Scarlet Envelope: Dinner with Anonymous | Review

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Dinner With Anonymous Review | “First course – peanut stew, main course – your dirty lies with a tahini dressing.” Five honourable guests have been blackmailed to dine with Anonymous, a charming psycho claiming to know everyone’s dark secrets. In a twisted turn of events, you find yourself in Anonymous’ basement, kidnapped and challenged to answer two questions: “Who is Anonymous? And what have these five people done to piss them off?”

Completion Time: ~60 minutes
Date Played: January 2023
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Hard

It has been a long, long time since I’ve last played a Scarlet Envelope game and I have to say – I’ve missed it! Scarlet Envelope are one of those monthly subscription types I used to save up and play with my good friend Bianca. However since moving to Edinburgh, I hadn’t had the chance to pick up and play with anyone new. That is, until today. Apparently, if you can believe this, it’s been a whole year since I played the last in the series: Screaming Venice Art Heist. A lot can happen in a year, but it’s nice to have that feeling of returning home when you pick up a puzzle game that is both exciting in its newness and familiar in it’s reliability.

 

 

A Collaboration between Scarlet Envelope & Keith, of USB Escape

The first, and most exciting thing about Dinner with Anonymous is that this is the first (but hopefully not the last) collaboration between Scarlet Envelope and Keith Dozois of USB Escape… And it shows! You can see the metaphorical fingerprints of both creators all over this game. There’s the physical, tactile experience of Scarlet Envelope combined with the horror themes of USB escape, married together with fantastic audio visuals which I’ve come to expect from both creators.

On a personal level, it was a lot of fun watching the two creators collaborate, their partnership unfolding over Instagram, and creating funny gems like this one 👇

 

But onto the actual game, how did it play?

 

You Have Been Kidnapped…

Dinner with Anonymous starts with the startling news that you have been kidnapped! Notorious serial killer with their eyes set on 5 unique victims has you in their clutches, but you have one shot at escaping. If you can figure out the name of the killer and exactly why everyone is being picked off one by one, they’ll let you go. If not, it looks like you’ll be on the menu next… So no pressure!

We spilled out all the contents of the envelope onto our table and got stuck in. At first glance, Dinner with Anonymous was a much lighter envelope than some of the others. The reason for this is because most of the game takes place online and that’s the first puzzle – how to get to the homepage to get started. With a slightly rocky start trying a few ‘hidden’ websites and deciphering details we found a little too early, we eventually made our way to the correct landing page and the game begun.

With a fantastic cinematic quality, the game begins by you being greeted by the serial killer themselves. An individual with a large TV on their head, cooking a horrific looking dish, blood splattered everywhere, and threatening you next. Hehe… Well, I did say it was a horror game, didn’t I?

 

 

There are 8 videos in total over the course of the game, so even if it does seem on the lighter side, it’s no less meaty (no pun intended) than any of the previous in the series. In fact, the web portal and video portions were some of my favourite in the whole game. They played brilliantly, added a level of tension, elevated the otherwise already satisfying tabletop puzzle game into something extra special.

Once we’d figured out what to do, we were off to a flying start. The gameplay that follows is fairly linear. The first puzzle gives you a clue to the next puzzle, then the next, and so on. Each one uses both the TV and the physical ephemera in the envelope to be solved. Then of course there is also a meta puzzle that uses secret details you found throughout the game and comes together for the big finale.

 

 

Scarlet Envelope, But Make it Difficult

When ordering from Scarlet Envelope you get to choose the difficulty level of your game:

  • Starter
  • Experienced

Since I don’t remember specifying which difficulty I’m on, I assume I’m getting the latter. Because, well, these games are tricky and it saves a little pride if I assume they’re tricky because it’s “Experienced” and I’m not just losing my puzzle solving marbles.

Dinner with Anonymous was no exception, and after spilling out the contents of the envelope over Rebecca’s table, we weren’t sure where to begin. I would go so far as to say it might be the trickiest of the games in this series I’ve played so far. For each individual puzzle we used at least one clue, and in a few cases we even ended up revealing the solution.

In terms of those puzzles, there was a fun mix of them. My favourite by far was one that involved a certain recipe. Can I say the puzzle made me feel physically sick? And in all the best ways possible! However that was also the one we used the most hints on to get to the correct solution in the end. This game also benefitted from a few details hidden in plain sight… Without wanting to give any spoilers, I love it when something you’ve been holding in your hand suddenly turns out to conceal something brilliant, in a place you’d never have thought to look.

If I had only one criticism of the game it would probably be that – it was a little tricky, and the signposting of where to begin at the start felt less than I’d had on previous games. But overall, despite finding it trickier than usual, we had an absolute blast playing through.

 

 

Michelin Star, or Food Fail?

Overall, I really enjoyed Dinner with Anonymous. It’s up there as one of my favourites of Scarlet Envelope – and that’s saying a lot from me since I don’t enjoy horror at all. I went in with an open mind and a horror-enthusiast, expecting a fun little game and instead getting something far more atmospheric and mysterious. The combination of two powerhouse Canadian creators mean that this game is something quite unique, and I hope this means there’ll be more collaborations on the horizon for Scarlet Envelope in the future.

