The Magic Emporium: Three days ago a well renowned supplies shop for all budding wizards closed for the day. However inexplicably the shop never opened again. Sensing that forces of evil are at work you have decided that you are going to investigate the mystery behind Ms Garbo’s disappearance. Don’t get caught!
Date Played: December 2022 Time Taken: 35 minutes Number of Players: 3 Difficulty: Easy
“I’ve never done an escape room before”, my friend tells me.
“Wait, what?! Let’s fix that right away!”
Unfortunately by now I have done most of the absolutely excellent rooms in Edinburgh, so my choices to take a brand new non-enthusiast somewhere impressive were slim – but you can’t go wrong with somewhere like “Escape Edinburgh” which is a franchise with venues all around the UK. Back in London, I’d enjoyed a lot of their rooms and being a franchise model of company I figured they’d be pretty good in any city you came across. We’re fans of the ‘magical world’ theme, so The Magic Emporium in Edinburgh (one not available in London) seemed like a good bet to try out.
On a wintery day just after Christmas we took ourselves down to Escape Edinburgh to try out the magical shop themed room as a team of three. Between us, we had a range of ‘experience’ levels with the escape room, making for a perfect mix, and – in my opinion – a perfect team size for a game like this. The lobby area is much smaller than most escape rooms, so as we waited for our friend to arrive, we stood to one side reading through the waiver and making small talk with our host. Just as we were about to be led to the room, an enormous group of around 20 people who had not made a booking showed up asking if they could play a room there and then. I felt for the Games Master as they dealt with the chaos of that group arriving to the world’s smallest lobby all at once, and it did cause a slight delay to the start time of our game as we huddled in the corner patiently. But after a little while, we were at our room’s door and off into the magical world of “The Magical Emporium”.
The room starts impressively as you find yourself in a cobblestone alleyway outside of a row of shops. I really like this “looking into shop front mechanic”, and Escape Edinburgh did well to recreate a magical atmosphere in this space. As we could tell from the offset, there were many more puzzles to be found inside but our first task was simple: Get inside, somehow.
Magic and Mystery in the Air
The room did a fairly good job of taking us through the narrative and puzzling journey in terms of gameplay. It was a fairly linear room, although there were moments when different members of our group were split up from one another, relaying and reciting information we’d found. There was plenty of searching and finding, and plenty of locks to keep us occupied too. At one point did we get stuck and require a clue. The puzzle was something that had been staring us in the face for a while, but after much staring it didn’t quite click for us, so we opted for a clue. Besides this one puzzle, the overall game felt like it had a good balance of fun and puzzling to suit a newbie group (such as ourselves) and still give that magical spark that makes someone want to come back for more escape rooms. My life goal to create more escape room enthusiasts is therefore complete!
Since The Magic Emporium is a franchise escape room available at the Escape group, you might notice a similarly named room available at a number of other locations around the UK. Notable: Chelmsford, Lincoln, Walton Pier, Newcastle, Basildon and of course the venue we visited: Edinburgh. In general, rooms of the same name are the same across different locations. However some may have notable differences. So an experience at another venue may be slightly different than the one we had here. Similarly, being a franchise escape room, I find that sometimes- but not always, there’s a little wear and tear. This holds true for The Magic Emporium which I have no doubt was a stunning room in it’s glory days but now suffers a little roughness around the edges and slight breaks that can’t be easily fixed. That said, if you’re not put off by details like this, it’s still a solid escape room.
The Magic Emporium: The Verdict
A fun little room that suited our newbie group very well. We weren’t overly challenged, but we did have a lot of fun and appreciated the environment and setting a lot. The Magic Emporium would be an excellent room for kids and families alike, as there’s a fun mix of traditional locks and more ‘magical’ activations of hidden puzzles. It might not satisfy the enthusiast’s itch, but still worth a visit if you’re in the area.
The Magic Emporium is available at Chelmsford, Lincoln, Walton Pier, Newcastle, Basildon, and of course the location we did it at: Edinburgh. The room is (as far as we’re aware) identical at all locations.
Break the Internet Review | Congrats! Your company’s new social media site, Sincere Screen, is about to get a big update! Nothing could go wrong…right?
Date Played: February 2023 Time taken: 30 minutes Number of Players: 4 Difficulty: Medium
Escape SC are easily one of the most unique groups of people out there crating escape games because… Well… They’re a university group! Damn, I wish we’d had something like this when I was at university.
As such, it’s always a little hard to talk about the “Escape SC” style, because it changes year on year when new students join the club, and other graduate (hopefully onto a very successful career in game design themselves). But what the group does do consistently is create one, sometimes two new digital games each year, and if there’s one thread uniting all of them, it’s that they’re really, really good.
Break the Internet
Their latest adventure is called “Break the Internet” and poses you, the player, as an unpaid intern for a website about to launch a big social media campaign. Except, the files are corrupted. Too bad your boss is on holiday and can’t remember her password to the laptop she’s saved all the correct imagery on. It’s up to you to fix everything. Find those photos, fix the issues, or risk your internship. So, no pressure, hey.
The story is light-hearted and contains more than a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour! We’ve all had a dreadful internship like this where your bosses think they can just shunt their problems onto your plate whilst they go off on holiday. I’ve no doubt the students at Escape SC are also creating from the typical student experience of sacrificing a lot to get into university, get the best grades, only to be given the most menial and needlessly stressful job ever. Yeah, I’ve been there too.
Sandwiched between a few other more ARG-like games, my regular team of Escaping the Closet (Al, Ash and Tasha) got together to give Break the Internet a go on a calm Monday evening. I’d just finished up with work moments earlier, and was excited to dive into my second shift internship at Sincere Screen. A call from my new boss? Sitting somewhere sunny and sipping a cocktail. Ugh, the audacity of some people. Haha.
Web-solutely Good Fun
In terms of gameplay and puzzles, Break the Internet differs in earlier games by the team such as Science Splice in that we found it a little bit shorter and a little bit easier – but no less fun. We really enjoy the humour and topics they cover, good puzzles are just the icing on the cake. You start at your boss’s desk trying to crack her password based on a number of clues. Then, once you get into the computer, you’ve got to search around for the files to find what you need.
As you can imagine, many of the puzzles revolve around computers – there’s search and find, there’s mathematical puzzles, and there’s a fun amount of interactive ones too. What can I say, I love drawing on the screen. Hidden among those puzzles were memes and gems from the early internet era, neatly tied in with a very realistic “file hunt” game mechanic we enjoyed a lot.
