Treasure Trails: Kidderminster | Review

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Treasure Trails: Kidderminster Review | Police intelligence has discovered a plot by international carpet thieves to target a unique collection of extremely valuable carpets secured for a charity event. The Midlands Crime Agency has put together a list of suspect volunteers… they need YOU, our best detectives to help catch the Carpetbaggers!

Kidderminster? Where’s That?

I can already hear you asking that question. First off, Kidderminster is my hometown. It is located in the West Midlands approximately 25 miles south-west of Birmingham.

More importantly however, the history and heritage. Kidderminster is historically known for two main things: carpet factories and Rowland Hill, the creator of the first ever postage stamp; The Penny Black.

Today, I have been tasked with undertaking Treasure Trails: Kidderminster. As a Kidderminster native, I have brought a friend (Alakazam) along, who is not from Kidderminster to help me. Is this a good idea? We shall find out!

One more thing… I made sure I was suitably dressed!

 

 

What’s Inside a Treasure Trails Booklet?

The adventure trail is formed as a nice, tidy, A5 size booklet. The first two pages have the introduction, briefing and safety notes, alongside the hint system for when you get stuck.

The objective is to deduct clue-by-clue, who is the Carpetbaggers insider and what weapon they used during the heist. On the back of the booklet are a list of suspects and potential weapons to eliminate.

The hint/answer system is text message based. Each clue in the booklet has a unique reference number to send. There, you receive the answer (up to a maximum of 3) with the details of where the answer lies.

There is also a bonus A3 activity sheet for children to fill in and play with outside of the trail itself, which is a welcome addition; what kid doesn’t like free stuff?!

 

 

The booklet also includes where to begin and where to park your car (if you arrived via car!).

Off we go to clue 1!

 

…Are We Going The Right Way?

Right off the bat with the first clue, we came across a stumbling block. We couldn’t access the area where the answer lay due to the building being cornered off by metal grate fencing. Not to worry we thought, we can at least look through the grating and see if we can find the answer we are looking for…

Again no sadly. The answer was covered by a large amount of wild foliage, it took our eyes to squint really hard to find the answer. See below: I’m not one for giving answers away but this one is nigh impossible to find without using the answer system at this point in time.

 

 

Moving on to clue 2, we had another stumbling block. Namely, this sign.

 

 

Ok so we weren’t drivers per se, but it did make be feel nervous passing this sign to get to the next clue. The answer to clue 2 was a little difficult to find due to erosion, however once we found what we needed we swiftly returned to the public pathway!

 

A Shaky Start But Uphill From Here!

From clue 3 onwards, its was mostly enjoyable. Clues involved walking around Kidderminster’s largest church site (and finding lush greenery round the back that I had never seen before!), walking along a canal and seeing Kidderminster’s oldest secular building. More importantly, both the old carpet factories and Rowland Hill are referenced towards the last half of the trail. In terms of theming and historical research, I can’t fault it. Furthermore, it gave me the gift of standing still and truly taking in the wonderful architectural designs and nuances of Kidderminster’s industrial history.  

The puzzles themselves are primarily observational (sharp eyes are required due to some erosion), alongside code-cracking. These are ideal for families as per the recommendation on the front of the booklet. The route that the trail takes you is mostly linear with the exception of the end…

 

The Last Leg Of The Trail

For the final four clues, the trail changed from being completely linear to more criss-cross. As a result of this, we struggled with where to go/what to look for and used up 2 of our 3 clue/answer limit. I feel that the last four clues could have been rearranged to be completed in a linear fashion and it wouldn’t have caused any problems with the endgame.

 

 

For The Kidderminster Native Or Newbie?

As it says on the trail’s booklet, this is perfect for families to do. It has a small learning curve, you just need to be ok with a look of looking around and occasionally, checking your phone online for some bits of outside knowledge. Furthermore, because there is a competition to win £100 in a monthly prize draw if you submit the correct suspect and weapon, the maximum amount of answers you can get from the clue system is 3. To get around this, I would suggest taking 2 (or more) phones with you to get more answers if required. This is especially important if obstacles like for clues 1 and 2 become more apparent.

As mentioned in the booklet also, please be advised that the trail has accessibility issues and is not recommended for wheelchair or pram/buggy users.

The trail is priced at £9.99 for approximately 2 hours of activity time plus the additional activity sheet included. This is a good price point overall.

 

 

The Verdict

Whilst I wholly appreciate the input of the trail’s design (ie: setting up the clues, using actual Kidderminster historical information and turning it into clues), there are some sustainability issues that will naturally occur in this town (or any for that matter) where routes can become blocked off, over the course of time. That being said, it is on the whole, a great way to spend 2 hours around a town with a rich depth of heritage.

 

If you want to play the Kidderminster Treasure Trail, head to their website here.

Studio Stamp: On Circus Grounds | Review

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On Circus Grounds Review | 1883, Circus Maester in Dalfsen, the Netherlands. Right in the middle of his opening speech Nicolaas Maester collapses in front of the audience. The ringmaster of Circus Maester appears to have been murdered. It doesn’t take long for somebody to be arrested and for the case to be closed.

Date Played: July 2022
Time Taken: ~2 hours
Number of Players: 3
Difficulty: Hard

 

A new Kickstarter game?! Argh! Take all of my money! 2022 has been an excellent year for Kickstarters honestly… From Ruff Bluff, to Unsolved Science, to PostCurious’ Light in the Mist, to Curious Correspondence’s Doomensions. But now we have another, just as exciting game to look forward to from the brilliant minds of Studio Stamp: On Circus Grounds. The best part of this one is that it’s already been released in Dutch as Meester, 1883 to rave reviews and a solid 8.7 on Board Game Geek.

