Extremescape: Pirate Ship | Review

Image

Extremescape Pirate Ship Review | A long time ago on the Carribean seas sailed the Spanish Galleon, Castoria. Captained by Zak Barrow and crewed by a gang of murderers & merciless cutthroats. Plundering ships of all kinds along India’s Malabar coast, Barrow was a Pirate, one of the most infamous Pirates of all time. Barrow’s ship Castoria battled with the India Merchant, a huge treasure ship of 350 tons. In rough seas, the merchant vessel fired but due to a sudden ocean swell, the shot missed its mark. The pirates threw their grappling hooks, bringing the two ships together. And rapidly boarded the ship, soon Captain Barrow was in the possession of one of the greatest pirate treasures ever. The ship disappeared in 1722 and was not seen again until now!

Completion Time: 73 minutes (out of 90)
Date Played: 24 March 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

As someone who works full time and lives ‘down South’ it can be hard to find the time to travel just for escape rooms, particularly when the journey alone takes over 4 hours! However I found myself with a few days to space are itching to play some rooms farther afield, so we decided to book a couple of days in Manchester! First up we stopped we spent the day in Disley, surrounded by gorgeous views, friendly locals (sheep) and some cracking rooms!

Time to set sail

The first room we tackled was the oldest at the location – opened 7 years ago and barely changed since! Before you even step foot in the room you know you’re in for a good time, with an epic narration to get you pumped and the ship door swinging open to welcome you. Our first impression of the room was similarly excited – it’s beautifully crafted with plenty of hidden elements (some hid expertly in plain sight), and definitely more than one surprising moment.

 

Argh, ye scallywags!

We were told that this room was ‘non-linear’, which is technically true as there were a few different puzzles to solve at a time, but I admit in practice it didn’t feel this way. It may have been the early morning or lack of practice, but we worked on most puzzles together, and only felt like we were progressing as we solved the puzzles.

There were quite a few pieces of information scattered about the room, which appeared similar but required different methods of solving. I appreciated the variety of puzzles, but we ended up relying on hints more than I usually like to, as perhaps some of the leaps were a little too far for me! In particular, one puzzle felt very tenuous, and I’m still not convinced of the answer!

Finally, the signposting wasn’t necessarily ideal – usually, I would expect the respective lock to be near the puzzle, or else be marked in some way. However, there were quite a few locks here which meant quite a bit of trial and error each time!

That being said, there were puzzles we got instantly, or just about managed to figure out, which were satisfying and a little different from others we’ve experienced before. I think the theming and thrill more than makes up for any slight frustrations, and I would strongly encourage you to give this room a chance!

 

Peg legs & eyepatches…not quite welcome

Unfortunately, there are stairs into the venue and up to the room, as well as within the room itself – so not great for those with mobility issues! Hints are delivered both via screen and via a voice-over, so should be suitable for those with either hearing or sight issues. There are some puzzles requiring colour perception, but the light level in the room is generally good and it is fairly spacious.

 

Here be the Jolly Roger

The staff at this room are great and very encouraging. We had a lovely time chatting with them, and even met a special guest (check out my later post to hear about him!). Although the website seems fairly basic, this room is anything but and the location is enchanting.

 

The Verdict

This room was a fantastic room – although I was a little frustrated throughout the experience, the set is so well done and I was still having fun. I highly recommend taking on this room (although I would also book the others at the same time!)

Pirate Ship can be booked at Extremescape here

The Mystery Agency: The Balthazar Stone | Review

Image

Can you unlock the ancient chest, find the Balthazar Stone and break the ancient curse? Join Elsa Winslow on her journey to Sharktooth Island. To solve the mystery, you must unlock an ancient treasure chest, find Balthazar’s Stone and break its ancient curse.

Rating: Fantastic!
Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: 23rd May 2021
Party Size: 1
Recommended For: A spectacular adventure from your own home!

Can I just start this review by saying I absolutely lost my mind when I opened up The Balthazar Stone, like, what?! How cool is this? It’s an ACTUAL TREASURE CHEST. WITH TREASURE IN IT. WAT?! *cough cough* okay professional review time….

I was super lucky to be lent this game by the fabulous Armchair Escapist, who sent the box via Review the Room (side note – Review the Room have the world’s most excellent package wrapping skills!) and it was very cool to be part of that escape room box chain of fantastic people. I’m also kinda glad I borrowed it and don’t own it myself mainly because the accompanying news article explained how the mysterious box whispers to the owner and eventually sends them crazy. I don’t need that kind of drama in my life right now.

The Story

You are sent the box by The Mystery Agency, hoping your puzzling skills might be able to help in uncovering the mystery that surrounds the Balthazar Stone. After all, the professor who had it last went crazy trying to decipher the riddles and open the case. He even tried *whispering* brute forcing the lock, but alas! The Balthazar’s Stone keeps it’s secrets.

But this is where you come in and what quickly unfolds is a story so much larger than a simple piece of lost treasure. The Balthazar Stone is actually about a young orphaned girl named Elsa Winslow who goes on a quest to Sharktooth Island to find out what became of her father after finding the words “Balthazar Stone” written in his last message to her.

