Breakin’: War on Horizon Alpha | Review

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War on Horizon Alpha Review | With the expansion of the human race on other planets, an oppressive regime has risen to power and instated a dictatorship on the Colonial Republic, the dreaded Alpha One faction. You and your team are part of a rebel alliance trying to overthrow the regime and reinstate democracy. A massive assault will take place on the Horizon Alpha space station, serving as the Alpha One headquarters, which aims to destroy it, thus sparking a revolution on all planets. Your mission is to infiltrate the station and deactivate the shields in time so that the assault may be successful. Without the shields down, the entire offensive will become a suicide mission. Good luck, you are the galaxy’s only hope!

Date Played: June 2022
Time Taken: 55 minutes
Number of Players: 2
Difficulty: Medium

It’s official! I’ve now played every single escape room at Breakin’. Which is why I can safely say that War on Horizon Alpha is the most “meh”. Don’t get me wrong, I love a sci-fi theme. Even more love for a sci-fi theme that’s clearly inspired by Star Wars. But there was something about this one that didn’t just click for us. A little tired, a little broken, and more than a few puzzles that I’m still not sure I understand even now, weeks after playing. That’s okay, not every room is for every person. I preferred Wizarding School or Heist Plan, but you might prefer this one.

 

Never Underestimate a Droid

The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into War on Horizon Alpha is an enormous R2D2. Or should I call it the IP skirting D2R2? Haha. The second thing you’ll notice is a huge amount of buttons. War on Horizon Alpha is a single-room escape room so pretty much everything you’ll interact with is right in front of you and it’s… A lot! There’s an enormous panel of buttons and screens and 99.9% of the buttons do absolutely nothing and there’s not much to indicate which are the ones you’ll need and which aren’t. Oh dear!

But, once the first hurdle of figuring out where to start (which we ended up spending our first clue on 10 minutes in), we were off to a flying start! As with most Breakin’ rooms, this one was fairly linear which suited our team of 2 quite well. We worked together on everything and progressed at a steady pace through the spaceship.

 

 

The cool thing about the room was the sci-fi vibe of it. It was a bit of a tight space but it was also clear a lot of care and attention to detail had gone into the set once upon a time, which by now is the good quality set design I expect from Breakin’. They know how to make a good atmosphere. Think neon glowing lights and blinking buttons and a fun musical track that ramped up in excitement as we headed towards the climax of the game.

We asked for a record breaking number of clues and many more of those clues either led to puzzles that were broken or things we found so illogical we had to be given the answers for them. We also wasted a good 20 or so of our minutes ‘solving’ a puzzle that was on full display but wouldn’t actually activate something until the very end of the game. So when we then got to the end we looked up at the camera like “we’ve already done this please don’t make us do it again“.

Once our GM had taken pity on us and given us the final answer, the game came to an abrupt halt and our host appeared to ask how we found it. We asked a million and one questions about all the things that didn’t make sense (there were a lot), had our photo taken, and were hurried out of the building without so much of a goodbye. It wasn’t the usual Breakin’ experience I’m used to, but everyone has an off day and every room loses it’s magic eventually.

 

 

The Verdict

Overall, not my favourite room. Lost points for puzzles and general wear and tear, but earns points for a fun sci-fi theme. I felt a little bad about it as we booked this room for my birthday and as one of the final rooms to play in London before moving out of the city. But as I say not every room will click with every team and that’s just the luck of the draw when you try a new room!

If you love Star Wars and sci-fi themes and a particular style of puzzle, you’ll probably love this. We’d loved everything else at Breakin’ so far, but this one was a miss for us. So if you do book this room, be sure to book a couple of others at Breakin’ at the same time to experience the full magic the company has to offer!

 

War on Horizon Alpha can be played by booking on Breakin’s website here.

Breakin’: The Flying Dutchman | Review

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

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

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

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

 

A Pirate’s Life for Me!

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

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

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

 

Pirate Puzzles

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

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

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

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

 

Team The Escape Roomer escapes!

 

The Verdict

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

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

 

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

Mazer Zone: Star Struck | Review

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image (c) Mazer Zone

 

Beam me up, Scotty!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image (c) Mazer Zone

 

An Escape Room Set on a Spaceship

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

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

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

 

The Verdict

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

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

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

 

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

ESC WELT: House of the Dragon | Review

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

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

 

Puzzle Box Joy

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

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

 

Handmade Heaven

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

But Where Do I Start?

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

 

Let It Flow

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

 

The Verdict?

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

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

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

 

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

Mystery Mansion Regina: The Detective’s Office (Point-and-Click) | Review

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The Detective’s Office (Point-and-Click) Review | In 1951, Private Investigator Rick Murphy was investigating a case involving a stolen priceless necklace. Suddenly, Rick vanished without a trace. Step into his office and uncover what happened to him.

