Edinburgh Treasure Hunts: Fantastic Creatures | Review

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Edinburgh Treasure Hunts Review | Professor M has arranged for you a day of creature-hunting. It’s all about using your special map wisely and keeping your eyes peeled. There’s so many secrets hidden in the beautiful Old Town.

Completion Time: ~2 hours
Date Played: 17th July 2022
Party Size: 2
Location: Edinburgh Old Town
Difficulty: Moderate

I (Mairi) have just moved to Edinburgh from London and I wholeheartedly insist that the very best way to explore a new city is to immediately book yourself in for an outdoor treasure trail. What’s not to love?! New sights, hidden alleyways, history, and most importantly… Puzzles!

One of the most, if not THE most loved treasure hunt company in Edinburgh is the aptly named “Edinburgh Treasure Hunts“. A solo-run and operated business by your incredibly awesome host Sabi who, as a part-time tour guide, is an expert in all things Edinburgh. The company is also one of the first to start running games of this kind with many of their trails being well over 5 years old and host to thousands and thousands of players over the years.

In particular, Edinburgh Treasure Hunts is a hugely popular game to play during the Edinburgh Fringe. They take you right past many of the largest and most popular venues as well as plenty of popular landmarks on lesser trodden streets. Being self guided, there’s also no need to hurry. You can take the trail at your own leisurely speed (well, within reason!), so breaks to see the fun sights of the city are encouraged.

Over our very first weekend in the city, Rebecca and myself decided to book ourselves into two of the trails: Fantastic Creatures, and Sherlock. Let me just say, we were not disappointed! Let’s get into why…

 

 

Fantastic Creatures (and Where to Find Them in Edinburgh!)

If you’re into witches, wizards and magical places, then the Fantastic Creatures trail will be your cup of tea. At the Chamber arches on the Royal Mile, we met up with Sabi- or should I say, the Professor’s Assistant Sabi who set us off on our lesson in magical creatures around the city. We were first sorted into a magical house (House of the Haggis, if you were wondering what our team went for), then given a tote bag filled with curious objects including a bestiary, an old locked box, and a map of the city with carefully labelled locations.

Our ultimate goal was to find the fabled Unicorn, a rare creature from history with mythical properties. We had a sub-goal of finding (and I suppose, rescuing) our teacher, the Professor, who had a terrible accident. Our tertiary goal was to have a lovely day out and enjoy ourselves puzzle solving. Tick, tick, tick all round.

Unlike Sherlock, Fantastic Creatures had a web-app counterpart we could load on our phones. The broad structure of the game was that we followed a physical map around the city and at each marked point we had a challenge to complete – locate a particular mythical creature in the environment from our bestiary, read about it, and answer a location-based question. The experience was challenging on a few levels. Firstly, we had to find the actual location designated a single letter on the map. A task easier explained than done for a team of players new to the city, who aren’t yet familiar with it’s little hidden alleys. Then, we had to look very closely at our surroundings, taking care to stand exactly on the right spot, before we could answer the questions.

…And listen, this game was surprisingly educational! Yes, yes, the creatures are fantastical. Yet I learned a lot about their myths, legends, relationship with Edinburgh and more. It was very well done!

Unlike Sherlock, we finished Fantastic Creatures in a comfortable amount of time – around 2 hours. However despite it being on the easier side, more appropriate for family groups, we still managed to get a lot of questions incorrect. So some advice from us: read the question very carefully to figure out what it’s asking before wasting guesses (and points) on incorrect tries.

Any team that manages to score 25 points or above will win a special bonus prize. I say bonus as we were delighted to find that on discovering the final location for our trip a little treat waiting for us behind a lock. But then, as our host scootered over to collect our bags from us we were presented with a further prize for scoring a coveted 29 points!

 

 

Edinburgh, City of Hills

One of the things we loved the most about Fantastic Creatures was the trail itself. Although, ‘trail’ is a strong word as it’s largely self-guided and with just a map to guide you, you can take any route you like. On the one hand, at times we were worried we’d taken a wrong turn. On the other, we were glad to not be wedded to a specific route around the city, as it gave us a chance to stop off for a snack, a drink, and an ice cream cone. Which, if you’re interested, we recommend lunch at the tiny, family run Olly Bongos and ice cream at Alandas Gelato, both en-route around the trail.

Edinburgh truly is a really beautiful city though. No matter which specific road on the map you choose to take, you’re sure to discover a new hidden gem, or a beautiful sight around a corner at the top of a hill. In fact, the trail starts right up near Edinburgh Castle, which is the perfect tourist spot for snapping lovely photos of the surrounding area. It ‘ends’ nearer Underbelly, making it again, an excellent place to springboard you into an Edinburgh Fringe show, or to round off the day after one.

The only thing that we felt could have been improved about the route was that occasionally we doubled back on ourselves. Not because we’d answered anything incorrectly, but because the route required us to. Towards the end, you find yourself in an area of town, and are sent back to the start of your route. Only to walk back up the long street and need to turn right back around to head even further in the other direction. It was a curious choice! It didn’t bother us too much as, being new to the city, find every little alleyway delightful, but we definitely saw the same few streets multiple times over.

 

 

The Verdict

We really enjoyed Fantastic Creatures. After playing Sherlock’s Secret Challenge the day before we had high hopes and once again Sabi and her company absolutely outdid our expectations. For sure, there were some minor bits that didn’t completely click with us – a few difficult puzzles we struggled to get the answer for for example. But overall we had a fantastic experience once again. Edinburgh Treasure Hunts is a super hidden gem in the city and will be the first place I recommend folks new to the city book themselves into.

 

 

All of Edinburgh Treasure Hunts’ games can be booked by heading to their website here.

Phantom Peak | Review

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WELCOME TO PHANTOM PEAK

Welcome to Phantom Peak, known far and wide as the Venice of the West! In this fully-realised steampunk mining town, nothing is what it seems… What is hiding in the vestiges of the mines? What does the charismatic founder of corporate JONACO really seek in this sleepy town? Was the Blimp Crash really just an accident? Dine, shop, play games, go sightseeing, collect clues… explore the town and uncover its mysteries at your own pace for up to five hours in an immersive open-world adventure the likes of which you’ve never seen before!

Time spent: 5 hours
Date Visited:
August 2022
Party Size:
4
Mysteries solved:
7

First of all, an important note! I am not an immersive theatre fan. I have only been to one other Immersive Theatre show in London, and in general, I tend to steer away from anything immersive – I even hate live actors in escape rooms! Therefore this review is from my perspective, as a lover of escape rooms and mysteries, rather than immersive theatre. Keep an eye on our site though, as we will be sure to update this with the review from our resident immersive theatre lovers once they have had a chance to visit!

If you’ve become immersed in the Escape Room Industry at all you’ve probably heard the name “Nick Moran” crop up a few times. Nick is the genius behind “Sherlock: The game is now”, Hackers’ new rooms, and “Spectre & Vox”. Now he joins the creative team behind “Phantom Peak”, so we knew this was easily going to be one of the most mysterious immersive experiences in London, hopefully with the emphasis placed on the mysteries rather than the immersion!

