For fans of the weird, the wonderful, and the utterly immersive… Something exciting is coming in 2024. From the creators of The Locksmith’s Dream comes an announcement of a new experience: The Key of Dreams.
We sat down with the two creators, Ivan and Laura, a super-team of designers and creators to find out just what The Key of Dreams is, and what can players expect.
So, what is The Key of Dreams?
Laura: The Key of Dreams is a bit tricky to categorise – maybe we need to coin a new phrase for it. It shares some DNA with escape rooms, immersive dining experiences, Secret Cinema, Punchdrunk immersive theatre and experiences like Phantom Peak, but yet isn’t directly comparable with any of these. In the most basic form it is an overnight immersive and interactive experience with an unrivalled attention to detail and a feeling of consequence.
Ivan: As part of that, guests explore a 17th Century manor house in Wales, discovering secrets that are both real history of the place and parts of the stories we weave there. There are a range of puzzles to solve, from simple trails following paths of clues to unlock boxes, narrative told in snatches of letters, journals, artworks and objects to discovering the stories of the characters of the house through interacting with the actors. The actor to guest ratio is four to one, this combined with the length of the experience means that people develop strong opinions about the characters, their trustworthiness and motives.
There are a range of puzzles to solve, from simple trails following paths of clues to unlock boxes, narrative told in snatches of letters, journals, artworks and objects to discovering the stories of the characters of the house through interacting with the actors.
Laura: Hospitality is also a huge part of the experience for us. The twenty fours hours that the experience lasts comes with all the meals you’d expect – and more. There’s an arrival lunch, an afternoon tea, a banquet dinner with stories and mysteries woven through the dishes and after dinner nibbles served in the bar where you can relax with a cocktail to celebrate your excellent sleuthing. The following day, a hearty breakfast sets you up for the final investigations.
You’ve compared it to other immersive experiences – but what else sets The Key of Dreams apart?
Ivan: At its heart, the Key of Dreams is about connection.
These can be human connections with other guests, the actors or characters in the stories. Moments of realisation provide another spark of connection, whether it happens when a puzzle clicks satisfyingly into place; when a piece of music suddenly makes everything come together and make sense; when you realise who a character is and how they were involved with one of the stories you have followed; and the friendships made along the way with other guests.
Laura: We are huge fans of weird fiction and of role playing games like Call of Cthulhu. We love the depth of description and attention to detail that helps to make the deductions, and to help us feel truly immersed in the world. While we consider the word immersive to be overused, it really is what we are trying to create here. That for the twenty four hours you exist in the house, you are part of the strange, timeless place; the outside world seems distant and less real while you are there and you happily give yourself over to the dream-like quality of the experience.
Just sitting in an ancient house, in front of a roaring fire surrounded by the ghosts of history, is an experience that cannot be translated into another medium. When you weave ‘imagined’ history through that experience, the ghosts of the real people with the imagined, factual events with the phantasmagorical, then it becomes truly extraordinary.
Meet The Collector
What was the design process like for creating an experience like this?
Laura: Much of our design process revolves around the concept of ‘apophenia’ which it turns out is a much more recent and less commonly used word than anyone who knows us might expect! Apophenia is “the human tendency to see connections and patterns that are not really there”. But in our world of course they often are!
Ivan: We take all of the details we have, historical facts, characters, places in and near the house, objects, sounds, colours, flavours and smells and then create links between them. Attention to detail is a big deal. When attending our events, we want the suspension of disbelief to happen naturally, to slowly creep over you, like the dawning realisation that comes over a character in a Lovecraft story. You won’t find any bits of paper with roleplay effects, you won’t be told how you are feeling, and you won’t be expected to believe anything is something other than it appears to be. But if we’ve done our job right, you’ll find yourself muttering over scraps of paper in a corner lit by lantern-light, pointing at some feature of the craved wall, or telling a character your deepest fear (even though you strongly suspect that by doing so you may be imperilling your mortal soul).
Laura: When we write, we become pretty deeply immersed in everything ourselves and I’m not sure how good it is for our own sanity! But apophenia works! We recently had a guest message us to say that he was convinced that we’d hidden a secret message in our website and he’d been scouring it for hours to try and work it out! And of course – he may be right…
Ivan: There’s actually a quote I love from the Sherlock Holmes reimagining Elementary that sums it up this part of the design and the experience perfectly:
“It has its cost, learning to see the puzzle in everything. They’re everywhere. Once you start looking, it’s impossible to stop. It just so happens that people, with all the deceits and illusions that inform everything they do, tend to be the most fascinating puzzles of all.”