There’s a logical sense of progression and linearity, but at times that linearity is taken quite far. What I mean is, at any given time all of us were working on the same puzzle at the same time. This is part in the way the game is set up, but also in the way that when one person clicks something it redirects for every player. So all of us were, quite literally, on the same page. Without being able to have different players move around different screens at once, we resorted to using screenshots of information from one area to solve another puzzle, and in more moments than not, one person did the bulk of the clicking, whilst the rest of us watched patiently.
If this isn’t an issue for you, then you won’t be bothered by this – and for us, we were doing this room at a more leisurely pace than we normally would, so though unusual, we still found it fun.
Surfing the Bright and Colourful World Wide Web
One of the things we enjoyed the most about Break the Internet were the visuals. Quite simply, this is a really lovely looking game. There’s a lot of care and effort gone into making it pop, from 3D graphics to illustrations, to a bright and poppy internet interface. As with previous games, Escape SC do a lot with a platform like Telescape, typically used for converting physical escape rooms to a digital format, instead Escape SC take the genre of a play at home escape room and create fictional worlds packed with details. It’s a lot of fun.
The team have also gone to the extra effort of having video portions where you’re introduced to the characters of the game, setting the story and breaking up the puzzle solving chunks.
Break the Internet is a fun game. We completed it quite fast – but we still reckon you get a lot of value for your money with this one – at the time of writing, it costs $7 USD to play Break the Internet, but we were kindly provided with a code for free. It would be best played in a smaller group, perhaps even best played solo. Some of the earlier Escape SC games are no longer available, so whilst I don’t know what the team’s plans are for this one – it’s best to play it sooner than later!
Envelescape Review: You and your party of property investors are eager to view the illustrious Thornbright Mansion that has just gone up for sale, but not everything is as it seems. Strange damages, missing documents, and cryptic notes alert you to something far more sinister inside this home.
Date Played: February 2022 Time Taken: 25 minutes Number of Players: 3 Difficulty: Very Easy
Envelescape is probably best known for running a Kickstarter way back at the start of 2023. Fully funded within one hour, it ended up raising 71 593 CA$ which meant success – the project would be brought to live. Fast forward to a year later, and one of the creators reached out inviting us to play. Though I’d missed the Kickstarter myself (*shakes fist at the universe for always being broke in January*), I was excited to play the game in it’s fully realised, shiny, pop-up form.
Envelescape has done an excellent job of building up a community. From a team of fairly unknown game designers, to hit the big numbers in Kickstarter and be as popular as they have been in the months since, a big round of applause! To say we were excited would be an understatement. And so, on a bright Tuesday afternoon, I invited 2 of my favourite puzzlers round of an evening of ‘envelope’ games – Including Scarlet Envelope, Enigmailed, and Envelescape. For no particular reason, we went with Envelescape first. In hindsight this was the right thing to do, as Envelescape, being vastly easier and quicker to play than the other two, warmed up our brains in a fast paced 25 minutes.
I wasn’t sure if 25 minutes was right, since the Kickstarter suggested 60 – 90 minutes, so in true The Escape Roomer form, before writing the review I handed the game to one of my fellow writers here for a more balanced opinion. How long did they take? 15 minutes, solo. So, it’s a quick game. But why? Well, it’s easy – but is it too easy? Maybe yes. Let’s get into why.
Image (c) Envelescape
Welcome to Thornbright Mansion
Envelescape is a fairly non-linear game set in a small ‘pop-up environment’, representing the front hallway of Thornbright mansion. There’s a web-portal with six images on it, representing the six puzzles to be solved in the environment. You can more or less do these in any order, although the solutions for some of them may help with later ones. But in all, the flow of the game was straightforward. We looked at the 6 images, found where they were in the house, solved the puzzle, inputted our answer, and then opened an envelope. Inside each, a scrap of paper such as a letter, or a receipt. Some of these papers were puzzles in themselves, but most were narrative – carrying the story along. Rinse and repeat until you’ve solved all 6.
Of the six puzzles, we found most of them self contained, and very easy. For example – light spoilers incoming – one of the puzzles was a riddle written on the floor. This riddle wasn’t well hidden, in fact, due to the way we opened the game, it was actually visible to us from the beginning. It was also a well known riddle we’d seen countless times before. Before we read the introduction, one of our party had already solved the riddle, citing that they’d seen it on one of those Facebook “Can you solve this brainteaser” posts earlier that same week. What you see is what you get. In this specific case, the whole puzzle was contained within the one riddle, and this rule held more or less the same for the remaining 5. No secret step 2, and no hidden layers.
At the 10 second mark of the game, we were 1/6th of the way through the game… That’s got to be a record, right?
“But what about the story, the materials, the fun factor?” I hear you ask!
Paper Ghosts, or Something Scarier?
Since we solved all the puzzles quickly, the bulk of our gameplay was spent reading the materials. Between the three of us, we took turns reading each of the materials in silly voices, putting on affectations of the characters in the house. The house was full of curious characters, and we loved bringing them to life. For sure, there isn’t a huge amount of reading. There’s an introduction, and then the additional information supplied by the materials in the envelopes… But despite the few materials in this game, the creators managed to communicate the story quite well! A certain aura of the creepy, the mysterious, and a touch of the macabre. A mysterious old house, and you – a team of property investors coming to investigate. But with documents missing, and strange scratches in the wall… What is going on?!
Well… I don’t know.
Unfortunately this is the first chapter, so we were left with more questions than answers by the end. A cliff hanger? Gasp!
I have a theory about what is really going on in the house, and if I’m right, I have to congratulate the authors on seeding little clues in this first chapter. But until that time, we’re left wondering.
Image (c) Envelescape
A Physical, Tactile Experience
So how does Envelescape look? How does it feel? Well, it’s a small tactile pop-up room that fits down into a small envelope. It’s made from a sturdy card stock and glossy laminate. Our particular copy of the game had to travel a really long distance from Canada to the UK. It had some slight damage on arrival – bent card, and the envelopes inside looked like they’d jostled around a little too much. But I can’t fault the creators for that since that’s outside of their control.
In terms of illustrations… Envelescape is super bright and visually very fun! The illustrator did a really lovely job of bringing a spooky old house to life, with a blocky, cell-shaded cartoon-like veneer. It’s really pretty. I love pop-up games, and I doubley love them when you can tell the creators have put a lot of love into making them visually impressive.
However, if you want to really enjoy and take in the lovely illustrations, you’ll have to be quick. There was no mechanic in the game to keep the pop-up scene open, and so one of us always had to keep their hands on the game holding it open manually whilst the other two people solved. We tried using our mobile devices and pins to keep it open, but the process was a little clunky, and the game didn’t feel built for anything other than holding it open with your hand. In the end, taking some photographs and viewing them from our mobile device rather than try to wield the pop-up scene worked best for us. For a pop-up game, this was a little disappointing and felt like a big oversight. For such an impressive and good looking game – I want to show it off! It would look beautiful open on my board game shelf, and it should really stay open on its own. Perhaps there’s an opportunity in the future for the company to sell a stand and pushpins to use to keep their game open?
