Edinburgh Treasure Hunts Review | Arthur Conan Doyle has left you a letter. Not just a letter! A challenging puzzle that could reveal to you the secret behind his famous character: Sherlock Holmes. That is, if you prove to be a puzzle-solving mastermind first.
Completion Time: ~3 hours Date Played: 16th July 2022 Party Size: 3 Location: Edinburgh New Town > Edinburgh West End Difficulty: Moderate
I’ve lived in Edinburgh for over 12 years, so you’d think I’d have explored the whole city by now, right?! Wrong!
It turns out treasure hunts are now my favourite way to discover the hidden secrets of your surroundings – and you get to do it whilst solving puzzles and getting some steps in! The games from Edinburgh Treasure Hunts are the highest rated hunts in Edinburgh, and I’d like to tell you why this is a spot they deserve.
The brains behind the operation is the incredible Sabi, company director, game designer and Edinburgh tour guide. Their knowledge and passion shone through when we met them outside the Conan Doyle pub, gazing over at the street where the creator of Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle was born. It was an apt setting for the journey ahead of us, and hearing some of the history of a street I walk by weekly was an exciting start.
Team Escape Roomer takes on Sherlock’s Challenge
Out task was to channel Sherlock Holmes and master the power of deduction to find the secret that lies behind his character. To do this, we were handed a locked backpack, a beautifully illustrated map and a mysterious letter from beyond the grave. You’d better believe spooky voices were used to narrate the tale! We were then left to solve the first puzzle, and our walking adventure begins!
Now, it was 9am so it did take a while for our brains to wake up and figure out the first challenge – but once we clocked it we were on our way to unlocking the backpack and discovering the next puzzle, all of which are hidden in various containers. Once you’ve solved a puzzle, you’ll be directed by the clues to your next location. The game was really easy to navigate due to the numbered clues and the fact that certain items weren’t unlocked until they were needed for the puzzle in front of you.
Help! We Need a Hint!
Am I going to continue blaming the fact I’m not an early riser for my slow puzzle solving skills that morning? Probably. But we did get super stuck. There was an amazing moment when we realised half of what we had to do, yet we still completely overthought to the point we were googling different cypher types. We should add that Google is not needed at any point in the game.
Lucky for us, this meant we got to experience the hint system which was me calling Sabi and sheepishly asking for help. My biggest tip for this hunt is
Easier said than done though, so we got a response immediately, and proceeded to kick ourselves to the next clue.
Once You Have Eliminated the Impossible…
In terms of puzzles, there were 2 styles of padlock to unlock: The familiar 4 digit combination and a date lock which I’d never seen before!
The puzzles were a really nice mix which tested everything from your observational skills to decoding hidden messages. My favourite involved a few steps to find a particular piece of text in your surroundings and use that to unlock some cyphered text. I also loved the navigational aspect, it encouraged you to spot things you wouldn’t have thought to look at otherwise. Overall, they were quite difficult, so I recommend that if doing this with a family to take slightly older kids, 13+ I’d say would keep the game enjoyable for everyone. For a game aimed at a much younger audience, definitely try out Edinburgh Treasure Hunts’ other trail, Fantastic Creatures.
The Case of the Final Problem
I loved the location of the end of the game. It felt like everything came together really nicely and you discover some really interesting history about the story of Sherlock Holmes. There’s a really nice touch which I imagine is quite satisfying by the end of the day. You’re then directed to a safe place to drop the backpack near the end location and the centre of town so you can rest your legs and debrief!
I will say, it’s quite the walk and towards the end we clambered up a big hill.
In the end, we took just over three hours to complete the game (but we did stop for a cold drink as it was so warm!)
It’s almost Fringe time!
The festival is almost upon us, and we’re all ready to grab our highlighters and circle our top picks of the programme – Sherlock’s Secret Challenge should be one of them! Why? The City of Edinburgh is your venue, and you’re in charge of making sure the story unfolds. If you’re visiting Edinburgh for the Fringe, I’d really recommend taking half a day to pop on your deerstalker to take a stroll and discover some hidden gems.
Mazer Zone Star Struck Review | The year is 2220, wars and natural disasters have ravaged the Earth. Humanity, clinging to survival in orbit, has one last hope – a scientific genius and his revolutionary formula for starship fuel. Alas, the powers that be will not relinquish their grip on the human race. Shortly after being recruited by the good professor, he suddenly disappears leaving the fate of mankind in the hands of you and your crew. Do you have what it takes to solve the mystery and save the human race?