From the moment our box arrived and I popped it open on our table, I knew we’d be in for something very special. A small box, yes, but an in calculable number of beautiful documents came pouring out. A locket, a little vial, scrolls upon scrolls. Studio Stamp’s attention to detail is *chefs kiss*, and we couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

 

 

Come One, Come All

Roll up, roll up, for Nicolaas Maester presents a circus night like no other. Enchanting dancers, lion tamers, fortune tellers, and death defying stunts… But tonight is not a night like any other. Tonight the ringmaster of the circus suddenly, in the middle of the show, collapses dead. The case goes cold, the evidence grows dusty on a shelf, and soon society forgets the curious case on the circus grounds. That is until the mysterious box packed with evidence arrives on your, the player’s, doorstep. Can you crack the cold case and identify the true culprit of that fateful night?

If you couldn’t tell, On Circus Grounds is a lot more in the category of “murder mystery” than “escape room”. For starters, you’re not really escaping anything. For seconds, the experience is all about deduction and paying close attention. There is a medley of characters each with motives as compelling as the other. But to succeed in this case you have to pay close attention to everything they write and every little detail about their person.

Sure, there are quite a few puzzles in the game too, and I think Studio Stamp does a good job of balancing puzzles against story, but more on that later! For now it’s important to know that you’re not looking for a specific number combination or word output. No, the puzzling is softer. In the introduction letter, the game sets out four key questions to answer:

  • Who murdered Nicolaas Maester?
  • What was their motive?
  • What object was used to commit the murder?
  • If applicable, how did the culprit gain access to it?

So, no pressure, hey!

 

 

Roll Up, Roll Up

I chose to play On Circus Grounds in a team of 3 players over a quiet evening, each of us with varying levels of experience in solving games like this, and each of us at various levels into our glass of wine. Given that circumstance, I will say that we definitely struggled with this game. We struggled first with who was who, and then with who did what, and after quite a bit of arguing we weren’t 100% sure on the ‘correct’ answer to input into the website in the end. It’s a murder mystery, but it’s a deeply complex one that should challenge even the most seasoned puzzle enthusiasts.

But the flip side is, this isn’t the first time our very specific team has struggled with a murder mystery case in a box, as regular readers might remember from The Fire in Adlerstein. So I will say perhaps murder mysteries just aren’t quite for us, and that’s okay.

But unlike all the other murder mysteries in a box we’ve ever played, this one had a LOT going for it. For starters, it’s packed with puzzles. A lot of the information is just given in plain text, but a lot more must be solved before it can be used. Think ciphers, folding puzzles, reading maps and so on. So there was never a boring moment in the whole game. For seconds, the quality of the materials was absolutely gorgeous. No, seriously. I kind of want to take the whole game and frame it, it’s that pretty! I’ve never encountered a box with such a consistent level of high quality materials and I cannot believe the retail price is under €50. For that money you get so much material, lovingly hand-made and hand packed, and beautiful to spread out over the table.

 

Puzzling through the Circus

So this is The Escape Roomer, we have to talk about the puzzles! Puzzles, there are plenty.

Overall, players can expect to encounter a few different ‘types’ of puzzles. But, this being a game consisting of mostly paper, these puzzles usually fell on the side of ‘cipher’ or word style puzzles which, if I have to admit, erred on the longer side to decode. In general, I can’t over-emphasise how much reading there is to do. We often found it hard to know exactly what to do to tease out the secret message or the secret author of the text, but a quick check of the hints page usually set us along the right way. That said, in many more moments we knew exactly how to decode a puzzle but found the contents of the text so lengthy we again consulted the hints to skip a little manual decoding time.

But when they weren’t lengthy ciphers, the puzzles were great fun! My favourite in the whole game involved a little jar of a curious concoction we needed to take to our kitchen and mix. Whilst it didn’t work perfectly (I blame the unseasonably hot weather we’ve had here in the UK), we understood how it worked and were delighted by the physicality of it. Any puzzle that surprises and delights is a double thumbs up from us.

Mostly, the puzzle output for each item in our box was looking for a connection between two people, or a motive and a person, or so on, but we got there in the end… Sort of, anyway! After 2 hours of sorting and resorting through everything we knew, drawing timelines and striking names off pieces of paper… We were ready to make our deduction! We promptly headed to the linked website to answer a few questions on a futuristic AI style of police database.

Only… We got it wrong!

Whoops… The wrong suspect sentenced to prison? Well this is a cold case and all the suspects are long gone. So, thankfully the game’s finale let us re-choose our answers until we finally got them correct, and we were able to experience the fun finale as it was intended.

 

 

The Verdict

So, we didn’t succeed, but I think that’s okay. Unlike traditional escape games in a box where the answer is super clear, murder mysteries deal in deduction and nuance and small details and meticulous note-taking. Which are all things we’re not so great at. But, the most important part was that we had fun playing the game. A lot of fun in fact! There was plenty for a team of 3 to get along with, and some brilliant moments of discussion between us as we ironed out details. The game is beautiful, the puzzles enjoyable, and I have no doubt this will be a fan-favourite for many armchair detectives for years to come. A round of applause for Studio Stamp, and I highly recommend checking this game out on Kickstarter.