In terms of who I’d recommend this for… I’ll start by saying who I don’t recommend this for: Kids. It’s creepy, very creepy. Some kids will probably be fine with that, but I’m a bit of a wimp myself and it certainly sent shivers down my spine. For any horror enthusiasts, Dinner with Anonymous is a must-play and a standout game in the genre. It would be good as a standalone, or as part of the full Scarlet Envelope series. In short, a big thumbs up from me.

As I write this, next to me on my desk I have the next instalment: Ashes of Persepolis ready to go. After spending a whole year without playing a single Scarlet Envelope game, my appetite is once again truly whet and I can’t wait to get cracking on the next.

 

If you’d like to play Dinner with Anonymous yourself, you can purchase it via Scarlet Envelope’s website here.

Spencer is Puzzling: Lost in the Shuffle | Review

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Lost in the Shuffle Review | Boost your brain powers on your quest to become officially, legally, a genius!* Submit all 52 correct answers to access the final challenge, “Puzzle 53” (dun dun duhhhhhn!).

Completion Time: 4 hours
Date Played: 5th October 2022
Party Size: 3
Difficulty: Moderate

I often wonder how you officially become a genius. Is it when you’re accepted into Mensa? Or perhaps when you win an international Scrabble Tournament? No! It turns out the status of genius can be achieved only by solving puzzle 53 in Spencer Beebe’s latest game, Lost in the Shuffle.

“Give me puzzle 53!” I hear you cry.

Not so fast. First, you have to work your way through a deck of playing cards packed with 52 puzzles you must solve to reach your final test.

 

 

Ok I’m ready. Where do I start?

Good question. One of the things I absolutely loved about this game is that there are no outright instructions. You have to search for the puzzles before you even think about solving them. Some cards contain multiple puzzles and some puzzles need multiple cards, so finding the puzzles to solve is a puzzle in itself! Phew!

You’re not completely on your own though, when you first begin the game, you’re directed to a website where an introductory video with a surprisingly expressive new friend awaits, reassuring you that you’re about to have a lot of fun (which we did!) You’ll unlock more videos as you progress, which will slowly unravel the story behind Lost in the Shuffle. As well as the videos, the website also hosts the rules of the game, a code sheet and a brilliant hint system that I’ll touch on later. The website is also where you input all your solutions, and you can watch your brain matter increase as the puzzles become increasingly more difficult. Eventually your brain will reach the long awaited point where it’s ready to tackle the biggest puzzle of all.

 

 

Sounds like a big deal!

Deal?! Cards?! Get it?! (Sorry) But yes, these puzzles range from relatively simple to really quite difficult so solving them feels like a big achievement. I wish I’d been a fly on the wall watching our celebrations for some of the trickier ones.

There are puzzles to suit (!!) everybody, and because they can be done in any order, you can squirrel away with one puzzle while others work through another. Remember though, some cards are needed more than once! Some puzzles required logic, some observational skills, and some even a quick internet search. There’s also some hidden surprises which I won’t spoil, but they’re really impressive once the penny drops. One things for sure, so much heart has gone into this project and it shows. Every inch of the design of the play of this game has been thoroughly thought through and it’s a joy to experience.

Speaking of joy, seeing the answer sheet gradually fill up with correct answers is a very satisfying way to track your progress. What’s even better is that your answers are saved, so you can take a break whenever you need a log back in to where you left off. We were only forced to take a break because I realised it was past my bedtime on a work night…

 

 

Need a clue?

The online clue system is nice and easy. Simply click on the card you’re stuck on, and links to any of the puzzles that card is part of will be revealed. You can then gradually reveal hints, as little or as many as you like, and finally you have the option to reveal the answer if you wish.

 

The Verdict

I really enjoyed Lost in the Shuffle. It’s a wonderfully unique game which turns this common item we know and love into an innovative experience that provides hours of puzzle solving fun. You can take it with you anywhere, play solo or with others and go for as long or as little as you like at a time. The flexibility of the game and the puzzles within the box are a win, and I look forward to seeing more of Spencer Beebe’s imagination turning into a reality.

Lost in the Shuffle is now available on Kickstarter! Back it here, or head directly to Spencer’s page here.

Arcadium Adventures: A Most Mysterious Convention | Review

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Arcadium Adventures: A Most Mysterious Convention Review | Chapter One in Arcadium’s Most Mysterious Cases, now you can enjoy more of the intrigue, the mysteries and the stories from wherever you are! This experience is a most enjoyable way to spend an afternoon or evening at home and can even be used as greeting card or gift.

Date Played: August 2022
Time Taken: ~1 hr
Number of Players: 2
Difficulty: Comfortable

After taking a long break – mostly spent moving house from London to Edinburgh – I was excited to return back to the world of puzzle games! They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Well this saying is definitely true for all things escape room, board game and a combination of the two (like this one).

Having settled down, I couldn’t wait to invite fellow puzzler Rebecca round for an afternoon of puzzling. The very first game in our list came all the way over from Arcadium Adventures in Australia. Arcadium Adventures is a brick-and-mortar escape room based in Brisbane who specialise in all things magic and mystery. For book lovers and adventure afficionados, they also have a series of “play at home escape rooms” whose names all begin with “A Most Mysterious…”

Over the course of two hours, broken in the middle by lunch, we played through both Chapter One and Chapter Two of Arcadium Adventures’ series. Here’s how we got on:

 

 

A Mysterious Box Arrives

The first thing to note about Arcadium Adventures is the boxes they arrive in… So small, yet so much fun! Chapter One was about the size of a small paperback, so it fit perfectly through my letterbox. It’s a good quality box, very sturdy and lightweight. However, if you wanted to play the game but didn’t want to pay postage, the company also offers the games as digital downloads. I’m assuming these would be a PDF version of all the printed materials we received. A few items may need to be printed out, but mostly there’s no reason it couldn’t be played online.

