Enigmailed: Chocolateral Bars | Review

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A puzzle-wrapped chocolate bar through the post every month? An idyllic village, ravaged with nefarious mysteries? The chance to vote for future flavours and storylines?

It’s a world’s first, people!

Have you ever been sitting there, eating a bar of chocolate, wishing that your experience was a bit more puzzley? Are you like me and want to include puzzles into all aspects of your life… Especially chocolate consumption? Are you slightly more normal and just want to get a cool gift for that puzzle person in your life? Enigmailed have the answer to all these questions.

Okay so those examples are a little extreme, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that British company Enigmailed have been hard at work these past months creating several new experiences, including my very favourite of which: Chocolateral Bars. Put simply, chocolate bars which contain brilliant little puzzles on the packaging!

At the moment, they have the following chocolate bars on offer:

 

 

Both chocolate bars have a mystery to solve – a kind of murder mystery come detective drama. Your job in both is to read the clues and discover a WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and HOW the curious crime was committed. As one of my friends pointed out when I gifted them a bar, “I’m not sure eating chocolate called Fatal Experimint is a good idea”, but I can guarantee, several bars of chocolate later, that they are not poisonous. Just creatively named!

Neither mystery is going to take you any longer than the amount of time it takes to eat the chocolate bar, that’s for sure. But I think that’s part of the beauty of it, making this a fantastic gift for just about anyone in your life – puzzlers and non-puzzlers alike. It’s like playing a sudoku in the morning paper over your cuppa.

 

The Verdict

Honeycomb Sting

Flavour: Honeycomb Milk
Completion Time: 10 minutes
Date Played: 11th July 2021
Party Size: 1

Both taste and puzzle-wise, Honeycomb Sting was my favourite of the two, but that’s mostly personal preferences as I don’t really like mint all that much. In Honeycomb Sting, you’re introduced to the setting of a palace with a world famous beehive kept on the grounds – but wait, somebody has been stealing all the honey! Eek!

Thankfully, the culprit has left behind clues on the chocolate wrapper. From lightly highlighted letters to curious strings of digits, each separate puzzle points towards a different piece of information, such as the identify of the thief, or where they’ve hidden the honey.

The only question remains whether you’ll catch them before you finish the bar!

 

 

Fatal Experimint

Flavour: Mint Dark
Completion Time: 15 minutes
Date Played: 11th July 2021
Party Size: 1

The harder of the two, Fatal Experimint adds a little extra tension to the game – Dr. Spears, the dentist has been poisoned! But if you can successfully solve the game, you’ll be able to find an antidote to save his life. In this mini mystery, you’re looking to make an arrest, and fast!

The puzzles differ a lot between the two experiences, with Fatal Experimint utilising more numerical puzzles, and a couple of well known beloved ciphers with an Enigmailed twist. Since I played (and ate) this one second, the chocolate might be getting to my head and making it seem tricker, but I’d definitely rate this one as the more challenging of the two.

 

Excalibar’s Sword

Flavour: Eton Mess
Completion Time: 15 minutes
Date Played: 19th September 2021
Party Size: 1

This time, a priceless artefact believed to be the Sword in the Stone has been stolen! Once again it’s your job to figure out who thief is, why it was stolen, where it was last seen and what it is being disguised as. As with the other chocolate bars, there’s also a (very tricky) bonus puzzle, for those who want to go the extra mile: How many millions the sword is insured for!

By the time you’ve played the first two, you’ll get the gist of it by now – all over the packaging many small puzzles are hidden. In Excalibar’s Sword you’ll be looking for any letters that seem out of place, ciphers, and hints in plain sight… Among other things!

Of all the flavours (so far) Eton Mess absolutely has to be my favourite. I’m a huge fan of white chocolate and strawberry, so it’s a double thumbs up from me!

 

Toffear Apple

Flavour: Toffee Apple Milk Chocolate
Completion Time: 20 minutes
Date Played: 30th October 2021
Party Size: 1

This time, there’s mischief afoot at the Longstocking Orchard. Apple wielding ghosts? Or perhaps just a Halloween prank! It’s the player’s role to find out who is disguising themselves as a ghost, how they’re evading security, what their motive is and where they are hiding out.

As a Halloween special, it’s delightful! Of course, Toffear Apple is part of the Chocolateral subscription, but as someone who likes to give Halloween gifts this makes it the perfect treat to give out to guests and adult trick or treaters.

But of course, as with all Chocolateral bars, the puzzles are not particularly easy. No sir. I’m very well acquainted with Enigmailed’s hints page by now. But, since you’re always looking for a word (or a few words), players can expect a bounty of exactly that: word based puzzles! In Toffear Apple in particular I enjoyed turning of the bar over and over on the look out for ghosts, apples, and making the words out of the peculiar things on the paper. Spooky fun, and just what I needed to kick off a Halloween celebration!

 

 

Seasons Eatings

Flavour: Chilli Dark Chocolate
Completion time: approx 30 mins
Date Played: 21st November 2021
Party Size: 2

In this edition of Chocolateral, we’re getting festive! But don’t expect tidings of comfort and joy…at least not straight away. There is something afoot, as someone has snatched all of the snacks which had been left out for Santa and his helpers! As usual, it is up to you to peruse the clues hidden in the packaging to solve the seasonal mystery, and there is plenty to sink your teeth into (geddit?!). Yes, not only have you got to figure out who left their footprints in the snow, when they struck, what they’re doing with their bounty of festive treats and how they managed to evade being caught- you’ve also got the chance to go the extra mile (all the way to the north pole maybe?) to figure out which popstar paid for them in the first place!

Picture this: a chilly but clear Sunday afternoon in the lead up to Christmas, eating delicious chocolate, sipping on festive spiced punch and solving puzzles! What better way to get cosy and in the spirit for the next month’s worth of festivities (oh yes, we looove Christmas!). We really enjoyed the level of detail Enigmailed have gone into- the classic Christmassy red, green and white colour scheme; the seasonal imagery of crackers, santas and presents; and the puns- oh how we enjoy a good pun at the best of times, let alone when Christmas is involved. The puzzles are cleverly interspersed into the packaging as usual, which if you’ve played before you will have come to be quite familiar with. We found some of the puzzles quite quick to solve and others took a bit more thought, which we thought would make this a great little activity to do over Christmastime with the whole family- there’s enough to go around in terms of both puzzles and of course CHOCOLATE (if you don’t mind sharing!)

The chilli dark chocolate flavour of the chocolate was lovely; the chilli wasn’t overpowering but provided a nice warming which felt perfect for a Christmassy bar. And we loved the fact that as a dark chocolate bar this month, it is suitable for vegans, so everyone can get on the chocolatey puzzle solving bandwagon, just in time for Christmas! Seasons Eatings was a perfect festive puzzley treat for the lead up to the big day itself!

 

 

Valentine Brawl

Flavour: Plain Milk Chocolate
Completion time: approx 20 mins
Date Played: 6th February 2022
Party Size: 2

What’s the classic Valentine’s Day gift? Chocolate! But, what’s the perfect VDay gift for your escape enthusiast Valentine? Puzzle Chocolate! In this edition of Chocolateral, trouble is afoot at the village Jewellers, Emerald Aisle (yes, we loved that pun) as someone has robbed all their rings, depriving many happy couples of their VDay engagement plans!

