Compendium: UI-55 | Review

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Compendium UI-55 Review | A German U-boat named UI-55 was found in the river Thames. Have you and your team got what it takes to sneak aboard and retrieve all of Britain’s wealth before the German soldier’s return?

Date Played: March 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: ~50 Minutes
Difficulty: Expert!

When we were planning our mini-break to the North we chose Manchester due to the escape rooms. I had heard such fantastic things about UI-55 that it was a bit of a no-brainer. This room has actually won multiple awards, and (spoiler alert) is one of the few rooms I’ve done that I think is well deserving of the hype!

 

All Aboard UI-55!

The premise of UI-55 is that you have discovered a German U-boat, hoarding plenty of British treasure, and you only have an hour to recover as much as possible. The first thing you’ll realise upon ‘boarding’ is just how massive this room is. For context, it fills an entire floor and is apparently the size of two normal escape rooms put together! However, if you’re worried that this looks like a big rectangle, don’t be! It’s very much structured as a submarine, with long corridors and windy passageways to traverse. I loved the general size, and the attention to detail in that every nook and cranny reads as ‘submarine’. I had great fun running up and down, as the puzzles absolutely cover the space, and you will need to get elements from each area to complete some.

The other thing to be aware of is the sheer amount of puzzles, especially given the 60-minute time. In a normal room, you might expect to complete 10-15. Here there are nearly 30 to complete alone, which each give you a task to complete and then a key to use to retrieve some loot (depending how quickly you locate the right locker). Luckily, you don’t need to complete all of the puzzles – from memory, you only need to complete 21 within the time, with a very clear (and very fun) indication of when you should really move into the final phase of the room (the loot grabbing).

 

Baffles

As you might expect in a room with such a large variety of puzzles, they are all completely different with a fantastic variety. If one puzzle isn’t your forte (*side eyes the dexterity puzzle*) that’s ok! There is always another puzzle to do instead. Some of these puzzles are available upfront, some require you to complete others to gain the materials you need. It’s fairly obvious which bits go with which puzzles, and what you need to do. There are also clues scattered all over the place in the decor, and even some answers which are available to you right from the start! Completing a puzzle gives you a code, which you use to get some tokens, which are then used to gain keys, which are then used to unlock lockers. Luckily, as a duo the ‘gaining keys’ stage can be skipped, as I can see that this would take quite a bit of time, and personally, I feel is a step too far for any team.

I can only remember what a few of the puzzles were in the game, as I was very much running around like a headless chicken, completing one puzzle and then moving on, but I know I’d love to redo the room just to have the same experience again! I also know I only saw around half the puzzles, with my mum clearing half the sub by herself and me clearing the other half. If you or your teammates are the sorts of people who want to know what everyone has done so far or how they’ve reached their conclusions…this is not the room for you. We had to trust that we each had a grip on what we were doing and that we would call for help if needed, or if there was a puzzle we couldn’t figure out. Even when it came to the co-op puzzles we were so aware of the time we just trusted each other’s instincts, and if we ever found objects we weren’t sure of we checked in with each other to see if they had an idea. Honestly, it’s probably the best teamwork we’ve ever had as we didn’t have time to argue!

Normally I would talk about flow, but honestly here there is so much to do in so little time we were never stuck, bored or frustrated. The team are so slick with their clues too – they know exactly when to give us a nudge, what sort of nudge we needed and clearly could tell what we were each working on.

This room is also an example of my favourite type of room – the type where you don’t need to 100% complete it, but if you have the time and skill you can. This meant we were determined to grab all the loot, so really pushed the time at the end to get all the lockers unlocked and money in the bags.

I could go on and on about this room, but it’s honestly the best room I’ve ever played, and I could easily go and replay it (especially as I know there are a lot of puzzles I didn’t even see the first time!).

Accessibility (spoilers!)

As I mentioned in my previous review for the other Compendium rooms, there are some steep stairs to reach the room. However, there are chairs to sit on inside the room itself. It’s a bit dim in places, with lots of reading and colour requirements. There are a couple of puzzles requiring hearing, and some requiring dexterity. No crawling in this one though! You should also be fine if you’re concerned about claustrophobia, as although this was set on a submarine it was actually pretty spacious.

