The Gilded Carcanet Review | An ancient treasure has been said to be buried on a small island outside the coast of Turkey. Little is known about it and its existence has been heavily debated in the archeology community. Professor in archeology, Bartholomew Wilson, has always dismissed the idea as a myth. Until now.
Rating: Quite challenging and thoroughly enjoyable Completion Time: 45 minutes Date Played: 22nd June 2022 Party Size: 2 Recommended For: Graphic novel and treasure hunt fans
I’m currently sitting on a train from Edinburgh to London having just played The Gilded Carcanet, the newest printable escape room kit created by Escape Room Geeks. My partner and I decided to pack up the sheets of A4 so we could enjoy some puzzling on the journey, and we weren’t disappointed!
On turning the first page, we were thrilled to discover a comic book style introduction. As massive graphic novel fans, this was the perfect way to get us engaged with the story and excited to see the puzzle designs that lay ahead. The illustrations were beautiful, and the muted colour scheme really set the tone for the mysterious world we were about to enter.
First, game mechanics
The Gilded Carcanet is split into chapters, each containing a puzzle you have to solve before continuing the adventure. But this isn’t simply a “do a puzzle, turn the page” sort of game. You’ll have to refer back to previous pages and discovered items to progress in your search for the ancient treasure, which I love as it’s almost like you’ve got a trusty backpack filled with maps and journals ready to be investigated at any point.
You’re given a handy key which lets you know when you can discard certain pages, and when to continue turning. There are also icons which let you know when to fold and cut the paper, which luckily I read before we set off so I packed a pair of scissors for the road (train track?).
We were really impressed by the answer checker. You simply cross off letters in a grid you have used in your answer, and see if it matches a specified pattern. If it does, you’re right! The pattern could appear in many places in the grid though, so it’s not easy to simply guess the answer which could have been tempting if we were really stuck.
A lot of the puzzles are logic based, requiring your skills of deduction to find the correct answer. What was great though was that these puzzles often linked with codes, maps and even some jigsaw style conundrums so you’re always kept on your feet. My love for cyphers was also satisfied, with the secrets of many mysterious symbols needing to be cracked.
I particularly enjoyed the plan of the tomb and having to use your navigation and deduction skills to find a particular chamber. As well as tapping into various brain skills, you had to use several pages to get to where you wanted to be and it felt like a real achievement once you discovered the answer.
The Mystery Unfolds
This is a very typical treasure hunt story, but honestly that’s all that’s needed here. The illustrations let your imagination flow and the quality of the puzzles shone through. I loved how we were placed in the shoes of protagonist Bartholomew, meaning we had some great interactions with our companion, Oscar and received praise throughout the game for solving puzzles. A fictional pat on the back is always appreciated!
We thoroughly enjoyed this game. I think the age suggestion of 13+ is accurate as the puzzles can get quite complex, but they were actually the perfect level of difficulty for a train journey. Not too easy that we fly through it, but not so hard that we bang our heads against the teeny tiny lap tables. At $29, this is on the higher end of the scale for print at home games, but there are some great multi buy offers on their website if you want to treat yourself to a bundle. All in all, a brilliant game which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery Review | Barker Street Detectives… An urgent request has come across my desk and I request you aid me in this investigation. A distressed Ms Barbara Fetcher requires our assistance with the case of The Missing Ruby Bone. Contained in this box you will find evidence gathered from the scene of the Ruby Bone’s disappearance. Identify the culprit of the theft and recover the priceless artefact. A particularly puzzling path awaits you inside…
Date Played: May-June 2022 Time Taken: ~4 hours Number of Players: 1 Difficulty: Challenging!
I knew Ruff Bluff would be something special as from the moment I received it I had it sitting in pride of place at the front of my board game shelf. Without fail every single person that visited our apartment in time between then and now, commented on the new addition:
“Ruff Bluff? Haha what’s that?” or “OMG are those dogs playing cards?” to “Furlock Holmes? I love it!”
Cue my whipping it off the shelf and spreading out the materials to gush to my friends and family about my favourite puzzles in the game. Even before the Kickstarter went live and the game was made available to the general public, this game is single handedly causing big ripples in my little community here in London, just by merit of it sitting on my shelf. The box is so appealingly light-hearted and funny with a picture of dogs all sitting round at a card game, and the name ‘Furlock Holmes’ suggests something puzzlingly brilliant.
…And that’s before I even start on what comes inside the box! But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
About Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery
Furlock Holmes is the fox character created by escape room company Trapped Puzzle Rooms all the way over in the United States. Creators of Taco Tuesday (oh! I’ve heard of that one), and a whole host of digital, remote avatar and audio rooms, Trapped Puzzle Rooms isn’t as much of a household name here in the UK escape room community as it clearly is in the United States. But after playing their first foray into physical boxed rooms, I’m impressed – and only slightly regretful that this is the very first experience of theirs we’ve played. We missed out not playing all the others in lockdown!
In June 2022, the company put Ruff Bluff up on Kickstarter as a sequel to their existing ‘Furlock Holmes’ mystery, “Furlock Holmes Museum Mystery”. The original game is a web-based point-and-click mystery that follows the titular character Furlock Holmes as he investigates crimes around a fictionalised, vintage London. That said, there’s absolutely no requirement to have played the first game before diving right into Ruff Bluff. They’re completely different!
Ruff Bluff is a 6 – 12 hour mystery game. The complete experience is self-contained within a small box, with a handy answer-checker online. It’s best played over a couple of sessions, and the box is broken up into four parts to make it easy to stop and start between those. As a bonus, the website also saves your answers up until that point so you can pick up wherever you left off!
I took on this mystery over around ~3 days, with a week or so inbetween. I took on Part I at my desk on a funny Friday afternoon. The second part is much longer and much more manual which took a little time over another day. Then I whizzed through the final two parts an afternoon a few weeks later. This super well for me, and I’d definitely recommend taking a similar approach over two or three evenings.
So, the technical parts and the ‘what to expect’ out of the way, here’s how I got on…
The game is afoot (well… apaw)
This exciting, canine-themed mystery pushes players right into the deep end! There’s been a crime! A priceless Ruby Bone has gone missing from a poker match and it’s up to you, the players, to figure out whodunnit. There are seven suspects: the seven dogs who were sitting around the table playing cards. They are:
Austin Fetcher, a Husky with a very boopable nose
Pablo Diggbury, a professional Barkeologist
Barbara Fetcher, the furriest ball of floof I’ve ever seen
Darleen Haskel, a sleek looking Dalmatian
Julia Dripping, a very dribbly St Bernard from New Bark City
Renaldo Blurri, my personal favourite, a Greyhound with a bowler hat on
Richard Ruffington, a pup who shares my birthday!
The game starts with dossiers about each of these dogs. Who they were, where they’re from, and what job they do. Within these dossiers are a number of blanks, and that’s where the player comes in – to fill in the missing information by scouring the clues and looking for details.
