Calling all escape room enthusiasts! ER Champ is BACK for 2022. It’s bigger and better than ever, and team The Escape Roomer cannot wait.
What is ER Champ?
The Escape Room Championship (or ER Champ for short) is an annual escape room championship crowning the world’s best escape room players. Since the lockdown, the competition has pivoted from it’s in-person origins in Poland, to a digital event anyone can play from anywhere in the world. Instead of locks and keys, the puzzles are cerebral and require pointing and clicking, deciphering passwords, and inputting data into your browser to ‘escape’.
Throughout the ER Champ, thousands of teams of 2 – 4 players compete for the fastest time over a series of eliminations, then the finale. This year an estimated 800 teams will compete for the title, but only 100 of the fastest teams will make it through from eliminations to the finale. Competition is tough!
Last year in 2021, 823 teams took part but CKCOS from Taiwan won, with two Japanese teams taking second and third place. Sadly, none of the teams from The Escape Roomer made the finale. But perhaps the real finale was the friends we made along the way- or perhaps we’re just going to double down on our efforts for this year.
Want to take us, and 800+ other teams on? You can sign up right now. Participation is completely free and can be done at any time by heading to the ER Champ website.
ER Champ Dates for your Diary
Make a note now! There are two rounds to the ER Champ and you won’t want to miss it.
ER Champ Pre-Game Livestream: November 5th 2022 at 3:30 PM UTC
ER Champ Elimination Competition: November 5th 2022
ER Champ Finale Competition: November 26th 2022
ER Champ Winners Announced: November 30th 2022
ER Champ 2022 Prizes
This year the first, second and third placed teams can enjoy the following prizes.
1st Place: A set of Nintendo Switch Lite consoles and $200 voucher at Board & Dice
On Circus Grounds Review | 1883, Circus Maester in Dalfsen, the Netherlands. Right in the middle of his opening speech Nicolaas Maester collapses in front of the audience. The ringmaster of Circus Maester appears to have been murdered. It doesn’t take long for somebody to be arrested and for the case to be closed.
Date Played: July 2022 Time Taken: ~2 hours Number of Players: 3 Difficulty: Hard
A new Kickstarter game?! Argh! Take all of my money! 2022 has been an excellent year for Kickstarters honestly… From Ruff Bluff, to Unsolved Science, to PostCurious’ Light in the Mist, to Curious Correspondence’s Doomensions. But now we have another, just as exciting game to look forward to from the brilliant minds of Studio Stamp: On Circus Grounds. The best part of this one is that it’s already been released in Dutch as Meester, 1883 to rave reviews and a solid 8.7 on Board Game Geek.
From the moment our box arrived and I popped it open on our table, I knew we’d be in for something very special. A small box, yes, but an in calculable number of beautiful documents came pouring out. A locket, a little vial, scrolls upon scrolls. Studio Stamp’s attention to detail is *chefs kiss*, and we couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
Come One, Come All
Roll up, roll up, for Nicolaas Maester presents a circus night like no other. Enchanting dancers, lion tamers, fortune tellers, and death defying stunts… But tonight is not a night like any other. Tonight the ringmaster of the circus suddenly, in the middle of the show, collapses dead. The case goes cold, the evidence grows dusty on a shelf, and soon society forgets the curious case on the circus grounds. That is until the mysterious box packed with evidence arrives on your, the player’s, doorstep. Can you crack the cold case and identify the true culprit of that fateful night?
If you couldn’t tell, On Circus Grounds is a lot more in the category of “murder mystery” than “escape room”. For starters, you’re not really escaping anything. For seconds, the experience is all about deduction and paying close attention. There is a medley of characters each with motives as compelling as the other. But to succeed in this case you have to pay close attention to everything they write and every little detail about their person.
Sure, there are quite a few puzzles in the game too, and I think Studio Stamp does a good job of balancing puzzles against story, but more on that later! For now it’s important to know that you’re not looking for a specific number combination or word output. No, the puzzling is softer. In the introduction letter, the game sets out four key questions to answer:
Who murdered Nicolaas Maester?
What was their motive?
What object was used to commit the murder?
If applicable, how did the culprit gain access to it?
So, no pressure, hey!
Roll Up, Roll Up
I chose to play On Circus Grounds in a team of 3 players over a quiet evening, each of us with varying levels of experience in solving games like this, and each of us at various levels into our glass of wine. Given that circumstance, I will say that we definitely struggled with this game. We struggled first with who was who, and then with who did what, and after quite a bit of arguing we weren’t 100% sure on the ‘correct’ answer to input into the website in the end. It’s a murder mystery, but it’s a deeply complex one that should challenge even the most seasoned puzzle enthusiasts.
But the flip side is, this isn’t the first time our very specific team has struggled with a murder mystery case in a box, as regular readers might remember from The Fire in Adlerstein. So I will say perhaps murder mysteries just aren’t quite for us, and that’s okay.
But unlike all the other murder mysteries in a box we’ve ever played, this one had a LOT going for it. For starters, it’s packed with puzzles. A lot of the information is just given in plain text, but a lot more must be solved before it can be used. Think ciphers, folding puzzles, reading maps and so on. So there was never a boring moment in the whole game. For seconds, the quality of the materials was absolutely gorgeous. No, seriously. I kind of want to take the whole game and frame it, it’s that pretty! I’ve never encountered a box with such a consistent level of high quality materials and I cannot believe the retail price is under €50. For that money you get so much material, lovingly hand-made and hand packed, and beautiful to spread out over the table.
Puzzling through the Circus
So this is The Escape Roomer, we have to talk about the puzzles! Puzzles, there are plenty.
Overall, players can expect to encounter a few different ‘types’ of puzzles. But, this being a game consisting of mostly paper, these puzzles usually fell on the side of ‘cipher’ or word style puzzles which, if I have to admit, erred on the longer side to decode. In general, I can’t over-emphasise how much reading there is to do. We often found it hard to know exactly what to do to tease out the secret message or the secret author of the text, but a quick check of the hints page usually set us along the right way. That said, in many more moments we knew exactly how to decode a puzzle but found the contents of the text so lengthy we again consulted the hints to skip a little manual decoding time.