So what is Phantom Peak? Phantom Peak is a cowboy / steampunk town that has recently opened in East London. On one hand, you can go and enjoy the food, drinks and various games around town. However, for the more curious amongst us, there are (currently) 16 different mysteries occurring in this small town, with many more set to come as the town expands in the future.

 

Entering Phantom Peak

 

 

The first thing to acknowledge is that, from the outside, Phantom Peak doesn’t look like much. Based a short walk from Canada Water station we found ourselves in a rather dusty car park, looking at a wooden fence. However, just before our entry time (11am) a couple of “townspeople” came out (including Nick himself) to give a bit more of an explanation of what to expect inside the town, and get us set up on our phones (which are crucial for this). We then answered a few questions to get our first trail assigned, and we were ready!

Unfortunately, rather than the nice, large double doors you see here, we were let in the smaller side door, which meant there was a bit of a backlog going in. However, once we were in our expectations were definitely met – we were presented with a real life “boardwalk” from the Wild West, leading to a lake, and even a cave. The set design is beautiful and fully realized, with no half-finished sets or rough finishes. There are so many big and small features of the town, it’s so worth just taking some time to look around. The attention to detail is fantastic, and due to the number of mysteries, you never know if or when something will be relevant! It lead to quite a few fun moments when we finally realised what a certain poster was alluding to, or immediately knew where to go next because we’d noticed something previously. The costumes that the cast were wearing were so beautiful without being over the top, and I also loved that a lot of the guests had also committed to the Wild West steampunk vibe – I’ll definitely need to make more effort next time!

 

Starting off on the right foot

 

 

As mentioned, a lot of Phantom Peak relies on following a mystery on your phone. You answer a few questions, get given the name of your trail, your initial story point, and a place to start and you’re off! These trails make use of the whole of the town, moving back and forth and venturing into a variety of locals. Luckily the people of the town tend to stick to their zones (whether that’s propping up the bar, running their store, or canvassing for votes), so once you know who’s who it’s easy to find them.

To unravel the mystery you will need to talk to a range of characters, utilise the various machines around town, and even do a bit of subtle sleuthing. I also want to give a shout out the gender neutrality of the names – the logical side of me knows this is so that actors can be switched in and out for the same character (which also shows how talented these actors are), but the liberal side of me is excited that at no point do you know whether the character you’re searching for is a man or woman, and even the titles are all gender neutral (‘post-person’, ‘supervisor’).

At one point I was scolded by the Saloon owner for saying I loved a ‘lady boss’, and she quite rightly told me it was just ‘boss’, no need to qualify it or bring gender into it! It was points like this that shows how brilliant the actors were – I really enjoyed talking to them, having fun with them, and have proper conversations with them that made it clear they weren’t just following a script. This aspect made them really feel like fully rounded characters.

It would’ve been nice if things you discovered in one trail (or ways you interacted) carried throughout the day, as at points we finish one trail and discover some sort of big twist, but 5 minutes later we’d talk to the same character and it would be as if it never happened. However, with such a large crowd I understand why this may have been a little challenging.

However we did find the phone aspect a little too hand-holdy in parts, particularly where the casts and clues were giving us some clear directions to follow, only to realise we had a few more questions to answer in the phone before we got to that point. However, it was also a nice safety net so we weren’t totally in the dark at any point, and the townsfolk were all very knowledgeable and ready to lend a clue if needed.

 

The Puzzle Posse

At this point, I need to talk about the mysteries themselves, because oh my word they were so much fun! If you are thinking the mysteries will just be about missing hats and rogue bandits you’re so wrong (mostly), and even the ones that started quite meekly had an interesting twist. There’s also one facet of every story that will appear quite quickly, and I absolutely loved this part of the town lore. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but let’s just say the town has a clear mascot, which I adored and found so creative. The way it features in each story and throughout the town was so much fun and so creative.

The mysteries themselves weren’t that hard – for the most part, they involved talking to a townsperson, using one of the machines to find some information, or finding a hidden clue on a poster or in a certain location (which we were mostly guided towards). I would say don’t come into this expecting complex puzzles and the need to be Sherlock Holmes, but that’s ok! It wasn’t until we were discussing our experience for this review that we realised we didn’t really ‘solve’ all that much, but somehow we hadn’t noticed at the time because we were having so much fun. The story building was also thorough and immersive – we always knew why we were going somewhere, and what we were meant to be doing next.

In the end, we managed 7 trails, out of a possible 16 (so far). I’m not sure how you’d get over 8 (due to the nature of the questions), but apparently, I’m metagaming here, as I know some people managed 11 during the 5-hour slot! This included taking plenty of breaks for delicious food, necessary water, and of course a romantic (?) boat ride. You receive a souvenir at the end of each trail, but other than being a keepsake these didn’t appear to have been used for anything. I’d love to see these used for something in the future, or even have some form of souvenir ‘guidebook’ you could purchase to store them in (and therefore see all the uncompleted trails you have yet to do!). I’d also love some sort of specific souvenir to display on your person (such as a badge) so that as you wander around you can see what other people have done, and it might also give the characters more material to play with.

In terms of the machines, they were all fun and easy to use, but by the 3rd or 4th time using them the shine wore off a little. I think this could easily be solved by just not saying which machine needed to be used – we became familiar with what number of letters/numbers led to each machine fairly quickly, and then that would have added a small amount of puzzle solving to the puzzle instead. Either that or potentially making them a little more complex to use. In fact, it might have been nice to have some more complex trails to do – we did one that could potentially be called ‘adult’, but I think it would’ve been easy enough to tone down the content for a family.

Mystery trails aside, there was clearly a larger mystery at work in the town. We worked out enough (from the wider lore and stories) that something was a miss, but never worked out the overall mystery or how to solve it. I absolutely love this. There’s clearly a lot of wider lore that is dropped into each mystery if you pay attention, and many conversations to have. I’m not sure if there’s much ‘hidden’ around the town that wasn’t part of one of the 16 trails, but then again I wasn’t looking for anything in particular.

 

Rooting and Tooting

 

Of course, there is plenty more to do here when you want a break from a puzzle (especially as the time slots are 5 hours). There are 3 food stores (4 including Gelato) as well as a couple of bars. We tried the burgers, chips, and tacos and they were all absolutely delicious. I also have a ‘beer float’ from the Gelato stand, which was perfect on such a hot day.

 

 

As well as food and drink, there’s also a variety of fun carnival games, which are harder than they look, and you’ll need to beat 3 of them to become a real citizen of the town. Unfortunately, I only managed to earn one rosette, so I have no clue what happens when you have all three!

There are also a couple of events that only happen at a certain time, likely to give everyone a chance to explore the town a bit more first. I only took advantage of one of these, but will be sure to do the other next time! You can also browse the variety of shops for your variety of needs (and walk away with some nice souvenirs). The town itself was also completely accessible – everywhere was flat, which ramps up and down where necessary. We didn’t use any stairs and believe all the doorways were wide enough for a wheelchair. We were there for 5 hours, which was actually the perfect amount of time. I was personally getting a bit frustrated by my non-enthusiast friends who were taking lots of breaks, and definitely flagging by the end, but I admit I probably wouldn’t have wanted to stay much longer.