This proves an excellent introduction to the game as players are encouraged to really get to know the characters and start making their own assumptions about whodunnit (which by the way, I guessed completely wrong until the very last minute – which is exactly what a good whodunnit should do!).
To help you out, this first portion of the box is absolutely packed with clues. They’re not single use either – throughout the game I found myself constantly referring back to details from the first part and small nudges within the dossiers. From stacks of $700 bills, to a whole deck of playing cards, to napkins, poker chips, postcards and drink matts. It’s an understatement to say there really is a lot going on in this box and I loved it. Each new object seemed to hide so many puzzles, but the game leads you through them gently in a way that doesn’t feel too overwhelming as you scour the evidence. It’s a real “pin everything up on an evidence board and take a step back” kinda game, and I really enjoyed this.
The second part of the game however was my absolute favourite. I don’t know why I’m so easily impressed by a jigsaw puzzle mechanic but hey, what can I say? I’m just a simple gal who likes complex jigsaw puzzles. The one in Ruff Bluff was absolutely brilliant. It’s the kind of puzzle in a game that even though your partner doesn’t want to take part they can’t help but slide over to help you put a piece or two into their place. Whats more, it fit so well with the story too!
With box one and box two out of the way, the final two chapters were the home-run in terms of puzzle solving. By this point, you know the characters and you know what’s what. All that’s left to do it solve the case.
Even though I literally just said one paragraph ago that the jigsaw was my favourite… I lied. The puzzle that came directly after the jigsaw puzzle was my favourite. This time definitely no spoilers because it was so much fun to open that Box 3 and realise what the game wanted me to do. So I’ll just leave it by saying it was a logic puzzle at it’s absolute finest. More games should include puzzles like this. No, seriously. Designers take note!
In short, if you can’t tell by my enthusiasm – I had a lot of fun with the puzzles in this game. I found them to be genuinely enjoyable to solve which is at it’s heart what all games should do. For sure, I used a couple of hints. Okay, okay maybe more than a couple of hints… But despite this the whole thing felt well balanced in terms of difficulty.
When you’ve eliminated the possible…
Puzzles aside, let’s talk about the theme. Ruff Bluff’s unique selling point is… Well… Dogs.
If you’re a cat person, look away now. This game is set in the canine universe and is not for you. In fact there aren’t many other animals at all, other than a pesky squirrel, and the occasional off-handed mention of a dog’s owner. For example, my favourite part in the whole game:
“My human recently dug up a part of my back-yard and put in some new plants. I didn’t feel like they did a very good job digging. So I spent the whole afternoon digging several dozen holes all of the yard. Not only did my human not appreciate my hard work, they got upset! – I Can Dig It”
“Dear Dig It, Humans never really understand all the hard work we do for them. Whenever they accidentally vacuum our fur off the couch, we have to take the time and shed more all over it. Whenever a jogger passes by our house, we bark and bark until they keep doing by. This is important work. My advice is to keep digging holes. Eventually you’ll dig one they like and they will reward you with lots of treats.”
As a dog person. In fact, possibly one of only two ‘dog people’ here at The Escape Roomer *grumbles at all the cat enthusiasts here*, I appreciated putting our four legged canine friends at the front and centre of an exciting mystery like this one.
And what a plot it is too. It’s exciting, has twists and turns, and more dog puns than you can shake a stick at. Again, this game is FUN.
I had a lot of fun playing Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery and I’ve no doubt this one is going to go down as a ‘favourite’ of a lot of folks out there.
For me, the very best thing about the whole experience were the puzzles. I saw some delightful ones I’d never quite experience before and genuinely had fun solving them throughout the whole game. When the box first said it would take 6 – 12 hours, I don’t mind admitting I groaned a tiny bit. Now, having finished the game, it turns out 12 hours is not enough. I want more of the Furlock Holmes universe. Give me sequels! Give me more puzzles! For this reason I’ve chosen to award this game the coveted Puzzle Prize here on the Escape Roomer, for outstanding puzzle design. It’s well deserved.
My particular copy was an early access, pre-Kickstarter copy. As such some of the materials weren’t ‘final’ quality, there were one or two missing bits, and a few corrections to keep in mind. However this doesn’t affect the review whatsoever, since the creator was so helpful in explaining what to keep an eye out and these are things which are planned to be fixed by the time of publication. That’s why I’ve absolutely no hesitation in recommending this game to other players.
In terms of accessibility – it ticks the boxes with no puzzles reliant on colour or sound that could restrict accessibility for any players. The only thing to flag is that in one puzzle you may find yourself looking very closely for details, so potentially not for folks who might be hard of seeing. But otherwise appears to me to be a very accessible game all round. With easy to understand puzzles, I also have no qualms about saying it would be a great game for a family audience. It’s packed with dog puns and so long as you don’t mind the themes of gambling / drinking at a poker game, then you’ll be golden with Ruff Bluff.
Treasure Trails: Brockenhurst Review | A single red rose, a one way ticket to Brockenhurst, and a cryptic message in Latin intrigued secret agent Lady Blanche as they were intended to do! Blanche recognised them as the handiwork of rival spy, Sir Pent, relative of the infamous Snakecatcher. She deciphered the Latin to discover that snakes are being held captive inside a crypt locked with a secret code deep in the forest. A rival gang working for Sir Pent is operating in the area, trying to keep the snakes under lock and key by changing the code – but they’re friendly local snakes, so Blanche has asked MI5 HQ for help in releasing them. We want YOU to solve a series of Clues that will help discover the secret code before the rival gang can change it – are you up for this dangerous mission?
Completion Time: 3+ hours Date Played: 28th May 2022 Party Size: 3 (+ a dog) Location: Brockenhurst, Hampshire Difficulty: Easy
Treasure Trails have such a soft spot in my mind as being one of the oldest and most reliable treasure trail companies in the UK. I can pretty much guarantee that if you’re taking a weekend camping trip or city break anywhere in the UK, you can find a Treasure Trails route in the vicinity. From there, you know what to expect – a booklet (or printed out PDF) of fun puzzles that take you around the local area. In short, an excellent way to discover a new place, perfect for families, and a consistently good fun afternoon out wherever you are in the UK.
This was exactly what we had in mind when I decided to take a quick weekend break outside of London to the small village of Brockenhurst in the New Forest. I needed a bit of a mental health break spent somewhere in the sun and, with a small cottage booked for me and my family, the first thing on my to-do list was to check if there was a Treasure Trails available. Brockenhurst similarly also has a soft spot in my heart as it’s a part of the world I spent much of my childhood in. Since growing up and becoming a boring adult I hadn’t been back in years, but had fond memories of splashing around in the river, eating lunch at the village pub, and stroking the hair of the wild horses. So, it’s no understatement to say I was excited!
We set off as a team of 3… Well, 4 if you count our dog! Consisting of myself, my mum and my younger brother. The company make it super easy to order in advance and receive a little pre-printed booklet, or simply go for the PDF version that you can print out yourself last minute. We opted for the latter for ease and convenience, but there’s no price difference.