But that brings me to the second thought our team had, and that was: Why pop-up?
Don’t get me wrong, I love pop-up games, but we definitely felt that besides looking ‘behind’ objects, there wasn’t anything in the game that particularly lent itself to pop-up mechanics, and the pop-ups themselves were fairly basic. A pop-up flight of stairs, and two cupboards. The rest was a flat illustration. According to the Kickstarter, the game was designed to recreate the physical feeling of being in an escape room, but we thought that besides one moment in the game (a moment we accidentally bypassed anyway) the game didn’t need to be pop-up at all. It would have worked just as well on a single, printed piece of paper, or as a digital point and click game.
If that sounds like a criticism, it isn’t meant to be. I love that they had a cool idea and decided to render it in something that (at the time) not a lot of companies were doing, it makes Envelescape unique and marketable. But pop-up environments are meant to be immersive. They’re unique and rich with opportunities for really creative puzzles that don’t fit into other mediums. I would love to see Envelescape take better advantage of this and create puzzles that only work in this environment.
This game has a lot of good points, and an equal number of areas we felt slightly disappointed in. I think we all thought the game had more potential, however any company’s first game is always going to be a bit of test run (I would probably die of embarrassment if someone wrote a review today of the first few games I designed and published) . With this first chapter of what I hope is a long and successful series, the creative team probably knows what works and what doesn’t work, and I’ve no doubt they’ll carry the learnings well into the next. I’m actually really excited to see what Envelescape do in the future. It’s clear the company has fantastic ideas, a dedicated and talented team, their first game was fun – it just needed more. And players wanting ‘more’ of a game is an excellent problem to have!
As a final note to this whole review, as someone who is a game designer who works on pop-up puzzle games myself, I thought long and hard about asking one of my co-writers to lead on this review instead. But after weighing up the pros and cons (and since all of us who played broadly agree on the verdict), I decided that actually my background gives me a good experience, perspective and a certain authority to talk about pop-up puzzle games as a medium. What works, what doesn’t work – and what has big potential. I recognise the hard work Envelescape have put into Thornbright Mansion (god knows it’s hard making a game like this) and I would applaud them for it. I’m excited to see what they come up with next.
“3D Puzzle Orbital Box is a new form of intellectual logic game designed to play the story and scenarios of the EscapeWelt quest. After assembling the constructor, get to the secret compartment with your loved ones without leaving home! Double the fun! A thrilling experience, tricky traps, and intricate puzzles of the quest room await you. 3D Puzzle Orbital Box is designed by experienced engineers who have developed unique puzzles and multi-level challenges.”
Completion Time: 1 hour each (to solve), 2 hours (to construct) Date Played: December 2022 Party Size: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Love ERs? Love flat pack furniture DIY? Want to meld the two into an afternoon’s entertainment and/or frustration (depending on your level of dexterity and patience)? Then the Orbital Constructor set is ideal for you.
I’ve waxed lyrical about my love for wooden puzzle boxes before when I reviewed EscWelt’s House of the Dragon. And I still get real childlike pleasure from finding them in IRL escape rooms, especially in any of the brilliant games at Escape Plan where carefully themed and hand-crafted puzzle boxes frequently replace the erstwhile padlock. So I was first with my hand up when EscWelt asked us to take a look at two of their other puzzle games – Orbital Constructor and Space Box.
Where to Start?
Orbital and Space Box sit alongside EscWelt’s range of hand built, complex 3D puzzles and you can buy them already set up and ready to go. But if you fancy a double challenge you can also buy their ‘constructor’ kits and do the building yourself. Which is what I sat down to do one grey day in that confusing nowhere time between Christmas and New Year. From the very start it’s easy to see why EscWelt is proud of its reputation for quality hand-built puzzles because right from the get-go it was obvious that putting the Orbital together was going to be some mean feat.
With the box open, the sheer number of pieces of laser cut puzzle parts was suddenly quite daunting, as was the rather hefty instruction/build manual that accompanied them. The puzzle pieces come in 6 sheets and my childish, ‘I don’t need to read the instructions’ instinct meant I wanted to start popping out all the parts straight away. I can only say this is very much not a good idea. Resist the popping urge. The pieces are numbered but sometimes the numbers are on the surrounding sheet rather than the piece itself so had I given into my initial instinct I would have had one big pile of pieces and no clue which was which. Thankfully I did actually read the instructions (my late DIY loving dad would be so proud of me!) and realised that I needed to do this build in an organised and coherent fashion.
The actual build process is fairly simple if you follow the instruction manual carefully. For those with middle aged eyesight like me the writing and the pictures are pretty small and you do have to be able to see the detail as some pieces are very similar and can fit in ‘wrong’ places. But if you pay attention, double check you’ve got the right piece facing the right way, then it’s a step by step process clearly laid out. There’s no glue, sticking, cutting or similar involved as all the pieces slide or click into place. The only extra you might want to have on hand is a candle as some of the parts that you’ll need to slide or rotate when playing the actual game will be easier to move if they’ve been waxed. (This is one part of the instructions I missed and it did make it difficult to move a few integral parts later on).
Once you’ve done all the construction you’re left with a substantial little box that has a hinged opening lid and space inside to fit a gift or surprise if you intend to hand this on to someone else to solve. You insert a couple of ‘keys’ and the box is locked until either you or your giftee has solved the 3D challenges that it poses.
You might think that having built the box from scratch, the ER puzzle-solving part of the Orbital box would be spoiled or far too easy. But it’s really not. Yes, you might already know that you need to slide a few pieces around, rotate a disc or two but that’s all the help the construction process gives you. Once the box is locked, getting back into it is still a challenge. The puzzle part is similar to EscWelt’s other 3D challenges, and other similar products on the market – figure out where to start to generate a code that you can enter into a certain part of the box to release the lid and plunder the goodies in side. The only thing missing for me with the Orbital was the narrative element. When I played ‘House of the Dragon’ there was a leaflet explaining a brief narrative reason for the game but my instructions for the Orbital didn’t include anything similar. When I had to go to the EscWelt’s website for a hint in solving the box (see, I told you it wasn’t easy even after you’ve built it yourself!) I realised there was supposed to be a space theme but, for me, that isn’t clear in the box itself. That’s a minor niggle though. The box can be played simply as a collection of mechanical puzzles to solve and is just as enjoyable.
I also played EscWelt’s Space Box (already constructed) at the same time. The mechanics are very similar to Orbital (and House of the Dragon) and will feel familiar if you’ve played any 3D challenges before. Both offer enough of a challenge to get you thinking (finding the point to start can take a while) but aren’t so thorny that you get frustrated and give up. And the EscWelt’s website offers video hints to help you on your way if you do get stuck.