 

This town ain’t big enough…

I absolutely loved our time, and I will absolutely be returning, but there were definitely a few niggles here and there which will hopefully be ironed out as the experience expands. For a start, we heavily relied on my phone, which meant the battery ran down quickly. Luckily I had packed a portable charger, but even then I was down to 30% when we left. For such a phone-heavy experience, I was surprised by the lack of charging stations in the town – I can imagine some rentable power packs would be a big hit here!

The walkways are also quite narrow, so we often found ourselves walking slow behind a queue of people, or waiting a while to get into a shop. This died down at certain points throughout the day (down to events, food breaks, or just people leaving), but it was definitely a bit harder at the start. Staggered start times would solve this, but then of course it would be hard to monitor when people’s 5 hours were up. In a similar vein, there were times we were essentially following another couple doing the same trail, either waiting for them to finish their conversation with a character so we could have the same one, or just listening in. Sometimes this was fine, due to the occasional puzzle that needed some time to solve, but otherwise, we got into the groove of using those moments to grab another drink rather than following on their tail. I’m not sure what the plan is for the expansion, but I’d love to see some bigger areas, perhaps with new characters to talk to and new machines to use!

 

What’s the verdict?

 

 

This is hands down my favourite experience I’ve done in London. I’d even go so far as to say I’d rather come back here than go to another London escape room. At less than £40 for a ticket, which covers 5 hours, it’s a real steal on price too!

You can be as immersed as you want to, but the characters don’t necessarily approach you or force you to put on an accent if you don’t want to, which was great for my friends who were less sold on this aspect. The mysteries were just really fun stories, and although the puzzles weren’t that complex I don’t think you’d be disappointed because so much else is going on.

I will be recommending this to anyone and everyone, and cannot wait to return to Phantom Peak.

Tickets for Phantom Peak can be booked on their website

Mythologic Escape Rooms: CSI: Time’s Up | Review

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CSI: Time’s Up Review | You and your team of detectives have been called to a local bar, A murder has been committed and we need you to solve the case.

Date Played: 2019
Team Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

Mythologic Escape Rooms have two locations which are based just off Gillingham High Street, one in an upstairs unit above some retail outlets. With a blacked out front door, with some cool graphic design explaining what to expect inside, and large Mythologic sign, the unassuming building houses two escape rooms which really pack a punch. The other a large double fronted shop with HUGE Mythologic sign, certainly making it difficult to miss!

Greeted at the door by the owners/designers Michelle and Chris, the welcome could not have been warmer. Both waiting areas are open and airy, with a comfortable reception area, we are offered a comfortable seat and somewhere to lock away our belongings. Water is readily available and there is well appointed lavatory area (which also has a number of essential personal hygiene products, such as deodorants etc. which is a lovely personal touch)

A briefing commences within the reception area and the disclaimers are all signed on digital tablets (which makes the hassle of pens and paper disclaimers feel like a distant nightmare)!

It is clearly evident from chatting to the owners that they are passionate about their rooms and obviously their customer service, which was faultless. We were made to feel at home with their personal yet professional touch.

 

 

Time to Release Your Inner Detective!

Its time to release your inner detective! Lets face it, television and movies are packed with awesome CSI murder mysteries, so why not be part of your very own. This is a really strong outing from the Mythologic team which we massively enjoyed!

The story (I will be as vague as what is presented on the Mythologic website so that there are no spoilers!), is that the HQ have called and given you and your team the lowdown on a murder. All you have is a crime scene, a chalk outline of a body, a missing murder weapon and no idea of who committed the crime. Can you crack the case?! When we read this before visiting it really got the imagination juices flowing wondering what we were going to be presented with. It’s safe to say we were not disappointed when the door opened and we went inside. Again, no spoilers as to what your crime scene actually is! You’ll just have to play it yourself and find out.

Walking in, apart from the initial great surprise about our setting, the first thing that hit us was the apparent simplicity of what we faced – as many of our reviews have mentioned before – do not be fooled by what appears to be simple! Those that have this initial simplistic approach are often the best games – and that is certainly 100% true of this game! I am pretty sure when you walk through the door you’ll say exactly like we did – “Where the hell do we start?!”

Armed with a clever piece of tech, and a clipboard, your mission is to utilise your detective skills to locate the right pieces of evidence to build your case and present this to HQ in order to solve this murder. What we really liked about this approach is that the game brilliantly combined an old school murder mystery with some classic escape room puzzles. Its not purely a case of locating the evidence at face value – there are strategically thought out puzzles which pace this room really well. The game evolves really well, and the evidence is presented in a way which doesn’t allow your team to jump to any conclusions until the final piece is located.

Puzzling Through the Crime

All the puzzles stuck brilliantly to the theme in this room. Nothing was out of place – it was a real highlight of this fantastic room.

In terms of the puzzles another huge positive is that this game is accessible to all. There is no big, elaborate, over thought-out puzzles in this – everything is punchy and pulls on the old school methods of number locks, letter locks and keys. There are a few tech related puzzles but these really enhance the whole gaming experience.Given this, its certainly a game that families and those newer to the world of escape rooms would love, as there is nothing too advanced. Likewise, enthusiasts will thrive on the excellent combination of escape room and murder mystery with a well established, ever-developing story line.

 

Its very easy to be complacent in this room – it doesn’t feel hugely pressured in the early stages but that does mean its really easy to let time run away with you. About 20 minutes in we glanced at the clock and was shocked about how little we felt we had achieved. I’d suggest being strategic in this room – communicate with your team and teamwork is certainly the key to success here. Once we had come up with a better game plan as to how to tackle this room, we really got into the flow!

What we really liked about this game was simply how the game flowed. The right evidence at the right time. The evolving and increasing depth of story is very strong. How you collect evidence is done in a really clever way and you would be forgiven to feeling like a pro detective by the time you’ve finished!

 

The Verdict

The Mythologic team continue to develop a brilliant and diverse set of escape rooms and this is no exception. We all agreed that we would highly recommended this room to all. With a brilliant combination of murder mystery coupled with old school styling, really strong puzzles and a great theme – make sure you add this one to the to-do list. Very different from many other escape room experiences, this is sure to be one you wont forget.

 

Would I recommend this room?

Certainly! A really clever mix of murder mystery and old school escape styling

Who would I recommend it to?

Newcomers and families will be sure to love this. Likewise those more advanced will certainly appreciate the outstanding creativity that has gone into this.

How many players would I recommend?

4 is a great team number for this game as there is generally plenty of space to play and enough to keep everyone occupied.

Suitable for Children?

Yeah, completely fine. Understandably there might be some things which are slightly too advanced for younger guests to appreciate, however there is nothing scary or offensive

CSI: Time’s Up can be booked by heading to Mythologic’s website here.

Please, Don’t Touch Anything VR | Review

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Please, Don’t Touch Anything VR Review | Covering for a colleague taking a bathroom break, you find yourself in front of a mysterious console with a green screen monitor showing a pixelated live image of an unknown city. Also present is an ominous red button with the simple instruction to not touch anything! Push the red button once or press it many times. Your choices and actions will lead to outrageous consequences and over 30 unique puzzle endings.

