Studio Stamp: On Circus Grounds | Review

Image

On Circus Grounds Review | 1883, Circus Maester in Dalfsen, the Netherlands. Right in the middle of his opening speech Nicolaas Maester collapses in front of the audience. The ringmaster of Circus Maester appears to have been murdered. It doesn’t take long for somebody to be arrested and for the case to be closed.

Date Played: July 2022
Time Taken: ~2 hours
Number of Players: 3
Difficulty: Hard

 

A new Kickstarter game?! Argh! Take all of my money! 2022 has been an excellent year for Kickstarters honestly… From Ruff Bluff, to Unsolved Science, to PostCurious’ Light in the Mist, to Curious Correspondence’s Doomensions. But now we have another, just as exciting game to look forward to from the brilliant minds of Studio Stamp: On Circus Grounds. The best part of this one is that it’s already been released in Dutch as Meester, 1883 to rave reviews and a solid 8.7 on Board Game Geek.

From the moment our box arrived and I popped it open on our table, I knew we’d be in for something very special. A small box, yes, but an in calculable number of beautiful documents came pouring out. A locket, a little vial, scrolls upon scrolls. Studio Stamp’s attention to detail is *chefs kiss*, and we couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

 

 

Come One, Come All

Roll up, roll up, for Nicolaas Maester presents a circus night like no other. Enchanting dancers, lion tamers, fortune tellers, and death defying stunts… But tonight is not a night like any other. Tonight the ringmaster of the circus suddenly, in the middle of the show, collapses dead. The case goes cold, the evidence grows dusty on a shelf, and soon society forgets the curious case on the circus grounds. That is until the mysterious box packed with evidence arrives on your, the player’s, doorstep. Can you crack the cold case and identify the true culprit of that fateful night?

If you couldn’t tell, On Circus Grounds is a lot more in the category of “murder mystery” than “escape room”. For starters, you’re not really escaping anything. For seconds, the experience is all about deduction and paying close attention. There is a medley of characters each with motives as compelling as the other. But to succeed in this case you have to pay close attention to everything they write and every little detail about their person.

Sure, there are quite a few puzzles in the game too, and I think Studio Stamp does a good job of balancing puzzles against story, but more on that later! For now it’s important to know that you’re not looking for a specific number combination or word output. No, the puzzling is softer. In the introduction letter, the game sets out four key questions to answer:

  • Who murdered Nicolaas Maester?
  • What was their motive?
  • What object was used to commit the murder?
  • If applicable, how did the culprit gain access to it?

So, no pressure, hey!

 

 

Roll Up, Roll Up

I chose to play On Circus Grounds in a team of 3 players over a quiet evening, each of us with varying levels of experience in solving games like this, and each of us at various levels into our glass of wine. Given that circumstance, I will say that we definitely struggled with this game. We struggled first with who was who, and then with who did what, and after quite a bit of arguing we weren’t 100% sure on the ‘correct’ answer to input into the website in the end. It’s a murder mystery, but it’s a deeply complex one that should challenge even the most seasoned puzzle enthusiasts.

But the flip side is, this isn’t the first time our very specific team has struggled with a murder mystery case in a box, as regular readers might remember from The Fire in Adlerstein. So I will say perhaps murder mysteries just aren’t quite for us, and that’s okay.

But unlike all the other murder mysteries in a box we’ve ever played, this one had a LOT going for it. For starters, it’s packed with puzzles. A lot of the information is just given in plain text, but a lot more must be solved before it can be used. Think ciphers, folding puzzles, reading maps and so on. So there was never a boring moment in the whole game. For seconds, the quality of the materials was absolutely gorgeous. No, seriously. I kind of want to take the whole game and frame it, it’s that pretty! I’ve never encountered a box with such a consistent level of high quality materials and I cannot believe the retail price is under €50. For that money you get so much material, lovingly hand-made and hand packed, and beautiful to spread out over the table.

 

Puzzling through the Circus

So this is The Escape Roomer, we have to talk about the puzzles! Puzzles, there are plenty.

Overall, players can expect to encounter a few different ‘types’ of puzzles. But, this being a game consisting of mostly paper, these puzzles usually fell on the side of ‘cipher’ or word style puzzles which, if I have to admit, erred on the longer side to decode. In general, I can’t over-emphasise how much reading there is to do. We often found it hard to know exactly what to do to tease out the secret message or the secret author of the text, but a quick check of the hints page usually set us along the right way. That said, in many more moments we knew exactly how to decode a puzzle but found the contents of the text so lengthy we again consulted the hints to skip a little manual decoding time.

But when they weren’t lengthy ciphers, the puzzles were great fun! My favourite in the whole game involved a little jar of a curious concoction we needed to take to our kitchen and mix. Whilst it didn’t work perfectly (I blame the unseasonably hot weather we’ve had here in the UK), we understood how it worked and were delighted by the physicality of it. Any puzzle that surprises and delights is a double thumbs up from us.

Mostly, the puzzle output for each item in our box was looking for a connection between two people, or a motive and a person, or so on, but we got there in the end… Sort of, anyway! After 2 hours of sorting and resorting through everything we knew, drawing timelines and striking names off pieces of paper… We were ready to make our deduction! We promptly headed to the linked website to answer a few questions on a futuristic AI style of police database.

Only… We got it wrong!

Whoops… The wrong suspect sentenced to prison? Well this is a cold case and all the suspects are long gone. So, thankfully the game’s finale let us re-choose our answers until we finally got them correct, and we were able to experience the fun finale as it was intended.

 

 

The Verdict

So, we didn’t succeed, but I think that’s okay. Unlike traditional escape games in a box where the answer is super clear, murder mysteries deal in deduction and nuance and small details and meticulous note-taking. Which are all things we’re not so great at. But, the most important part was that we had fun playing the game. A lot of fun in fact! There was plenty for a team of 3 to get along with, and some brilliant moments of discussion between us as we ironed out details. The game is beautiful, the puzzles enjoyable, and I have no doubt this will be a fan-favourite for many armchair detectives for years to come. A round of applause for Studio Stamp, and I highly recommend checking this game out on Kickstarter.