As I said at the start, I love a puzzle box and these from EscWelt are satisfyingly challenging to solve. If I’m honest, I think I’d skip the ‘construction’ part in future, I’d rather get straight to the puzzles, but if you’re of a model making mind then this is a good way to get two fun hobbies out of one item.
Please Note: We received this experience for free in exchange for an honest review.
Top Escape Rooms: Swan Song Review | Dean Waylon is the front man of the band – Us, Them, Or Dean. Tonight, they will be performing the kick-off show of their concert run at the Colosseum Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Checking in Dean’s dressing room, his manager finds Dean’s personal belongings, but no sign of Dean. Find the clues and solve the puzzles as you retrace the career of Dean Waylon. If you’re quick, you can get the scoop on his disappearance before security catches you.
Completion Time: 59:00 Date Played: 8th October 2022 Party Size: 3
About Top Escape Rooms
Rockstar Swan Song is one of five escape rooms provided Top Escape Rooms in Holt Heath, Worcestershire. The room is based on the touring band Us, Them Or Dean and their frontman called…. *checks notes* Dean; whom has gone missing before a Las Vegas show and we need to locate him!
This was supposed to be a party size of 4. However one of the party was ill, therefore 3 of us had to take to the stage instead!
Poster (c) Top Escape Rooms
Before We Begin…
The party consisted of myself and 2 friends who all share two things in common… our love of the Netflix series Cobra Kai and that we are all current/former music professionals.
Another thing… my teamies had never done an escape room before. As an escape room ambassador, I’ve got to get this right and not scare them off! When I saw this music-themed room advertised I booked it post-haste.
Poster (c) Top Escape Rooms
I’ve Lost My Frontman…
Our GM was welcoming and friendly. He explained that the game was linear, allowing us to fully focus on the task in hand. We then passed round a directional lock (see below) for familiarity, giving us a practice go on them to get a tactile feel of how they work. This was great, especially as my two teamies had not used one before.
The GM then spoke about his own background of working in the music industry. This was interesting in itself and I didn’t even realise the fluid change into the backstory of the game; until it actually happened(!) Next thing we know, we have been tasked with finding his frontman Dean, as the show was to begin in one hour.
We were given our backstage/dressing room passes, alongside a digital notepad and the timer starts to tick away!
Pay Attention Russ…
Mental Note. Don’t steamroll the room. I had to make myself not get too involved and at times, stand back to allow my teamies to experience as much escape room fun as they possibly could…. otherwise the escape room gods would never forgive me.
This Felt Too Familiar…
I’ve been there before. About to go on stage and a band member (usually the frontperson!) has gone for a walk without telling anyone. The rest of the band now sweating bullets and arguing about who is going to sing in their place…
The dressing room was very thematic; there was that feeling of a bare room being dressed-up for it’s specific habitant at the time, ready for it to be changed for the next performer in minimal turnaround time. On one wall, were three very distinctive touring posters of the band from years past. Each one, telling a story (and a puzzle) of what happened and what is to come.
All but one of the puzzles were padlock based. The one, was an electronic-based, fader/mixer type puzzle with an amplifier. It looked incredibly authentic and had the biggest wow factor. I personally would like to have seen more electronic-based puzzles, especially considering how much electronics are used in a musician’s day-to-day life! The types of puzzles included, but not limited to; map-reading, wordplay, maths, light-based and musical.
I’ve Never Heard “Helpful” And “Stage Manager” Put In a Sentence Together…
When we were stuck and needed a hint, an electric guitar chord would strike and the stage manager would leave us a tailored message under the countdown clock. The hints were useful and relevant, however in some cases; unsolicited. There were times, I feel, if the stage manager had let us have another moment or so to reflect, we would have solved the focussed set-piece on our own.
My suggestion would be to Top Escape Rooms for all their games; to ask how much input the hint-giver should provide to the team before the game begins.
With around 12 minutes to go, I felt we were doing rather well….
Until we opened a padlock to a second room.
At this point, I internally panicked.
“We have 12 minutes to solve another room?!”
Well, it was two puzzles total. However, that revelation turned me from a semi-seasoned escaper, into a fumbling idiot. The majority of work for the last two set pieces was done by my teamies, who once again, had never done an escape room before. (Well done Russ, you’re letting the whole escape room industry down here….)
To their credit however, they pulled us (me) through with one minute to spare.
As much as the first room was thematically and immersivity beautiful, the second room felt bare in comparison. Firstly, because there were only two puzzles, it felt unbalanced from a weighting perspective. Secondly, the walls were blank with one poster, that didn’t really add to the theming or immersion in any way; it lacked the personality the first room had. It wasn’t a complete deal-breaker, but the overall experience was certainly reduced because of this.
As you can see, my music career was short-lived, based on the way I held a guitar…
For The Music Dreamer Or Virtuoso?
My escape newbie teamies found the room not too easy and not too difficult. Therefore, this would be a perfect choice for someone who hasn’t played an escape room before. More seasoned players however, might find (particularly the first few) aspects of the room, to not be challenging enough.
The puzzle designs (again, particularly with the first few) are almost-all quite common and have been often used in already existing escape rooms. There are also two maths-based puzzles. There is a calculator in the room, however if you are really adverse to them, the second of the two may cause frustration…
The music based puzzle however, was very innovative. That being said, we collectively agreed that it may completely stump a team with zero musical intuition.
Unfortunately however, this room is now retired! We were the very last team to play it!
Touring Is Expensive!
For a party of 4 as we intended, this room cost £17.50 per person. This is a solid price point, however big thanks to Top Escape Rooms for handing me a £10 voucher to use for a future game in light of our poorly 4th player. This kind of customer service is greatly appreciated and I have already booked two further rooms here in the upcoming months as a result of this gesture.
Overall, Top Escape Rooms have a solid room in Rockstar Swan Song. It is a great one for beginners, with its linear design and organic learning curve. The second room falls a little bit flat, however the first room has a strong thematic and authentic take on the dressing room of an actual touring musician, which was a welcome sight for us as a team of musicians.
My teamies both enjoyed themselves and are looking to do another escape room closer to Christmas time. I’m counting that as a mission successful from an ambassador point of view!
Top Escape Rooms’s Rockstar Swan Song is now retired, but their other games can be booked by heading to their website here.
Mystery at the Museum: The Search for Dippy Review | The year is 1905 and you have been invited to a special preview of the newest display at the Natural History Museum – ‘Dippy the Diplodocus’. But when you arrive the curators are in a panic and you realise something is amiss – you’ve found a note that tells you several parts of Dippy the Diplodocus are going to be stolen before the display opens! Follow the clues around the Museum, question the suspects and track down the culprit before the King arrives for the display’s launch. Can you help the curators prevent a national scandal?