Brockenhurst: The Legacy of the Snakecatcher
The story of the Brockenhurst Treasure Trail is steeped in local history as legend has it a man by the name of the Snakecatcher used to live in this own and… You’d never guess what his job was.
Oh, go on then. He caught snakes. Up to 30,000 in his career! Story has it that in this Treasure Trails adventure, there are a number of snakes being held in a nearby crypt locked with a secret code. A rival gang keeps changing the code, and the snakes are trapped in there. It was our job to find the code and the crypt and let the snakes out. There’s nothing like a little bit of eco-terrorism, unleashing a bunch of snakes onto the town, for a Saturday morning, right?
Funny plot holes aside, this meant that the trail took us past a lot of very interesting local plaques, sculptures, buildings and relics dedicated to the history of the village and the Snakecatcher. Expertly interwoven and good fun all round learning about the history of the town.
If you go down to the woods today…
As with most Treasure Trails, the route started by the train station and took us in a 2.5 mile round trip around Brockenhurst. Some highlights included the graveyard where the Snakecatcher is located, a very cool archway, some brooks across the road, past more than one herd of cows, several hidden pathways over the railway line, and to some excellent lunch spots in town. The whole route was dog friendly and ours absolutely loved frolicking through the grass and forest. The route also takes you past several cool Geocaches, if you want to do double the puzzling fun for your time.
The route comes full circle, so it’s a good one for just a day trip into town. That said, ours took us what felt like a very long time. I don’t know if it was to do with the fact we were ambling along and taking plenty of stops, or if the route itself is genuinely longer than average – but we split it over two sessions. First, we stopped for lunch and then did around 3/4 of the route. We had to rush back to our cottage as our food delivery was coming, then we decided to take a break and eat some cake and coffee before venturing out to finish off the final bit a sunset.
In terms of puzzles, Treasure Trails are not too challenging at all. You’ll get a few ciphers, and a few moments of scratching your head, but largely the audience is for younger people or families, so it won’t challenge any escape room enthusiasts. By contrast, I think that’s an excellent thing. This route, and others by the same company, are perfect introductory walking trails. I genuinely think that playing these games as a young kid growing up probably made me the puzzler I am today.
If you’re in the area and looking for something puzzley and fun to do, you can’t go wrong than Treasure Trails. Better yet, pick a sunny day, pair it with a delicious lunch in one of the village’s many fantastic pubs, and be sure to pick up a few Geocaches along the way too.
On the weekend we visited the Queen’s Jubilee was happening so there were actually several more puzzle trails available in the village. If you finish up with Treasure Trails nice and quickly – go into Potpourri, a gift shop on the main run and ask them if they have any other trails. They’ll be sure to point you in the direction of a few locally created ones you might enjoy just as much.
H-Division Review | “Take a deep dive into The Ripper’s mind using both traditional and modern investigation methods. Help me and the Met Police profile this serial killer and experience a bar which relives the Victorian London era. Hats, capes, typewriters, telegrams and of course cocktails come as standard”
Date Played: 9th June Time Taken: ~1hr 30 Number of Players: 2 Difficulty: Illogical
It was only a few days after we played Lollipop’s well known (and well loved) immersive experience, The Grid that we decided to book ourselves in to play their brand new Victorian themed immersive experience. Where The Grid was light-hearted, fun, energetic, and definitely escape room-y, it’s Victorian counterpart was… Not so good. Much closer to ‘Bletchley’ in style and substance, but whilst I haven’t yet personally played Bletchley, based on the comments of the people I was with, H-Division is surely the weakest of the three.
Enter Victorian London
H-Division is located in East London, actually directly opposite the fantastic Escape Plan on Bethnal Green Road. It’s about a 10 minute walk from where we live, so we set off a little early and stopped off for a bite to eat around the corner before hyping ourselves up to step into Victorian London. It’s a well-chosen area of
On arriving at the venue, which sits above a Geisha-themed Japanese restaurant, we were led upstairs by a woman in a kimono, past the toilets, and left outside a mysterious red door at the top of the building with the words “POLICE” stencilled over the top. We knocked and were shown to a table by the captain of the police force, where we were promptly given a case file, two bobby hats and a jacket each.
The setup of the room is probably the most impressive part of the whole experience. It felt immersive, like we really were sitting in a busy police department in 1888. There were detective boards all over the walls with red string between different events. There were typewriters and magnifying classes, and Morse code machines, as well as a blacklight torch… Which technically wasn’t used by the police in this period, but we’ll suspend disbelief. Around us, a few other people sitting at tables, enthusiastically getting into their cases.
We were very quickly served our introductory drink, but any subsequent drinks we’d have to work for. I think working hard for your drinks actually makes them taste all the better though – there’s nothing quite like turning a case over to your chief detective and receiving a delicious cocktail for your hard-earned work.
Jack the Ripper… And His Victims
So, let’s talk about Jack the Ripper’s victims. Consider this a big ol’ content warning for the fact that this experience does deal with Jack the Ripper and themes of murder. But not your light hearted murder in abstract, the game is based on a real event. Let’s discuss.
This is a discourse that comes up a lot in the escape room world and we’ve always got to ask the question whether we’re just being too sensitive, or whether this is a genuine harmful practise. Folks in the escape room world all agree that using historical events or characters the victims’ families would remember is a big no-no. I don’t need to remind you all of the *groans* Greek Escape Auschwitz escape room that was very quickly shut down. I even thought the Jersey War Tunnels was very uncarefully toeing the line with their WWII room that featured certain flags on the wall and certain books on the shelf. Edgy themes are PR nightmares, as our friends over at REA have written about here. But Jack the Ripper is so long ago right? It’s almost fictional at this point? Nobody could possibly be offended? Yes, yes and yes. Except, there’s something distasteful about using the names and photographs of the real, female victims for a fun and light-hearted game. So I’ll just leave the thought open there on the table. Is it okay to sort through files about real women who were brutally murdered, just because it was 134 years ago? I don’t have an answer, but it made me uncomfortable.
Could you Crack the Case?
Onto the real reason we were at H-Division… To catch Jack the Ripper! An elusive serial murderer who has escaped the clutches of many an investigator. Now it was our turn to crack the case. So, no pressure! But thankfully we had a series of casefiles to help us out, and some delicious drinks.
The ‘puzzles’ centred around the premise that you had to sort through case files within your team but were supposed to come to different conclusions. Once you’ve made a decision, you convert your decisions and answers into a series of letters and numbers that you then tap out onto a handy Morse Code machine on the table, which the bartender converts into a different cocktail. Hence the need for everyone at a table to submit different answers.
It’s very difficult to talk about the experience without straying into spoiler territory, so I’ll instead just say that the ‘puzzles’ were what let the whole experience down. Of course, take this with a pinch of salt – we are The Escape Roomer, so good puzzles are the numero uno of what we look for in an experience. For us, H-Division’s puzzles were a let down. From a completely illogical romp through Victorian England, we found ourselves with a case file that had already been scribbled over by another team, and we also found ourselves accidentally discovering ill-hidden physical clues and being told off by the hosts for ‘jumping ahead’. For sure, I can forgive technology breaking. Which it did twice. But the one thing we didn’t like the most during the whole experience was having to ask for multiple clues as to what to do with a correct answer only to be exasperatedly told by our host that it meant we needed to go and take something from someone else’s desk, as if that was obvious. A week later and I still can’t figure that one out.
