Crux Club: Mob Treasure | Review

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Mob Treasure Review: The missing treasure of New York City beer baron Dutch Schultz has captivated countless treasure hunters. On his deathbed, the infamous mobster rambled on incoherently for hours, possibly revealing the location of his hidden millions. The cache has never been recovered. Could the information in Mob Treasure contain new clues to finding the final resting place?

Completion Time: 6 hours
Date Played: May 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

The word gangster has evolved over time. It’s altered to such a degree that upon hearing it uttered nowadays you could be forgiven for conjuring up any one of several images, ranging from a brooding Al Capone (Snorky to his friends) through to the once-relentless Honey G. I even ate a burger a few years back that was boldly labelled as ‘gangster’ because it was topped with spaghetti sauce and was apparently impossible to refuse. It was okay. 6/10. Would probably eat again.

Here in Mob Money, we’re going classic. It’s dabbling in the 1930s public enemies-era of gangsters and mobsters – think Bonnie and Clyde and Machine Gun Kelly – and it’s Dutch Schultz’s famous stash that we’re tasked with locating.

It’s a solid theme. Crux Club has already shown it can successfully create workable and inventive puzzles using far more difficult settings in Rap Star – reviewed here – so our hopes were high going in. Compared to the world of rap, mob culture is teeming with conundrum potential (organised crime over organised rhyme, if you will) and it really doesn’t take long after opening the book to fully appreciate that.

Well, I say book… Tome might be more accurate. It’s a surprisingly bulky product and promises a lot on initial viewing. A quick riffle through the pages reveals scant glimpses of a huge variety of puzzles as well as the fact that a slice of the heft is due to the full clues and solutions being included at the back. In that sense it’s a fully contained experience. While clues are also available online, a gentle nudge or complete answer to any individual puzzle is always to hand regardless of your Wi-Fi status. Though, unless your knowledge of New York mob culture is genuinely god-tier, solving everything without leaning too heavily on those back pages is going to require a bit of help from Mr Google.

Mob Treasure Inspiration

“A boy has never wept… nor dashed a thousand kin. You can play jacks, and girls do that with a soft ball and do tricks with it. Oh, oh, dog biscuit, and when he is happy he doesn’t get snappy.”

Those were the final words of the real-life Dutch Shultz before he died in 1935. These surreal mutterings have been interpreted by some as a coded message revealing the location of a hidden stash that, depending on which legend you choose to believe, may still be tucked away somewhere in New York. People have really searched for it. Now we’re looking for the very same thing within this book. Lines are being gently blurred in Mob Treasure, which helps deliver more immersion than you might expect from a pile of completely monochrome text and illustrations. Discovering the inclusion of actual locations and people that surrounded Shultz during his bootlegging days causes the experience to feel wider reaching than it really is. A clever element that we loved, but this ever-present theme won’t let you forget it’s there, so be prepared if you’re only in it for the puzzles. You’re going to have to walk the walk and – especially – talk the talk if you want to stand a chance of solving some of these pages.

On the subject of solving, as the weight of the book suggests, there’s a lot to mull over here. Depending on exactly what you count as a puzzle, you’re facing roughly 75 total and they come in wealth of forms with surprisingly little true repetition. Structure-wise, the book is divided into 15 shortish sections of five/six puzzle chunks. Each individual teaser provides you with a number, word or phrase that ultimately combine to help with the gatekeeping puzzle at the end of each chapter. It’s perfect for tackling piecemeal and 45 minutes an evening over the course of a week saw our team of two track down Shultz’s cash using only a couple of clues to help us over some of the less logical obstacles.

The Verdict

Mob Treasure is stuffed with of a lot of solid, creative puzzles and a few outstanding ones. It’s the hope of more of the latter that ultimately pulls you forward into the next chapter. While clearly different from each other in terms of presentation, the more plentiful standard conundrums can occasionally end up feeling a little samey if you try to consume too much in one sitting. That’s only natural with so many puzzles crammed in, of course, but taking the book a chapter or two at a time is the recommendation.

The team at Crux Club have committed to the theme totally which offers an impressive level of immersion. While delving into the places, people and lingo of the New York mob is required for some puzzles, we ended up reading a fair number of unrelated articles about Mr Shultz and his antics wholly unprompted. It didn’t necessarily help us with the completion of puzzles, but it was a welcome novelty to have interesting real-world events already pre-built around the mystery we were trying to solve.

 

Head to the Crux Club website to support the team and purchase the game for yourself.

Crux Club: Puzzle Rap Star | Review

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Puzzle Rap Star Review | Crank that beat up, grab the mic and show em’ whatcha got! Puzzle Rap Star is a new puzzle book that will challenge you to prove you got what it takes to level up in the rap game. To play, examine the images and text on each page then bend your mind to crack the codes. You’ll use what you learned to crush your competition in complex meta puzzle rap battles. 

Completion Time: ~4 hours
Date Played: May 2022
Party Size: 1
Difficulty: Medium

“Rapping” is not a theme I ever thought I’d encounter here at The Escape Roomer. In fact, I don’t know what category to place this in. It’s also not really a genre I would ever go for myself. For this article I tried to come up with some names of rappers in order to make rap-based-puns, but I got as far as “Eminem” then dismissed him as someone whose peak in the rap industry was a decade before I was born…

…All this to say, I know nothing about rap. But what I do know about is puzzles!

 

 

About the Puzzle Rap Star Book

What began as a Kickstarter by Jan-Luc of Crux Club earlier this year has now come to life in the form of a satisfyingly weighty puzzle book. That’s no joke on the ‘weightiness’, for this puzzle book contains well over sixty puzzles in it spread across six chapters.

The book has a compelling brightly coloured front cover, but is black and white inside. On the one hand, this is great for accessibility (not a colour-puzzle to be found), but on the other hand makes for grey-reading in an otherwise usually quite colourful genre.