Date played: October 2022 Time taken: 90 mins Number of players: 3 Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
Night at the Museum
Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London
Which of us wouldn’t leap at the chance to sneak around behind the scenes in a museum after the public have been ushered out and the doors locked behind them? And when that museum is London’s Natural History Museum in South Kensington the appeal is even greater. London’s museums and galleries have long embraced the idea of late, after dark openings with extra access to exhibitions alongside bars and live music. But the NHM’s ‘mystery’ evening might be the first time a museum has allowed eager ER enthusiasts and puzzle hunters to roam its corridors in search of suspects and solutions. Trying to temper my excitement that, at nightfall and behind closed doors, the exhibits might come to life for me as they did for Ben Stiller, I headed down to South Ken to find out if my detectoring skills were up to solving the mystery at the museum.
Impressive Game Space
Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London
First up, wow. Just wow. When we arrive at dusk the Natural History Museum is looking glorious in the gloaming. It really is a stunning piece of Victorian architecture which lives up to it’s ‘Cathedral of Nature’ epithet. Entering under the main arch is thrilling when you realise that you’re really about to have this vast space to yourselves for the evening. Well, you and probably 75 other people. And only a few of the galleries. But still. You still feel… special.
But if there’s anything that’s guaranteed to make you feel insignificant rather than special it’s the humungous skeleton of a blue whale that greets you as you enter the central Hintze Hall. Suspended dramatically from the ceiling and lit up in startling red, the whale certainly draws your attention. There’s not much time, however, to feel the vast inferiority of the human species because as soon as you arrive a game card is pushed into your hand and you are whisked off to meet Inspector Lestrade. The game, it seems, is already afoot.
One word of warning – although the publicity for this event promotes it as an ‘escape room-like game’, it is most definitely not an escape room. Arrive expecting an ER and you will be disappointed. Attempt to rummage around the museum, opening drawers and searching cabinets as you would in an ER and you’re likely to be expelled! But while it isn’t an ER that doesn’t stop it being a whole heap of fun.
To get started you need to read the game card you were given on arrival. It outlines the mystery that faces you. The unveiling of the new exhibition featuring the skeleton of Dippy the Diplodocus is due to take place tomorrow. But a suspicious note has been found, suggesting a crime will take place before the grand opening and which could plunge the museum into unwanted scandal. The game card also gives you the names and brief bios of six suspects who have been ordered to stay in the museum by Lestrade until the case has been closed.
Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London
Lestrade also gives you a copy of the note and your next task is to decipher it. This is really the only actual puzzle involved in the game and it’s not especially hard but does get you moving around the galleries that surround the main museum hall. And stopping to ask a few of those suspects some penetrating questions along the way will also help your case solving.
Because this is mostly about interacting with those suspects. It’s really a traditional ‘whodunnit’ and you will get the most out of your evening and the event if you spend time grilling the suspects (whose period costume makes them easy to spot) and honing your theories. You can question them as often and for as long as you like, or listen in as other players ask their own questions. Although they may tell you a few lies, they will also give you some nuggets of truth and if you can unpick their elaborate webs of accusations, fabrications, deflections and evasions, you might just be able to work out, in the words of Mr Sherlock Holmes himself, who had the “means, motive and opportunity” to commit the crime.
Dippy’s Dino Denouement
Once you’ve solved the opening puzzle, interrogated your suspects and worked out a convincing theory you can take your hypothesis and test it on Sherlock. Holmes solved the mystery in 17 minutes himself so he’s happy to throw you a bone or two if you’re not quite on the mark. And if, after a couple of guesses, you’re still not 100% correct, Holmes will take pity on you and give you the full story. Because no-one wants to go home without knowing who really did design to destroy Dippy’s debut.
Overall, if you approach this as a mystery solving game along the lines of a traditional murder whodunnit then you will have loads of fun. The mystery is sufficiently knotty to keep you questioning suspects and untangling theoretical threads for well over an hour and, for the adults, there’s an in venue bar to keep your whistle wet and your mind sharp. Full kudos to the actors playing the suspects who handle even the most obscure of questions with aplomb, keep in character throughout and manage to retain details of the multiple narrative threads all while dropping gentle hints and prods to get you moving in the right direction. And the venue itself, the access to certain areas of it after hours and when it’s empty of tourists, is worth the price of admission alone.
A few minor niggles. Any expectations of difficult tradition ER puzzling will be disappointed and I think, personally, that they should remove the reference to an ‘escape room-like game’ from promotional material and instead focus on the massive positive of it being a strong mystery-solving evening. Those ER players who don’t enjoy engaging with live performers will want to steer clear as well. Talking to the actors throughout is the only way to play this game.
There were also some weaknesses in communication that left us unaware we had to take our final conclusions to Holmes to be checked. It was only when we eavesdropped on other groups that we realised. And there’s no satisfyingly dramatic conclusion when the culprit is officially unmasked. Because the event has a staggered start time with groups arriving and getting started throughout the evening, everyone reaches their final answer at different times. Once we’d reported to Holmes, that was it. Game no longer afoot. So the evening sort of petered out.
We had a fun evening though. Not too strenuous on the little grey cells, but a nice little mystery to solve in a fantastic location.
Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London
If you want to get into a suitable detective frame of mind before the game, or want to continue afterwards, then I highly recommend a visit to the Evans and Peel detective agency (about a 15 minute walk away). A secret speakeasy bar with a fantastic, and inventive, cocktail menu, you need to provide a good cover story before you can gain access. The more imaginative and bonkers the better. It’s advised to book.
Arcadium Adventures: A Most Mysterious Convention Review | Chapter One in Arcadium’s Most Mysterious Cases, now you can enjoy more of the intrigue, the mysteries and the stories from wherever you are! This experience is a most enjoyable way to spend an afternoon or evening at home and can even be used as greeting card or gift.
Date Played: August 2022 Time Taken: ~1 hr Number of Players: 2 Difficulty: Comfortable
After taking a long break – mostly spent moving house from London to Edinburgh – I was excited to return back to the world of puzzle games! They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Well this saying is definitely true for all things escape room, board game and a combination of the two (like this one).
