Natural History Museum: Mystery at the Museum – The Search for Dippy | Review

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.

 

Prehistoric Puzzling

 

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.

 

The Verdict?

 

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.

 

This event runs for a limited number of days in October and November. Book via the Natural History Museum website here.

 

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

Local Bonus

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.

Evans and Peel Detective Agency, 310c Earls Ct Rd, London SW5 9BA

 

TED X Marriott: The Curiosity Room | Review

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

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

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

Our First Impressions of the Curiosity Room

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

 

 

TED X Marriott on Puzzles

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

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

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

 

A ‘Hotel’ly New Escape Room

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

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

 

A Note on Technical Issues

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

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

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

 

The Curiosity Room: The Verdict

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

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

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

 

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

Phantom Peak | Review

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WELCOME TO PHANTOM PEAK

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

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

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

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

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

 

Entering Phantom Peak

 

 

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

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

 

Starting off on the right foot

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Puzzle Posse

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rooting and Tooting

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

This town ain’t big enough…

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

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

 

What’s the verdict?

 

 

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

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

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

Tickets for Phantom Peak can be booked on their website

Layered Reality: The Gunpowder Plot | Review

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The Gunpowder Plot Immersive Review | London, 1605. A city divided. The fuse of rebellion is lit. The peace of the nation balances on a knife edge… Step into a world where spies and informants hide in every shadow. Your mission is to go undercover and unmask the mysterious figures behind history’s most infamous plot. But when you’re surrounded by ‘traitors’ who can you trust?

Date Visited: 17th July 2022
Number of Players: 3
Time Taken: ~120 Minutes

Remember, remember the 5th of November… Gunpowder, Treason and Plot! For I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.

The Gunpowder Plot Immersive is London’s newest immersive experience created by the award winning team behind War of the Worlds Immersive, and located in the iconic Tower of London vaults. From the very moment the experience was announced months ago, we were very excited. Layered Reality have built up an excellent reputation of blending immersive theatre, actors, jaw-dropping set design, all to tell brilliant stories.

As such, it’s not really your ‘typical’ escape room experience, but since most of us are big fans of the immersive, anything with Layered Reality’s name stamped on it is well worth checking out. Layered Reality experiences differ from other immersive theatre as your experience is guided by a series of actors around an environment and the story plays out around you as mostly-passive viewers. But unlike regular theatre, you’re thoroughly in the thick of it. Take care to notice all the little details and interact wherever you can. You won’t regret it.

But how did their newest immersive experience, Gunpowder Plot fare? In this joint review between Georgie, Mairi and Karen we’ll pick apart what worked, and what might not have worked so well, and who we recommend this for.

Let’s Dive into the Past…

 

Mairi: If in doubt where Gunpowder Immersive is located, look out for the enormous Tower of London. Yep, that one! This experience is located quite literally underneath, and accessible via a well-signed doorway near the All Hallows by the Tower church. It’s conveniently located right near a train station, many bus stops, and plenty of other iconic tourist attractions, cementing itself squarely on the “must see” list if you’re a tourist visiting London who also wants to sample some of the local history.

Georgie: From the moment we walked in, Gunpowder Plot felt immersive – we made our way down some stairs into the start of the vaults, where we were offered lockers and guided to the dungeon-esque themed bar. Once our group was called we were led to the ‘briefing room’, which is where the experience begins. Our host launched into a partially themed- partially factual briefing about who we were, where we were, and what to expect. She did a fantastic job of separating the initial, ‘admin’ information from the more dramatic introduction. This introduction really set the scene for the experience to come, and even as someone who knows the history fairly well, I learned some new facts about the context of the plot, and some of the reasoning behind it.

 

Remember, Remember…

Georgie: We were then guided through the experience by ‘the wick of rebellion’, which is in fact a firey-themed light that surrounds the doors to move through. Helpful to know where to go and this fitted really well with the theme in the dimly lit corridors!

From the first room, it is obvious what is meant by ‘immersive theatre’ – we found ourselves in the cells of the tower, meeting a prisoner and hearing his tale. He told his story through words, action, and the environment. Although you are not expected to be particularly active (which suited me well) and were largely there to observe.