Date Played: 2nd July 2022 Number of Players: 4 Time Taken: ~30 Minutes Difficulty: Easy
Mazer Zone is one of London’s newest escape rooms and at the time of writing has only been open for a couple of weeks. Presently, there are two rooms available with a third coming soon. And well, you know me, I’m a sucker for a good sci-fi room so we couldn’t wait to get ourselves booked in to play.
Despite being located very centrally in Camden, Mazer Zone is an escape room that’s a little hard to spot. In fact, we walked past it a few times before realising it was there. Tucked away in a residential estate, an unassuming building that looks like it could be an apartment building opens up into a very clean and clinical basement with a very low ceiling – tall people be warned (though not a problem for me at 5 ft 1). On the outer door was a 4 digit padlock, and we assumed this might be the first puzzle – but thankfully after knocking a few times our host came up to pick us up.
As you go down into the main area, there’s no lobby to speak of, so be sure to arrive exactly on time. We kept our belongings with us and, after a quick briefing with the usual “this is a padlock, don’t brute force, if it’s above head height ignore it“, we were led to a mysterious door. A message appeared to us from a very cool sci-fi delivery pipe containing all the information we needed to get started and then whoosh! We were off to a flying start!
Image (c) Mazer Zone
Beam me up, Scotty!
What followed was a series of physical spaces (around 3 unique rooms to be exact), that followed the story of the mysterious disappearance of a spacecraft engineer and scientist. You see, we were space travellers in the far distant future trying to preserve humanity by colonising the stars. But we can’t do that without valuable starship fuel. Our mission was to investigate what happened to the scientist and recover his secret stash of starship fuel. Presumably so we could synthesize more, or perhaps we just wanted to use it to power our own ships and fly away. Either way, we had a mission and we stuck to it.
The room played out like a “museum of humanity“. Early in the game we found a tablet-like device which enabled us to scan any codes we found around the room. There were many of them. On the one hand, red herrings? On the other, just quirky distractions adding to the overall story. There were plenty of things in the room we never used, and plenty more things we did use which I couldn’t believe were even relevant to the game, but provided some fun moments of delight when they were.
There was one puzzle I enjoyed the mechanic of so much I even laughed out loud, inviting my other players crowd around just to watch it. But mostly, the puzzles were straightforward – easy to spot, easy to solve. Yes, we absolutely whizzed through the room and broke the record (although for a room that’s just opened that’s less impressive than it sounds), but we did have fun solving the puzzles. Everyday objects were used in innovative ways and there were some very fun moments of technology.
On the topic of red herrings however, there were definitely more red herrings than we were comfortable with. I counted around 5 digit padlocks we discovered which we ended up never using, and plenty of things that seemed so obviously like they were part of the game but then never ever used. There’s a lot of discourse in the escape room world about whether red herrings are good or bad, and it’s too detailed to get into here, but we at The Escape Roomer generally fall in the camp of “they’re not great”.
Having too many things in the room that feel unfinished leads to an anti-climactic ending in which you can’t help but wonder if you’re actually finished or not. Star Struck toed this line, as many of the ‘red herrings’ were quirky and part of the story. For example, informational pieces about the universe and objects which felt like they should have had a purpose, but didn’t in the end. When we finally unlocked the last door, we all couldn’t quite believe it. “But wait, we didn’t use ‘thing’?”, to which our host explained that we didn’t need to. So the jury is out on that one.
There was one puzzle in the experience which could potentially be a health and safety hazard. Not naming any names as I don’t wish to spoil anything, but there was definitely a moment we could have (but didn’t) hurt ourselves… Which brings me to the realisation that we weren’t asked to sign a waiver. It’s one of the first escape rooms I’ve ever experienced that hasn’t, which is interesting. Potentially just an operational oversight since the company itself is in it’s infancy, and hopefully an issue they’ll fix quite quickly.
As a final note, since we didn’t ask for any hints, we can’t judge how these are delivered – but we were given a walkie-talkie at the start of the experience in case we needed to communicate with our host.
Image (c) Mazer Zone
An Escape Room Set on a Spaceship
One of the things we enjoyed most about the room was the decor. It really did feel like a sci-fi spaceship and there’s some impressive technology in there that really added to the feeling of immersion. It was high-tech in all the best ways, with sensors and scanners a-plenty, plus all that tech worked perfectly well. Which makes sense, since the room is brand new.
On the topic of decor, the room very much feels homemade but in the kind of way that it’s been built with a lot of love. I’ve since found out that unfortunately it is a room that was open for some time in another country, before being sold to Mazer Zone and opened up here in London. That said, they’ve still done a good job the start-up resources they have available.
