Arcadium Adventures: A Most Mysterious Convention | Review

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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

 

The Verdict

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!

 

A Most Mysterious Convention can be purchased from Arcadium Adventures’ shop here.

Compendium Bury: Laboratory, Bedlam, Wrong Turn | Review

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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.

Accessibility (Spoilers!)

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!

Accessiblity (spoilers!)

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!

Accessibility (spoilers!)

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.

Breakin’: War on Horizon Alpha | Review

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

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

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

 

Never Underestimate a Droid

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

The Verdict

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

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

 

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

36 Inch Penguin: The Society | Review

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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.

Atmosphere

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.

The Verdict

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

Mazer Zone: Star Struck | Review

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image (c) Mazer Zone

 

Beam me up, Scotty!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image (c) Mazer Zone

 

An Escape Room Set on a Spaceship

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

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

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

 

The Verdict

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

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

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

 

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

ESC WELT: House of the Dragon | Review

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

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

 

Puzzle Box Joy

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

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

 

Handmade Heaven

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

But Where Do I Start?

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

 

Let It Flow

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

 

The Verdict?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photo (c) Mystery Mansion Regina

 

About The Detective’s Office

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

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

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

 

 

Can you Crack the Case?

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

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

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

 

 

The Verdict

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

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

 

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

Exciting Escapes Croydon: Change the Record | Review

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Exciting Escapes Croydon: Change the Record Review | It’s 1998, and a seemingly innocent looking Record Shop is actually a front for a spy network determined to destabilise the British government. While the owner is out and the shop remains empty, the opportunity presents itself to upset their plans…. Your Mission: Get in, get the documents that are hidden cleverly inside, and then get out before the owner returns. Oh, and don’t get too distracted by the awesome 90’s soundtrack too!

Date Played: 12th June 2022
Number of Players: 4
Time Taken: 30 Minutes
Difficulty: Tricky!

Ahhh, the 90s… A time of AOL’s slow dial up tones, Y2K panic, the Spice Girls, Tamagotchis and Blockbuster. I mean, I don’t actually remember most of these things, but it’s okay the era lives on nostalgically in my mind. Which is why when my brilliant escape room buddy Marissa invited me to come and play an escape room that had a 90s theme, I leapt at the idea. This would surely be my time to shine?!

On a sunny Sunday morning we booked ourselves in to play Exciting Escapes Croydon’s 90s themed, “secret agents in a record shop” room called Change the Record. After filling our stomach with brunch from the nearby Breakfast Club in Boxpark, we were off to a flying start and ready to solve some puzzles!

 

About Exciting Escapes Croydon

Exciting Escapes are a small chain of escape rooms located in Croydon, Portsmouth, Basingstoke and Southampton. Of these, Change the Record can also be found in Southampton – though with one key variation: it’s set in the 80s instead of the 90s.

Located in a sleepy shopping centre, you’d be forgiven if you walked right past Exciting Escapes several times. Sure, there are signs around the centre for an escape room – but the front door itself is actually a carefully disguised tailor shop. They’ve spared no expenses recreating something that looked and felt like it was directly out of Kingsman. The walls are lined with suits of all sizes and there in the centre is a rickety old desk where your Games Master sits, waiting to welcome you into the site.

 

Team Escape Roomer at a mysterious tailor shop…

 

Once we’d arrived, we were led into a secret second room for our briefing. It was a simple room with a simple premise – to tell you that this whole organisation and tailor shop is a front for MI5. This briefing was given over a video recording that lasted just a few minutes, during which time we could sign the waiver and explore the various leader board times we had to beat.

From the briefing room we emerged into a much more modern space and were lead downstairs a series of steel steps to a rather curious looking front door that looked perfectly in place for a record shop in 1998. Here, our adventure began. Before entering the room the final words our Games Master left us with was a warning not to get too distracted by the background music. This is after all, a record shop. A warning I very quickly ignored as Britney Spears started playing over the speakers.

We stepped out into a very convincing record shop adorned with bright yellow walls, colourful musical murals, and plenty and plenty of CDs, VHS tapes and vinyl records to pour over. All hiding their own puzzles we couldn’t wait to get stuck into.

 

Image (c) Exciting Escapes

 

Records are Always a Sound Purchase…

The premise of Change the Record follows that this, the record shop you find yourself in, is actually a front for a super shadowy criminal organisation. The owner has stepped out for just 60 minutes and in that time you must break in and figure out where a package containing top-secret intelligence is being stored. The owner is no fool though, he’s hidden it in such a complex and deviously challenging way that it’ll require all your brainpower to find it.

Change the Record is the most difficult escape room at Exciting Escapes Croydon, but that didn’t stop us having an absolute blast playing through and solving the puzzles. For me, the puzzles were the best thing about the room. They flowed very well together and felt just the right level of challenging without being impossible. We used just two clues. The first was just a simple thing we’d missed in our hurry, and the second was when we struggled to get a box open and needed to confirm if we were doing it right.