Inside, we opened it up to discover a wealth of different pieces of paper and clippings all that related to our mystery at hand. A black envelope sealed with a wax stamp titled “Begin Here” points to where (and how) to get started. Inside this envelope was an introductory, expositional piece. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was simple:

 

ARCANACON – The Annual Mystery Convention

ARCANACON is the fictional (awww!) annual mystery convention and sadly we were not able to attend this year. However, the organisers of ARCANACON have sent us a letter with a secret message. Across the materials about the convention is a puzzle to be solved. If we manage to solve everything, we’ll uncover the secret message.

The ARCANACON Radio was also available to us which, we were pleasantly surprised to discover wasn’t just music but also a true radio-style broadcast that occasionally interrupted our play with fun messages. We also had access to a webpage which provided recipes, a chatbot, additional hints, and a place to input our answers.

The creators of Arcadium Adventures really outdid themselves with all the little extra details, and we appreciated those a lot! They added an extra level of immersion to the whole experience. I only hope that one day ARCANACON will be a real life thing we can actually attend. Now that would be fun!

 

 

Puzzles & Papercraft

In terms of the puzzles, the structure of the game was quite simple. Every puzzle was tackled in isolation and every puzzle gave a digit output that at the end of the game would be strung together to reveal the secret message. Whilst this is a fairly common ‘secret message delivery system’ regular players will recognise from other games out there, Arcadium Adventures required a 23 digit code. The more digits, the more room for error… And there was a little bit of error on our part. Such as accidentally mixing up the order of two puzzles, or making small typos when relaying the 23 digits. But nothing we couldn’t overcome after a few attempts.

In terms of those individual puzzles, there was a range of different puzzle types. There were some folding puzzles, plenty of cipher puzzles, puzzles where you had to overlay one material onto another, logic puzzles, and so on and so on.

Overall we’d probably say that both the game’s puzzles and it’s overall input wasn’t particularly innovative. For starters, we both agreed that every puzzle in the game we’d seen somewhere else before – but that does come with the territory when you play hundreds and hundreds, so I can’t fault them there. But more than this there was an overall sense of the objects being quite random, and their solutions feeling a little forced. There’s a lot of discourse in the industry I won’t get into here about mimetic and diegetic puzzles, so I’ll just distil that down into “the vibes” were a little off.

But that’s not to say we didn’t have fun, and this would be an excellent introductory game to somebody who has never played a “play at home escape room”. The creators should be very proud for building a well balanced and enjoyable puzzle game.

 

Image (C) Arcadium Adventures

 

The Verdict

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the first of the Arcadium Adventures games. It was good for at least an hour’s worth of puzzling fun, set within a quirky story about a mystery convention, and really pushed us to think outside of the box on some of the puzzles. It’s a great quality box with a wealth of fun details inside. As mentioned, we’d recommend this game for beginners who want to try their hand at a ‘play at home escape room’. It’s a good level of difficulty to be challenging in parts and satisfying in others.

There is room for improvement for sure, but as the company continues to make more adventures like these I’ve no doubt they’ll get better!

 

A Most Mysterious Convention can be purchased from Arcadium Adventures’ shop here.

Mythologic Escape Rooms: Needlenose | Review

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Needlenose Escape Room Review | Don’t be the next victim of the Copycat Killer Clown!

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.

 

Who Wouldn’t Love to be Locked in the Sewers?!

Who wouldn’t love to locked in the sewers with a killer clown on the loose hell bent on capturing you and taking your life!? No?! Why not?! This hour of tension, horror and excitement is an absolute scream! We loved it!

This room has taken the team at Mythologic a huge amount of time to create, design and build and walking through the door it is evident to see why! The combination of great theme, strong design build and the addition of a live actor brings, this game to life as you are plunged into the dark world of Needlenose the copycat killer clowns mind!

The room has a fair few observation-based puzzles alongside some physical games which played alongside the theme beautifully. Every puzzle fitted into the room very well and it wasn’t always clear what we were meant to be doing, which was a real plus as it gave a greater sense of reality!

Be prepared to be on edge! Everywhere you look in this game, there is something to keep your nerves rattled. As ever, no spoilers, however , there are a handful of surprises in this room which made us scream (both in terror and excitement!) It does however balance the level of scares very well to still give you the opportunity to complete the numerous puzzles inside.

 

The Verdict

All members of the team loved this game and place it in high esteem, and in great company with our absolute favourites. There are some tricky puzzles inside which certainly challenged us (and being the first physical game after lock down, the grey matter really got a run out!) but everything was achievable, even if you need a subtle hint like we did!

 

Dont be a clown! – Put on your big boy pants and head down to Mythologic to play this game. It is certainly one you wont forget in a hurry!

Would I recommend this room?

Definitely! The theme and mix of terror and strong puzzles put this up there with our favourites!

Who would I recommend it to?

Groups of friends and families would love this. More experienced players will still be challenged for sure and likely be in awe of the play area.

How many players would I recommend?

Around 3-4, taking into consideration the size of the room and number of puzzles inside

Suitable for Children?

