The Detective Society: Trouble in Folklore Falls 1 | Review

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Trouble in Folklore Falls Review | Discover the darker side to your favourite folklore characters as you work with the ‘big bad’ wolf to crack the case, in this interactive boxed mystery. A story filled with twists, turns and some laughs thrown in for good measure. A play-at-home mystery adventure, perfect for date-nights, team building, board gamers, crime solvers, mystery fans and everyone in who loves a good mystery story!

Completion Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Date Played: 18/03/2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

 

 

I think I was one of the only play at home mystery game fans who hadn’t experienced The Detective Society, so when Trouble at Folklore Falls landed on my doorstep I was excited to rip it (gently) open. First impressions were positive, the envelope itself was really high quality and the materials provided have been successfully designed to immerse you in the story. We’re talking flyers, newspapers, notes, food packaging – all of which are so professionally made. Please see the photo below, but note – I haven’t included all of the contents in photos to ensure no spoilers!

 

 

The story itself is based on characters from folklore, with favourites such as Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and Humpty Dumpty all under suspicion of kidnapping the community’s beloved pets. Here at The Escape Roomer, we love our pets very, very much. How could they?!

It’s our job to use the evidence provided to compile a suspect list, and deduct who is behind the crimes in Folklore Falls.

 

A trustworthy narrator?

Our guide through the investigation is none other than the Big Bad Wolf, who keeps in regular contact via SMS, email, radio and telephone calls. In fact, this is the best example of using automated communication I’ve experienced. It’s been really cleverly designed so we can speak to suspects, and the most impressive part came in a phone call where what we specifically said dictated different responses from the character.

 

A Puzzling Mystery

The main puzzles you will experience in Trouble in Folklore Falls are logic based. Who was where at what time, and could they have committed a crime? That’s not all though, there are word searches, hidden messages to decipher, fold and cut style puzzles, passwords to hack and podcast episodes to analyse. A little bit of everything to suit all different types of puzzlers, held together with a strong logic puzzle.

This feels like it might be the first Detective Society game where you could get your kids involved. Previous mysteries have been based on more adult themes, and although there may be references for the grown ups only I can see a young adult audience enjoying the puzzles, hearing from familiar characters and really appreciating the experience.

 

A game to keep you guessing until the last moment…

The storyline is brilliant, and keeps you guessing the entire time. You’re never quite sure who to trust, but you’re provided with a great evidence form for note taking. What I particularly enjoyed was that once you’d figured out the suspect, the game wasn’t over. You are directed towards more puzzles to solve and an exciting ending which of course, leads you towards episode two.

The jokes are a particular strong point, though be warned you’ll be cringing!

 

 

The Verdict

This is one of the best play at home mysteries I’ve ever played. The attention to detail is incredible, the mix of media and physical evidence means you’re constantly entertained, the storyline is the perfect mix of crime and humour – I could go on and on.

At the time of writing there are currently 4 available mysteries to solve and the reviews have been brilliant across the board. Trouble in Folklore Falls has done it again, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I can’t wait to finish this case and try the others.

If you want to get started with Trouble in Folklore Falls yourself, head to The Detective Society’s website here.

 

Oxenfree | Review

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Oxenfree Review | Oxenfree is a supernatural thriller about a group of friends who unwittingly open a ghostly rift. Play as Alex, a bright, rebellious teenager who brings her new stepbrother Jonas to an overnight party on an old military island. The night takes a terrifying turn when you unwittingly open a ghostly gate spawned from the island’s cryptic past. How you deal with these events, your peers, and the ominous creatures you’ve unleashed is up to you. YOU determine every aspect of Alex’s story while exploring Edwards Island, uncovering the base’s dark past, and changing the course of your friends’ lives.