The staircases inside the Key of Dreams
Connections between people (and things) is at the centre of this experience, could you talk more about how The Key of Dreams brings people together?
Laura: We say that our events have no ‘right way’ to experience them and it really is true. For previous events we have run, we’ve had people turn up in character and hold their role all weekend in how they interacted with the actors and other guests. We had people come along with their partner or family members who knew nothing about the experience that they were coming to, we had escape room folks who came and sped off around the house following clues, interrogating the characters and solving puzzles, and everyone loved it.
Laura: Creating an experience like this can be a bit overwhelming, by design there is far more than people can experience in one sitting. We make sure there is plenty of story to follow and we try very hard to ensure that there isn’t just one way to solve each problem. For instance, when writing trail clues, we usually have three ways to solve them: there is the ‘I’m a fan of the stories’ who has the knowledge, the ‘I’ll put in the legwork’ who can go and discover the answer from a specific place in the house and the ‘I’m a researcher’ who can find the answer in the commonplace book that they are given on entry in to the house.
Ivan: In a roleplaying game, whether of the tabletop or live action variety, if someone isn’t in character when they should be they break the social contract which makes the game less enjoyable for the other participants. We want to *invite* our guests to play a role when interacting with the actors, to believe in the stories and events, but on their own terms and at their own pace. As they get deeper into the stories and the experience it becomes easier, and all the more delightful to unexpectedly find yourself trading dark secrets with a denizen of the house, or making a connection that makes complete sense within the dream-like logic of the house.
Laura: As someone who suffers with anxiety and can easily become overwhelmed, the experience is designed to include the opportunity to be in a quiet space while still being near the flow of the action. We have puzzles in the bar and in the quiet sitting room, which develop the story, but also help people just to take some time to reset. Additionally, building in some structured activities like a house tour, or dance class with the actors, is a great way for people to learn more about the lore without feeling awkward about approaching people.
The Key of Dreams is set in the past, how does technology factor into the experience?
Ivan: While we don’t force people to have to accept that they are experiencing time travel, the house is itself out of step with the real world, even more so at night. Because of the 1920s vibe that the place has, we aim for the experience to be as diegetic as possible, from music to objects and the technology/science elements. We don’t want people to be wondering how they should be reacting to something, a speaker behind a picture might be able to play atmospheric music, but from the context it isn’t clear how you should respond to it, pretend it isn’t there, or consider who and why it was placed there.
Ivan: Our aim is for the technology to always be in service to the experience and the story, so that they contribute to that little moment of delight that the guest will remember and tell their friends about. We have some utterly delightful embedded technology planned for the Key of Dreams, which should really give a sense of magic. We aren’t ready to reveal our secrets at this time, But we have been dabbling with psychometry and spirit photography!
One of the rooms in The Key of Dreams
Finally, what do you hope people will take away from their experience at The Key of Dreams?
Ivan: A sense of magic and wonder. To be drawn into a world both familiar and unfamiliar in an extraordinary place. To have stories to tell about the little moment of delight. There are physical mementoes of course as well, from the ‘Commonplace book’ crammed with clues, and diversions that each guest will get, to other ephemera that they will get to take away.
Laura: The world we live in can be a hard one; it can be relentless and unforgiving. There is a joy to be found in letting go of that for a day, exploring a strange and mystical place, even if you’re interacting with some sinister beings and unravelling some unpleasant stories. There is a special quality to a shared experience, whether that is dining with fellow investigators, exploring a house, uncovering secrets, and plotting with (or against). There is a Lovecraft quote which captures our hopes that our guests will,
“clothe life in embroidered robes of myth and look through the ivory gates into that world of wonder which was ours before we were wise and unhappy.”
Laura: We love our growing community of cultists, investigators and enthusiasts! Your readers should have a peek at The Key of Dreams website, and if it appeals can sign-up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook or Instagram. We also have a blog on our site, which is where I get to talk about my passion for literature and we’ll talk more about the design or inspirations as they arise.
