Hourglass Escapes: NOVA | Review

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Hourglass Escapes NOVA Review | Greetings, crew. Our mission is in great danger. An asteroid storm has disabled our ship–but worse, it damaged the automated drop ship that was delivering the Nova seed. The Nova Seed is needed to terraform Khepri 5, the future home planet of what’s left of humanity! Work together to restore power to your vessel, find the crashed Nova drop ship, and deliver the seed!

Completion Time: 22 minutes
Date Played: 10th February 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Easy

Hourglass Escapes across the pond in Seattle is one of those companies I will literally never stop recommending. From their consistently high quality digital games, to how much fun we have with our host (usually the owner Seth) each time. Their Evil Dead 2 room was easily one of our highlights of 2021!

So whenever we hear that Hourglass Escape is releasing a new game, you bet we’re first in the virtual queue!

This month the Hourglass Escapes team announced a new ‘play any time’ sci-fi game game: NOVA. In a similar vein to The Navigators and the Call From Beyond, up to 6 players all log on and are immediately transported across the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Our mission, simple! We’re here to rescue the legendary Nova Seed needed to terraform humanity’s new planet. So err, no pressure!

Let’s go where no man has gone before…

Disclaimer, I am a huge sci-fi fan. There’s a reason my username is mairispaceship (that reason being that at the age of 7 I accidentally legally gave myself the middle name “spaceship” but that’s a story for another time). But for this sci-fi loving reason, I’m a big fan of the story of NOVA. It’s probably my favourite thing about the game.

Not a lot of details are given. All we really know is that it’s set in the far future on a spaceship that’s in peril. Cut to sweeping views of your shuttle ship which looks like a cross between The Expanse and Star Trek, and it well and truly affirms your place in the great unknown universe.

Impressive Production Value

I don’t know why on Earth I’m surprised given their track record, but let me just say it again: NOVA had an incredible production value! It was almost like they’d built an entire spaceship from scratch complete with many rooms, hidden passages, and beautiful sweeping views of the cosmos. Walking around- or rather, pointing and clicking in the handy Telescape platform– felt much more like we were playing a multiplayer video game than playing a simple, browser-based escape room.

As a video game designer for my day job – I appreciate that a lot! But it’s also great to see how much love and care the designers have put into the world building. Kudos!

On the topic of ‘Telescape’, the in-browser technology has improved since we last played another point-and-click at Hourglass Escapes. This time our video chat was inbuilt into the system (hooray! No more Facebook or WhatsApp calls in the background!). This ‘Jitsi’ plugin meant that we could see each other and hear each other from within the browser at all times.

One Small Step For Man…

In terms of puzzles, we found NOVA to be quite easy. According to the playtesting, most teams take around 60 minutes to complete, with enthusiast groups coming in around 40.

*pause*

We took 22 minutes!

But I can explain – NOVA is a very non-linear, collaborative game. In each new area you reach there are a number of panels and screens dotted around, each with their own puzzle. With our team of 4 we immediately got into a rhythm of splitting up and solving in parallel. So whereas a room with 4 unique puzzles may easily take 20 minutes (5 minutes each or more), we all solved about one each and raced through each room in no time.

The flip side to that was that we didn’t all experience the same puzzles, which is a downside because the ones I did were a lot of fun and what can I say? I want more!

Each of the puzzles I did encounter all felt very mimetic in the sci-fi universe they’ve created. In short, exactly the kinds of things you would be expected to do on a space ship. Reading radio wave read outs, flicking switches and rewiring the hardware, analysing chemicals, and so on. Nothing challenged us for more than a minute or two and overall – the whole thing felt fun to solve! So no complaints on the difficulty here.

The Verdict

NOVA is another really solid game from Hourglass Escapes and one I’ll definitely be recommending. It’s probably not my favourite game from the company. No, that award goes to Rise of the Mad Pharaoh, but it’s still an all round fun experience with a lot of snazzy graphics and unique puzzles. Those puzzles probably won’t challenge a larger team, but for a beginner room it’s spot on, so definitely one to introduce to your Puggle (puzzle muggle) friends.

NOVA can be purchased and played at any time from Hourglass Escape’s website here.

Enigmailed: Pouroborus Deluxe Coaster | Review

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The London Pouroboros takes in some of the very best of these; each soaked in history, and somewhere we promise you will form incredibly happy memories. It being London, we also expect you will discover a live band along the way too at some point. This really will be like taking a pub tour of London with a local, just without the kebab at the end of the night.

Time Taken: ~1 hour +
Played On: 6th November 2021

The ouroboros or uroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail… Therefore the Pouroboros game, set in London pubs, must be about drinking a never ending, infinite amount of beer, right? Well I need no excuse!