Developer: Night School Studio
Date Played: December 2021
Console: Nintendo Switch
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 4 hours

I’m so glad I managed to squeeze in one last video game in 2021, and I’m especially glad it was this one. Because Oxenfree has swooped in at the very last minute and takes the title of being my favourite game played in this entire year. No joke! After originally launching in 2016, it’s one of those games that has been on my wishlist for years. With the Christmas break comes more time off to finally work through my ‘to-play’ pile, and all I can do now is regret that it took me 5 whole years to pick it up!

But, it seems like I’ve played it just in the nick of time – for Oxenfree II – Lost Signals is due to release some time in 2022. If you’ve ever wanted to play Oxenfree but needed a sign, this is your sign.

“Alle alle auch sind frei”

Contrary to popular belief, Oxenfree is not about Oxen. You’ll free exactly zero Ox in this short, supernatural thriller. The phrase actually comes from a German nursery rhyme, “alle alle auch sind frei” or olly olly oxen free” here in the UK which loosely means “all are free” in both translations.

This sets the scene for the game which is mixed up in supernatural horror of submarine vessels, abandoned military outposts and lots and lots of lost radio wave signals. You play a group of late-teen high schoolers sneaking off to the abandoned Edwards Island, an old military outpost with no phone signal for an annual party.

With phrases like “supernatural thriller”, “terrifying turn” and “ghostly rift” packed into the game’s description, it’s fair to guess that the evening goes horribly, horribly wrong. The main character Alex quickly uncovers a sift in the space time continuum and lets through malevolent voices of the dead (or undead) leak into the radio waves. The five friends must work together, solve puzzles, and escape the island before dawn, but nobody will return quite the same person they left.

What I wasn’t expecting was just how scary Oxenfree actually is. It’s not your classic ‘jump in your seat’ horror game, but the kind of slow paced but horrific ghost story of Victorian parlour novels. It chills to the bone.

Unlock Doors… With Radio Waves?

One of the cool things about playing Oxenfree from an escape room enthusiast point of view, is how we approach the puzzles. The first thing of note was the method of unlocking the numerous locked doors across Edward Island. That is, by radio.

At the start of the game you’re told by one of the other characters that mobile phones don’t work so everything runs off the radio. As such, you’re given a handheld radio that can receive information. Pretty handy, given there are information boards around the island that can be listened to if only you tune into the right frequency. The radio also picks up all sorts of random chatter, distant waves from the mainland, and snippets of conversation that don’t mean much.

Around halfway through the game you discover a very unique use of your handheld radio – opening doors. It seems as if many locks on the island can be triggered by simply turning to the correct frequency. It’s not a puzzle I’ve ever seen before, but it worked so well in Oxenfree. Your handheld radio becomes not only your only lifeline to your friends and the outside work, but also your skeleton key.

But that’s not all, as a player you’ll also need to navigate through time loops, explore a vast map, recall information scattered to the wind, and of course solve the mystery. There’s a huge mystery at the centre of Oxenfree and whilst there’s no real way to “win” the game, you can certainly lose if you end the game and haven’t fully made sense of what just happened.

Like Ships that Pass in the Night

Like the famous phrase “like ships that pass in the night”, your slow meandering through the world of Oxenfree feels like a ship on the ocean. Your radio is your beacon light, but more often than not lures you into the rocks to crash and die than serves as your saviour.

To give too much detail would spoil the story, but it’s important to reiterate that if you race (or should I say pace quickly) through the game at the minimum (4-5 hours) you won’t get to see the real ending. On my first play through I did exactly that. Followed by lots of Googling questions. I then played Oxenfree a second time, and noticed a lot more and took more time in each location to explore the details. There were questions I hadn’t known I needed to ask, and alternate endings that changed the meaning of the game entirely.

If I had one piece of criticism of the game it would be the pace. Your character walks very slowly. After spending 10 minutes walking to the top of a hill, the characters would have a short conversation and I’d have to turn right back around again for the long walk back. But on the other side, the pacing works so well for a narrative driven game like this. Each dialogue choice you make and each path you take in the game to get from A to B has consequences. As the clock slowly creeps from midnight towards dawn, there’s a sense of timelessness as if the night will last forever.