But when they weren’t lengthy ciphers, the puzzles were great fun! My favourite in the whole game involved a little jar of a curious concoction we needed to take to our kitchen and mix. Whilst it didn’t work perfectly (I blame the unseasonably hot weather we’ve had here in the UK), we understood how it worked and were delighted by the physicality of it. Any puzzle that surprises and delights is a double thumbs up from us.
Mostly, the puzzle output for each item in our box was looking for a connection between two people, or a motive and a person, or so on, but we got there in the end… Sort of, anyway! After 2 hours of sorting and resorting through everything we knew, drawing timelines and striking names off pieces of paper… We were ready to make our deduction! We promptly headed to the linked website to answer a few questions on a futuristic AI style of police database.
Only… We got it wrong!
Whoops… The wrong suspect sentenced to prison? Well this is a cold case and all the suspects are long gone. So, thankfully the game’s finale let us re-choose our answers until we finally got them correct, and we were able to experience the fun finale as it was intended.
So, we didn’t succeed, but I think that’s okay. Unlike traditional escape games in a box where the answer is super clear, murder mysteries deal in deduction and nuance and small details and meticulous note-taking. Which are all things we’re not so great at. But, the most important part was that we had fun playing the game. A lot of fun in fact! There was plenty for a team of 3 to get along with, and some brilliant moments of discussion between us as we ironed out details. The game is beautiful, the puzzles enjoyable, and I have no doubt this will be a fan-favourite for many armchair detectives for years to come. A round of applause for Studio Stamp, and I highly recommend checking this game out on Kickstarter.
Nightjar Review: An anxious mind, struggling to sleep, listens to the crepuscular call of birds as their insomnia continues to plague them. Will this innocuous jar filled with secrets be the key to escaping their torment?
Date Played: February 2022 Time Taken: ~40 minutes Number of Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Nightjar is my personal holy grail of the escape room-in-a-box world and that makes it incredibly tricky to write a review for it. My brain is saying “lets be analytical and explain to our dear readers what the game is all about” and my heart is screaming in excitement that I actually own a copy sitting on my desk in pride of place. I imagine if I ever achieve my dream of getting hold of Tale of Ord (not likely) it’ll be much the same way.
Enigmailed’s Nightjar – A Rare Puzzle Game
Nightjar is a small boxed puzzle game, possibly the world’s smallest, as it fits entirely into a small jar around 10x10x10cm. There were only around ~55 copies ever made. The first batch was a part of the annual puzzle game Secret Santa group, where game designers from all around the world are tasked with creating a mystery game for another recipient around the world. Nightjar became something of a cult project thanks to a podcast series the game’s creator, Step of Enigmailed, made to document the game design process. The game was available as a bonus, extremely limited add-on in follow-up Kickstarter, Pouroboros. The game then later cropped up in a charity auction, selling for £110. Then, for a final time 50 or so extra copies were released mysteriously in a ‘blind game drop’ under the name EASTWOOD on April 1st, 2022. Nobody knew that Nightjar would be one of the two games released (the other is ‘Mangetout’ which I sadly haven’t played but definitely will and review soon. Shout out to my chaotic life for making it as yet impossible). Despite the hush-hush around what the games would be, the mystery drop release sold out very quickly. There goes the final batch of Nightjar… For now! A moment’s silence please.
So, that’s a long roundabout way of saying it’s a rare game and for me, a very very coveted one. If my apartment was on fire, I’d run past all my photo albums and holiday trinkets and make sure Nightjar got out safely first. As far as I’m aware, the creator has plans to make just a few more copies which will be released in similarly mysterious fashion. But for the most part, Enigmailed have moved on to other (very exciting) projects.
The second thing to note about Nightjar that adds to it’s rarity is that it is single-play. Almost every component in the game is destroyed, making it impossible to replay. Believe me, I tried to be extra careful. There’s also no reset pack. So of those ~55 copies ever made. Let’s say 90% of them were played. Which leaves… A very small number of this game out in the wild. Oof, my heart aches! I haven’t yet seen any of these games go up for sale, but I’ve no doubt whichever seller does will fetch a high price. But don’t do that. Keep it. Putting all the rarity and speculation aside, Nightjar was a genuinely very fun game and if anyone has a copy I’d encourage them to play it, enjoy it, and let it live on in your memory. Besides, you’ll have the jar to keep as a memento, like I have.
So, the history of Nightjar out of the way… Tell me about the game!
From Dusk to Dawn
If you didn’t know Nightjar was a puzzle game, you’d never be able to tell.
Your first impressions would be “oh, this is a jar of marmite”.
Then you’d realise something was up, you’d open it, and think “oh, this is a jar of sleep-aid things”.
Then you’d move on with your life and never realise just how brilliant the combination of objects hidden within the jar are. Yes, yes, they are just sleep aid things. But in true Enigmailed fashion there’s a riddle, inside an enigma, wrapped in a mystery locked inside. I won’t give any spoilers as to exactly what can be found inside except to say it’s a small medley of things you might turn to if you were having difficulty sleeping. You might dim the lights and pour yourself a cup of tea, you might try to block out the world outside, and you might use some nice smells to help you drift off. You might do anyway. Might… Might… Might.
In terms of quality, Nightjar is handmade in very small batches, so there’s a lot of attention to detail and care gone into the game. There’s a mix of real-life objects modified to suit the puzzle game, and further materials which are handmade or printed from scratch.
Falling Asleep is the Yeast of Your Problems…
The gameplay of the game is such that you can start with any object inside the jar and each object will lead to the next, and the next, and so on. It’s a puzzle loop that, when solved correctly, should bring you full circle over the course of 30 – 60 minutes.
It’s a quiet, introspective game best played in a team of 1. Probably also best played in the evening before drifting off to sleep yourself. But that’s not to say the puzzles were easy. Far from it, in fact! I always seem to find Enigmailed puzzle games on the harder side. I don’t know if that’s just me, or if they genuinely are. Cut to several years worth of playing them and I finally think I’m beginning to understand what type of answers the puzzles are looking for – and yet I still spent a good amount of time puzzling and wracking my brain over a few. At the time of writing there wasn’t a clue system (this may have changed), but Step was on hand to offer a little nudge if I needed it.
