Enigmailed: Puzzle Wrapping Paper | Review

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This is paper guaranteed to be recycled – as a seasonal puzzle game! What can you do for the loved one in your life who likes solving problems, adores a challenge, or even thinks they are the smartest in the room?

Completion Time: 1 – 2 hours
Date Played: November 2022
Party Size: 1
Difficulty: Moderate

Well, my first present is wrapped and waiting to be placed under the Christmas Tree. You know what that means? It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know Enigmailed is one of my favourite places for puzzles. From their individual games, wacky Kickstarter campaigns, to consistently fantastic Chocolateral series (puzzles, and chocolate? Um, yes please!). So, when I placed a large order before Christmas, I was surprised to find an extra goodie arrived in the package: A few sheets of wrapping paper.

In typical Enigmailed fashion, this is not ordinary wrapping paper. This wrapping paper is quite literally packed with puzzles. No, no, I don’t think you understand. Literally. Packed.

But with such excellent wrapping paper, I had to wrap equally excellent gifts up in it. So I suppose all those Chocolateral bars I’d just bought should probably now be sent off to friends instead of eating them all myself like a chocolate fiend… Ahh well!

 

 

Ho ho hope I can solve all these…

The first thing that struck me with each sheet of wrapping paper is how well the puzzles are laid out. Most wrapping papers print little pictures of snowmen or Christmas trees. This wrapping paper does as well, but hidden within each of those illustrations… A puzzle!

Some of the puzzles are spread out over multiple images hidden around and others are a little more self contained. For such a compact, A2 sheet of wrapping paper, there’s a lot of puzzle for your money. In fact, there are 12 puzzles to solve. They are:

  • The Hexagon Jigsaw
  • The Backwords
  • The Sphere String
  • The Buried Treasure
  • The Crossblock
  • The Net Maze
  • The Antlerbet
  • The Tree Gift
  • The Michael Bauble
  • The Star Crossed
  • The Holly Wood
  • The Poppers

Once solved, each of these puzzles gives a single word answer: A festive word, for a festive wrapping paper.

In terms of difficulty… Listen, I always find Enigmailed games err on the harder side. However, this wrapping paper broke that rule slightly in that I found each individual puzzle fairly straightforward to crack. A few easy wins, and a few which took longer to think through. I didn’t do them all in one go, but I did solve most of them solo – all in all, maybe an hour’s worth of puzzling? Maybe a little longer? It’s a ‘game’ best played dipping in and out of and tackling when you need a break from eating Mince Pies and playing Christmas music.

My favourite of the puzzles was probably “Buried Treasure” or “Poppers”, which were functionally similar to solve – and the two I attempted first! Several others ramp up in difficulty, but as you progress you’ll begin to see patterns and understand how the game flows.

 

 

Reuse & Regift this Puzzle Wrapping Paper

The second thing I was struck by is what good quality the wrapping paper is! It arrives neatly folded in a protective sleeve, and each sheet is A2 in size and 115gsm silk paper in quality. The colours are bright and poppy – even more so than I’ve been able to capture in these photos, making it a perfect paper to use with yellow or black ribbon. The first gift I tried to wrap with it (a large board game) the paper came in a little too small. I could have used two sheets, but then I pivoted to something more appropriately sized so I could use the one sheet per gift.

The wrapping paper comes in sheets say, rather than a whole roll, as you’ll need to use the entire sheet to solve the puzzles – some details might be hidden elsewhere on the sheet, so if you cut a sheet in half you risk it becoming unusable. For that reason, pick a gift that uses one sheet in it’s entirety for the best puzzling effect for your recipient!

Then of course, the best thing about this? It’s totally reusable. The paper is such good quality it’s unlikely it’ll tear between gifts, and after wrapping, it folds back down into a neat stack to be popped in a cupboard and used again next year. Whilst I’m giving my sheets away this year, wrapping up a set of lovely puzzley presents for friends… I’m quietly hoping those friends will save the paper and wrap their own gifts up in it next year too. Perhaps the sheets will make their way back to me by this time next year, who knows.

 

 

The Verdict

Given the Christmas theme of the puzzles, this wrapping paper is only really good for Christmas – but it’s incredibly good value. For at least one, if not two hours worth of puzzling fun for yourself and for your lucky recipient, it’s well worth elevating a fairly normal gift into something extraordinary. With your order, you receive 3 sheets of high quality, brilliantly reusable A2 wrapping paper. Christmas mornings won’t quite be the same again, not least of all because I’ll be instating the rule “all puzzles must be solved before you can open your gift”. So better get puzzling before you hit the Bucks Fizz this year.