The Verdict

Oxenfree is an incredibly powerful game and an example of fantastic storytelling in video games. From the gorgeous, moody artwork, to the eerie music that you can’t quite get out of your head even once you’ve put your console to sleep. It’s a supernatural mystery game that will stick with me for a long time.

To play Oxenfree, head to the developer’s website and choose your platform here.

Unsolved Science: Case 01 The Object | Review

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Case 01: The Object Review | Unsolved Science is a challenging cooperative tabletop mystery game for 1-4 players. But instead of locks and puzzles, in this mystery, science IS the game mechanic.
Perform real experiments. Analyze weird data. Become the scientist to figure out why a mysterious object could spell disaster for the world.

Completion Time: 2hr
Date Played: 20th January 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

I was so exited when this game arrived on my doorstep. I’m by no means a science expert, but the idea of performing experiments and analysing data is completely my jam. Then mix that with solving a mystery?! Hand me a white coat and goggles because I’m ready to play.

The Unboxing

This game has clearly been made with a passion for making science fun at it’s heart. The materials are of a really high quality, and allow you to become immersed in the story as though you are receiving components directly from the Planetary Protection Strategy Service. We get a letter, name badges (with space for achievement stickers), a progress tracker, an evidence board, 3 yellow investigation envelopes, an answer envelope and most excitingly, a mysterious object!

Once all the materials have been laid out and we’ve found 4 small clear containers from the cupboard (finally a use for our leftover Gu indulgences), we open the letter to reveal our mission. A mysterious object has fallen into the hands of a questionable intelligence organisation, and they believe it could change the world. But can they be trusted? It’s up to us to uncover the secrets of their puzzling discovery.

Let the Experiments Begin

Using both the instructions and the progress board, the order in which you need to perform the experiments and analyse the data is made really clear which I appreciated. Within each envelope are several experiments, designed to gradually reveal information and test your ever growing knowledge as you progress. You track your findings on the evidence board, which is really useful for remembering the wave of new facts you’re learning, and to refer back to later in the game.

The experiments are a mix of physical tasks and observations as well as analysing a range of photos, charts and various media found online. There’s no need to navigate away from any of the online materials provided, Unsolved Science have created an online portal of information where you can search for key words to help as part of your investigation. I’d really encourage you to use this regardless of your scientific knowledge, as it’s essential in discovering the true nature of the mysterious object.

We really enjoyed the wide range of experiments provided, and found it was a lot closer to solving puzzles than we expected. Asking ourselves why certain patterns or differences were occurring required logic and reason, and discovering the answer was just as satisfying as unlocking a padlock!

Dig Deep

The key to solving the mystery of the game is to answer a number of important questions correctly to unlock the best ending online. These questions ask you to dig deep, and take a good look at the evidence you’ve acquired to find the right solution. They are each assigned a difficulty level which gives you a good indication of how much information you need to answer it. We found we didn’t answer the hardest difficulty questions until the very end of the game, so don’t worry if you feel behind at any point, the a-ha moments will come!

If you’re feeling stuck, there is an excellent clue system provided with three levels of hints to help you on your way. There is also an answers envelope, which you can compare your findings to but which will not reveal the answers to the dig deep questions.

But what is the Mysterious Object?!

Obviously, I’m not going to tell you. But I really enjoyed the story behind this game, and I’d like to know what happens next! I don’t know if any follow up games will be a continuation of this story, but the ending certainly left me wanting more.

The Verdict

We absolutely loved playing The Object and found it to be the perfect balance of scientific discovery, fun and mystery. Don’t be fooled into thinking science experiment kits are just for kids, this game is designed primarily for adults and we had an absolute blast while discovering facts we didn’t know before. Unsolved Science have created a unique, exciting new addition to add to the tabletop mystery game community and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. We’ve also chosen to award it the special “Wow Award” for being an especially innovative game!