While nibbling on our non-engagement related chocolatey Valentine’s treat, we had to figure out the classic W’s- Who, What, Where and Why, oh why, were the rings targeted?! Each time we play we are amazed by Enigmailed’s ability to squeeze in new and different types of puzzle into such a small space and following a consistent format. We enjoyed the variety of puzzles offered and found that each of us had ones that just seemed to click with us instantly. The matter of Why did stump us for a while and we decided to go for a quick look at their handy hint page to help us out with this one and work the puzzle backwards, but we got there in the end! We were also very pleased with ourselves as we also managed to solve the bonus puzzle to find out the name of the owner of the jewellers.

With Valentine Brawl, as with all the Chocolateral bars, we love the feeling that the chocolate is a reward for doing a good job puzzling and, of course, puns-a-plenty is always a bonus to enhance the puzzle solving fun further!

Whether you’re cupid reincarnate, or not so much of a fan of the mushy lovey dovey stuff, Valentine Brawl is a fun option to celebrate or take your mind off the season of love!

 

Simply the Zest!

Flavour: White Chocolate Lemon Meringue 
Completion time: approx 20 mins
Date Played: 12th April 2022
Party Size: 2

Dun, dun, dun! There’s been a murder, but who dunnit?! It’s the classic soap, a mysterious murder, a woman found dead in her high-rise apartment, the suspicious roast dinner… Hold on, a roast dinner!? We are glad that this did not feature in the chocolate bar flavouring.

Our of all of the bars in this subscription, this one was the most ‘story based’ of the Chocolateral series we have played so far, asking you to find out who has committed the crime, as well as tasking you with identifying those pesky red herrings (ahh yes, enthusiasts will recognise the struggles of red herrings as well!)

We got stuck into this bar quickly (the puzzles we mean…of course…) and found ourselves with 4 of the 5 puzzles solved relatively quickly. They were all logical and had strong sign-posting, something which always impresses us as Enigmailed managed to squeeze this so much onto such a small chocolate bar wrapper! 

The final, trickier puzzles left us scratching our heads though. We could not figure out the WHEN of our murder mystery. In this case, finding out the ‘when’ was the the bonus puzzle of this chocolate bar, so the answer is not on the website. So, dear readers, if anyone knows the WHEN – please do get in touch and let us know! We promise we will pay you in chocolate (if there is any left…) 

All in all, another great entry into the Chocolateral series, and we cannot wait to see what fantastical flavours and puzzles the creator dreams up next.

 

 

Fool’s Errand

Flavour: Banoffee Milk Chocolate
Completion time: approx 20 mins
Date Played: 4th April 2022
Party Size: 2

So, we definitely should have played this on April Fool’s Day – we missed a trick there! But alas, we sat down to see whether we would be made fools of, or whether we could work out who was clowning around trying to set up poor Uncle Fumble? We are currently playing the month-long puzzle offered by Enigmailed – also named “Fool’s Errand” – so it was felt apt to tackle this game to check our puzzling skills were ready to challenge the enigmatic “Leaderboard”! Also, after playing one of the more recent games, we realised we could have used our chocolate bar to complete one of the challenges…double Fool’s Errand (can we have a shout out on the leader board if we manage to link the puzzles?!)

We found this bar one of the more challenging ones. We couldn’t seem to click with the puzzles in the same way as some of the others. However, we think this may be a good way to showcase how different each of the bars manage to be. Some we find we can solve in ten minutes, others we keep coming back to over a series of days to see if we can finally get that a-ha moment (and steal a piece of chocolate as a reward hehe). In this way, you can savour the puzzles in the same way you can savour the chocolate (well, if you want to…).  There was one stand out puzzle on this bar though that we did click with (after the hype around a particular word based game which we play religiously every day) – it must be all that practice. It was a really clever way of translating the puzzle concept onto paper, and we appreciated the effort that had been made to showcase a new puzzle type. 

If you’ve not checked out the month long puzzle that Enigmailed are running, definitely pop onto their website! It’s a great way to get your puzzling in, whilst providing that competitive edge so many of us puzzlers enjoy. You can find lots of fun challenges, and plenty of ways to work up an appetite (although who needs to work up anything to eat a delicious banoffee flavoured treat – banana, toffee, chocolate…it’s a dream combo!).

 

 

Crime Caramel

Flavour: Creme Caramel Milk Chocolate
Completion time: approx 20 mins
Date Played: 7th May 2022
Party Size: 2

Uh oh! There’s been a robbery! Lizzy (very aptly named) has had her most fabulous lizards stolen, and it is up to you to find out the WHO, the WHEN, and the WHY. Oh, and to add to the mix, one of the lizards suffers from a skin condition, and you need to figure out which one so you can get the lotion to them ASAP (an excellent way of adding a bit of pressure). We went for a pic of our lovely pet here (any excuse to put in a pic of Tilly – she was not helpful in solving Lizzy’s predicament)

As we play more of Engimailed’s wonderful Chocolateral series, we are beginning to learn a bit about the different puzzling styles featured on the bars. We are getting better at seeing patterns, and playing these games regularly is definitely helping to give our puzzling skills ticking over. However, that definitely does not mean that we are now finding these easy – there was one puzzle in particular on this game that we found especially challenging – and brought a wonderful A-HA moment when we finally solved it. We clicked with this bar better than the previous one and managed to get through all the puzzles without looking for a hint (although, when we did go to check the answers, we got stumped trying to find those (wink wink!)). 

We were stoked to also manage to solve the extra challenge of finding out HOW MANY lizards were taken. It would be creme-inal not to mention the excellent pun use in this bar. We are so here for some fun word-play and always enjoy Enigmailed’s humorous blurbs and storylines. 

We shared this chocolate bar with Ash’s mum to spread the love (and also because we had recently ordered a huge amount of reduced Easter chocolate oops). We’ve had some excellent feedback from her on the taste “very creamy, very caramel, perfect for a sweet tooth” so I think we may have another Enigmailed fan on our hands! These bars would certainly make such a good gift for anyone you know who likes chocolate (and who doesn’t?!), and enjoys a bit of puzzling. 

 

Tilly Enjoying Crime Caramel Chocolateral

Sublime Crime

Flavour: Lime and Chilli Dark Chocolate
Completion time: approx 30 mins
Date Played: 25th June  2022
Party Size: 4

With this edition of Chocolateral, we had been tasked with solving a crime from a slightly different perspective… For once we know WHO the criminals are and we know WHAT they’ve done.

‘So… why are you here?’ I hear you ask. Well this time we’re on the case to work out a few of the finer details of the case. Two lovers on the run but caught at the first hurdle. But can we help track down the clues to work out what both the lovers’ jobs were, where they were hoping to escape to, what caused the police to get on their trail, what crucial mistake they made and last, but by no means least, what was their attempted getaway vehicle? Think Bonnie & Clyde (but with truffles) 

Given that we had all that to work out, we cracked on with nibbling away at the chocolate and the clues. We enjoyed the variety of puzzles yet again within this edition, particularly the cryptic combination of flags with what appeared to be binary code. Once again, Chocolateral gets you to think outside the chocolate box, with a few helpful nudges tucked away under the opening flaps to get you onto the right tracks. The mix of puzzles were perfect for the group of us with Alice’s parents solving it, as there was something that everyone excelled at, and all of us got the ‘A-HA’ moment for at least one puzzle each, which felt like a very fair share This was our first bar in a while which we didn’t need to check any hints for, so we were very proud of ourselves for clicking with this one so well.