Date Played: May 2022
Number of Players: 4
Time Taken: 41 minutes
Difficulty: Medium

Even though the world has pretty much returned back to ‘normal’ when it comes to going in person and playing physical escape rooms, I get a little excited when a company located somewhere all the way on the other side of the world releases a new digital escape game. Even better when it’s Mystery Mansion Regina (a company we already absolutely love), and a physical room that’s well-loved by enthusiasts in Canada. For that brief hour at my computer screen with Al, Ash and Tasha, we get to be transported into the physical location in Regina, ready to help crack an old cold case, a stolen necklace, and a vanished private investigator. I love it!

 

Photo (c) Mystery Mansion Regina

 

About The Detective’s Office

The Detectives Office is actually a prequel to another in-person game at Mystery Mansion Regina: The Adventurer’s Club, and is also based at their brick and mortar site in Regina. Usually for 6-8 players max, the online version is built with Telescape and allows you to host up to 10 players, or even more if you wanted to split across multiple play sessions. As with other Telescape games, the Detective’s Office has been faithfully recreated with a 360 degree camera meaning you can click around the explore the environment as if physically there.

Throughout the experience you’ll see the other players on your team moving around with their cursor. Or in our case, clicking frantically on everything. Which is a good note for this game – be sure to click on absolutely everything, as everything interactable is relevant! Also unlike the physical escape room, we had access to a folder titled “Investigation Resources” which we could check at any time. This contained all the objects we’d discovered so far on our investigation – old photographs, newspaper clippings, and scraps of paper with cryptic clues on them.

In terms of the physical space, it’s about what you’d expect from a 1950s detective’s office. It’s dimly lit, has a large ‘investigation board’ mounted on the wall, and is packed with vintage furniture like old lamps, typewriters and briefcases to be unlocked. As we explored further we discovered hidden hiding spots, false walls and plenty of locks hiding secrets inside drawers and boxes dotted around too. After all, this is not just a simple stolen necklace case anymore – it’s also a missing person case. So finding out everything we possibly could about the investigator himself was paramount to the success of our own investigation.

 

 

Can you Crack the Case?

Now, onto the puzzles! I really enjoyed playing the puzzles in The Detective’s Office. Creatively well themed to the environment and almost always involved searching and finding hidden details and secret spaces.

As a whole, the experience is anchored around the investigation board where you have a number of suspects and details about them. As the game progresses you add in more details about the suspects you find, pinning them to the board each time until a complete picture of the crime is formed. They’re a shifty looking bunch of people and one of them surely committed the crime. But who? That’s for you to find out!

I also enjoyed the wealth of locks we uncovered. No, no, this isn’t just your keys and padlocks – there were 3 and 4 digit codes, as well as push-pin padlocks, and fun turn left, turn right dials that clicked open satisfyingly when we completed them. When a lock did pop open, a small video of that action happening in real life played for all of us, providing a fun positive feedback loop of confirmation of our success. That’s a rather technical way of saying it was fun seeing our pre-recorded ‘Games Master’ performing the actions in our place! A nice touch to bring the room to life and remind you it’s a physical space.

 

 

The Verdict

The Detective’s Office is a fun little game that you can play digitally from anywhere in the world for a fraction of the price of the in-person physical room. We really enjoyed playing it – it’s high quality and enjoyable, something we expect from all Mystery Mansion Regina experiences by now. Furthermore, we also got this game at a discount cost as they were running a special promotional weekend for it, and so the value for money for us at least was absolutely exceptional.

I’d recommend The Detectives Office for anyone looking for an escape room to play from home. If you can get to the real, physical room, then why not? But if you can’t, this is a great second-best option for enthusiasts and regular players alike.

 

The Detective’s Office can be booked to play any time by heading to their website here.

Escape Room Geeks: The Gilded Carcanet | Review

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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.

 

Puzzle Selection

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!

 

 

The Verdict

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.

The Gilded Carcanet can be played by heading to Escape Room Geeks website here.

Lollipop: H-Division | Review

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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.

 

 

The Verdict

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.

For a similar vibe, we think you might also like Evans and Peel Detective Agency.

 

H-Division is located in Bethnal Green and can be booked by heading to their website here.

 

Extremescape: Viking | Review

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Extremescape: Viking Review | You have entered the Kingdom of the Viking Gods & you are sat in the House of Thor. In an attempt to prevent Thor’s succession to the throne of Asgard, Lowki, Thor’s menacing brother, has stolen & trapped Thor’s weapon in the golden rings of Aesir. The ice giants have got word of this, and they know Thor is helpless to protect the human race without his enchanted war-hammer. The giants are on their way, their mission to defeat Thor and destroy earth. You must find the Gods and return them to Asgard as they will help you in your quest. You must find the thunder hammer and put it in the sacred place to create a storm like no-one has seen before. You must release Thor’s Hammer from the golden rings and return it to Thrudheim where it belongs

 

Date Played: 24th March 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: ~50 Minutes
Difficulty: Medium

 

After a hearty lunch in the sunny countryside air, we returned feeling invigorated for our final game of the day. The Viking room is the most recent addition for Extremescape, and you can definitely tell in the step up from the previous two. It’s also so impressive, given just how much they’ve used the space!