Laura: Our website has information about what you can expect and about the house and how to book. There is also a section on ‘Investigations’ that is currently rather heavily redacted which will fill up over time with teasers and snippets of lore about the world (prize for the reader that creates the best red string diagram!). Over the next few months there will be more information about the characters, societies of interest and objects of curiosity appearing – so do check back. The best way to keep up to date with everything is to come and join our mailing list. That is where the date announcements, competitions and early access to new details will be in the newsletters.
How to book The Key of Dreams?
The first two events have been announced, and will be on the 27th and 30th of April 2024.
Discount for The Escape Roomer readers! As a special treat for The Escape Roomer fans you can get a 10% Discount for all April tickets until the end of October. Just use the code APOPHENIA when you check out.
You can also book a deposit for a future 2024 event and get a 10% discount early-bird discount as well.
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
It’s not theatre, or cinema. It’s not an escape room, theme park ride or VR game. Yes, there are pyrotechnics, projections, holograms and special effects. But this is quite different to an arena show (there are only 8-12 tickets per performance). As London’s multi-award winning, top-rated “immersive night out,” this event combines them all.
Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive Experience
In an unassuming period building on Leadenhall Street, just a short walk from Bank Station and dwarfed by nearby skyscrapers, a whole new world can be discovered. This building houses Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Immersive Experience, but until you stick your head through the door and notice the enormous Martian towering over the bar, you’d never have believed it!
This live immersive experience has been in London since 2019 but thanks to the pandemic (an event not too dissimilar from the death and destruction the story itself tells), it’s been shut for most of 2020 and 2021. The moment tickets came back on sale, we re-downloaded the album and started getting ready for our very own Martian adventure.
What to Expect at War of the Worlds Immersive
There’s no denying that Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive is a huge experience, and bookers should be prepared to have their socks blown off over the course of the 2 hour event.
For starters, there are 24 unique scenes. Typically when reviewing escape room experiences, we mention how many unique spaces, or ‘rooms’ there are in an experience. I didn’t think I could be any more impressed after 221B’s five spaces, but The War of the World’s Immersive Experience has 24 unique spaces in it.
Players are guided through each of these 24 scenes, scattered through time and space, to tell the story of the Martian invasion of Earth. You’ll find yourself running through trenches with huge robots up above, slipping down slides, scampering across rickety bridges, entering VR areas such as on a boat or up in a hot air balloon. This thing is huge.
Of all the areas, the VR sequences were definitely some of the most impressive and they worked well to transport players from one area into another seamlessly. For example, at one point you sit down in a boat, don your headset, and off the boat gentle sails through London. By the time you emerge at the other end of this VR sequence (a bit wet and rather terrified), a clever lighting change gives the impression of being in an entirely different location. Quite clever, really!
According to the creators (Layered Reality) populating the immersive world they’ve created are 17 live actors too. These actors dip and out of your experience, setting the scene and guiding you along the way.
On the day we attended, it was this particular batch of actor’s final show day – and it was a lovely (albeit unexpected) treat to be joined by the bar after our experience by the actors themselves, who were absolutely fantastic.
Our Experience of the Apocalypse
Currently, you can only book The War of the World’s Immersive Experience in a team size that’s a multiple of 2 – so 2, or 4, or 6 etc. We went as a team of 4 on a quiet Sunday evening and were 8 other players for the show.
The show sizes are small and intimate, and it felt like the team had gone to good lengths to ensure everyone’s safety… Especially in light of the global pandemic. Masks were worn at all times and there were plenty of places along the experience to sanitise your hands, as well as regular cleaning of the equipment inbetween every group.
We weren’t sure what to expect, but what few expectations we did have were totally blown out of the water. Equal parts terrifying, and tense and thrilling, the experience jumped from scene to scene to scene in a fast paced retelling of the War of the Worlds. The story has been lovingly recreated by the Layered Reality team and stunned us from start to finish. Even now, days later, I’m still thinking about it and remembering some small detail in one of their amazingly intricately designed sets.
Was it fun? Oh yes, absolutely! It was incredible.
Was it worth the price? Well, this part is a little bit trickier to answer. The website says tickets start at £40, but we were unable to find any session in the next few months for less than £70 per person. This likely due to Christmas, and peak times – but we can’t help but compare it to escape rooms! This comes in at around double the cost of an average escape room. At this price point, it’s still absolutely worth it. So far, so good, except the experience is definitely geared towards making you spend even more. With two bars on-site that you are required to spend time in, and your team photo costing an extra £12, this puts the price more on the £100 per person range. Slightly cost prohibitive, but they have gone above and beyond making it worth the price. The verdict? Definitely worth it!