And the flavour? Slightly warming, but not too spicy. A great mix of the fresh lime and warming chilli, which pairs perfectly with the richness of dark chocolate. As a dark bar, it’s also dairy-free so perfect for vegans and those less tolerant to the lactose. All in all a great bar once again!

 

Sea No Evil

Flavour: Sea Salt Milk Chocolate
Completion Time: 30 minutes
Date Played: 3rd December 2022
Party Size: 1

As with all Chocolateral bars, there’s drama and mystery afoot. This time, the peculiar case of a cage left overnight at the zoo and in it’s wake, not one but three missing monkeys. My mission was simple: Find the monkeys, find their stash of bananas, and find the name of the staff member who forgot to lock their cage the night before.

In typical Enigmailed fashion, I’d have my work cut out, and in typical me-fashion, I refused to let myself eat the chocolate until I’d cracked the codes. With my “zoo hat” on, it was time to get down to business. No time for monkeying around!

With Sea No Evil, the best tactic is to examine the bar front to back. Take stock of what you see and wait for the patterns to emerge. There are around four self-contained puzzles total. There’s also (I believe) a secret 5th puzzle which I didn’t solve. Within this boundary, plenty to discover. In particular there was one symbol-based puzzle that I definitely overthought, and so having an extra pair of eyes on hand in my case proved useful. I turned to my partner and said “what do you think?“, to which they spotted the solution immediately. It just goes to show… Chocolate is best shared!

Once past the symbol puzzle, the others varied in difficulty from “Got it!“, to “I know what this is and how to solve it I just need to do it“, to “Lets just have a cheeky clue or two“.

Finally, the flavour? Absolutely delicious! Sea salt is a personal favourite of mine and Enigmailed did not disappoint. It’s perfectly salty (perhaps slightly saltier than the average ‘sea salt milk chocolate’), but for fans of the flavour the balance between sweet and savoury beautifully hit the spot. I’ll be back to reorder this specific Chocolateral flavour in a heart-beat.

 

 

Fight for Your White

Flavour: White Chocolate
Completion Time: 30 minutes
Date Played: 3rd December 2022
Party Size: 1

What do you get when you cross delicious chocolates, tricky puzzles, with a cow-theme? A Chocolateral bar that’s absolutely packed with a-moo-sing cow puns!

Now, white chocolate isn’t usually my thing but I decided to pair it into a puzzling morning as I also took on my very favourite flavour: Sea Salt Milk Chocolate! All in all, a successful time cracking the codes of both games in one sitting. After successfully finding the monkeys, I turned my sights to another animal: The Cow. This time, an illegal rave took place in the old dairy barn in town. My mission was simple: Find out who organised it, what music they were playing, how did they keep an eye on the path, and where tickets were being sold.

On balance, Fight for your White was probably a slight bit harder than Sea No Evil, but they’re otherwise not totally comparable. Different puzzles, different styles, different taste of course. But in the same way as it’s salty counterpart, I relied on a second pair of eyes to crack some of the trickier codes here. Now, my regular Player 2 doesn’t usually engage with puzzle solving, he’s the bemused witness to the endless puzzle packages I receive in the post. However with Chocolateral comes the promise of chocolate once I correctly solve it – so he’s eager to hop in when I need help. More help means a larger share of the bar, right?

So puzzles aside, onto the taste. Again, perfection. The sustainably sourced cocoa is produced in Cornwall, so it hasn’t travelled far from my plate and retains all it’s delicious creaminess – fitting, for a bar of chocolate about cows!

 

 

About the Chocolate

The chocolate manufacturer is Kernow Chocolate, created and hand-packed in Cornwall, UK. If you need any evidence of all the love and care gone into creating this chocolate, just look at the list of ingredients! I’ve never seen a shorter ingredient list in my life – it’s all totally natural, not a chemical in sight.

Even without the puzzles, I already find myself browsing the manufacturer’s website to see what else they sell. It was that tasty, and I feel great about supporting a local UK business.

 

 

You can purchase a Chocolateral Bar over on Enigmailed’s website here, and also use the promocode MAIL10 for 10% off an order of Undeliverable!

 

Enigmailed: Puzzle Wrapping Paper | Review

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This is paper guaranteed to be recycled – as a seasonal puzzle game! What can you do for the loved one in your life who likes solving problems, adores a challenge, or even thinks they are the smartest in the room?

Completion Time: 1 – 2 hours
Date Played: November 2022
Party Size: 1
Difficulty: Moderate

Well, my first present is wrapped and waiting to be placed under the Christmas Tree. You know what that means? It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know Enigmailed is one of my favourite places for puzzles. From their individual games, wacky Kickstarter campaigns, to consistently fantastic Chocolateral series (puzzles, and chocolate? Um, yes please!). So, when I placed a large order before Christmas, I was surprised to find an extra goodie arrived in the package: A few sheets of wrapping paper.

In typical Enigmailed fashion, this is not ordinary wrapping paper. This wrapping paper is quite literally packed with puzzles. No, no, I don’t think you understand. Literally. Packed.

But with such excellent wrapping paper, I had to wrap equally excellent gifts up in it. So I suppose all those Chocolateral bars I’d just bought should probably now be sent off to friends instead of eating them all myself like a chocolate fiend… Ahh well!

 

 

Ho ho hope I can solve all these…

The first thing that struck me with each sheet of wrapping paper is how well the puzzles are laid out. Most wrapping papers print little pictures of snowmen or Christmas trees. This wrapping paper does as well, but hidden within each of those illustrations… A puzzle!

Some of the puzzles are spread out over multiple images hidden around and others are a little more self contained. For such a compact, A2 sheet of wrapping paper, there’s a lot of puzzle for your money. In fact, there are 12 puzzles to solve. They are:

  • The Hexagon Jigsaw
  • The Backwords
  • The Sphere String
  • The Buried Treasure
  • The Crossblock
  • The Net Maze
  • The Antlerbet
  • The Tree Gift
  • The Michael Bauble
  • The Star Crossed
  • The Holly Wood
  • The Poppers

Once solved, each of these puzzles gives a single word answer: A festive word, for a festive wrapping paper.

In terms of difficulty… Listen, I always find Enigmailed games err on the harder side. However, this wrapping paper broke that rule slightly in that I found each individual puzzle fairly straightforward to crack. A few easy wins, and a few which took longer to think through. I didn’t do them all in one go, but I did solve most of them solo – all in all, maybe an hour’s worth of puzzling? Maybe a little longer? It’s a ‘game’ best played dipping in and out of and tackling when you need a break from eating Mince Pies and playing Christmas music.

My favourite of the puzzles was probably “Buried Treasure” or “Poppers”, which were functionally similar to solve – and the two I attempted first! Several others ramp up in difficulty, but as you progress you’ll begin to see patterns and understand how the game flows.

 

 

Reuse & Regift this Puzzle Wrapping Paper

The second thing I was struck by is what good quality the wrapping paper is! It arrives neatly folded in a protective sleeve, and each sheet is A2 in size and 115gsm silk paper in quality. The colours are bright and poppy – even more so than I’ve been able to capture in these photos, making it a perfect paper to use with yellow or black ribbon. The first gift I tried to wrap with it (a large board game) the paper came in a little too small. I could have used two sheets, but then I pivoted to something more appropriately sized so I could use the one sheet per gift.

The wrapping paper comes in sheets say, rather than a whole roll, as you’ll need to use the entire sheet to solve the puzzles – some details might be hidden elsewhere on the sheet, so if you cut a sheet in half you risk it becoming unusable. For that reason, pick a gift that uses one sheet in it’s entirety for the best puzzling effect for your recipient!