Absolutely not!

 

Needlenose can be booked by heading to Mythologic’s website here.

Mythologic Escape Rooms: The Game | Review

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Mythologic Escape Rooms, The Game Review | Can you escape our Jumanji style escape room?

Date Played: 2019
Team Size: 4

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.

 

 

Enter The Game

Are you ready to play the ultimate board game? Who isn’t? Its quite simply. All you have to do is find the pieces of the game, complete the challenges the game gives you to win the gem. Sounds easy right? Wrong! This room is an absolute team favourite on the Kent escape room scene.

Creativity is an understatement – this room has been carefully crafted and works well throughout the experience which can be loved by all members of the family young and old. Attention to detail is second to none and as you continue through the room, you will be blown away.

The room contains a number of puzzles and riddles that many of the team hadn’t seen before and this is a real plus. The room houses a great mix of different styles including physical games, riddles, padlocks and electronic games.

 

 

The Verdict

This is certainly a room where paying attention is key – communicate with your team and listen closely to the what you see and hear. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of comfort in this room and the time ticks away quicker than you think. This is certainly a room that the team and I will not be forgetting in a hurry – for a great hours worth of entertainment, this is sure to be a real family favourite.

Would I recommend this room?

For sure! A great theme and a strong combination of puzzles make this a sure fire hit!

Who would I recommend it to?

Anyone! Great for beginners through to experienced escapists, it will get the escape room juices flowing

How many players would I recommend?

Around 4-5, taking into consideration the size of the room and number of puzzles inside

Suitable for Children?

Yes, perfect for them as it contains a great movie theme, plus games and activities they can get involved in.

The Game can be booked at Mythologic Escape Rooms by heading to their website here.

The Goonies: Escape With One-Eyed Willy’s Rich Stuff | Review

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The Goonies: Escape with One-Eyed Willy’s Rich Stuff takes players on an epic adventure through the trap-filled caverns of Astoria, Oregon. Using the treasure hunting skills of the Goonies, players will navigate their way to finding One-Eyed Willy’s rich stuff! Can you get the gang to the Inferno, nab the treasure, and get to freedom all while staying one step ahead of the nefarious Fratelli family?

Completion Time: 3-4 hours
Date Played: August 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

It’s widely reported that Cyndi Lauper hated her song The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough. Lauper had recorded it specifically for The Goonies but ended up leaving it off her album and even refused to play it live for a while. To be honest, when I first thought back to the film, I barely remembered the track ever being present. However, I recently stumbled upon a cover by Radical Face that, on first listen, instantly made me recall the movie. It’s a great version of the song. I recommend giving it a listen. Though, I probably like it so much because of the connection to the film. That’s nostalgia for you, I guess.

Nostalgia is certainly a powerful tool. Being able to take a beloved brand and attach it to your product is certain to raise its appeal for many and that’s exactly what this Coded Chronicles game has had the opportunity to do with one of the best-loved movies of the 80s. The Goonies is a film that I remember fondly. Not only for its epic content, but because it was part of my childhood. A time when I was likely forming my passion for puzzles and escapes. A time when I innocently thought a pair of wind-up teeth on a spring could hold the weight of child. A time when I didn’t creak like an Ent whenever I attempted to move before 7:30am. Needless to say, I was looking forward to this…

Getting Started

Comedy, adventure, fiendish traps, implausible gadgets, catchphrases that would be bellowed for decades to come… the Goonies had it all, and on setting up Escape with One-Eyed Willy’s Rich Stuff it’s clear that a lot of what made the film so memorable has been replicated within the box. The styling and inclusion of so many familiar elements set the scene well and instantly reassures that this treasured IP will be treated well.

Getting started is simple. Like the film itself, you start out with only an old (laminated) map, a suspiciously shaped (cardboard) doubloon, and a sense of adventure. Unlike the film, you also have small tokens representing the characters, a pile of mystery envelopes that vary in pudginess, and narrative journals for each of the titular Goonies.

Yes, of course, the gang’s all here. Brand, Andy, Mouth, Stef, Data, Mikey, Chunk and Sloth all feature and each has their own ability that you’ll need to take advantage of should you want to get your mitts on the rich stuff. That in mind, although Goonies is playable solo, it felt apt that I formed my own posse – one of whom possessed their own unique skill of having never watched the film, making the Truffle Shuffle something of a new experience. This ultimately proved savvy as some of the more verbose characters demand a fair amount of reading and dividing the journals between the group allowed for roles to be played, the work to be split, and the scenarios to form more naturally.

Playing The Goonies: Escape with One-Eyed Willy’s Rich Stuff

These narrative journals are at the core of this game. You want Mikey to explore an element of a recently revealed tunnel? You add his character number to the respective area code and read that section of his journal. You want Brand to use a knife to cut a rope? You add his character number to the combined item digits and read his related excerpt to discover what happens next. Combine/take/lift the wrong thing and odds are the Fratelli gang will move closer to your location and eventually cause a penalty to be added when you arrive at the end of the third and final act.

As mentioned, while everyone gets a time to shine. Some characters are used far more/better than others. Stef’s sassy ‘explain’ ability, for example, feels a little bolted on and is usually unnecessary once Mikey has swept through and explored everything thoroughly. However, the way Data’s quirky gadgets are implemented is a highlight as these are activated through separate puzzle cards that you can use when the situation suits. While occasionally essential for progress, they can also help by slowing down the Fratelli family and moving them away from your location if you use them in the right place. An excellent way of making use of one of the more unique characters who has true abilities beyond generically picking up and using things.