This first room did an excellent job of laying out the story, why we were there and giving us a taste of how the rest of the experience would pan out. It was also a great introduction to the live actors, who were superb throughout. I will also say that despite all the many warnings we read in the waiver, there were no jump scares or unnecessary scare tactics, which I greatly appreciated!

Mairi: And what a story it is too! As we explored each environment in a larger group of around 12-20 people, the story of the Gunpowder Plot diverged a little from what I had expected, with brilliant consequences. We won’t go too much into the actual tale since there’s an element of choose-your-own adventure and some delightful moments of surprise, but we really enjoyed the story aspect of the experience. Characters flitted in and out of the experience and much later we’d be reunited by characters we thought we’d abandoned earlier.

 

…The 5th of November

Georgie: Throughout the experience the low lighting, small spaces and eerie soundtrack keep the sense of atmosphere and immersion. The actors did a great job of flawlessly handing over the narrative to subsequent characters, keeping the story moving and never leaving us alone for too long. The story was really engaging and fascinating as it developed, and they did a fantastic job of showing both sides of the story (and their rationale). The location itself is huge, with seemingly endless corridors and vaults to move through, with authentic sets and surprises round every corner.

Mairi: If the experience sounds large, I’d add that it is well paced! With a bar at the start, the end, and one right in the middle, the whole experience is broken up into ‘bitesized’ chunks. In particular, I loved the middle ‘rest’ area, a much needed break. Players were sorted into various tables made up of your own friends and family, and total strangers. We quickly realised there was no such thing as a stranger in this experience however, as we all jumped right into conversation, speculating about what would happen next and what had already been. With a plot this thick with backstabbing an intrigue, there’s a lot to mull over a pint (or two, if you have the time).

The Past meets The Future

Georgie: One of the features that sets this experience aside from others is the use of Virtual Reality (VR) technology. At 3 separate points we were asked to put on a VR headset to experience a facet of the story which would be hard to create otherwise, removing the headset to find the room somehow transformed or a new actor appeared. I have previously felt motion sick when using VR, but fortunately didn’t feel anything like that here, so I was able to full enjoy the experience.

The first two Virtual Reality segments are accompanied by a moving element, and again there were no fake scares, just excitement. The final experience allowed us to free roam a little more, although this wasn’t made clear so anyone not familiar with VR may not have known to do this. The VTs also featured an amazing performance by Tom Felton, who has proved what an incredible actor he was. In reality, and in the virtual space!

Mairi: Agree! Virtual Reality is something Layered Reality does really well! Unlike War of the Worlds Immersive however, I found there to be slightly more VR. Where Layered Reality’s first experience often creates more physical sets, like slides, or moments where you have to jump, due to the physical limitations of it’s location, Gunpowder Plot leans more into the VR. No bad thing – just a consideration! If any player struggles with VR, they can bypass these sections quite easily.

Finishing the Tale

Georgie: Just to jump back to the story, we’re going to attempt to talk about the ending without giving away too many spoilers, although given this story is over 400 years old I think you probably know what happens. The final room features the peak of the drama, followed by the final dramatic VR. From here we were guided to the exit, with a really excellent video explaining the factual and fictional aspects of the experience. I really enjoyed this little wrap up, and nod to the story.

Again, they did a great job of highlighting the contrasting moralities and beliefs at play, whilst mainting the elements of mystery we still don’t know about. There is a classic photo opportunity too, although this will cost you a little extra.

Mairi: One thing players may not be expecting however is that you are given a choice at one point in the game. I’m unsure how much this choice actually affects the ending – probably not at all since, well, we all know what happens. But convincing the rest of your team to make the ‘right’ choice will certainly ease your conscience, so you can emerge back into real life afterwards knowing that you did all you could.

“Poor old England to Overthrow”

Georgie: I had a great time, but there were a few small parts I didn’t like as much, which it’s worth being aware of ahead of time.

Firstly, there was little in the way of interaction – most of the time a character might ask you a simple yes or no question, or tell you something which you also immediately tell another character. It felt more like watching an (admittedly amazing) play than taking part ourselves. Where there was a decision, it definitely wasn’t unanimous and I think the cast could have done a better job of ensuring this was (something like raising hands, giving our group of strangers more than a minute to decide, or even just realising the signs for it not being unanimous). Even then, as Mairi mentions, I’m not convinced the decision had any bearing on the experience other than maybe a line or two spoken by an actor.