Then of course, the best thing about this? It’s totally reusable. The paper is such good quality it’s unlikely it’ll tear between gifts, and after wrapping, it folds back down into a neat stack to be popped in a cupboard and used again next year. Whilst I’m giving my sheets away this year, wrapping up a set of lovely puzzley presents for friends… I’m quietly hoping those friends will save the paper and wrap their own gifts up in it next year too. Perhaps the sheets will make their way back to me by this time next year, who knows.

 

 

The Verdict

Given the Christmas theme of the puzzles, this wrapping paper is only really good for Christmas – but it’s incredibly good value. For at least one, if not two hours worth of puzzling fun for yourself and for your lucky recipient, it’s well worth elevating a fairly normal gift into something extraordinary. With your order, you receive 3 sheets of high quality, brilliantly reusable A2 wrapping paper. Christmas mornings won’t quite be the same again, not least of all because I’ll be instating the rule “all puzzles must be solved before you can open your gift”. So better get puzzling before you hit the Bucks Fizz this year.

All in all, I am so excited to give gifts wrapped up in this wrapping paper as gifts. In fact, I’m more excited for them to see the wrapping paper than unwrap what is inside. No wrapping paper has ever made me feel that way about gift giving, and honestly? I think this wrapping paper will be a regular feature of my gift giving for years to come.

I’d recommend buying the wrapping paper as part of the Chocmas Lucky Dip bundle presently priced at £19.50. In this bundle, you get:

  • Three sheets of wrapping paper in a protective sleeve
  • Three different puzzling bars
  • A handmade puzzle ornament for your tree

You can buy this, and more, by heading to Enigmailed’s website here.

Locked In: The Space Academy | Review

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The Space Academy Review:  You will be aware of the huge achievements of NASA. The lesser known Scottish project, SASA, has been under development for 2 years. Built at Port Edgar Marina from sheet metal and Scottish girders. SPACE CADETS form an orderly queue, we are ready to blast off on our first training mission. Will you be brave enough to volunteer?

Completion Time: 40 minutes
Date Played: 28th October 2022
Party Size: 3 + a dog
Difficulty: Medium

You’ve all heard of NASA, now get ready for SASA. The Scottish version! *distant bagpipes playing*

The Space Academy is the newest game from Edinburgh based escape room company, Locked In. Locally regarded as one of the best in Edinburgh, if not the whole of Scotland, any new room opening is big news – and none quite as big newsy as Locked In. So, when my family came up to visit me in Scotland for a weekend I couldn’t wait to book.

 

Pre-Space Flight Checks

Now, a note on context. I LOVED this room. But I went in expecting I might not. It’s important to understand why, and therefore why my ‘this is excellent’ rating is so warranted.

Despite Locked In’s popularity, I’ll admit I was a little hesitant to book anything at Locked In. Mid lockdown, we were visiting family in Edinburgh and had a booking in place for a different room. This was the time of masks and disinfectant and covid. Whilst I can’t now remember if we’d actually caught covid or not on our trip to Edinburgh, we suddenly felt very, very unwell. It’s always better to cancel if you’re feeling under the weather. The last thing you want is to cough all over an escape room. But (understandably) since we gave less than 24 hours, we weren’t able to move the booking or receive a refund. And honestly? I get it. It’s a rough situation for both the business and the customer. But, since we lost the money at a time when we really couldn’t afford to lose money (I’m looking at you, Global Pandemic), the whole thing always left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. I’ve since moved to Edinburgh and we’ve played many rooms, but because of the whole situation, the games at Locked In were no longer at the top of my list.

I realise this was a mistake however, from the first moment we stepped into the room. Locked In absolutely deserves it’s top title and balancing out the universe – I don’t mind paying twice to finally get a chance to come and play there. After all, a policy is a policy, and the customer support we received (especially when trying to book in with our dog) was impeccable. We were made to feel incredibly welcome at every step of the visit, and they went above and beyond to accommodate us. My only regret? Not booking sooner! Locked In is a must visit.

 

 

To Infinity & Beyond!

Now, onto the juicy part. The Space Academy is a fantastic room at Locked In. Located at the back of the Summerhall building (enter through the main entrance, go to the courtyard at the back, and head to the back right hand corner). There your Games Master, in our case the enigmatic Alex, comes to greet you at your booking time and take you to the room.

In The Space Academy, you are a team of intrepid space explorers learning the ropes at a new space shuttle. It is of course an exercise in learning, so your invigilators have left plenty of clues of what to do. But your goal is simple, get the spacecraft off the ground. You are sorted into different roles. I took on the role of the Commander, whilst my other two players took on the Engineer and Navigator role respectively. Our dog Shovell got to be the Commander’s assistant, but he was anything but assisting!

From here, the first ‘twist’ comes when you first enter the room – so I won’t spoil it. Instead I’ll just say that from the moment the doors close behind you, you’re in the game. Exciting!

And what a game it is! Unlike other escape rooms at Locked In, this one relies more on technology than physical locks. You emerge into a room that looks straight out of a film set in space, with a large wall covered in buttons and levers and strange screens. Scattered throughout the spaces are clipboards, locked boxes, and other tantalising machinery that you just know you’ve got to get into. It’s a feast for the eyes and the hands. Not to mention it’s a non-linear flow too, meaning past the intro puzzle, you can tackle things in any order you like.

 

 

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

In terms of gameplay, The Space Academy is all about teamwork. Seriously. We were able to book as a team of 3, not counting the dog, but realistically given the amount of content in there you’d want to play with at least 4 I reckon. For the puzzles that require four players (there are at least one!) your AI will help you override the missing person. But more than anything else, there’s a lot of puzzling to figure out. 4 heads are better than 3, or so the saying goes.

For much of the game, two halves of the same puzzle are split across different locations, so there’s also a strong element of teamwork needed there. We found ourselves passing objects and clipboards back and forth as we puzzled through, and splitting up across the space to solve things collaboratively. At some times you also need quick reflexes to perform actions at opposite ends of the spacecraft.

In terms of difficulty, we didn’t find the room to be too tricky. Between the three of us we’ve played a lot of escape rooms, and we were just shy of the leaderboard. I think had we not brought a dog along with us, we’d probably have done a lot better, but the dog needed plenty of cuddles to stop from barking. A dog friendly room yes, but perhaps our dog isn’t escape room friendly. He hadn’t the foggiest idea what was going on, but with so many fun flashing lights it was all so exciting.

 

 

The Verdict

Overall, I really enjoyed the room. I see now why Locked In has the reputation for being the best, or one of the best at least, in Edinburgh. We had a blast. And, after my family returned home from their holiday up to visit me in Scotland, they all agreed it was their favourite moment of the whole trip.

I’d recommend this game for pretty much everyone. Folks expecting locks and keys will be pleasantly surprised, and even escape room veterans will be delighted by some of the fun surprises in the game. Plus, the venue is dog friendly. Win, win.

A note on accessibility – apparently this room is wheelchair accessible, but between you and me I don’t see how. There is a strong element of climbing / physicality involved. There’s also several things which are high up, and a moment where you’d need to be able to move from a wheelchair into another seat quickly. I suppose it’s possible for someone with limited mobility to not take part in the climbing part and skip all those other bits, but they’d miss a lot of the game. As such I probably wouldn’t recommend it for someone with limited mobility, but as always – be sure to call the venue and check with them directly!