 

On Circus Grounds can be purchased in Dutch via Studio Stamp’s website here. For the English version, back their Kickstarter.

Edinburgh Treasure Hunts: Sherlock’s Secret Challenge | Review

Image

Edinburgh Treasure Hunts Review | Arthur Conan Doyle has left you a letter. Not just a letter! A challenging puzzle that could reveal to you the secret behind his famous character: Sherlock Holmes. That is, if you prove to be a puzzle-solving mastermind first.

Completion Time: ~3 hours
Date Played: 16th July 2022
Party Size: 3
Location: Edinburgh New Town > Edinburgh West End
Difficulty: Moderate

I’ve lived in Edinburgh for over 12 years, so you’d think I’d have explored the whole city by now, right?! Wrong!

It turns out treasure hunts are now my favourite way to discover the hidden secrets of your surroundings – and you get to do it whilst solving puzzles and getting some steps in! The games from Edinburgh Treasure Hunts are the highest rated hunts in Edinburgh, and I’d like to tell you why this is a spot they deserve.

The brains behind the operation is the incredible Sabi, company director, game designer and Edinburgh tour guide. Their knowledge and passion shone through when we met them outside the Conan Doyle pub, gazing over at the street where the creator of Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle was born. It was an apt setting for the journey ahead of us, and hearing some of the history of a street I walk by weekly was an exciting start.

 

Team Escape Roomer takes on Sherlock’s Challenge

The Challenge

Out task was to channel Sherlock Holmes and master the power of deduction to find the secret that lies behind his character. To do this, we were handed a locked backpack, a beautifully illustrated map and a mysterious letter from beyond the grave. You’d better believe spooky voices were used to narrate the tale! We were then left to solve the first puzzle, and our walking adventure begins!

Now, it was 9am so it did take a while for our brains to wake up and figure out the first challenge – but once we clocked it we were on our way to unlocking the backpack and discovering the next puzzle, all of which are hidden in various containers. Once you’ve solved a puzzle, you’ll be directed by the clues to your next location. The game was really easy to navigate due to the numbered clues and the fact that certain items weren’t unlocked until they were needed for the puzzle in front of you.

 

Help! We Need a Hint!

Am I going to continue blaming the fact I’m not an early riser for my slow puzzle solving skills that morning? Probably. But we did get super stuck. There was an amazing moment when we realised half of what we had to do, yet we still completely overthought to the point we were googling different cypher types. We should add that Google is not needed at any point in the game.

Lucky for us, this meant we got to experience the hint system which was me calling Sabi and sheepishly asking for help. My biggest tip for this hunt is

Easier said than done though, so we got a response immediately, and proceeded to kick ourselves to the next clue.

 

 

Once You Have Eliminated the Impossible…

In terms of puzzles, there were 2 styles of padlock to unlock: The familiar 4 digit combination and a date lock which I’d never seen before!

The puzzles were a really nice mix which tested everything from your observational skills to decoding hidden messages. My favourite involved a few steps to find a particular piece of text in your surroundings and use that to unlock some cyphered text. I also loved the navigational aspect, it encouraged you to spot things you wouldn’t have thought to look at otherwise. Overall, they were quite difficult, so I recommend that if doing this with a family to take slightly older kids, 13+ I’d say would keep the game enjoyable for everyone. For a game aimed at a much younger audience, definitely try out Edinburgh Treasure Hunts’ other trail, Fantastic Creatures.

 

 

The Case of the Final Problem

I loved the location of the end of the game. It felt like everything came together really nicely and you discover some really interesting history about the story of Sherlock Holmes. There’s a really nice touch which I imagine is quite satisfying by the end of the day. You’re then directed to a safe place to drop the backpack near the end location and the centre of town so you can rest your legs and debrief!

I will say, it’s quite the walk and towards the end we clambered up a big hill.

In the end, we took just over three hours to complete the game (but we did stop for a cold drink as it was so warm!)

 

 

It’s almost Fringe time!

The festival is almost upon us, and we’re all ready to grab our highlighters and circle our top picks of the programme – Sherlock’s Secret Challenge should be one of them! Why? The City of Edinburgh is your venue, and you’re in charge of making sure the story unfolds. If you’re visiting Edinburgh for the Fringe, I’d really recommend taking half a day to pop on your deerstalker to take a stroll and discover some hidden gems.

 

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

Escape Tales: The Book of Rituals | Review

Image

The Book of Rituals is an interactive puzzle book. As an adept of alchemy, you will learn the secrets of elements and alchemical ingredients to perform powerful rituals. Start your mystical journey now and become a Master of ancient magic!

Completion Time: 10-12 hours
Date Played: June 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

 

Water and alcohol are among the more recognisable ingredients you might find in sun cream. There are many others, but I can’t pronounce them, so it seems wrong to copy the spelling from the back of a bottle and expect someone else’s brain to do the work. H.A. Milton Blake is credited with its creation and – as the Crown paint colour chart places my skin tone somewhere between ‘Writing Paper’ and ‘Fresh Coconut’ – I’m very glad he put in the hours. I was in Spain while I battled with the Book of Rituals. It was 38 degrees. Never has the combination of those ingredients been so needed. Or so I thought…

 

 

Blake dabbled in chemistry, of course, and in the Book of Rituals we’re instead dealing in the more archaic branch of ‘shoving-stuff-together-to-see-what-happens’ known as alchemy. Water and alcohol are still very important here. So are 29 other ingredients, and each requires a puzzle to be solved to learn its true name and value. All these ingredients will be required if you want to tackle the 13 daunting rituals that cover the final pages with any hope of success. Only then will you fully understand this mysterious book.

I say mysterious as this is not your book. At least, you’re not the first owner. Someone else has contributed to these pages packed with elements, ingredients and rituals. Footnotes, ramblings, corrections and improvements have been jotted down to aid you in solving the puzzles and avoiding the supposed corruption the book threatens. A sort of Half-Blood Prince’s Advanced Potion-Making/Darkhold hybrid if you fancy a couple of popular culture reference stickers to slap on the cover.