 

Welcome to Valhalla

Walking into the room definitely feels like walking into a medieval feast hall, with a large wooden table and benches lined with furs. The whole room is within this single room, and it’s amazing just how much they manage to fit in. There are many hidden elements in this room, and I was surprised by almost all of them. It’s honestly amazing how seamlessly they’ve integrated quite large surprises into such a small space, and it’s clear they’ve paid just as much attention to set design and how it drives the story as the puzzles themselves. I also loved how Norse this room was – there was no Marvel cheese here, just good old-fashioned Vikings.

 

Watch out Loki

The puzzles in this room were just as subtle and intriguing as in the other rooms. Although we tackled them fairly linearly, there were enough clues to be finding that we didn’t feel chained together or hindered. The puzzles themselves were all fun to figure out, and definitely felt like Norse puzzles – most were centered around riddle-style/deduction puzzles, which are my personal favourite. We also had no idea what was coming next on more than one occasion, but this added to the excitement! It’s not often that you’re unsure what a puzzle will open, but this room handled it beautifully.

The finale stage itself was also spectacular and so unexpected. Extremescape have done an amazing job of incorporating effects into the room in a way that feels very natural and adds just the right amount of drama. They also introduce this ‘early’ enough that it really feels like a climax, but you have enough time (and gameplay) left to really enjoy it and make the most of it.

 

 

By Odin’s eye

The only negative I would say about this room is that it may not be the most accessible. There is a small step and low door into the room, and as the game play takes place within the room there isn’t a lot of space to manoeuver for a wheelchair user. There are plenty of spaces to sit, but there are puzzles and clues beneath knee level so at least one person will need to crawl. There is a minor physical element, so having at least one able-bodied teammate would be a good idea, as well as one point where someone will need to be within a slightly confined space.

For me, I found there were some sensory issues – there were points where the music was a bit too loud for my comfort, the light a little too dim, and room a little too warm. However, these are all minor issues that could be easily remedied (and in fact, they turned the volume down when I asked). If you have sensory issues I advise getting in touch ahead of time too.

In terms of puzzles, there were a few reliant on colour recognition, as well as being able to read something in slightly dim light.

 

Man the longboats

Overall we had a fantastic time, and the experience continued after we left the room. We spent quite a while talking to the owners and had plenty of cuddles with the resident dog (who is a rather large, but beautiful, Rottweiler-style boy).  It’s obvious the passion that has gone into these rooms, and it’s well worth the visit.

Viking can be booked by heading to the Extremescape website here

EXIT the Game: The Mysterious Museum | Review

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

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

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

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

But let’s get into why.

 

 

Puzzling at the Florence History Museum

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

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

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

 

 

How to solve EXIT the Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Verdict

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

 

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

Crux Club: Puzzle Rap Star | Review

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Puzzle Rap Star Review | Crank that beat up, grab the mic and show em’ whatcha got! Puzzle Rap Star is a new puzzle book that will challenge you to prove you got what it takes to level up in the rap game. To play, examine the images and text on each page then bend your mind to crack the codes. You’ll use what you learned to crush your competition in complex meta puzzle rap battles. 

Completion Time: ~4 hours
Date Played: May 2022
Party Size: 1
Difficulty: Medium

“Rapping” is not a theme I ever thought I’d encounter here at The Escape Roomer. In fact, I don’t know what category to place this in. It’s also not really a genre I would ever go for myself. For this article I tried to come up with some names of rappers in order to make rap-based-puns, but I got as far as “Eminem” then dismissed him as someone whose peak in the rap industry was a decade before I was born…

…All this to say, I know nothing about rap. But what I do know about is puzzles!

 

 

About the Puzzle Rap Star Book

What began as a Kickstarter by Jan-Luc of Crux Club earlier this year has now come to life in the form of a satisfyingly weighty puzzle book. That’s no joke on the ‘weightiness’, for this puzzle book contains well over sixty puzzles in it spread across six chapters.

The book has a compelling brightly coloured front cover, but is black and white inside. On the one hand, this is great for accessibility (not a colour-puzzle to be found), but on the other hand makes for grey-reading in an otherwise usually quite colourful genre.

At the start of the book you’re offered a QR code with music to listen along to. It’s just the one song with a general hip-hop beat that does help with some of the rhythm based puzzles, but not my cup of tea so I didn’t keep it on long. At the end of the book, you have your hints. This meant that (besides the QR code) the entire experience was self contained. This worked very well, meaning it’s exactly the sort of book you could bring with you on a long trip without internet connection.