Above anything else, from the moment I opened up the jar to the very final puzzle I solved, Nightjar captured my imagination. It’s ability to set such a powerful theme, tell such a lovely story, and engross me with some brilliant fun puzzles with such a tiny number of materials squeezed into such a small jar is second to none. Yes, I had to use a magnifying glass a few times, but it was well worth it.
Normally at this time in a review I’d talk about who we recommend this game for and where it can be purchased, but with Nightjar that’s a little tricky. Firstly, I’d recommend it for everyone. Secondly, if you want a copy, you’ll have to try to convince Step to make you one, or scour the various Facebook forums for anyone selling theirs. Good luck in your quest, it’s well worth the reward at the end.
If you’re interested in getting into Game Design, Nightjar and it’s associated podcast are a 101 on fantastic game design, thinking outside the box, and creating puzzles out of unexpected everyday objects. As a game designer myself, if I ever create a game that is 1/10th as good as Nightjar, then I’ll consider my life a success. A round of applause for Step and Enigmailed. But even if you don’t play Nightjar, give the podcast a listen and subscribe to Enigmailed’s newsletter anyway. They’re both brilliant and will both give an insight into the weird and wonderful mind of the creators of this game.
Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery Review | Barker Street Detectives… An urgent request has come across my desk and I request you aid me in this investigation. A distressed Ms Barbara Fetcher requires our assistance with the case of The Missing Ruby Bone. Contained in this box you will find evidence gathered from the scene of the Ruby Bone’s disappearance. Identify the culprit of the theft and recover the priceless artefact. A particularly puzzling path awaits you inside…
Date Played: May-June 2022 Time Taken: ~4 hours Number of Players: 1 Difficulty: Challenging!
I knew Ruff Bluff would be something special as from the moment I received it I had it sitting in pride of place at the front of my board game shelf. Without fail every single person that visited our apartment in time between then and now, commented on the new addition:
“Ruff Bluff? Haha what’s that?” or “OMG are those dogs playing cards?” to “Furlock Holmes? I love it!”
Cue my whipping it off the shelf and spreading out the materials to gush to my friends and family about my favourite puzzles in the game. Even before the Kickstarter went live and the game was made available to the general public, this game is single handedly causing big ripples in my little community here in London, just by merit of it sitting on my shelf. The box is so appealingly light-hearted and funny with a picture of dogs all sitting round at a card game, and the name ‘Furlock Holmes’ suggests something puzzlingly brilliant.
…And that’s before I even start on what comes inside the box! But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
About Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery
Furlock Holmes is the fox character created by escape room company Trapped Puzzle Rooms all the way over in the United States. Creators of Taco Tuesday (oh! I’ve heard of that one), and a whole host of digital, remote avatar and audio rooms, Trapped Puzzle Rooms isn’t as much of a household name here in the UK escape room community as it clearly is in the United States. But after playing their first foray into physical boxed rooms, I’m impressed – and only slightly regretful that this is the very first experience of theirs we’ve played. We missed out not playing all the others in lockdown!
In June 2022, the company put Ruff Bluff up on Kickstarter as a sequel to their existing ‘Furlock Holmes’ mystery, “Furlock Holmes Museum Mystery”. The original game is a web-based point-and-click mystery that follows the titular character Furlock Holmes as he investigates crimes around a fictionalised, vintage London. That said, there’s absolutely no requirement to have played the first game before diving right into Ruff Bluff. They’re completely different!
Ruff Bluff is a 6 – 12 hour mystery game. The complete experience is self-contained within a small box, with a handy answer-checker online. It’s best played over a couple of sessions, and the box is broken up into four parts to make it easy to stop and start between those. As a bonus, the website also saves your answers up until that point so you can pick up wherever you left off!
I took on this mystery over around ~3 days, with a week or so inbetween. I took on Part I at my desk on a funny Friday afternoon. The second part is much longer and much more manual which took a little time over another day. Then I whizzed through the final two parts an afternoon a few weeks later. This super well for me, and I’d definitely recommend taking a similar approach over two or three evenings.
So, the technical parts and the ‘what to expect’ out of the way, here’s how I got on…
The game is afoot (well… apaw)
This exciting, canine-themed mystery pushes players right into the deep end! There’s been a crime! A priceless Ruby Bone has gone missing from a poker match and it’s up to you, the players, to figure out whodunnit. There are seven suspects: the seven dogs who were sitting around the table playing cards. They are:
Austin Fetcher, a Husky with a very boopable nose
Pablo Diggbury, a professional Barkeologist
Barbara Fetcher, the furriest ball of floof I’ve ever seen
Darleen Haskel, a sleek looking Dalmatian
Julia Dripping, a very dribbly St Bernard from New Bark City
Renaldo Blurri, my personal favourite, a Greyhound with a bowler hat on
Richard Ruffington, a pup who shares my birthday!
The game starts with dossiers about each of these dogs. Who they were, where they’re from, and what job they do. Within these dossiers are a number of blanks, and that’s where the player comes in – to fill in the missing information by scouring the clues and looking for details.
This proves an excellent introduction to the game as players are encouraged to really get to know the characters and start making their own assumptions about whodunnit (which by the way, I guessed completely wrong until the very last minute – which is exactly what a good whodunnit should do!).
To help you out, this first portion of the box is absolutely packed with clues. They’re not single use either – throughout the game I found myself constantly referring back to details from the first part and small nudges within the dossiers. From stacks of $700 bills, to a whole deck of playing cards, to napkins, poker chips, postcards and drink matts. It’s an understatement to say there really is a lot going on in this box and I loved it. Each new object seemed to hide so many puzzles, but the game leads you through them gently in a way that doesn’t feel too overwhelming as you scour the evidence. It’s a real “pin everything up on an evidence board and take a step back” kinda game, and I really enjoyed this.
The second part of the game however was my absolute favourite. I don’t know why I’m so easily impressed by a jigsaw puzzle mechanic but hey, what can I say? I’m just a simple gal who likes complex jigsaw puzzles. The one in Ruff Bluff was absolutely brilliant. It’s the kind of puzzle in a game that even though your partner doesn’t want to take part they can’t help but slide over to help you put a piece or two into their place. Whats more, it fit so well with the story too!
With box one and box two out of the way, the final two chapters were the home-run in terms of puzzle solving. By this point, you know the characters and you know what’s what. All that’s left to do it solve the case.