Having settled down, I couldn’t wait to invite fellow puzzler Rebecca round for an afternoon of puzzling. The very first game in our list came all the way over from Arcadium Adventures in Australia. Arcadium Adventures is a brick-and-mortar escape room based in Brisbane who specialise in all things magic and mystery. For book lovers and adventure afficionados, they also have a series of “play at home escape rooms” whose names all begin with “A Most Mysterious…”
Over the course of two hours, broken in the middle by lunch, we played through both Chapter One and Chapter Two of Arcadium Adventures’ series. Here’s how we got on:
A Mysterious Box Arrives
The first thing to note about Arcadium Adventures is the boxes they arrive in… So small, yet so much fun! Chapter One was about the size of a small paperback, so it fit perfectly through my letterbox. It’s a good quality box, very sturdy and lightweight. However, if you wanted to play the game but didn’t want to pay postage, the company also offers the games as digital downloads. I’m assuming these would be a PDF version of all the printed materials we received. A few items may need to be printed out, but mostly there’s no reason it couldn’t be played online.
Inside, we opened it up to discover a wealth of different pieces of paper and clippings all that related to our mystery at hand. A black envelope sealed with a wax stamp titled “Begin Here” points to where (and how) to get started. Inside this envelope was an introductory, expositional piece. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was simple:
ARCANACON – The Annual Mystery Convention
ARCANACON is the fictional (awww!) annual mystery convention and sadly we were not able to attend this year. However, the organisers of ARCANACON have sent us a letter with a secret message. Across the materials about the convention is a puzzle to be solved. If we manage to solve everything, we’ll uncover the secret message.
The ARCANACON Radio was also available to us which, we were pleasantly surprised to discover wasn’t just music but also a true radio-style broadcast that occasionally interrupted our play with fun messages. We also had access to a webpage which provided recipes, a chatbot, additional hints, and a place to input our answers.
The creators of Arcadium Adventures really outdid themselves with all the little extra details, and we appreciated those a lot! They added an extra level of immersion to the whole experience. I only hope that one day ARCANACON will be a real life thing we can actually attend. Now that would be fun!
Puzzles & Papercraft
In terms of the puzzles, the structure of the game was quite simple. Every puzzle was tackled in isolation and every puzzle gave a digit output that at the end of the game would be strung together to reveal the secret message. Whilst this is a fairly common ‘secret message delivery system’ regular players will recognise from other games out there, Arcadium Adventures required a 23 digit code. The more digits, the more room for error… And there was a little bit of error on our part. Such as accidentally mixing up the order of two puzzles, or making small typos when relaying the 23 digits. But nothing we couldn’t overcome after a few attempts.
In terms of those individual puzzles, there was a range of different puzzle types. There were some folding puzzles, plenty of cipher puzzles, puzzles where you had to overlay one material onto another, logic puzzles, and so on and so on.
Overall we’d probably say that both the game’s puzzles and it’s overall input wasn’t particularly innovative. For starters, we both agreed that every puzzle in the game we’d seen somewhere else before – but that does come with the territory when you play hundreds and hundreds, so I can’t fault them there. But more than this there was an overall sense of the objects being quite random, and their solutions feeling a little forced. There’s a lot of discourse in the industry I won’t get into here about mimetic and diegetic puzzles, so I’ll just distil that down into “the vibes” were a little off.
But that’s not to say we didn’t have fun, and this would be an excellent introductory game to somebody who has never played a “play at home escape room”. The creators should be very proud for building a well balanced and enjoyable puzzle game.
Image (C) Arcadium Adventures
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the first of the Arcadium Adventures games. It was good for at least an hour’s worth of puzzling fun, set within a quirky story about a mystery convention, and really pushed us to think outside of the box on some of the puzzles. It’s a great quality box with a wealth of fun details inside. As mentioned, we’d recommend this game for beginners who want to try their hand at a ‘play at home escape room’. It’s a good level of difficulty to be challenging in parts and satisfying in others.
There is room for improvement for sure, but as the company continues to make more adventures like these I’ve no doubt they’ll get better!
Date played: March 2022 Time taken: 48 minutes / 46 minutes / 45 minutes Number of players: 2 Difficulty: Easy / Hard / Medium
As someone who lives in London, I don’t often get the chance to venture ‘up north’, but there are quite a few companies that are making a name for themselves! Just outside of Manchester (an easy tram ride away) is the small town of Bury, home to “Compendium Escapes”. We decided to tick off all their rooms at once, so here I’m covering the first three, and leaving their award-winning final room for a post of its own!
Compendium: Laboratory | Review
You and your friends have been given the challenge to find and steal a Laboratory’s TOP secret remedy needed to cure a deadly disease. You have been entrusted with all the information you need to gain entry to the lab but no idea how to find the antidote undetected and once inside you find yourselves trapped. Do you have what it takes to save lives and escape the lab with the antidote?
When we entered the lab we found ourselves in a relatively large, clean room with plenty of science-y artifacts lying around. The premise is simple; locate and recover the antidote for the deadly pandemic that is ravaging the planet (I swear this was launched long before Covid-19). We immediately split up and started searching for clues, locating a number of interesting items and numbers dotted about. The decor in the room was great – it played into the theme and there quite multiple times when something which initially appeared to be a prop turned into a key puzzle!
Image (c) Manchester Evening News
This room is often said to be the best room for families, and I can see why – the room is full of bright colours and varied puzzles, with most puzzles within reach of small hands and some exciting little spaces to explore. The only issue is that the one main puzzle in the room (to access the parts of the antidotes) would not be possible for younger children, and indeed was not possible for me at 5ft3! However, the GM handled this really well, and let us off as he could see we had made quite a few attempts, but just physically couldn’t manage it. If this had been later in the day I can imagine this would’ve made us quite frustrated, but as it was we brushed past it and chalked it up to a slightly annoying thing.
The location isn’t very physically accessible, being up some quite steep stairs, but the room itself has a chair to sit in and is well lit. There is some reliance on colour, and that pesky physical puzzle. Hints are given via a screen, so otherwise no reliance necessarily on hearing.
Compendium: Bedlam | Review
Bentham Asylum has been standing since the 1900’s. In 1950 Bentham was given the nickname BEDLAM because of the events that happened in those 50 years, In 1974 Cell p23 was mysteriously locked without an explanation as to why. Bedlam has secrets that need to be uncovered. You and your team are the top journalists in your field, you have been tasked with uncovering the secrets that are held behind Cell P23’s walls. Can you go undercover, get in the cell undetected and escape with all the documents that will uncover the secrets of BEDLAM?
I am really not a horror fan. I am a massive coward, so the idea of doing not just one, but two ‘scary’ rooms was a little daunting. However, we spoke to the Compendium team prior to booking who assured me there would be no live actors or jump scares, so we went ahead and booked. Bedlam definitely fits into the ‘creepy’ and suspenseful area of ‘scary’, with atmospheric background music/sounds that felt extremely immersive. I actually found myself really enjoying this! The combination of dingy lighting, a chair with handcuffs, and random screams in the background helped set the mood and get the adrenaline running before any puzzles have taken place.