Ahead of the Kickstarter Pouroborus campaign run by Enigmailed, the creative genius behind Undeliverable and Chocolateral, we were sent a copy of the Pouroborus ‘Deluxe Coaster’. This is an add-on to the key campaign, but fairly representative of what the finished product will look like. That said, as with any early access copy please take our review with a pinch of salt, as the final product may be slightly different.

In this edition we’re playing, the answers are not pubs but famous iconic UK landmarks. That said, we couldn’t resist actually playing the games in pubs because, you know, never-ending beer.

Now that’s out of the way… How did we get on?

Puzzles in Pubs

This game was played over three beautiful quality drinks coasters with cork backing. We decided to give the game a go over a couple of rounds of drinks at our local. Despite the drinks, the coasters held up really well, making them lovely keepsakes to take home once your pub shenanigans are over. They were even eye-catching enough that some of the bar staff asked us about the game we were playing – perhaps puzzle coasters like this will become a staple of pubs in the future, eh?

On each coaster, we had three puzzles to solve. Each puzzle gave a single word which, when combined together gate a What3Words code with an iconic UK location on it.

In terms of types of puzzles, our coasters had a wide ranging mix of different things to suit different players – so our recommendation would be to bring a team on the bigger side when you want to play this, as more heads are better than one.

We encountered some familiar puzzles, such as word association, missing letters, nonograms and anagrams, and some less familiar puzzles that involved twisting and turning the coasters around and thinking outside of the box. Overall, we did find the experience on the harder side, but we’ve found that many of Enigmailed’s experiences are a learning curve – so the Pouroboros Deluxe add-on is definitely one for seasoned puzzlers!

But on the flip side, that’s one of the reasons Pouroboros sets itself apart from other London scavenger hunt type experiences. It’s a level up in difficulty, sure, but the creators have done a lot with such a small space on a drinks coaster. Players will be truly challenged!

Since we were playing an early access version there were no clues available. But, the day after we checked our answers with the creator and it all fell into place. Only a few wrong answers (yep, I’m embarrassed to say!) but that’s what happens when you drink and puzzle. Those playing the live version will of course have a hints page to check their answers against, lest they put the wrong What3Words and up in the ‘wrong part of London’. Wherever that is. I’ll leave that one up to your imagination.

The Verdict

A challenging experience to elevate your new pub crawl around London with mates. We had a lot of fun, and I got to combine two of my favourite activities: solving puzzles with hanging out at the pub with friends of a weekend. If you want something a little different, especially as we come out of lockdown, it’s well worth a try.

To play Pouroborus, or the Deluxe Coaster version we have here, you can back Enigmailed‘s latest Kickstarter here.

E-Scape Rooms: The Sword of Drakul | Review

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E-scape Rooms: The Sword of Drakul | Review | Retrieve the sword of the dragon king and save the kingdom in this online escape room game. 

Completion Time: 46:24
Date Played: 18th October 2021
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

If we could give an award for the most exciting and dramatic intro to any at-home escape room game, The Sword of Drakul would claim it! Seriously, I felt like I was watching the intro to HBO’s latest fantasy drama rather than an escape room.

Game of Thrones, eat your heart out!

On an October Monday – not our typical escape room day of the week – Escaping the Closet, our friend Tasha and I sat down to try the brand new game from E-scape Rooms. Please note, we played the game a couple of days before it’s official launch, meaning it’s possible the game has been tweaked slightly (read as: improved), so take this review with a pinch of salt!

Kings and Dragons and… Goblins!

The story of the Sword of Drakul is an exciting one. We arrive on the scene at the end of an incredibly long war between dragons and humans. So deadly that many a city had been burned to a crisp under the dragon’s tyrannical rule. The king of this great land, after trying every ‘conventional’ method, soon turned to magic to try to stop them – bewitching his most trusted soldiers into dragons themselves to fight them off.

However those six soldiers soon turned against the king and killed him to stop their power from being reversed at the end of the war. However, this also meant that the only secret to stopping these power-crazed dragons died with him. Legend has it the only way to stop the is to recover a mythical sword from deep within the king’s armoury.

It just so happens our crack team of escape room enthusiasts are up to the job. This isn’t our first rodeo and we’ve broken into (and out of) many a king’s armoury before. It’s time to save the world!

Start in the Catacombs…

The Sword of Drakul is played on a platform called Telescape. This means that players have a 360 degree view of each new space and may click into anything for a closer look. Furthermore, you’ll be able to see each other’s mouse mark on the screen to see which puzzles they’re working on in real time. In The Sword of Drakul, when an object is clickable, a dragon’s eye appeared and blinked at us, so no red herrings here.