From what we could tell, we weren’t the only ones who struggled with the puzzle flow, as more than once other players on other tables leaned over to ours and asked quietly “have you got any idea what we’re supposed to do?” In the end, we didn’t crack the case. Our Jack the Ripper escaped our clutches with a tantalising handwritten note laughing at our inability to police. By the looks of it, neither did anyone sitting nearby us either. But at least the cocktails were delicious.
If you were planning to try H-Division, we’d strongly recommend instead going for The Grid, or skipping it altogether. That is of course unless you’re there just for the cocktails and the atmosphere. Those were both brilliant, and we absolutely commend the artists behind the bar creating those. But unfortunately you can’t go and just do the cocktails, you’ve got to ‘solve’ the case to win those cocktails, and therein the problem lies. From the problematic use of victim’s real photos and information to support the game, to illogical and misleading puzzles where the answer is “you can write anything down it’s all correct”, to broken technology… Leads to an all round experience that leaves a lot wanting. The silver lining? It is only open for a limited time however, so I’ll cheers to hoping they use the space, or even the basic premise, to make something more fun next time.
When all was said and done, H-Division is okay. But only okay. The full experience costs £38 per person. For this you get 3 cocktails and a game. For full disclaimer, we weren’t charged for the experience, which makes it all the more disappointing that we didn’t enjoy it. Out of all the ~400 or so ‘immersive’ puzzle experiences I’ve played, this is the first one I thought about leaving halfway through. But the cocktails really were delicious, so at a point we stopped trying to overthink the case and just sat back and enjoyed a drink or two and chatted about other things.
Gourmaze: The Sweet Escape Review | General Tasty is in a bit of a pickle. His regiment are leaving Europe in the next few hours and he’s been left behind! Luckily they’ve dropped a trail of breadcrumbs for the General to follow. Escape across the city, uncovering delectable desserts to fuel the stomachs of you, your crew and General Tasty. Be speedy, or he’ll just be another one to bite the crust!
Date Played: 3rd June 2022 Time Taken: 60:36 Number of Players: 4 Difficulty: Easy Location: Soho, Russell Square
Laughing at all the cheesy desert puns and humming along to the Gwen Stefani song of the same name, this week team The Escape Roomer took on ‘Gourmaze’, a brand new delicious puzzle trail in the heart of London. The sun was shining, we were just a few days away from my birthday, and the streets were full of people celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee. Our very hungry ace team consisted of Grace, Mairi and our two +1s. Between us we had a good level of experience solving puzzles and looking for clues, but the thing we had the most experience of? Eating delicious food.
At it’s heart, that’s exactly what Gourmaze is all about! This makes it… Quite possibly… A one of it’s kind in the whole of the UK.
Team The Escape Roomer take on Gourmaze’s Sweet Escape
The premise is deliciously simple:
You receive a series of clues sent to your phone
Each clue gives you directions to a new place of interest
Along the way you’ll stop and visit not just one but three dessert places, saying a secret code to the waiter each time and receiving a treat for each member of the team
As well as three dessert spots, there were also two optional pub stops. We made full use of both locations, stopping for glasses of prosecco to toast to our success.
Meet Gourmaze’s Hero: General Tasty
The story behind A Sweet Escape was an one absolutely perfect for packing in food related puns. It all started when we met our leader by text, General Tasty. Our mission was to escape across Europe finding hidden deserts to fuel our stomachs whilst we helped General Tasty return to his regiment. General tasty was in a bit of a pickle and it was a race against against time to ‘ketchup’ with his regiment before they left.
As stories go it was silly, light-hearted, and nothing too serious. We had a lot of fun engaging with General Tasty and hearing about his wild antics along the route. What’s more, General Tasty was always ready with a fact or two about our environment – whether it be about a statue, a blue plaque, or just general food-themed London tidbits.
For an automated bot, General Tasty was enigmatic and funny!
Gourmaze dessert no.2 being prepared
Gourmaze: The Maze Part
Since this is The Escape Roomer, the thing we were looking out for most in The Sweet Escape was the latter part of that portmanteau: The Maze.
In terms of style of puzzles, Gourmaze is nothing wholly new. It errs slightly on the easier side, but that makes sense, being hungry for your next sweet treat makes for harder puzzle solving. There were somewhere in the region of 5 puzzles between each food stop. Of those puzzles, we were usually looking for a detail somewhere in our environment. Something you couldn’t figure out unless you were standing right there in front of it. Cryptic notes about street signs and zebra crossings a-plenty, with the odd anagram or two to force our thinking caps on.
If any team gets stuck along the way, it would have been easy to skip a puzzle. We were presented with two options to type at any time during the game:
Decode Directions – to write out the specific directions of where to go
I just want food! – to skip the next part of the puzzle
Thankfully we didn’t use any, but we did get one incorrect answer which incur a small time penalty.
Melt in your mouth good
Gourmaze: The Gourmet Part
The real reason we recommend Gourmaze has got to be because of the food. No, seriously. Escape room enthusiasts won’t be overly challenged by solving puzzles, but if you want a brilliantly fun day out with friends or family… Look no further.
There were three dessert spots on our trail, but we’re under strict instructions not to reveal the company locations or the types of food. So I’ll be suitable vague and say that there was something light and fluffy and delicious, something liquid and warming, and finally something perfect for the sunny weather we found ourselves in! All three were absolutely delicious. Melt in your mouth good, and well balanced enough that you still felt great by the end of the walk – not too sweet, not too bitter. Just perfect.
Of the three dessert places, all three were small family owned businesses which felt fantastic. None were particularly off the beaten track, but they were all ones I’d never heard of before and will definitely, definitely be returning to soon. That was one of the nicest touches of the whole game, at each place we learned about the people who run it and the history of the dessert and the venues. Not only fun and tasty, but educational too!
Gourmaze was absolutely fantastic. A brilliant puzzle game addition to London and one I hope goes on to expand across the UK and even across the world too. So far they have the Sweet Escape trail and one other, The Talisman Treats, themed around Asian food. If you like delicious food with your puzzle games, then you’re probably going to love this one.
In terms of pricing, A Sweet Escape was very reasonably priced. At under £30 per person, you get three very well sized desserts, fun puzzles to solve, and an excellent walk around some lovely areas of London. Other outdoor puzzle game companies charge similar but don’t include dessert. Why no dessert? I hope all my future puzzle trails include snacks!
In particular, I’d recommend booking a Gourmaze trail for a special occasion, such as a birthday as we did. It’s a great trail for kids, families, friends, colleagues, or anyone… Anyone who likes sweet food at least. The website mentions it not being suitable for those in a wheelchair due to steps, but otherwise there were no low light or audio puzzles to be aware of. So long as you can read text messages, your accessibility needs should be met. But, definitely check with the organisers if you have any concerns.