 

On Circus Grounds can be purchased in Dutch via Studio Stamp’s website here. For the English version, back their Kickstarter.

Extremescape: Pirate Ship | Review

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

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

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

Time to set sail

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

 

Argh, ye scallywags!

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

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

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

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

 

Peg legs & eyepatches…not quite welcome

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

 

Here be the Jolly Roger

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

 

The Verdict

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

Pirate Ship can be booked at Extremescape here

Crux Club: Mob Treasure | Review

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Mob Treasure Review: The missing treasure of New York City beer baron Dutch Schultz has captivated countless treasure hunters. On his deathbed, the infamous mobster rambled on incoherently for hours, possibly revealing the location of his hidden millions. The cache has never been recovered. Could the information in Mob Treasure contain new clues to finding the final resting place?

Completion Time: 6 hours
Date Played: May 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

The word gangster has evolved over time. It’s altered to such a degree that upon hearing it uttered nowadays you could be forgiven for conjuring up any one of several images, ranging from a brooding Al Capone (Snorky to his friends) through to the once-relentless Honey G. I even ate a burger a few years back that was boldly labelled as ‘gangster’ because it was topped with spaghetti sauce and was apparently impossible to refuse. It was okay. 6/10. Would probably eat again.

Here in Mob Money, we’re going classic. It’s dabbling in the 1930s public enemies-era of gangsters and mobsters – think Bonnie and Clyde and Machine Gun Kelly – and it’s Dutch Schultz’s famous stash that we’re tasked with locating.

It’s a solid theme. Crux Club has already shown it can successfully create workable and inventive puzzles using far more difficult settings in Rap Star – reviewed here – so our hopes were high going in. Compared to the world of rap, mob culture is teeming with conundrum potential (organised crime over organised rhyme, if you will) and it really doesn’t take long after opening the book to fully appreciate that.

Well, I say book… Tome might be more accurate. It’s a surprisingly bulky product and promises a lot on initial viewing. A quick riffle through the pages reveals scant glimpses of a huge variety of puzzles as well as the fact that a slice of the heft is due to the full clues and solutions being included at the back. In that sense it’s a fully contained experience. While clues are also available online, a gentle nudge or complete answer to any individual puzzle is always to hand regardless of your Wi-Fi status. Though, unless your knowledge of New York mob culture is genuinely god-tier, solving everything without leaning too heavily on those back pages is going to require a bit of help from Mr Google.

Mob Treasure Inspiration

“A boy has never wept… nor dashed a thousand kin. You can play jacks, and girls do that with a soft ball and do tricks with it. Oh, oh, dog biscuit, and when he is happy he doesn’t get snappy.”

Those were the final words of the real-life Dutch Shultz before he died in 1935. These surreal mutterings have been interpreted by some as a coded message revealing the location of a hidden stash that, depending on which legend you choose to believe, may still be tucked away somewhere in New York. People have really searched for it. Now we’re looking for the very same thing within this book. Lines are being gently blurred in Mob Treasure, which helps deliver more immersion than you might expect from a pile of completely monochrome text and illustrations. Discovering the inclusion of actual locations and people that surrounded Shultz during his bootlegging days causes the experience to feel wider reaching than it really is. A clever element that we loved, but this ever-present theme won’t let you forget it’s there, so be prepared if you’re only in it for the puzzles. You’re going to have to walk the walk and – especially – talk the talk if you want to stand a chance of solving some of these pages.

On the subject of solving, as the weight of the book suggests, there’s a lot to mull over here. Depending on exactly what you count as a puzzle, you’re facing roughly 75 total and they come in wealth of forms with surprisingly little true repetition. Structure-wise, the book is divided into 15 shortish sections of five/six puzzle chunks. Each individual teaser provides you with a number, word or phrase that ultimately combine to help with the gatekeeping puzzle at the end of each chapter. It’s perfect for tackling piecemeal and 45 minutes an evening over the course of a week saw our team of two track down Shultz’s cash using only a couple of clues to help us over some of the less logical obstacles.

The Verdict

Mob Treasure is stuffed with of a lot of solid, creative puzzles and a few outstanding ones. It’s the hope of more of the latter that ultimately pulls you forward into the next chapter. While clearly different from each other in terms of presentation, the more plentiful standard conundrums can occasionally end up feeling a little samey if you try to consume too much in one sitting. That’s only natural with so many puzzles crammed in, of course, but taking the book a chapter or two at a time is the recommendation.

The team at Crux Club have committed to the theme totally which offers an impressive level of immersion. While delving into the places, people and lingo of the New York mob is required for some puzzles, we ended up reading a fair number of unrelated articles about Mr Shultz and his antics wholly unprompted. It didn’t necessarily help us with the completion of puzzles, but it was a welcome novelty to have interesting real-world events already pre-built around the mystery we were trying to solve.

 

Head to the Crux Club website to support the team and purchase the game for yourself.

EXIT the Game: The Mysterious Museum | Review

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The Mysterious Museum Review | You are on a trip to the Florence Natural History Museum, intent on visiting the sunken treasure of the Santa Maria. Your relaxing day at the museum is quickly derailed by an incredible adventure! Can you solve the mysteries of the museum and find a way out? Difficulty Level: 2 of 5. This game can be played only one time because you must markup, fold, and tear the game materials to solve the riddles and escape.

Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: February 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

EXIT the Game is one of the best known escape rooms “in-a-box” series in the world. As such, they’re fairly reliable. Going into any experience you know what you’re getting. About 1 hour’s worth of fun, there’ll be a cipher wheel-style disc, several destructible materials, and typically a little booklet with it too. The Mysterious Museum is no different. Except for once, I didn’t buy this game myself! A friend received it as a Christmas gift, and knowing how much I enjoy escape room games, she brought it over to our regular board game night in the hopes of puzzling it out.

We sandwiched this game inbetween two others, intending for it to be our “short and sweet” collaborative refresher between two other bulkier games. It was anything but. Sometimes games come along that others find perfectly straightforward and just don’t click for you. The Mysterious Museum was this for us.

But let’s get into why.

 

 

Puzzling at the Florence History Museum

Our story began at the Florence Museum of Science and Technology, a setting mysteriously hinted at by the front cover of this game’s box – a partially open door from which light pours out. At the beginning, you have an idea that your goal might be about tracking down sunken treasure – a mission quite suggestively similar to The Sunken Treasure. But it wasn’t long until we realised the actually this adventure would be quite different. For starters, it revolved around time travel.

Yep, we kept an eye out to make sure we didn’t accidentally step on a bug and change the course of history!

But it’s not just the past. The game takes players all through history – past, present, and future. A museum is an excellent setting for such a tale of time travel, and it was a fun theme to set a puzzle game such as this one in. Did I mention it looks brilliant too? I’m a sucker for lovely artwork, and EXIT has an abundance of beautiful illustrations.

 

 

How to solve EXIT the Game

Solving EXIT the Game escape rooms follows a similar formula, and The Mysterious Museum is no different. Each box contains:

  • Riddle Cards – These are given a letter and generally speaking are worked through in ABC order
  • Answer Cards – These have a corresponding letter to the riddle cards and, you guessed it, they give the answer if needed
  • Help Cards – Each help card is denoted by a symbol which you can find on the puzzle you’re working on somewhere (often it’s quite hidden – so look closely)
  • A Book – This sets the scene and guides you through the story
  • A Cipher Wheel – To check your answers, a cipher wheel is used. In The Sunken Treasure this cipher wheel is covered in cute sea critters – very sweet!
  • A bunch of cool looking misc. items – in The Sunken Treasure, you get a whole host of cool things including some very shiny looking gems!

To play, you get up your game with your Help Cards stacked according to symbol, and your Riddle / Answer cards in their own stack. The book guides you through the story to solve each puzzle, find the correct symbols, run it through the cipher wheel and progress.

In terms of difficulty as indicated, we found this game quite hard indeed! Hesitant to take any clues, and a couple of glasses of wine at board game night in, the game didn’t quite click for us. The linear nature of this particular game also meant that once we became stuck, the game ground to a halt. With 4 players playing, a few of us struggled to keep interest up, and the whole game amounted to a slow puzzling session. Even those we were sure we had correct ended up requiring an additional logic leap we hadn’t made.

That said, in hindsight and in asking a few other friends, we might be alone in finding this one tricky. For sure, the company themselves rate this game somewhere towards Novice on the difficulty scale. So don’t let our struggles put you off giving it a go if the game otherwise appeals to you!

On the flip side, this game contained several very delightful puzzles which were some of my all time favourites. In particular, I enjoyed moments of physical manipulation. Furthermore, the EXIT team always make full use of the box. Though no spoilers about exactly what I’m talking about – you’ll just have to wait and see for yourself!

 

The Verdict

On balance, The Mysterious Museum has some strong pros (such as the theme and the quality) but let down by the puzzles and flow. So in a nutshell, it wasn’t my favourite EXIT game. I am however a big enthusiast when it comes to their other games, so I’ve no doubt this is just a small blip with particularly styled puzzles that our team struggled with on the day.

 

The Mysterious Museum can be purchased from all good board game retailers.

The Altas Mystery (VR) | Review

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The Atlas Mystery Review | Explore the haunted halls of the infamous Atlas Theater, a 1940’s era movie palace that played host to a shocking Hollywood tragedy. Solve intricate puzzles, discover startling artifacts, and evade sinister forces to uncover the twisted truth behind the theater’s dark history.

Developer: Top Right Corner
Date Played: April 2022
Console: Oculus Quest 2
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 3 hours

The Atlas Mystery… Just, wow!

This is one of those games that I’ve been aware of for a long time. As frequent readers might know, I’m a game developer in my day job so I spend time on (read as: doom-scroll) “game dev twitter” a lot. Given the overlap with “escape room twitter” it wasn’t long before I spotted The Atlas Mystery. Let’s just say it ticks a lot of boxes for me. Virtual reality, 1940s noire, an old abandoned movie theatre, a grisly murder… And ghosts?! Ugh, a thousand times yes please!

 

 

The Atlas Mystery is a classic escape room game in every sense of the word. Whereas other ‘escape room VR games’ do things in virtual reality that simply would not be possible in real life, The Atlas Mystery takes another approach: it pushes the players to do exactly things they would do in real life, but in a virtual setting. Funnily enough, this style of gameplay was oddly refreshing. I found myself pushed to gently twisting dials with a shaky hand, holding up film negatives to the light, unplugging and rewiring complex panels, and even using a handheld shovel to scoop freshly popped popcorn into a cup. Yes, really!

 

Alone in the Atlas Theatre…

I’ve played many real life escape rooms that don’t even come close to the spooky atmosphere that The Atlas Mystery creates. It’s a vast space, and no matter how much you squint there are certain dark corners that remain eerily shrouded in shadow. In particular, near the start of the game I found myself standing behind a counter faded with a completely dark, unknown space beyond the barrier. Having replayed the game a few times now, I’m sure there’s nothing out there in the dark – but there’s no other feeling quite like it standing there, convinced shadows of bad omens are just inches away if only you reach your fingertips out into the dark.