All in all, well deserving of it’s high rating, and a true hidden gem room.

A big shout out to our Games Master Alex for making us feel so welcome, and for Jackie for accommodating a last minute booking!

 

The Space Academy can be booked by heading to Locked In’s website here.

TED X Marriott: The Curiosity Room | Review

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The Curiosity Room London Review | Sparking curiosity from the start, guests embark on the adventure immediately upon entry to the room. The entire room is a puzzle box waiting to be solved. Puzzle elements have been seamlessly hidden within the décor; solving them all will lead guests to a grand finale and series of surprises and rewards. The puzzles have also been customized to the three destinations, featuring and celebrating local landmarks, culture, and more. Guests will uncover hidden messages, hunt for puzzle pieces, and experience elements of the room in unexpected and delightful ways. The room’s Curiosity Journal serves as the guide and connection to the one-of-a-kind in-room journey, with hints available in case guests need a helpful hand. When the final challenge has been completed, guests receive a certificate of completion and can celebrate with a complimentary dessert in the hotel’s restaurant.

Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: 2nd October 2022
Party Size: 6
Difficulty: Easy

As escape room enthusiasts we often travel to experience the escape room scene in other cities. Escape rooms and travel go hand in hand… So its surprising that no one had really capitalised on this until TED teamed up with Marriott Hotels to bring a unique escape room twist to their hotel rooms. “The Curiosity Room” is the first of these experiences, a collaboration of immersive experience and physical, in-person hotels and is popping up at the Marriott Hotels in San Francisco, Bangkok and right here in London. We couldn’t wait to try it!

Our First Impressions of the Curiosity Room

When we arrived it was very clearly the 5-star service you would expect from London Marriott Hotel County Hall. The staff were all very polite and welcoming, and once we entered the room it was so immaculate and beautiful. The initial starting point was immediately obvious, in a very tantalising way, so we were soon off searching the room for further clues and admiring the beauty within.

 

 

TED X Marriott on Puzzles

In terms of puzzles, those in The Curiosity Room were quite linear, but this worked fairly well given this is very much a self-guided room. Clues were given via a journal and a web page, which provided an increasing level scale of hints until finally giving the answer. We found many ‘wow’ moments throughout but often realized we had come to a puzzle too early, so put it back until that point arose.

For traditional escape room players, this was one of the slight negatives in the room. All escape room players know how to search for clues, but this proved detrimental here (despite the first puzzle requiring you to search), as often it meant jumping ahead, potentially confusing the story or ruining the surprise of a later puzzle.

That said, many of the puzzles themselves were actually quite unique and exciting to discover. There weren’t too many jumps in logic, and even as a team of experienced players we still found ourselves excited by many of the techniques used. It was certainly more puzzle-y than I had anticipated going in, which was a bonus! They clearly put a lot of thought and passion into these puzzles, which were all varied and interesting; mixing physical, hands-on puzzles with wordy brainteasers. The fact this room isn’t timed is also a nice touchs – we were able to slow down and really enjoy each puzzle together as a team. This will also appeal to families staying in the room, as many of the puzzles used physical elements to trigger/solve the puzzles.

 

A ‘Hotel’ly New Escape Room

In terms of the room itself, The Curiosity Room is first and foremost a room to stay in. It was beautifully decorated with a large mural of London (by artist Caleb Morris) on the wall, which was a nice touch to the theming and almost outshone the amazing view from the window. The use of space was really well thought out, although the puzzles were largely contained to the sleeping area. It may have been nice to see the puzzles extend to more of the physical space. But we understand the physical limitations.

On the other hand, we felt that although it’s called ‘The Curiosity Room’ there weren’t that many elements that played with this theme. There were a few books about London and one or two puzzles which might have been fun for younger players to figure out, but otherwise not too many things that taught us new things or sparked our curiosity about London itself.

 

A Note on Technical Issues

In our particular playthrough, there were some technical issues which stopped us for over an hour. Not the worst thing in the world, as we enjoyed the opportunity to simply relax on the very comfy beds and have a chat to each other while the staff fixed those issues. But in general, technical issues like the ones we experienced do hamper an escape room’s flow.

As we were amongst the first teams to play the room, it’s not surprising that there were issues or that it took time for them to be fixed. We imagine, or rather we hope it will be much smoother in the future!

When everything did work the technical elements were impressive and would have thrown up some sweet little surprises if our mechanical issues hadn’t pre-empted them. Teething issues aside, we think it’s clearly a high-quality room and high-quality production.

 

The Curiosity Room: The Verdict

Before discussing the verdict of the room, we need to mention the elephant in the room. The price, which will likely be the biggest barrier for any escape room enthusiasts interested in playing. One night at the London Marriott Hotel County Hall is a minimum of £405, and I believe you have to book this room for at least 2 nights. It does sleep 4 (and it’s a very high-quality room with a glorious London view), but that’s obviously quite a bit of commitment, especially as you can’t pay to play the game element of the room alone. To reiterate, you do have to book to stay overnight in order to experience The Curiosity Room.

If you remove the price element, this was a really fun and special room. The Curiosity Room is targeted at families, so the level of puzzling isn’t overly challenging but the combination of quirky interactions with the room itself and some lovely ‘wow’ moments it’s definitely a great overall experience. And if you’re an escape room player with a sweet tooth there’s an added attraction.  Solve the puzzles and you’ll win a sharing dessert from the London Marriott Hotel County Hall’s restaurant, Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar, where you can also indulge in locally sourced steaks and, if all that puzzling has left you with a thirst, choose from over 100 gins.

If you were considering staying somewhere for a similar budget anyway then we’d definitely recommend this. Similarly, we would recommend checking it out if they ever opened any slots for just the escape room alone, but otherwise, I count myself lucky that I had a chance to play!

 

The Curiosity Room can be booked on the London Marriott Hotel County Hall website.

Edinburgh Treasure Hunts: Fantastic Creatures | Review

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Edinburgh Treasure Hunts Review | Professor M has arranged for you a day of creature-hunting. It’s all about using your special map wisely and keeping your eyes peeled. There’s so many secrets hidden in the beautiful Old Town.

Completion Time: ~2 hours
Date Played: 17th July 2022
Party Size: 2
Location: Edinburgh Old Town
Difficulty: Moderate

I (Mairi) have just moved to Edinburgh from London and I wholeheartedly insist that the very best way to explore a new city is to immediately book yourself in for an outdoor treasure trail. What’s not to love?! New sights, hidden alleyways, history, and most importantly… Puzzles!

One of the most, if not THE most loved treasure hunt company in Edinburgh is the aptly named “Edinburgh Treasure Hunts“. A solo-run and operated business by your incredibly awesome host Sabi who, as a part-time tour guide, is an expert in all things Edinburgh. The company is also one of the first to start running games of this kind with many of their trails being well over 5 years old and host to thousands and thousands of players over the years.

In particular, Edinburgh Treasure Hunts is a hugely popular game to play during the Edinburgh Fringe. They take you right past many of the largest and most popular venues as well as plenty of popular landmarks on lesser trodden streets. Being self guided, there’s also no need to hurry. You can take the trail at your own leisurely speed (well, within reason!), so breaks to see the fun sights of the city are encouraged.

Over our very first weekend in the city, Rebecca and myself decided to book ourselves into two of the trails: Fantastic Creatures, and Sherlock. Let me just say, we were not disappointed! Let’s get into why…

 

 

Fantastic Creatures (and Where to Find Them in Edinburgh!)