Mairi: Also, since this is The Escape Roomer, we have to mention the puzzles. There was also only one ‘puzzle’ in the whole experience so don’t go into this thinking it’ll be puzzly! Although, to be fair, that is one more puzzle than you’ll get in The War of the Worlds. For me, The War of the Worlds still takes the cake as my absolute favourite immersive experience in London, but Layered Reality have taken the same formula and done something slightly different to a different effect here.

Georgie: In terms of the VR, there could’ve been a bit more of a briefing about how to use it. For example, in the last area, you could move around – but none of us knew this fact and stayed rooted to the spot, potentially missing a part of the action.

Finally, Tom Felton’s performance was amazing, but all virtual. This wasn’t exactly surprising, knowing he’s currently appearing in a different play in the West End, but as he played such a key character it obviously presented a conundrum. Rather than subbing in a different actor and asking us to suspend our belief, we are instead presented with someone covering their face and using a speaker to broadcast Felton’s voice. Unfortunately, the effect was more of a robotic-cowboy-scarecrow rather than a heroic-villainous character, and it could have been handled better. It also got in the way of the final scene a little, which already felt fairly chaotic without this.

 

 

A Note on Accessibility

Mairi: If anyone has any hesitation on accessibility, Layered Reality have produced a full access guide here. Whilst the base experience doesn’t feel like it would be accessible to folks in a wheelchair for example, it’s worth noting they do offer special performances which are geared towards accessibility, such as the wheelchair performance. For any other requirements, they encourage players to reach out to them directly.

Mairi: There are a lot of stairs and small spaces to fit into, so a reasonable level of physicality is necessary. Most of the experience is dimly lit, with an atmospheric sound track. Most of the actors project well, although I admit I, as someone with hearing impairments, missed a few things I wouldn’t say this was necessarily essential. Given it was an extremely hot day, the rooms were nice and cool.

 

The Verdict

Mairi: Gunpowder Plot Immersive is a really unique experience. For me, it’s impossible not to compare it to The War of the Worlds which, I’ve said before and I’ll say again, is my favourite immersive experience in London. By contrast, Gunpowder Plot has a more mass-market appeal. From tourists wondering what Guy Fawkes night is all about, to locals who want to be immersed in history in an iconic building. It’s target audience is clear. Whilst that target audience might not necessarily be the overlap between escape room enthusiasts, I personally had a great time!

Georgie: Once I realized there would be no jump scares or unnecessary scares I was able to relax and enjoy myself. I had a really fun time – it was very immersive, did a fantastic job of bringing the characters and story to life, and was a very pleasant way to spend some time in a historic location. I’m not sure I would’ve felt the same had I paid the full price (around £70 per ticket), but then again I’m not sure what the average immersive theatre ticket goes for in London, and I imagine I enjoyed this more than I would enjoy them!

 

The Gunpowder Plot Immersive may be booked by heading to this website here.

From now until 30th September 2022, use code ESCAPE10 for £10 off your tickets!

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.

Breakin’: The Flying Dutchman | Review

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The Flying Dutchman Review | Avast ye! Tell me, shark-bait, have you heard the legend of The Flying Dutchman? That dreaded ship captained by the sea-devil Davy Jones and his undead pirate crew? You’d best start believing in ghost stories… you’re in one! After your ship sinks in a great tempest you awake aboard the Dutchman. If you don’t escape before sunrise you’ll be trapped aboard her forever. Legend tells of a mythical diamond – the Heart of Calypso – which can break the curse. It’s hidden somewhere on the lower decks. The sun rises in an hour. So shiver your timbers, swash your buckles, and batten down the hatches. You need to discover the diamond to escape the ship and a watery doom!

Date Played: May 2022
Number of Players: 6
Time Taken: <30 Minutes
Difficulty: Very Easy

My favourite thing in the whole world is introducing new friends to escape rooms. My second favourite thing in the whole world is when they love the escape room and spend the whole time laughing and having an absolute blast.

For me, The Flying Dutchman at Breakin’ Escape Rooms was a perfectly ‘okay’ escape room. For the friends I took with me to play this one, 4 people who had never ever played any escape room before, they loved it. This makes The Flying Dutchman a fantastic ‘entry level’ room to bring your puggle friends to. It perfectly encapsulates what an escape room is with a mix of physical and mental puzzles, but isn’t in the slightest bit challenging meaning that even the most beginner of teams will ace through it and feel extra smart.