*shudders*

In particular, I loved being about to run around such a huge space uninhibited. Okay, okay, spooky shadows aside, this video game truly felt like you had an enormous space to play around with. A whole lobby area, plenty of side rooms, a lift taking you to other floors with winding corridors, and film rooms a-plenty. The best part? None of this space felt dead in any way whatsoever. Even the long stretches of corridor felt well placed to build up nerves to a state of heightened tension. Then, at the end, each new room was packed with exciting puzzles and objects to interact with.

 

 

Is that a gun?!

One of the absolute best reasons to play The Atlas Mystery however has a clue in it’s name.

Yes, that’s right… The ATLAS!

No, no, I’m kidding. The MYSTERY.

This game has a really well-thought out storyline in it that, whilst I glazed over at the start, I found myself retracing my steps to pick up every little scrap of paper I found to piece together the story in my head. It’s an eerie sort of murder mystery, and I won’t go into spoilers, but I will say it’s well worth the read. There’s been a terrible and grisly Hollywood tragedy, will you be able to figure it out?

 

 

Crack the Codes, Unlock the Doors

In terms of difficulty, I personally found The Atlas Mystery definitely to be on the hard side. I believe a well-seasoned escapist may solve this in around an hour, but I took well over 3 hours over a couple of days. I found the game so difficult in fact there were a few moments I thought I might put the headset down and call it quits. But no sooner than I’d wake up the next morning, I’d already find myself itching to return to those eerie, empty halls of the film theatre in search of a clue I may have missed.

Some of that ‘difficulty’ comes down to the controls however, which is an issue hard to overcome in virtual reality. On more than one occasion I’d have the correct tool but be unable to ‘place’ it carefully enough that the result would trigger. A good example of this are the keys, and there’s a fair few keys in this game. Encountering these hiccups, I’d assume I’d got the puzzle incorrect, and move on trying many more things before returning to try again. With many interactable objects in this game there’s a certain “sweet spot” to touching them that I found very easy to miss. Despite that, I congratulate the development team on their originality in this space. VR is not an easy medium to create a game in (take it from me, I’ve worked on plenty!) and their commitment to making each object feel real within your hand is fantastic.

Besides, once you get the hang of the little movement quirks in the game, it’s easy enough to pick up.

As a final note on control and movement, since you can move around either by teleportation or with the joystick, I’d probably also put this at the “medium” risk of motion sickness. Remember – teleportation is often a lot more comfortable for new VR users, so if you plan on spending a long time in The Atlas Mystery, it’s best use the teleportation function!

 

The Verdict

For a while, I wasn’t sure where The Atlas Mystery’s dice would fall for this review. It was a slow burning game that took a while to get me hooked on it, but once it did I kept coming back for more. The puzzles were challenging, but immensely satisfying once you finally figure them out and by the end of the game… Could it be… I actually wanted more?! A lot more! More floors, more environments, more story, and most of all more puzzles.

I would say it’s not a perfect game. But I think the developers still did an exemplary job creating a fun and lengthy escape room that felt full of- well, life is the wrong word, but full of unease. I enjoyed spending time in The Atlas Mystery and I definitely think it would appeal to the average escape room enthusiast. With a lack of really good VR escape room games out there, The Atlas Mystery will fit well into the existing catalogue and will be sure to be a cult favourite among enthusiasts.

 

 

The Atlas Mystery can be played on Oculus, and Steam VR. To chose your platform, head to their website here.

M9 Games: Vereda | Review

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Vereda Review | Vereda is a 3d escape room puzzle adventure. Play as a secret agent assigned a mission to recover a secret dossier set in an unusual town. Explore areas and take in your surroundings. Use all of your puzzle solving skills to make your way through the town and recover the missing dossier. As a secret undercover agent used to adventure and mystery you are tasked with your latest mission to infiltrate a town guarding a top secret dossier. What the dossier contains is not known, your sole focus is just to find and recover it. What you are not prepared for is the lengths the dossier has been protected. It’s down to you to use all your experience to solve the puzzles and contraptions that block your way.

Developer: M9 Games
Date Played: 1st April 2022
Console: Steam
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 49 minutes

April first?! Wait, that’s April Fools! In an effort to hide myself from all of the April Fools’ jokes floating around, I booted up my PC and sat down to play a brand new escape room game from indie game developer M9 Games: Vereda. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’d seen a few reviews doing the rounds in the escape room community, so was excited to try out the game for myself at last.

Vereda takes a single player on a short (probably less than an hour) escape room puzzle adventure. You play a secret agent and your one goal is to recover a mysterious dossier. That mysterious dossier is locked behind doors and doors worth of increasingly curious puzzles. Pushing mysterious switches to make giant pillars in a back alley move, and rearranging cards on tables to unlock doors… It’s, interesting! Certainly a game to get the cogs moving.

 

 

Meet the Developer, Chris at M9 Games

The most important thing to know about Vereda is that it is a passion project of solo game developer Chris, who got in touch with us at The Escape Roomer with an invitation to try the game. Since the lockdown, Chris has turned his hand to creating video games full time – from early point and click and 2D exploration games, Vereda is M9 Games’ first fully 3D escape room adventure for PC and (we hope soon) console. Presently, it can be downloaded on Steam (where I played) or on mobile devices. For the full and most up to date list, check the website here.