If you’re into witches, wizards and magical places, then the Fantastic Creatures trail will be your cup of tea. At the Chamber arches on the Royal Mile, we met up with Sabi- or should I say, the Professor’s Assistant Sabi who set us off on our lesson in magical creatures around the city. We were first sorted into a magical house (House of the Haggis, if you were wondering what our team went for), then given a tote bag filled with curious objects including a bestiary, an old locked box, and a map of the city with carefully labelled locations.

Our ultimate goal was to find the fabled Unicorn, a rare creature from history with mythical properties. We had a sub-goal of finding (and I suppose, rescuing) our teacher, the Professor, who had a terrible accident. Our tertiary goal was to have a lovely day out and enjoy ourselves puzzle solving. Tick, tick, tick all round.

Unlike Sherlock, Fantastic Creatures had a web-app counterpart we could load on our phones. The broad structure of the game was that we followed a physical map around the city and at each marked point we had a challenge to complete – locate a particular mythical creature in the environment from our bestiary, read about it, and answer a location-based question. The experience was challenging on a few levels. Firstly, we had to find the actual location designated a single letter on the map. A task easier explained than done for a team of players new to the city, who aren’t yet familiar with it’s little hidden alleys. Then, we had to look very closely at our surroundings, taking care to stand exactly on the right spot, before we could answer the questions.

…And listen, this game was surprisingly educational! Yes, yes, the creatures are fantastical. Yet I learned a lot about their myths, legends, relationship with Edinburgh and more. It was very well done!

Unlike Sherlock, we finished Fantastic Creatures in a comfortable amount of time – around 2 hours. However despite it being on the easier side, more appropriate for family groups, we still managed to get a lot of questions incorrect. So some advice from us: read the question very carefully to figure out what it’s asking before wasting guesses (and points) on incorrect tries.

Any team that manages to score 25 points or above will win a special bonus prize. I say bonus as we were delighted to find that on discovering the final location for our trip a little treat waiting for us behind a lock. But then, as our host scootered over to collect our bags from us we were presented with a further prize for scoring a coveted 29 points!

 

 

Edinburgh, City of Hills

One of the things we loved the most about Fantastic Creatures was the trail itself. Although, ‘trail’ is a strong word as it’s largely self-guided and with just a map to guide you, you can take any route you like. On the one hand, at times we were worried we’d taken a wrong turn. On the other, we were glad to not be wedded to a specific route around the city, as it gave us a chance to stop off for a snack, a drink, and an ice cream cone. Which, if you’re interested, we recommend lunch at the tiny, family run Olly Bongos and ice cream at Alandas Gelato, both en-route around the trail.

Edinburgh truly is a really beautiful city though. No matter which specific road on the map you choose to take, you’re sure to discover a new hidden gem, or a beautiful sight around a corner at the top of a hill. In fact, the trail starts right up near Edinburgh Castle, which is the perfect tourist spot for snapping lovely photos of the surrounding area. It ‘ends’ nearer Underbelly, making it again, an excellent place to springboard you into an Edinburgh Fringe show, or to round off the day after one.

The only thing that we felt could have been improved about the route was that occasionally we doubled back on ourselves. Not because we’d answered anything incorrectly, but because the route required us to. Towards the end, you find yourself in an area of town, and are sent back to the start of your route. Only to walk back up the long street and need to turn right back around to head even further in the other direction. It was a curious choice! It didn’t bother us too much as, being new to the city, find every little alleyway delightful, but we definitely saw the same few streets multiple times over.

 

 

The Verdict

We really enjoyed Fantastic Creatures. After playing Sherlock’s Secret Challenge the day before we had high hopes and once again Sabi and her company absolutely outdid our expectations. For sure, there were some minor bits that didn’t completely click with us – a few difficult puzzles we struggled to get the answer for for example. But overall we had a fantastic experience once again. Edinburgh Treasure Hunts is a super hidden gem in the city and will be the first place I recommend folks new to the city book themselves into.

 

 

All of Edinburgh Treasure Hunts’ games can be booked by heading to their website here.

Compendium: UI-55 | Review

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

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

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

 

All Aboard UI-55!

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

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

 

Baffles

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

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

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

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

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

Accessibility (spoilers!)

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

Phantom Peak | Review

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WELCOME TO PHANTOM PEAK

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

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

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

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

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

 

Entering Phantom Peak

 

 

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

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

 

Starting off on the right foot

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Puzzle Posse

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rooting and Tooting

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

This town ain’t big enough…

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

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

 

What’s the verdict?

 

 

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

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

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

Tickets for Phantom Peak can be booked on their website

Please, Don’t Touch Anything VR | Review

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Please, Don’t Touch Anything VR Review | Covering for a colleague taking a bathroom break, you find yourself in front of a mysterious console with a green screen monitor showing a pixelated live image of an unknown city. Also present is an ominous red button with the simple instruction to not touch anything! Push the red button once or press it many times. Your choices and actions will lead to outrageous consequences and over 30 unique puzzle endings.

Developer: Four Squares, BulkyPix
Date Played: June 2022
Console: Oculus
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: ~2 hours

Every time I saw a warning on this game that read “Not for the faint hearted” I thought “Hah! How bad can this be?! It’s just a game where you’re sitting in front of a console pressing buttons.” Then I found myself worshipping Satan, being scared out my mind by demon standing behind me, and watching the human race get wiped out… Repeatedly.

That said, I still wouldn’t describe it as a horror game. I’d describe it as a fixed perspective escape room game. Which is a fancy say of saying “button pushing simulator”. It’s just you and the console, and a lot of different outcomes. Where most escape rooms just have one (you escape), this has multiple. But the idea is the same, you’re solving puzzles and performing actions in a small 2x2m room to achieve them all. And let me just say… It was some of the most fun I’ve had in VR in a long time!

 

 

About Please, Don’t Touch Anything

The original “Please Don’t Touch Anything” was a short pixel art game released by a Russian indie studio Four Squares for PC way back in 2015. It received a large amount of praise and the studio, in collaboration with Escalation Studios then went on to release a 3D version of the experience just a year later with virtual reality support. Later the game was launched on Nintendo Switch, and has continued to be met with praise for many years since.

Skip forward to 2022, and I’m idly scrolling through the Oculus store with a 30% off voucher in hand looking for a new title to try out. I wanted something short, fun, puzzley, a little bit creepy. After punching those filters into the search engine, there was one title that kept coming back to me: Please, Don’t Touch Anything. Well, of course I wanted to immediately touch it.

 

 

“I’ll be right back, don’t touch anything!”

The game begins with you in a small room with a large console in front of you. Your colleague appears at the door and says he’s popping out for a quick bathroom break and for the love of god, he implores you not to touch anything on the console. With a wave, he’s gone. It’s just you and the room. Oh, and a giant red button.

Amusingly, on my first playthrough I didn’t touch anything. My colleague appeared back from the bathroom and thanked me for being so diligent, and the game ended. I was immediately respawned into the room and it begun again. This time, I hit the big red button and triggered a nuclear apocalypse…

So far so good.

If you can tell from that brief description, Please, Don’t Touch Anything is a game of many many endings. Thirty endings to be exact. It’s best played with no expectations – you walk in, you press buttons, or you don’t, and you get a curious ending. The game restarts and you’re immediately hooked on a need to uncover every single one. What happens if you push this button? How do you get the hammer? Is that a UV blacklight? With each playthrough a new facet of the world reveals itself. How will you destroy civilisation this time? Or will you simply press a switch 50 times and nothing will happen. Perhaps you’ll make it your mission to clean up this (very messy) room. All valid game choices all with unique endings.