The Verdict

This is a short review because the verdict is simple. This is a must-play room, and we are awarding it our highest award; The Badge of Honour.

I’ve played many of the top rooms in the TERPECA and ‘Escape the review’ lists, but this is hands down my favourite. It’s going to be a long time before this gets knocked out of number one for me!

UI-55 can be booked by heading to Compendium’s website here.

Phantom Peak | Review

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WELCOME TO PHANTOM PEAK

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

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

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

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

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

 

Entering Phantom Peak

 

 

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

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

 

Starting off on the right foot

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Puzzle Posse

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rooting and Tooting

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

This town ain’t big enough…

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

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

 

What’s the verdict?

 

 

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

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

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

Tickets for Phantom Peak can be booked on their website

Layered Reality: The Gunpowder Plot | Review

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The Gunpowder Plot Immersive Review | London, 1605. A city divided. The fuse of rebellion is lit. The peace of the nation balances on a knife edge… Step into a world where spies and informants hide in every shadow. Your mission is to go undercover and unmask the mysterious figures behind history’s most infamous plot. But when you’re surrounded by ‘traitors’ who can you trust?

Date Visited: 17th July 2022
Number of Players: 3
Time Taken: ~120 Minutes

Remember, remember the 5th of November… Gunpowder, Treason and Plot! For I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.

The Gunpowder Plot Immersive is London’s newest immersive experience created by the award winning team behind War of the Worlds Immersive, and located in the iconic Tower of London vaults. From the very moment the experience was announced months ago, we were very excited. Layered Reality have built up an excellent reputation of blending immersive theatre, actors, jaw-dropping set design, all to tell brilliant stories.

As such, it’s not really your ‘typical’ escape room experience, but since most of us are big fans of the immersive, anything with Layered Reality’s name stamped on it is well worth checking out. Layered Reality experiences differ from other immersive theatre as your experience is guided by a series of actors around an environment and the story plays out around you as mostly-passive viewers. But unlike regular theatre, you’re thoroughly in the thick of it. Take care to notice all the little details and interact wherever you can. You won’t regret it.

But how did their newest immersive experience, Gunpowder Plot fare? In this joint review between Georgie, Mairi and Karen we’ll pick apart what worked, and what might not have worked so well, and who we recommend this for.

Let’s Dive into the Past…

 

Mairi: If in doubt where Gunpowder Immersive is located, look out for the enormous Tower of London. Yep, that one! This experience is located quite literally underneath, and accessible via a well-signed doorway near the All Hallows by the Tower church. It’s conveniently located right near a train station, many bus stops, and plenty of other iconic tourist attractions, cementing itself squarely on the “must see” list if you’re a tourist visiting London who also wants to sample some of the local history.

Georgie: From the moment we walked in, Gunpowder Plot felt immersive – we made our way down some stairs into the start of the vaults, where we were offered lockers and guided to the dungeon-esque themed bar. Once our group was called we were led to the ‘briefing room’, which is where the experience begins. Our host launched into a partially themed- partially factual briefing about who we were, where we were, and what to expect. She did a fantastic job of separating the initial, ‘admin’ information from the more dramatic introduction. This introduction really set the scene for the experience to come, and even as someone who knows the history fairly well, I learned some new facts about the context of the plot, and some of the reasoning behind it.

 

Remember, Remember…

Georgie: We were then guided through the experience by ‘the wick of rebellion’, which is in fact a firey-themed light that surrounds the doors to move through. Helpful to know where to go and this fitted really well with the theme in the dimly lit corridors!

From the first room, it is obvious what is meant by ‘immersive theatre’ – we found ourselves in the cells of the tower, meeting a prisoner and hearing his tale. He told his story through words, action, and the environment. Although you are not expected to be particularly active (which suited me well) and were largely there to observe.

This first room did an excellent job of laying out the story, why we were there and giving us a taste of how the rest of the experience would pan out. It was also a great introduction to the live actors, who were superb throughout. I will also say that despite all the many warnings we read in the waiver, there were no jump scares or unnecessary scare tactics, which I greatly appreciated!