…And yes, we definitely did order a drink before to calm our nerves, and a celebratory drink afterwards… Or two… Or three!
The Spirit of Man Bar & Restaurant
We’ve mentioned that there are two bars on this immersive adventure, and with both stocking a fantastic range of delicious cocktails, they’re well worth the trip! In the first, The Spirit of Man, customers are greeted by an enormous Martian towering over the tables pumping coloured steam into the dining area on a rotation times to the music.
The second bar is appropriately named The Red Weed Bar and is located at the 50% mark of your immersive experience. At this point, the Martians have truly taken over the world and those humans left are in hiding… Hiding in the sickly red world the Martians have created. Creepy!
Presently, the bar is offering it’s Christmas menu complete with themed food and cocktails. Whilst we were there we tried:
The Christmas Eve of War
A delicious concoction of: Dry vermouth, cointreau, disaronno, lemon juice & blackberry syrup. This comes in a martini-style glass and is decorated with blackberries and raspberries. This is one of their winter exclusive cocktails.
Available all year round, the Martiantini contains Vodka, melon liqueur, green apple liqueur, lime, sugar & cherries.
Not into cocktails? Fear not – both menus also sport a range of regular beers, wines, and non-alcoholic beverages too.
Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Immersive is like nothing else you can experience in London right now and I’m still humming along to the tunes and remembering small but delightful moments days later. My only real regret is not going in the first few months – oh why did I wait so long! *shakes fist at the global pandemic*
It’s a great experience for families, couples, or for a special occasion for that sci-fi fan in your life.
How soon is too soon before I can book another ticket, eh?
Tickets for Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive Experience can be purchased on their website here.
Wizards Against Lizards Review | You are invited to join the Wizards Against Lizards Remote Intelligence Agency. Teams of WALRIA agents are working together online to investigate, infiltrate and finally defeat the Annunaki Menace! You are welcome to join WALRIA as a passive observer but your team will require at least one active agent, as there are mysteries to be solved, and challenges to be met.
Date Played: 23rd August 2021 Number of Players: 13 Difficulty: Easy Time Taken: 1hr 45 minutes
I absolutely love finishing an immersive experience and thinking “Woah, what the heck was that?!”
You know the ones I mean… Those once in a lifetime experiences that are met with blank expressions from your friends after you confusingly try to explain them the following day.
“Well err, you know how so many world leaders are actually Lizards hell bent on human suffering, well last Saturday I teamed up with some Wizards on Zoom and we basically infiltrated the Lizard HQ and…”
Okay so maybe it’s better I let the trailer do the talking:
I couldn’t wait to play the cult classic Wizards Against Lizards after picking up a Play Pass at RECON 2021. As part of the fun of the annual Room Escape Convention, there’s an optional Play Pass upgrade which gives you access to a number of live escape room events. Honestly, it was worth it for Wizards Against Lizards alone and I’ve still got heaps more games to play on the Play Pass!
Absurdist, Surreal, Immersive Theatre… On Zoom!
How to describe Wizards Against Lizards? It’s totally bizarre. In a good way. For sure it’s not your typical escape room game, but in amongst the conspiracy theory fun are plenty of puzzles to keep you on your toes. There’s also one theatrical sequence that is very close to an escape room at heart, making it a pretty well balanced game for all audiences.
The story goes that you join the ancient secret wizard organisation WALRIA (Wizards Against Lizards Remote Intelligence Agency) to go up against an equally ancient, but very evil lizard enemy: The Annunaki! Since you yourself are not a wizard (awwww), you’re able to successfully go where wizards cannot and infiltrate their top secret organisation. The first plan of order, pitch a brilliant business idea to one of the lizard leaders and get them on your side. Once you’re in, stop the sacrifice!
Sounds simple? Well, not so fast. Our team ended up with a little more danger than we bargained for – but a no less hilarious and fantastic experience nonetheless.
How to Stop the Lizard People
To stop the lizard people, you have three easy tasks:
Complete your training
Infiltrate the lizards
Stop the sacrifice!