 

Taming the Book of Rituals

The format is simple but fulfilling. Each element poses a puzzle. The top right corner will let you know which other ingredients (if any) you need to have solved already to put that puzzle together. These may well be later in the book, so there’s no order to speak of. You tackle them in whatever sequence you’re able to with the ingredients you have available. The inclusion of a question mark in your required ingredients list means that the book itself must be used in some way – and these puzzles are a true highlight of this beautifully put together and well-thought-out title.

Each correct solution you enter into the slick website will reward you with a true name and number to write into the fold out section on the back cover. Gradually filling it in is satisfying, but reliance on the site to get to these answers does means that an internet connection is required to make progress. The same website also holds any hints you might need, as well as occasional further information on the formatting of answers.

As you go backwards and forwards through the pages adding your own notes and mistakes to the ones already put in place by the previous owner, it does feel chaotic and immersive. That’s the point. Errors and ruined pages are almost inevitable – something that’s recognised by the creators by way of copies of the key puzzle tables and grids being repeated at the back of the book. Perfect for additional attempts once the originals become indecipherable.

 

The Verdict

The focus in the Book of Rituals is definitely on quality. 45 honed puzzles that, at times, require a huge amount of thinking is certainly preferable to an inconsistent dump of teasers that goes on forever. There’s zero fat on this book. No filler. The puzzles are so well-designed that you know that each is solvable without huge leaps of logic, meaning the temptation to dip into the hints felt non-existent.

I think that’s close to the highest praise I can give. There’s no need to rush. It’s never too daunting or boring. Hints were the last thing on my mind over the week it took me to slowly chip my way through. For those that have done a lot of puzzle books then, sure, there are a few well-trodden ideas contained within, but that’s simply the limitations of the format. What we have here are clever puzzles, laid out in an excellent way, that are sure to provide plenty of entertainment to those that like a challenge.

You can purchase the Book of Rituals here.

Trapped Puzzle Rooms: Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery | Review

Image

Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery Review | Barker Street Detectives… An urgent request has come across my desk and I request you aid me in this investigation. A distressed Ms Barbara Fetcher requires our assistance with the case of The Missing Ruby Bone. Contained in this box you will find evidence gathered from the scene of the Ruby Bone’s disappearance. Identify the culprit of the theft and recover the priceless artefact. A particularly puzzling path awaits you inside…

Date Played: May-June 2022
Time Taken: ~4 hours
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: Challenging!

I knew Ruff Bluff would be something special as from the moment I received it I had it sitting in pride of place at the front of my board game shelf. Without fail every single person that visited our apartment in time between then and now, commented on the new addition:

“Ruff Bluff? Haha what’s that?” or “OMG are those dogs playing cards?” to “Furlock Holmes? I love it!”

Cue my whipping it off the shelf and spreading out the materials to gush to my friends and family about my favourite puzzles in the game. Even before the Kickstarter went live and the game was made available to the general public, this game is single handedly causing big ripples in my little community here in London, just by merit of it sitting on my shelf. The box is so appealingly light-hearted and funny with a picture of dogs all sitting round at a card game, and the name ‘Furlock Holmes’ suggests something puzzlingly brilliant.

…And that’s before I even start on what comes inside the box! But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

 

About Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery

Furlock Holmes is the fox character created by escape room company Trapped Puzzle Rooms all the way over in the United States. Creators of Taco Tuesday (oh! I’ve heard of that one), and a whole host of digital, remote avatar and audio rooms, Trapped Puzzle Rooms isn’t as much of a household name here in the UK escape room community as it clearly is in the United States. But after playing their first foray into physical boxed rooms, I’m impressed – and only slightly regretful that this is the very first experience of theirs we’ve played. We missed out not playing all the others in lockdown!

In June 2022, the company put Ruff Bluff up on Kickstarter as a sequel to their existing ‘Furlock Holmes’ mystery, “Furlock Holmes Museum Mystery”. The original game is a web-based point-and-click mystery that follows the titular character Furlock Holmes as he investigates crimes around a fictionalised, vintage London. That said, there’s absolutely no requirement to have played the first game before diving right into Ruff Bluff. They’re completely different!

Ruff Bluff is a 6 – 12 hour mystery game. The complete experience is self-contained within a small box, with a handy answer-checker online. It’s best played over a couple of sessions, and the box is broken up into four parts to make it easy to stop and start between those. As a bonus, the website also saves your answers up until that point so you can pick up wherever you left off!

I took on this mystery over around ~3 days, with a week or so inbetween. I took on Part I at my desk on a funny Friday afternoon. The second part is much longer and much more manual which took a little time over another day. Then I whizzed through the final two parts an afternoon a few weeks later. This super well for me, and I’d definitely recommend taking a similar approach over two or three evenings.

So, the technical parts and the ‘what to expect’ out of the way, here’s how I got on…

 

 

The game is afoot (well… apaw)

This exciting, canine-themed mystery pushes players right into the deep end! There’s been a crime! A priceless Ruby Bone has gone missing from a poker match and it’s up to you, the players, to figure out whodunnit. There are seven suspects: the seven dogs who were sitting around the table playing cards. They are:

  • Austin Fetcher, a Husky with a very boopable nose
  • Pablo Diggbury, a professional Barkeologist
  • Barbara Fetcher, the furriest ball of floof I’ve ever seen
  • Darleen Haskel, a sleek looking Dalmatian
  • Julia Dripping, a very dribbly St Bernard from New Bark City
  • Renaldo Blurri, my personal favourite, a Greyhound with a bowler hat on
  • Richard Ruffington, a pup who shares my birthday!

The game starts with dossiers about each of these dogs. Who they were, where they’re from, and what job they do. Within these dossiers are a number of blanks, and that’s where the player comes in – to fill in the missing information by scouring the clues and looking for details.

This proves an excellent introduction to the game as players are encouraged to really get to know the characters and start making their own assumptions about whodunnit (which by the way, I guessed completely wrong until the very last minute – which is exactly what a good whodunnit should do!).