At the start of the book you’re offered a QR code with music to listen along to. It’s just the one song with a general hip-hop beat that does help with some of the rhythm based puzzles, but not my cup of tea so I didn’t keep it on long. At the end of the book, you have your hints. This meant that (besides the QR code) the entire experience was self contained. This worked very well, meaning it’s exactly the sort of book you could bring with you on a long trip without internet connection.

 

 

Nothing Rhymes with Puzzle…

The story of the game is told through rhyming couplets- sorry, ‘rap song’. The first few times I encountered this, including in things like the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy, this was novel. Later the style felt more cringe and hard to follow along. For a medium (rap) designed to be spoken aloud, I’m unfamiliar with seeing it written down. Sure, I read poetry, but rap is spoken word, so be prepared to have to say things out loud before they make sense.

I would also say that the language in this book is very much for the American audience. For starters it’s set in Brooklyn, but just the cultural symbols of things like “tater tots” which we just don’t have over here. This proves a problem in a puzzle book as you’re never quite sure what is stylistic rap music language and what is an actual puzzle. Was “tater tot” some kind of cryptic clue I needed to solve? An anagram? A rhyme? Nope, just a processed potato based dish. Whoops! Who knew? Typos aside (for which there were a few I was sure were deliberate, like palendrome instead of palindrome), the language proved exhausting.

The language was a problem for sure, but it raises a bigger problem since most of the book was reliant on specifically slang from a very specific region and era of slang in Brooklyn. If I know one thing about slang it’s that it goes out of date fast. There’s just a few years between my brother and I and the slang we use is very different. I worry that in 5-10 years the sentences in this book I found difficult may become even more so, as they’re removed from the era they were formed in. Or maybe they’ll have a timeless confusion:

“baby-bat saw this bee when taking a spookie dookie. Gotta stay careful cause he couldn’t see, k?”

Whether ten years in the past, the future, or the present, I’m not sure I’ll ever understand that that phrase from the book means.

But linguistic quirks aside, the story follows you, a young rap star keen to make their name in the rap scene. Along the way you meet weird and wonderful characters like “Craz” and “Shotz Doc Menace” ** (whose name flipped between the spelling Shots and Shotz interchangably) and “Buttah Thug” who join you on your quest to find the mystical Book of Rhymes which is the holy grail of rap music – a list of perfect rhymes so that you may “spit good bars” (another amusing linguistic quirk I had to google and I’m sure I’m still misusing it).

Your journey goes through the stages from “Sick Flow”, to “Street Cred” through to “Top Player”, “Dope Hooks” and so on, as you climb the ranks in your own personal rags to riches story. All to culminate in a very sweet ending – one I literally said “Aww” out loud when I finally got to.

 

Puzzle Your Way to the Top

I’ve said all I can say about the problems of language in Puzzle Rap Star, but now onto the positives – the puzzles! Where this book really shines is in it’s puzzles.

Being set in the rap music world, there’s an abundance of language puzzles – as there should be. I’m a sucker for good ones that revolve around beats and rhythm, and this experience had buckets of them. But it wasn’t all language, there were spatial reasoning puzzles, logic grid puzzles, mathematical puzzles, creative ciphers, and even puzzles that involved some fun physical manipulation of the book. Each puzzle felt well balanced and fit in it’s respective universe. In short, it made sense why I was solving each puzzle, to what ends, and most importantly: it was fun!

With such a varied range, I never once found myself bored. The best thing about the format is how it’s possible to pick it up and put it down whenever you please with easy breaks in the form of puzzle chapters.

One of my favourite puzzles (and this is no surprise if you’re a regular reader) was the “Murdah Board”. Cringe spelling aside, this was your classic logic grid puzzle but was complex enough to be packing a few delightful surprises in it, and long enough to last one evening’s session as I sat cross legged on my sofa, pencil in hand, puzzling through the whodunnit.

 

 

The Verdict

Puzzle Rap Star is a puzzle book with a very niche theme, but the creators have managed to pull it off with an enjoyable puzzle game. As I say, it’s never a theme I would personally go for and I can’t imagine that the “escape room enthusiast” and “rap music enthusiast” Venn diagram is larger than a handful of people. Add in the hyper-specific “Brooklyn” rap world into the Venn diagram and your target audience is single figures.

But I commend the creator for doing something that had never been done before!

For me personally, sitting in my apartment on the other side of the world in London, UK with a google search history packed with bizarre slang terms, American cultural icons from the last few days, playing Puzzle Rap Star was… Really weird. I learnt a lot about the culture of rap music.

But the puzzles were a lot of fun. Like, a lot of fun! They were creative and delightful and there were some brilliant moments of “a-ha!”. In particular I loved the use of beats and rhythm. I would absolutely love to see the creators apply the same level of puzzle creativity to a different, more universally accessible theme. Which, apparently the have already with the “Mob Treasure” game I’m very, very much looking forward to.

As a final note, the book is currently available for purchase on Amazon US. Shipping to the UK incurs an additional VAT and Shipping Fee.

Head to the Crux Club website to support the team and purchase the game for yourself.

Eleven Puzzles: Parallel Lab | Review

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Parallel Lab Review | The detectives are following Cryptic Killer’s trail. After escaping Cryptic Killer’s trap, the detectives thoroughly investigated the area where they had been held. Sadly they have found nothing that could move their case closer to catching the killer… Or so they thought.

Date Played: May 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 2 hours
Difficulty: Medium

 

Image courtesy of Eleven Puzzles

 

Over the past 2 years, we’ve all become quite familiar with digital escape rooms, and I personally have had hit or miss experiences with them. After a few disappointing experiences, I decided to give virtual rooms a miss unless I was playing by myself, which means I didn’t play the first instalment of this series by Eleven Puzzles (that said, you can read what Rebecca and Mairi thought about the first instalment over in our review).