All in all, I am so excited to give gifts wrapped up in this wrapping paper as gifts. In fact, I’m more excited for them to see the wrapping paper than unwrap what is inside. No wrapping paper has ever made me feel that way about gift giving, and honestly? I think this wrapping paper will be a regular feature of my gift giving for years to come.

I’d recommend buying the wrapping paper as part of the Chocmas Lucky Dip bundle presently priced at £19.50. In this bundle, you get:

  • Three sheets of wrapping paper in a protective sleeve
  • Three different puzzling bars
  • A handmade puzzle ornament for your tree

You can buy this, and more, by heading to Enigmailed’s website here.

Locked In: The Space Academy | Review

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The Space Academy Review:  You will be aware of the huge achievements of NASA. The lesser known Scottish project, SASA, has been under development for 2 years. Built at Port Edgar Marina from sheet metal and Scottish girders. SPACE CADETS form an orderly queue, we are ready to blast off on our first training mission. Will you be brave enough to volunteer?

Completion Time: 40 minutes
Date Played: 28th October 2022
Party Size: 3 + a dog
Difficulty: Medium

You’ve all heard of NASA, now get ready for SASA. The Scottish version! *distant bagpipes playing*

The Space Academy is the newest game from Edinburgh based escape room company, Locked In. Locally regarded as one of the best in Edinburgh, if not the whole of Scotland, any new room opening is big news – and none quite as big newsy as Locked In. So, when my family came up to visit me in Scotland for a weekend I couldn’t wait to book.

 

Pre-Space Flight Checks

Now, a note on context. I LOVED this room. But I went in expecting I might not. It’s important to understand why, and therefore why my ‘this is excellent’ rating is so warranted.

Despite Locked In’s popularity, I’ll admit I was a little hesitant to book anything at Locked In. Mid lockdown, we were visiting family in Edinburgh and had a booking in place for a different room. This was the time of masks and disinfectant and covid. Whilst I can’t now remember if we’d actually caught covid or not on our trip to Edinburgh, we suddenly felt very, very unwell. It’s always better to cancel if you’re feeling under the weather. The last thing you want is to cough all over an escape room. But (understandably) since we gave less than 24 hours, we weren’t able to move the booking or receive a refund. And honestly? I get it. It’s a rough situation for both the business and the customer. But, since we lost the money at a time when we really couldn’t afford to lose money (I’m looking at you, Global Pandemic), the whole thing always left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. I’ve since moved to Edinburgh and we’ve played many rooms, but because of the whole situation, the games at Locked In were no longer at the top of my list.

I realise this was a mistake however, from the first moment we stepped into the room. Locked In absolutely deserves it’s top title and balancing out the universe – I don’t mind paying twice to finally get a chance to come and play there. After all, a policy is a policy, and the customer support we received (especially when trying to book in with our dog) was impeccable. We were made to feel incredibly welcome at every step of the visit, and they went above and beyond to accommodate us. My only regret? Not booking sooner! Locked In is a must visit.

 

 

To Infinity & Beyond!

Now, onto the juicy part. The Space Academy is a fantastic room at Locked In. Located at the back of the Summerhall building (enter through the main entrance, go to the courtyard at the back, and head to the back right hand corner). There your Games Master, in our case the enigmatic Alex, comes to greet you at your booking time and take you to the room.

In The Space Academy, you are a team of intrepid space explorers learning the ropes at a new space shuttle. It is of course an exercise in learning, so your invigilators have left plenty of clues of what to do. But your goal is simple, get the spacecraft off the ground. You are sorted into different roles. I took on the role of the Commander, whilst my other two players took on the Engineer and Navigator role respectively. Our dog Shovell got to be the Commander’s assistant, but he was anything but assisting!

From here, the first ‘twist’ comes when you first enter the room – so I won’t spoil it. Instead I’ll just say that from the moment the doors close behind you, you’re in the game. Exciting!

And what a game it is! Unlike other escape rooms at Locked In, this one relies more on technology than physical locks. You emerge into a room that looks straight out of a film set in space, with a large wall covered in buttons and levers and strange screens. Scattered throughout the spaces are clipboards, locked boxes, and other tantalising machinery that you just know you’ve got to get into. It’s a feast for the eyes and the hands. Not to mention it’s a non-linear flow too, meaning past the intro puzzle, you can tackle things in any order you like.