Just a note on accessibility, unfortunately the environment and the building itself being located down a long flight of stairs – so this room is not wheelchair accessible. There were also several puzzles that involved listening to voice-overs without subtitles, so a word of warning for folks with hearing difficulty.
Overall, our team did enjoy playing Star Struck at Mazer Zone. If anything, it was just a shame it didn’t last longer, I’d have loved to spend 60 minutes in the room rather than 30! We had an enthusiastic host, which brings about it’s own kind of charm, and we enjoyed chatting to them for a while after. The room itself featured some fun decor and unique technology, as well as puzzles that made us think outside the box in ways I haven’t experienced before. As, at the time of writing, they’re a brand new company so there are some big operational oversights which we’ve given feedback on, but I think it has a lot of potential.
Presently tickets come in around 30 – 50 pp, depending on how large your team is and when you visit. For this price it makes it one of the more expensive escape rooms in London. Do we recommend it at full price? Probably not. Especially given we escaped in around 30 minutes. But if you can get tickets at off-peak prices, then definitely worth giving them a go.
Mazer Zone are hard at work on their new and upcoming rooms. I hear the second and third rooms are better than the first, so it’s onwards and upwards from here.
House of the Dragon Review | An aging Japanese carpenter felt abandoned by his son who had left home and started a family of his own. But when a dragon came to the carpenter in his dreams and told him he still had time to bond with the grandchildren he’d never seen, the carpenter designed and built a wooden toy. The toy was a puzzle box that children alone couldn’t open so children, parents and grandparents worked together to solve the mystery of the ‘House of the Dragon’.
Date played: May 2022 Time taken: 60-90 mins Number of players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Puzzle Box Joy
First up, I love wooden puzzle boxes. They are beautiful little works of art. I had a money box as a kid that was a simplified puzzle box with panels that you had to slide around to find a hidden drawer with a key, then do some more sliding to find the keyhole. I loved it, even when I’d done that sliding so many times it was no longer a puzzle. I guess that was when the ER bug first bit, even though there was no such thing as ERs at the time. It also explains the little jolt of joy I get in ERs like those by ‘Escape Plan’ where they use cute little wooden puzzle boxes in place of the ubiquitous padlocks. So much of the pleasure I get from ERs is that they are safe spaces for adults to indulge in childlike play and I guess wooden puzzle boxes are a direct, visceral link between adult me and the little kid I once was.
Which is a very long winded and philosophical path to saying that when EscWelt asked us to review their latest puzzle, House of the Dragon, I jumped at the chance. I hadn’t played an EscWelt game box before, though had taken on similar puzzles by iAdventure, so was excited to unbox it.
‘House of the Dragon’ looks and feels lovingly hand-made, a fact confirmed by a signed slip inside the box from the EscWelt bod who put it together. In keeping with the Japanese theming and narrative, with the back story laid out on a paper insert, the puzzle box takes the form of a miniature pagoda, crafted from sustainable birchwood. There’s lovely carved detailing and beautiful etching on every side, with cherry blossom tumbling down one side, and a dragon wrapped around the roof. Each side and each section has a unique design and feel and a quick scan around the box gives you the sense of multiple puzzle elements.
But Where Do I Start?
But that’s where I came a bit unstuck. The iAdventure games I’d played previously had a handy ‘start’ etched somewhere on them to give you a clue where to begin. ‘House of the Dragon’ doesn’t. It’s clearly designed to be trickier and that’s no bad thing but it can also lead to frustration. Maybe because I’m singularly dense, or maybe because I was playing alone, with no-one to bounce ideas off, I just couldn’t spot an obvious ‘way in’ to the sequence of puzzles. So I spent a lot of time just turning the box around and around in my hands trying to get an insight into where to start. Which is ok for a while but my patience did erode fairly quickly.
Let It Flow
Eventually after a bit of wiggling of box parts, I made the first step and after that things flowed a little more, although you still have to be a bit experimental and willing to try some random poking around, in some cases literally. After the first element was solved and I’d done a bit of Japanese language translation, I realised I was looking for a specific sequence (of what I won’t say coz spoilers). And from then on, the puzzle flow around the box was more satisfying and fairly slick. Constrained by the size of the box, there aren’t a huge number of puzzle elements and I probably took longer figuring out where to start than I did actually solving it all but the sheer physicality of the puzzling is very satisfying. And, like in any good ER, the revelation at the end is worth all the effort that preceded it.