Morgan’s Escape: The Lost Treasure Review | The rumours of William Kidd’s lost treasure turned out to be true. I have found it and enclosed it with your issue of Mystery Times as not to cause suspicion. The treasure itself is sealed and a four-digit code is required to access it. I could not risk sending the code but instead I have hidden it in the articles of your newspaper.”
Completion Time: ~45 mins Date Played: 4th June 2022 Party Size: 3 Difficulty: Easy-medium Recommended For: An extra layer of fun as part of a gift for your favourite escape game lover!
We love an escape game as much as the next escape roomer, but this weekend it was a special occasion; we were celebrating our friend Tasha’s birthday! We’d already planned a gift for her, but we decided that Morgan’s Escapes’ Lost Treasure Mystery would add an exciting, puzzle-y layer to her birthday prezzie! The Lost Treasure Mystery comes with everything you need including a flat pack box (optional sizes) to stash the lost treasure (aka gift for your fave puzzler), chain and 4 digit padlock.
The mystery itself arrives ready to play but you will need to assemble the flat pack box, put your gift inside, wrap it up and secure it with the chain and padlock. The recipient must then solve the mystery and decipher the code to unlock their gift.
So without further ado, and with much excitement for an afternoon of fun, we set up the present and invited Tasha round for birthday celebrations!
The Lost Treasure Mystery takes the form of a newspaper which is filled with clues and puzzles to work your way through, before pulling the various sections together to determine a final code to unlock William Kidd’s lost treasure (aka Tasha’s bday prezzie). However, to kick the game off, there is an introduction letter which sets the scene and brings you into the mystery of the game, as well as advising how to access hints as/when required. This is a great way to set up the game and after reading about William Kidd’s lost treasure and our opportunity to find it by solving the clues hidden within the Mystery Times newspaper, we were keen to get solving!
Time to get mysterious
Mystery Times, the newspaper containing everything we needed to work out the code to access William Kidd’s treasure, contains six pages jam packed with information! Given how much content was in the newspaper, we almost didn’t know where to get started, but we opted to go for the most logical route- chronologically from pages 1 to 6. However, there are several separate puzzles to complete and a lot of piecing together of information required, so we wouldn’t say you’d need to stick to this order!
We are always wary with play at home games that there could feel like there’s some limitations to the kinds of puzzles which can be created. However, we were pleased to see a real variety of puzzle types within the pages of Mystery Times, and enjoyed the opportunity to let different puzzles play to each of our strengths.
Of course, there were the classics that you would expect of a newspaper (if you’re not screaming CROSSWORDS, you must never have picked up a newspaper before!), but also some really unexpected types of puzzles, and clever ways of using the information provided within the pages. There was a lot of interesting information contained within the articles in the newspaper- we actually learnt about the well-known pirate William Kidd, as well as other seafarers.
We did need to sneak a cheeky clue to help us with one of the puzzles. When we did, we found that the clue system was easy to access via a QR code, and there were several levels of hints before the full solution was revealed which helped give us the slight nudge in the right direction we needed without being handed the answer prematurely.
Piecing it all together
As mentioned before, you need to piece lots of different bits of information together from different sections of the Mystery Times. This overarching puzzle is a fab way to make this a really cohesive game. It was really fun to pull together the various elements to determine the correct path to choose to help work out the final code to access William Kidd’s treasure. And then for the final layer of excitement- opening the treasure up! Being able to input the code into a padlock to access the ‘treasure’ brings the tactile experience of an escape room in the comfort of your own home, and with the extra fun of getting to keep what’s in the treasure box.
We enjoyed this game and think it is a great way to add an extra layer of fun to any gift-giving situation! The game took us a little under an hour so is a great extra part of a gift (and also you can organise it so you can play it with the gift recipient- FUN!!).
If you’re not sure what to get for that next upcoming birthday, we would suggest a Chocolateral Bar wrapped up as William Kidd’s treasure using this Kidd- so much puzzling fun in one celebration event!
Case 01: The Object Review | Unsolved Science is a challenging cooperative tabletop mystery game for 1-4 players. But instead of locks and puzzles, in this mystery, science IS the game mechanic. Perform real experiments. Analyze weird data. Become the scientist to figure out why a mysterious object could spell disaster for the world.
Completion Time: 2hr Date Played: 20th January 2022 Party Size: 2 Difficulty: Medium
I was so exited when this game arrived on my doorstep. I’m by no means a science expert, but the idea of performing experiments and analysing data is completely my jam. Then mix that with solving a mystery?! Hand me a white coat and goggles because I’m ready to play.
This game has clearly been made with a passion for making science fun at it’s heart. The materials are of a really high quality, and allow you to become immersed in the story as though you are receiving components directly from the Planetary Protection Strategy Service. We get a letter, name badges (with space for achievement stickers), a progress tracker, an evidence board, 3 yellow investigation envelopes, an answer envelope and most excitingly, a mysterious object!
Once all the materials have been laid out and we’ve found 4 small clear containers from the cupboard (finally a use for our leftover Gu indulgences), we open the letter to reveal our mission. A mysterious object has fallen into the hands of a questionable intelligence organisation, and they believe it could change the world. But can they be trusted? It’s up to us to uncover the secrets of their puzzling discovery.
Let the Experiments Begin
Using both the instructions and the progress board, the order in which you need to perform the experiments and analyse the data is made really clear which I appreciated. Within each envelope are several experiments, designed to gradually reveal information and test your ever growing knowledge as you progress. You track your findings on the evidence board, which is really useful for remembering the wave of new facts you’re learning, and to refer back to later in the game.
The experiments are a mix of physical tasks and observations as well as analysing a range of photos, charts and various media found online. There’s no need to navigate away from any of the online materials provided, Unsolved Science have created an online portal of information where you can search for key words to help as part of your investigation. I’d really encourage you to use this regardless of your scientific knowledge, as it’s essential in discovering the true nature of the mysterious object.
We really enjoyed the wide range of experiments provided, and found it was a lot closer to solving puzzles than we expected. Asking ourselves why certain patterns or differences were occurring required logic and reason, and discovering the answer was just as satisfying as unlocking a padlock!
The key to solving the mystery of the game is to answer a number of important questions correctly to unlock the best ending online. These questions ask you to dig deep, and take a good look at the evidence you’ve acquired to find the right solution. They are each assigned a difficulty level which gives you a good indication of how much information you need to answer it. We found we didn’t answer the hardest difficulty questions until the very end of the game, so don’t worry if you feel behind at any point, the a-ha moments will come!
If you’re feeling stuck, there is an excellent clue system provided with three levels of hints to help you on your way. There is also an answers envelope, which you can compare your findings to but which will not reveal the answers to the dig deep questions.
But what is the Mysterious Object?!
Obviously, I’m not going to tell you. But I really enjoyed the story behind this game, and I’d like to know what happens next! I don’t know if any follow up games will be a continuation of this story, but the ending certainly left me wanting more.