Okay, okay so enough background. How was it? Vereda was… Decent! I don’t think it will be winning any awards, but as a game developer myself I admire the drive and creativity that has gone into pulling this fun experience together, and I hope it’s the first of many Chris and his studio creates. Take it from me, making a video game is REALLY HARD. It’s hard enough when you have a whole studio made up of narrative designers, puzzle/level designers (oh hey that’s my job), 3D and 2D artists, programmers, and so on. So when I heard that Chris was doing this all by himself, I had nothing but a huge amount of respect.

 

 

Enter Vereda, a Noir World of Secret Agents…

In terms of visuals, I love the whole back-alley, dark and dirty, vintage vibe of video games like L.A. Noire, Overboard, or Inspector Waffles. For me, Vereda had that feel and it was very exciting to move through the unique spaces in search of puzzles and… A way out!

After a cinematic sequence where a mysterious grey car drives through deserted street after deserted street, players spawn into a locked room with a few desks and scraps of paper on the desks. There are drawers to be unlocked, documents to read, and a big door tantalisingly waiting for me to find a key for it! Ooooh boy, I love a mysterious setup.

The assets were largely store-bought, but it would be grossly unfair of me to call it an asset flip. No, everything that was put into the game was put in with purpose and felt right at home. I would have preferred to see original art, of course. The setting was ripe for something a little more unique, but the developer did well with the resources he had available to himself. The game came together visually consistently and definitely managed to create a dingy atmosphere of a seedy criminal underworld.

 

 

 

Secret Agents, and Puzzles!

In terms of puzzles, there’s a lot of discourse in the escape room world about mimesis and diegesis which I won’t go into here, so instead I’ll regurgitate the words of Errol Elumir,

A puzzle is diegetic if it fits the theme and reality of its game universe. A puzzle is mimetic if its existence and its solution reflect the reality of its game universe.

 

There were many types of puzzles in Vereda, and largely they seemed to follow a trajectory of diegetic at the start, fizzling out towards neither mimetic nor diegetic at the end. But that’s not to say they weren’t fun!

At the start of the game I began looking for tools like screwdrivers, or missing buttons in order to fix panels to unlock gates. Exciting! Towards the middle of the game, there were some riddles and colour puzzles and a very unique puzzle involving levers and giant pillars in the middle of an alleyway. Which is… Well, I suspend my disbelief.

As the game came to it’s climax, I encountered puzzles that I’d call neither diegetic nor mimetic, such as piecing together jigsaw puzzles to get puzzles that look like a pigpen cipher, to mysterious tarot cards being placed on an electrical panel, to an infuriatingly tricky picture slider puzzle, and something about phases of the moon.

 

 

Okay, okay I don’t want to sound harsh – because the puzzles were fun! But this is all to say I enjoyed the first half of the game a lot more, but as the game progressed the puzzles felt slightly more detached from the context of the game and felt like they were in there to provide unique things to solve. But in truth, I would have been happy to keep looking for broken panel buttons, or deciphering mysterious graffiti, because those made sense in the world. There’s no hard and fast rule about what puzzles a video game should have in them and of course, loads of fantastic games have puzzles in them that have no relation to the environment at all. But for me there was a slight disconnect between the puzzles and the environment that the creator had so carefully set up.

In terms of difficulty, Vereda comes in on the easier side. It’s a short and sweet game that is possible to complete in around 20 minutes if you’re feeling speedy. 40 minutes if you play through comfortably with a glass of wine in your hand *glances down at hand*

This puts it at about the same length of time a real life escape room takes, but this is a tiny, tiny fraction of the price. And since it’s a video game that is out on mobile or PC, you can play it in your pyjamas. Win win.

 

The Verdict

For all of the reasons above, I’ve given it a 3 stars out of 5. For the average escape room enthusiast, that might be a little generous, but I thought it was a really promising game with some ‘noire’ vibes. Vereda had all the makings of being something special, and for a solo game dev project I am seriously impressed. Sure, it felt a little rough around the edges and felt slightly short on a few points but nobody comes into any industry fully formed. If Chris and M9 Games continues to create puzzle games with the same enthusiasm in the future then I have absolutely no doubt that the company will do well. The world needs more escape room games.

My lasting thought is that after playing the game I would honestly love to see this designer build a physical escape room. Vereda in video game format was a decent indie escape room game. Vereda in a real life warehouse? Take my money now!

If you want to purchase Vereda for yourself or keep up with M9 Games, you can check out their website here.

Cryptocards | Review

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Cryptocards Review | CryptoCard is a unique postcard that hides 5 challenging puzzles. In fact, part of the challenge is figuring out what the riddle is, what parts of it are hidden, and how it should be solved. But why break your head? You send the postcard to someone else! What’s the catch? They do not know who sent them the postcard.

Date Played: December 2021
Time Taken: 30 Minutes
Difficulty: Hard

Cryptocards is a fun little ‘puzzles on a postcard‘ concept by an Israeli creator that I was very excited to receive through my letterbox one day, out of the blue, from a mysterious friend. As such, it’s definitely ‘lesser known’ over here in the UK and as far as I’m aware doesn’t ship to the UK as standard. But if you happen to receive one and you’re not concerned about the fact that the writing on the postcard is in Hebrew (Google Translate’s camera function is my best friend here), then it’s a uniquely fun little game that is well worth checking out!