Fortunately for me, Eleven Puzzles reached out and invited us to play their latest digital escape room-style experience in exchange for a review (this review, in fact), and I was definitely intrigued by the premise and drawn in by the art style!

 

A very friendly parrot! | Image courtesy of Eleven Puzzles

The Premise

If the name hasn’t quite given it away yet, this virtual room requires at least two players, on separate devices. This is because you will each be exploring a slightly different version of the same room, and communicating to solve various puzzles. As you are independent, you are free to explore without being tied to the other person’s screen which was my main bugbear of other digital games. I loved the free roam aspect, but reliance on communication as there is no way to complete the puzzles otherwise. I assume this would be the same for any number of players and is definitely a huge positive.

 

The Puzzles

“Parallel Lab” is based in a series of rooms as you progress further into the lab and dive deeper into the story. There are 3 or 4 puzzles in each room, and it’s pretty clear where they are. By working together methodically we were able to get through each of them, but the answers aren’t always straightforward. Eleven Puzzles did a great job of presenting unique and interesting puzzles that were at the perfect level of difficulty – no hand-holding, no super obvious puzzles, and no tenuous leaps in logic. However, they’re also very supportive – allowing you to use hints with no penalties, and offering you a number of hints and nudges before revealing the answer – very similar to the increase in hints you’d get in a ‘real’ escape room!

I have to say I really enjoyed the puzzles in this game. Although there were a couple which we struggled with, they also brought a great sense of satisfaction when we’d had that brain wave – most of the time we just weren’t communicating enough! They were all perfectly suited for the room they were in and addressed a number of different skills and techniques.

My only critique of the puzzles was that they felt a little imbalanced at times – I found myself waiting for my teammate to complete something tricky on their side, but were unable to do anything on my side in the meantime. Later on, this was reversed – I was working on something a little more in-depth, and my teammate had to wait.

 

One of the rooms | Image courtesy of Eleven Puzzles

The playability

Technology-wise this ran extremely smoothly and easily. The game is played in a browser, so we hopped on a Skype call and logged in fairly quickly. The initial instructions were brief but informative, and ultimately the technology provided no barrier to playing. My only qualm with the setup is that I would have loved to see some of the puzzles my partner did!

 

The Verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed this game. I went in with fairly low expectations but was absolutely blown away. The interactivity and independence are a real positive, and the puzzles themselves were just as good as any physical room. I’m not sure how well this would work for a larger team, as you may end up talking over each other, but certainly paying £15 for 2 players is more than worth it.

 

Parallel Lab can be purchased by heading to Eleven Games’ website here.

Treasure Trails: Greenwich and the Time Machine | Review

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Greenwich and the Time Machine Review | Ahoy, me hearties! We need pirate adventurers for this self-guided treasure hunt around Greenwich. Hunt high and low through the riverside borough of Greenwich and reveal stories of its rich maritime history (including the famous Cutty Sark – the last remaining tea clipper)! There’s green, there’s mean, and there’s a time-travelling machine!

Completion Time: ~2 hours
Date Played: 23rd April 2022
Party Size: 2
Location: Greenwich
Difficulty: Easy

Looking for a family friendly outdoor puzzle trail in London (or even around the UK for that matter), look no further than Treasure Trails!

Once you’ve done a lot of the puzzle trails in London you’ll know a lot of the themes revolve around things like defusing bombs, catching a serial killer, busting international drug syndicates, or finding the antidote to a deadly poison in the waterways – which are all great in their own right, but sometimes you just want to go on a traditional pirate treasure hunt equipped with a map and eyepatch.

Enter: Greenwich and the Time Machine.

 

 

About Treasure Trails UK

Treasure Trails was founded in 2005 and is a company I have personally grown up with. In fact, no family holiday was complete without my mum downloading and printing a treasure trail booklet to the local town or countryside spot we were visiting. Despite the ever-obscure areas, Treasure Trails was reliably there.

But despite my fond memories, they’re not just for kids. On a sunny Saturday morning Georgie and I got together in Greenwich – a location a short boat ride away for the both of us, to take on one of London’s most popular Treasure Trail to find out what it was like playing ‘as a grown up’. And let me tell you, it was still just as brilliant as the first time, many years ago.

In London there are around 62 Treasure Trails available – either as a printed booklet shipped directly to you, or as a PDF download. One of the most popular London trails is Greenwich and the Time Machine. We opted for the print-at-home version and in just a few minutes, off we were!

 

 

Hunting for Pirate Treasure in Greenwich

Our mission began near the Cutty Sark, an old tea clipper moored in Greenwich. We needed to team up with a time travelling expert, Merri Deehan, to go back in time and rescue an historical ring from an evil, time travelling green witch. The ring, banished somewhere in time and space was our only key to ‘saving the world’ – or something like that anyway. The important thing to know was that we were on the search of treasure lost not only spatially, but temporally too. Along our way we’d be accosted by the green witch and her minions, but not to worry. Georgie and I were on the case!

The game requires a printed out piece of paper – or the booklet – and follows 18 clues around Greenwich, each split into “Directions” and “Clue”. At the end of each “Directions” we’d find ourselves at a new location, then had to solve the “Clues” to get a location. This location could be found on a map that was handily included at the back of our booklet. Every location you cross off is a location the treasure is definitely NOT buried at. Leaving you with the true location by the end of the trail. Don’t forget to bring a pen to cross off each location as you go!

 

Merri Deehan… Wait, why does that name sound significant?

Greenwich is famous for a lot of things but above all it’s famous for being the home to the Meridian Line. You know, Greenwich Mean Time, the solar time at the Greenwich Royal Observatory. I’m no historian, so I’ll let Wikipedia do the explaining on this one:

As the United Kingdom developed into an advanced maritime nation, British mariners kept at least one chronometer on GMT to calculate their longitude from the Greenwich meridian, which was considered to have longitude zero degrees, by a convention adopted in the International Meridian Conference of 1884. Synchronisation of the chronometer on GMT did not affect shipboard time, which was still solar time. But this practice, combined with mariners from other nations drawing from Nevil Maskelyne’s method of lunar distances based on observations at Greenwich, led to GMT being used worldwide as a standard time independent of location.