Even though I literally just said one paragraph ago that the jigsaw was my favourite… I lied. The puzzle that came directly after the jigsaw puzzle was my favourite. This time definitely no spoilers because it was so much fun to open that Box 3 and realise what the game wanted me to do. So I’ll just leave it by saying it was a logic puzzle at it’s absolute finest. More games should include puzzles like this. No, seriously. Designers take note!
In short, if you can’t tell by my enthusiasm – I had a lot of fun with the puzzles in this game. I found them to be genuinely enjoyable to solve which is at it’s heart what all games should do. For sure, I used a couple of hints. Okay, okay maybe more than a couple of hints… But despite this the whole thing felt well balanced in terms of difficulty.
When you’ve eliminated the possible…
Puzzles aside, let’s talk about the theme. Ruff Bluff’s unique selling point is… Well… Dogs.
If you’re a cat person, look away now. This game is set in the canine universe and is not for you. In fact there aren’t many other animals at all, other than a pesky squirrel, and the occasional off-handed mention of a dog’s owner. For example, my favourite part in the whole game:
“My human recently dug up a part of my back-yard and put in some new plants. I didn’t feel like they did a very good job digging. So I spent the whole afternoon digging several dozen holes all of the yard. Not only did my human not appreciate my hard work, they got upset! – I Can Dig It”
“Dear Dig It, Humans never really understand all the hard work we do for them. Whenever they accidentally vacuum our fur off the couch, we have to take the time and shed more all over it. Whenever a jogger passes by our house, we bark and bark until they keep doing by. This is important work. My advice is to keep digging holes. Eventually you’ll dig one they like and they will reward you with lots of treats.”
As a dog person. In fact, possibly one of only two ‘dog people’ here at The Escape Roomer *grumbles at all the cat enthusiasts here*, I appreciated putting our four legged canine friends at the front and centre of an exciting mystery like this one.
And what a plot it is too. It’s exciting, has twists and turns, and more dog puns than you can shake a stick at. Again, this game is FUN.
I had a lot of fun playing Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery and I’ve no doubt this one is going to go down as a ‘favourite’ of a lot of folks out there.
For me, the very best thing about the whole experience were the puzzles. I saw some delightful ones I’d never quite experience before and genuinely had fun solving them throughout the whole game. When the box first said it would take 6 – 12 hours, I don’t mind admitting I groaned a tiny bit. Now, having finished the game, it turns out 12 hours is not enough. I want more of the Furlock Holmes universe. Give me sequels! Give me more puzzles! For this reason I’ve chosen to award this game the coveted Puzzle Prize here on the Escape Roomer, for outstanding puzzle design. It’s well deserved.
My particular copy was an early access, pre-Kickstarter copy. As such some of the materials weren’t ‘final’ quality, there were one or two missing bits, and a few corrections to keep in mind. However this doesn’t affect the review whatsoever, since the creator was so helpful in explaining what to keep an eye out and these are things which are planned to be fixed by the time of publication. That’s why I’ve absolutely no hesitation in recommending this game to other players.
In terms of accessibility – it ticks the boxes with no puzzles reliant on colour or sound that could restrict accessibility for any players. The only thing to flag is that in one puzzle you may find yourself looking very closely for details, so potentially not for folks who might be hard of seeing. But otherwise appears to me to be a very accessible game all round. With easy to understand puzzles, I also have no qualms about saying it would be a great game for a family audience. It’s packed with dog puns and so long as you don’t mind the themes of gambling / drinking at a poker game, then you’ll be golden with Ruff Bluff.
Case 01: The Object Review | Unsolved Science is a challenging cooperative tabletop mystery game for 1-4 players. But instead of locks and puzzles, in this mystery, science IS the game mechanic. Perform real experiments. Analyze weird data. Become the scientist to figure out why a mysterious object could spell disaster for the world.
Completion Time: 2hr Date Played: 20th January 2022 Party Size: 2 Difficulty: Medium
I was so exited when this game arrived on my doorstep. I’m by no means a science expert, but the idea of performing experiments and analysing data is completely my jam. Then mix that with solving a mystery?! Hand me a white coat and goggles because I’m ready to play.
This game has clearly been made with a passion for making science fun at it’s heart. The materials are of a really high quality, and allow you to become immersed in the story as though you are receiving components directly from the Planetary Protection Strategy Service. We get a letter, name badges (with space for achievement stickers), a progress tracker, an evidence board, 3 yellow investigation envelopes, an answer envelope and most excitingly, a mysterious object!
Once all the materials have been laid out and we’ve found 4 small clear containers from the cupboard (finally a use for our leftover Gu indulgences), we open the letter to reveal our mission. A mysterious object has fallen into the hands of a questionable intelligence organisation, and they believe it could change the world. But can they be trusted? It’s up to us to uncover the secrets of their puzzling discovery.
Let the Experiments Begin
Using both the instructions and the progress board, the order in which you need to perform the experiments and analyse the data is made really clear which I appreciated. Within each envelope are several experiments, designed to gradually reveal information and test your ever growing knowledge as you progress. You track your findings on the evidence board, which is really useful for remembering the wave of new facts you’re learning, and to refer back to later in the game.
The experiments are a mix of physical tasks and observations as well as analysing a range of photos, charts and various media found online. There’s no need to navigate away from any of the online materials provided, Unsolved Science have created an online portal of information where you can search for key words to help as part of your investigation. I’d really encourage you to use this regardless of your scientific knowledge, as it’s essential in discovering the true nature of the mysterious object.
We really enjoyed the wide range of experiments provided, and found it was a lot closer to solving puzzles than we expected. Asking ourselves why certain patterns or differences were occurring required logic and reason, and discovering the answer was just as satisfying as unlocking a padlock!
The key to solving the mystery of the game is to answer a number of important questions correctly to unlock the best ending online. These questions ask you to dig deep, and take a good look at the evidence you’ve acquired to find the right solution. They are each assigned a difficulty level which gives you a good indication of how much information you need to answer it. We found we didn’t answer the hardest difficulty questions until the very end of the game, so don’t worry if you feel behind at any point, the a-ha moments will come!
If you’re feeling stuck, there is an excellent clue system provided with three levels of hints to help you on your way. There is also an answers envelope, which you can compare your findings to but which will not reveal the answers to the dig deep questions.