 

 

About Cryptocards

For such a lightweight puzzle experience, Cryptocards is challengingly good fun! At present, there is just one design available and it’s printed on a single double sided postcard. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for assuming it’s just a regular postcard… Albeit one with a very fun design. It’s mostly black and white with a ‘hand printed’, grunge look and feel to it. But on second look you start to notice some very interesting shapes and patterns stick out. Aha! It’s a puzzle to be solved.

The method of ‘solving’ this puzzle, and revealing who actually sent you the card is quite simple. It’s a method we’ve seen before but no less effective:

  • Each of the five mini puzzles hidden on the postcard has an icon and the solution is a string of two or three numbers
  • Once you’ve found all of the numbers, you can write them out in order
  • This will then take your player to a web page where they can read a secret message you’ve left for them

Over here in the UK we have slightly similar game concepts, such as Puzzle Post and Enigmagram, but nothing quite so small as a postcard.

In terms of difficulty – I won’t beat around the bush, I found Cryptocards comfortably quite difficult! There was a good mix of different puzzles, but one good thing was that no puzzle relied on the use of words. This means that beside your intro message from the creators in the centre of the card, I was still able to play being unable to understand a word of Hebrew. Seriously, my Hebrew was so bad I played most of the game upside down, not knowing which way round the alphabet looked.

There are 5 puzzles in total and each of these is in theory short and sweet. One of them took me mere seconds to figure out how to solve it, but the others required a little more mental gymnastics. None of them was objectively difficult, but it took longer than usual for a satisfying click. So, in short about the right level!

 

 

The Verdict

I’ve kept this review short and sweet because the game itself is a short and sweet one. At around £13 for a postcard, it is a little on the expensive side – they don’t currently ship to the UK but I imagine that’d be an extra cost too. However if you have friends in Israel or the surrounding region, I’d highly recommend checking Cryptocards out.

There’s something really, really fun about receiving a mysterious letter from an unknown correspondent, and Cryptocards nails that mysteriousness. I’m quietly hoping they produce more puzzle games on postcards, and hoping even more that they roll out English and other language versions in the future and are able to reach a global audience one day!

For now, I’m just happy that I received my own little postcard on a snowy December’s day and got to spend half an hour over lunch puzzling my way through 5 tricky puzzles. Good fun!

 

All photos (c) Cryptocards. 
Cryptocards can be purchased from their website here. Note, the website is entirely in Hebrew.

VRCave: Space Station Tiberia | Review

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Space Station Tiberia Review | Become a member of the Space Station Tiberia crew and to save the planet from a unavoidable catastrophe in this free-roaming VR Escape room! Enjoy the unprecedented level of immersion: walk around the room (up to 4 people) and use your logic and teamwork to succeed. Don’t expect this to be an easy task. The clock is ticking and the challenge you’re about to face is very real.

Date Played: November 2021
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 35 minutes
Difficulty: Hard!

Space Station Tiberia is free-roam virtual escape room that is available at a number of locations across the UK (and the world!). We originally played it at DNA VR, a fantastic little VR arcade located in the new build near Battersea Power Station. You can read more about this venue in our guide here. In this review, I want to reflect both the general experience of this game (that’s likely identical wherever you play it), and our specific visit to DNA VR.

Image (c) DNA VR

About DNA VR

DNA VR is one of London’s first VR arcades and is home to a whole host of arcade games, including one of the most impressive escape room suites we’ve seen in the UK! including a range of original, free-roam titles.

On a quiet Monday evening in November, we visited their brand new site in the beautiful riverside arches at Battersea Power Station to find out what all the hype is about. We were greeted by Games Master Chris our enigmatic host for the hour. As the previous group was just finishing off their session, it gave us a chance to explore the venue and find out all about the exciting games they have on offer.

As well as all of the Ubisoft escape room games, you can play a number of other free-roam and fixed position VR experiences, including this one.

About Space Station Tiberia

Space Station Tiberia is an exciting, fast-pace virtual reality ‘escape room’ that places you, a team of astronauts on a space station, in the unenviable position of stopping a meteor from crashing into Earth and destroying the planet. You have just 35 minutes, but the only problem is your Meteor Defense Platform is broken – no pressure, hey!

Throughout this experience you have two goals:

  1. Fix the space station!
  2. Stop the asteroid

The game begins inside a very clean and clinical space station. A lot more high tech and comfortable than the ISS – so we must be living in the near future! After an initial ship-fixing first 20 minutes, you spend your last 10 outside the ship in a very cool outro sequence fighting off asteroids.

The best thing about Space Station Tiberia is that it is free roam. normally in VR escape rooms you’re fixed in one spot. Sure, you can sometimes teleport location but largely the puzzles come to you. In this game, you could move freely throughout the room in any direction. We had to crouch down, stretch up, and peer around corners to succeed in this room. oh- and of course we bumped into each other quite a fair few times! Haha!

But let me tell you, it is hard! Though unfortunately, not in a good way where we walked out satisfied that we’d solved a lot of puzzles. It was obtusely difficult. For starters, outside information was required which is a big no-no in escape rooms. I was lucky to be playing with someone who knew the answer, but otherwise we may have needed to skip that puzzle. Secondly, it made use of VR in an unconventional way. Small spoiler incoming – one of the puzzles required you to balance objects on top of each other to reach a high up place, a nearly impossible feat in virtual reality and didn’t really quite us to ‘solve’ anything either.