The Unsolved Science Kickstarter

If you’re interested in playing Unsolved Science’s Case 01, the game will be available in early 2022 via Kickstarter. You can sign up for news and updates by heading to Unsolved Science’s website here.

Witness for the Prosecution | Review

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Witness for the Prosecution Review | Step inside the magnificent surroundings of London County Hall and experience the intensity and drama of Agatha Christie’s gripping story of justice, passion and betrayal in a unique courtroom setting. Leonard Vole is accused of murdering a widow to inherit her wealth. The stakes are high – will Leonard survive the shocking witness testimony, will he be able to convince the jury, and you of his innocence and escape the hangman’s noose?

Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution has been intriguing amateur sleuths since 1925 when she first penned the story in her short story ​​”Traitor’s Hands”. Originally adapted into a stage play in 1953 by Christie, the play has seen the West End, Broadway and a film adaptation. This current production of Witness for the Prosecution takes place in the stunning London County Hall, which served as the headquarters of London’s local government until 1986. The play is performed in-the-round, with the site-specific courthouse setting allowing for very effective immersion during the courthouse scenes.

The show has been described as both immersive and interactive, so, as this is The Escape Roomer, my review will be in two parts. The first will look at the show as a piece of theatre and the second will focus on the immersive and interactive elements of Witness for the Prosecution.

London County Hall. Photo by Grace O’Kefe.

I originally had tickets for Witness for the Prosecution at the end of March 2020 (we all know how that turned out), so I was delighted to have the opportunity to see the play two years later. Director Lucy Bailey immediately establishes a superb level of tension in the nightmarish opening sequence, with Mic Pool’s sound design particularly getting my heart pounding before the courtroom is transformed into the play’s secondary setting: the accused’s barrister’s office. As an American who had spent one entire summer interning at a law firm, occasionally making it into the city’s courts, I was intrigued to see if there were any differences in the British legal system. My takeaway: it seems that we basically stole everything except for the wigs. 

The County Hall is a stunning venue that immediately transports you into the drama and sets the stakes as life or death. My seat in the courtroom stalls was perhaps the comfiest theatre seat I’ve had the pleasure to sit in for two hours. As the performance is in-the-round, you are basically guaranteed to have a great view, although note that there are quite a few flights of stairs to get up to the seats in the galleries.

The cast of Witness for the Prosecution. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

Christie’s script is well-paced and timeless, touching on issues of class, gender relations and xenophobia, without ever feeling dated despite being a period piece. The introduction to the case is in the defendant’s barrister’s office, who, as portrayed by Jonathan Firth, has all the wit, vivacity and presence that you’d expect of one of Christie’s detectives. Our defendant Leonard Vole’s arc is actually a very interesting examination of male vulnerability, the role is played with a great deal of sensitivity and range by Joe McNamara throughout the piece.

Witness for the Prosecution is at its best during the courtroom scenes, which allows the site-specific setting as well as its full company of actors to shine. There are many non-speaking characters in the play as various members of the court. In particular, I found myself drawn to the court stenographer, played by Lorna Lowe, who fittingly was an attorney before training at Lamda. Without drawing focus, her reactions to the scandalous court proceedings added a level of realism that reminded me of my time spent observing court cases. 

As this is Agatha Christie, of course, this is no mere courtroom drama, it is also a mystery. Christie’s clever plotting leads us through several twists and turns, and if you’ve managed to remain unspoiled, trying to solve the case alongside the characters is a great deal of fun. Although my guest and I had different guesses of ‘whodunnit’, I must admit we were both entirely wrong. Leave it to Agatha Christie to be ten steps ahead of us even half a century later. Overall, Witness for the Prosecution is a gripping murder mystery and a beautifully-executed piece of theatre.