 

A Pirate’s Life for Me!

The story of The Flying Dutchman is your classic pirate ship escape room game. You play as a team of pirates who find themselves trapped on the dreaded ghost ship – the Flying Dutchman, captained by Davy Jones. Your ship has sunk and you’re trapped on this one with just one hour to try to escape or else you’ll find yourself in a watery grave too. Nothing like a little pirate themed peril to get the excitement going.

The setting was a large and well-furnished pirate ship. Think wooden floorboards, cannons and cannonballs, ropes draped from the ceiling and a big ol’ pirate ship wheel in the middle of the room. At first glance, especially compared to someone of the other escape rooms at Breakin’ you might think “this is is” but there’s a couple of sneaky extra spaces hidden around the environment making it slightly larger than you first expected. Though be warned – some of those extra areas are very small and very cramped!

Your goal is the simplest: Escape. And what follows is a somewhat linear series of puzzles to get you from A – locked in the ship to B – escaped!

 

Pirate Puzzles

For me, I’d definitely put this room in the category of “very easy”. We took zero hints and didn’t pause for even a single second. When taking new people into a room I’m always a little worried about solving things and jumping ahead with prior knowledge, so resigned myself to taking more of a backseat role. But in The Flying Dutchman this wasn’t needed, the rest of my team flew off to a flying start with no nudges from our Games Master, or even no need for me to step in and put my “escape room hat” on.

As mentioned, there was a mix of different puzzle types. They were all fairly well themed within the pirate universe, and a mix of ones that we triggered ourselves, and ones that we could tell the Games Master triggered for us. One puzzle, towards the latter end of the room was a very dexterous, manual puzzle which was a bit of a bottleneck for our very large team. With only two people able to complete the puzzle at one time, and multiple steps and chances to go wrong, the other four of us found ourselves standing around a little bit longer than we might have liked. But after 10 minutes (1/3 of our whole game time) passed, I spotted a sneaky hack that got past the slightly more boring part of the puzzle and skipped us closer to completion. Do I feel guilty? Yes, yes, a little bit. But if a puzzle is meant to be un-hack-able, it should be designed as such.

Besides this, the game was enjoyable from a puzzling point of view. There was a distinct absence of padlocks. Instead the room was surprisingly a lot more high tech than expected for a pirate themed room. Though that said, high tech comes with some downsides and we encountered one technological hitch with a puzzle where a door sprang open a little too early, giving us the final piece we needed to escape before we’d actually finished the game. I don’t think the rest of my team noticed so much though, and all was well that ended well since it ensured we broke out of the room with record time to spare.

If we had any issues along the way (we didn’t), in true Breakin’ form, we were given a walkie talkie that our Games Master could give us a code via. The code was input into an iPad on the wall and a hint would be displayed. This is the same as in all of their rooms, and a mechanic we are fairly used to by now. Though again, we didn’t need to use it.

 

Team The Escape Roomer escapes!

 

The Verdict

I had a good time playing The Flying Dutchman. Again, it’s not my favourite room in all of Breakin’ but it did the job and introduced a new group of friends to escape rooms. For a room best suited for a new team – the verdict is yes, that new team had a blast. For me? I found it much too easy, and a little wear and tear (to be expected after opening 5+ years ago) caused some hiccups with the tech and ease of brute-forcing a few puzzles. It’s probably what the enthusiasts call a “Gen 2” escape room. It’s a very early one, but it’s moved away from padlocks and codes as the primary source of puzzling into something much more atmospheric and immersive.

Add in a beautiful, well themed set, and it’s still a winning escape room. For the best experience, don’t bring any more than a team of 3 into the room. There just simply isn’t enough for a larger team to do. If you do choose to go in an enthusiast team, expect to escape in around 30 minutes as we did – and why not book yourself into a second room whilst you’re at Breakin? I’d recommend Wizarding School or Heist Plan.

 

The Flying Dutchman can be booked by heading to Breakin’s website 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.

DecodeXP: Teambuilding | Review

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

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

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

 

A souvenir of the day!

About the Day

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

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

Always important to wear the correct PPE

The Escape Room Portion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Debrief

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

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

 

The Verdict

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

 

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

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.