That said, if we look at the experience less like an escape room and more like a general VR game, then it makes a little more sense and becomes more enjoyable. It’s a fairly solid first-generation (if such a thing exists in the VR world) escape room that challenges small teams to perform quite manual puzzles around a space ship. There are more than a few action-centric scenes of shooting asteroids and lifting and throwing things around, but mostly it’s enjoyable to be in a sci-fi environment unlike anything else you can play ‘in real life’.

After Space Station Tiberia…

We finished the ‘escape room’ with a little extra time on the clock and were invited by our games master Chris to play another, much shorter experience: The Hospital of Horrors

“Not sure I like this”, my player two uttered from the other side of the room as we descended a rickety old lift into a pitch black basement. As the lights came on we realised we were surrounded by spiders…

Overall we both loved Hospital of Horrors a lot more than Space Station Tiberia. It’s a truly creepy experience that really pushes what is possible in VR and one we’d definitely recommend everyone try. So not quite an escape room but if you’re looking for something unique in VR then this is where it’s at!

Player beware, you’re in for a scare!

The Verdict

We had a great time at DNA VR, it’s a great venue and our host was fantastic. Did we love Space Station Tiberia? Honestly, not particularly, but I do like the genre of escape room in VR and I really, really liked that this one was free roam. It gives the player a chance to do some very cool actions and solve puzzles that simply wouldn’t be possible in real life. But hey, there are better experiences to try out in VR (some of those also available at DNA VR!) if you want to do something very special.

If you want to book an experience at DNA VR, head to their website here.

iDventure: The Fire in Adlerstein | Review

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Adlerstein Review | A citizen was killed in an arson attack in the city of Adlerstein. Isn’t it a strange coincidence? You, inspector, have to find out who the culprit is by detecting files and alibis.

Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: 23rd October 2021
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

“Let’s play a board game, here are two choices” I say to my escape room un-enthusiastic partner on a Saturday morning. Surprisingly, rather than picking another ancient civilisation building romp, they selected Adlerstein as something a little different. It’s not quite an escape room in a box, but it’s not quite a board game either.

The packaging – a box that fits neatly on my board game shelf – is deceptive. What you actually receive within this box is a detailed paper case file. The game also doesn’t come with any instructions, except for a single letter entitled “Dear Detectives“.

No turns, no dice, your goal is to simply ‘solve the case’ in the fastest time possible.

Good luck!

Find the Culprit, Crack the Case

Your introduction to the case begins when you receive a letter from a local journalist. Interested in the case, we had gathering evidence when suddenly he got arrested – I mean, he was spotted at the scene of the crime and took an unhealthy interest in the fire! Protesting his innocence, he sends you all the evidence he’s collected in the hopes you’ll solve the case for him.

From here it’s a classic whodunnit… A number of suspects with motives, unpicking their actions and figuring out who reasonably could have been at the scene of the crime at the correct time with the right motive to have commited the crime.

To help you out, you’ve got a box packed with a large quantity of stuff to sort through, which was a lot of fun. One made up location, but plenty of impressively realistic pieces of evidence, ranging from Google Maps, license plate searches, stills from CCTV, high quality photographs, written notes. We can’t fault how exciting and realistic it felt to receive a box filled with such objects.

By the end of the hour as we were approaching the climax, we’d completely covered two tables in a ‘detectives board’ style of flat lay, spreading all the relevant information out and drawing lines and connections between characters and events. If you enjoy completely immersing yourself in fictional worlds as you unravel a complex case, then this game is for you! For sure, there are better games out there that do the same thing, but it certainly scratched that armchair detective itch.

Photo (c) iDVenture

There’s a Killer Among Us…

Putting our ‘escape room’ hat on for a moment, it’s hard to judge Adlerstein on puzzles because there weren’t many puzzles to solve in the game – with one exception in the form of a classic cipher puzzle. But this cipher didn’t fit well in the universe, and whats more it was long, cumbersome, and not fun to solve. We ended up skipping the cipher by checking the hints as not to disrupt the flow of the gameplay.

Otherwise all the puzzles players will encounter are pure social deduction puzzles. “If this, then that” or “If he said this, and she said something else, who is lying?” type of thing. Which are fun in their own right, but are less common in the escape room world.

You solve the case by filling out a grid – find everyone’s motive, their alibi, and so on. Whatever the gaps int he grid are is where you’ll find your killer.

So how did we do? We played Adlerstein once through without filling the grid and instead just holding the information in our heads. We reached the ending and short of an educated guess – couldn’t crack the case. So we started from the top and went through methodically, filling the grid, and making sure that each piece of information couldn’t be guessed. And then… We couldn’t crack the case either. I’m quite sure we guessed every single wrong answer before getting to the correct one, and even then we were like “huh? how?” A little but anti-climactic and a lot of frustrating, but we were glad for the resolution at the end.

No, the best thing about playing Adlerstein wasn’t solving puzzles – or even cracking the case. It was reading through a pretty cool story and feeling like you too were at the heart of it. People (fictional, sure) are depending on you to crack the case. It’s not your regular board game, it’s something quite different and that’s exciting!

Photo (c) iDventure

The Verdict

The Fire in Adlerstein is a classic whodunnit with plenty of twists and turns in the detailed story. Our tip to anyone using this post to help solve the game is to read and re-read everything for even the smallest details. The game comes in at between 1 – 3 hours, but can easily be reset and regifted. We made a lot of effort not to ruin any of the materials, and passed it along to the next person at The Escape Roomer to see if they could solve any faster!

The creators want you to feel like a real detective, but they’ll make you work for that solution – good luck!

Adlerstein can be purchased from iDventure’s website here.