 

 

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

In terms of gameplay, The Space Academy is all about teamwork. Seriously. We were able to book as a team of 3, not counting the dog, but realistically given the amount of content in there you’d want to play with at least 4 I reckon. For the puzzles that require four players (there are at least one!) your AI will help you override the missing person. But more than anything else, there’s a lot of puzzling to figure out. 4 heads are better than 3, or so the saying goes.

For much of the game, two halves of the same puzzle are split across different locations, so there’s also a strong element of teamwork needed there. We found ourselves passing objects and clipboards back and forth as we puzzled through, and splitting up across the space to solve things collaboratively. At some times you also need quick reflexes to perform actions at opposite ends of the spacecraft.

In terms of difficulty, we didn’t find the room to be too tricky. Between the three of us we’ve played a lot of escape rooms, and we were just shy of the leaderboard. I think had we not brought a dog along with us, we’d probably have done a lot better, but the dog needed plenty of cuddles to stop from barking. A dog friendly room yes, but perhaps our dog isn’t escape room friendly. He hadn’t the foggiest idea what was going on, but with so many fun flashing lights it was all so exciting.

 

 

The Verdict

Overall, I really enjoyed the room. I see now why Locked In has the reputation for being the best, or one of the best at least, in Edinburgh. We had a blast. And, after my family returned home from their holiday up to visit me in Scotland, they all agreed it was their favourite moment of the whole trip.

I’d recommend this game for pretty much everyone. Folks expecting locks and keys will be pleasantly surprised, and even escape room veterans will be delighted by some of the fun surprises in the game. Plus, the venue is dog friendly. Win, win.

A note on accessibility – apparently this room is wheelchair accessible, but between you and me I don’t see how. There is a strong element of climbing / physicality involved. There’s also several things which are high up, and a moment where you’d need to be able to move from a wheelchair into another seat quickly. I suppose it’s possible for someone with limited mobility to not take part in the climbing part and skip all those other bits, but they’d miss a lot of the game. As such I probably wouldn’t recommend it for someone with limited mobility, but as always – be sure to call the venue and check with them directly!

All in all, well deserving of it’s high rating, and a true hidden gem room.

A big shout out to our Games Master Alex for making us feel so welcome, and for Jackie for accommodating a last minute booking!

 

The Space Academy can be booked by heading to Locked In’s website here.

Spencer is Puzzling: Lost in the Shuffle | Review

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Lost in the Shuffle Review | Boost your brain powers on your quest to become officially, legally, a genius!* Submit all 52 correct answers to access the final challenge, “Puzzle 53” (dun dun duhhhhhn!).

Completion Time: 4 hours
Date Played: 5th October 2022
Party Size: 3
Difficulty: Moderate

I often wonder how you officially become a genius. Is it when you’re accepted into Mensa? Or perhaps when you win an international Scrabble Tournament? No! It turns out the status of genius can be achieved only by solving puzzle 53 in Spencer Beebe’s latest game, Lost in the Shuffle.

“Give me puzzle 53!” I hear you cry.

Not so fast. First, you have to work your way through a deck of playing cards packed with 52 puzzles you must solve to reach your final test.

 

 

Ok I’m ready. Where do I start?

Good question. One of the things I absolutely loved about this game is that there are no outright instructions. You have to search for the puzzles before you even think about solving them. Some cards contain multiple puzzles and some puzzles need multiple cards, so finding the puzzles to solve is a puzzle in itself! Phew!

You’re not completely on your own though, when you first begin the game, you’re directed to a website where an introductory video with a surprisingly expressive new friend awaits, reassuring you that you’re about to have a lot of fun (which we did!) You’ll unlock more videos as you progress, which will slowly unravel the story behind Lost in the Shuffle. As well as the videos, the website also hosts the rules of the game, a code sheet and a brilliant hint system that I’ll touch on later. The website is also where you input all your solutions, and you can watch your brain matter increase as the puzzles become increasingly more difficult. Eventually your brain will reach the long awaited point where it’s ready to tackle the biggest puzzle of all.

 

 

Sounds like a big deal!

Deal?! Cards?! Get it?! (Sorry) But yes, these puzzles range from relatively simple to really quite difficult so solving them feels like a big achievement. I wish I’d been a fly on the wall watching our celebrations for some of the trickier ones.

There are puzzles to suit (!!) everybody, and because they can be done in any order, you can squirrel away with one puzzle while others work through another. Remember though, some cards are needed more than once! Some puzzles required logic, some observational skills, and some even a quick internet search. There’s also some hidden surprises which I won’t spoil, but they’re really impressive once the penny drops. One things for sure, so much heart has gone into this project and it shows. Every inch of the design of the play of this game has been thoroughly thought through and it’s a joy to experience.