But what is the Mysterious Object?!
Obviously, I’m not going to tell you. But I really enjoyed the story behind this game, and I’d like to know what happens next! I don’t know if any follow up games will be a continuation of this story, but the ending certainly left me wanting more.
We absolutely loved playing The Object and found it to be the perfect balance of scientific discovery, fun and mystery. Don’t be fooled into thinking science experiment kits are just for kids, this game is designed primarily for adults and we had an absolute blast while discovering facts we didn’t know before. Unsolved Science have created a unique, exciting new addition to add to the tabletop mystery game community and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. We’ve also chosen to award it the special “Wow Award” for being an especially innovative game!
The Unsolved Science Kickstarter
If you’re interested in playing Unsolved Science’s Case 01, the game will be available in early 2022 via Kickstarter. You can sign up for news and updates by heading to Unsolved Science’s website here.
Here at The Escape Roomer we’re no stranger to puzzles no matter the form – room, box...or treasure hunt?
Last year Alex Horne released the fantastically titled ‘Bring Me The Head Of The Taskmaster‘ book and with it launched a global treasure hunt that has taken over hundreds of minds globally, as well as spawning a Reddit community and, naturally, a few of us here have also been obsessed.
It turns out that Alex is a very lovely man – each month he hosts a Zoom for those treasure hunters who crack the code, and has kindly allowed us to send him some questions of our own!
Hello Alex! Thank you for taking a break from a busy day of assisting to answer some eager questions from us, and congrats on your recent awards! We have been avidly following the Taskmaster Treasure hunt and would love to know how you came up with the idea?
I’ve always enjoyed treasure hunts, inspired, I think, by Easter Egg hunts as a kid. I like chocolate. A lot. I also like interactive things like Escape Rooms and The Crystal Maze. So it was a fairly short leap to get to making a Taskmaster Treasure Hunt. I must admit, however, that I didn’t know about Masquerade when I thought of the idea. I genuinely thought I was the first person to put a treasure hunt in a book!
How long did it take to create the treasure hunt?
It took about a year of lockdown. It was a useful distraction for me and, I hope, my two helpers, Dan Trelfer and Owen Powell. We would send ideas back and forth, stretching our brains and confirming if things worked or didn’t.
👆 Dan Trelfer & Alex Horne on Dan’s Vlog 👆
How did you come up with the puzzles? Are there any you’ve had to change as the hunt progressed?
I suppose I came up with the puzzles in the same way as I come up with Tasks from the show – I shut my eyes and hope for the best. There’s no plan or formula. They just sort of fall out of my brain. And ever since we left the confines of the grid in the book, we’ve been super-flexible. Readers have been far smarter than we gave them credit for so we’ve had to adapt every single time another clue is needed.
Has anything surprised you about the hunt?
I couldn’t believe how quickly people solved the 100 questions in the book. Unbelievable. I expected people to help each other on things like Reddit, but I was definitely – and pleasantly – surprised by just how far and wide the hunters would be spread. I’ve been in touch with people from every continent.
Bring Me the Head of the Taskmaster community
What’s been your favourite experience from the Treasure Hunt so far?
I host a zoom once a month for people who’ve found the details for that. It’s really fun to meet people who have invested so much time into something so silly.
Is there anything you didn’t manage to squeeze in that you wish you had?
No! It’s all there! My only regret is that I haven’t been able to film the whole thing because there have been some fantastic visual moments.
Is it too late to join the hunt?
Absolutely not! There are people joining all the time and everything is still possible to solve.
Do you have any advice for puzzle-makers out there?
Find a friend to test your puzzles on. You WILL make mistakes! You need to check and check again. Finally, be ambitious!
The hunt is quite puzzle-y, so you must also enjoy escape rooms, right?
My family and I love escape rooms. They bring the best and worst out of us, but they are always a valuable experience.
What’s the best/most enjoyable escape room experience you’ve had?
We spent a wet few days in Galway before the lockdown and the escape rooms meant it was one of our favourite ever holidays. They were simply laid out but well planned and brilliantly run. Also, we escaped (after just a couple of hints!)
If you had a magic wand (or an Assistant’s Assistant) what sort of escape room would you love to experience?
I’d like to go in an escape room set on the moon please.
You’ve just launched Taskmaster Supermax +, which is the first time a television show has essentially launched its own worldwide streaming service. Can you tell us a bit more about what to expect?
Well, it’s a curious experiment but the main idea is that it’ll be the ad-free home for all things Taskmaster. We will keep putting things up on Youtube, but EVERYTHING will eventually be on the Supermax+ platform: the international shows, extras, bespoke content and, of course, every single episode ever.
So you’ve got the Taskmaster Treasure Hunt, Taskmaster TV show, and The Horne Section…what’s coming next?
I’m literally going on holiday in 4 hours. I can’t wait – and nor can my wife!
Thank you so much for your time Alex! We hop you have a well deserved holiday! There is still time to get your hands on the book and join in the hunt, or just try out some of the challenges!
Hopefully The Escape Roomer team will soon be the owners of a silver bust… 😉
Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articleson how you can approachcreating small, but effectiveartefactsfor your own game designs.
Why am I known as RussBuilds? Because I like to build things; particularly electronics, that lead to creating an escape game artefact; an object that can be held or handled, to solve and is usually hiding something like a key or a secret message to progress further.
I made 4 games over the course of the lockdown period, each involving multiple escape game artefacts, and Mairi right here at The Escape Roomer, reviewed 3 of them. (ENDGAME, AIRLOCK and CITIZEN if you are interested).
I discontinued these games in June 2021, however I would love to pass on some skills and insight into anyone who is considering making their own physical escape games, but doesn’t know where to start.
Part 1: Fundamental Equipment
What do I mean by fundamental equipment?
Later on in the series, I’ll be showing you how to build an escape game artefact. Fundamental equipment is the absolute basics you need for all artefact building; without these components you won’t get very far!
So without further a-do, let’s begin.
A microcontroller is the brain of any artefact. It receives power and transmits signals to components, telling them to perform an action eg: unlock an electronic lock, show a message to the player etc. There are many microcontrollers out there, but the one I shall reference in this series, is the Arduino Uno.