Point being, if you’re interested in the history of time, then this is a fantastic place to explore. We spotted a lot of cool clocks and even got to stand on the meridian line itself, how fantastic?!

 

Georgie standing on the Meridian line in Greenwich

 

But beyond the historical significance, Greenwich is a really lovely area of London and one I’m not used to exploring. It was a beautiful sunny way with boats floating lazily up the river, and a fantastic view of London in all directions. The houses we passed were gothic and dramatic, and the food at the various markets and pubs delicious. Treasure Trails or not, visiting Greenwich is a must-do for anyone visiting London, and we can’t think of anything better than to spend your time there solving puzzles.

 

For Kids, or Adults?

The whole thing errs on the side of fairly easy, and definitely won’t challenge an escape room enthusiast – but the real joy to playing a Treasure Trail isn’t being stuck in with difficult puzzles and riddles, it’s being able to take the route in your own pace and see the sights. We particularly loved being able to stop at any cafe we liked along the route and even take a detour into some of the fantastic museums. In fact, if you wanted to you could break this walking trip up into several days. There’s nothing stopping you and that’s nice.

With that in mind, we’d definitely suggest this is a game more targeted towards young people. We both remarked that it would be good for kids aged 6 – 12. A great way to introduce little ones to the wonderful world of puzzling but definitely still fun enough to capture the interests of players up to 12. On the route we spotted several other teams also playing the game and most of those also had young kids with them. Between us we were mid-20s, and we loved it though, so it just goes to show!

 

 

Although to say it’s easy would also be slightly unfair as we did get a little stuck on a few moments. However this was largely on the “Directions” side rather than the “Clues”. We also finished the Treasure Trail with *gasp* two locations un-crossed-out on our treasure map, meaning we couldn’t definitively decide where the treasure was buried. Whoops – we’d missed a clue! But thankfully taking plenty of photos of all the spots got us back on track to the correct answer.

A word of advice to prospective players – the locations tend to be quite close together, so if you go too far down one route and don’t come to a solution, it may be worth doubling back on yourself!

 

The Verdict

Anything by Treasure Trails is pretty much guaranteed to be fun. You know exactly what you’re getting – several ours of exploring a fun location packed with puzzles and little clues that revolve around the local landmarks.

In playing the Greenwich trail, I see why it’s the most popular. Some of the sights it took us around were lovely – brilliant coffee shops, a bustling market, a fantastic view of the city, and even some stops for museums. It was quite literally a perfect day out. We’d never have walked that particular route together if not for the trail and for that I’m super grateful. It’s reliably good fun for kids and adults alike and I’d definitely recommend it.

 

 

The Greenwich Treasure Trail can be purchased as a PDF or booklet by heading to Treasure Trails’ website here.

Urban Missions: Bomb Disposal Lambeth | Review

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Bomb Disposal Lambeth Review | The Agency has got wind of a possible plot to detonate an explosive in central London. They have identified some suspects and need your help to interrogate them, find the criminal mastermind behind the plot and dismantle the bomb.

Completion Time: 1hr 30
Date Played: 16th April 2022
Party Size: 4 + a dog!
Location: Lambeth, Parliament
Difficulty: Easy

At this point I’ve done so many outdoor puzzle games in London, yet I still love them to bits. Most of us here at The Escape Roomer each have a particular sector in the puzzle game world they specialise in and for me, I cannot get enough of anything that gets me in my walking shoes and exploring quaint and curious alleyways around London. I mention it as this point I feel like I can quickly recognise a good outdoor puzzle game when I see one! For me, Urban Missions hooked me from the very first clue in the game, and I knew this was something special.

 

You have 45 minutes to defuse the bomb…

Eek! No pressure!

Bomb Disposal: Lambeth starts at the iconic Leake Street Arches – a place where artists from all over the UK come to celebrate street art, eat fantastic food, and take part in indie immersive festivals. This is the perfect place to start an exciting puzzle hunt like this, and a place I was equally surprised to learn my co-players (my parents, brother, and our family dog, Shovell) had never visited before. But we had no time to stop off and take in the sights, as we had a bomb threat to track down and (hopefully) defuse!

Once you meet at the start location, each of us had to text a number to join our team. From there, each member of the team received updates and texts as the game progressed meaning we were all on the same page at the same time. To begin with, the puzzles started slightly more deductive. Actually, the very first puzzle was one of my favourites I’ve ever experienced in an outdoor walking tour, as we were encouraged to retrace the steps of several suspects in order to identify any inconsistencies. Afterwards, the route took on slightly more of a traditional take, giving a series of cryptic clues that we had to follow to each new location. At each location, we had details to look for and hidden codes to decipher, as well as a number of video and audio segments to keep the story on track.

As a team, we all remarked that we found the game to be slightly on the easier side. That said, we still did rack up a fair few penalties at the end for incorrect answers and almost ran out of time. So I suppose, not that easy! The puzzles themselves weren’t too tricky – it’s the type of thing where you receive a clue and it doesn’t quite make sense until you turn a corner and easily spot what it’s referring to. We didn’t get lost at any time and didn’t trip up. That is until the final segment of the game. At the end, there’s a dramatic timer counting down and each incorrect answer knocks more time off it. This time it became less about the location and more about finding numerical codes, which was very exciting. Here the difficulty also ramped up, resulting in a fair few incorrect answers from us as that ever-present clock ticked down.

 

A Modern Whodunnit

In terms of the story, Bomb Disposal Lambeth was fun and full of tension. There is a bomber on the loose hell bent on destroying a particular London landmark and it’s up to you – the eyes and the ears on the ground – to track down the individual and stop them before they can hit the trigger button! The story is told via the texts, but most importantly through a series of video and audio messages, which was a nice touch. There are at least two characters to encounter and it was always fun to see a new video message pop through from one or the other.