In terms of how the game plays out, it’s all drive via a series of actors (shout out to our host Leanne) on Zoom. The game requires a lot of active audience participation – so many not be the best for a smaller team who prefer to keep quiet. Have at least one person on the team who loves improvising, or some Dutch Courage to help. You never know when being able to talk yourself out of a stick situation with the lizards will come in handy!
In terms of puzzles, hardcore enthusiasts probably won’t be challenged by the game. There are a few very puzzle-y moments in the story but they’re there to serve the narrative and won’t take too long to crack. With the exception of one part that felt very close to a remote avatar escape room, largely players can expect to scour documents and read source material in search of clues.
I particularly enjoyed the moment where we took to Google Maps to discover something new. There’s also one meaty logic puzzle that our sub-team didn’t quite crack in time, but overall nothing too challenging!
The real Fun Factor to Wizards Against Lizards isn’t the puzzles, but it’s those moments of brilliant improvisation and how the actors react to what you say! Early in the game your team needs to come up with a suitably lizard-y pitch to get you in their good books. We got to think of the worst possible business idea, create a presentation, and then pitch it on the fly. Hilarious!
Wizards Against Lizards is such a hidden gem and an all round hit escape room experience that’ll go down as a cult classic for sure. What started as a real life adventure played in and around the UK can now be played online via Zoom and the world is a lot better off for it.
It plays on pop culture with just a dash of light-hearted conspiracy theory to create a surreal romp around the lizard world, hosted by several fantastic wizards (and one sinister lizard).
We’ve decided to award it the Badge of Honour (right) for ticking so many boxes and is an absolute “must play” while you still can!
A past betrayal. A sunken fortune. And one moment that changes everything. Tickets for Swamp Motel’s new immersive experience “The Drop” are set to go live September 24th at 10am.
Following on from the success of the Isklander Trilogy (an online multiplayer mystery made of three hour long specials including Plymouth Point, The Mermaid’s Tongue, and Kindling Hour), Swamp Motel have announced that this November will mark the start of a whole new immersive experience in the heart of London. The Drop is their most ambitious production to date and will blur the lines between fantasy and reality as teams of up to 4 explore a hidden world.
It’s an ambitious and elaborate production that explores the rich history and tale of tragedy surrounding one of the world’s most famous texts, The Great Omar. Like all our work, audiences will be right at the centre of the story, a story we hope will leave them questioning what was real and what wasn’t long after they leave.
Creators Clem Garritty and Ollie Jones
The story goes that in 1912 two London bookbinders created a luxurious jewelled binding for “The Great Omar”. It was shipped off to a buyer in New York but suffered a great tragedy aboard the HMS Titanic along the way, sinking to a watery grave. Until now, the secrets disappeared with it.
Not much more is known about what players can expect in The Drop except that it is based on a tale of The Great Omar. One thing is for sure, we can expect the unexpected!
Tickets for The Drop will go on sales at 10am on Friday 24th September 2021. The show will run from November 13 to December 31. Prices will start at £39.95 per person. Each experience will last 40 minutes for teams between 2 – 4.
The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg Review | In the unlikely event something goes awry, you’d probably be embroiled in a comedy conspiracy across the town and its websites, cooperating with your group in live games, puzzles, and challenges and maybe even saving the world.
Date Played: 9th September 2021 Number of Players: 3 Difficulty: Easy Time Taken: 1hr 30min
On a quiet, rainy Thursday evening here in the UK our team (consisting of Alice, Nick and Mairi) all logged in to our virtual tour of the small town of Little Sodaburg. Little Sodaburg is a relaxed seaside town, home to a beautiful castle ruin, a great river, and the factory of the universe’s most popular soda drink (that’s fizzy pop to us Brits).
In this self-described Choose-Your-Own-Advent-Tour, we could explore any part of the town we wanted, hosted by our enigmatic Sodaburg tour guide (Jessica Lachenal). So off we ventured, fully expecting to enjoy a fun hour long walk around the town then return home in time for tea. What could possibly go wrong?
The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg
Little Sodaburg was founded in the late 1300s and prides itself in it’s town slogan of “The Town With the Effervescent Essence“. This reputation comes from the largest employer in the area: Wahoo Fizz! The factory sits proudly in the North East of the town, truly putting this whole area on the map! Folks just can’t get enough of Wahoo Fizz!