Why this one? It’s the most popular one in the world, has tons of technical support for it and most importantly, is an open-source design. This means that the design of the Arduino Uno can be replicated by anyone. The Arduino Uno retails at around £20 per unit and this can get pricey, if you want to build multiple artefacts.
However! There are plenty of open-source copies out there that are up to a fifth of the price, making a project like this, much more accessible.
Also don’t forget to buy an Arduino USB connector, sometimes they are included but always check; you need one to connect it to a computer!
You need a power adapter to power the microcontroller. The Arduino Uno outputs a maximum of 5 volts (V) to anything connected to it that requires power eg: an electronic lock or an LCD display. I personally use, power adapters that are rated between 5V and 9V and have an ampere (A) rating between 500mA and 1A. Combining these two figures (V x A) creates power, also known as Watts (W). If the power is too low, the microcontroller won’t be able power output components. If the power is too high however, you risk overheating/hot-to-touch components and very possibly; even frying the electronics inside…or worse causing an injury to yourself or others.
I do stress, that my usage of power adapters is merely what I personally use. I strongly suggest that you do your own research on what power adapter(s) you should use. Checking the Arduino Forums, may be a good start of information.
Laptop & IDE
For Arduino microcontrollers, you will need a laptop (or desktop computer) to connect and tell what you want it to do. The one I use for these projects, is a 10 year-old Samsung with 4GB RAM and an Intel dual core i5 processor. In other words, not fancy, in the slightest. If you have an old laptop lying around and you can power it up, give it a go, you may have given it a lease of new life!
Secondly, you will need to download the Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment) – this will be your workspace where you will tell the microcontroller what you want it to do, using C++ coding language. (Before you start panicking, yes there will be an entry in this series on introductory coding).
The Arduino IDE has regular updates and is supported on PC, iOS and Linux systems.
Dupont connectors, connect the microcontroller to any outputs. The great thing about dupont connectors? They are cheap and easy to use. There are 3 types of dupont connectors that you will need;
Male to Male
Female to Female
Male to Female
Depending on what is connected to the microcontroller, it is best to have all 3 types handy, for all eventualities. Get assorted colours too eg: some red, some black etc; it’ll be easier to troubleshoot hardware errors later.
Connector blocks are plastic or rubber covered and are ideal for either extending or joining several dupont connectors together. If you are using radio frequency tags for example, connector blocks are vital, as radio frequency modules have multiple inputs that do different things. Connector blocks are usually bought in rows of 12 and can be easily cut down if you only need a few at a time.
You’ll also need a small philips or flat blade screwdriver to adjust the tightness of the blocks when the connectors are placed in.
End Of Part 1
Those are your fundamentals that you need before you can start creating your escape game artefacts. In part 2 we will look at the Arduino Uno in detail, alongside the IDE and some common coding syntax, you will use for a countdown timer artefact.
There are a whole lot of escape rooms in London (TripAdvisor currently lists 103 “room escape games” and experiences), so sometimes the choice can be overwhelming. It can be even harder when adding extra considerations to the mix, such as age, team size, or type of player!
Luckily for you, we’ve put together this handy guide of our top picks for escape rooms to play when that dreaded question of “what shall we do for our work team social this week?” comes to you.
What we’ve considered
When thinking about rooms to play we colleagues there are some key differences that may be important for colleagues, but less important for other team types:
Firstly, many work socials involve a pub (in my experience at least), so rooms near a pub are always great, especially if they’re also near a station for easy commuting.
Secondly, companies that can accommodate larger teams for bigger team events are great, especially if these include some sort of team element.
Finally, I also want to give a nod to outdoor experiences, which may be more fun as the weather heats up.
Rooms near pubs
If you’re familiar with the escape room scene in London you can probably already guess which escape room ‘near’ a pub I’m going to recommend, but you may not have realised there’s a second!
My first pick would naturally be Lady Chastity’s Reserve (previously reviewed). This fantastically spooky room is based above The Hope pub in Farrington – perfectly situated for both drinking and commuting! This is an 18+ room, with a bottle of wine as the price, so is sure to engage those who enjoy a bit of adult humour, as well as fans of spooky atmospheres without being a full-out ‘horror’ room. Although the room only takes 6 at a time the slots run fairly late (later than many rooms) and the pub beneath is a great way to pass the time!
My second pick would be ‘Gangster’s treasure’ by ClueAdventures. This one is further out than Lady Chastity, all the way in Leytonstone (east London) and a little walk from the station. However, it is above The Coach and Horses pub, and boasts two 2-player rooms as well as this 6 player room. I haven’t played this one myself, but can heartedly recommend the 2 player rooms so I’m sure this would live up to the same standards!
Rooms with competitive elements
When it comes to competitive elements there are a few companies that offer the ‘vs’ format, but I’ve picked out 2 who I think do it really well.
First up is ‘ClueQuest‘ near King’s Cross. It’s no secret that we’re a fan of this company, but I didn’t realise until writing this post that they offer an excellent corporate package! For your more formal work social they can cater for up to 66 players, offering extras such as food, drinks and an all-important trophy! Even if you don’t go the official route, their booking system makes it easy to book up to 4 copies of the same room at once (depending on the room) so you can still have a head to head of the same game, as well as also offering a VR experience. The rooms themselves are excellent quality so make a great impression on new players and are well balanced for mixed teams.
My second choice of a competitive style room would be Secret Studio near Aldgate East station. What I appreciated most about the rooms at Secret Studio is that they are the same but different – although most of the core puzzles are the same, the decor and puzzle specifics are slightly different for each team and they are also able to change certain puzzles. This makes it great for replayability – they talk quite a bit about returning visitors on their site, and even give them the chance to get involved (in more ways than one);
When we played previously as a large group my team finished quite a bit before our friends, and I loved being able to watch them and even interact. I think this also opens the doors for excess players to have fun too, or those who are uncertain about playing.
There are quite a few outdoor experiences in London, although I’m not sure how these may have changed since the early days of the pandemic. However, I’m sure the core elements will be the same and I know they’re great for splitting teams up a bit!