The Verdict

The Goonies is an amazing way to spend 3-4 hours and, thanks to some convenient breaks that are built into the story, it’s easy to cut the experience into chunks if you prefer to take smaller bites. Some smart puzzles really pull the rug from under you at times, which is a wonderful feeling when you’re searching for codes and not expecting anything more tangible. Even the player among us who had never seen the film was impressed with the overall theming and high-quality puzzles. Nostalgia helps, but it’s not the only trick Escape with One-Eyed Willy’s Rich Stuff has crammed up its sleeve. It’s excellent in its own right and certainly worth experiencing with a gaggle of your closest puzzle/adventure loving pals.

Head to The Op’s website to purchase the game for yourself.

Edinburgh Treasure Hunts: Sherlock’s Secret Challenge | Review

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Edinburgh Treasure Hunts Review | Arthur Conan Doyle has left you a letter. Not just a letter! A challenging puzzle that could reveal to you the secret behind his famous character: Sherlock Holmes. That is, if you prove to be a puzzle-solving mastermind first.

Completion Time: ~3 hours
Date Played: 16th July 2022
Party Size: 3
Location: Edinburgh New Town > Edinburgh West End
Difficulty: Moderate

I’ve lived in Edinburgh for over 12 years, so you’d think I’d have explored the whole city by now, right?! Wrong!

It turns out treasure hunts are now my favourite way to discover the hidden secrets of your surroundings – and you get to do it whilst solving puzzles and getting some steps in! The games from Edinburgh Treasure Hunts are the highest rated hunts in Edinburgh, and I’d like to tell you why this is a spot they deserve.

The brains behind the operation is the incredible Sabi, company director, game designer and Edinburgh tour guide. Their knowledge and passion shone through when we met them outside the Conan Doyle pub, gazing over at the street where the creator of Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle was born. It was an apt setting for the journey ahead of us, and hearing some of the history of a street I walk by weekly was an exciting start.

 

Team Escape Roomer takes on Sherlock’s Challenge

The Challenge

Out task was to channel Sherlock Holmes and master the power of deduction to find the secret that lies behind his character. To do this, we were handed a locked backpack, a beautifully illustrated map and a mysterious letter from beyond the grave. You’d better believe spooky voices were used to narrate the tale! We were then left to solve the first puzzle, and our walking adventure begins!

Now, it was 9am so it did take a while for our brains to wake up and figure out the first challenge – but once we clocked it we were on our way to unlocking the backpack and discovering the next puzzle, all of which are hidden in various containers. Once you’ve solved a puzzle, you’ll be directed by the clues to your next location. The game was really easy to navigate due to the numbered clues and the fact that certain items weren’t unlocked until they were needed for the puzzle in front of you.

 

Help! We Need a Hint!

Am I going to continue blaming the fact I’m not an early riser for my slow puzzle solving skills that morning? Probably. But we did get super stuck. There was an amazing moment when we realised half of what we had to do, yet we still completely overthought to the point we were googling different cypher types. We should add that Google is not needed at any point in the game.

Lucky for us, this meant we got to experience the hint system which was me calling Sabi and sheepishly asking for help. My biggest tip for this hunt is

Easier said than done though, so we got a response immediately, and proceeded to kick ourselves to the next clue.

 

 

Once You Have Eliminated the Impossible…

In terms of puzzles, there were 2 styles of padlock to unlock: The familiar 4 digit combination and a date lock which I’d never seen before!

The puzzles were a really nice mix which tested everything from your observational skills to decoding hidden messages. My favourite involved a few steps to find a particular piece of text in your surroundings and use that to unlock some cyphered text. I also loved the navigational aspect, it encouraged you to spot things you wouldn’t have thought to look at otherwise. Overall, they were quite difficult, so I recommend that if doing this with a family to take slightly older kids, 13+ I’d say would keep the game enjoyable for everyone. For a game aimed at a much younger audience, definitely try out Edinburgh Treasure Hunts’ other trail, Fantastic Creatures.

 

 

The Case of the Final Problem

I loved the location of the end of the game. It felt like everything came together really nicely and you discover some really interesting history about the story of Sherlock Holmes. There’s a really nice touch which I imagine is quite satisfying by the end of the day. You’re then directed to a safe place to drop the backpack near the end location and the centre of town so you can rest your legs and debrief!

I will say, it’s quite the walk and towards the end we clambered up a big hill.

In the end, we took just over three hours to complete the game (but we did stop for a cold drink as it was so warm!)

 

 

It’s almost Fringe time!

The festival is almost upon us, and we’re all ready to grab our highlighters and circle our top picks of the programme – Sherlock’s Secret Challenge should be one of them! Why? The City of Edinburgh is your venue, and you’re in charge of making sure the story unfolds. If you’re visiting Edinburgh for the Fringe, I’d really recommend taking half a day to pop on your deerstalker to take a stroll and discover some hidden gems.