The cast of Witness for the Prosecution. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

Immersion and Interactivity

Sorry Brecht, but the appeal of immersive theatre appears to be here to stay. Over the past few decades, immersion and interactivity have become increasingly prevalent buzzwords in the entertainment industry. The terms are often conflated, but as readers of The Escape Roomer, I hope you’ll indulge me with a brief, very nerdy examination of the two terms. I turn to my favourite scholarly article on the subject (yes, I do have a favourite): Catherine Bouko’s “Interactivity and Immersion in a media-based performance” from 2014. If you are a nerd like me, I highly recommend reading the whole article, but here is my cliff notes version of my understanding of her definitions:

There are three levels of immersion: the first involves the breaking down of the “fourth wall” between performers and actors, the second has the audience placed within an environment and narrative, and the third (which is nearly impossible to achieve without VR or similar technology) sees the audience experiencing confusion between reality and fiction.

A clear definition of interactivity and its varying degrees is more elusive: the baseline for interactivity involves some form of reaction to the participant from the performance, more advanced interactivity allows the audience to make choices that will affect the narrative in a predetermined way, while the final stage of interactivity allows the audience to affect the narrative in unforeseen ways beyond the control of the performance. It’s actually very rare for experiences that we might describe as interactive to reach the later stages of interactivity, as most interactive experiences have a predetermined outcome (or outcomes).

In a way, all live theatre is in some sense both interactive and immersive, as actors on stage feed off the energy and reactions of the audience, allowing the audience to interact with the performance and audience members often feel immersed in a production through the magic of live theatre. That being said, this is The Escape Roomer, so let’s break down how much immersion and interactivity you can expect in Witness for the Prosecution. 

The cast of Witness for the Prosecution. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

Is Witness for the Prosecution Immersive or Interactive?

Witness for the Prosecution certainly has immersive elements, chief among them being its site-specific setting. According to the very trusty source of an uncited claim on Wikipedia, “it was always Christie’s wish to see the play in a site-specific location”, and if that is indeed true, you can easily see why: it is a stunningly effective way to bring you into the world of the play. This immersion is slightly undercut during the times when setting switches, despite the set changes being beautifully realised through direction, lighting and sound. While Christie’s script is tightly woven as is, it would be interesting to see a version of the play that was adapted to take place entirely in the courtroom.

The interactive elements of the play are limited to the VIP Jury tickets who decide the fate of the accused. Notably, the tickets come with a reminder that “as a member of the Jury you must shut out from your minds everything except what will take place during the trial”, which seems quite a difficult task as the entire performance plays out in front of you. I was not a member of the jury, so I cannot truly attest to the level of interactivity of the experience. That being said, from my outside perspective, there seemed to be some limit to the amount of influence they had on how the play unfolds. That being said, it seems like an excellent VIP theatrical experience, where you become part of the show and have an increased level of immersion: throughout the play, witnesses, solicitors and the judge speak directly to the jury, the jury has a brief moment to deliberate and the jury foreman gets to announce the verdict. 

Taking this all into account, if asked specifically about the level of immersion and interactivity, I would describe Witness for the Prosecution as a really fantastically executed site-specific piece of theatre that creates a heightened level of theatrical immersion. If you are interested in more immersion, as well as elements of interactivity, I’d recommend going for the VIP Jury tickets. And of course, as with any Agatha Christie mystery, the audience gets to put on their detective hats and decide for themselves: whodunit?

Witness for the Prosecution can be booked at London County Hall here.

Scarlet Envelope: Tale of a Golden Dragon | Review

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Tale of a Golden Dragon Review | One upon a time in the Kingdom of Severin, the legendary Golden Firedragon escapes the Castle and beats a path of destruction across the countryside. Terrified, the Royals announce a reward for saving their Kingdom, with one condition – the hero should use their head and not their sword! Expect the ironic Medieval fairytale with the DND style of writing, custom illustrations, and, of course, puzzles!

Completion Time: 1hr
Date Played: 23rd January 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

*cue Game of Thrones music*

Dun dun, d-d-dun dun, d-d-doooooo!

