at one another and have absolutely no idea what to do!

 

 

Give me that Night Fever, Night Fever…

As you’d expect from me, music plays a huge part in how I review a room – safe to say we were humming the tunes from this room all the way home! The audio set up works really well. All the time you aren’t in the “main room”, you can here the subtle thump thump of the disco music playing in the background. Once you reach the disco however, expect to be singing and dancing along. Luckily, I am reliably informed that a recording of my dodgy dad dancing hasn’t been kept for future reference/abuse, however, the three adults in the team embarrassed my son somewhat!

The feel in the main area of this game is a real feast for the senses both audibly and visually. Music, lights – this makes for a very happy Nick!

Time to get our Puzzle On!

Now onto the puzzles. Where to begin?! There a lot of them and they all fitted the theme really well. Clearly when designing, the creators have thought long and hard about how to integrate as many disco and 70s themed props into the game; and they’ve done a cracking job in doing this.

What really sets the game apart from others is the way in which the puzzles integrate with the room. The joys of being set in a 70s disco means that everything is big and flashy and in your face – and that’s exactly how the games worked too. Don’t expect subtle “where do I find this” search the room-style puzzles here. You’ll see a lot to start off with, although be warned, you might not be able to access it straight away!

And when it comes to difficulty, we all agreed that this is a game which would be accessible to new comers and experienced players alike. For the first timers, the user-friendly game play, coupled with fantastically light hearted theming (although there has been a murder), and some really enjoyable puzzles, is a winner. Likewise, those that are a little more experienced would enjoy a room which doesn’t take itself too seriously. (There are also a few little Easter eggs to keep your eyes peeled for, which may reference a few other escape rooms!)

 

But Who Was the Murderer?!

Obviously I’m not going to tell you that! I can sort of tell you how we worked it out though; a number of the puzzles reveal specific traits about the murder. As you build an understanding of the suspects and their motives, slowly but surely you get to eliminate some until you reach your final verdict.

Having played murder style games before, you can often get to a verdict quite quickly – this wasn’t the case here – and in fact, you don’t know how to pin point and announce the murderer until you have solved the very final puzzle.

The game builds into a strong crescendo and this is where the team work really comes into play. Where the game play for this room allows you to separate for much of the game, paying attention to your team mates is imperative. Its easy to miss a clue so communication is key!

 

So did this Game Strut our Stuff – Yeah Baby!

(Sorry, couldn’t resist a little Austin Powers there!)

We all really enjoyed this one. A combination of strong theme, varied and well planned games, a solid flow and of course the light-hearted tongue in cheek approach, makes this a solid option for puzzlers new and experienced, young and old.

 

You wanna get your groove on?! Click the link below to book it for yourself… Pressure Point Escape Rooms, Ashford, Kent

 

ClueAdventures: Jet 2 Space | Review

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If Space is the final frontier then Jet2Space is a full-frontal fictional frenzy. It’s 2199 and you and your game partner have made the mistake of buying the cheapest tickets to space on the market. Not long after takeoff, you’ll realize that WheezyJet have cut every corner on Flight 069.

Completion Time: 40 minutes
Date Played: 3rd February 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Easy

If you’re anything like me you tend to save escape rooms until you have friends visiting, or until you can do them with someone who will really appreciate them, or even just feel a little bit of guilt in doing one as a pair. However, ClueAdventures has noticed this niche and created not one, but two two-player only games! I played their first game, “2 Tickets 2 Ride”, at least 3 years ago and it was great, so I was very excited when they announced ‘Jet 2 Space’! I did decide to save it for a special occasion, so moving flat seemed like as good a reason as any!

On a mission to Uranus

When we booked this room we didn’t realise we had actually booked a trip to space, although as this was with the budget space company “WheezyJet” we probably should’ve known what we were getting into. It doesn’t take long before things go wrong, and thanks to certain economies we were left in charge to figure out how to take control of the ship and find somewhere to land safely.

In general, the set was very tactile – there were lots of things to see, do and interact with – any areas that seemed shabby felt purposeful, and I was able to feel immersed in the experience. The decor of the room was a hybrid between an airplane cabin and a rocket ship, with plenty of easter eggs sprinkled about. If it isn’t obvious from the fact you are on flight 069 to Uranus, this game has quite a few adult themes, but I’d describe them as loving and silly, rather than trying to be actively dirty. They also have plenty of very geeky references spread everywhere in a similar style, making this the perfect mix of not knowing whether you’re about to be excited over a Sci-Fi reference, or groan over some sort of phallic pun.