Little Sodaburg also famous for having a very small, cute and fluffy dog mayor, who got to wave at on our tour!
Hello there Little Arfarf! 👋
But hold on a moment. I hear you asking:
“This isn’t actually just a tour of the town, right?!“
No! This is a brand new at-home escape room experience from the geniuses at Meridian Adventure Co.
Time Travel is Fishy Business
Your true goal in The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg is to uncover a terrible secret about the town and if you can, reverse it and save the world. To help you, you have the power of time travel. Sounds strange. Bare with me on this one.
What begins as a lovely tour around a peaceful town quickly devolves into a web of fishy conspiracy spanning hundreds and thousands of years. We found ourselves plunged into an immersive, theatrical experience like no other! We raced through history to find clues and other details on a series of detailed web pages and interactive online elements, all whilst chatting to a cast of quirky characters including a cleaning robot and some fishy world leaders.
Beyond this, the less said about The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg the better. The experience is utterly wacky! We had no idea what to expect going in, and at every moment in the story no idea what could possibly happen next. To an extent… Whatever would happen next was up to us! It’s a Choose-Your-Own-Advent-Tour, remember!
On the one hand, for sure it’s a linear story with a neat beginning, middle and end. But considering, it felt very unscripted. If we’d suddenly done something unexpected, Sodaburg would have adapted around us. Perhaps its one of the best examples of interactive fiction (or at least, simulated so) in the at-home escape room industry today!
Getting Around Little Sodaburg
Let’s talk about the technology for a moment. To create this whirlwind adventure, Meridian Adventure Co have built a browser based digital interface and wow – it’s robust! The game offers inbuilt video chat, and each activity automatically adjusts to support the number of players (2-6, in case you were wondering).
There are a number of components to the gameplay. As well as your video chat, players have multiple text inputs, and the game provides a series of links all players must visit. At first I assumed these were just static links we all had to look at separately. However, as the game progresses it becomes apparent that these links we’re given are completely collaborative!
The whole feeling of the game, with it’s choose-your-own direction, interactive elements, and unique web pages had the feeling of an adventure played out on Roll20. There were realtime maps with characters moving around the screen, and clickable interfaces that sent items and keywords to one another via otherwise regular looking websites. The cherry on top? This game involves Time Travel. Revisiting a website which I’d assumed we didn’t even need anymore reverted it to a different era version of the site. What a fun Easter Egg!
For sure, if I’m putting my cynical hat on for a second, this is a Games Mastered game. There’s probably a little bit of smoke and magic going on behind the scenes that us players don’t see. But this experience was nothing if not utterly immersive and delightful at every turn.
Puzzler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg
In terms of puzzles and difficulty, we found The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg on the easier side. This works perfectly for a game like this however, giving players time to easily move through puzzle-roadblocks and get into the brilliant narrative and gameplay. In short, the puzzles serve the gameplay and are at a level accessible to all rather than being difficult for difficult’s sake.
Typically in our review we’d give a couple of notes about what sort of puzzles to expect, so you know to look out for in case of accessibility. But again, to admit any of the puzzles here would be spoiling the fun. So we’ll say this: expect to work together in your team. Expect to hack and dig through the internet. Expect interactivity at all times. But most importantly expect to really enjoy yourself.
The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg is easily one of the best games we’ve played. Period.
It’s hard to still be impressed this far into lockdown, hundreds of ‘at home escape games’ later… And yet every single element of Little Sodaburg was delightful and innovative. It’s funny, it’s light-hearted, and it’s packed with hidden details. There’s also a strong element of self awareness. For all the fun in the game, it leaves you with an important message about the global climate crisis too.
If you only play one more at home game ever again in your whole life, make sure it’s The Traveller’s Guide to Little Sodaburg.
Thanks for reading our The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg review. The game can be booked directly on their website here.
This weekend a new kind of immersive experience launches in London: A hybrid of escape rooms, board games, and team challenges – Monopoly Lifesized! Tickets are now on sale for the 14th August 2021 through to August 2022. But what exactly is this new board game pop-up?
What to Expect at Monopoly Lifesized
In Monopoly Lifesized, all the most-loved features of the classic Monopoly board have been translated into a huge 4D experience where players may complete challenges, build houses, charge rent, escape jail, pick up Chance cards, land on free parking,and even control London’s waterworks. The idea is simple: earn the most money for your team by completing escape room style challenges!