 

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

Breakin’: The Flying Dutchman | Review

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The Flying Dutchman Review | Avast ye! Tell me, shark-bait, have you heard the legend of The Flying Dutchman? That dreaded ship captained by the sea-devil Davy Jones and his undead pirate crew? You’d best start believing in ghost stories… you’re in one! After your ship sinks in a great tempest you awake aboard the Dutchman. If you don’t escape before sunrise you’ll be trapped aboard her forever. Legend tells of a mythical diamond – the Heart of Calypso – which can break the curse. It’s hidden somewhere on the lower decks. The sun rises in an hour. So shiver your timbers, swash your buckles, and batten down the hatches. You need to discover the diamond to escape the ship and a watery doom!

Date Played: May 2022
Number of Players: 6
Time Taken: <30 Minutes
Difficulty: Very Easy

My favourite thing in the whole world is introducing new friends to escape rooms. My second favourite thing in the whole world is when they love the escape room and spend the whole time laughing and having an absolute blast.

For me, The Flying Dutchman at Breakin’ Escape Rooms was a perfectly ‘okay’ escape room. For the friends I took with me to play this one, 4 people who had never ever played any escape room before, they loved it. This makes The Flying Dutchman a fantastic ‘entry level’ room to bring your puggle friends to. It perfectly encapsulates what an escape room is with a mix of physical and mental puzzles, but isn’t in the slightest bit challenging meaning that even the most beginner of teams will ace through it and feel extra smart.

 

A Pirate’s Life for Me!

The story of The Flying Dutchman is your classic pirate ship escape room game. You play as a team of pirates who find themselves trapped on the dreaded ghost ship – the Flying Dutchman, captained by Davy Jones. Your ship has sunk and you’re trapped on this one with just one hour to try to escape or else you’ll find yourself in a watery grave too. Nothing like a little pirate themed peril to get the excitement going.

The setting was a large and well-furnished pirate ship. Think wooden floorboards, cannons and cannonballs, ropes draped from the ceiling and a big ol’ pirate ship wheel in the middle of the room. At first glance, especially compared to someone of the other escape rooms at Breakin’ you might think “this is is” but there’s a couple of sneaky extra spaces hidden around the environment making it slightly larger than you first expected. Though be warned – some of those extra areas are very small and very cramped!

Your goal is the simplest: Escape. And what follows is a somewhat linear series of puzzles to get you from A – locked in the ship to B – escaped!

 

Pirate Puzzles

For me, I’d definitely put this room in the category of “very easy”. We took zero hints and didn’t pause for even a single second. When taking new people into a room I’m always a little worried about solving things and jumping ahead with prior knowledge, so resigned myself to taking more of a backseat role. But in The Flying Dutchman this wasn’t needed, the rest of my team flew off to a flying start with no nudges from our Games Master, or even no need for me to step in and put my “escape room hat” on.

As mentioned, there was a mix of different puzzle types. They were all fairly well themed within the pirate universe, and a mix of ones that we triggered ourselves, and ones that we could tell the Games Master triggered for us. One puzzle, towards the latter end of the room was a very dexterous, manual puzzle which was a bit of a bottleneck for our very large team. With only two people able to complete the puzzle at one time, and multiple steps and chances to go wrong, the other four of us found ourselves standing around a little bit longer than we might have liked. But after 10 minutes (1/3 of our whole game time) passed, I spotted a sneaky hack that got past the slightly more boring part of the puzzle and skipped us closer to completion. Do I feel guilty? Yes, yes, a little bit. But if a puzzle is meant to be un-hack-able, it should be designed as such.

Besides this, the game was enjoyable from a puzzling point of view. There was a distinct absence of padlocks. Instead the room was surprisingly a lot more high tech than expected for a pirate themed room. Though that said, high tech comes with some downsides and we encountered one technological hitch with a puzzle where a door sprang open a little too early, giving us the final piece we needed to escape before we’d actually finished the game. I don’t think the rest of my team noticed so much though, and all was well that ended well since it ensured we broke out of the room with record time to spare.

If we had any issues along the way (we didn’t), in true Breakin’ form, we were given a walkie talkie that our Games Master could give us a code via. The code was input into an iPad on the wall and a hint would be displayed. This is the same as in all of their rooms, and a mechanic we are fairly used to by now. Though again, we didn’t need to use it.

 

Team The Escape Roomer escapes!

 

The Verdict

I had a good time playing The Flying Dutchman. Again, it’s not my favourite room in all of Breakin’ but it did the job and introduced a new group of friends to escape rooms. For a room best suited for a new team – the verdict is yes, that new team had a blast. For me? I found it much too easy, and a little wear and tear (to be expected after opening 5+ years ago) caused some hiccups with the tech and ease of brute-forcing a few puzzles. It’s probably what the enthusiasts call a “Gen 2” escape room. It’s a very early one, but it’s moved away from padlocks and codes as the primary source of puzzling into something much more atmospheric and immersive.

Add in a beautiful, well themed set, and it’s still a winning escape room. For the best experience, don’t bring any more than a team of 3 into the room. There just simply isn’t enough for a larger team to do. If you do choose to go in an enthusiast team, expect to escape in around 30 minutes as we did – and why not book yourself into a second room whilst you’re at Breakin? I’d recommend Wizarding School or Heist Plan.

 

The Flying Dutchman can be booked by heading to Breakin’s website here.