Developer: Four Squares, BulkyPix
Date Played: June 2022
Console: Oculus
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: ~2 hours

Every time I saw a warning on this game that read “Not for the faint hearted” I thought “Hah! How bad can this be?! It’s just a game where you’re sitting in front of a console pressing buttons.” Then I found myself worshipping Satan, being scared out my mind by demon standing behind me, and watching the human race get wiped out… Repeatedly.

That said, I still wouldn’t describe it as a horror game. I’d describe it as a fixed perspective escape room game. Which is a fancy say of saying “button pushing simulator”. It’s just you and the console, and a lot of different outcomes. Where most escape rooms just have one (you escape), this has multiple. But the idea is the same, you’re solving puzzles and performing actions in a small 2x2m room to achieve them all. And let me just say… It was some of the most fun I’ve had in VR in a long time!

 

 

About Please, Don’t Touch Anything

The original “Please Don’t Touch Anything” was a short pixel art game released by a Russian indie studio Four Squares for PC way back in 2015. It received a large amount of praise and the studio, in collaboration with Escalation Studios then went on to release a 3D version of the experience just a year later with virtual reality support. Later the game was launched on Nintendo Switch, and has continued to be met with praise for many years since.

Skip forward to 2022, and I’m idly scrolling through the Oculus store with a 30% off voucher in hand looking for a new title to try out. I wanted something short, fun, puzzley, a little bit creepy. After punching those filters into the search engine, there was one title that kept coming back to me: Please, Don’t Touch Anything. Well, of course I wanted to immediately touch it.

 

 

“I’ll be right back, don’t touch anything!”

The game begins with you in a small room with a large console in front of you. Your colleague appears at the door and says he’s popping out for a quick bathroom break and for the love of god, he implores you not to touch anything on the console. With a wave, he’s gone. It’s just you and the room. Oh, and a giant red button.

Amusingly, on my first playthrough I didn’t touch anything. My colleague appeared back from the bathroom and thanked me for being so diligent, and the game ended. I was immediately respawned into the room and it begun again. This time, I hit the big red button and triggered a nuclear apocalypse…

So far so good.

If you can tell from that brief description, Please, Don’t Touch Anything is a game of many many endings. Thirty endings to be exact. It’s best played with no expectations – you walk in, you press buttons, or you don’t, and you get a curious ending. The game restarts and you’re immediately hooked on a need to uncover every single one. What happens if you push this button? How do you get the hammer? Is that a UV blacklight? With each playthrough a new facet of the world reveals itself. How will you destroy civilisation this time? Or will you simply press a switch 50 times and nothing will happen. Perhaps you’ll make it your mission to clean up this (very messy) room. All valid game choices all with unique endings.

It’s also a game packed with many pop culture references. From TV, from films, and from other video games. Delightful nods to puzzlers past and some very creepy moments I’d only seen on the silver screen suddenly brought to live in VR. I love it!

 

 

Button Pushing Simulator Now in VR!

If you’re familiar with the original 2D version, there are enough changes in the VR/3D version to make the game feel innovative and fresh. Endings are different and things have been added. For the whole part, it’s a game that works well in both 2D and 3D but as a big fan of virtual reality I think it works really, really well in this medium. For starters, you’re pushing buttons and toggling switches and this feels extra immersive in virtual reality. Want to pick something up? You can simply bend down in real life and pick it up and manipulate it in real life.

In terms of controls, it’s not perfect, but that’s to be expected for an early VR experience. My hands in the game didn’t always move to where I wanted them to be and I found it was often quite tricky to stretch over objects and reach things. For the best gameplay, you need a large space to play in at home so that you can move around freely. You can play this standing up or sitting down. It might be slightly more immersive (and easy on your legs) to sit down, but I played it largely standing up. If you don’t have a large space, you can stay rooted to one spot and use the in-game mechanic to teleport around fairly easily too. No motion sickness here!

 

 

Where are the Puzzles?

Like any good puzzle game the primary ‘puzzle’ is figuring out what to do. Then figuring out how to do it to get the output you want. For sure, there are plenty of ‘classic’ puzzle mechanics the escape room enthusiast will recognise, like Morse Code or binary inputs, but it’s largely a game of sequence memorizing and inputting a variety of data pieces into your console creatively. You might find a 4 digit code on one playthrough that you suddenly remember 10 playthroughs later and input it. You might spot a symbol which ends up being a map to guide you around a grid of buttons. There are a few ciphers, and some very fun uses of black-light, and so on and so on.

In short, I think it’s a fantastic game for the escape room enthusiast to play. It’ll push everything you know about solving escape rooms to the limit, and then some. A unique game that doesn’t quit fit into any category box, but definitely one I think you, dear reader, will enjoy. Puzzles a-plenty.

 

 

The Verdict

I really, really enjoyed playing Please, Don’t Touch Anything. It’s tongue in cheek humour was the perfect setting for a quirky little puzzle game like this. When writing about any VR game I like to consider whether such an experience would be possible in any other medium other than VR. There’s nothing in it that wouldn’t necessarily be possible in another medium – the example being that it’s also available as a non-VR title, but it’s so much better in VR.

I’d not hesitate to recommend this to any other escape room enthusiast and I think it’s got a rightful place in the Oculus catalogue as a game puzzle fans should definitely check out.

Please, Don’t Touch Anything can be purchased for Oculus Quest 2 on the Oculus store page here.

Wolf Escape Games: Hallows Hill | Review

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Wolf Escape Games: Hallows Hill Review | Can you solve all of the puzzles and unlock the dark secrets of Hallows Hill? Gather your team and play at home or over video chat!

Date Played: May 2022
Time Taken: 63 minutes
Number of Players: 4
Difficulty: Medium

Sometimes I play digital play-at-home escape rooms and I finish them thinking “wow, why wasn’t this made into an actual video game?!”. That’s not to say video games are anything ‘better’ or something designers should strive to create. Far from it. It’s just every single thing about Hallows Hill looked and played like a video game I’d expect to find on PC or on console. When they describe their game as “cinematic”, they’re not wrong…

From the beautiful 3D sets, to the point-and-click style of adventure with stylish cutscenes between it, to the music, the high fidelity, and general high budget feel of Hallows Hill, I was super impressed. In fact, it’s a wonder that Wolf Escape Games has completely flown under the radar as much as it has. We’d heard of it, because we make it our mission to hear about and play as many escape rooms as we possibly can. But by and large since the game launched in 2021 it hasn’t got the attention I think it deserved. So, lets go onto why!

 

 

About Hallows Hill

If you like ghost stories, you’ll love Hallows Hill. With a slight “choose your own adventure” twist, you find yourself plunged into an eerie mystery set in the old Hallows Hill household after, in our case, a patient under our care went missing. We chose this option, so I’m not sure if everyone will have the same reason to have to go and explore the old and clearly haunted house, but for whichever reason, you find yourself standing on the creaky porch of a dilapidated building. Your goal: Get in and get out quickly!