It was a simple story, for sure, but why improve up on “there’s a bomb and you’ve gotta stop it”. It’s tried and tested and leaves nothing to the imagination, allowing us to take in the sights and enjoy ourselves with the puzzle rather than thinking about a complex plot.

 

 

Lambeth, Houses of Parliament… And Beyond!

Conveniently the start location for this game is very centrally located, just a stone’s throw from Waterloo and the River Thames. It’s also fully accessible for wheelchair or buggy users, as we never once encountered any steps. Similarly, since all locations are outdoors and even includes a few walks through green spaces, we found the trip to be dog friendly too. All important considerations when picking a walking trail in London!

One thing I would say when playing this game however is to use discretion. No, seriously. If you’re like our team- loud and enthusiastic- you’ll be walking around watching the video content and listening to the audio content on full volume. The theme of the game is defusing a bomb. Well, in Central London saying the word “bomb” out loud is a big no no and we got a lot of looks from police, especially when the route took us near Big Ben and Houses of Parliament. I’d recommend using a code word, like Ice Cream… Quick everyone, we’ve got to get to the ice cream before it melts. Works just as well especially on a sunny day, and you’ll get a lot fewer funny looks.

If you choose to meet for food before you start, I’d recommend wandering down Lower Marsh street for some food. In particular, Balance Cafe is a fantastic spot for salads, cakes, and absolutely gorgeous coffee. Vaulty Towers is another brilliant spot for a drink or a bite to eat, as you can hang out in the treehouse. Though Note: Hidden City’s Cheshire Cat also takes players to this location, so you’ll bump into more than a few other teams on the mobile phones playing a different game. If you prefer to eat afterward, the route ends near the Houses of Parliament. I know this area less, but I would say that there are some lovely sunny parks round there – so perhaps packing a picnic to share on Big Ben’s lawn in front of the river is the way to go. Apparently players can stop the game at any time and take a break, but we weren’t aware and didn’t utilise this feature.

 

 

The Verdict

Overall, we enjoyed the game a lot! In particular, I loved how the route took us through some parts of London I’d never, ever been to before, and pushed me to notice details about my surroundings that I’d normally pass by without a second’s glance. It’s reasonably priced for London, and even better when you consider you’re going to get up to 2 hours worth of fun, wandering around this gorgeous city solving puzzles out of it. We played on a very sunny bank holiday weekend, clocked in a comfortable 12,000 steps, and at the end of the day after enjoying an ice cold drink and a slice of cake, I remarked that it has easily been one of the nicest days of 2022 so far.

If you’re looking for a reliably good outdoor puzzle trail, Urban Missions is a great choice. It might not be the most challenging for hardcore enthusiasts, but I guarantee there isn’t anything quite like it, nor on that particular route. Just don’t say anything about a bomb too loudly next to the local police, and you’ll be golden.

 

If you’d like to book Bomb Disposal: Lambeth for yourself, head to Urban Mission’s website here to get started.

M9 Games: Vereda | Review

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Vereda Review | Vereda is a 3d escape room puzzle adventure. Play as a secret agent assigned a mission to recover a secret dossier set in an unusual town. Explore areas and take in your surroundings. Use all of your puzzle solving skills to make your way through the town and recover the missing dossier. As a secret undercover agent used to adventure and mystery you are tasked with your latest mission to infiltrate a town guarding a top secret dossier. What the dossier contains is not known, your sole focus is just to find and recover it. What you are not prepared for is the lengths the dossier has been protected. It’s down to you to use all your experience to solve the puzzles and contraptions that block your way.

Developer: M9 Games
Date Played: 1st April 2022
Console: Steam
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 49 minutes

April first?! Wait, that’s April Fools! In an effort to hide myself from all of the April Fools’ jokes floating around, I booted up my PC and sat down to play a brand new escape room game from indie game developer M9 Games: Vereda. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’d seen a few reviews doing the rounds in the escape room community, so was excited to try out the game for myself at last.

Vereda takes a single player on a short (probably less than an hour) escape room puzzle adventure. You play a secret agent and your one goal is to recover a mysterious dossier. That mysterious dossier is locked behind doors and doors worth of increasingly curious puzzles. Pushing mysterious switches to make giant pillars in a back alley move, and rearranging cards on tables to unlock doors… It’s, interesting! Certainly a game to get the cogs moving.

 

 

Meet the Developer, Chris at M9 Games

The most important thing to know about Vereda is that it is a passion project of solo game developer Chris, who got in touch with us at The Escape Roomer with an invitation to try the game. Since the lockdown, Chris has turned his hand to creating video games full time – from early point and click and 2D exploration games, Vereda is M9 Games’ first fully 3D escape room adventure for PC and (we hope soon) console. Presently, it can be downloaded on Steam (where I played) or on mobile devices. For the full and most up to date list, check the website here.

Okay, okay so enough background. How was it? Vereda was… Decent! I don’t think it will be winning any awards, but as a game developer myself I admire the drive and creativity that has gone into pulling this fun experience together, and I hope it’s the first of many Chris and his studio creates. Take it from me, making a video game is REALLY HARD. It’s hard enough when you have a whole studio made up of narrative designers, puzzle/level designers (oh hey that’s my job), 3D and 2D artists, programmers, and so on. So when I heard that Chris was doing this all by himself, I had nothing but a huge amount of respect.

 

 

Enter Vereda, a Noir World of Secret Agents…

In terms of visuals, I love the whole back-alley, dark and dirty, vintage vibe of video games like L.A. Noire, Overboard, or Inspector Waffles. For me, Vereda had that feel and it was very exciting to move through the unique spaces in search of puzzles and… A way out!