As you descend through each layer of the locked box you uncover more parts to the tale – more treasure maps, more curious artefacts and more sea-weathered materials that will lead you back to the Balthazar Stone. But do you actually want to find the stone? Well, that’s for you to decide.

The Experience

The coolest thing about playing The Balthazar Stone is the sheer spectacle of the game – which is probably why I took so many photos (too many to fit in one review). The production quality on this boxed game is extremely high. For starters, the contents of the game literally come locked inside the more treasure chest looking thing I’ve ever seen, complete with aged padlocks and trinkets.

As well as the physical component, you’ll also need to head online to The Mystery Agency’s website where other resources – such as newspaper records and death notices can be found to help aide your solving of the game. Logging into this interface was just as special as the treasure trove of goodies though, as it’s all themed around The Mystery Agency. You log into a very vintage looking computer system, and have other folders such as ‘Hints’ and where to begin scattered about the desk – all clickable of course!

From here you weave your way through the game unlocking each layer of the locked box as you go. Arguably, I found that with each layer the puzzles got a little bit more difficult. The first three digit code was fairly easy to crack using the newspaper that came with the box but from here in I was on my own with stacks of pirate maps, feathers and corks.

The whole thing is themed beautifully. From the thin paper stock for the newspaper, to weathered materials that felt centuries old… It just felt genuine. You, the player, aren’t merely passive. You’re part of the action and holding a very valuable treasure chest in front of you. It’s magical.

In some ways I felt it would be technically possible to play the game in a non-boxed form. There weren’t any puzzles that explicitly needed to be physical. Taking the corks and feathers as an example again – these could have been drawings or even images on my computer screen, sure. But as the physicality of the game was what I enjoyed the most, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s a little pricier than your average ‘play at home game’ but if you enjoy feeling like a real life treasure hunter in the most immersive way possible, you can’t do too wrong with The Balthazar Stone.

The Puzzles

This game is split into three areas, with a three digit lock at each. What this means is that most of the game revolves around finding a three digit code. If you keep this in mind, you’ll be golden. The rest of the story falls into place around this.

I’d rate the puzzles around the “medium” level of difficulty. As a solo player I completed this in exactly an hour with help from one or two clues to get started towards the beginning. The whole time I had my player 2 hovering nearby wondering what on Earth I was doing.

“Looking for treasure again”
“You bet.”

And of course, weighing in on the occasional puzzle.

My favourite puzzles in this box revolved around looking for co-ordinates on a map. Again, this was broken down into further, smaller puzzles, but anything that lets me roll out a big pirate’s map and pinpoint locations is a double thumbs up in my book. I love it!

Overall

A thoroughly enjoyable treasure hunt style play at home escape room. Although I suppose you’re not really escaping from anything, you’re unlocking padlocks to get into something. It’s easily one of my favourite play at home escape room experiences of 2021 so far (woah are we already halfway through the year?!) and it’s definitely put The Mystery Agency’s upcoming games on my radar.

I’d be remiss not to mention that in recent times, the company as a whole has had a little controversy around this (and other) games being distributed publicly before Kickstarter backers received copies. Some production errors also meant that some players have received multiple boxes and others none. As neither a Kickstarter backer, nor a purchaser (thanks again for lending me your copy, Armchair Escapist!), I don’t have an experience to share, but I thought it worth mentioning nonetheless. From what I can tell their customer service has been generally positive though, and the high quality product has enabled them to bounce back from this and go on to continue planning and making more games. In fact, I hear they have a 4th in the works now too!

My only regret? Borrowing the game and not owning it myself! The treasure chest it comes in is gorgeous and I’d love to show it off at parties.

“Oh? What’s this? Only a mysterious stone lost for centuries that drives people insane… Wanna give it a go?”

The Balthazar Stone can be purchased for £40 via The Mystery Agency’s website here.

Escape Live: Pirate Plunder | Review

Image

A mysterious Pirate Ship has crashed into the Pier. Rumour has it this is the ship sailed by notorious Pirate Sharkbait Sully but he and his crew are nowhere to be seen. You and your team need to solve the secrets of the ship before the ship sinks and your team become shark bait themselves.

Rating: Yarrghhh-mazing
Completion Time: 36 minutes
Date Played: 16th March 2021
Party Size: 4
Recommended For: Actual pirates

Pirate Plunder is a real life escape room playable at Escape Live Essex *however* if you look at the date we played, yep- you guessed it- we were still in lockdown! Instead of being able to visit in person, we gave the virtual “Telescape” version of the game a go. Essentially Escape Live have fully digitised their physical escape room into a rather cool point-and-click environment, complete with interesting puzzles, exciting ‘aha’ moments, and a pre-recorded live actor to guide us around the room. Almost as good as the real thing!

For this mission, I joined the Escaping the Closet team both as a little warm-up for an upcoming competition and a Tuesday evening hang out, and we aced it! Again, I couldn’t have asked for a better team! We hopped into the game link and barely 30 minutes later ‘yo ho ho’-ed ourselves to victory (wow remind me not to say that phrase ever again please haha).