Throughout the way we were anchored to another character by a slick text-message interface. Harriet took the role of gentle GM, an automated series of messages that provides guidance and eggs you on through scarier moments. There were plenty of those, and plenty more where I was like “damn this job isn’t worth it lets just leave guys and find a new job”, but nope, on we ventured through the creaky house.

The further and further you go, the more restless the spirits become. Before long a mystery begins to unravel before your eyes over a series of ‘chapters’. A ghost story, a tale of children from decades ago, and a mysterious fire. But to achieve our goals (in our case, recover our patient), we had to push on.

*shudder*

 

 

Follow the Leader

The game has an unusual setup in that the leader must share their screen and other players can play along second-hand. We’re not the biggest fans of this style of gameplay as it always leaves one person feeling like they’re doing everything and everyone else more like passive observers. Without the freedom to click around yourself, it’s difficult to be as fully engaged with the person hosting. This time round, I was the ‘host’.

Mostly, it worked well. The technology was fairly seamless and anything I discovered on my screen would immediately populate into my team mates “backpacks” to take a closer look at. Occasionally there’d be a puzzle or two which only I could do. For example, a jigsaw. At these moments my team mates either watched me rapidly solving on screen, or moved on with a different puzzle. In another moment, a sound puzzle could only be controlled by me and the sound-sharing didn’t work as well as it might have done meaning it was a lot harder to solve than it might have been. But really those two things were just details in an otherwise smooth and logical puzzling experience.

One thing Hallows Hill did do really well was interweave the story into the puzzles. I love it when I see good Game Design done well like this! The solutions to puzzles told us about the characters and the ghostly happenings occurring in the building. It wasn’t the kind of game you could ignore the story in. The story was fundamental to the experience and handled very well.

 

Cinematic Level Graphic Design

Another thing Hallows Hill did really well was that ‘cinematic feel’. I literally cannot emphasise this enough, this game was absolutely beautiful. Maybe the most beautiful non-video game digital game I’ve ever played, and heck I’ve played a lot. The team really outdid themselves on the beautiful set design, atmospheric effects, music and cut-scenes. From the start to the finish I felt utterly immersed and seriously impressed.

 

For this reason we’ve decided to award Hallows Hill the Diamond Badge. This badge is awarded to games that were visually stunning and it’s a no brainer. *chefs kiss* for gorgeous set design. If this were a video game company and you told me it was a triple-A studio, I’d not be surprised in the slightest.

 

 

The Verdict

We had a lot of fun playing Hallows Hill and the best part? We finished 18th on the global leader board. Yay! I’ll take that with pride! We used one hint on a puzzle that indeed seems to stump most people judging by reading other reviews. It was a classic sound puzzle, and I’ll take the hit on that one – I’m just not that great with sound puzzles.

Now it is technically a scary game. Think spooky ghosts and eerie moments of tension. But even if you’re no good with frights, I’d still encourage you to try Hallows Hill out. There are no jump scares and it’s well worth it for the visuals and graphic fidelity alone. From fun puzzles to an immersive atmosphere, Wolf Escape Games have totally outdone themselves and I’m now eagerly awaiting to see if they’ll create any more games.

 

Hallows Hill can be booked by heading to Wolf Escape Games’ website here.

36 Inch Penguin: The Society | Review

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The Nayland Rock Hotel, once Margate’s most glamorous destination, visited by the rich and famous. A downstairs bar, The Crescent Suite, hosted regular meetings of a little known Society. When the Hotel closed for renovations in the 1980’s the Society and the bar’s Landlady vanished without a trace.

​The Crescent Suite never reopened.

​For years rumours have persisted of valuable items hidden away in the suite and then, with the death of an American man in 2021, clues came to light of those items whereabouts. The dead man’s children, The Twins, live in the US and can’t come to find them themselves, but…

​…with the help of a friendly security guard they can get you inside.

​Can you help ?

Date Played: 23 April 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: ~40 Minutes
Difficulty: Medium

 

We slid into Margate’s The Society on the back of a four escape room day.  We’d played Quick-E-Mart, Detention, Frankenscape and Spacescape at Ctrl Alt Delete back to back, with the time so tight between the end of Spacescape and the start time for The Society that we’d had to throw ourselves in a cab and make a desperate dash across Margate’s seafront.  We literally fell in through the door at the Nayland Rock Hotel, brains fried, energy depleted, a little dazed and confused.  Luckily the “friendly security guard” who met us took pity on us and let us grab a quick breather and chocolate snack. So we were soonfuelled up and ready to get back on the escape room treadmill.

Atmosphere

The pause also meant we had a bit of headspace to take in our surroundings.  And it’s definitely worth the pause to absorb it.  Because The Society takes place in a unique environ.  This isn’t an escape room carved out of an industrial space, a warehouse or railway arch, an empty office building or high street shop front.  This isn’t an escape room that’s repurposed a space that has no connection to its story.  This is a game that takes place in an actual abandoned, empty hotel.

Built in 1895 it was once a famous seafront holiday destination, where Charlie Chaplin vacationed and where Mick Jagger hosted his parents’ Golden Wedding anniversary party.  But now the hotel is a shadow of its former self.  When cheap overseas holidays lured us Brits away from our seaside towns, once fashionable resorts like Margate fell into a decline and hotels like the Nayland Rock struggled to survive. 

The doors closed in the 1980s and while a room or two is still rented out (I think), on the day we visited, most of it was empty apart from some of the larger rooms being used as prop storage for the shoot of Sam Mendes’ upcoming “Theatre of Light”.  There are apparently plans to renovate the whole hotel and try and return it to its former glory, but for now it’s a ghostly shell and the perfect space for a creepy (but not scary) ER.

Down into the Bar

And when 36 Inch Penguin’s publicity material say that you’ll be exploring a hotel bar that hasn’t been touched for nearly 40 years, they really mean it.  There’s a real visceral thrill in being given a couple of small torches (don’t worry more lighting comes on later) and pointed in the direction of some ropey looking stairs down to a dark and ominous basement bar.  Before you head off to investigate you first need to listen to a recording from ‘The Twins’ who’ve hired you to explore the hotel.  Now I’m not massively keen on ERs that lean heavily on narrative and expect you to wade through a lot of reading material.  I want to be playing puzzles, not reading essays.  But paying attention to the recording at this point is kind of important for everything that follows.  From then on in the narrative is delivered in fairly small doses, often in quite intriguing and unusual fashion, and which are easy to digest and don’t feel like roadblocks in the way of the puzzle flow.

Once you’re inside the bar, the unique location of a real hotel space really comes into its own.  Despite being a real, historical location, the escape room designers haven’t just stuck a load of padlocked boxes in the middle of the room to figure out.  This escape room directly engages with the space it is in.  The narrative is part of the fabric of the room itself and the actual fabric of the room is sometimes a literal part of the puzzle.  It feels really good to be able to get properly hands on with physical puzzles that are built into the historic rooms themselves.  One of them had me asking “the hotel owners really let the designer do that?”.  But they did.  And it’s great fun.