My minor niggles would be that lack of a clearing start point and the fact that the playability of the box is impacted by some parts being too stiff and some too lose. In some case parts don’t move easily, meaning you feel like you haven’t solved that element when you actually have. Some parts also move but have no function other than looking pretty. On my box the roof element rotated so I spent ages thinking there must be a significance to that. But there wasn’t.
However, these are minor issues in a puzzle box that is beautiful to behold. The tactile physicality of the box is the true selling point. When you can’t get hands on with an ER out in the real world, and online or paper ER type games just aren’t hitting the right spot then a puzzle box like ‘House of the Dragon’ is a treat. Sliding panels, buttons to push and pull, secret doors and secret codes. All in the comfort of your own home.
There’s a QR code system to get access to EscWelt’s tips and hints on the puzzle box and once you’re done and found out the secret at the heart of the labyrinth, there’s also a resetting video so you can play again or pass the box on to someone else. Maybe you could even hide a little treat inside and see how long it takes someone else to get inside ‘The House of the Dragon’.
‘House of the Dragon’ and other puzzle box games from EscWelt can be bought at their online store or at other online retailers.
The Book of Rituals is an interactive puzzle book. As an adept of alchemy, you will learn the secrets of elements and alchemical ingredients to perform powerful rituals. Start your mystical journey now and become a Master of ancient magic!
Completion Time: 10-12 hours Date Played: June 2022 Party Size: 2 Difficulty: Medium
Water and alcohol are among the more recognisable ingredients you might find in sun cream. There are many others, but I can’t pronounce them, so it seems wrong to copy the spelling from the back of a bottle and expect someone else’s brain to do the work. H.A. Milton Blake is credited with its creation and – as the Crown paint colour chart places my skin tone somewhere between ‘Writing Paper’ and ‘Fresh Coconut’ – I’m very glad he put in the hours. I was in Spain while I battled with the Book of Rituals. It was 38 degrees. Never has the combination of those ingredients been so needed. Or so I thought…
Blake dabbled in chemistry, of course, and in the Book of Rituals we’re instead dealing in the more archaic branch of ‘shoving-stuff-together-to-see-what-happens’ known as alchemy. Water and alcohol are still very important here. So are 29 other ingredients, and each requires a puzzle to be solved to learn its true name and value. All these ingredients will be required if you want to tackle the 13 daunting rituals that cover the final pages with any hope of success. Only then will you fully understand this mysterious book.
I say mysterious as this is not your book. At least, you’re not the first owner. Someone else has contributed to these pages packed with elements, ingredients and rituals. Footnotes, ramblings, corrections and improvements have been jotted down to aid you in solving the puzzles and avoiding the supposed corruption the book threatens. A sort of Half-Blood Prince’s Advanced Potion-Making/Darkhold hybrid if you fancy a couple of popular culture reference stickers to slap on the cover.
Taming the Book of Rituals
The format is simple but fulfilling. Each element poses a puzzle. The top right corner will let you know which other ingredients (if any) you need to have solved already to put that puzzle together. These may well be later in the book, so there’s no order to speak of. You tackle them in whatever sequence you’re able to with the ingredients you have available. The inclusion of a question mark in your required ingredients list means that the book itself must be used in some way – and these puzzles are a true highlight of this beautifully put together and well-thought-out title.
Each correct solution you enter into the slick website will reward you with a true name and number to write into the fold out section on the back cover. Gradually filling it in is satisfying, but reliance on the site to get to these answers does means that an internet connection is required to make progress. The same website also holds any hints you might need, as well as occasional further information on the formatting of answers.
As you go backwards and forwards through the pages adding your own notes and mistakes to the ones already put in place by the previous owner, it does feel chaotic and immersive. That’s the point. Errors and ruined pages are almost inevitable – something that’s recognised by the creators by way of copies of the key puzzle tables and grids being repeated at the back of the book. Perfect for additional attempts once the originals become indecipherable.
The focus in the Book of Rituals is definitely on quality. 45 honed puzzles that, at times, require a huge amount of thinking is certainly preferable to an inconsistent dump of teasers that goes on forever. There’s zero fat on this book. No filler. The puzzles are so well-designed that you know that each is solvable without huge leaps of logic, meaning the temptation to dip into the hints felt non-existent.
I think that’s close to the highest praise I can give. There’s no need to rush. It’s never too daunting or boring. Hints were the last thing on my mind over the week it took me to slowly chip my way through. For those that have done a lot of puzzle books then, sure, there are a few well-trodden ideas contained within, but that’s simply the limitations of the format. What we have here are clever puzzles, laid out in an excellent way, that are sure to provide plenty of entertainment to those that like a challenge.
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!