We absolutely loved playing The Object and found it to be the perfect balance of scientific discovery, fun and mystery. Don’t be fooled into thinking science experiment kits are just for kids, this game is designed primarily for adults and we had an absolute blast while discovering facts we didn’t know before. Unsolved Science have created a unique, exciting new addition to add to the tabletop mystery game community and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. We’ve also chosen to award it the special “Wow Award” for being an especially innovative game!
The Unsolved Science Kickstarter
If you’re interested in playing Unsolved Science’s Case 01, the game will be available in early 2022 via Kickstarter. You can sign up for news and updates by heading to Unsolved Science’s website here.
Blood Over Baker Street Review | Sherlock Holmes is missing. You are a group of journalists from The Strand magazine, sent to interview the world’s most famous detective. But you discover the remnants of a scuffle – his usually fastidious Victorian lair is in disarray. But there are clues that something is afoot, a nefarious game that pulls you into the depths of London and beyond.
Date Played: 8th May 2022 Time Taken: ~1 hour Number of Players: 4 Difficulty: Easy/Medium
An Escape Room? Nope… An Adventure Room!
Ok, so, where to begin?! Lets start at the beginning. The rooms are also located within the same building as a really cool bar and beautifully themed adventure golf course – all run by Hackers. Its safe to say, we were all salivating whilst waiting to check in at reception, given quite how phenomenal this downstairs area looked. Making our way upstairs to the ‘adventure room’ area, we were greeted by an awesomely large waiting room packed with stacks of games to play whilst waiting for your game session. This certainly kept us entertained!
We were also greeted very warmly by our two hosts and first impressions always count so we knew we were in for something special!
Now onto the experience itself…
Walking through the first door, the initial area, although simplistic in nature given its Victoria London roots, gives the players just small glimpse of what is to come. Its safe to say, when Hackers themselves bill their rooms as “Adventure” as opposed to ” Escape”, they couldn’t be more honest! This room whets the appetite for adventure like nothing we’ve played before.
Sherlock Holmes has gone missing, and Dr. Watson… Well… He’s been replaced with a robot for reasons made very clear you you in a quirky and light-hearted video at the start. Your first challenge is to work out primary suspect behind Sherlocks disappearance. This was a really novel way of starting any escape room: the normal pressure of time didn’t feel as if it weighed heavy on our shoulders and it gave a nice, steady start into the experience with something for everyone to do in the room.
As ever from me, NO SPOILERS, however, we’d recommend you pay close attention to your briefing from the gamemaster. The way in which you deduct suspects is really clever and although we didn’t make mistakes in our deduction approach, it is very easy to slip up, so pay attention! It’s a clever display of modern technology merged with an exceptional Victorian theme, and expertly done in this first area.
But Then… Things Take a Bit of a Dark Turn
This room features a pretty spectacular storyline – so all we can say here is: Expect the unexpected!
Whereas other rooms put their puzzles are the centre of their escape room experience and then build a storyline up around it – Blood Over Baker Street takes the opposite approach. A rich and complex storyline with multiple characters and locations, with each puzzle serving as a mechanic to further the storyline along.
Yep, there are some dark moments (in both theme and atmosphere) but nothing that is there to scare or shock. In fact, my 11 year old came along and there were a few moments where he was a little on edge but nothing that would keep him awake at night!
Again, although we very much wish to stay away from spoilers, perhaps a few of the images from Hackers’ own website will give a sense of that eeriness we encountered…
Do You Need to be a Detective to Solve this Mystery?!
The short answer…. No!
All the puzzles in this game are short and sharp and won’t push the brain cells to work on overtime. This sits really well with the family approach that Hackers are taking! There is no need for any outside knowledge, if anything there are a number of puzzles in this game which are physical in their nature. With these physical puzzles, it certainly gives everyone there time to shine.
By that train of thought, don’t expect an overwhelming volume of ciphers, combination locks, taxing mathematical equations. Sure, there are a few, but the more physical, tangible style of puzzle takes precedence here. A refreshing break from the norm!
An Epic Adventure for the Eyes
Aesthetically, this room is certainly up there as one of the very best. The outstanding combination of attention to detail, lighting, sound effects, and some really inspired room transitions, mean it won’t be one we will forget in a while.
The experience starts in modest style, with a Victorian room as you would expect. Just don’t get too comfortable! As this game carries on, the design just seems to get more and more impressive. Every time we swung open a new door, or got down on our hands and knees to crawl to a new space, inevitably one of us (the first into the new room) would audibly say “Wow!”.
The puzzles also sat brilliantly within theme. Although the storyline definitely takes a few twists and turns and veers off in a direction none of us where expecting, the puzzles sit well within their environment. Not once was there any thinking of “hmm, not sure brightly coloured plastic balls were likely to sit within Sherlocks era”.
Care had really been taken to ensure that everything kept tightly on theme and it felt great!
Something that I found slightly different here to other rooms, is that is does have a very, very linear approach. The opposite would be a multi-faceted approach of giving team the opportunity to work on different puzzles at the same time – this wasn’t the case here. Beyond the first room, it was very much one puzzle after the next, after the next. Although there were a few moments where as a team we were bunched up working on each puzzle together, I actually didn’t mind as it gave me the opportunity to take in the love that had gone into designing this experience and really take stock of the phenomenal detail on show.
A Big (and Unexpected) Finale
This experience features no clock at all, so it is really difficult to keep track of time- although there is no actual allocated time to try and escape in. With this in mind there isn’t the normal escape room time pressure, however slowly but surely you could definitely feel some kind of pressure. This mostly came from the storyline ramping up dramatically as we went along. How would it end?! By the final section of Blood Over Baker Street, the tension had increased to a palpable state and clearly the four of us knew it was time to get our game on, and really push on.
Lets just say, discovering the culprit was half the battle, saving Sherlock was a whole-nother game!
A beautifully structured game, which, was not only visually stunning, but also had a really strong storyline and varied puzzles which were certainly different to the norm. An experience which would suit the whole family, and one where enthusiasts can get lost in an experience which doesn’t quite fit the normal “escape room” genre.
In terms of accessibility, there are some moments of crawling, and some steps to achieve the full experience. Get in touch with Hackers directly if you have any concerns.
In the worlds of a certain famous detective, booking this experience is elementary my dear Watson!
The Tomb of the Wandering King Review | The find of the century has been uncovered in the depths of Yorkshire – The Tomb of The Wandering King, a mysterious figure, lost to history. But the archaeological team have been silent for weeks. You arrive to find a dig site, long abandoned, and the mouth of the Tomb ajar and aglow. Who – or what – is this Wandering King? And what secrets lie beneath the soil?
Date Played: 8th May 2022 Number of Players: 4 Time Taken: ~1 Hour Difficulty: Medium
Escape rooms and crazy golf... Not something I’d usually pair together, but after seeing how excellently Hackers has accomplished it, a trend I hope to see more of across the country. Add into the mix a well stocked bar and a fantastically enthusiastic bar-tender who was a dab hand at whipping up martinis for us, and you have a brilliant mix, truly putting Billericay on the map as a destination for a thoroughly fun day out.