Mairi: And what a story it is too! As we explored each environment in a larger group of around 12-20 people, the story of the Gunpowder Plot diverged a little from what I had expected, with brilliant consequences. We won’t go too much into the actual tale since there’s an element of choose-your-own adventure and some delightful moments of surprise, but we really enjoyed the story aspect of the experience. Characters flitted in and out of the experience and much later we’d be reunited by characters we thought we’d abandoned earlier.

 

…The 5th of November

Georgie: Throughout the experience the low lighting, small spaces and eerie soundtrack keep the sense of atmosphere and immersion. The actors did a great job of flawlessly handing over the narrative to subsequent characters, keeping the story moving and never leaving us alone for too long. The story was really engaging and fascinating as it developed, and they did a fantastic job of showing both sides of the story (and their rationale). The location itself is huge, with seemingly endless corridors and vaults to move through, with authentic sets and surprises round every corner.

Mairi: If the experience sounds large, I’d add that it is well paced! With a bar at the start, the end, and one right in the middle, the whole experience is broken up into ‘bitesized’ chunks. In particular, I loved the middle ‘rest’ area, a much needed break. Players were sorted into various tables made up of your own friends and family, and total strangers. We quickly realised there was no such thing as a stranger in this experience however, as we all jumped right into conversation, speculating about what would happen next and what had already been. With a plot this thick with backstabbing an intrigue, there’s a lot to mull over a pint (or two, if you have the time).

The Past meets The Future

Georgie: One of the features that sets this experience aside from others is the use of Virtual Reality (VR) technology. At 3 separate points we were asked to put on a VR headset to experience a facet of the story which would be hard to create otherwise, removing the headset to find the room somehow transformed or a new actor appeared. I have previously felt motion sick when using VR, but fortunately didn’t feel anything like that here, so I was able to full enjoy the experience.

The first two Virtual Reality segments are accompanied by a moving element, and again there were no fake scares, just excitement. The final experience allowed us to free roam a little more, although this wasn’t made clear so anyone not familiar with VR may not have known to do this. The VTs also featured an amazing performance by Tom Felton, who has proved what an incredible actor he was. In reality, and in the virtual space!

Mairi: Agree! Virtual Reality is something Layered Reality does really well! Unlike War of the Worlds Immersive however, I found there to be slightly more VR. Where Layered Reality’s first experience often creates more physical sets, like slides, or moments where you have to jump, due to the physical limitations of it’s location, Gunpowder Plot leans more into the VR. No bad thing – just a consideration! If any player struggles with VR, they can bypass these sections quite easily.

Finishing the Tale

Georgie: Just to jump back to the story, we’re going to attempt to talk about the ending without giving away too many spoilers, although given this story is over 400 years old I think you probably know what happens. The final room features the peak of the drama, followed by the final dramatic VR. From here we were guided to the exit, with a really excellent video explaining the factual and fictional aspects of the experience. I really enjoyed this little wrap up, and nod to the story.

Again, they did a great job of highlighting the contrasting moralities and beliefs at play, whilst mainting the elements of mystery we still don’t know about. There is a classic photo opportunity too, although this will cost you a little extra.

Mairi: One thing players may not be expecting however is that you are given a choice at one point in the game. I’m unsure how much this choice actually affects the ending – probably not at all since, well, we all know what happens. But convincing the rest of your team to make the ‘right’ choice will certainly ease your conscience, so you can emerge back into real life afterwards knowing that you did all you could.

“Poor old England to Overthrow”

Georgie: I had a great time, but there were a few small parts I didn’t like as much, which it’s worth being aware of ahead of time.

Firstly, there was little in the way of interaction – most of the time a character might ask you a simple yes or no question, or tell you something which you also immediately tell another character. It felt more like watching an (admittedly amazing) play than taking part ourselves. Where there was a decision, it definitely wasn’t unanimous and I think the cast could have done a better job of ensuring this was (something like raising hands, giving our group of strangers more than a minute to decide, or even just realising the signs for it not being unanimous). Even then, as Mairi mentions, I’m not convinced the decision had any bearing on the experience other than maybe a line or two spoken by an actor.

Mairi: Also, since this is The Escape Roomer, we have to mention the puzzles. There was also only one ‘puzzle’ in the whole experience so don’t go into this thinking it’ll be puzzly! Although, to be fair, that is one more puzzle than you’ll get in The War of the Worlds. For me, The War of the Worlds still takes the cake as my absolute favourite immersive experience in London, but Layered Reality have taken the same formula and done something slightly different to a different effect here.