The 10 Best Non-Escape Room Things to do in London

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Now I know what you’re thinking.

Why are we The Escape Roomer, writing an article about the best things to do in London which AREN’T escape rooms? Probably for the same reason as you’re reading this – we have all been burdened with various friends, relatives, and co-workers who want to do ‘something fun’ in the city, but aren’t that into escape rooms! Can you believe it?

Not to worry though – we have you covered. Here are our top 10 things to do in the capital in the summer of 2022 that will scratch that immersive, co-operative itch for you, without resorting to locking your loved ones in a room for an hour.

First up…

 

Monopoly Lifesized

 

Image (c) Monopoly Lifesized

I’m personally not a fan of Monopoly – it’s one of my least favourite games and I can’t think of the last time I played an actual game. However, Monopoly Lifesized is in fact nothing like monopoly… Or at least it has none of the bad parts.

For starters, the board has been grown to actual size but reduced to only 12 properties. You play as a team of up to 6, facing up to 3 other teams. Every other turn you role the dice, land on a property, and enter the mini-room to complete a challenge! These challenges are very escape room-esque and vary square to square. Unlike other experiences you may be familiar with, you have a decent amount of time to play and enjoy these – and get your head around them! Plus did we mention there’s a themed bar and restaurant on-site?

We had an absolute blast and will definitely be returning. The only downside? The price runs a little high when compared to escape rooms, and given the experience is still only an hour.

Location: Tottenham Court Road

Price: From £49 per person

Website: https://www.monopolylifesized.com

The Grid

 

The Grid is what you get when you cross an escape room with cocktails and honestly, what’s not to love?! Our Chief Mairi recently visited this mashup from We Are Lollipop, and you can read our glowing review here! There are many similar cocktail/puzzle experiences across London for example the recently opened H-Division, but The Grid is our favourite and is as close to a physical escape room you can get. It’s got an underground rabbit warren of cyberpunk-like environments, wacky bubbling cocktails, a host of brilliant characters, and a slide.

Location: Southwark

Price: From £32 per person, which includes 2 cocktails and a welcome drink of your choice each!

Website: https://www.thegrid.london/home

Hidden City Outdoor Puzzle Trails

 

Photo (C) Hidden City

One of our favourite things to do in London on a sunny day is an outdoor puzzle trail. We recently covered off our favourites in a post here, so for the purposes of this article we’ll just mention one of our personal favourites – Hidden City. These are the first trails I did pre-pandemic and I love everything about them… From discovering hidden facets of busy streets, to exploring completely new areas where there’s is mystery around every corner.

I particularly enjoy Hidden City for how they integrate the real world into their trails and the style of puzzles. Plus they almost always offer a delicious treat for teams who manage to solve all the puzzles and make it to the finish line. If you’ve only got a day or two in London and want to be guided around by Sherlock Holmes or an Evil Queen whilst exploring the great outdoors, then look no further.

Location: Various

Price: £25 per player

Website: https://www.inthehiddencity.com/

Draughts Board Game Café

 

 

If you prefer something a little less active, why not try out one of the many board game cafés London has dotted around. The best known and one of my personal favourites is Draughts Waterloo. Based in Leake Street tunnels, Draughts is perfectly placed for transport, serves some delicious food and drinks and have quite literally hundreds of games in their library. I love the atmosphere here, and it’s one of my favourite places for a fun time with friends. When you visit, be sure to ask them what puzzle games they have available! Draughts’ second venue is located in Hackney.

Location: Waterloo or Hackney

Price: Cover price is £6 per player

Website: https://www.draughtslondon.com/

Electric Gamebox

 

Photo (c) Electric Gamebox

Board games not your thing? Prefer something a little more active? Then you should check out Electric Gamebox! Electric Gamebox have absolutely exploded in size recently. Going from one small venue in London Southbank to hundreds across the UK and the USA. The Southbank venue has a special place in our heart as it’s the venue we’ve played at, but wherever your nearest site is located you’ll be sure to find an excellent a variety of games, from puzzles to physical, all played out in a 3D space using a visor. We had great fun making absolute fools of ourselves and we were all kept on our toes throughout.