The room itself is very small – we played as a duo, and I’m not sure I would’ve wanted to play with anymore! Despite this, I was amazed by how much Compendium have fit into this space, and we were constantly surprised by certain discoveries. There are so many hidden areas carefully blended into the padded walls that we really had a sense of excitement and never knew what was coming next.
The puzzles were a fantastic example of thematic design – they all fit the theme perfectly, and to a certain extent helped carry the narrative too. They were fairly non-linear (I know there were a few puzzles I never saw), with a couple that also required some team cooperation. None of the puzzles frustrated us, and all the logic made total sense. There were also some really interesting mechanisms used for these puzzles, but I don’t want to spoil anything!
Like all their rooms, this is very much not accessible. Obviously, you need to climb up some steep stairs to reach the room itself, but there is a chair within the room. There is the requirement for at least one team member to be happy with crawling and small spaces, although this really isn’t the room for anyone with claustrophobia given the general size. The room was fairly dim, but we found a torch which helped!
Compendium: Wrong Turn | Review
You and your friends are driving along route 66 when you notice your gas running low, a friend suggests to make a turn at the next set of crossroads to see if there is a gas station… you don’t find a gas station but decide to explore the one place you have discovered by taking that WRONG TURN…. Will you escape or will you spend your life regretting that wrong turn?
The third room we did at Compendium was another ‘scary’ room – this time we entered the home of a serial killer. Once again we confirmed there were no live actors or jump scares, but unfortunately, there were plenty of mannequins (which is my specific phobia). The team were great though, and removed what they could, giving my mum a warning of where others were so she could deal with them for me. That aside, this room was fantastically creepy in a different way to Bedlam. Rather than screams, the soundtrack was instead an old fashion song and commercial, and the room and set dressing were just off enough to be unsettling.
Image (c) Manchester Evening News
Rather than entering into the lair directly, we instead found ourselves in an old-fashioned kitchen off Route 66. At first glance, nothing seems amiss, but look a bit closer and you realise that maybe things are not as they appear. The set dressing here was excellent, with a lot of relevant props and accessories to investigate, but not so many that they would count as red herrings (and none dressed as puzzles). The difference between this room and the lair (when you discover it) is very stark, and quite horrific (as you might imagine).
The puzzles themselves were a bit trickier than the other rooms, but still had a great flow and were fairly non-linear. I really appreciated the need to hunt for items and keep track of these throughout the room, as well as the requirement to move between the kitchen and the lair. The space is also a lot bigger than initially anticipated, with a great sense of atmosphere. There were also some unique physical puzzles here, which I quite enjoyed!
In terms of accessibility – again, steep stairs to the location, but chairs inside. There is a requirement to be able to crawl to reach the lair, and there are some smaller, darker spaces to be aware of. You will need to be able to differentiate colours for this room too.
Compendium, The Verdict
I think Compendium is a fantastic company, who clearly pay close attention to all aspects of room design. I have written a separate review about their final room, UI-55, which is currently my number 1 room. Out of these three, I enjoyed ‘Bedlam’ the most, followed by ‘Wrong turn’, but that’s probably my cowardice talking. I would say you shouldn’t be put off my the scary aspect of either room though, as they are worth playing!
The team at ‘Compendium’ are also fantastic – we spent a long time chatting with them and they are top-notch. Given we booked all 4 rooms they’d actually ‘closed’ the place for the day, so we could be a bit relaxed about timings and decide when we wanted to play each room. This gave us time to grab refreshments between rooms, and decide on our lunch break, rather than either rushing out of one room and into the next, or else sitting around in a long gap. This was a little touch that was really appreciated and so unexpected. I also just enjoyed talking to them in general, as they are clearly passionate about what they do (which shines through in the rooms) and so we spent a while comparing and recommending rooms to each other! Compendium is definitely a must-visit for me.
These rooms can be booked on the Compendium Bury website.
War on Horizon Alpha Review | With the expansion of the human race on other planets, an oppressive regime has risen to power and instated a dictatorship on the Colonial Republic, the dreaded Alpha One faction. You and your team are part of a rebel alliance trying to overthrow the regime and reinstate democracy. A massive assault will take place on the Horizon Alpha space station, serving as the Alpha One headquarters, which aims to destroy it, thus sparking a revolution on all planets. Your mission is to infiltrate the station and deactivate the shields in time so that the assault may be successful. Without the shields down, the entire offensive will become a suicide mission. Good luck, you are the galaxy’s only hope!
Date Played: June 2022 Time Taken: 55 minutes Number of Players: 2 Difficulty: Medium
It’s official! I’ve now played every single escape room at Breakin’. Which is why I can safely say that War on Horizon Alpha is the most “meh”. Don’t get me wrong, I love a sci-fi theme. Even more love for a sci-fi theme that’s clearly inspired by Star Wars. But there was something about this one that didn’t just click for us. A little tired, a little broken, and more than a few puzzles that I’m still not sure I understand even now, weeks after playing. That’s okay, not every room is for every person. I preferred Wizarding School or Heist Plan, but you might prefer this one.
Never Underestimate a Droid
The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into War on Horizon Alpha is an enormous R2D2. Or should I call it the IP skirting D2R2? Haha. The second thing you’ll notice is a huge amount of buttons. War on Horizon Alpha is a single-room escape room so pretty much everything you’ll interact with is right in front of you and it’s… A lot! There’s an enormous panel of buttons and screens and 99.9% of the buttons do absolutely nothing and there’s not much to indicate which are the ones you’ll need and which aren’t. Oh dear!
But, once the first hurdle of figuring out where to start (which we ended up spending our first clue on 10 minutes in), we were off to a flying start! As with most Breakin’ rooms, this one was fairly linear which suited our team of 2 quite well. We worked together on everything and progressed at a steady pace through the spaceship.
The cool thing about the room was the sci-fi vibe of it. It was a bit of a tight space but it was also clear a lot of care and attention to detail had gone into the set once upon a time, which by now is the good quality set design I expect from Breakin’. They know how to make a good atmosphere. Think neon glowing lights and blinking buttons and a fun musical track that ramped up in excitement as we headed towards the climax of the game.
We asked for a record breaking number of clues and many more of those clues either led to puzzles that were broken or things we found so illogical we had to be given the answers for them. We also wasted a good 20 or so of our minutes ‘solving’ a puzzle that was on full display but wouldn’t actually activate something until the very end of the game. So when we then got to the end we looked up at the camera like “we’ve already done this please don’t make us do it again“.
Once our GM had taken pity on us and given us the final answer, the game came to an abrupt halt and our host appeared to ask how we found it. We asked a million and one questions about all the things that didn’t make sense (there were a lot), had our photo taken, and were hurried out of the building without so much of a goodbye. It wasn’t the usual Breakin’ experience I’m used to, but everyone has an off day and every room loses it’s magic eventually.