Use the force…(or don’t)

We all know the first rule of escape rooms is that usually force is not required. The same applies to this room, although you are encouraged to “use THE force”…brain force that is!

*insert groans here*

Seriously though, I love the geeky aspect of this room, and it shines through everything they do. The puzzles in the room were all fairly simple and linear – following one after another – so the challenge came not from figuring out what the puzzle was, but from figuring out the solution (imagine a Suduko – you know what to do, but you still need to work to find the solution). Fortunately for us, there was an onboard magazine available (for a small fee) that contained quite a few valuable pieces of information.

Being a small space there were very few hidden objects, so our powers of observation and attention to detail were testing more than our hide & seek skills. There were also no keys and only a very small amount of number locks, because of course, they won’t exist by 2199.

Bumping uglies

Being quite a small space we found ourselves bumping into each other quite a bit, so teamwork and communication are an absolute must. There are a few puzzles that require overt teamwork, and ClueAdventures do a great job of making sure you are switching positions so you don’t get one person doing all the grunt work. I would have liked to see more of this though – many of the puzzles were solved single-handedly, which I think is a shame. Perhaps if they release a third 2-player room they could make it entirely based on teamwork!

We managed to navigate most of the room without incident, which is a shame as I was looking forward to using the help phrase (“Obi Wan, you’re my only hope!”). The hint would (apparently) pop up on the on-board monitor, but otherwise we were left to fend for ourselves.

Accessible boarding

ClueAdventures is based above “The Coach & Horses” pub in Leyton, so while it is great for a pint it isn’t great for accessibility needs. Stairs will need to be navigated to reach the room, and once inside it’s quite a small space, so please check before booking if you have any claustrophobia or concerns about space/temperature. It was well lit, with no loud noises. Hearing and colour perception are both necessities for this journey, although as someone with hearing impairments I coped fine as you just need to be able to communicate with your fellow passenger. There were a few puzzles that required physical dexterity too, although only one team member needs to take on this burden.

The price of a good time

We know that escape rooms can be expensive, and it’s a question within our community about whether it is fairer to price per player or a flat rate per room. Unfortunately, teams of 2 are often disadvantaged by either model which is what has put me off booking a room for two previously.

Despite the fact this room was designed for 2 players only, the price of £35 each still felt quite steep, given most times I’d expect to pay less than £30 when playing with a larger team. It was also a little disappointing as I might expect that from larger rooms with a flat rate (e.g £70 a game regardless of team size), but not one which has been specifically designed for a smaller team.

Even taking away the monetary side and thinking about value…it still feels a little steep. We had a really fun time, but ultimately it was very linear and I didn’t feel I had my money’s worth.

The Verdict

Overall this is a fun and entertaining room, but not complex or engaging to those who are more experienced. I think if you’re still embarking on your escape room journey this is a great room for you, and possibly cheaper and more manageable than other London rooms not designed for 2. However, in the future I would probably suck it up and pay for other rooms in London, knowing I’d feel more challenged and the price would be justified a little more.

Jet 2 Space can be booked at Clue Adventures Leyton here

Mindlock York: Viking Valhalla | Review

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Viking Valhalla Review | Your Viking hord have courageously battled foes and awake expecting to be dining with the Gods in Valhalla. Instead, you find yourselves in limbo having not yet completed some critical tasks to earn your place alongside them. Complete these tasks before your time runs out, please the Gods and earn your place in Valhalla. Thor and Odin await your team.

Date Played: 19th December 2021
Time Taken: 48 minutes
Number of Players: 3
Difficulty: Medium

When on a Christmas break to visit my family in York, my go to activity for working up an appetite (for the copious amount of Yorkshire Pudding Wrap I’ll order from the York Roast Co) is an escape room. This year, I asked for a recommendation from co-writers Al & Ash who suggested Mindlock. Of their rooms available, there was one obvious one to try… I mean, when in Jorvik, do as the Vikings.

This is how we found ourselves queuing up at Mindlock York, opposite Clifford’s Tower at opening time, excited to see if we could make it to the Viking afterlife in Viking Valhalla! First, our games master greeted us enthusiastically from a safe covid-friendly distance, then we were led towards our room and the timer started counting down. The game was on!

Photo (c) Visit York

“Fear not death”

The story behind Viking Valhalla is a unique one. In most escape rooms where death is a central theme, you’re escaping being killed. It makes sense. But in Viking Valhalla – you’re already dead. Oops. In Norse Mythology, if you die in battle your soul ascends to Valhalla where you’ll spend eternity wining and dining with the Gods.