Speaking of joy, seeing the answer sheet gradually fill up with correct answers is a very satisfying way to track your progress. What’s even better is that your answers are saved, so you can take a break whenever you need a log back in to where you left off. We were only forced to take a break because I realised it was past my bedtime on a work night…

 

 

Need a clue?

The online clue system is nice and easy. Simply click on the card you’re stuck on, and links to any of the puzzles that card is part of will be revealed. You can then gradually reveal hints, as little or as many as you like, and finally you have the option to reveal the answer if you wish.

 

The Verdict

I really enjoyed Lost in the Shuffle. It’s a wonderfully unique game which turns this common item we know and love into an innovative experience that provides hours of puzzle solving fun. You can take it with you anywhere, play solo or with others and go for as long or as little as you like at a time. The flexibility of the game and the puzzles within the box are a win, and I look forward to seeing more of Spencer Beebe’s imagination turning into a reality.

Lost in the Shuffle is now available on Kickstarter! Back it here, or head directly to Spencer’s page here.

Compendium: UI-55 | Review

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Compendium UI-55 Review | A German U-boat named UI-55 was found in the river Thames. Have you and your team got what it takes to sneak aboard and retrieve all of Britain’s wealth before the German soldier’s return?

Date Played: March 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: ~50 Minutes
Difficulty: Expert!

When we were planning our mini-break to the North we chose Manchester due to the escape rooms. I had heard such fantastic things about UI-55 that it was a bit of a no-brainer. This room has actually won multiple awards, and (spoiler alert) is one of the few rooms I’ve done that I think is well deserving of the hype!

 

All Aboard UI-55!

The premise of UI-55 is that you have discovered a German U-boat, hoarding plenty of British treasure, and you only have an hour to recover as much as possible. The first thing you’ll realise upon ‘boarding’ is just how massive this room is. For context, it fills an entire floor and is apparently the size of two normal escape rooms put together! However, if you’re worried that this looks like a big rectangle, don’t be! It’s very much structured as a submarine, with long corridors and windy passageways to traverse. I loved the general size, and the attention to detail in that every nook and cranny reads as ‘submarine’. I had great fun running up and down, as the puzzles absolutely cover the space, and you will need to get elements from each area to complete some.

The other thing to be aware of is the sheer amount of puzzles, especially given the 60-minute time. In a normal room, you might expect to complete 10-15. Here there are nearly 30 to complete alone, which each give you a task to complete and then a key to use to retrieve some loot (depending how quickly you locate the right locker). Luckily, you don’t need to complete all of the puzzles – from memory, you only need to complete 21 within the time, with a very clear (and very fun) indication of when you should really move into the final phase of the room (the loot grabbing).

 

Baffles

As you might expect in a room with such a large variety of puzzles, they are all completely different with a fantastic variety. If one puzzle isn’t your forte (*side eyes the dexterity puzzle*) that’s ok! There is always another puzzle to do instead. Some of these puzzles are available upfront, some require you to complete others to gain the materials you need. It’s fairly obvious which bits go with which puzzles, and what you need to do. There are also clues scattered all over the place in the decor, and even some answers which are available to you right from the start! Completing a puzzle gives you a code, which you use to get some tokens, which are then used to gain keys, which are then used to unlock lockers. Luckily, as a duo the ‘gaining keys’ stage can be skipped, as I can see that this would take quite a bit of time, and personally, I feel is a step too far for any team.

I can only remember what a few of the puzzles were in the game, as I was very much running around like a headless chicken, completing one puzzle and then moving on, but I know I’d love to redo the room just to have the same experience again! I also know I only saw around half the puzzles, with my mum clearing half the sub by herself and me clearing the other half. If you or your teammates are the sorts of people who want to know what everyone has done so far or how they’ve reached their conclusions…this is not the room for you. We had to trust that we each had a grip on what we were doing and that we would call for help if needed, or if there was a puzzle we couldn’t figure out. Even when it came to the co-op puzzles we were so aware of the time we just trusted each other’s instincts, and if we ever found objects we weren’t sure of we checked in with each other to see if they had an idea. Honestly, it’s probably the best teamwork we’ve ever had as we didn’t have time to argue!

Normally I would talk about flow, but honestly here there is so much to do in so little time we were never stuck, bored or frustrated. The team are so slick with their clues too – they know exactly when to give us a nudge, what sort of nudge we needed and clearly could tell what we were each working on.