To help you out, this first portion of the box is absolutely packed with clues. They’re not single use either – throughout the game I found myself constantly referring back to details from the first part and small nudges within the dossiers. From stacks of $700 bills, to a whole deck of playing cards, to napkins, poker chips, postcards and drink matts. It’s an understatement to say there really is a lot going on in this box and I loved it. Each new object seemed to hide so many puzzles, but the game leads you through them gently in a way that doesn’t feel too overwhelming as you scour the evidence. It’s a real “pin everything up on an evidence board and take a step back” kinda game, and I really enjoyed this.

 

 

The second part of the game however was my absolute favourite. I don’t know why I’m so easily impressed by a jigsaw puzzle mechanic but hey, what can I say? I’m just a simple gal who likes complex jigsaw puzzles. The one in Ruff Bluff was absolutely brilliant. It’s the kind of puzzle in a game that even though your partner doesn’t want to take part they can’t help but slide over to help you put a piece or two into their place. Whats more, it fit so well with the story too!

With box one and box two out of the way, the final two chapters were the home-run in terms of puzzle solving. By this point, you know the characters and you know what’s what. All that’s left to do it solve the case.

Even though I literally just said one paragraph ago that the jigsaw was my favourite… I lied. The puzzle that came directly after the jigsaw puzzle was my favourite. This time definitely no spoilers because it was so much fun to open that Box 3 and realise what the game wanted me to do. So I’ll just leave it by saying it was a logic puzzle at it’s absolute finest. More games should include puzzles like this. No, seriously. Designers take note!

In short, if you can’t tell by my enthusiasm – I had a lot of fun with the puzzles in this game. I found them to be genuinely enjoyable to solve which is at it’s heart what all games should do. For sure, I used a couple of hints. Okay, okay maybe more than a couple of hints… But despite this the whole thing felt well balanced in terms of difficulty.

 

 

When you’ve eliminated the possible…

Puzzles aside, let’s talk about the theme. Ruff Bluff’s unique selling point is… Well… Dogs.

If you’re a cat person, look away now. This game is set in the canine universe and is not for you. In fact there aren’t many other animals at all, other than a pesky squirrel, and the occasional off-handed mention of a dog’s owner. For example, my favourite part in the whole game:

“My human recently dug up a part of my back-yard and put in some new plants. I didn’t feel like they did a very good job digging. So I spent the whole afternoon digging several dozen holes all of the yard. Not only did my human not appreciate my hard work, they got upset! – I Can Dig It”

“Dear Dig It, Humans never really understand all the hard work we do for them. Whenever they accidentally vacuum our fur off the couch, we have to take the time and shed more all over it. Whenever a jogger passes by our house, we bark and bark until they keep doing by. This is important work. My advice is to keep digging holes. Eventually you’ll dig one they like and they will reward you with lots of treats.”

As a dog person. In fact, possibly one of only two ‘dog people’ here at The Escape Roomer *grumbles at all the cat enthusiasts here*, I appreciated putting our four legged canine friends at the front and centre of an exciting mystery like this one.

And what a plot it is too. It’s exciting, has twists and turns, and more dog puns than you can shake a stick at. Again, this game is FUN.

 

 

The Verdict

I had a lot of fun playing Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery and I’ve no doubt this one is going to go down as a ‘favourite’ of a lot of folks out there.

For me, the very best thing about the whole experience were the puzzles. I saw some delightful ones I’d never quite experience before and genuinely had fun solving them throughout the whole game. When the box first said it would take 6 – 12 hours, I don’t mind admitting I groaned a tiny bit. Now, having finished the game, it turns out 12 hours is not enough. I want more of the Furlock Holmes universe. Give me sequels! Give me more puzzles! For this reason I’ve chosen to award this game the coveted Puzzle Prize here on the Escape Roomer, for outstanding puzzle design. It’s well deserved.

My particular copy was an early access, pre-Kickstarter copy. As such some of the materials weren’t ‘final’ quality, there were one or two missing bits, and a few corrections to keep in mind. However this doesn’t affect the review whatsoever, since the creator was so helpful in explaining what to keep an eye out and these are things which are planned to be fixed by the time of publication. That’s why I’ve absolutely no hesitation in recommending this game to other players.

In terms of accessibility – it ticks the boxes with no puzzles reliant on colour or sound that could restrict accessibility for any players. The only thing to flag is that in one puzzle you may find yourself looking very closely for details, so potentially not for folks who might be hard of seeing. But otherwise appears to me to be a very accessible game all round. With easy to understand puzzles, I also have no qualms about saying it would be a great game for a family audience. It’s packed with dog puns and so long as you don’t mind the themes of gambling / drinking at a poker game, then you’ll be golden with Ruff Bluff.

 

Presently, Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery can be purchased by backing Trapped Puzzle Rooms’ Kickstarter here.

If you want to see what other games they have available, check out their website.

Gourmaze: The Sweet Escape | Review

Image

Gourmaze: The Sweet Escape Review | General Tasty is in a bit of a pickle. His regiment are leaving Europe in the next few hours and he’s been left behind! Luckily they’ve dropped a trail of breadcrumbs for the General to follow. Escape across the city, uncovering delectable desserts to fuel the stomachs of you, your crew and General Tasty. Be speedy, or he’ll just be another one to bite the crust!

Date Played: 3rd June 2022
Time Taken: 60:36
Number of Players: 4
Difficulty: Easy
Location: Soho, Russell Square

Laughing at all the cheesy desert puns and humming along to the Gwen Stefani song of the same name, this week team The Escape Roomer took on ‘Gourmaze’, a brand new delicious puzzle trail in the heart of London. The sun was shining, we were just a few days away from my birthday, and the streets were full of people celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee. Our very hungry ace team consisted of Grace, Mairi and our two +1s. Between us we had a good level of experience solving puzzles and looking for clues, but the thing we had the most experience of? Eating delicious food.

At it’s heart, that’s exactly what Gourmaze is all about! This makes it… Quite possibly… A one of it’s kind in the whole of the UK.