Hand Crafted and Theatrical

In terms of puzzles, there aren’t a vast number and my escape room enthusiast team of two moved through it fairly quickly, but there were several puzzles I had not seen in any other escape room I’ve played.  They were clearly lovingly handmade puzzles, both small and large.  At one point you get to see the mechanical back of the puzzle you’ve just solved and I was wowed by the craft behind it.  There is theatrical ingenuity on display here and when you look at the designers’ history as creators of immersive theatre that’s really no surprise.  The room definitely has ‘atmosphere’ and is probably the most genuinely immersive escape room experience I’ve had.  The theatricality means that there’s the right level of creepiness (at least for me) without being a full on scare or horror room.  All the creeps come from the shadowy spaces and your own (over-active) imagination.

The sound design is also a huge factor in this game, again thanks to the theatrical background of 36 Inch Penguin I suspect.  At one point I genuinely thought we were going to be finding actual live actors in the space because the sound design was so effective. And if you’re an 80s kid like me, you will love the music design too.  It’s hard to resist just enjoying the disco even when you’re supposed to be puzzle solving.

For me, this room had the almost perfect blend of narrative, searching, small hand held puzzle props and larger physical puzzles.  One part of the game involves a physical challenge (but not a difficult one) that only one member of the team can do as the other watches.  As the one doing the watching in my team it was hilarious.  I’ll say no more because it would be a spoiler but I was crying with laughter as my teammate valiantly carried on.

The Verdict

I was worried that playing The Society as the last game of five in a single day would mean that I was too tired or brain fried to enjoy it.  But it is such a great experience that I left totally buzzing.  For enthusiasts the complexity of the puzzles might not be too challenging (although a few did leave us head scratching for a while) but the atmosphere, the cleverness and creativity behind the puzzles and the physical interaction with a genuine space are massive plus points.  I’m a huge immersive theatre addict and could feel the strong immersive credentials of 36 Inch Penguin at play here.  The joy is as much in the atmosphere as the puzzling.  I really hope the designers are already working on their next immersive escape room experience because I will genuinely be the first in the queue.

As the Nayland Rock Hotel is scheduled to be refurbished at some point, there’s always a chance that The Society might have to move out and move on.  I suspect the gameplay will be just as excellent even in a new location, but you can’t replicate the environment that the game is currently in.  It is a character in its own right.  So get down to Margate without delay!

The Society is currently open for bookings between 22 July and 4 September 2022.  You can read more and book here

Enigmailed: Nightjar | Review

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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.

 

The Verdict

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.

 

Nightjar is no longer for sale but you can read about the project here.

Enigmailed: Chocolateral Bars | Review

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A puzzle-wrapped chocolate bar through the post every month? An idyllic village, ravaged with nefarious mysteries? The chance to vote for future flavours and storylines?

It’s a world’s first, people!

Have you ever been sitting there, eating a bar of chocolate, wishing that your experience was a bit more puzzley? Are you like me and want to include puzzles into all aspects of your life… Especially chocolate consumption? Are you slightly more normal and just want to get a cool gift for that puzzle person in your life? Enigmailed have the answer to all these questions.

Okay so those examples are a little extreme, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that British company Enigmailed have been hard at work these past months creating several new experiences, including my very favourite of which: Chocolateral Bars. Put simply, chocolate bars which contain brilliant little puzzles on the packaging!

At the moment, they have the following chocolate bars on offer:

 

 

Both chocolate bars have a mystery to solve – a kind of murder mystery come detective drama. Your job in both is to read the clues and discover a WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and HOW the curious crime was committed. As one of my friends pointed out when I gifted them a bar, “I’m not sure eating chocolate called Fatal Experimint is a good idea”, but I can guarantee, several bars of chocolate later, that they are not poisonous. Just creatively named!

Neither mystery is going to take you any longer than the amount of time it takes to eat the chocolate bar, that’s for sure. But I think that’s part of the beauty of it, making this a fantastic gift for just about anyone in your life – puzzlers and non-puzzlers alike. It’s like playing a sudoku in the morning paper over your cuppa.

 

The Verdict

Honeycomb Sting

Flavour: Honeycomb Milk
Completion Time: 10 minutes
Date Played: 11th July 2021
Party Size: 1

Both taste and puzzle-wise, Honeycomb Sting was my favourite of the two, but that’s mostly personal preferences as I don’t really like mint all that much. In Honeycomb Sting, you’re introduced to the setting of a palace with a world famous beehive kept on the grounds – but wait, somebody has been stealing all the honey! Eek!

Thankfully, the culprit has left behind clues on the chocolate wrapper. From lightly highlighted letters to curious strings of digits, each separate puzzle points towards a different piece of information, such as the identify of the thief, or where they’ve hidden the honey.

The only question remains whether you’ll catch them before you finish the bar!

 

 

Fatal Experimint

Flavour: Mint Dark
Completion Time: 15 minutes
Date Played: 11th July 2021
Party Size: 1

The harder of the two, Fatal Experimint adds a little extra tension to the game – Dr. Spears, the dentist has been poisoned! But if you can successfully solve the game, you’ll be able to find an antidote to save his life. In this mini mystery, you’re looking to make an arrest, and fast!

The puzzles differ a lot between the two experiences, with Fatal Experimint utilising more numerical puzzles, and a couple of well known beloved ciphers with an Enigmailed twist. Since I played (and ate) this one second, the chocolate might be getting to my head and making it seem tricker, but I’d definitely rate this one as the more challenging of the two.

 

Excalibar’s Sword

Flavour: Eton Mess
Completion Time: 15 minutes
Date Played: 19th September 2021
Party Size: 1

This time, a priceless artefact believed to be the Sword in the Stone has been stolen! Once again it’s your job to figure out who thief is, why it was stolen, where it was last seen and what it is being disguised as. As with the other chocolate bars, there’s also a (very tricky) bonus puzzle, for those who want to go the extra mile: How many millions the sword is insured for!

By the time you’ve played the first two, you’ll get the gist of it by now – all over the packaging many small puzzles are hidden. In Excalibar’s Sword you’ll be looking for any letters that seem out of place, ciphers, and hints in plain sight… Among other things!

Of all the flavours (so far) Eton Mess absolutely has to be my favourite. I’m a huge fan of white chocolate and strawberry, so it’s a double thumbs up from me!

 

Toffear Apple

Flavour: Toffee Apple Milk Chocolate
Completion Time: 20 minutes
Date Played: 30th October 2021
Party Size: 1

This time, there’s mischief afoot at the Longstocking Orchard. Apple wielding ghosts? Or perhaps just a Halloween prank! It’s the player’s role to find out who is disguising themselves as a ghost, how they’re evading security, what their motive is and where they are hiding out.

As a Halloween special, it’s delightful! Of course, Toffear Apple is part of the Chocolateral subscription, but as someone who likes to give Halloween gifts this makes it the perfect treat to give out to guests and adult trick or treaters.

But of course, as with all Chocolateral bars, the puzzles are not particularly easy. No sir. I’m very well acquainted with Enigmailed’s hints page by now. But, since you’re always looking for a word (or a few words), players can expect a bounty of exactly that: word based puzzles! In Toffear Apple in particular I enjoyed turning of the bar over and over on the look out for ghosts, apples, and making the words out of the peculiar things on the paper. Spooky fun, and just what I needed to kick off a Halloween celebration!