Beyond these two little nudges we needed, we thoroughly enjoyed racing through the rest of the room. It is a mix of linear and non linear. That is to say at any given time all four of us were working on different puzzles – but they all came together to contribute towards the one collective whole. There was a fun mix of roleplaying, physical action *cough cough* dancing around, and cerebral challenges. There were quite a few particularly satisfying puzzles I’d never seen in any other escape room before. Whats more, I really enjoyed interacting some excellent puzzles making brilliant use of 90s technology I’d all but forgotten. Between our band of players born 1996-1999, we just about managed to figure out how to use the vintage technology, to much amusement.

There were plenty of locks and keys, and if you’re semantic about it I’d probably class this room closer to “gen 1”, which makes sense. It’s been around since 2017. For those reasons it’s probably not perfect – a little bit of wear and tear around the edges, but nothing broken and nothing illogical.

As a final note on the puzzles, surprisingly none of the ones we encountered required sound to be solved. This is always a consideration for accessibility reasons, but also the truth of the matter is… I’m terrible at sound puzzles! But besides a brief moment on a telephone, not a sound puzzle to be seen. Excellent!

 

Image (c) Exciting Escapes

 

That’s a Record!

When all is said and done, we didn’t quite break the record – but our escape time cements us squarely in 3rd place for the month.

It’s a challenging room, but it’s nothing insurmountable and instead, incredibly satisfying when you finally crack the codes and figure out what to do. More than anything I just enjoyed being in the physical space. Bopping along to the 90s hits we had a great rhythm in this room and a very fun interaction with our Games Master afterwards. So much so, we immediately booked another room to play directly after.

We’d recommend this one for pretty much everyone. It would be a fun room to try as your very first, and will surely give even the most experienced players a challenging run for your money. Above everything it’s just a fun little room in a definitely lesser known room (well, compared to others in London anyway) and one I’d definitely love to return back to some day.

 

 

Change the Record can be booked at Exciting Escapes Croydon by heading to their website here.

Escape Room Geeks: The Gilded Carcanet | Review

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The Gilded Carcanet Review | An ancient treasure has been said to be buried on a small island outside the coast of Turkey. Little is known about it and its existence has been heavily debated in the archeology community. Professor in archeology, Bartholomew Wilson, has always dismissed the idea as a myth. Until now.

Rating: Quite challenging and thoroughly enjoyable
Completion Time: 45 minutes
Date Played: 22nd June 2022
Party Size: 2
Recommended For: Graphic novel and treasure hunt fans

I’m currently sitting on a train from Edinburgh to London having just played The Gilded Carcanet, the newest printable escape room kit created by Escape Room Geeks. My partner and I decided to pack up the sheets of A4 so we could enjoy some puzzling on the journey, and we weren’t disappointed!

On turning the first page, we were thrilled to discover a comic book style introduction. As massive graphic novel fans, this was the perfect way to get us engaged with the story and excited to see the puzzle designs that lay ahead. The illustrations were beautiful, and the muted colour scheme really set the tone for the mysterious world we were about to enter.

 

 

First, game mechanics

The Gilded Carcanet is split into chapters, each containing a puzzle you have to solve before continuing the adventure. But this isn’t simply a “do a puzzle, turn the page” sort of game. You’ll have to refer back to previous pages and discovered items to progress in your search for the ancient treasure, which I love as it’s almost like you’ve got a trusty backpack filled with maps and journals ready to be investigated at any point.

You’re given a handy key which lets you know when you can discard certain pages, and when to continue turning. There are also icons which let you know when to fold and cut the paper, which luckily I read before we set off so I packed a pair of scissors for the road (train track?).

We were really impressed by the answer checker. You simply cross off letters in a grid you have used in your answer, and see if it matches a specified pattern. If it does, you’re right! The pattern could appear in many places in the grid though, so it’s not easy to simply guess the answer which could have been tempting if we were really stuck.

 

Puzzle Selection

A lot of the puzzles are logic based, requiring your skills of deduction to find the correct answer. What was great though was that these puzzles often linked with codes, maps and even some jigsaw style conundrums so you’re always kept on your feet. My love for cyphers was also satisfied, with the secrets of many mysterious symbols needing to be cracked.

I particularly enjoyed the plan of the tomb and having to use your navigation and deduction skills to find a particular chamber. As well as tapping into various brain skills, you had to use several pages to get to where you wanted to be and it felt like a real achievement once you discovered the answer.

 

The Mystery Unfolds

This is a very typical treasure hunt story, but honestly that’s all that’s needed here. The illustrations let your imagination flow and the quality of the puzzles shone through. I loved how we were placed in the shoes of protagonist Bartholomew, meaning we had some great interactions with our companion, Oscar and received praise throughout the game for solving puzzles. A fictional pat on the back is always appreciated!

 

 

The Verdict

We thoroughly enjoyed this game. I think the age suggestion of 13+ is accurate as the puzzles can get quite complex, but they were actually the perfect level of difficulty for a train journey. Not too easy that we fly through it, but not so hard that we bang our heads against the teeny tiny lap tables. At $29, this is on the higher end of the scale for print at home games, but there are some great multi buy offers on their website if you want to treat yourself to a bundle. All in all, a brilliant game which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

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

Extremescape: Viking | Review

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

 

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

 

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

 

Welcome to Valhalla

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

 

Watch out Loki

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

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

 

 

By Odin’s eye

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

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

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

 

Man the longboats

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

Viking can be booked by heading to the Extremescape website here