Mazer Zone: Star Struck | Review

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Mazer Zone Star Struck Review | The year is 2220, wars and natural disasters have ravaged the Earth. Humanity, clinging to survival in orbit, has one last hope – a scientific genius and his revolutionary formula for starship fuel. Alas, the powers that be will not relinquish their grip on the human race. Shortly after being recruited by the good professor, he suddenly disappears leaving the fate of mankind in the hands of you and your crew. Do you have what it takes to solve the mystery and save the human race?

Date Played: 2nd July 2022
Number of Players: 4
Time Taken: ~30 Minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Mazer Zone is one of London’s newest escape rooms and at the time of writing has only been open for a couple of weeks. Presently, there are two rooms available with a third coming soon. And well, you know me, I’m a sucker for a good sci-fi room so we couldn’t wait to get ourselves booked in to play.

Despite being located very centrally in Camden, Mazer Zone is an escape room that’s a little hard to spot. In fact, we walked past it a few times before realising it was there. Tucked away in a residential estate, an unassuming building that looks like it could be an apartment building opens up into a very clean and clinical basement with a very low ceiling – tall people be warned (though not a problem for me at 5 ft 1). On the outer door was a 4 digit padlock, and we assumed this might be the first puzzle – but thankfully after knocking a few times our host came up to pick us up.

As you go down into the main area, there’s no lobby to speak of, so be sure to arrive exactly on time. We kept our belongings with us and, after a quick briefing with the usual “this is a padlock, don’t brute force, if it’s above head height ignore it“, we were led to a mysterious door. A message appeared to us from a very cool sci-fi delivery pipe containing all the information we needed to get started and then whoosh! We were off to a flying start!

 

Image (c) Mazer Zone

 

Beam me up, Scotty!

What followed was a series of physical spaces (around 3 unique rooms to be exact), that followed the story of the mysterious disappearance of a spacecraft engineer and scientist. You see, we were space travellers in the far distant future trying to preserve humanity by colonising the stars. But we can’t do that without valuable starship fuel. Our mission was to investigate what happened to the scientist and recover his secret stash of starship fuel. Presumably so we could synthesize more, or perhaps we just wanted to use it to power our own ships and fly away. Either way, we had a mission and we stuck to it.

The room played out like a “museum of humanity“. Early in the game we found a tablet-like device which enabled us to scan any codes we found around the room. There were many of them. On the one hand, red herrings? On the other, just quirky distractions adding to the overall story. There were plenty of things in the room we never used, and plenty more things we did use which I couldn’t believe were even relevant to the game, but provided some fun moments of delight when they were.

There was one puzzle I enjoyed the mechanic of so much I even laughed out loud, inviting my other players crowd around just to watch it. But mostly, the puzzles were straightforward – easy to spot, easy to solve. Yes, we absolutely whizzed through the room and broke the record (although for a room that’s just opened that’s less impressive than it sounds), but we did have fun solving the puzzles. Everyday objects were used in innovative ways and there were some very fun moments of technology.

On the topic of red herrings however, there were definitely more red herrings than we were comfortable with. I counted around 5 digit padlocks we discovered which we ended up never using, and plenty of things that seemed so obviously like they were part of the game but then never ever used. There’s a lot of discourse in the escape room world about whether red herrings are good or bad, and it’s too detailed to get into here, but we at The Escape Roomer generally fall in the camp of “they’re not great”.

Having too many things in the room that feel unfinished leads to an anti-climactic ending in which you can’t help but wonder if you’re actually finished or not. Star Struck toed this line, as many of the ‘red herrings’ were quirky and part of the story. For example, informational pieces about the universe and objects which felt like they should have had a purpose, but didn’t in the end. When we finally unlocked the last door, we all couldn’t quite believe it. “But wait, we didn’t use ‘thing’?”, to which our host explained that we didn’t need to. So the jury is out on that one.

There was one puzzle in the experience which could potentially be a health and safety hazard. Not naming any names as I don’t wish to spoil anything, but there was definitely a moment we could have (but didn’t) hurt ourselves… Which brings me to the realisation that we weren’t asked to sign a waiver. It’s one of the first escape rooms I’ve ever experienced that hasn’t, which is interesting. Potentially just an operational oversight since the company itself is in it’s infancy, and hopefully an issue they’ll fix quite quickly.

As a final note, since we didn’t ask for any hints, we can’t judge how these are delivered – but we were given a walkie-talkie at the start of the experience in case we needed to communicate with our host.

 

Image (c) Mazer Zone

 

An Escape Room Set on a Spaceship

One of the things we enjoyed most about the room was the decor. It really did feel like a sci-fi spaceship and there’s some impressive technology in there that really added to the feeling of immersion. It was high-tech in all the best ways, with sensors and scanners a-plenty, plus all that tech worked perfectly well. Which makes sense, since the room is brand new.

On the topic of decor, the room very much feels homemade but in the kind of way that it’s been built with a lot of love. I’ve since found out that unfortunately it is a room that was open for some time in another country, before being sold to Mazer Zone and opened up here in London. That said, they’ve still done a good job the start-up resources they have available.

Just a note on accessibility, unfortunately the environment and the building itself being located down a long flight of stairs – so this room is not wheelchair accessible. There were also several puzzles that involved listening to voice-overs without subtitles, so a word of warning for folks with hearing difficulty.