It’s also a game packed with many pop culture references. From TV, from films, and from other video games. Delightful nods to puzzlers past and some very creepy moments I’d only seen on the silver screen suddenly brought to live in VR. I love it!

 

 

Button Pushing Simulator Now in VR!

If you’re familiar with the original 2D version, there are enough changes in the VR/3D version to make the game feel innovative and fresh. Endings are different and things have been added. For the whole part, it’s a game that works well in both 2D and 3D but as a big fan of virtual reality I think it works really, really well in this medium. For starters, you’re pushing buttons and toggling switches and this feels extra immersive in virtual reality. Want to pick something up? You can simply bend down in real life and pick it up and manipulate it in real life.

In terms of controls, it’s not perfect, but that’s to be expected for an early VR experience. My hands in the game didn’t always move to where I wanted them to be and I found it was often quite tricky to stretch over objects and reach things. For the best gameplay, you need a large space to play in at home so that you can move around freely. You can play this standing up or sitting down. It might be slightly more immersive (and easy on your legs) to sit down, but I played it largely standing up. If you don’t have a large space, you can stay rooted to one spot and use the in-game mechanic to teleport around fairly easily too. No motion sickness here!

 

 

Where are the Puzzles?

Like any good puzzle game the primary ‘puzzle’ is figuring out what to do. Then figuring out how to do it to get the output you want. For sure, there are plenty of ‘classic’ puzzle mechanics the escape room enthusiast will recognise, like Morse Code or binary inputs, but it’s largely a game of sequence memorizing and inputting a variety of data pieces into your console creatively. You might find a 4 digit code on one playthrough that you suddenly remember 10 playthroughs later and input it. You might spot a symbol which ends up being a map to guide you around a grid of buttons. There are a few ciphers, and some very fun uses of black-light, and so on and so on.

In short, I think it’s a fantastic game for the escape room enthusiast to play. It’ll push everything you know about solving escape rooms to the limit, and then some. A unique game that doesn’t quit fit into any category box, but definitely one I think you, dear reader, will enjoy. Puzzles a-plenty.

 

 

The Verdict

I really, really enjoyed playing Please, Don’t Touch Anything. It’s tongue in cheek humour was the perfect setting for a quirky little puzzle game like this. When writing about any VR game I like to consider whether such an experience would be possible in any other medium other than VR. There’s nothing in it that wouldn’t necessarily be possible in another medium – the example being that it’s also available as a non-VR title, but it’s so much better in VR.

I’d not hesitate to recommend this to any other escape room enthusiast and I think it’s got a rightful place in the Oculus catalogue as a game puzzle fans should definitely check out.

Please, Don’t Touch Anything can be purchased for Oculus Quest 2 on the Oculus store page here.

Enigmailed: Nightjar | Review

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Nightjar Review: An anxious mind, struggling to sleep, listens to the crepuscular call of birds as their insomnia continues to plague them. Will this innocuous jar filled with secrets be the key to escaping their torment?

Date Played: February 2022
Time Taken: ~40 minutes
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: Hard

Nightjar is my personal holy grail of the escape room-in-a-box world and that makes it incredibly tricky to write a review for it. My brain is saying “lets be analytical and explain to our dear readers what the game is all about” and my heart is screaming in excitement that I actually own a copy sitting on my desk in pride of place. I imagine if I ever achieve my dream of getting hold of Tale of Ord (not likely) it’ll be much the same way.

 

 

Enigmailed’s Nightjar – A Rare Puzzle Game

Nightjar is a small boxed puzzle game, possibly the world’s smallest, as it fits entirely into a small jar around 10x10x10cm. There were only around ~55 copies ever made. The first batch was a part of the annual puzzle game Secret Santa group, where game designers from all around the world are tasked with creating a mystery game for another recipient around the world. Nightjar became something of a cult project thanks to a podcast series the game’s creator, Step of Enigmailed, made to document the game design process. The game was available as a bonus, extremely limited add-on in follow-up Kickstarter, Pouroboros. The game then later cropped up in a charity auction, selling for £110. Then, for a final time 50 or so extra copies were released mysteriously in a ‘blind game drop’ under the name EASTWOOD on April 1st, 2022. Nobody knew that Nightjar would be one of the two games released (the other is ‘Mangetout’ which I sadly haven’t played but definitely will and review soon. Shout out to my chaotic life for making it as yet impossible). Despite the hush-hush around what the games would be, the mystery drop release sold out very quickly. There goes the final batch of Nightjar… For now! A moment’s silence please.

So, that’s a long roundabout way of saying it’s a rare game and for me, a very very coveted one. If my apartment was on fire, I’d run past all my photo albums and holiday trinkets and make sure Nightjar got out safely first. As far as I’m aware, the creator has plans to make just a few more copies which will be released in similarly mysterious fashion. But for the most part, Enigmailed have moved on to other (very exciting) projects.

The second thing to note about Nightjar that adds to it’s rarity is that it is single-play. Almost every component in the game is destroyed, making it impossible to replay. Believe me, I tried to be extra careful. There’s also no reset pack. So of those ~55 copies ever made. Let’s say 90% of them were played. Which leaves… A very small number of this game out in the wild. Oof, my heart aches! I haven’t yet seen any of these games go up for sale, but I’ve no doubt whichever seller does will fetch a high price. But don’t do that. Keep it. Putting all the rarity and speculation aside, Nightjar was a genuinely very fun game and if anyone has a copy I’d encourage them to play it, enjoy it, and let it live on in your memory. Besides, you’ll have the jar to keep as a memento, like I have.

So, the history of Nightjar out of the way… Tell me about the game!

 

 

From Dusk to Dawn

If you didn’t know Nightjar was a puzzle game, you’d never be able to tell.

Your first impressions would be “oh, this is a jar of marmite”.

Then you’d realise something was up, you’d open it, and think “oh, this is a jar of sleep-aid things”.

Then you’d move on with your life and never realise just how brilliant the combination of objects hidden within the jar are. Yes, yes, they are just sleep aid things. But in true Enigmailed fashion there’s a riddle, inside an enigma, wrapped in a mystery locked inside. I won’t give any spoilers as to exactly what can be found inside except to say it’s a small medley of things you might turn to if you were having difficulty sleeping. You might dim the lights and pour yourself a cup of tea, you might try to block out the world outside, and you might use some nice smells to help you drift off. You might do anyway. Might… Might… Might.

In terms of quality, Nightjar is handmade in very small batches, so there’s a lot of attention to detail and care gone into the game. There’s a mix of real-life objects modified to suit the puzzle game, and further materials which are handmade or printed from scratch.

 

 

Falling Asleep is the Yeast of Your Problems…

The gameplay of the game is such that you can start with any object inside the jar and each object will lead to the next, and the next, and so on. It’s a puzzle loop that, when solved correctly, should bring you full circle over the course of 30 – 60 minutes.

It’s a quiet, introspective game best played in a team of 1. Probably also best played in the evening before drifting off to sleep yourself. But that’s not to say the puzzles were easy. Far from it, in fact! I always seem to find Enigmailed puzzle games on the harder side. I don’t know if that’s just me, or if they genuinely are. Cut to several years worth of playing them and I finally think I’m beginning to understand what type of answers the puzzles are looking for – and yet I still spent a good amount of time puzzling and wracking my brain over a few. At the time of writing there wasn’t a clue system (this may have changed), but Step was on hand to offer a little nudge if I needed it.