What was most impressive about this at-home escape room however was those 360 degree views. In most Telescape games, they’re recreations of real life spaces captured with a 360 camera, but E-scape have gone a step further and created a whole new world that felt like it was right out of a video game!

We started in the Catacombs before moving throughout the castle in search of the hidden chamber, solving puzzles along the way – but each time we encountered a new space it took our breath away. The sheer detail! How can this be real? Absolutely gorgeous.

The Dragon King’s Puzzles

Overall, the puzzles in The Sword of Drakul felt really well themed to the setting. When I think of fantasy castles, I think of dusty old games of chess, huge stone pillars with unusual inscriptions and mysterious mechanics lost of time, and of course plenty of dragon motifs! This about sums it up for this at-home escape game, and players can expect to encounter a lot of different puzzles suited to a small group of players.

In particular, my favourite puzzle involved a maze and a goblin. This was also one of the most collaborative puzzles in the game where Ash and I separated ourselves at other ends of the room communicating directions and instructions out to one another. Collaborative puzzles are a theme throughout the game, and on many occasions we had to work together with two, or even three of us split between different screens. As such, we’d recommend it for at least a team of three!

There was one puzzle which didn’t gel particularly well with us, but we were lucky to be playing an early access version of the game and could ask the creator directly what the correct solution and method to solve it was. Once explained, it made a lot more sense!

The Verdict

Overall, we really enjoyed playing the Sword of Drakul. It’s also one of the prettiest Telescape games we’ve seen in a long time – for that reason, we’re awarding it a Diamond Badge (left) reserved for the best looking games in their genre!

This would be a fantastic game for anyone who is a fan of the fantasy genre – or anyone who simply wants to be impressed! There’s something for everyone in this game and we were delighted with it from start to finish.

The Sword of Drakul can be booked on E-Scape’s website here.

Ratings

HiddenCity: Moriarty’s Game – A Killer in the Hive | Review

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You’re invited to join the British government’s Hive programme, a decentralised network of private detectives, harnessing the power of citizens in solving crimes. Team up with your partner – Private Investigator Kayla Watson – as you attempt to track down a dangerous criminal, and uncover the truth about her mysterious informant.

Rating: Exciting!
Completion Time: 45 minutes
Date Played: 28th June 2020
Party Size: 1
Recommended For: Small Groups, Immersive Experience Fans

Please note, this review is based on an early access copy of Moriarty’s Game: A Killer in the Hive played in June 2020. As such, there may be inconsistencies between my experience and the current, live experience.

Moriarty’s Game – A Killer in the Hive is an adaptation of the real life walking experience of the same name by HiddenCity for the post-lockdown world, as such it exists in the same universe and has a few similar puzzles and characters you’ll recognise if you give it a go! But the best part, you can play from home? So a double thumbs up from me – even if I do miss running around my city!

All you need to get started with the game is a mobile phone – from this point your phone becomes your direct line of contact with Kayla Watson, an investigator on the British government’s HIVE programme. Does this make me Sherlock? Mairi Holmes? I like it! I’ll take that.

Whoever your persona is, your job is to solve the case assigned to you and Watson, guide her round the city, and keep her safe. It’s pre-recorded / text based, so no live actors I should add – but immersive enough you’ll forget that within 5 minutes of starting the game.

I found it to be realistic, immersive and thought provoking – definitely a bit special! Have you ever fancied yourself a super spy, or an ‘eyes in the sky’ detective? Well this is about as close to the experience as you can possibly get (and believe me, I did a 6 month internship with a team of detectives at the MET once!). You’ll find yourself scouring live maps of London in order to figure out appropriate meeting places, diligently watching ‘real-time’ CCTV footage, making decisions that affect the outcome of your case, and preparing elaborate scripts as you make phone calls to characters on your journey.

At one point, my regular ‘Player 2’ came running into the room to ask “Who are you on the phone to?” “Shh! This is urgent spy business!” I reply, anxiously.

Whilst the game isn’t on a timer (that I can remember), you’ll have a distinct sense of adrenaline to finish. There really feels like another, live agent on the end of the line and if you don’t play your cards right their life could be in danger… But no spoilers here! You’ll just have to give it a go for yourself!

Unfortunately, as I played this game almost 5 months ago – I have no photos or screenshots from the game, but HiddenCity have kindly provided me the press shots to use in this review.

Moriarty’s Game can be booked for £11 per ticket on HiddenCity’s website here.