 

 

Seasons Eatings

Flavour: Chilli Dark Chocolate
Completion time: approx 30 mins
Date Played: 21st November 2021
Party Size: 2

In this edition of Chocolateral, we’re getting festive! But don’t expect tidings of comfort and joy…at least not straight away. There is something afoot, as someone has snatched all of the snacks which had been left out for Santa and his helpers! As usual, it is up to you to peruse the clues hidden in the packaging to solve the seasonal mystery, and there is plenty to sink your teeth into (geddit?!). Yes, not only have you got to figure out who left their footprints in the snow, when they struck, what they’re doing with their bounty of festive treats and how they managed to evade being caught- you’ve also got the chance to go the extra mile (all the way to the north pole maybe?) to figure out which popstar paid for them in the first place!

Picture this: a chilly but clear Sunday afternoon in the lead up to Christmas, eating delicious chocolate, sipping on festive spiced punch and solving puzzles! What better way to get cosy and in the spirit for the next month’s worth of festivities (oh yes, we looove Christmas!). We really enjoyed the level of detail Enigmailed have gone into- the classic Christmassy red, green and white colour scheme; the seasonal imagery of crackers, santas and presents; and the puns- oh how we enjoy a good pun at the best of times, let alone when Christmas is involved. The puzzles are cleverly interspersed into the packaging as usual, which if you’ve played before you will have come to be quite familiar with. We found some of the puzzles quite quick to solve and others took a bit more thought, which we thought would make this a great little activity to do over Christmastime with the whole family- there’s enough to go around in terms of both puzzles and of course CHOCOLATE (if you don’t mind sharing!)

The chilli dark chocolate flavour of the chocolate was lovely; the chilli wasn’t overpowering but provided a nice warming which felt perfect for a Christmassy bar. And we loved the fact that as a dark chocolate bar this month, it is suitable for vegans, so everyone can get on the chocolatey puzzle solving bandwagon, just in time for Christmas! Seasons Eatings was a perfect festive puzzley treat for the lead up to the big day itself!

 

 

Valentine Brawl

Flavour: Plain Milk Chocolate
Completion time: approx 20 mins
Date Played: 6th February 2022
Party Size: 2

What’s the classic Valentine’s Day gift? Chocolate! But, what’s the perfect VDay gift for your escape enthusiast Valentine? Puzzle Chocolate! In this edition of Chocolateral, trouble is afoot at the village Jewellers, Emerald Aisle (yes, we loved that pun) as someone has robbed all their rings, depriving many happy couples of their VDay engagement plans!

While nibbling on our non-engagement related chocolatey Valentine’s treat, we had to figure out the classic W’s- Who, What, Where and Why, oh why, were the rings targeted?! Each time we play we are amazed by Enigmailed’s ability to squeeze in new and different types of puzzle into such a small space and following a consistent format. We enjoyed the variety of puzzles offered and found that each of us had ones that just seemed to click with us instantly. The matter of Why did stump us for a while and we decided to go for a quick look at their handy hint page to help us out with this one and work the puzzle backwards, but we got there in the end! We were also very pleased with ourselves as we also managed to solve the bonus puzzle to find out the name of the owner of the jewellers.

With Valentine Brawl, as with all the Chocolateral bars, we love the feeling that the chocolate is a reward for doing a good job puzzling and, of course, puns-a-plenty is always a bonus to enhance the puzzle solving fun further!

Whether you’re cupid reincarnate, or not so much of a fan of the mushy lovey dovey stuff, Valentine Brawl is a fun option to celebrate or take your mind off the season of love!

 

Simply the Zest!

Flavour: White Chocolate Lemon Meringue 
Completion time: approx 20 mins
Date Played: 12th April 2022
Party Size: 2

Dun, dun, dun! There’s been a murder, but who dunnit?! It’s the classic soap, a mysterious murder, a woman found dead in her high-rise apartment, the suspicious roast dinner… Hold on, a roast dinner!? We are glad that this did not feature in the chocolate bar flavouring.

Our of all of the bars in this subscription, this one was the most ‘story based’ of the Chocolateral series we have played so far, asking you to find out who has committed the crime, as well as tasking you with identifying those pesky red herrings (ahh yes, enthusiasts will recognise the struggles of red herrings as well!)

We got stuck into this bar quickly (the puzzles we mean…of course…) and found ourselves with 4 of the 5 puzzles solved relatively quickly. They were all logical and had strong sign-posting, something which always impresses us as Enigmailed managed to squeeze this so much onto such a small chocolate bar wrapper! 

The final, trickier puzzles left us scratching our heads though. We could not figure out the WHEN of our murder mystery. In this case, finding out the ‘when’ was the the bonus puzzle of this chocolate bar, so the answer is not on the website. So, dear readers, if anyone knows the WHEN – please do get in touch and let us know! We promise we will pay you in chocolate (if there is any left…) 

All in all, another great entry into the Chocolateral series, and we cannot wait to see what fantastical flavours and puzzles the creator dreams up next.

 

 

Fool’s Errand

Flavour: Banoffee Milk Chocolate
Completion time: approx 20 mins
Date Played: 4th April 2022
Party Size: 2

So, we definitely should have played this on April Fool’s Day – we missed a trick there! But alas, we sat down to see whether we would be made fools of, or whether we could work out who was clowning around trying to set up poor Uncle Fumble? We are currently playing the month-long puzzle offered by Enigmailed – also named “Fool’s Errand” – so it was felt apt to tackle this game to check our puzzling skills were ready to challenge the enigmatic “Leaderboard”! Also, after playing one of the more recent games, we realised we could have used our chocolate bar to complete one of the challenges…double Fool’s Errand (can we have a shout out on the leader board if we manage to link the puzzles?!)

We found this bar one of the more challenging ones. We couldn’t seem to click with the puzzles in the same way as some of the others. However, we think this may be a good way to showcase how different each of the bars manage to be. Some we find we can solve in ten minutes, others we keep coming back to over a series of days to see if we can finally get that a-ha moment (and steal a piece of chocolate as a reward hehe). In this way, you can savour the puzzles in the same way you can savour the chocolate (well, if you want to…).  There was one stand out puzzle on this bar though that we did click with (after the hype around a particular word based game which we play religiously every day) – it must be all that practice. It was a really clever way of translating the puzzle concept onto paper, and we appreciated the effort that had been made to showcase a new puzzle type. 

If you’ve not checked out the month long puzzle that Enigmailed are running, definitely pop onto their website! It’s a great way to get your puzzling in, whilst providing that competitive edge so many of us puzzlers enjoy. You can find lots of fun challenges, and plenty of ways to work up an appetite (although who needs to work up anything to eat a delicious banoffee flavoured treat – banana, toffee, chocolate…it’s a dream combo!).