 

 

Nothing Rhymes with Puzzle…

The story of the game is told through rhyming couplets- sorry, ‘rap song’. The first few times I encountered this, including in things like the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy, this was novel. Later the style felt more cringe and hard to follow along. For a medium (rap) designed to be spoken aloud, I’m unfamiliar with seeing it written down. Sure, I read poetry, but rap is spoken word, so be prepared to have to say things out loud before they make sense.

I would also say that the language in this book is very much for the American audience. For starters it’s set in Brooklyn, but just the cultural symbols of things like “tater tots” which we just don’t have over here. This proves a problem in a puzzle book as you’re never quite sure what is stylistic rap music language and what is an actual puzzle. Was “tater tot” some kind of cryptic clue I needed to solve? An anagram? A rhyme? Nope, just a processed potato based dish. Whoops! Who knew? Typos aside (for which there were a few I was sure were deliberate, like palendrome instead of palindrome), the language proved exhausting.

The language was a problem for sure, but it raises a bigger problem since most of the book was reliant on specifically slang from a very specific region and era of slang in Brooklyn. If I know one thing about slang it’s that it goes out of date fast. There’s just a few years between my brother and I and the slang we use is very different. I worry that in 5-10 years the sentences in this book I found difficult may become even more so, as they’re removed from the era they were formed in. Or maybe they’ll have a timeless confusion:

“baby-bat saw this bee when taking a spookie dookie. Gotta stay careful cause he couldn’t see, k?”

Whether ten years in the past, the future, or the present, I’m not sure I’ll ever understand that that phrase from the book means.

But linguistic quirks aside, the story follows you, a young rap star keen to make their name in the rap scene. Along the way you meet weird and wonderful characters like “Craz” and “Shotz Doc Menace” ** (whose name flipped between the spelling Shots and Shotz interchangably) and “Buttah Thug” who join you on your quest to find the mystical Book of Rhymes which is the holy grail of rap music – a list of perfect rhymes so that you may “spit good bars” (another amusing linguistic quirk I had to google and I’m sure I’m still misusing it).

Your journey goes through the stages from “Sick Flow”, to “Street Cred” through to “Top Player”, “Dope Hooks” and so on, as you climb the ranks in your own personal rags to riches story. All to culminate in a very sweet ending – one I literally said “Aww” out loud when I finally got to.

 

Puzzle Your Way to the Top

I’ve said all I can say about the problems of language in Puzzle Rap Star, but now onto the positives – the puzzles! Where this book really shines is in it’s puzzles.

Being set in the rap music world, there’s an abundance of language puzzles – as there should be. I’m a sucker for good ones that revolve around beats and rhythm, and this experience had buckets of them. But it wasn’t all language, there were spatial reasoning puzzles, logic grid puzzles, mathematical puzzles, creative ciphers, and even puzzles that involved some fun physical manipulation of the book. Each puzzle felt well balanced and fit in it’s respective universe. In short, it made sense why I was solving each puzzle, to what ends, and most importantly: it was fun!

With such a varied range, I never once found myself bored. The best thing about the format is how it’s possible to pick it up and put it down whenever you please with easy breaks in the form of puzzle chapters.

One of my favourite puzzles (and this is no surprise if you’re a regular reader) was the “Murdah Board”. Cringe spelling aside, this was your classic logic grid puzzle but was complex enough to be packing a few delightful surprises in it, and long enough to last one evening’s session as I sat cross legged on my sofa, pencil in hand, puzzling through the whodunnit.

 

 

The Verdict

Puzzle Rap Star is a puzzle book with a very niche theme, but the creators have managed to pull it off with an enjoyable puzzle game. As I say, it’s never a theme I would personally go for and I can’t imagine that the “escape room enthusiast” and “rap music enthusiast” Venn diagram is larger than a handful of people. Add in the hyper-specific “Brooklyn” rap world into the Venn diagram and your target audience is single figures.

But I commend the creator for doing something that had never been done before!

For me personally, sitting in my apartment on the other side of the world in London, UK with a google search history packed with bizarre slang terms, American cultural icons from the last few days, playing Puzzle Rap Star was… Really weird. I learnt a lot about the culture of rap music.

But the puzzles were a lot of fun. Like, a lot of fun! They were creative and delightful and there were some brilliant moments of “a-ha!”. In particular I loved the use of beats and rhythm. I would absolutely love to see the creators apply the same level of puzzle creativity to a different, more universally accessible theme. Which, apparently the have already with the “Mob Treasure” game I’m very, very much looking forward to.

As a final note, the book is currently available for purchase on Amazon US. Shipping to the UK incurs an additional VAT and Shipping Fee.

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