This room is also an example of my favourite type of room – the type where you don’t need to 100% complete it, but if you have the time and skill you can. This meant we were determined to grab all the loot, so really pushed the time at the end to get all the lockers unlocked and money in the bags.

I could go on and on about this room, but it’s honestly the best room I’ve ever played, and I could easily go and replay it (especially as I know there are a lot of puzzles I didn’t even see the first time!).

Accessibility (spoilers!)

As I mentioned in my previous review for the other Compendium rooms, there are some steep stairs to reach the room. However, there are chairs to sit on inside the room itself. It’s a bit dim in places, with lots of reading and colour requirements. There are a couple of puzzles requiring hearing, and some requiring dexterity. No crawling in this one though! You should also be fine if you’re concerned about claustrophobia, as although this was set on a submarine it was actually pretty spacious.

The Verdict

This is a short review because the verdict is simple. This is a must-play room, and we are awarding it our highest award; The Badge of Honour.

I’ve played many of the top rooms in the TERPECA and ‘Escape the review’ lists, but this is hands down my favourite. It’s going to be a long time before this gets knocked out of number one for me!

UI-55 can be booked by heading to Compendium’s website here.

Enigmailed: Nightjar | Review

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Nightjar Review: An anxious mind, struggling to sleep, listens to the crepuscular call of birds as their insomnia continues to plague them. Will this innocuous jar filled with secrets be the key to escaping their torment?

Date Played: February 2022
Time Taken: ~40 minutes
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: Hard

Nightjar is my personal holy grail of the escape room-in-a-box world and that makes it incredibly tricky to write a review for it. My brain is saying “lets be analytical and explain to our dear readers what the game is all about” and my heart is screaming in excitement that I actually own a copy sitting on my desk in pride of place. I imagine if I ever achieve my dream of getting hold of Tale of Ord (not likely) it’ll be much the same way.

 

 

Enigmailed’s Nightjar – A Rare Puzzle Game

Nightjar is a small boxed puzzle game, possibly the world’s smallest, as it fits entirely into a small jar around 10x10x10cm. There were only around ~55 copies ever made. The first batch was a part of the annual puzzle game Secret Santa group, where game designers from all around the world are tasked with creating a mystery game for another recipient around the world. Nightjar became something of a cult project thanks to a podcast series the game’s creator, Step of Enigmailed, made to document the game design process. The game was available as a bonus, extremely limited add-on in follow-up Kickstarter, Pouroboros. The game then later cropped up in a charity auction, selling for £110. Then, for a final time 50 or so extra copies were released mysteriously in a ‘blind game drop’ under the name EASTWOOD on April 1st, 2022. Nobody knew that Nightjar would be one of the two games released (the other is ‘Mangetout’ which I sadly haven’t played but definitely will and review soon. Shout out to my chaotic life for making it as yet impossible). Despite the hush-hush around what the games would be, the mystery drop release sold out very quickly. There goes the final batch of Nightjar… For now! A moment’s silence please.

So, that’s a long roundabout way of saying it’s a rare game and for me, a very very coveted one. If my apartment was on fire, I’d run past all my photo albums and holiday trinkets and make sure Nightjar got out safely first. As far as I’m aware, the creator has plans to make just a few more copies which will be released in similarly mysterious fashion. But for the most part, Enigmailed have moved on to other (very exciting) projects.

The second thing to note about Nightjar that adds to it’s rarity is that it is single-play. Almost every component in the game is destroyed, making it impossible to replay. Believe me, I tried to be extra careful. There’s also no reset pack. So of those ~55 copies ever made. Let’s say 90% of them were played. Which leaves… A very small number of this game out in the wild. Oof, my heart aches! I haven’t yet seen any of these games go up for sale, but I’ve no doubt whichever seller does will fetch a high price. But don’t do that. Keep it. Putting all the rarity and speculation aside, Nightjar was a genuinely very fun game and if anyone has a copy I’d encourage them to play it, enjoy it, and let it live on in your memory. Besides, you’ll have the jar to keep as a memento, like I have.

So, the history of Nightjar out of the way… Tell me about the game!

 

 

From Dusk to Dawn

If you didn’t know Nightjar was a puzzle game, you’d never be able to tell.

Your first impressions would be “oh, this is a jar of marmite”.

Then you’d realise something was up, you’d open it, and think “oh, this is a jar of sleep-aid things”.

Then you’d move on with your life and never realise just how brilliant the combination of objects hidden within the jar are. Yes, yes, they are just sleep aid things. But in true Enigmailed fashion there’s a riddle, inside an enigma, wrapped in a mystery locked inside. I won’t give any spoilers as to exactly what can be found inside except to say it’s a small medley of things you might turn to if you were having difficulty sleeping. You might dim the lights and pour yourself a cup of tea, you might try to block out the world outside, and you might use some nice smells to help you drift off. You might do anyway. Might… Might… Might.