My personal top pick would be a Hidden City‘treasure hunt’. My first experience with these style of games was playing ‘The Hunt for the Cheshire Cat’ and I still maintain it was one of the most impressive games I’ve played. For a colleague perspective these games are perfect – they can host up to 300(!), stagger teams start times, have in-built (pub) breaks (often with discounts) and have a final leaderboard at the end. They even offer a virtual hunt for remote workers! The treasure hunt itself is amazing fun – you go into places you never knew existed, as well as those you never think to go into, and hunt for things in plain site. There are also in-built story trees, so you could make one decision and a different team may make another, sending you in different directions.
If you’re after a more traditional escape-room style experience I recommend AIM escape‘s outdoor experience. Although I wasn’t hugely impressed by their indoor offering, I found their outdoor experience to be one of the best I’ve played. Rather than using phones each team is supplied with a kit and must undertake ‘challenges’ (puzzles) at various locations. Unlike other outdoor experiences which challenge you to follow precise directions, AIM instead gives you a map and lets you decide where to go and how to get there, really giving the teams freedom (and the chance to plan strategically). They also provide different routes and staggered starts, so teams won’t be constantly following each other. There are 3 pre-built routes, but also the offer to create your own!
Also I personally haven’t played this one, Mairi tells me I’m missing out with Colombia’s Finest by Street Hunt, a new player to the walking puzzle game genre in London. It’s another route perfectly suited for large teams as different people can take completely different routes in this race to catch the criminal. In a less touristy area of London that is packed with office buildings (Temple, St Pauls area), there are several pubs and cafes on this walk making it a great one for a team social of any size.
Have we missed your favourite? Let us know in the comments!
Danger in the Deep Review | Using all your secret agent training, you need to navigate your way through the deserted sub, crack the shutdown code, disable the warheads, and locate the enemy agent. All in two hours! There are 14 interactive and interlinked puzzles, and the detailed instructions, helpful hints and easy-to-follow game format ensure that both novices and experts are guaranteed an immersive, high octane experience. Let the countdown begin!
Completion Time: 1.5 hours Date Played: 24th February 2022 Party Size: 4 Difficulty: Medium
From the moment the postman knocked on my front door and handed me Professor Puzzle’s newest game “Danger in the Deep”, I knew this was going to be something quite special. A great quality box covered in bright poppy colours and themed around one of my favourite ‘settings’ for an escape game: the submarine!
For this reason, it took me a little longer than usual to get round to playing it. Since the box was explicitly one-use I wanted to make sure and gather the A-Team over an evening, pour us some ice cold, suitably submarine themed cocktails, and tackle the adventure together. Danger in the Deep was well-worth the wait and an exciting mid-week excursion for us all onto the Retiarius: A submarine primed and armed to the teeth with nuclear warheads. No pressure, hey!
About Danger in the Deep, the Escape Room Game
The year is 19?? and as the country’s most successful secret agent, you’ve finally tracked down your arch nemesis: Agent Proteus onboard the nuclear submarine Retiarius. But, as your initial mission briefing indicates, it’s a trap and the submarine is being remotely piloted by Proteus. Oops. Your mission is two-fold:
Disarm the nuclear warheads
Escape the submarine!
Track down where Proteus is really hiding
If that sounds like a lot… Well, it is! But you do have up to 120 minutes to complete all your objectives. Though (don’t tell anyone) you’re not actually on a timer, so if you take much longer than this then no stress. But in any case it’s a great rule of thumb to set aside at least 2 hours in your game night and have plenty of snacks handy. Once you’re trapped in the Retiarius, there’s no going back!
Fun Fact: A Retiarius literally translates to “net man” (wow, my Latin classes finally came in use) and refers to gladiators who carry the three-pronged trident.
Danger in the Deep is played in a pretty unique way. At first, I was a little overwhelmed There is a lot in the box for sure! But once you’ve read through the simple, one page explainer it makes a lot of sense. Your box contains:
A “How to Play” Guide
A “Training Manual” for the Engineering Deck, the Living Quarters and the Control Room
Blueprints for the whole ship
A deck of cards
A UV Torch
A field radio
A mysterious “do not open until instructed” envelope
You begin the game by drawing a specific card from a deck of cards, the other side of which sets up your first puzzle. From here you move seamlessly between all of the other materials in the box – from the booklets, to the blueprints, to the other objects as instructed in search of the answer. Once you have your answer you’re looking for the corresponding symbol. You then find this symbol on the answers page, scratch off the foil underneath, an the game tells you which card to draw next.
The story unfolds fairly linearly. You begin in a specific area of the submarine and move to the next sequentially as you follow along via the blueprints. It felt pretty immersive to enter each new area and have a peek into the lives of the employees who worked on the submarine through a series of photographs of the spaces, notice boards, lockers and floor plans. All the while we were grounded with a sense of where we were in the ship and what our immediate objective was. I loved that the game was guided by the cards but otherwise you had a wealth of information to pour over (and spread out within your group) to contend with. We never once felt lost or confused.
Solving the Submarine
In terms of puzzles, this is where Danger in the Deep really shone! We’ve put this at the “medium” difficulty level as some of the puzzles really clicked right away, others had us scratching our heads for ages – then eventually looking at the clues, and others were a real “aha! That’s awesome!” moment once we finally got them right.
Difficulty aside, what Professor Puzzle does really well is create high quality and incredibly tactile puzzles. By that, I mean despite beginning with a lot of paper, the actions you make and the things you construct with the paper are so utterly delightful at every turn, it’s hard not to smile the whole game through.
There was a huge range in ‘styles’ of puzzle too, meaning quite literally: there’s something for everyone. Off the top of my head we encountered several different types of ciphers, some really fun logical deduction puzzles, plenty of searching-and-finding, some maths, some folding, some map reading, and so on. Every time one of us picked up a new object from the game box and started leafing through it our minds raced at the puzzling possibilities. Little details we’d spotted in the first 10 minutes suddenly came into play an hour later, and we found ourselves returning to different parts of the submarine armed with new tools and knowledge.
My favourite puzzle in the game came towards the ending of the game. No spoilers here, but we finally got to use a fun item that had been staring me in the face for the whole experience. It had a healthy balance of “roleplay”, forcing you to do an action to solve a puzzle which felt like you were really there in the game, and finally tied up those last unanswered questions in a satisfying way.
Is Danger in the Deep Replayable?