But in our case, something went wrong. Perhaps we accidentally let go of our weapons at the moment of death and stuck on some technical hitch, we’re not eligible for Valhalla. But fear not – we were given a chance to prove ourselves with some good old fashioned puzzles. Solve the puzzles, escape limbo and emerge victorious into Valhalla.

It sounds simple, right? And yes, Limbo between life and Valhalla was a fairly simple affair. We emerged into the room to be greeted with a mostly white space adorned with some curious wood carvings on the wall and vines trailing from the walls. In the centre of our room was our first puzzle – the only thing we could do to get started.

I’m not sure what I imagined the limbo state between life and death to look like but I suppose this isn’t far off. But as we worked our way through the room and discovered more secret rooms, the decor got a lot more exciting. Almost like stepping back onto that Jorvik Viking Centre ‘rollercoaster’… Almost!

Image (c) Mindlock York

Ascend to Puzzle-halla

In terms of puzzles, Viking Valhalla had a good quantity of puzzles to work through, with some similar mechanics between them. For a team of three consisting of one experienced player (myself) and two fairly new escape room, it was paced well for us. We completed the whole experience in 48 minutes at a relaxed pace – enough time for a joke or two!

What seemed to be a sparse room quickly revealed itself to have plenty of hiding holes where we discovered even more chests and hints to keep us entertained. The game unfolded in a linear fashion, with one puzzle at any given time keeping us occupied before it unlocked a new space or chest which gave us the clues to solve the next, and so on.

In terms of styles of puzzles, we encountered plenty of locks – consisting of the usual keys, 4 digit codes, and a directional lock too. We also encountered a lot of maths and cipher related puzzles which made sense within the universe. I mean, who doesn’t love deciphering Norse runes? But it was nothing we hadn’t seen before, making it a good introduction to the types of puzzles escape rooms can contain.

One of the things that our team enjoyed the most about Viking Valhalla were the maths puzzles. One of our party was a rather maths-obsessed 11 year old who took a lot of delight putting the in-room calculator aside and doing all the complex calculations on paper. Maths puzzles can be like marmite in an escape room (personally, I can’t solve them to save my life- or my death, as it were), but there’s an audience who enjoy them for sure.

The Verdict

Viking Valhalla is a fun room that’s worth visiting whilst in York purely for the connection to York’s rich Viking history. We had fun playing it on a rainy Sunday morning before taking a trip to the Viking Centre to round off the theme. In particular, we loved the host interaction – buckets of enthusiasm and a fun introductory briefing. The room itself was fairly average and may not challenge an enthusiast, but may be just the perfect place to take your Puggle (Puzzle Muggle) friends in the area.

As a side note: Since we had a dog in our holiday group, it’s worth mentioning that Mindlock at the time of writing does not allow dogs on the premises. There’s no particular reason why it should do, but it’s worth mentioning just in case prospective bookers can’t find the information online. As always we recommend contacting them directly.

Viking Valhalla can be booked at Mindlock York’s website here.

Ratings

Can You Escape York: Operation H.E.R.O. | Review

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Can You Escape York Review | The Force Four superheroes have been captured by the mastermind Möbius! Hermes, Oculo, Torus, and Badger are being held in an unknown location and there is limited time before they are gone forever. The superhero recruitment organisation, H.E.R.O., are looking for the next super squad to help locate the heroes and return them to York before it’s too late. Gather your own squad and see if you’ve got what it takes to save Force Four!

Date Played: 18th December 2021
Time Taken: 52 minutes
Number of Players: 3
Difficulty: Easyish

Ever watched a superhero film and thought “Hey, I could do that!”?

No… Me neither. But somehow playing Operation H.E.R.O. at Can You Escape York makes being a superhero seem easy. In this quirky escape room, four heroes have been captured by the evil mastermind Mobius. But, before the super-computer lets us in to help track the heroes down, we need to prove that we’re worthy successors.

In a series of challenges, our team of three got to prove our strength, our speed, and our intelligence before we could tackle the big finale and save the world! All in a day’s work, eh?

Image (c) Can You Escape York

Honey, Where Is My Super Suit?!

One of the coolest things about Operation H.E.R.O. is the space you’re greeted with when you first walk into the room. We’d been given a briefing by our games master in the adjacent room (which has been lightly decorated to fit the theme), but instructed not to touch anything in the room until the briefing voiceover was complete. This turned out to be a tantalising instruction as this small space is absolutely packed with interesting looking puzzles under the dim neon lights. We couldn’t help but ogle at buttons, switches, mazes and more.