The Tech

Pirate Plunder is built in Telescape, meaning you have a complete 360 view of your room and a pretty handy inventory system. If anyone in your team finds an item, it goes into the collective inventory for all to see! At all points in the game you can see everyone else’s mouse (mice?) on the screen, which works well for communication.

The Game

The story of Pirate’s Plunder goes… You are invited onboard a mysterious pirate ship only to discover the crew are all missing. But there’s a mysterious rumour about this ship. Hidden somewhere in the captain’s quarters is a cursed *cough* piece of treasure: The Golden Anchor. You must work your way through the ship and get at that treasure. Curse? Oh, don’t worry about that. I’m sure it’s nothing… Right?

This escape room is three rooms deep and makes excellent use of the whole pirate-y vibe. In fact, the theming is one of the best I’ve seen in a while! It looks and feels like a real pirate ship, complete with weathered barrels, ropes hanging here and there, and a very exciting second room which takes you up onto the deck! I can almost smell the sea air and hear the seagulls ‘caw’ up above!

The Puzzles

The main thing to say about the puzzles in Pirate’s Plunder is that they are very pirate-y, again – big compliments on their use of rope puzzles and mysterious chests and fanciful locks hidden around. In each section of the game you’re looking for items which will help unlock the next room. This makes it quite a “search and find” game – but this worked very well in a digital environment, giving everyone something to do right from the offset.

Players can also expect to encounter a sliding puzzle, a find-and-sort puzzle, colour puzzles, hanging rope puzzles and more. There was just one red herring I can think of- and even then, it wasn’t too much of a red herring but we did spend quite some time repeatedly clicking on it hoping for a clue. Haha oops!

Overall, we had a lot of fun! Escape rooms are always bound to be better with good company, but Pirate Plunder was a sweet room with lots of surprises and great set design all the way through. For a digital experience, not bad at all and I’m glad to have the opportunity to play this game without travelling too!

The digital version of Pirate Plunder can be booked for £25 via their website. The live version can be played at the Essex branch from £15 pp here.

Unlock!: The Tonipal’s Treasure

Image

The Tonipal’s Treasure, sets you at the start of a hunt for the treasure of Captain Smith, hidden somewhere on Tonipal Island. As your adventure begins, you’ve been arrested by the Governor and thrown into prison from where you’ll need to escape quickly, especially since Johnson, a famous treasure hunter, is also on his way to Tonipal in search of the very treasure that you seek.

Rating: Yarrghhh’mazing
Completion Time: 61 minutes
Date Played: 9th August 2020
Party Size: 2

The Tonipal’s Treasure is one of the Mystery Adventures set by play at home game company, Unlock! As with their other games, the whole experience fits in your pocket. It’s just a deck of cards and the Unlock! App. Compared to all the other’s I’ve played so far (The Island of Doctor Goorse & The Nautilus’ Traps plus the others I haven’t quite got round to writing up yet), The Tonipal’s Treasure is my easy favourite! I LOVED IT!

Yes okay, it’s not listed in my bio but I am quite partial to pirate games. Literally, there’s nothing more enjoyable than putting on the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack and searching for treasure. Pirates are … Cool!

So stepping into the world of Tonipal in search of treasure was an absolute joy. There’s such a fun narrative in this game. First, you’re locked up in a prison cell. Step one is to break out (but don’t worry, you later come back for your cellmates!), then what follows is an exciting trip from location to location. You meet good guys, bad guys, and voodoo priestesses. You’ll have opportunities to make a choice (whether you want to fight or flight, for example) which gives the game an impression of a ‘choose your own adventure’.

The puzzles too were enjoyable. In the past, we’ve found some of the Unlock! games are a little harder to follow but this one was great fun and just the right kind of challenging. The game relies a lot on ‘Machine’ cards, which are green. These give you a code to input into the app and there you can interact with your environment. One such puzzle has you create a recipe, another sticking pins in a doll. As well as Machine Cards, there are lots of items to collect, the meaning for which may not even become clear until right at the end of the game which again – brilliant!

In particular, I loved the ending puzzle. If, whilst playing (and from my photographs) you couldn’t tell that the backs of the cards have a particularly suspicious treasure map design … Well then you’re in for a treat because yes, the final puzzle involves an epicly large treasure map that didn’t quite fit on our table.

A final note on this review of The Tonipal’s Treasure, a post-game Google told me that apparently when you finish, there’s in fact a bonus extra mission that takes you on a real life immersive treasure hunt! I’ll try not to give any spoilers here – although since what I’m about to describe has now ended it’s a very low stakes spoiler – but effectively when you finish this game you have a card or two left over and a secret code that points you towards a URL. The URL offers more clues, which reference completely different games in the series. Any players lucky enough to solve the whole thing (and it looked hard!) would be rewarded well. The puzzles are absolutely still there, but you’ll not find a prize at the end anymore.

The Tonipal’s Treasure can be purchased for approximately £15 on Amazon, or local retailers.