Well, technically no. But I just know this is going to be a “regularly asked question”, so I’ll be super upfront and share my thoughts. For starters, it’s an escape room game so once you’ve solved everything once, you already know the answers! So there’s no fun in playing again, unless you have a really short-term memory!
Secondly, Danger in the Deep requires you to cut things up and semi-destroy other things. Similarly, in order to reveal answers, you’ll need to scratch off little metal panels which cannot be, well, un-scratched.
Is it possible to play without doing these two things? Maybe. Should you? Probably not! To get the best experience, just do what the game tells you to and try not to worry about it. But if you’re dead set on preserving Danger in the Deep (I get it, it’s a beautiful game and I’d love to keep mine too!), then it is possible to photocopy those destructible elements. I’m personally a very careful escape game player and it breaks my heart to destroy anything, so I managed to solve all the destructible parts without cutting up a single thing. The creators don’t recommend it, and in hindsight, neither do I.
I absolutely loved Danger in the Deep! No, seriously, it may just be one of my game highlights of the year so far. It’s got 5 stars almost across the board from me, and I’ve also decided to award it the special “Puzzle Prize” badge for having some seriously cool puzzles in there I’ve never seen before but were brilliant fun to play.
Professor Puzzle’s Danger in the Deep can be purchased on Amazon. Head to this link for Amazon UK.
Witchery Spell Review | While playing Witchery Spell you will meet 5 young witches. One of them recently turned 23 and mysteriously disappeared from the face of the earth. What happened to her and does the same horrific fate await the others? As young girls, they performed a ritual from an ancient book they found. Now it turns out that this seemingly innocent child’s play may be their downfall. The problem: only someone who is not a witch himself can lift the spell, but what are the consequences? Are you brave enough to unleash the powerful ancient magic once again?
Rating: Spooky Completion Time: 1hr30 Date Played: 1st August 2021 Party Size: 3 Recommended For: Small groups on dark nights
Witchery Spell is one of those games. You know the ones I mean… Everybody is talking about them.
If the at-home escape room industry had a ‘game of the year’ award, Witchery Spell would probably be up for nomination in every category there is. Which is why I’m surprised to be writing that I don’t know if it quite lived up to the hype. But don’t get me wrong – it was still a brilliant game. But that’s the problem with hype, isn’t it?
So all hype aside, we’re going to discuss the game’s merits with one cautionary note: Don’t me like me and place Witchery Spell on a (literal) pedestal in your office and wait over a year to play it because you were too worried about ‘wasting it’ on a regular board game night.
Just play it now! You won’t regret it.
Solve the Puzzles, Save the Witches
Dark Park have created a really well rounded boxed game that is equal parts surprising and delightful in Witchery Spell. At it’s core, Witchery Spell is a story about a group of witches being hunted by a modern day witchfinder organisation. One of their party had recently turned 23, which is the age their original protection spell wore off. Before they’re all found and killed, they turn to you for help. You see- there’s another protection ritual that they desperately need in order to evade detection, but apparently witches can’t actually perform this type of magic themselves. How inconvenient!
What follows is a non-linear style game to figure out a number of things:
What happened to the missing witch? And,
How we could perform the ritual ourselves?
To help you out, you’ve got a big cardboard box full of stuff, and the internet.
Really Impressive Puzzle Components
What makes Witchery Spell such a special game is the sheer high quality of it’s components. However I’ll caveat that by saying it does come in a very ordinary, and very degradable cardboard box. The box was pretty scuffed up when it arrived in the post *shakes fist at the postal system*, but thankfully the material inside was in tact, packed up tightly with straw.
The components include:
Curious jars and vials of ingredients, such as Arsenica, Ivory and Salt
Equipment that looks right out of an apothecary
A candle, a feather, and some magical stones
A small deck of Tarot Cards
Several rolled up scrolls
Something that can only be described as a “demon summoning mat”
Photographs, case files, and other oddities about the witches in question
…But that’s not all, Witchery Spell also has a very large online component, guiding you through the experience and providing guidance and puzzles along the way too. For a two hour experience, it really is an immersive and in-depth game.
Each one of these components I’ve mentioned ended up being used in really delightful ways. There’s one moment in the game, and I’ll try not to spoil anything here, where we suddenly spotted that an earlier item we’d put aside was now doing something very unexpected. Yes ‘doing’. Cue some very excited screams!
So I guess you could say it’s about as close to magic as it’s possible to get.
How Difficult is Witchery Spell?
Our team of three completed Witchery Spell in around one hour and thirty minutes with no hints. We did accidentally skip one or two steps in the game – reaching the next part without fully following how we’d made the jump, but overall this game flows well and doesn’t throw anything super difficult at you!
This means that in terms of difficulty, I’d rate it ‘comfortable’. It’d be a great game for beginners to fall in love with the wonderful world of at-home escape rooms, but still provides enough brilliant ‘wow’ moments and unexpectedly exciting puzzles for veterans. I can also guarantee that even players on their 1000th game will experience something very new in Witchery Spell!
That said, there is a ‘choose your own adventure’ element to this game. I mention this as the ‘other path’ may have wildly changed the difficulty in this game, but I may never know!
Halloween Activity? Look No Further
As mentioned, I had this game on my shelf for literal months. When one of my closest and most enthusiastic escape room buddies visited after a long lockdown, I figured it’d be the perfect game to try out with her. The sun was already beginning to set, we switched up the lighting to red, lit some candles and got stuck in.
In hindsight, October 31st 2020 was one of those days Witchery Spell sat on my shelf gathering dust, and I regret not playing it then! It’s so atmospheric and genuinely puts the player on edge, feeling like they’re inside a world of black magic and witches perfectly. But October 31st 2021? I might just put that refill kit to good use and invite a small team around to give this another go – it’s just that perfect of a game for October.
In particular, I’d recommend this for a team of up to 5 players sat around a table. Better still with candles, and better even still with some kind of witchy playlist in the background.
Overall, a brilliant game. Sure, it didn’t quite live up to the hype for me, but it’s still absolutely worth the price and I can see how impressive it is in the at-home genre. Go in with an open mind and a sense of delight and wonder and you won’t be disappointed. Especially don’t let this one gather dust on your shelf 😉
Witchery Spell can be purchased for around £55 on Dark Park’s website here. We’d recommend purchasing a refill kit.