 

Team The Escape Roomer take on Gourmaze’s Sweet Escape

 

The premise is deliciously simple:

  • You receive a series of clues sent to your phone
  • Each clue gives you directions to a new place of interest
  • Along the way you’ll stop and visit not just one but three dessert places, saying a secret code to the waiter each time and receiving a treat for each member of the team

As well as three dessert spots, there were also two optional pub stops. We made full use of both locations, stopping for glasses of prosecco to toast to our success.

 

Meet Gourmaze’s Hero: General Tasty

The story behind A Sweet Escape was an one absolutely perfect for packing in food related puns. It all started when we met our leader by text, General Tasty. Our mission was to escape across Europe finding hidden deserts to fuel our stomachs whilst we helped General Tasty return to his regiment. General tasty was in a bit of a pickle and it was a race against against time to ‘ketchup’ with his regiment before they left.

As stories go it was silly, light-hearted, and nothing too serious. We had a lot of fun engaging with General Tasty and hearing about his wild antics along the route. What’s more, General Tasty was always ready with a fact or two about our environment – whether it be about a statue, a blue plaque, or just general food-themed London tidbits.

For an automated bot, General Tasty was enigmatic and funny!

 

Gourmaze dessert no.2 being prepared

 

Gourmaze: The Maze Part

Since this is The Escape Roomer, the thing we were looking out for most in The Sweet Escape was the latter part of that portmanteau: The Maze.

In terms of style of puzzles, Gourmaze is nothing wholly new. It errs slightly on the easier side, but that makes sense, being hungry for your next sweet treat makes for harder puzzle solving. There were somewhere in the region of 5 puzzles between each food stop. Of those puzzles, we were usually looking for a detail somewhere in our environment. Something you couldn’t figure out unless you were standing right there in front of it. Cryptic notes about street signs and zebra crossings a-plenty, with the odd anagram or two to force our thinking caps on.

If any team gets stuck along the way, it would have been easy to skip a puzzle. We were presented with two options to type at any time during the game:

  • Decode Directions – to write out the specific directions of where to go
  • I just want food! – to skip the next part of the puzzle

Thankfully we didn’t use any, but we did get one incorrect answer which incur a small time penalty.

 

Melt in your mouth good

 

Gourmaze: The Gourmet Part

The real reason we recommend Gourmaze has got to be because of the food. No, seriously. Escape room enthusiasts won’t be overly challenged by solving puzzles, but if you want a brilliantly fun day out with friends or family… Look no further.

There were three dessert spots on our trail, but we’re under strict instructions not to reveal the company locations or the types of food. So I’ll be suitable vague and say that there was something light and fluffy and delicious, something liquid and warming, and finally something perfect for the sunny weather we found ourselves in! All three were absolutely delicious. Melt in your mouth good, and well balanced enough that you still felt great by the end of the walk – not too sweet, not too bitter. Just perfect.

Of the three dessert places, all three were small family owned businesses which felt fantastic. None were particularly off the beaten track, but they were all ones I’d never heard of before and will definitely, definitely be returning to soon. That was one of the nicest touches of the whole game, at each place we learned about the people who run it and the history of the dessert and the venues. Not only fun and tasty, but educational too!

 

 

The Verdict

Gourmaze was absolutely fantastic. A brilliant puzzle game addition to London and one I hope goes on to expand across the UK and even across the world too. So far they have the Sweet Escape trail and one other, The Talisman Treats, themed around Asian food. If you like delicious food with your puzzle games, then you’re probably going to love this one.

In terms of pricing, A Sweet Escape was very reasonably priced. At under £30 per person, you get three very well sized desserts, fun puzzles to solve, and an excellent walk around some lovely areas of London. Other outdoor puzzle game companies charge similar but don’t include dessert. Why no dessert? I hope all my future puzzle trails include snacks!

In particular, I’d recommend booking a Gourmaze trail for a special occasion, such as a birthday as we did. It’s a great trail for kids, families, friends, colleagues, or anyone… Anyone who likes sweet food at least. The website mentions it not being suitable for those in a wheelchair due to steps, but otherwise there were no low light or audio puzzles to be aware of. So long as you can read text messages, your accessibility needs should be met. But, definitely check with the organisers if you have any concerns.

 

The Escape Roomer takes the win!

 

Gourmaze can be booked in London by heading to their website here.

Lollipop: The Grid | Review

Image

The Grid Review | Enter the offices of evil startup Neosight and defeat their AI technology to help humanity from extinction. You will go through multiple rooms while you are there, posing as a volunteer to help them programme their machines. In fact you are fighting for a bigger cause! While you are in the Neosight’s office, please make sure no one knows that you are undercover. You may also meet people who are not members of The Grid. #ActNormal

Date Played: 1st June 2022
Time Taken: 1hr 45
Number of Players: 2 (+4)
Difficulty: Quite Easy

It’s safe to say we had absolutely no idea what to expect in The Grid. Part escape room, part immersive experience..? Actors, cocktails, wacky set design? But when my best friend came down for my birthday weekend, it was first on her list to book, and I jumped at the exciting opportunity. The Grid represents everything I love distilled into one 2 hour experience in London Southbank. We arrived at the mysterious Neosight building in London Southbank, donned a pair of wacky metallic jackets, and off we were into ‘the grid’ to save the world, and save ourselves along with it.

The first important thing to mention is that I would definitely class The Grid as an escape room. Perhaps a controversial opinion, since it’s also sort of not an escape room. But at any given time we were locked in rooms and were given escape room puzzles to escape. We were searching for things, using cool devices, moving around, squatting, running, jumping our way to success. It is an escape room in every traditional sense of the world, and so we’ll grade it accordingly.

Unlike an escape room, you’re allowed to take photos of absolutely anything you like. Also unlike normal escape rooms, The Grid is that they are non-exclusive bookings which is fairly uncommon in the UK. In the US it’s standard – and don’t get me wrong, I totally get the need to sell more tickets per session – it just took us by surprise. So keep that in mind when you book! Add in the theme of drinking, and you could potentially be put in with a rowdy bunch who have all just come from the pub. *long pause* Which is pretty much exactly the kind of group we were put in with, a team of 4 rounding off an evening birthday bar crawl. But hey, it takes all kind of people to solve the puzzles and save the world.