There are four lifesize board games to choose from:
🎲 Classic Board Game 🎲
The Classic Board and its challenges serve as an homage to Monopoly and the history of the properties available to purchase.
🌆 City Board Game 🌆
Take to the streets of modern day London and get a whistle stop tour of all that this wonderful city has to offer!
💰 Vault Board Game 💰
Know someone who always has to be the banker? Fairly sure they’re slipping themselves the odd M50 here and there? Maybe it’s time to bring them to the Vault Board to see how Mr Monopoly does it.
🧒 Junior Board Game 🧒
Designed for players aged 5 – 9. Come on down to Monopoly Town for fast-paced, family friendly, fun!
Monopoly: Own it all
As well as the immersive experience, the site near Tottenham Court Road will also be home to The Top Hat – a Monopoly themed bar and restaurant for players to enjoy before and after their game. The playful, art-deco restaurant plays homage to Monopoly’s origins in a fun way with a British twist, such as offering classic British dishes on the menu.
The cocktails too are themed around the Monopoly Universe, such as “The Whitehall”, inspired by Winston Churchill complete with it’s own smoking cigar, or the Euston Road cocktail where £2 from every purchase goes to support the NHS.
One thing is for sure, London in lockdown has been aching for something as exciting and fresh as Monopoly Lifesized and it’s sure to be a very hot ticket this summer – so get yours while you still can! 👇
Escape the Past Edinburgh The Anatomist Review | The year is 1829, and the City of Edinburgh is shaken after the grim discovery of the Burke and Hare murders. Demand for corpses to aid medical research remains high, and questions are starting to surface about how distinguished anatomist Dr Malcolm has been acquiring his bodies for dissection.
We’ve heard a whisper of a terrible incident occurring in Edinburgh’s old surgical district, and it’s up to us to infiltrate Dr. Malcolm’s study to find his journal and discover what is really going on. Time is short, his lecture in the nearby Surgeon’s Hall finishes in one hour and if the rumours are true, we don’t want to be caught sneaking around!
Rating: A must visit! Completion Time: 32 minutes Date Played: 3rd August 2021 Party Size: 5 Recommended For: Immersive experience seekers
Travel back in time…
Escape The Past have created an incredible game combining Edinburgh’s dark history with an exhilarating escape room. Our team of five were completely immersed in our surroundings, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that the room was designed by Chris Wood, an Edinburgh University History graduate and Zahra Chaudhri, a doctor. The attention to detail is seriously impressive and offers a full sensory experience, which is a rare find.
Plenty of hidden surprises await if you book The Anatomist. I’m sure our games master, Sophie, was relieved to hear the squeals emerging from the room were that of excitement rather than our team succumbing to the perils that lie within.
A 19th Century Crystal Maze
A few times during the game we commented that we’d stumbled upon a 19th Century Crystal Maze. The puzzles were a great mix of observation, riddles, cyphers, maths, and physical challenges, all of which used the props around us cleverly. They flowed seamlessly to slowly reveal the story, concluding with a brilliant finale. One of the puzzles was unavailable due to COVID restrictions, but an alternative way to solve it was offered and didn’t take away from our enjoyment at all.
Clues were available if requested by ringing a bell, but our team were on a roll and completed the game in 32 minutes and 13 seconds so we didn’t end up asking for any help. The team were extremely approachable though and would have provided instant support with some dark humour for good measure.
Whether you are new to escape rooms or a puzzle enthusiast, Escape the Past is a must visit. Immerse yourself in the history of Edinburgh and discover the secrets of Dr. Malcolm before it’s too late! We’re top of the leaderboard this month, so why not try take on the challenge and beat our time?!
In Art Heist, the obscenely-rich Harrington family invites you to an exhibition of their priceless art. Upset that his family hoards wealth, though, their youngest son, Charles, asks your party to steal a painting… Fearing detection, Charles leaves only a series of clues to help you find the right artwork. But you’re not alone! Charles has also convinced one of the staff to help you escape… Can you find the painting, steal it and flee the scene – all in 60 minutes?