Georgie: In terms of the VR, there could’ve been a bit more of a briefing about how to use it. For example, in the last area, you could move around – but none of us knew this fact and stayed rooted to the spot, potentially missing a part of the action.

Finally, Tom Felton’s performance was amazing, but all virtual. This wasn’t exactly surprising, knowing he’s currently appearing in a different play in the West End, but as he played such a key character it obviously presented a conundrum. Rather than subbing in a different actor and asking us to suspend our belief, we are instead presented with someone covering their face and using a speaker to broadcast Felton’s voice. Unfortunately, the effect was more of a robotic-cowboy-scarecrow rather than a heroic-villainous character, and it could have been handled better. It also got in the way of the final scene a little, which already felt fairly chaotic without this.

 

 

A Note on Accessibility

Mairi: If anyone has any hesitation on accessibility, Layered Reality have produced a full access guide here. Whilst the base experience doesn’t feel like it would be accessible to folks in a wheelchair for example, it’s worth noting they do offer special performances which are geared towards accessibility, such as the wheelchair performance. For any other requirements, they encourage players to reach out to them directly.

Mairi: There are a lot of stairs and small spaces to fit into, so a reasonable level of physicality is necessary. Most of the experience is dimly lit, with an atmospheric sound track. Most of the actors project well, although I admit I, as someone with hearing impairments, missed a few things I wouldn’t say this was necessarily essential. Given it was an extremely hot day, the rooms were nice and cool.

 

The Verdict

Mairi: Gunpowder Plot Immersive is a really unique experience. For me, it’s impossible not to compare it to The War of the Worlds which, I’ve said before and I’ll say again, is my favourite immersive experience in London. By contrast, Gunpowder Plot has a more mass-market appeal. From tourists wondering what Guy Fawkes night is all about, to locals who want to be immersed in history in an iconic building. It’s target audience is clear. Whilst that target audience might not necessarily be the overlap between escape room enthusiasts, I personally had a great time!

Georgie: Once I realized there would be no jump scares or unnecessary scares I was able to relax and enjoy myself. I had a really fun time – it was very immersive, did a fantastic job of bringing the characters and story to life, and was a very pleasant way to spend some time in a historic location. I’m not sure I would’ve felt the same had I paid the full price (around £70 per ticket), but then again I’m not sure what the average immersive theatre ticket goes for in London, and I imagine I enjoyed this more than I would enjoy them!

 

The Gunpowder Plot Immersive may be booked by heading to this website here.

From now until 30th September 2022, use code ESCAPE10 for £10 off your tickets!

36 Inch Penguin: The Society | Review

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

​The Crescent Suite never reopened.

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

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

​Can you help ?

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

 

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

Atmosphere

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

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

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

Down into the Bar

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

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

Hand Crafted and Theatrical

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

Extremescape: Lost Tomb | Review

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Duh de-duh dah…

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

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

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

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

 

Dah dah dah

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

 

The Verdict

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

 

Lost Tomb can be booked at Extremescape

E-Scape Rooms: Detention | Review

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E-Scape Rooms Detention Review | Your behaviour was unacceptable. Detention will teach you a lesson one way or another. It is up to you whether you stay here for the whole day or you can leave if you prove to be smart enough within the hour.

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

About once a week, Al, Ash, our friend Tasha and myself like to meet up to play an online escape room together. This far into (or should I say ‘past’ at this point) lockdown, we’ve played hundreds. One of our favourite companies is E-Scape, creators of the fantastic The Alp and Sword of Drakul. But, stepping away from their fantastical and horror themed genres of the other two games, Detention is far more grounded in reality. It is set in a school. Your mission: Escape detention!

 

Back to School

Ever have nightmares where you’re suddenly back in school and you haven’t done your homework, or you have an exam to complete with no revision, or you’re due to give a presentation in front of the whole school but you’ve misplaced your trousers? No? Just me? Haha. Well the escape room “Detention” is kinda like all my school-related anxiety dreams rolled into one. I’m locked in a room at school and it’s packed with puzzled themed around various school subjects: Science, Maths, English, History and so on. If I can’t escape in time, I’ll be trapped in there… Maybe forever!