 

 

Meet AIDA, your AI Companion

The story of The Grid follows you, a team of test subjects attempting to take down the evil start-up Neosight who are hell bent on taking over the world. You’re undercover and at the mercy of an unhinged A.I. robot called AIDA. We weren’t supposed to draw her attention to the fact we were undercover agents, so we had to act normal. Very normal. Normal for us was slow dancing around, singing happy birthday and trying to solve one of the trickiest and fastest IQ tests.

That was until we accidentally ingested some highly deadly nanotechnology in the form of a glass of prosecco… Whoops! Suddenly it became a race against time to find, and in some cases create, each part of the antidote to save ourselves before the nanobots ate us alive from the inside. No pressure, hey.

After solving the first room’s worth of puzzles, we were off to a flying start, descending into the bowels of the building to join and undercover robot resistance, meet a cast of curious characters, and ultimately escape from the complex unhurt.

 

Team The Escape Roomer preparing to enter The Grid

 

The Grid: Escape Room Vs Immersive Experience

The Grid has two ‘escape room’ locations in it, two ‘sitting down’ portions, and one absolutely fantastic slide right in the middle which I might have definitely screamed rushing down it. It was potentially one of the most fun escape rooms you can possibly play. I mean, I love a cocktail and I love a slide.

But to be sure, it definitely falls on the ‘easy’ side. With teams expected to be drinking along the way, they trend towards getting easier and easier over the course of the experience. At the start, all of us were working together to search and find key things. Later, the game provided an opportunity to split up and tackle different puzzles at the same time, before coming back together for the big finale.

More important than the puzzles were the audience and actor (well, sometimes actors, sometimes AI) participation. We found ourselves singing, dancing, making silly drawings, and convincing the AI to help us out rather than outright solving puzzles. But those were a lot of fun. What The Grid lacks in difficulty, it makes up for with it’s quirky moments. We could tell that there was a group ahead of us, and a group behind us, only by the occasional scream. Whilst I’m sure the Games Masters were carefully staggering our time in each room to ensure that the experience flowed smoothly, you couldn’t tell. In short, each area was well-weighted for teams to complete at the same time. Too fast? And you’ll have to banter with the AI. Too slow? The AI will help you and hurry you up.

 

 

The Grid: A Sci-Fi Wonderland

My absolute favourite thing about The Grid was the set-design. Seriously, how cool can this be? Each room we encountered was a feast for the eyes (as well as the taste buds when we discovered a cocktail waiting for us). From a bleached white laboratory room complete with skeletons and sci-fi iPads, to a thrilling slide emerging into a secret underground lair, to a room that I can only describe as looking like we were inside a computer’s mainframe. The whole thing glowed in shades of green and blue, making for excellent photographs throughout.

 

 

The Verdict

We absolutely loved The Grid! It was truly something special, so conveniently located, brilliant fun and impressive sets to boot. It’s only slightly more expensive per person than your average London escape room, but this one has… Cocktails!

For sure, it’s not particularly difficult to solve. Escape room enthusiasts will not find themselves terribly challenged, but I think that’s not too much of a problem. I don’t think anybody is reasonably booking The Grid to have their brain wrung out. You’re going for fun, and in our booking slot, they absolutely nailed ‘fun’. I really appreciated how well the drinking tied into the storyline. In finding out that a new shot or drink was our antidote, I didn’t even blink twice before downing every liquid I discovered.

We would recommend this for escape room enthusiasts and immersive experience enthusiasts. It sits comfortably between the two genres and is something special in it’s own right. Since most escape rooms absolutely do not let you drink, The Grid is a different class of “escape room perfect for also playing as a stag or hen or birthday party”. I’m super glad to see the day that I can play an escape room as part of my pre-drink routine before going out for the night.

In terms of accessibility, there are some physical moments that definitely wouldn’t be suitable for anyone who had mobility issues. There were also several sequences of low lighting, and some mild ‘terror’ and ‘dread’ throughout. In terms of age rating, whilst you can opt for non-alcoholic versions, the event is strictly 18+. I’d also highly recommend trying to book out the whole slot with you and some friends rather than risk being put in with strangers – it’s always more fun drinking with friends, after all.

 

The Grid can be booked by heading to their website here.

Enigma Quests: Submarine Mission WaveBreak | Review

Image

Submarine WaveBreak Review | You are an emergency response unit sanctioned with the mission of saving the world. An unknown Global corporation are on the cusp of destroying vast areas of Earth. It is down to you to stop them. Work together to figure out how to take control of this Nuclear submarine and divert it from international destruction.

Date Played: 15th May 2022
Time Taken: 30 minutes
Number of Players: 4
Difficulty: Medium

Some people make pancakes on Sunday morning, other people enjoy a lie-in. Me and my friends? We save the world from nuclear disaster… Well actually, we technically messed up on that part, so perhaps we plunged the world into a nuclear winter due to our inability to read basic instructions. Either way… Sunday morning at Enigma Quest is nothing if not dramatic!

Submarine WaveBreak is the very last escape room in the Enigma Quest group we hadn’t yet played. So, with the sad news that I’ll soon be moving from London, I made myself an escape room bucket list and 100% finishing Enigma Quest was high up on that to-do. From the Million Pound Heist, to School of Witchcraft and Wizardry we have a feel for the unique flair that makes Enigma Quest special by now.

With Submarine WaveBreak, we were not disappointed!

 

 

About Submarine WaveBreak

Submarine WaveBreak is your ‘classic’ (if such a genre exists) nuclear submarine themed escape room. Our mission was simple but had devastating consequences for getting wrong: save the world from an imminent nuclear disaster. So, no pressure?

Our Enigma-tic hosts were John and Taylor. One of them was brand new to the venue and getting to grips with hosting a room, but honestly they were both so much helpful and knowledgeable it was impossible to tell who was trainer and who was trainee.  After delivering an enthusiast briefing about the experience, we promised our hosts that we’d save the world. Besides the fate of humanity on the line, our hosts had a pub quiz to get to later on, so it was imperative that we did our best.