Location: Southbank or Wandsworth

Price: From £11 for children, £16 for adults (Off-peak)

Website: https://electricgamebox.com/

Otherworld VR

 

Photo (c) OtherWorld

Take things a step further and go fully immersive in VR. Otherworld is my favourite VR venue – the location is suitably sci-fi themed, with individual pods and even fancy Japanese toilets. It’s an excellent spot to take larger groups and there’s sure to be something for everyone. There are an abundance of games to play from first-person shooters to relaxing painting games and even some puzzle games. If VR is your thing then they also offer a loyalty programme where you can convert your virtual points for real-world food and drinks! Closer to Battersea, you can also check out DNA VR. A similar concept, and just as fun for a trip to a fantastical alternate world.

Location: Hackney or Victoria

Price: From £11 (Off-peak)

Website: https://www.other.world/vr-games

SENSAS, A Multi-Sensory Experience

 

Team The Escape Roomer at SENSAS

If you’re looking for something even more unique and varied, check out ‘SENSAS’. This is a multi-sensory experience where for two hours, you will embark on a series of challenges like nothing else in the world. Whilst nothing like an escape room, you’ll certainly be pushed to your limits with a series of zones all designed to test your senses: Taste, Touch, Smell, Sight and Sound. Was it fun? Did we have a good time? Would we recommend it? The answer to all of these questions with SENSAS is a resounding YES. In addition, by surpassing yourself, you will collect a number of SENSAS Charms which will be converted into a donation that SENSAS makes for its partner charity supporting people with disabilities. Have fun and do good in the world? We love it.

If you’re looking for something similar but more relaxed, why not head to Dreamachine – similarly touted as an immersive, sensory experience, but for this one only your mind will be moving!

Location: Vauxhall

Price: £34 per adult

Website: https://london.sensas.top/

Try One of London’s Many Theatre Shows

 

 

London is well known for the West End, so if you’re looking for a perfect non-escape room activity, you can’t go wrong by heading to see a show! To appeal to your sense of mystery, we recommend the world’s longest-running play: The Mousetrap. This is the classic murder-mystery play, written by the Queen of Murder Mystery herself.

If you prefer your mystery plays even more interactive, we also recommend another Agatha Christie play – ‘Witness for the Prosecution‘, which brings the audience into the play via the set design.

Finally, if something a bit more light-hearted (and family-friendly) is what you’re looking for I highly recommend checking out ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ – one of the funniest and cleverest plays out there. Fun fact; one of the original creators is also one of the creators of ‘The Mystery Agency‘ play-at-home escape rooms!

Evans & Peel Detective Agency

 

Photo (c) Evans and Peel Detective Agency

If you want drinks with a side of deception, Evans & Peel is the place for you! This is possibly one of the best speakeasies in London (and their website boasts that they serve they officially serve the World’s Best Old Fashioned – we can attest, it’s delicious!), but still a relatively unknown hidden gem for many! Put on your best dress and conjure up an excellent case to take to the detectives and if they deem it interesting enough, the bookcase will swing out and you’ll be invited into the hidden bar. When we visited, we took the case of the missing whiskey bottle and pointed the finger at the second group of friends joining us. You can either choose to do nothing more than enjoy the atmosphere, live music and refreshments, or throw yourself head first into the ‘mystery’ you’ve created by interacting with the hosts, the detectives and other visitors around you.

Location: Chelsea

Price: Cocktails are around £12

Website: https://www.evansandpeel.com/

Other Immersive Experiences in London this Summer

 

Photo (c) Phantom Peak

Immersive theatre isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but there’s no doubting that there are some outstanding immersive theatre events taking place in London this summer. We’re particularly looking forward to Phantom Peak, the wild west town with a mystery that’s due to open in August. If that’s not your thing, over in the centre of Camden Market you’ll find Tomb Raider: The Live Experience inspired by the infamous Lara Croft video games (though take note, it’s heavy on physical activity and light on puzzles). At the Tower of London there’s a brand new immersive experience by the creators of the brilliant War of the Worlds Immersive, this time themed around Guy Fawkes and called The Gunpower Plot featuring Tom Felton! Finally, one of the highest-rated companies, Punchdrunk, is back with their Trojan-inspired experience. You can’t go wrong with Punchdrunk, so it’s sure to be something special.

 

With that, we conclude our roundup of the best non-escape room things do to in London this summer.

Have we missed your favourite activity? Let us know in the comments below.