As soon as our timer began, we were off to a flying start! This escape room, unlike most other traditional rooms requires a varied balance of skills. Each superhero you’re ‘up against’ has a specific skill you need to match – there’s strength, speed, brains, and so on. We enjoyed this a lot and it provided each of our different team members a chance to flex their particular skills. Most of those skills are not ones you’d use in a typical escape room! In fact, most escape rooms discourage you to use strength.

It’s also a very straightforward room. Few rooms have we walked in and immediately understood exactly what to do – but Operation H.E.R.O.’s puzzles are all on display from the moment you walk through the door. What’s more, they’re numbered! Each superhero has 3 puzzles to complete, helpfully numbered 1 – 3. This culminates in one big ending puzzle which combines the skills of all superheros you’ve encountered so far. This too, although not immediately available to play, was fairly obvious from the beginning.

Because of our group size, we tackled each puzzle together and only separated once or twice for a brief moment to look around. A larger or more experienced group could likely cut their room time down to a third by playing each of the different superhero challenges in parallel – but hey, where would the fun in that be?!

Image (c) Can You Escape York

For Escape Room Beginners, or Enthusiasts?

We took on the escape room in a team of three made up mostly of beginners (minus myself). In our annual Christmas trip to see family in York, I’d finally convinced my relatives to try one out. Of all the rooms in York, Operation H.E.R.O. got consistently good reviews and with a few personal recommendations from enthusiasts I trust, we booked right in!

In hindsight, possibly because that was those were the people I played with, I found Operation H.E.R.O. to be a perfect room for beginners. It’s not exactly a traditional escape room experience, but the structured series of fairly recognisable puzzles made it feel very accessible and provide a lot of ‘quick wins’ to players throughout the game. Often I spotted a puzzle (and it’s solution) early on, but encouraged the youngest of our group to try it out, cheering them along. In other places, the puzzle involved strength or skill, and it was a joy to see everyone get hands-on trying to complete the challenges.

We didn’t escape with the best time – a respectable 52 minutes which incredibly still afforded us a leader board spot for December – but everyone came out of the room with a big smile. That’s a huge win for me!

As a final note, Can You Escape York does not allow dogs on the premise. There’s no reason it should do, but since we had a dog in our holiday party and asked, I figure it’s worth mentioning to any prospective future bookers.

The Verdict

Operation H.E.R.O. is an escape room with buckets of charm, and we had a great time playing it. It’s a great room for enthusiasts looking for a different challenge, or absolute beginners who may benefit from a little handholding, with a fun story to boot. It was definitely the right choice of room to try on our trip to York, and if our visit weren’t so short I’d have booked in to play their second room right away! So far I’ve personally played around half of all the escape rooms available in York, and Operation H.E.R.O. is my favourite.

Operation H.E.R.O. can be booked on Can You Escape York’s website here.

Ratings

Fox in a Box London: Prison Break | Review

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Fox in a Box London: Prison Break | Review | The evidence is clear and the jury decision was unanimous, you’ve been found guilty on all accounts. You and your associates are hereby sentenced to life imprisonment. As of this sentence we’ll be detaining you immediately in preparation for your transfer to Fox’s maximum security prison, a state of the art facility with the latest in modern technology and monitoring. There will be no chance for appeal and absolutely no hope of escape – now come along quietly.

Completion Time: 50 minutes
Date Played: 28th November 2021
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

Fun fact: Fox in a Box London has a really special place in The Escape Roomer history. Back in March 2021, it was during a remote avatar version of their escape room Virtual Bunker that I first met Al & Ash, and Rebecca! Fast forward to maybe a hundred or more escape rooms later and several road trips, I wouldn’t have changed that day for the world.

The strangest thing about that is I was originally booked in to play on a completely different day with different people but that got cancelled… And the only other slot I was able to make was that one. Talk about fate!

It’s with this in mind that I took the trip on a sunny Sunday afternoon to play… *gasp* A real life escape room at the very same site. Since lockdown ‘ended’ in the UK, Fox in a Box has been very high on my to-play list and I couldn’t wait to get booked in. Joining me on this trip was Marissa. After a lot of success puling off an audacious heist in Heist Plan, the logical next step was to escape from prison… After, you know, getting caught.