After a cinematic sequence where a mysterious grey car drives through deserted street after deserted street, players spawn into a locked room with a few desks and scraps of paper on the desks. There are drawers to be unlocked, documents to read, and a big door tantalisingly waiting for me to find a key for it! Ooooh boy, I love a mysterious setup.

The assets were largely store-bought, but it would be grossly unfair of me to call it an asset flip. No, everything that was put into the game was put in with purpose and felt right at home. I would have preferred to see original art, of course. The setting was ripe for something a little more unique, but the developer did well with the resources he had available to himself. The game came together visually consistently and definitely managed to create a dingy atmosphere of a seedy criminal underworld.

 

 

 

Secret Agents, and Puzzles!

In terms of puzzles, there’s a lot of discourse in the escape room world about mimesis and diegesis which I won’t go into here, so instead I’ll regurgitate the words of Errol Elumir,

A puzzle is diegetic if it fits the theme and reality of its game universe. A puzzle is mimetic if its existence and its solution reflect the reality of its game universe.

 

There were many types of puzzles in Vereda, and largely they seemed to follow a trajectory of diegetic at the start, fizzling out towards neither mimetic nor diegetic at the end. But that’s not to say they weren’t fun!

At the start of the game I began looking for tools like screwdrivers, or missing buttons in order to fix panels to unlock gates. Exciting! Towards the middle of the game, there were some riddles and colour puzzles and a very unique puzzle involving levers and giant pillars in the middle of an alleyway. Which is… Well, I suspend my disbelief.

As the game came to it’s climax, I encountered puzzles that I’d call neither diegetic nor mimetic, such as piecing together jigsaw puzzles to get puzzles that look like a pigpen cipher, to mysterious tarot cards being placed on an electrical panel, to an infuriatingly tricky picture slider puzzle, and something about phases of the moon.

 

 

Okay, okay I don’t want to sound harsh – because the puzzles were fun! But this is all to say I enjoyed the first half of the game a lot more, but as the game progressed the puzzles felt slightly more detached from the context of the game and felt like they were in there to provide unique things to solve. But in truth, I would have been happy to keep looking for broken panel buttons, or deciphering mysterious graffiti, because those made sense in the world. There’s no hard and fast rule about what puzzles a video game should have in them and of course, loads of fantastic games have puzzles in them that have no relation to the environment at all. But for me there was a slight disconnect between the puzzles and the environment that the creator had so carefully set up.

In terms of difficulty, Vereda comes in on the easier side. It’s a short and sweet game that is possible to complete in around 20 minutes if you’re feeling speedy. 40 minutes if you play through comfortably with a glass of wine in your hand *glances down at hand*

This puts it at about the same length of time a real life escape room takes, but this is a tiny, tiny fraction of the price. And since it’s a video game that is out on mobile or PC, you can play it in your pyjamas. Win win.

 

The Verdict

For all of the reasons above, I’ve given it a 3 stars out of 5. For the average escape room enthusiast, that might be a little generous, but I thought it was a really promising game with some ‘noire’ vibes. Vereda had all the makings of being something special, and for a solo game dev project I am seriously impressed. Sure, it felt a little rough around the edges and felt slightly short on a few points but nobody comes into any industry fully formed. If Chris and M9 Games continues to create puzzle games with the same enthusiasm in the future then I have absolutely no doubt that the company will do well. The world needs more escape room games.

My lasting thought is that after playing the game I would honestly love to see this designer build a physical escape room. Vereda in video game format was a decent indie escape room game. Vereda in a real life warehouse? Take my money now!

If you want to purchase Vereda for yourself or keep up with M9 Games, you can check out their website here.

Escape Reality Edinburgh: Machina | Review

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Machina Review | A team of high-tech scientists and programmers have assembled to perform ground breaking experiments in developing the first instance of true artificial intelligence known to man. You have just been accepted onto the team of scientists and have arrived at their headquarters. After a few days you realise that scientists are suddenly leaving and that these robots are showing scarily human-like emotions. You decide that you need to leave as quickly as possible as something peculiar is happening, but all of the doors have been locked trapping you and the rest of the team inside. Can you all escape before you reluctantly become a part of the experiment?

 

Date Played: 20th March 2022
Time Taken: 48 Minutes 39 Seconds
Number of Players: 4
Difficulty: Medium
Recommended For: Mathematics Enthusiasts

 

Located at the start of the Union Canal in Edinburgh, the location of Escape Reality Edinburgh is perfect for a sunny Sunday. We took a calming stroll along the water, preparing ourselves for one of the more difficult rooms on offer, Machina.

Once we arrived, we were greeted by hands down the most enthusiastic Games Master I’ve ever met, DJ. His passion for escape rooms shone through, and we were impressed by his storytelling and brief explanation of the rules for our group of more experienced escape room players.

The room was very dark, and we were provided with two torches. The darkness did slow us down at points as we waited for a torch to be free, but it was a successful in increasing the sense of time sensitivity in the room as we yelled for light. The room has recently received a lick of paint with some new features added, so it felt up to date and well maintained.

 

Wake up!

I’m not sure whether our walk was too relaxing, because we were very slow off the mark to begin with. We tried to solve the first combination locks as a team, which was likely our downfall as the design of the room has changed recently to allow players to separate and solve multiple puzzles at once rather than a previous linear approach. This is a great move, and as soon as we split up, the padlocks started opening and we found our groove.

This isn’t to say we weren’t initially frustrated, and in sheer desperation we accidently took apart a prop which we thought we had justification for but it turns out we became the dreaded escape room vandals who left a trail of destruction in their path. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been superglued together by now…

 

 

Do you know any mathematicians?

A lot of the puzzles require calculations, so make sure you’ve got someone who loves numbers on your team! Our phones were locked away, so calculators were sadly not an option. I’m awful with dates, so I found some of the puzzles extremely difficult but I was able to excel at the sequence spotting elements of the room. The experience has been upgraded to include a laptop, so there’s some password hacking to do as well as essential information to discover allowing you to progress.