 

 

Crime Caramel

Flavour: Creme Caramel Milk Chocolate
Completion time: approx 20 mins
Date Played: 7th May 2022
Party Size: 2

Uh oh! There’s been a robbery! Lizzy (very aptly named) has had her most fabulous lizards stolen, and it is up to you to find out the WHO, the WHEN, and the WHY. Oh, and to add to the mix, one of the lizards suffers from a skin condition, and you need to figure out which one so you can get the lotion to them ASAP (an excellent way of adding a bit of pressure). We went for a pic of our lovely pet here (any excuse to put in a pic of Tilly – she was not helpful in solving Lizzy’s predicament)

As we play more of Engimailed’s wonderful Chocolateral series, we are beginning to learn a bit about the different puzzling styles featured on the bars. We are getting better at seeing patterns, and playing these games regularly is definitely helping to give our puzzling skills ticking over. However, that definitely does not mean that we are now finding these easy – there was one puzzle in particular on this game that we found especially challenging – and brought a wonderful A-HA moment when we finally solved it. We clicked with this bar better than the previous one and managed to get through all the puzzles without looking for a hint (although, when we did go to check the answers, we got stumped trying to find those (wink wink!)). 

We were stoked to also manage to solve the extra challenge of finding out HOW MANY lizards were taken. It would be creme-inal not to mention the excellent pun use in this bar. We are so here for some fun word-play and always enjoy Enigmailed’s humorous blurbs and storylines. 

We shared this chocolate bar with Ash’s mum to spread the love (and also because we had recently ordered a huge amount of reduced Easter chocolate oops). We’ve had some excellent feedback from her on the taste “very creamy, very caramel, perfect for a sweet tooth” so I think we may have another Enigmailed fan on our hands! These bars would certainly make such a good gift for anyone you know who likes chocolate (and who doesn’t?!), and enjoys a bit of puzzling. 

 

Tilly Enjoying Crime Caramel Chocolateral

Sublime Crime

Flavour: Lime and Chilli Dark Chocolate
Completion time: approx 30 mins
Date Played: 25th June  2022
Party Size: 4

With this edition of Chocolateral, we had been tasked with solving a crime from a slightly different perspective… For once we know WHO the criminals are and we know WHAT they’ve done.

‘So… why are you here?’ I hear you ask. Well this time we’re on the case to work out a few of the finer details of the case. Two lovers on the run but caught at the first hurdle. But can we help track down the clues to work out what both the lovers’ jobs were, where they were hoping to escape to, what caused the police to get on their trail, what crucial mistake they made and last, but by no means least, what was their attempted getaway vehicle? Think Bonnie & Clyde (but with truffles) 

Given that we had all that to work out, we cracked on with nibbling away at the chocolate and the clues. We enjoyed the variety of puzzles yet again within this edition, particularly the cryptic combination of flags with what appeared to be binary code. Once again, Chocolateral gets you to think outside the chocolate box, with a few helpful nudges tucked away under the opening flaps to get you onto the right tracks. The mix of puzzles were perfect for the group of us with Alice’s parents solving it, as there was something that everyone excelled at, and all of us got the ‘A-HA’ moment for at least one puzzle each, which felt like a very fair share This was our first bar in a while which we didn’t need to check any hints for, so we were very proud of ourselves for clicking with this one so well.

And the flavour? Slightly warming, but not too spicy. A great mix of the fresh lime and warming chilli, which pairs perfectly with the richness of dark chocolate. As a dark bar, it’s also dairy-free so perfect for vegans and those less tolerant to the lactose. All in all a great bar once again!

 

About the Chocolate

The chocolate manufacturer is Kernow Chocolate, created and hand-packed in Cornwall, UK. If you need any evidence of all the love and care gone into creating this chocolate, just look at the list of ingredients! I’ve never seen a shorter ingredient list in my life – it’s all totally natural, not a chemical in sight.

Even without the puzzles, I already find myself browsing the manufacturer’s website to see what else they sell. It was that tasty, and I feel great about supporting a local UK business.

 

 

You can purchase a Chocolateral Bar over on Enigmailed’s website here, and also use the promocode MAIL10 for 10% off an order of Undeliverable!

 

Trapped Puzzle Rooms: Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery | Review

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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.

 

 

The Verdict

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.

 

Presently, Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery can be purchased by backing Trapped Puzzle Rooms’ Kickstarter here.

If you want to see what other games they have available, check out their website.

Extremescape: Lost Tomb | Review

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Extremescape: The Lost Tomb Review | Your team of adventurers & archaeologists, enter an abandoned gold mine in the heart of the Mexican mountains, your mission is to find the hidden gold. Legend says that the holder of the hidden gold of El Narangel will find the Lost Tomb. The miners left subtle clues & hints, if you use all your skills you may find the hidden gold and ultimately the Lost Tomb but be careful they the miners won’t give up their gold easily.

Completion Time: 80 minutes (out of 90)
Date Played: 24th March 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Hard

Ever wanted to be Indiana Jones? Of course you have, hasn’t everyone? Well this room gives you the chance to infiltrate a mine, fine some gold and then journey further into a hidden tomb.

One of the first things that immediately impressed us with this room is the obvious high budget set design – effects, solid decor, and a plethora of different elements all combine into an incredible experience. You are immediately transported into the mine in a way that is sure to leave an impression, with plenty of hidden aspects to delve into and discover. Once again, there were plenty of clues hidden in plain sight, waiting to be noticed. The moment of discovering the tomb was truly awe-inspiring too – you discover it in a very Indiana Jones-esque manner, and it definitely gave me goosebumps. Once more, the set had lots of details and really appeals to those who like seeking.

My only negative point on this room is likely to be a positive for others – there were quite a few ‘jump scares’! There were loud noises (particularly to alert you to someone you should be solving), with a couple of purposeful scares. I wouldn’t say this should put you off if you are nervous like me, but there were two I think are definitely unnecessary!

 

 

Duh de-duh dah…

Once again this room is non-linear, with plenty of aspects to address. Initially, you are looking for bags of gold, which are harder to find than you might expect. There are plenty of puzzles that are hidden in plain sight, with more physical puzzles thrown into the mix. I have never seen quite the variety of puzzles or the use of different elements in a room.

I was blown away throughout most of the game, and although the signposting could’ve been a little better (this feels like a theme for this venue), I think each puzzle had a certain level of surprise which just created so much joy and excitement throughout. Even the exit had us amazed!

The difficulty didn’t lie in solving the puzzles, but rather figuring out how to solve them! Once we’d figured out what to do each time it was fairly straightforward, with enough puzzles to keep us occupied without becoming stressed.

If I’m trying to nitpick I’d say that we required hints to identify a couple of puzzles, which I feel better signposting could’ve solved. I also felt like we ran into a wall after each puzzle (after a certain point), which got a little tiring. However, these are really minor points that ultimately shouldn’t put you off playing as it was one of the best rooms I’ve done!

 

Dah dah dah

Accessibility-wise, there are some stairs into the venue and within the room itself, with some physical challenges within the room. The room is dim in places, although torches are provided. Hints are delivered via screen and voice-over, so should suit anyone with visual or audio needs. As mentioned, there are loud noises and jump scares, as well as some smoke, so make sure to check ahead of time if you have any sensitivity to these things!

 

The Verdict

I loved this room. It felt like there was a lot to do, with plenty of elements and things to discover. Discovering the temple with only 30 mins left was definitely panic-inducing, but added a bit of pressure. I highly recommend this room to anyone!

 

Lost Tomb can be booked at Extremescape