Welcome to the Squid Fox Games

For a special, Halloween event, Fox in a Box London transformed all of their escape rooms into the Fox Games – a Squid Game spin on playing an escape room. Before going in, I was very intrigued about exactly what this would be and how it would work. Because this altered our gameplay a little, thus affects the review, I’ll explain:

  • We arrived at our venue and were greeted by masked foxes who said almost nothing to us
  • We were made to sign a waiver that included terms like “the game can only be stopped if the majority agree”
  • The music from the show was playing in the lobby
  • We were given a Squid Game number. This was our team number.
  • As we walked to our room, we went in single file through corridors themed almost exactly from the show
  • As we played the game, we would hear “Red Light, Green Light” over the tannoy. On “Red Light” we all had to freeze in place, and one of the guards would come in to inspect us – thankfully nobody moved but I’d hate to know what happened if we had!

The Squid- I mean, Fox Games have now concluded, so any subsequent bookings will be the regular ol’ Fox in a Box. However, as a one-off pop-up we thought it was really creative! A fun way to play into a huge trend and elevate a regular escape room experience into something really quite creepy. The team were very creative in pulling this together, and I kinda hope they run this event again… Perhaps when Squid Game 2 comes out, eh? I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Photo (c) Fox in a Box

About Fox in a Box’s Prison Break

As a room, Prison Break is really well paced and we enjoyed it a lot. At the time of writing, an almost-identical version of this room can also be played at many other Fox in a Box locations including Vienna, Munich, Los Angeles… To name a few. But hey, when it works, it works! I’m glad London has a version too.

The game starts with you, the prisoners, being led into the prison cell via the warden’s office and being forced to wear prison t-shirts. You’re then split into two groups and separated into two cells. This part we guessed from the promotional images before we went into the room, but it was no less novel when we got there.

The cells are separated just far enough that you can see your fellow prison-mates but you can’t quite reach them – but you can roll things along the floor to one another (to varying degrees of success). Your first task is to escape from your individual cells and reunite the whole team together – then you get to slip back into that warden’s office and escape!

The whole thing is themed as you would expect – it’s a prison cell! It’s sparse, and it’s hard to be impressed with how a prison escape room looks because, well, it’s a prison. But we found that everything fit well and worked exactly as it should.

Image (c) Fox in a Box

Wishing we had a nail file…

In terms of puzzles, the room was fairly straightforward with a mix of ciphers, plenty of searching, and some observation and communication puzzles. Due to the nature of the room, you’ll often find that you have half the puzzle and your opposite cell has the other half, with plenty of passing objects back and forth whilst we figured out their meaning.

There was one ‘puzzle’in the game that I was absolutely thrilled by. In fact, I can’t stop thinking about how amusing it was even now – which just goes to show it’s something I’ve never seen in any room before. For a prison room, the whole thing felt oddly realistic with a lot of hands-on practicality, some minor destructibility, and using certain objects in surprising ways. At one point I held an object in my hand, looked the camera dead in the eye and said “I’m going to do this now please stop me if it’s wrong”... But nope, it was correct.

This wasn’t the only delightful moment in the game, as there were quite a few puzzles which sparked a lot of joy in the whole team. This was balanced by a couple of red herrings, but nothing that threw us too far out of the immersion.

How to Ask for Clues?

Another thing we really enjoyed in Prison Break was the method of receiving clues. At the start, each team is given three free clues. After this, clues must be ‘purchased’ by completing a small challenge.

Unfortunately, we didn’t use all of our clues and so never got round to purchasing any – but our two hosts (one of whom was the same Abdullah from our previous Fox in a Box escapade) showed us round the challenges after the game. Ranging from small puzzles to defusing a bomb, these were some impressive portable mini-challenges!

The Verdict

We enjoyed Prison Break A LOT. With Fox in a Box, you know what you’re getting – it’s going to be a pretty consistently high standard escape room, no matter where you are in the world. Fox in a Box London is made all the better by a fantastic team of hosts and really creative pop-ups like the Fox Games, and some frankly brilliant social media campaigns. As such, it’s always a joy to play anything that the company has put it’s fox paws on, and I’m already counting down the days until we can book another experience with them!

Prison Break can be booked by heading to Fox in a Box’s website here.

Ratings

** Please note, these ratings are based on our specific experience, including the special Fox Games additions.

No Escape: The Haunted Toy Store | Review

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The Haunted Toy Store Review | An abandoned toy store looms over an otherwise charming village. People tell stories of weird noises and strange happenings, toys found in odd places and children going missing. Nobody has been brave enough to attempt to solve the mysteries of the toy store that is, until you…

Completion Time: 40 minutes
Date Played: 29th October 2021
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Easy-ish

I’ve got a reputation on The Escape Roomer for being a little bit of a scaredy cat… Dark Spaces? Ghosts? Asylums? No thank you.

I listen in horror as Al and Ash chat about all the UK’s scariest games they’ve played and instead ‘reminisce’ about the time I went to the London Dungeon and had to be escorted out because I got too scared and started crying. It would be a funny story if I’d been a child… Only I was 17 at the time!