As well as padlocks, there were puzzles which required keypads and also some more physical tasks to complete to find solutions. Some of these triggered some exciting reveals, which is always one of my escape room highlights.

 

Need a hint?

The hint system at Escape Reality is one of my favourites.  You are given an iPad which you use as your timer, but you can also scan various QR codes throughout the room to receive a hint. We used one hint, after which you are locked out of using another for 10 minutes. This feels like a really fair way of getting a nudge in the right direction without receiving time penalties, and you also have the option of pressing a button to summon your games master if required.

 

 

The Verdict

The games at Escape Reality are always guaranteed to be great quality, and I’m so pleased that customer feedback has been taken on board to improve Machina. A non-linear approach is great for teams who prefer to separate, and some upgraded features succeed in increasing the immersion of the room. I didn’t quite experience my beloved frantic attempt at solving the final puzzle as it was a lot easier than most of the previous solutions, so it was all over quite fast – but all in all this is a great room, perfect for teams who have a bit of experience and know what to expect.

Machina can be booked at Escape Reality Edinburgh on their website here.

VRCave: Space Station Tiberia | Review

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Space Station Tiberia Review | Become a member of the Space Station Tiberia crew and to save the planet from a unavoidable catastrophe in this free-roaming VR Escape room! Enjoy the unprecedented level of immersion: walk around the room (up to 4 people) and use your logic and teamwork to succeed. Don’t expect this to be an easy task. The clock is ticking and the challenge you’re about to face is very real.

Date Played: November 2021
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 35 minutes
Difficulty: Hard!

Space Station Tiberia is free-roam virtual escape room that is available at a number of locations across the UK (and the world!). We originally played it at DNA VR, a fantastic little VR arcade located in the new build near Battersea Power Station. You can read more about this venue in our guide here. In this review, I want to reflect both the general experience of this game (that’s likely identical wherever you play it), and our specific visit to DNA VR.

Image (c) DNA VR

About DNA VR

DNA VR is one of London’s first VR arcades and is home to a whole host of arcade games, including one of the most impressive escape room suites we’ve seen in the UK! including a range of original, free-roam titles.

On a quiet Monday evening in November, we visited their brand new site in the beautiful riverside arches at Battersea Power Station to find out what all the hype is about. We were greeted by Games Master Chris our enigmatic host for the hour. As the previous group was just finishing off their session, it gave us a chance to explore the venue and find out all about the exciting games they have on offer.

As well as all of the Ubisoft escape room games, you can play a number of other free-roam and fixed position VR experiences, including this one.

About Space Station Tiberia

Space Station Tiberia is an exciting, fast-pace virtual reality ‘escape room’ that places you, a team of astronauts on a space station, in the unenviable position of stopping a meteor from crashing into Earth and destroying the planet. You have just 35 minutes, but the only problem is your Meteor Defense Platform is broken – no pressure, hey!

Throughout this experience you have two goals:

  1. Fix the space station!
  2. Stop the asteroid

The game begins inside a very clean and clinical space station. A lot more high tech and comfortable than the ISS – so we must be living in the near future! After an initial ship-fixing first 20 minutes, you spend your last 10 outside the ship in a very cool outro sequence fighting off asteroids.

The best thing about Space Station Tiberia is that it is free roam. normally in VR escape rooms you’re fixed in one spot. Sure, you can sometimes teleport location but largely the puzzles come to you. In this game, you could move freely throughout the room in any direction. We had to crouch down, stretch up, and peer around corners to succeed in this room. oh- and of course we bumped into each other quite a fair few times! Haha!

But let me tell you, it is hard! Though unfortunately, not in a good way where we walked out satisfied that we’d solved a lot of puzzles. It was obtusely difficult. For starters, outside information was required which is a big no-no in escape rooms. I was lucky to be playing with someone who knew the answer, but otherwise we may have needed to skip that puzzle. Secondly, it made use of VR in an unconventional way. Small spoiler incoming – one of the puzzles required you to balance objects on top of each other to reach a high up place, a nearly impossible feat in virtual reality and didn’t really quite us to ‘solve’ anything either.

That said, if we look at the experience less like an escape room and more like a general VR game, then it makes a little more sense and becomes more enjoyable. It’s a fairly solid first-generation (if such a thing exists in the VR world) escape room that challenges small teams to perform quite manual puzzles around a space ship. There are more than a few action-centric scenes of shooting asteroids and lifting and throwing things around, but mostly it’s enjoyable to be in a sci-fi environment unlike anything else you can play ‘in real life’.

After Space Station Tiberia…

We finished the ‘escape room’ with a little extra time on the clock and were invited by our games master Chris to play another, much shorter experience: The Hospital of Horrors

“Not sure I like this”, my player two uttered from the other side of the room as we descended a rickety old lift into a pitch black basement. As the lights came on we realised we were surrounded by spiders…

Overall we both loved Hospital of Horrors a lot more than Space Station Tiberia. It’s a truly creepy experience that really pushes what is possible in VR and one we’d definitely recommend everyone try. So not quite an escape room but if you’re looking for something unique in VR then this is where it’s at!

Player beware, you’re in for a scare!

The Verdict

We had a great time at DNA VR, it’s a great venue and our host was fantastic. Did we love Space Station Tiberia? Honestly, not particularly, but I do like the genre of escape room in VR and I really, really liked that this one was free roam. It gives the player a chance to do some very cool actions and solve puzzles that simply wouldn’t be possible in real life. But hey, there are better experiences to try out in VR (some of those also available at DNA VR!) if you want to do something very special.

If you want to book an experience at DNA VR, head to their website here.

Professor Puzzle: Danger in the Deep | Review

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Danger in the Deep Review | Using all your secret agent training, you need to navigate your way through the deserted sub, crack the shutdown code, disable the warheads, and locate the enemy agent. All in two hours! There are 14 interactive and interlinked puzzles, and the detailed instructions, helpful hints and easy-to-follow game format ensure that both novices and experts are guaranteed an immersive, high octane experience. Let the countdown begin!