In terms of quality, Nightjar is handmade in very small batches, so there’s a lot of attention to detail and care gone into the game. There’s a mix of real-life objects modified to suit the puzzle game, and further materials which are handmade or printed from scratch.

 

 

Falling Asleep is the Yeast of Your Problems…

The gameplay of the game is such that you can start with any object inside the jar and each object will lead to the next, and the next, and so on. It’s a puzzle loop that, when solved correctly, should bring you full circle over the course of 30 – 60 minutes.

It’s a quiet, introspective game best played in a team of 1. Probably also best played in the evening before drifting off to sleep yourself. But that’s not to say the puzzles were easy. Far from it, in fact! I always seem to find Enigmailed puzzle games on the harder side. I don’t know if that’s just me, or if they genuinely are. Cut to several years worth of playing them and I finally think I’m beginning to understand what type of answers the puzzles are looking for – and yet I still spent a good amount of time puzzling and wracking my brain over a few. At the time of writing there wasn’t a clue system (this may have changed), but Step was on hand to offer a little nudge if I needed it.

Above anything else, from the moment I opened up the jar to the very final puzzle I solved, Nightjar captured my imagination. It’s ability to set such a powerful theme, tell such a lovely story, and engross me with some brilliant fun puzzles with such a tiny number of materials squeezed into such a small jar is second to none. Yes, I had to use a magnifying glass a few times, but it was well worth it.

 

The Verdict

Normally at this time in a review I’d talk about who we recommend this game for and where it can be purchased, but with Nightjar that’s a little tricky. Firstly, I’d recommend it for everyone. Secondly, if you want a copy, you’ll have to try to convince Step to make you one, or scour the various Facebook forums for anyone selling theirs. Good luck in your quest, it’s well worth the reward at the end.

If you’re interested in getting into Game Design, Nightjar and it’s associated podcast are a 101 on fantastic game design, thinking outside the box, and creating puzzles out of unexpected everyday objects. As a game designer myself, if I ever create a game that is 1/10th as good as Nightjar, then I’ll consider my life a success. A round of applause for Step and Enigmailed. But even if you don’t play Nightjar, give the podcast a listen and subscribe to Enigmailed’s newsletter anyway. They’re both brilliant and will both give an insight into the weird and wonderful mind of the creators of this game.

 

Nightjar is no longer for sale but you can read about the project 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

About Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The game is afoot (well… apaw)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

When you’ve eliminated the possible…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

E-Scape Rooms: Detention | Review

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E-Scape Rooms Detention Review | Your behaviour was unacceptable. Detention will teach you a lesson one way or another. It is up to you whether you stay here for the whole day or you can leave if you prove to be smart enough within the hour.

Completion Time: ~1 hour
Date Played: January 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

About once a week, Al, Ash, our friend Tasha and myself like to meet up to play an online escape room together. This far into (or should I say ‘past’ at this point) lockdown, we’ve played hundreds. One of our favourite companies is E-Scape, creators of the fantastic The Alp and Sword of Drakul. But, stepping away from their fantastical and horror themed genres of the other two games, Detention is far more grounded in reality. It is set in a school. Your mission: Escape detention!

 

Back to School

Ever have nightmares where you’re suddenly back in school and you haven’t done your homework, or you have an exam to complete with no revision, or you’re due to give a presentation in front of the whole school but you’ve misplaced your trousers? No? Just me? Haha. Well the escape room “Detention” is kinda like all my school-related anxiety dreams rolled into one. I’m locked in a room at school and it’s packed with puzzled themed around various school subjects: Science, Maths, English, History and so on. If I can’t escape in time, I’ll be trapped in there… Maybe forever!

The room unfolds in a very non-linear fashion and, being built in Telescape, meant that all of the four of us could click around to take a closer look at anything in any order. Whilst it’s just one large, limited space of a detention room complete with desks, chairs, and a large chalkboard up at the front, it’s anything but small. We found that there were a huge amount of puzzles to grapple with in the experience. It was one of those rooms that probably no single one of us engaged with and solved every single puzzle, but we worked together in tandem towards a collective goal, breaking off into teams of two to work collaboratively on one or the other.