Overall, not my favourite room. Lost points for puzzles and general wear and tear, but earns points for a fun sci-fi theme. I felt a little bad about it as we booked this room for my birthday and as one of the final rooms to play in London before moving out of the city. But as I say not every room will click with every team and that’s just the luck of the draw when you try a new room!
If you love Star Wars and sci-fi themes and a particular style of puzzle, you’ll probably love this. We’d loved everything else at Breakin’ so far, but this one was a miss for us. So if you do book this room, be sure to book a couple of others at Breakin’ at the same time to experience the full magic the company has to offer!
The Nayland Rock Hotel, once Margate’s most glamorous destination, visited by the rich and famous. A downstairs bar, The Crescent Suite, hosted regular meetings of a little known Society. When the Hotel closed for renovations in the 1980’s the Society and the bar’s Landlady vanished without a trace.
The Crescent Suite never reopened.
For years rumours have persisted of valuable items hidden away in the suite and then, with the death of an American man in 2021, clues came to light of those items whereabouts. The dead man’s children, The Twins, live in the US and can’t come to find them themselves, but…
…with the help of a friendly security guard they can get you inside.
Can you help ?
Date Played: 23 April 2022 Number of Players: 2 Time Taken: ~40 Minutes Difficulty: Medium
We slid into Margate’s The Society on the back of a four escape room day. We’d played Quick-E-Mart, Detention, Frankenscape and Spacescape at Ctrl Alt Delete back to back, with the time so tight between the end of Spacescape and the start time for The Society that we’d had to throw ourselves in a cab and make a desperate dash across Margate’s seafront. We literally fell in through the door at the Nayland Rock Hotel, brains fried, energy depleted, a little dazed and confused. Luckily the “friendly security guard” who met us took pity on us and let us grab a quick breather and chocolate snack. So we were soonfuelled up and ready to get back on the escape room treadmill.
The pause also meant we had a bit of headspace to take in our surroundings. And it’s definitely worth the pause to absorb it. Because The Society takes place in a unique environ. This isn’t an escape room carved out of an industrial space, a warehouse or railway arch, an empty office building or high street shop front. This isn’t an escape room that’s repurposed a space that has no connection to its story. This is a game that takes place in an actual abandoned, empty hotel.
Built in 1895 it was once a famous seafront holiday destination, where Charlie Chaplin vacationed and where Mick Jagger hosted his parents’ Golden Wedding anniversary party. But now the hotel is a shadow of its former self. When cheap overseas holidays lured us Brits away from our seaside towns, once fashionable resorts like Margate fell into a decline and hotels like the Nayland Rock struggled to survive.
The doors closed in the 1980s and while a room or two is still rented out (I think), on the day we visited, most of it was empty apart from some of the larger rooms being used as prop storage for the shoot of Sam Mendes’ upcoming “Theatre of Light”. There are apparently plans to renovate the whole hotel and try and return it to its former glory, but for now it’s a ghostly shell and the perfect space for a creepy (but not scary) ER.
Down into the Bar
And when 36 Inch Penguin’s publicity material say that you’ll be exploring a hotel bar that hasn’t been touched for nearly 40 years, they really mean it. There’s a real visceral thrill in being given a couple of small torches (don’t worry more lighting comes on later) and pointed in the direction of some ropey looking stairs down to a dark and ominous basement bar. Before you head off to investigate you first need to listen to a recording from ‘The Twins’ who’ve hired you to explore the hotel. Now I’m not massively keen on ERs that lean heavily on narrative and expect you to wade through a lot of reading material. I want to be playing puzzles, not reading essays. But paying attention to the recording at this point is kind of important for everything that follows. From then on in the narrative is delivered in fairly small doses, often in quite intriguing and unusual fashion, and which are easy to digest and don’t feel like roadblocks in the way of the puzzle flow.
Once you’re inside the bar, the unique location of a real hotel space really comes into its own. Despite being a real, historical location, the escape room designers haven’t just stuck a load of padlocked boxes in the middle of the room to figure out. This escape room directly engages with the space it is in. The narrative is part of the fabric of the room itself and the actual fabric of the room is sometimes a literal part of the puzzle. It feels really good to be able to get properly hands on with physical puzzles that are built into the historic rooms themselves. One of them had me asking “the hotel owners really let the designer do that?”. But they did. And it’s great fun.
Hand Crafted and Theatrical
In terms of puzzles, there aren’t a vast number and my escape room enthusiast team of two moved through it fairly quickly, but there were several puzzles I had not seen in any other escape room I’ve played. They were clearly lovingly handmade puzzles, both small and large. At one point you get to see the mechanical back of the puzzle you’ve just solved and I was wowed by the craft behind it. There is theatrical ingenuity on display here and when you look at the designers’ history as creators of immersive theatre that’s really no surprise. The room definitely has ‘atmosphere’ and is probably the most genuinely immersive escape room experience I’ve had. The theatricality means that there’s the right level of creepiness (at least for me) without being a full on scare or horror room. All the creeps come from the shadowy spaces and your own (over-active) imagination.
The sound design is also a huge factor in this game, again thanks to the theatrical background of 36 Inch Penguin I suspect. At one point I genuinely thought we were going to be finding actual live actors in the space because the sound design was so effective. And if you’re an 80s kid like me, you will love the music design too. It’s hard to resist just enjoying the disco even when you’re supposed to be puzzle solving.
For me, this room had the almost perfect blend of narrative, searching, small hand held puzzle props and larger physical puzzles. One part of the game involves a physical challenge (but not a difficult one) that only one member of the team can do as the other watches. As the one doing the watching in my team it was hilarious. I’ll say no more because it would be a spoiler but I was crying with laughter as my teammate valiantly carried on.
I was worried that playing The Society as the last game of five in a single day would mean that I was too tired or brain fried to enjoy it. But it is such a great experience that I left totally buzzing. For enthusiasts the complexity of the puzzles might not be too challenging (although a few did leave us head scratching for a while) but the atmosphere, the cleverness and creativity behind the puzzles and the physical interaction with a genuine space are massive plus points. I’m a huge immersive theatre addict and could feel the strong immersive credentials of 36 Inch Penguin at play here. The joy is as much in the atmosphere as the puzzling. I really hope the designers are already working on their next immersive escape room experience because I will genuinely be the first in the queue.
As the Nayland Rock Hotel is scheduled to be refurbished at some point, there’s always a chance that The Society might have to move out and move on. I suspect the gameplay will be just as excellent even in a new location, but you can’t replicate the environment that the game is currently in. It is a character in its own right. So get down to Margate without delay!
The Society is currently open for bookings between 22 July and 4 September 2022. You can read more and book here.