Above anything else, from the moment I opened up the jar to the very final puzzle I solved, Nightjar captured my imagination. It’s ability to set such a powerful theme, tell such a lovely story, and engross me with some brilliant fun puzzles with such a tiny number of materials squeezed into such a small jar is second to none. Yes, I had to use a magnifying glass a few times, but it was well worth it.

 

The Verdict

Normally at this time in a review I’d talk about who we recommend this game for and where it can be purchased, but with Nightjar that’s a little tricky. Firstly, I’d recommend it for everyone. Secondly, if you want a copy, you’ll have to try to convince Step to make you one, or scour the various Facebook forums for anyone selling theirs. Good luck in your quest, it’s well worth the reward at the end.

If you’re interested in getting into Game Design, Nightjar and it’s associated podcast are a 101 on fantastic game design, thinking outside the box, and creating puzzles out of unexpected everyday objects. As a game designer myself, if I ever create a game that is 1/10th as good as Nightjar, then I’ll consider my life a success. A round of applause for Step and Enigmailed. But even if you don’t play Nightjar, give the podcast a listen and subscribe to Enigmailed’s newsletter anyway. They’re both brilliant and will both give an insight into the weird and wonderful mind of the creators of this game.

 

Nightjar is no longer for sale but you can read about the project here.

DecodeXP: Teambuilding | Review

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DecodeXP Review | Problem-Solving, reimagined. Problem-solving capacity is an integral part of success in almost every business endeavour. And yet, it is one we rarely test, understand or develop. At DecodeXP we want to change that. Through the development of immersive problem-solving experiences, the use of video-feedback and innovative methodology we can tangibly develop this capacity within teams.  Founded on the military methodology of train hard, fight easy our programmes place participants into complex scenarios where they must work together as a team, solving problems requiring a wide-range of skill-sets. 

Date Played: 29th June 2022
Number of Players: 8
Time Taken: ~70 Minutes
Difficulty: Medium

A few months ago I joined a new company (unfortunately, playing escape rooms cost money), and if I needed any more proof that I had found a great place, they booked DecodeXP for a team-building day! DecodeXP isn’t an escape room per se, but rather a team dynamic assessment and training day, featuring a 90-minute escape room at the start! I was naturally extremely excited about this, and as I had never heard of this company before (being very much in the corporate space), I think it’s worth giving them a little blog post here. I recommend you check out this video of the room they built for Dyson, which is seriously cool!

 

A souvenir of the day!

About the Day

Prior to our team building day, we were asked to complete a quick questionnaire, essentially asking us to say which words we most identified with (are you more a leader or team player? Do you prefer clear steps or an overall goal?). If you’ve ever worked in the corporate world I’m sure you will have done many versions of these previously, but essentially your answers denote your ‘colour’ – you can read more about this here if you’re interested. The escape room portion of the day is ostensibly there to see how everyone acts and interacts where problem-solving and project management is concerned, followed by a debrief after lunch to talk about what you did, what worked, what didn’t work etc. and how to apply that to ‘real life’, before revealing your colour profiles (and discussing).

These are obviously all very interesting factors, which I’ll go into a little more detail afterwards, but we’re obviously just here for the escape room…

Always important to wear the correct PPE

The Escape Room Portion

The escape room portion is really well-positioned in the day –  nice and early to get you engaged and excited for the day, just before lunch so you’ve got a chance to debrief, and really the focal point of everything. It’s also right after the explanation of the colours, so for the first 20 minutes or so everyone is second-guessing their behaviours.

First things first – turns out I am too experienced at escape rooms and would bias some of the actions (totally fair enough), so I was essentially benched.

Yup. I was sat in an escape room but told I couldn’t take part. Nightmare…or was it?

For me, it actually made it even more unique, and actually removed some of those pressures of would we escape, would we beat the other teams’ times, and of course the expectations my team had of me (they had in fact stood there looking at me expectantly, not doing anything until we revealed I had been asked not to take part).

Of course, being an escape room enthusiast I just couldn’t help myself. After what felt like an eternity (although filled with some really interesting escape room-related discussion with Jamie, the founder of DecodeXP) I just happened to take a wander through the room, dropping some (apparently not so) subtle nudges to my colleagues. As the time ticked by I got a little more brazen with my hints, although I did my best not to touch anything!

The way the room is set up is really interesting and really emphasises the team dynamic aspect. As DecodeXP is bespoke and corporate, the room is essentially made up of props/puzzles than can be transported anywhere (although this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re small), so it’s clear the lack of set design has meant more focus could be placed on the puzzles. They were also neatly split out around the room, so for a large team this meant a lot of time with your back to everyone else, huddled over your little puzzle. You can probably guess the issue this lead to…

There was a great mix of puzzles here – from the more basic (find letters, anagram them), to the more complex (identify and combine 2 or 3 different props/pieces of information to find the correct combination), and the usual hidden elements throughout the room too. DecodeXP have done a great job of balancing the difficulty of these puzzles, so they can be solved by varying levels of expertise and capabilities, and addressed many different skill sets. All of the puzzles appeared very simple and logical to me (as an expert) – there were no great leaps in logic required, so I can imagine they were very satisfying to solve.

The room was also non-linear for the most part, which is always a bonus. The overall goal was to track down 14 keycards, and I believe there were 14 puzzles (although a few could only be solved after solving previous puzzles). In fact, there were only 2 areas I think I would mark this down (if this were an actual escape room) – there was no real end goal or final task – once the 14 key cards had been found, that was that. It may have been nice to have had a final, deduction-style puzzle to identify a single name and use that to unlock something or give some other indication of finality. The second thing I would’ve had a minor quibble over was an unsolvable puzzle, requiring the facilitator to step in and explain it, before unlocking the solution. In a real room, this would’ve been a frustrating time sink. In this room…it was pretty funny to watch multiple colleagues fall into the same trap.

Over lunch I had many colleagues lament the fact I couldn’t take part, pity me, and then ask me what I would rate it. I actually had a great time regardless (which I think says something about the room and Jamie), and would rate this pretty highly as a room in its own right. It was an excellent experience – varied puzzles, non-linear, logical solutions…everything I look for!

 

The Debrief

We actually had three separate debriefs – a ‘hot debrief’ immediately after completing the room (5 minutes of initial thoughts and feelings), an ‘unofficial debrief’ over lunch, and then the ‘real debrief’ with Jamie, talking about the things he’d observed and then discussing how to apply these facets in the real world. I’m sure we’ll have another debrief in work, with the other teams who took part too!

As an observer, I found this really interesting and picked up on things I may not have picked on otherwise (or maybe that’s just because I am already aware of the language and methodology of escape rooms). After this we moved into discussing the colours, what colours we were and how to work together, but I think it would’ve been fascinating to discuss the escape room in that context too, to see whether these ‘colours’ shone in the room, and whether Jamie would’ve pinned us as those colours.

 

The Verdict

I loved this. I found the day really engaging, entertaining and fascinating, and I would love to do any room designed by Jamie. Unfortunately, you won’t find it easy to do one – they are mainly corporate and bespoke, but I encourage you to recommend DecodeXP to your own company! In the meantime, I am going to try and persuade my manager to take us to an escape room where I can really show off my skills…

 

If you’d like to book DecodeXP for your next teambuilding, they can be contacted via their website