But when our group committed to playing a scary escape room over Halloween, I figured what the heck – if you can’t get scared witless on Halloween, then when can you? No Escape, bring it on!

A Hauntingly Good Halloween at No Escape

For No Escape’s special Halloween weekend, we went for what sounded like the least scary game they run: The Haunted Toy Store. Somehow ghosts feel more manageable than walking into a blood splattered cutting floor- which made being greeted at the entrance by a terrifying butcher in full character, sporting a human ear necklace all the more chilling.

For one weekend only in 2021, each of No Escape’s escape rooms at both of their London sites had a live actor in the room with the teams. It’s important to note that normally, their rooms are not live actor rooms, but given the circumstances I think The Haunted Toy Store was vastly improved with the presence of a creepy clown throwing red herrings our way. The creepy clown was an actor, Nicole, and just outside the room our games master was Holly.

We resolved to enter the room and pretend as if we wouldn’t be scared and in the end I think we made the right decision. I think without the live actor the room itself would have been fairly average and not too scary- but if you’re into creepy cursed dolls and children’s toys coming to life, then you’ll probably enjoy it all the same! No jump scares in the original, but plenty in the Halloween special! So a huge shout out to Holly and Nicole for that!

Pitch Black… Cackling Laughter

We began our briefing being told that this was a mysterious toy shop. The day before a boy had come into the room and cut himself quite badly, but when they’d returned to clean it up all the blood had mysteriously disappeared. Creepily, so had the boy – not a trace of him since.

The doors then swung open and we were in pitch darkness. As cackling laughter rose out of the corner, we quickly realised we were not alone! Our first actor interaction began in this room, which I feverishly tried to ignore, rushing past them to start busying myself with anything else. A word of warning: It’s quite hard to try to look for a light switch when you have your eyes closed.

From here, we were off to a flying start. The Haunted Toy Store is essentially a two-room escape room that pretty much looks and feels exactly like a toy shop from everyone’s worst nightmare. Plenty of dolls staring out at you from shelves, and plenty of toys that have had heads and limbs ripped off. So many distorted faces, dark corners and eerie sounds!

*shudders*

How did we escape the Haunted Toy Store?

The puzzles in this escape room were fairly straightforward and we managed to escape with a respectable time that put us right at the top of the Halloween leader board. I’d probably pitch the general puzzles at an easier-than-average level, but that’s not to say we didn’t get immensely stuck from time to time! No sir. The presence of a creepy clown made it all the harder.

There was a bit of searching and finding, plenty of children’s toys, some of which had clues and others were just for display, as well dials to turn, things to count and a few 3 and 4 digit codes. This all led to a meta puzzle which combined lots of the room and took us the longest to get right! There were also a few red herrings in the game which are usually a no-no in escape rooms, but we all felt they worked pretty well in a room like this. Red herrings can go a long way to building up atmosphere and forcing you to spread out (and away from the safety of numbers!)

Over the course of The Haunted Toy Store we asked for two hints. One of these was delivered via a screen in the room, and the other was given by the live actor in the room. Since this room is not usually available with a live actor, I don’t mind telling you that she had us all holding hands and singing ring-a-ring-a-roses followed by lots of screaming in order to receive the clue. I still have nightmares!

The Verdict

Overall, we had a lot of fun! We screamed quite a few times – but thankfully not as many as the butcher room next door to us, so I think we made the right choice!

There are a few ‘meh’ reviews of the company and the room out there, and I can see that without a live actor it probably wouldn’t appeal to hardcore enthusiasts as much. We were there for a good time, a couple of screams, and that’s exactly what we got – so no complaints.

For the special Halloween edition, we paid £35 per ticket which is also fairly expensive, even for London, but we’d still recommend the experience for the right team. Especially at Halloween.

The Haunted toy Store can be booked on No Escape’s website here. Please note, this review is of their special Halloween version of the room available from the 28th – 31st of October 2021. This involved a live actor in the room, which is not typically available.

Ratings

Escape Reading: Kidnapped | Review

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Escape Reading Kidnapped Review | You wake up in a small darkened room. Nobody can clearly remember it all seems so blurry. You realise you have been Kidnapped.

Completion Time: 55 minutes
Date Played: 29th August 2021
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Hard

Ask any escape room enthusiast and they’ll tell you Reading is absolutely packed with escape rooms. Since were in town to play Escape the Chop, we couldn’t resist booking as many more as we could fit in the day. Not quite ready to take on their terrifying, 16+ The Vampire Slayers room, we opted to start our Escape Reading adventure with Kidnapped!