 

 

As with many Telescape games, during the gameplay you can see your fellow puzzlers’ cursor marks to see what they’re working on. It works well, as there are a number of magnifying glasses dotted around the physical space so you know exactly what you can and can’t click into and at any time in the sidebar you can see where others are. So when Al or Ash say “hey come look at this”, the software makes it easy to jump right to them. To input a code, you have a box at the bottom of your screen at any time to type letters and numbers in. This often triggered something to happen in the game, such as adding an object to our inventory or opening a lock.

Of the puzzles I encountered myself, I enjoyed them a lot. There were some that involved periodic tables, maps of our solar system, strange symbols on the walls, flags of the world, a large skeleton, hacking into our teacher’s computer, and so on. I’d rate the room at around a ‘medium’ difficulty and I’d definitely be lying if I said we weren’t stuck at all. Quite the contrary, several puzzles took us many tries to complete and one or two clues, but we got there in the end… And most importantly, we had a lot of fun in the process.

One thing E-Scape Rooms does really well is it’s ability to create drama. Completing puzzles often resulted in short, animated cut scenes that swept around the room in dramatic fashion. Every game they’ve made so far has been 3D modelled and inserted into Telescape creatively. Quite literally, the team are creating rich environments out of thin air, and as a hobbyist 3D modeller I am here for it and I love it. I mean, have you seen how shiny the floor is in this room? So nicely modelled! I need them to hook me up with those cool textures.

 

 

The Verdict

Detention is your classic play-at-home escape room from E-Scape rooms and although it’s not as magical as the fantastic The Alp and Sword of Drakul, it holds its own in the genre as a fun space packed with enjoyable puzzles to solve collaboratively with friends. Since lockdown has ended, I still appreciate games like this being made and put on the market as a way to stay connected with friends who don’t live in the same city as me. Detention is a perfect game like that and would be excellent for friends, family or just about anyone to play together.

 

Detention can be booked by heading to E-Scape’s website here.

Professor Puzzle: Curse of the Dark | Review

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Curse of the Dark Review | Investigate the mystery of a doomed village and its cursed castle in this thrilling escape room game! You couldn’t resist the allure of Mordengraf: a remote mountain village, overshadowed by an imposing Gothic castle and haunted by a spate of mysterious disappearances. Could there be truth in the hushed whispers of a ‘creature’ stalking the area? As you look for answers, your investigation takes a sinister turn. Captured by an unseen force, you must escape the castle’s dungeon or become the creature’s latest victim. But you only have three hours before the creature resumes its hunt.

Completion Time: 3+ hours
Date Played: 6th May 2022
Party Size: 3
Difficulty: Medium

It was only a little while ago that I had the pleasure of playing through Professor Puzzle’s “Danger in the Deep” so when I heard that they had another escape game out but double the length, I jumped at the opportunity. The former is easily one of my favourites of 2022 so far, and I was eager to see how their sequel would perform. It was time to dim the lamps, light some candles, pour some red wine (because of course, vampires), and crack open the game.

The story goes that you, an investigator, receive a mysterious letter from someone known only as “J”. A monster lurks in the castle at the corner of a village and many of the villagers blame the monster for the recent disappearances. Your job is simple: investigate and get to the bottom of the mystery. But before long you find yourself sucked into the castle and soon to become the monster’s next victim. That is, unless you can puzzle your way out!

 

 

How to Play Curse of the Dark

Curse of the Dark is nothing if not very ambitious. Written in large letters on the front of the box is a total play time of “180 minutes” which of course, can (and probably should) be split into two parts at 90 minutes each. Our team of 3-4 players decided that we’d set aside an entire evening to complete the experience. From 6pm on a dark and stormy Saturday evening we sat down to a bottle (okay, maybe two bottles) of red wine, plenty of snacks and spooky music in the background.

180 minutes? Pfft.
We ended up concluding the game with a successful win at around midnight 🤯

This would put the game in more comfortably at 6 hours long, but even I’ll admit that’s a bit silly. The point being is this game, despite the recommendation, be enjoyed at any pace by any sized group and is definitely the most fun when you break it up with wine and snack breaks. So long as your goal is to have fun, you can’t go wrong with Curse of the Dark. So don’t be worried if you take a lot longer than the recommended time.

Where Curse of the Dark differs from *checks notes* pretty much every other escape game I’ve ever played, is it’s fantastic use of space. It’s somewhere between a tile-based, almost “worldbuilding” game with Cluedo, and Unlock! mixed in. As a team of intrepid investigators, you reveal and place new tiles that build up an immense, sprawling castle around your movements as the game progresses. Past the halfway mark and you’ve already strayed into 3D territory with an enormous stained glass window and not one but two brilliant tall towers standing at either edge of the board. Until we flipped each new tile it was impossible to know where our story would take us, but each room was as fantastical as the previous and each twist and turn as exciting as if we were watching a movie.