From here, the big submarine doors swung open and we were immersed in the underbelly of a vast submarine, complete with high tech looking control panels, vast pipe networks, curious keys, and crates galore. Submarine WaveBreak is one of those rooms were you can pretty much see the entire physical space from your first vantage point, though there are plenty of doors to get through before then. It’s a large space subdivided into multiple spaces that represent different parts of the submarine.  The experience involved in a partially-linear, partially-non-linear format which culminated in a final meta puzzle that truly tested our attention. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

With our mission in hand, we were off to a flying start.

 

Solving the Submarine

In terms of puzzles, Submarine WaveBreak was a comfortable ‘medium’ in difficulty. As with non-linear escape rooms, there were plenty our team spotted right away and leapt into action, splitting off to focus on our own thing. We divided and conquered and only came together when it was time to proceed to the next room or an in-room meta puzzle.

Technically speaking, there was nothing in the room we hadn’t seen before – but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a blast playing through it. Each puzzle worked really well together in the entirely and made for a very fun puzzle flow from start to finish.

Whilst no spoilers here, you can expect to encounter plenty of pieces of equipment and puzzles you would expect to see in a submarine, with one or two fun twists on the genre. There were some pattern recognition puzzles, some two player collaborative puzzles, plenty of reading, some fun uses of equipment, and a very fun pipes puzzle. Some of them we triggered with mechanical actions in the room, but others we could tell were activated remotely by our games master on successful completion *cough cough* read as the puzzle triggering as correct before we’d actually hit a button. But it was all satisfying good fun.

In fact, when all is said and done, if not for missing a detail on the final puzzle (and accidentally blowing up the world – oops! Sorry!) we would have broken the game’s record for fastest completion time.

So, a little more on that ‘final puzzle’. If this were my first Enigma Quests experience I might have been more disappointed, but actually a surprise twist ending that requires extra attention is one of the company’s unique features, and I was half expecting to encounter something like this in the submarine. It’s no spoiler to say your goal is to deactivate the nuclear weapons. This means that the whole room centres around the one key meta puzzle of “right, how do we do this?”. Along the way you collect details and snippets of information that will help you in your final puzzle. But unlike in other Enigma Quests rooms, the Mission WaveBreak final puzzle is brutal. One chance to hit the big red button, and if a single switch (out of hundreds) is wrong, it’s game over.

For that reason, I can’t see many teams successfully escaping… But I might just be jaded by our own failure, even though we’d expected the twist and triple checked our answers before hitting the button. Thankfully, success or failure in this room doesn’t make too much of a difference. You escape, and you had a fun time along the way. It’s really quite simple and that’s all you could ever want from an escape room. Instead of the “Yay, you escaped” spiel, we got a funny “Oh no, the world is destroyed” one instead.

 

 

The Verdict

Enigma Quests is pretty much always a good time! Mission WaveBreak was no different – a light hearted romp through a nuclear submarine fit with nice decorations and well thought-out puzzles that worked seamlessly for us. It’s a good sign that every time we’ve shown up to play there’s always been a queue of people outside.

Despite our failure on the final puzzle, it was a fun Sunday morning escape room spent with good friends and two excellent Games Masters.

 

Mission WaveBreak can be booked by heading to Enigma Quest’s website here.

Crux Club: Puzzle Rap Star | Review

Image

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

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

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

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

 

 

About the Puzzle Rap Star Book

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

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

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

 

 

Nothing Rhymes with Puzzle…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Puzzle Your Way to the Top

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Plan: Battle For Britain | Review

Image

Escape Plan Battle for Britain Review | The day is 18th August 1940 and the Luftwaffe have launched a resurgent attack on Britain, where your air base has been hit by the first wave of heavy bombing. As the only survivors, you must access the strategic ops room and mobilise the full force of the RAF to save Britain. But with a second attack imminent, can you also save yourselves?

Date Played: April 2022
Time Taken: 34 mins 55 secs

Planes shot down: 70 out of 71
Number of Players: 5
Difficulty: Medium

Whenever that age-old question “What’s the best escape room in London” comes up in ER enthusiast forums, there are a few company names you can guarantee will feature in the answers. Escape Plan is one of them. Currently housed in the Rich Mix arts complex in Shoreditch, Escape Plan have been on the London scene since at least 2015. And their reputation as one of the best in London is well deserved based on their consistent theming, the attention to detail and the sheer number of puzzles their rooms contained.  You can tell from the moment you enter their basement space that people at Escape Plan love what they do.

 

I’d played both of Escape Plans other games, The Adventure Begins and Roll Out the Barrel (which has been hanging onto my top game spot for a while now) previously so it was with a lot of excited anticipation that I arrived with my team of fellow ER nerds to take on Battle for Britain.  Only recently reopened in Shoreditch, the game is already the rave of the ER scene, with glowing reviews and promises of an extraordinary and nail-biting finale.  So with expectation piled up on top of my anticipation could it possibly live up to the hype?

 

Top Secret Mission Briefing 

All of Escape Plan’s games are set during or shortly after World War II and the narrative for Battle for Britain takes place on one very specific date, 18th August 1940.  The Battle of Britain has been raging for a month and on this date, known as ‘the Hardest Day’, the German Luftwaffe made an all out effort to completely destroy Britain’s Fighter Command.  With that historic backdrop, the game makes you members of the RAF and the only survivors of a bombing raid on your airbase.  Under continuing enemy fire your first task is to gain access to the strategic ops room.  Once inside you must then take control of the full force of all available RAF squadrons and push the German planes back out of British airspace.  Your final aim is not to escape, but to shoot down as many aircraft as you can before your time runs out.  It is this last angle that makes Battle for Britain stand out as different to most trad ERs.  You are told from the very start that your goal is not to escape from the room in under 60 mins but to bring down as many of the German planes as possible.  The maximum it is possible to shoot down is 71 – the real number of German losses inflicted on that day in August 1940.