On one such beautiful sunny Sunday, myself, Karen, Nick, and Nick’s kid arranged to travel in from our respective corners of ‘The South’ to take on not one but two brand new escape rooms. Not just any old escape room either… Two new creations by Time Run and Spectre and Vox alumnus Nick Moran – what a treat!
For many reasons *gestures vaguely*, this will be a difficult escape room to review, as it’s hard not to reveal too much about the game. But trust me when I say, this is a room you want to go into with absolutely no expectations. Expect the unexpected. Expect “ooohs” and “aaahs“. Expect to have your heart strings tugged at. Expect difficult decisions. Above all, remember that this escape room is all about the journey and not the destination and my God, what a journey.
Photo (c) Hackers
About The Tomb of the Wandering King
The name of this escape room evokes such strong imagery in my mind… Something between PB Shelley’s Ozymandias poem, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In both cases we, as the audience, are asked the question:
Who, or What is the Wandering King?
This escape room challenges players to find out exactly that. In this way, it’s not your classic “you’re locked in a room and you have 60 minutes to escape.” Actually, quite the opposite. We were never verbally given a time limit and, although we took around an hour to complete it, I didn’t get the sensation of time pressure at any moment at all. We were merely there to investigate and to see where the tides of our investigation might take us.
In this way the focus throughout the experience was less on the puzzles (more about those later) and more on the journey of being there and experiencing the story. The puzzles merely served as triggers to advance the story and uncover new rooms as we ventured along. The strangest thing? I didn’t even mind. Within minutes I was 100% there for the story.
That story! The character development! Ugh, give me more!
Photo (c) Hackers
I met a traveller from an antique land
The story begins with you, an intrepid team sent to investigate an archaeological dig that has gone unusually quiet. Your mysterious benefactor has a financial interest in the dig, but doesn’t mind if you (or the archaeologists) study what they’ve found first. So long as the profit goes straight to him.
You arrive in the first room to an abandoned dig site. Initially it looked like something out of a vintage ‘camp forest’, complete with it’s log cabin, radio dials on the walls, and soft wood chip flooring. How… Curious! We were alone, yes, but a series of video and audio recordings left behind by one of the archaeologists kindly provided us expositional material and got us started on the journey. Having that anchor to a character along the journey was very helpful, and she was all parts charismatic, determined and brave.
Our mission was simple – retrace the archaeologist’s steps and uncover what she was digging up. You probably know the drill: a mysterious (and very well decorated) tomb entrance with an ancient and cryptic mechanic to get inside it. But here, unfortunately dear readers, is as far as I can go into describing what happens.
You’ll thank me later for not explaining any further, even though I’m dying to.
But what follows is an hour (or more) of following our fearless archaeologists steps, finally making contact, and doing some things that shake the foundations of what we know about, well, *gestures vaguely* all of this. If I weren’t with company, I’d probably have cried a little at the ending.
Photo (c) Hackers
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay…
In terms of puzzles, individually they were probably the weakest part of the escape room experience. But even take this with a pinch of salt, the real reason I think you should visit this room isn’t for ‘excellent’ puzzles, it’s for pure atmosphere and story. But since this is The Escape Roomer, we’ve gotta mention them.
In our session, our Games Master kindly let us know that there was one puzzle that wasn’t working correctly so they were going to provide a manual override on it. If we hadn’t been told, I don’t think I would have noticed as it was very easy to bypass, but it was nice of her to let us know.
Of those puzzles that were working, we found this room to be a very high tech room. A lot of screens, buttons, and fancy wiring in the back-end. Not a single lock and key in sight. Okay, well maybe just one. But as a whole this is a high tech room. I’m always a little questioning of very high tech rooms as they tend to be the first to break (our own breakage not withstanding), but since we’re one of the first teams to play it I’m not in a position to judge how they’ll hold up long term.
High tech or not, every single puzzle we encountered worked very well within the environment. Nothing immersion breaking, and some really brilliant moments of mimetic puzzle design that were a delight to play.
There were a few puzzles that were definitely open to interpretation, and there were a few more that were needlessly finnicky. At a point sometimes finnicky puzzles are more about luck than about skill, but we got there in the end after much huffing. There were a few ‘sound’ puzzles which didn’t gel well with us as a team – we’re all completely tone deaf and found these to be more frustrating than anything else. Finally, there were a few puzzles that were quite similar to one another in functionality.
Again, take this with a pinch of salt. If you’re like me and viewed the puzzles more as a mechanic to further the story – then you’ll be fine. But it’s worth mentioning as besides a few standout fun ones, we didn’t enjoy the puzzles as much as we might have done.
Photo (c) Hackers
…Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare…
…And right back to the positives. Starting with the decor. The decor was *dramatic chefs kiss* beautiful.
I genuinely felt like it might be the most pretty and awe inspiring room I’d ever experienced. At least until we stepped into Blood Over Baker Street the next room we had booked at Hackers.
The space was huge and no expense spared to make it look, feel and smell realistic. Every detail perfectly encapsulated the theme of the environment and it was a joy to just physically be there. Can Nick and his team please come round and convert my apartment into a super realistic fantasy world? Please and thank you.
Team Escape Roomer!
…The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Sometimes on The Escape Roomer, and in life in general, I like to describe escape rooms as like films. Only you play the main character. Thriller, horror, magical? It’s always about you and your quest. 90% of the time it’s an accurate description. But after playing Tomb of the Wandering King with it’s intense level of immersivity I’m going to rethink how liberally I give that description to other escape rooms. Few can hold a candle to the level of storytelling and immersivity in this game. It’s like something else entirely.
If my tone of voice and general gushing weren’t obvious, I cannot recommend Tomb of the Wandering King highly enough. It ticked so many boxes for me personally and I am a big fan. For sure, I think the puzzles brought the overall rating down from a 5 to 4, and if you’re an enthusiast who looks for excellent puzzle design before making a trip then perhaps book yourself into Blood over Baker Street instead. But for me? Tomb of the Wandering King is well worth the trip and goes down in my personal hall of fame.
For this, and many other reasons, I’ve decided to award this escape room the “I Believe” badge, awarded to experiences that had us immersed from start to finish.
In terms of accessibility there were some cramped spaces, low lighting conditions, crawl spaces, objects placed quite high up in various rooms, and sound-based puzzles. For those reasons it’s not the most accessible in the world. That said I’d recommend reaching out to Hackers about your specific accessibility needs if that’s a concern.
In terms of recommendation – we had a young lad (Nick’s son) with us. Whilst I’d love to say it’s a great room for kids, being on the longer and more narrative side it is hard to capture a kid’s attention for that long. It’s also fairly scary with some real moments of threat. So I’ll leave that at individual adults’ discretion, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it for anyone younger than say, 14.