The room unfolds in a very non-linear fashion and, being built in Telescape, meant that all of the four of us could click around to take a closer look at anything in any order. Whilst it’s just one large, limited space of a detention room complete with desks, chairs, and a large chalkboard up at the front, it’s anything but small. We found that there were a huge amount of puzzles to grapple with in the experience. It was one of those rooms that probably no single one of us engaged with and solved every single puzzle, but we worked together in tandem towards a collective goal, breaking off into teams of two to work collaboratively on one or the other.

 

 

As with many Telescape games, during the gameplay you can see your fellow puzzlers’ cursor marks to see what they’re working on. It works well, as there are a number of magnifying glasses dotted around the physical space so you know exactly what you can and can’t click into and at any time in the sidebar you can see where others are. So when Al or Ash say “hey come look at this”, the software makes it easy to jump right to them. To input a code, you have a box at the bottom of your screen at any time to type letters and numbers in. This often triggered something to happen in the game, such as adding an object to our inventory or opening a lock.

Of the puzzles I encountered myself, I enjoyed them a lot. There were some that involved periodic tables, maps of our solar system, strange symbols on the walls, flags of the world, a large skeleton, hacking into our teacher’s computer, and so on. I’d rate the room at around a ‘medium’ difficulty and I’d definitely be lying if I said we weren’t stuck at all. Quite the contrary, several puzzles took us many tries to complete and one or two clues, but we got there in the end… And most importantly, we had a lot of fun in the process.

One thing E-Scape Rooms does really well is it’s ability to create drama. Completing puzzles often resulted in short, animated cut scenes that swept around the room in dramatic fashion. Every game they’ve made so far has been 3D modelled and inserted into Telescape creatively. Quite literally, the team are creating rich environments out of thin air, and as a hobbyist 3D modeller I am here for it and I love it. I mean, have you seen how shiny the floor is in this room? So nicely modelled! I need them to hook me up with those cool textures.

 

 

The Verdict

Detention is your classic play-at-home escape room from E-Scape rooms and although it’s not as magical as the fantastic The Alp and Sword of Drakul, it holds its own in the genre as a fun space packed with enjoyable puzzles to solve collaboratively with friends. Since lockdown has ended, I still appreciate games like this being made and put on the market as a way to stay connected with friends who don’t live in the same city as me. Detention is a perfect game like that and would be excellent for friends, family or just about anyone to play together.

 

Detention can be booked by heading to E-Scape’s website here.

Micro Macro Crime City | Review

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Micro Macro Crime City Review | MicroMacro: Crime City includes 16 cases for you to solve. Each case includes a number of cards that ask you to find something on the map or uncover where someone has gone or otherwise reveal information relevant to a case. The city map serves as a map in time as well as space, so you’ll typically find people in multiple locations throughout the streets and buildings, and you need to piece together what happened, whether by going through the case card by card or by reading only the starting card in the case and trying to figure out everything that happened for yourself. Will you be able to answer all questions about the case without fail?

Completion Time: ~4 months
Date Played: Early 2022
Party Size: 1 – 3
Difficulty: Easy – Medium

Micro Macro Crime City is, dare I say it, one of the best things I own. It takes pride of place on my board game shelf, I have been playing it non-stop since I received it as a Christmas present in 2021, and it’s the first game I whip out when friends come round for board game night. Sadly, several months later I have now completed the game. The rest of 2022 is looking bleak and crimeless and I’m already wondering what I’ll do with my life post-Micro Macro.

All jokes aside, it’s a fantastic game and I couldn’t wait to flip over the very final card in the very final mission to be able to say I completed the whole thing. It really took me back to days as a kid where my parents would be at fancy dinner parties and I’d be hiding in a corner somewhere with a copy of Where’s Wally. I haven’t felt that kind of joy since becoming an adult.

*sheds a tear*

 

Image (c) Micro Macro

 

About Micro Macro Crime City

So why are we reviewing the game on The Escape Roomer? True, it’s not really an escape room. But it is a deductive detective game absolutely packed with puzzles and we review plenty of those.