 

“Never was so much owed by so many to so few”

The game is effectively in two parts, although they aren’t equal in complexity or time needed.  The first part is closer in style to a ‘normal’ ER in that involves solving several puzzles that will allow you to open the door to the strategic ops room.  Escape Plan love a good meaty, physical prop repurposed into a puzzle and this room has you tackling challenges involving bikes, barrels and road signs.  Logic, spatial awareness and code breaking all come into play in this room and every puzzle is substantial and satisfying.

So far so linear.  But once you’re in the Ops room the game becomes much less of a straight line from one puzzle to the next and it’s very easy to split up and figure out several puzzles at the same time.  As in Escape Plan’s other games, the physical puzzles are a real joy.  The set design and build are probably the best in London (IMHO) with the clear love for both puzzles and crafting evident in the high quality, hand built nature of the props.  Why buy in an everyday padlock when you can build your own miniature puzzle boxes?  And as with the first room, there are lots of period props and objects that have been converted into puzzles, some of which are beautifully novel and unlike anything I’ve seen in other ERs.

The puzzles aren’t just beautiful, they are myriad.  There is a lot to do in this second room, with each individual puzzle helping you towards the meta puzzle that is the game’s climax.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  The sheer number of puzzles means that even a big team can split up and work on separate elements, feeding their results back into the bigger picture of the final puzzle.  But it does also mean that you can feel like you’ve only played a fraction of the room.  My team of 5 ER regulars and enthusiasts all left saying that we felt we’d only seen a small proportion of the puzzles.  What we had solved was very satisfying but we felt we’d missed out on quite a lot.  That, however, is the fault of our decision to put five puzzle-addict, ER geeks in the same room at the same time, not a fault of the game itself.

Once the individual puzzles are solved, you are ready to complete the final challenge.  I won’t give away details as part of the joy of the game is the discovery of how the climax happens.  But it is a nail-biting, nerve-jingling conclusion to the game that will make even the most cynical player feel patriotic and proud to have served in RAF colours.  It is inevitable that whoever plays, there will be cheering.


Our Verdict

While Roll Out the Barrel still remains my favourite of their games, Battle for Britain is another string in Escape Plan’s ‘one of the best ERs in London’ bow.  It has all the same loving attention to detail, hand crafted props and vast range of puzzle styles and challenges that have made their other games so popular.  The slight twist on a traditional ER structure makes for an interesting change to the norm, while there’s also enough satisfying individual puzzles to keep even the most experienced of players entertained.  To make the most of the room, I’d advise any ER enthusiasts to play with a max of 2-3 people so you get to see and play as many of the puzzles as possible, while for less experienced players, around 4-6 would make it easier to get everything done.  And as a final piece of advice from a team that managed to shoot down 70 of the 71 planes – double check your workings before committing to the final challenge or that last Luftwaffe bomber might just escape to raid another day.

Battle for Britain can be booked by heading to Escape Plan’s website here.

Eleven Puzzles: Parallel Lab | Review

Image

Parallel Lab Review | The detectives are following Cryptic Killer’s trail. After escaping Cryptic Killer’s trap, the detectives thoroughly investigated the area where they had been held. Sadly they have found nothing that could move their case closer to catching the killer… Or so they thought.

Date Played: May 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 2 hours
Difficulty: Medium

 

Image courtesy of Eleven Puzzles

 

Over the past 2 years, we’ve all become quite familiar with digital escape rooms, and I personally have had hit or miss experiences with them. After a few disappointing experiences, I decided to give virtual rooms a miss unless I was playing by myself, which means I didn’t play the first instalment of this series by Eleven Puzzles (that said, you can read what Rebecca and Mairi thought about the first instalment over in our review).

Fortunately for me, Eleven Puzzles reached out and invited us to play their latest digital escape room-style experience in exchange for a review (this review, in fact), and I was definitely intrigued by the premise and drawn in by the art style!

 

A very friendly parrot! | Image courtesy of Eleven Puzzles

The Premise

If the name hasn’t quite given it away yet, this virtual room requires at least two players, on separate devices. This is because you will each be exploring a slightly different version of the same room, and communicating to solve various puzzles. As you are independent, you are free to explore without being tied to the other person’s screen which was my main bugbear of other digital games. I loved the free roam aspect, but reliance on communication as there is no way to complete the puzzles otherwise. I assume this would be the same for any number of players and is definitely a huge positive.

 

The Puzzles

“Parallel Lab” is based in a series of rooms as you progress further into the lab and dive deeper into the story. There are 3 or 4 puzzles in each room, and it’s pretty clear where they are. By working together methodically we were able to get through each of them, but the answers aren’t always straightforward. Eleven Puzzles did a great job of presenting unique and interesting puzzles that were at the perfect level of difficulty – no hand-holding, no super obvious puzzles, and no tenuous leaps in logic. However, they’re also very supportive – allowing you to use hints with no penalties, and offering you a number of hints and nudges before revealing the answer – very similar to the increase in hints you’d get in a ‘real’ escape room!

I have to say I really enjoyed the puzzles in this game. Although there were a couple which we struggled with, they also brought a great sense of satisfaction when we’d had that brain wave – most of the time we just weren’t communicating enough! They were all perfectly suited for the room they were in and addressed a number of different skills and techniques.

My only critique of the puzzles was that they felt a little imbalanced at times – I found myself waiting for my teammate to complete something tricky on their side, but were unable to do anything on my side in the meantime. Later on, this was reversed – I was working on something a little more in-depth, and my teammate had to wait.

 

One of the rooms | Image courtesy of Eleven Puzzles

The playability

Technology-wise this ran extremely smoothly and easily. The game is played in a browser, so we hopped on a Skype call and logged in fairly quickly. The initial instructions were brief but informative, and ultimately the technology provided no barrier to playing. My only qualm with the setup is that I would have loved to see some of the puzzles my partner did!

 

The Verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed this game. I went in with fairly low expectations but was absolutely blown away. The interactivity and independence are a real positive, and the puzzles themselves were just as good as any physical room. I’m not sure how well this would work for a larger team, as you may end up talking over each other, but certainly paying £15 for 2 players is more than worth it.

 

Parallel Lab can be purchased by heading to Eleven Games’ website here.