About Escape Reading

Escape Reading has two locations around Reading town centre, which is worth keeping in mind when you make your booking. The largest of the two sites in Queens Walk houses Kidnapped, The Vampire Slayers, and Blown Away. The smaller of the two sites is over in Audley Street and is home to Ram Raid.

Since Queens Walk is a stone’s throw from the canal (a great spot to grab a meal and a celebratory drink once you’ve escaped!), we easily found it and got to spent a little time in the company’s excellently furnished lobby! Before any game, your briefing is given by a video explaining what to do and what not to do in the room. It was a light-hearted and funny video full of instructions that prompted us to be like “wow what happened in this room that they had to add that rule to the briefing?!”

Whilst you’re there, you can also purchase many Unlock! and Exit the Game boxes, which was a super nice touch.

Our Games Master for Kidnapped was Julia – an all round lovely person who brought buckets of enthusiasm to the whole experience. Each GM at Escape Reading has a room that they’re an expert on, and it really shows! Due to COVID-19, another team in the lobby meant we had to hang around a little longer in our room waiting for their game to start, but Julia expertly showed us around pointing out some little details and Easter Eggs we missed along the way.

You Have Been Kidnapped…

We were recommended to try Kidnapped first, and we weren’t disappointed! It’s a classic “wake up in a strange place” room which started in pitch dark – the only comfort was VO actress Charlie Bond from Deadlocked escape rooms’ voice over the speakers.

After fumbling around a little we eventually found a toilet (yes! really!) Starting in a slightly more sparse space meant we used quite a few clues to get us going at the start, but once we moved from the first room into the next (and the next, and the next… This room is HUGE!), we were off to flying colours.

Kidnapped is best played with a slightly larger group, mainly due to how big it is and how much there is to do! I counted at least 4-5 unique spaces within the room, each packed with puzzles. Our GM explained afterwards that a few of the items we hadn’t used were only part of the room if you booked for a team of 4 or larger. On the one hand, we definitely would not have escaped if there had been even more puzzles. On the other, we did spend a bit of time looking at things which were never used in our, limited game.

Whether or not you play the limited version we did, or the full version for a larger group however, Kidnapped is sure to surprise and delight! With a very simple premise of “get the heck out of there”, the room affords to be story-light and puzzle-heavy. Perfect for those looking to stretch their brains, especially after the long lockdown.

“Can you feel a toilet?”

To comment on the theming and decor of the room would probably be a spoiler, since alongside your goal to escape – your must also figure out what the heck is going on! Who took you, and why?! To reveal what we found beyond the first space would spoil the fun… So instead we’ll just say that of the 5 unique spaces we encountered, they were all themed (and decorated) well for the setting!

Kidnapped, despite the name, is not a scary room. Minus setting off an alarm (which made our time temporarily count down twice as fast), there’ll be no jump scares or encounters with actors. Just you and the room.

Every Type of Puzzle in this Escape Room

In terms of puzzles, there quite literally is one of each type of puzzle – something for everyone! Players can expect to encounter a sound puzzle, some physical puzzles, searching and finding puzzles, cipher puzzles, a touchy-feely puzzle, sorting puzzles, some high tech puzzles and low tech puzzles, and a surprising amount of word puzzles too! The hardest puzzle of them all? Encountering a piece of tech anyone born before 2000 will recognise and we were all stumped by. “How do we turn this thing on?”

Joking aside, there’s a tonne to do, so bring your A-Game and your A-Team!

There were two moments in the game where we… *nervously glancing around* … Brute forced a solution. One time by pure accident – in looking for the last digit of a code we’d accidentally already set the lock to the correct number and it clicked right open on first try. The second time, the puzzle didn’t entirely work for us. I’m happy to admit user error since after being shown the correct solution by our GM, I can’t see how we possibly got it wrong so may times… But it is an interesting note to say that the ‘correct’ way to solve the puzzle would have taken 2-3 people around 5 minutes, but instead 1 of us brute forced it in 30 seconds!

Since that’s just one drop in a huge ocean of otherwise brilliant puzzles which put all our faculties to test, I’m not holding it against Kidnapped in the slightest! As players, with the clock ticking down as fast as it was (is it just me or does time speed up when you’re in an escape room?), let’s just say we ‘thought outside the box’ to crack that particular code and it meant we escaped on time. So win-win!