Curse of the Dark Review | Investigate the mystery of a doomed village and its cursed castle in this thrilling escape room game! You couldn’t resist the allure of Mordengraf: a remote mountain village, overshadowed by an imposing Gothic castle and haunted by a spate of mysterious disappearances. Could there be truth in the hushed whispers of a ‘creature’ stalking the area? As you look for answers, your investigation takes a sinister turn. Captured by an unseen force, you must escape the castle’s dungeon or become the creature’s latest victim. But you only have three hours before the creature resumes its hunt.
Completion Time: 3+ hours Date Played: 6th May 2022 Party Size: 3 Difficulty: Medium
It was only a little while ago that I had the pleasure of playing through Professor Puzzle’s “Danger in the Deep” so when I heard that they had another escape game out but double the length, I jumped at the opportunity. The former is easily one of my favourites of 2022 so far, and I was eager to see how their sequel would perform. It was time to dim the lamps, light some candles, pour some red wine (because of course, vampires), and crack open the game.
The story goes that you, an investigator, receive a mysterious letter from someone known only as “J”. A monster lurks in the castle at the corner of a village and many of the villagers blame the monster for the recent disappearances. Your job is simple: investigate and get to the bottom of the mystery. But before long you find yourself sucked into the castle and soon to become the monster’s next victim. That is, unless you can puzzle your way out!
How to Play Curse of the Dark
Curse of the Dark is nothing if not very ambitious. Written in large letters on the front of the box is a total play time of “180 minutes” which of course, can (and probably should) be split into two parts at 90 minutes each. Our team of 3-4 players decided that we’d set aside an entire evening to complete the experience. From 6pm on a dark and stormy Saturday evening we sat down to a bottle (okay, maybe two bottles) of red wine, plenty of snacks and spooky music in the background.
180 minutes? Pfft. We ended up concluding the game with a successful win at around midnight 🤯
This would put the game in more comfortably at 6 hours long, but even I’ll admit that’s a bit silly. The point being is this game, despite the recommendation, be enjoyed at any pace by any sized group and is definitely the most fun when you break it up with wine and snack breaks. So long as your goal is to have fun, you can’t go wrong with Curse of the Dark. So don’t be worried if you take a lot longer than the recommended time.
Where Curse of the Dark differs from *checks notes* pretty much every other escape game I’ve ever played, is it’s fantastic use of space. It’s somewhere between a tile-based, almost “worldbuilding” game with Cluedo, and Unlock! mixed in. As a team of intrepid investigators, you reveal and place new tiles that build up an immense, sprawling castle around your movements as the game progresses. Past the halfway mark and you’ve already strayed into 3D territory with an enormous stained glass window and not one but two brilliant tall towers standing at either edge of the board. Until we flipped each new tile it was impossible to know where our story would take us, but each room was as fantastical as the previous and each twist and turn as exciting as if we were watching a movie.
Visually, this game is gorgeous. Each tile is a top-down view of a specific room, but as mentioned the game occasionally forays into 3D, building up a complete picture of an enormous ‘spooky castle’. I happen to know *taps nose* that each tile was modelled in 3D on a computer and then rendered top-down to create a large but well proportioned environment. The edges of each tile often had an overlap or matched up directly to where the next room was. Only a few times did we need to slide the whole model across because we’d built too close to the edge, but thankfully figuring out how to lay out your castle isn’t one of the puzzles. There’s a handy guide as you go.
See the Day Turn into Night…
In terms of puzzles, there are 22 in the game, but if that number sounds low I can assure you it is not. Curse of the Dark is big. No, I don’t think you understand. It’s packed with possibly hundreds of pieces, cards, tiles and objects. We found that throughout our experience, objects we’d discovered earlier in the game often didn’t come into play until hours later – resulting in more than a little panicked rummaging throughout the boxes. So a fair warning when we say that this game is big – it’s worth keeping track of what you’ve used and are still to use.
By the end of the game we found that there were a few cards we hadn’t drawn from the deck, but thankfully the game has a very robust clue system to keep you on track if you’re unsure. On only one occasion did we accidentally brute force a puzzle, and only then we realised this because we’d left a card we’d needed to solve the puzzle in the deck without spotting it. This goes to show that the puzzles whilst not too difficult nor too easy, seem well pitched for an enthusiast to comfortably potter through.
Throughout the experience, my favourite puzzles involved anything that was 3D – what can I say? It’s a lot of fun picking up the great big bell tower and pretending you’re King Kong as you push and pull bricks out haphazardly. Other puzzles take you away from the physicality of the game and onto a simple web-based application which worked well, but the bulk of it took place via a system of cards and ’tiles’. As with many games, there were some puzzles we got right away, but plenty more we needed to use hints (a scratch-off system). In each we were looking for a secret hidden symbol to proceed.
…Through the Darkness, There’s the Light
In terms of the question of age rating and accessibility , Professor Puzzle recommends 14+. In terms of theme, I’m not so sure about that. There’s the odd splatter of blood and an allusion to nefariousness, but it’s ultimately quite a light-hearted, Vampire themed romp and nothing I wouldn’t have loved as a kid. The real question is whether or not somebody is able to sit still for the full 3 hours and remain engaged and interested – so I’ll leave that at the discretion of parents.
There are a few puzzles that involve sound, so someone who is able to hear well is recommended, but I believe it may be possible to solve those with the visuals. Some of the scenes are darker and will involve Similarly there are some moments in the game where colour is referenced, but if I remember correctly, none of the solutions hinge upon being able to identify colours, so it’s also colour-blind friendly.
Unlike previous games in Professor Puzzle’s catalogue, Curse of the Dark comes with a free download of the printable elements of the game. This means that after destroying certain components during your gameplay, you can print them off at the end to reset the game perfectly back to the beginning. In an era of being more environmentally conscious, I commend the creators for making this game not single-use, and encouraging folks to re-gift it on. That said, I won’t be giving up my copy of Curse of the Dark any time soon. Oh no, by contrast I plan to reassemble some of the coolest 3D components and put them on my shelf in pride of place.
If you can’t tell from my gushing, the verdict is we really did have a great time playing Curse of the Dark. From the fantastically fun puzzles that consistently manage to surprise me, to the beautiful visuals (2D and 3D), to a very spooky vibe that made our board game night perfect. There were a great many “a-ha!” moments, so many I’m sure my co-players got sick of my insisting “wow thats a clever puzzle” by the end of it. For that reason, we’ve chosen to award it our Badge of Honour which is awarded to games that achieve five stars from us across the board, and it’s well deserved too.
For sure it will attract a slightly more niche audience than other games in the Professor Puzzle catalogue coming in at ~3 hours of gameplay. Compared to other ‘escape room in a box’ games you see on the high street, this one is three times the length. But in this way it’s also excellent value for money.
Typically in ‘The Verdict’ I like to recommend who I’d buy this for. The answer for this one is simple: everyone. I could see myself playing this with family members old and young, enthusiasts and newbies alike. I’ve no doubt it’ll be a big hit for Professor Puzzle and can’t wait to see what they come up with next.