Visually, this game is gorgeous. Each tile is a top-down view of a specific room, but as mentioned the game occasionally forays into 3D, building up a complete picture of an enormous ‘spooky castle’. I happen to know *taps nose* that each tile was modelled in 3D on a computer and then rendered top-down to create a large but well proportioned environment. The edges of each tile often had an overlap or matched up directly to where the next room was. Only a few times did we need to slide the whole model across because we’d built too close to the edge, but thankfully figuring out how to lay out your castle isn’t one of the puzzles. There’s a handy guide as you go.

 

 

See the Day Turn into Night…

In terms of puzzles, there are 22 in the game, but if that number sounds low I can assure you it is not. Curse of the Dark is big. No, I don’t think you understand. It’s packed with possibly hundreds of pieces, cards, tiles and objects. We found that throughout our experience, objects we’d discovered earlier in the game often didn’t come into play until hours later – resulting in more than a little panicked rummaging throughout the boxes. So a fair warning when we say that this game is big – it’s worth keeping track of what you’ve used and are still to use.

By the end of the game we found that there were a few cards we hadn’t drawn from the deck, but thankfully the game has a very robust clue system to keep you on track if you’re unsure. On only one occasion did we accidentally brute force a puzzle, and only then we realised this because we’d left a card we’d needed to solve the puzzle in the deck without spotting it. This goes to show that the puzzles whilst not too difficult nor too easy, seem well pitched for an enthusiast to comfortably potter through.

Throughout the experience, my favourite puzzles involved anything that was 3D – what can I say? It’s a lot of fun picking up the great big bell tower and pretending you’re King Kong as you push and pull bricks out haphazardly. Other puzzles take you away from the physicality of the game and onto a simple web-based application which worked well, but the bulk of it took place via a system of cards and ’tiles’. As with many games, there were some puzzles we got right away, but plenty more we needed to use hints (a scratch-off system). In each we were looking for a secret hidden symbol to proceed.

 

 

…Through the Darkness, There’s the Light

In terms of the question of age rating and accessibility , Professor Puzzle recommends 14+. In terms of theme, I’m not so sure about that. There’s the odd splatter of blood and an allusion to nefariousness, but it’s ultimately quite a light-hearted, Vampire themed romp and nothing I wouldn’t have loved as a kid. The real question is whether or not somebody is able to sit still for the full 3 hours and remain engaged and interested – so I’ll leave that at the discretion of parents.

There are a few puzzles that involve sound, so someone who is able to hear well is recommended, but I believe it may be possible to solve those with the visuals. Some of the scenes are darker and will involve Similarly there are some moments in the game where colour is referenced, but if I remember correctly, none of the solutions hinge upon being able to identify colours, so it’s also colour-blind friendly.

Unlike previous games in Professor Puzzle’s catalogue, Curse of the Dark comes with a free download of the printable elements of the game. This means that after destroying certain components during your gameplay, you can print them off at the end to reset the game perfectly back to the beginning. In an era of being more environmentally conscious, I commend the creators for making this game not single-use, and encouraging folks to re-gift it on. That said, I won’t be giving up my copy of Curse of the Dark any time soon. Oh no, by contrast I plan to reassemble some of the coolest 3D components and put them on my shelf in pride of place.

 

 

The Verdict

If you can’t tell from my gushing, the verdict is we really did have a great time playing Curse of the Dark. From the fantastically fun puzzles that consistently manage to surprise me, to the beautiful visuals (2D and 3D), to a very spooky vibe that made our board game night perfect. There were a great many “a-ha!” moments, so many I’m sure my co-players got sick of my insisting “wow thats a clever puzzle” by the end of it. For that reason, we’ve chosen to award it our Badge of Honour which is awarded to games that achieve five stars from us across the board, and it’s well deserved too.

For sure it will attract a slightly more niche audience than other games in the Professor Puzzle catalogue coming in at ~3 hours of gameplay. Compared to other ‘escape room in a box’ games you see on the high street, this one is three times the length. But in this way it’s also excellent value for money.

Typically in ‘The Verdict’ I like to recommend who I’d buy this for. The answer for this one is simple: everyone. I could see myself playing this with family members old and young, enthusiasts and newbies alike. I’ve no doubt it’ll be a big hit for Professor Puzzle and can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

A big round of applause from me!

Curse of the Dark can be purchased from major retailers, pre-order it here.