 

The Verdict

Overall, our team did enjoy playing Star Struck at Mazer Zone. If anything, it was just a shame it didn’t last longer, I’d have loved to spend 60 minutes in the room rather than 30! We had an enthusiastic host, which brings about it’s own kind of charm, and we enjoyed chatting to them for a while after. The room itself featured some fun decor and unique technology, as well as puzzles that made us think outside the box in ways I haven’t experienced before. As, at the time of writing, they’re a brand new company so there are some big operational oversights which we’ve given feedback on, but I think it has a lot of potential.

Presently tickets come in around 30 – 50 pp, depending on how large your team is and when you visit. For this price it makes it one of the more expensive escape rooms in London. Do we recommend it at full price? Probably not. Especially given we escaped in around 30 minutes. But if you can get tickets at off-peak prices, then definitely worth giving them a go.

Mazer Zone are hard at work on their new and upcoming rooms. I hear the second and third rooms are better than the first, so it’s onwards and upwards from here.

 

Star Struck can be booked by heading to Mazer Zone’s website here.

ESC WELT: House of the Dragon | Review

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House of the Dragon Review | An aging Japanese carpenter felt abandoned by his son who had left home and started a family of his own.  But when a dragon came to the carpenter in his dreams and told him he still had time to bond with the grandchildren he’d never seen, the carpenter designed and built a wooden toy.  The toy was a puzzle box that children alone couldn’t open so children, parents and grandparents worked together to solve the mystery of the ‘House of the Dragon’.

Date played: May 2022
Time taken: 60-90 mins
Number of players: 1
Difficulty: Medium

 

Puzzle Box Joy

First up, I love wooden puzzle boxes. They are beautiful little works of art.  I had a money box as a kid that was a simplified puzzle box with panels that you had to slide around to find a hidden drawer with a key, then do some more sliding to find the keyhole.  I loved it, even when I’d done that sliding so many times it was no longer a puzzle.  I guess that was when the ER bug first bit, even though there was no such thing as ERs at the time.  It also explains the little jolt of joy I get in ERs like those by ‘Escape Plan’ where they use cute little wooden puzzle boxes in place of the ubiquitous padlocks. So much of the pleasure I get from ERs is that they are safe spaces for adults to indulge in childlike play and I guess wooden puzzle boxes are a direct, visceral link between adult me and the little kid I once was.

Which is a very long winded and philosophical path to saying that when EscWelt asked us to review their latest puzzle, House of the Dragon, I jumped at the chance.  I hadn’t played an EscWelt game box before, though had taken on similar puzzles by iAdventure, so was excited to unbox it.

 

Handmade Heaven

‘House of the Dragon’ looks and feels lovingly hand-made, a fact confirmed by a signed slip inside the box from the EscWelt bod who put it together.  In keeping with the Japanese theming and narrative, with the back story laid out on a paper insert, the puzzle box takes the form of a miniature pagoda, crafted from sustainable birchwood.  There’s lovely carved detailing and beautiful etching on every side, with cherry blossom tumbling down one side, and a dragon wrapped around the roof.  Each side and each section has a unique design and feel and a quick scan around the box gives you the sense of multiple puzzle elements.

But Where Do I Start?

But that’s where I came a bit unstuck.  The iAdventure games I’d played previously had a handy ‘start’ etched somewhere on them to give you a clue where to begin. ‘House of the Dragon’ doesn’t.  It’s clearly designed to be trickier and that’s no bad thing but it can also lead to frustration.  Maybe because I’m singularly dense, or maybe because I was playing alone, with no-one to bounce ideas off, I just couldn’t spot an obvious ‘way in’ to the sequence of puzzles.  So I spent a lot of time just turning the box around and around in my hands trying to get an insight into where to start. Which is ok for a while but my patience did erode fairly quickly.

 

Let It Flow

Eventually after a bit of wiggling of box parts, I made the first step and after that things flowed a little more, although you still have to be a bit experimental and willing to try some random poking around, in some cases literally.  After the first element was solved and I’d done a bit of Japanese language translation, I realised I was looking for a specific sequence (of what I won’t say coz spoilers).  And from then on, the puzzle flow around the box was more satisfying and fairly slick.  Constrained by the size of the box, there aren’t a huge number of puzzle elements and I probably took longer figuring out where to start than I did actually solving it all but the sheer physicality of the puzzling is very satisfying.  And, like in any good ER, the revelation at the end is worth all the effort that preceded it.

 

The Verdict?

My minor niggles would be that lack of a clearing start point and the fact that the playability of the box is impacted by some parts being too stiff and some too lose.  In some case parts don’t move easily, meaning you feel like you haven’t solved that element when you actually have.  Some parts also move but have no function other than looking pretty.  On my box the roof element rotated so I spent ages thinking there must be a significance to that.  But there wasn’t.

However, these are minor issues in a puzzle box that is beautiful to behold.  The tactile physicality of the box is the true selling point.  When you can’t get hands on with an ER out in the real world, and online or paper ER type games just aren’t hitting the right spot then a puzzle box like ‘House of the Dragon’ is a treat.  Sliding panels, buttons to push and pull, secret doors and secret codes.  All in the comfort of your own home.

There’s a QR code system to get access to EscWelt’s tips and hints on the puzzle box and once you’re done and found out the secret at the heart of the labyrinth, there’s also a resetting video so you can play again or pass the box on to someone else.  Maybe you could even hide a little treat inside and see how long it takes someone else to get inside ‘The House of the Dragon’.

 

‘House of the Dragon’ and other puzzle box games from EscWelt can be bought at their online store or at other online retailers.