The general flow of Micro Macro Crime City is as follows, you open up a case and read the first card in that case. It has a picture of a crime and a short description of what the crime is, for example a murder or a heist, or some other nefarious deed. Essentially, it tells you what you’re looking for and vaguely where to start, such as the Market Place or by the Pier. Once you’ve found what you’re looking for, you head to the next card in the deck and you flip that over to find your next question. For example, “where was the victim before they got killed” and then “who was the victim meeting” and so on and so on. Over the course of a number of cards you slowly retrace back in time and put together the pieces surrounding the case. If you prefer more of a challenge, the game suggests that players only read the first card and instead try to figure out the case for themselves.

Each case takes a comfortable amount of time to solve. The earliest in the game, rated 1 or 2 stars by the game’s internal difficulty rating, are easy and take just a few minutes. The most difficult (5 stars) could take 15 minutes and upwards. Towards the end of the game many of the cases take so many delightful twists and turns I found myself using coins and odd objects around my apartment to mark ‘places’ in the map where significant parts of the case occurred, just to keep track.

Because of the structure of individual cases, it’s very easy to pick up and put down – provided you have a large enough playing area of course (29.5 inches x 43 inches). For me, this made it such a fun past time. If I had a spare half an hour on a Sunday afternoon I’d put the kettle on, make a cup of tea, and play through a case or two. When friends came over I’d whip it out and suggest an earlier case. Even if I’d already played them I’d usually forgotten by that time and could play along again. The game is never too demanding, if you want to complete it in one session you could, or you can pace it out like I did over four whole months.

We’d recommend this game for a maximum of 3 players at a time, this is for a purely functional reason – when too many heads are pouring over the map it’s very easy to bump into one another or block each other’s light. The optimal number is probably 1, but I always prefer to play games with friends. It is also worth double-y mentioning that if the name weren’t a giveaway, the theme is definitely not suitable for children under a certain age. I’m not sure what that age is, I’ll let parents make that choice for themselves, but despite the cartoon characters there’s plenty of murder afoot in this city.

 

 

A Modern Where’s Wally Game

What is most impressive about this game is how it does so much with such a limited amount of materials. The only thing you receive is a large map and a number of cases. Thats it, the rest of the game is up to you. No dice, no turns, just you and your friends pouring over a map trying to spot tiny details. And yet it is so unbelievably fun! The artwork in particular is absolutely fantastic and unbelievably detailed. By now I’m sure I’ve spotted every detail, and yet even writing this review when I glance over the map beside me I notice something new.

Since the whole thing is in white line art, I’m impishly tempted to colour it in. Conversely, unlike many escape games this one is easily playable multiple times – you could keep yours pristine and sell or trade on once you’ve finished.

 

The Verdict

Again, I hate to sound like a broken drum but this game? You just can’t beat it. *ba dum dum tsk*

It’s the most fun I’ve had so far this year and sure, it’s only April, but I’m fairly sure Micro Macro Crime City is going down in my personal hall of fame. I never, ever want to get rid of the box and I’m already planning which of my friends I can buy copies for later in the year. It is worth every single penny. For sure, it was a Christmas gift, but going back to it there’s almost no price too high I would have played for this game and at it’s current retail price (~£20) it’s a steal for the amount of fun you’ll have.

Currently Micro Macro are working on new games including a kids version with a little less murdery undertones. The website also has a number of extra content to tide you over until new releases come out, which can be viewed here.

As a final note, I’ve decided to award this game the special The Escape Roomer Badge of Honour, awarded to games we thought were incredible. For it’s sheer innovation, puzzliness, and literal months worth of fun contained in such a small box, Micro Macro Crime City is something very special and I cannot recommend it enough.

 

If you want to purchase Micro Macro, you can head to their store here.

Hackers: Blood Over Baker Street | Review

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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!

 

The Verdict

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!

 

To book this experience, visit the Hackers Billericay website…
Hackers | Adventure Rooms – Escape Rooms – Mini Golf – Billericay, Essex

 

Hackers: The Tomb of the Wandering King | Review

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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.

 

The Tomb of the Wandering King can be booked by heading to Hackers’ website here.

Professor Puzzle: Curse of the Dark | Review

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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.

 

 

The Verdict

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.

A big round of applause from me!

Curse of the Dark can be purchased from major retailers, pre-order it here.