Completion Time: 1.5 hours
Date Played: 24th February 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

From the moment the postman knocked on my front door and handed me Professor Puzzle’s newest game “Danger in the Deep”, I knew this was going to be something quite special. A great quality box covered in bright poppy colours and themed around one of my favourite ‘settings’ for an escape game: the submarine!

For this reason, it took me a little longer than usual to get round to playing it. Since the box was explicitly one-use I wanted to make sure and gather the A-Team over an evening, pour us some ice cold, suitably submarine themed cocktails, and tackle the adventure together. Danger in the Deep was well-worth the wait and an exciting mid-week excursion for us all onto the Retiarius: A submarine primed and armed to the teeth with nuclear warheads. No pressure, hey!

About Danger in the Deep, the Escape Room Game

The year is 19?? and as the country’s most successful secret agent, you’ve finally tracked down your arch nemesis: Agent Proteus onboard the nuclear submarine Retiarius. But, as your initial mission briefing indicates, it’s a trap and the submarine is being remotely piloted by Proteus. Oops. Your mission is two-fold:

  • Disarm the nuclear warheads
  • Escape the submarine!
  • Track down where Proteus is really hiding

If that sounds like a lot… Well, it is! But you do have up to 120 minutes to complete all your objectives. Though (don’t tell anyone) you’re not actually on a timer, so if you take much longer than this then no stress. But in any case it’s a great rule of thumb to set aside at least 2 hours in your game night and have plenty of snacks handy. Once you’re trapped in the Retiarius, there’s no going back!

Fun Fact: A Retiarius literally translates to “net man” (wow, my Latin classes finally came in use) and refers to gladiators who carry the three-pronged trident.

Danger in the Deep is played in a pretty unique way. At first, I was a little overwhelmed There is a lot in the box for sure! But once you’ve read through the simple, one page explainer it makes a lot of sense. Your box contains:

  • A “How to Play” Guide
  • A “Training Manual” for the Engineering Deck, the Living Quarters and the Control Room
  • Blueprints for the whole ship
  • A deck of cards
  • A UV Torch
  • A field radio
  • A mysterious “do not open until instructed” envelope

You begin the game by drawing a specific card from a deck of cards, the other side of which sets up your first puzzle. From here you move seamlessly between all of the other materials in the box – from the booklets, to the blueprints, to the other objects as instructed in search of the answer. Once you have your answer you’re looking for the corresponding symbol. You then find this symbol on the answers page, scratch off the foil underneath, an the game tells you which card to draw next.

The story unfolds fairly linearly. You begin in a specific area of the submarine and move to the next sequentially as you follow along via the blueprints. It felt pretty immersive to enter each new area and have a peek into the lives of the employees who worked on the submarine through a series of photographs of the spaces, notice boards, lockers and floor plans. All the while we were grounded with a sense of where we were in the ship and what our immediate objective was. I loved that the game was guided by the cards but otherwise you had a wealth of information to pour over (and spread out within your group) to contend with. We never once felt lost or confused.

Solving the Submarine

In terms of puzzles, this is where Danger in the Deep really shone! We’ve put this at the “medium” difficulty level as some of the puzzles really clicked right away, others had us scratching our heads for ages – then eventually looking at the clues, and others were a real “aha! That’s awesome!” moment once we finally got them right.

Difficulty aside, what Professor Puzzle does really well is create high quality and incredibly tactile puzzles. By that, I mean despite beginning with a lot of paper, the actions you make and the things you construct with the paper are so utterly delightful at every turn, it’s hard not to smile the whole game through.

There was a huge range in ‘styles’ of puzzle too, meaning quite literally: there’s something for everyone. Off the top of my head we encountered several different types of ciphers, some really fun logical deduction puzzles, plenty of searching-and-finding, some maths, some folding, some map reading, and so on. Every time one of us picked up a new object from the game box and started leafing through it our minds raced at the puzzling possibilities. Little details we’d spotted in the first 10 minutes suddenly came into play an hour later, and we found ourselves returning to different parts of the submarine armed with new tools and knowledge.

My favourite puzzle in the game came towards the ending of the game. No spoilers here, but we finally got to use a fun item that had been staring me in the face for the whole experience. It had a healthy balance of “roleplay”, forcing you to do an action to solve a puzzle which felt like you were really there in the game, and finally tied up those last unanswered questions in a satisfying way.

Is Danger in the Deep Replayable?

Well, technically no. But I just know this is going to be a “regularly asked question”, so I’ll be super upfront and share my thoughts. For starters, it’s an escape room game so once you’ve solved everything once, you already know the answers! So there’s no fun in playing again, unless you have a really short-term memory!

Secondly, Danger in the Deep requires you to cut things up and semi-destroy other things. Similarly, in order to reveal answers, you’ll need to scratch off little metal panels which cannot be, well, un-scratched.

Is it possible to play without doing these two things? Maybe. Should you? Probably not! To get the best experience, just do what the game tells you to and try not to worry about it. But if you’re dead set on preserving Danger in the Deep (I get it, it’s a beautiful game and I’d love to keep mine too!), then it is possible to photocopy those destructible elements. I’m personally a very careful escape game player and it breaks my heart to destroy anything, so I managed to solve all the destructible parts without cutting up a single thing. The creators don’t recommend it, and in hindsight, neither do I.

The Verdict

I absolutely loved Danger in the Deep! No, seriously, it may just be one of my game highlights of the year so far. It’s got 5 stars almost across the board from me, and I’ve also decided to award it the special “Puzzle Prize” badge for having some seriously cool puzzles in there I’ve never seen before but were brilliant fun to play.

Professor Puzzle’s Danger in the Deep can be purchased on Amazon. Head to this link for Amazon UK.