The Verdict

Kidnapped was a well balanced room in the heart of Reading that would be absolutely perfect for a larger team of 4 or more, perhaps even made up of folks who have never done an escape room before – since it contains a little bit of all the best puzzles you typically see in an escape room! Good puzzles, nicely decorated, and absolutely amazing customer service from our lovely GM Julia!

Our little team of two had a lot of fun, and it was a perfect room to squeeze into our day trip up from London. how soon is too soon to book another room at Escape Reading? We can’t wait!

Kidnapped can be booked at Escape Reading by heading to their website here.

Ratings

404 Escape: Survival | Review

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404 Escape: Survival Review | You and your friends are going on a hiking trip, suddenly it starts to rain. You have to find a place to shelter as it’s getting dark. There is a small old house not far away from you. It looks creepy and seems like no one is in it. You have no other choice but to open the front door.

Completion Time: 80:00 (90 minute room) 
Date Played: 4th September 2021 
Party Size: 

About 404 Escape

Survival is one of two current games available at 404 Escape in Selly Oak, Birmingham and is their horror/scarer room. Getting to 404 Escape is easy enough by car (with ample parking) and the Selly Oak train station is 5 minutes on foot. This was my first ever horror escape room and I was undoubtedly, quite scared. I entered with my buddy Atlas to take on Survival; rated 5 stars in difficulty by the company.  

“Just Put This Blindfold On…” 

We were greeted instantly by our GM James who gave a succinct, yet informative safety speech as an introduction. All good so far. He then asked us to surrender our phones into a lock box. Again, nothing wrong there, all standard.  

“Right then” said James, “just put this blindfold on”. 

Come again? I started to get quite nervous now. We put our blindfolds on and are “congered” to the first of Survivals’ rooms. I say room, it was an outdoors scene. First task; get into the small old house as its raining and dark. When I say dark, it’s VERY dark; one poorly lit flashlight between the both of us dark. The immersion sets in very quickly thanks to the blindfold execution. The torch given to us; our only light source, further added to the immersion, but also forced us to work as a solid, coherent unit, which was an additional positive aspect. 

No Other Choice But To Open The Front Door… 

In terms of story and theming, its your solid horror movie formula of the protagonists going into a building they really shouldn’t be going into; if they had the smallest amount of common sense. I certainly played the part of the cowering, unsure character whilst Atlas was the more self-assured, gung-ho type.  

Decor is mostly idiomatic and compliments well with the overall feel of the game. It’s a little derivative in places (I also didn’t fully understand the rationale behind the fruit and veg decor in the outside scene), but is nonetheless effective in contributing towards the unhinged atmosphere of the game. 

Rhyming Couplets… Of Death! 

As for the puzzles, the overall difficulty was well-balanced, however it wasn’t extremely hard; contrasting to the 5 stars in difficulty given by 404 Escape themselves. Some of the puzzles we fell into the trap of overthinking, however one puzzle in particular involving colour; I felt wasn’t entirely clear how to approach. The conclusion of the puzzle made enough sense (thanks to a hint from the GM), despite the initial confusion. Additionally, I’m not sure that the puzzle aesthetics and types, were consistent to the theme. They felt to be a mixed bag of different influences, which didn’t translate all that well.  

The hints were provided by the GM over a walkie-talkie and I very much appreciated them all. Each one was delivered as a rhyming couplet and in another context, would be applauded for its Shakespearean demeanour. In this context however, it proved all the more jarring, which considering the nature of the game; was highly appropriate.   

Getoutgetoutgetoutgetout! 

Of course there are many, many scary factors in this game; causing both Atlas and myself to jump out of our skins! Massive tick in the box for that. There is a point in the game too where we were split up in a room each… and one of us had the torch. The other had to wait in pitch black (and pray nothing was going to appear right by us!). 

The final part of the game also involved possibly the most stressful event I’ve ever witnessed in an escape room. I’m not going to ruin it for prospective players, but again I very much felt like I was in the final, crucial scene of a horror film.    

A Pound Of Flesh… 

The cost of Survival is £28-£35 per person for a 90 minute experience, based on how many are in the team (2-7 players allowed). This calculates to a cost/time ratio that is just about right when compared to other escape rooms available in the area. We were also given a free admission voucher each to Meeple Mayhem, their board game café sister company; a 10 minute drive down the road, and a bottle of hand sanitiser, which in this present day, was hugely appreciated.

Ratings

This is a solid horror escape room if you happen to be in 404 Escape’s vicinity. Buckets of immersion and a solid emphasis on (scary) fun are certainly the highlights. Special mention to the GM for their creative, poetic hints system…amongst other aspects. 

Survival can be booked by heading to 404 Escape’s website here.