Rating: Different! Completion Time: 45 minutes Date Played: 23rd June 2021 Party Size: 3 Recommended For: Families or a Party Game
Every Wednesday in my household is board game night. We’re not technically supposed to double book ourselves with anything on that day, but on this particular Wednesday my player two had invited a friend a friend over…
“No worries, we’ve got ourselves a 3rd player. That means it’s HEIST TIME!”
The Art Heist has been sitting on my shelf for an embarrassingly long time. But in my defence, it’s been a long lockdown and The Art Heist is definitely best played in a group setting. There’s a bit of set up required as you empty the box and follow instructions on each item: Pin this to a wall, put this on a door, put this item on a coffee table. If it’s your kinda thing, here’s me setting up our game over on TikTok:
Escape Room in Your Home
What Trapped does quite differently from most other ‘boxed escape room’ companies on the market is turn your space into an actual escape room. Ordinary items can become extraordinary within the context of the game and even the host can play too. Just pick a door, set the scene, and try to escape! It’s pretty cool, really.
On the back of each item in the box is a few lines of instruction, indicating where best to put it: “Place this on a wall” or “This goes on a windowsill or coffee table”. The rest is up to your imagination – but it helps to keep everything roughly in the same general place so your guests aren’t wildly searching through your cupboards to find the next clue.
I also reckon this game would be fantastic for a family setting. Got a group of kids in your house? Give them a name badge, an art collectors pamphlet, and let them figure it out for themselves. It’s wonderfully fun exploring and looking for hints, and leaves a lot to the imagination!
What I also love about this style of gameplay is that it fits so perfectly with the setting: An Art Gallery. The only rule? Don’t look too suspicious. It’s so easy to get lost in the immersion of the game, that you’re just an inconspicuous group of art collectors quietly perusing an art gallery before BOOM stolen painting and lets get the heck out of here.
…Well, that’s the idea anyway, though it didn’t completely go to plan. Why’s that?
“Alexa, play some heist music”
Cue Alexa to DROP THE BASS. Apparently searching for heist music via an Alexa device plays a hilarious medley of hardcore electronica music, but we thought to ourselves, “Hey, why not? Let’s roll with it.”
Combined with a couple of beers on an otherwise really quiet Wednesday afternoon, the whole experience was quite surreal! I couldn’t stop laughing, except to take this one ‘serious’ photo.
How to Play The Art Heist
There are two stages to The Art Heist:
First, you need to identify which painting you’ve been tasked to steal. No, no – Charles wouldn’t just tell you which painting to steal, that would be too easy. You’ve got to follow his trail of breadcrumbs and figure it out for yourself!
Second, you need to escape with the painting undetected. It’s a good job the painting is so small I could just slip it right into my pocket! Haha!
We may have missed something (I’ll blame the beer and confusing electronic music), but we spent around 90% of the time on Part A and only 10% of the time on Part B. There was also one item which I realised after packing up that we’d not used either…. Days later I still can’t figure out what it’s for, but perhaps we’re just that good of art thieves we didn’t need it.
If at any point you find yourselves needing a clue, the clue system is an absolute delight. Trapped provides a ‘clue book’ which, at first glance, looks like gobble-de-gook. By overlaying another object found in the box and lining up the numbers, a secret clue is revealed. It’s a really nice touch if you want to avoid spoiling the game for yourself!
So how did we steal the painting?
Not without help of course! The clues our handler Charles had left behind were tricky… But not too tricky! Nothing frustrating, and as a very casual play through we didn’t mind checking for a hint or two to keep us on the right track and having fun.
Puzzle solving veterans will probably immediately recognise certain puzzle types and be able to figure them out quickly, but new players will benefit from a hint or two I’m sure.
Overall, players can expect to encounter some folding puzzles, puzzles that involve finding details in blocks of text, puzzles that involve looking at things from a certain angle, some pretty cool maths puzzles, and so on. As you can probably tell, it wasn’t the most challenging game, but heck it was fun and I’m really glad I picked up a copy.
A fun and silly Wednesday afternoon’s worth of fun! Particularly great for a larger party of a family setting, but we had an excellent time over a crate of beer as a group of three non-puzzley 20 something year olds. It’s got great mass-market appeal and would be an awesome game to introduce to a group of friends not used to puzzle games.
I would say that the size makes it sit a little awkwardly on my board games shelf, but as a one-use game it’s already been packed up and sent to my co-writers here on The Escape Roomer and I can’t wait to hear what they thought of the game too.