After polishing off Chapter 6: Screaming Venice Art Heist with a cheeky break for lunch, Bianca and I were ready to tackle the next game in the series: Tale of a Golden Dragon. The previous game had been quite difficult, so the more gentler paced narrative-driven chapter that followed was a welcome break. Less like a pure puzzle game, and more like an immersive fantasy story… With puzzles! Tale of a Golden Dragon was certainly different.

This chapter was quite unlike any other play-at-home escape game we’ve played, and honestly – the whole subscription is worth it just to play this one chapter. Scarlet Envelope have had 6 chapters to hone and polish their craft and by gosh they’ve done it. I don’t know how it’s possible for a game to still be this refreshing and delightful, but here it is! Hey!

Once Upon a Time in Severin

Tale of a Golden Dragon is your classic fantasy story. Somewhere between Game of Thrones (which I’ve never read), The Witcher (also never read) and Lord of the Rings (which I have devoured like a goblin who had just escaped from a 1,00 year long stay dungeon without books). My point being, I’m no expert in high fantasy, but I recognise it when I see it and this game has it all: Dragons, Witches, Kings and Queens, Legends and so on.

The story in this game follows a King and Queen who decide to raise a dragon all by themselves. Unfortunately this dragon, like any surly teenager, is completely out of control. Your goal is to bring the dragon back into the fold without killing it. Easier said than done, but along your adventure you’ll encounter a host of curious characters to help you.

There was a Bustling Kingdom

There are two things this game does really well. Firstly, those very same characters! Just like a rich RPG game each character has a back story and an amusing personality. From a very drunk wizard, to a chipper dragon trainer who lives several kingdoms across, to two puzzle creators we stumbled across by accident who live in the woods. *cough cough*

Great character design is nothing new to Scarlet Envelope though, from the astronauts in Distress Call from Outer Space, to the staff at Stanley’s Diner, the creators write good characters. Really good characters.

The second thing I loved about this game was the map. Early on in your envelope you’re given a map with co-ordinates dotted all around it. To help you get around the kingdom quickly you’re given a chauffeur- I mean, a dragon rider to courier you around. You can instruct the rider too take you anywhere in the kingdom at any time. Some of the things you encounter will be relevant to the plot, and others will be fun Easter Eggs for the explorers among us. It’s a lot of fun to know you can go anywhere and do anything, and it made the game feel much more like a video game or a Dungeons and Dragons session than a envelope-based puzzle game. For that I’m seriously impressed!

In our playthrough we discovered a lot of fantastic Easter Eggs on the map – so my advice to anyone playing this would be to definitely go back and try to find more! You never know where you might end up.

And a Mystery to be Solved

In terms of puzzles, it’s hard not to compare this game to the previous Screaming Venice Art Heist, purely because we played both one after the other. For that reason I would say this game was a lot easier. Still enjoyably challenging, but no big jumps of logic and no puzzles we needed to use any hints for.

As well as figuring out where to go next, each new location had a brand new puzzle to be solved. In particular, one puzzle stood out as absolutely brilliant fun – a mini game I remember from my childhood, a cross between a rotadraw and a spirograph which was used delightfully. I’d even go so far as to say it’s a puzzle I’ve never ever encountered in a play at home escape game before and I can’t think why not. It’s brilliant!

There was also the usual enjoyable word puzzles, and a few fun logic and slight mathematical ones I’ve come to love and enjoy about Scarlet Envelope. I don’t want to say too much about the puzzles since that would be spoiler territory, so I’ll just leave it by saying we’ve decided to award Tale of the Golden Dragon a very special “Puzzle Prize” badge for particularly satisfying puzzles. In fact, it’s the very first badge of it’s kind we’ve awarded here on The Escape Roomer, so props to Scarlet Envelope for making such a memorably fun puzzle game!

Side Quests

But puzzles, plot and fantasy aside – here are a few additional things we absolutely loved (and thought could possibly be improved) about the experience.

Firstly: THE MUSIC! So full disclaimer, I almost never listen to the playlist Scarlet Envelope provides. Call me old fashioned but I like to do my puzzles in silence… That sounds weird. Probably is hey. But today with Bianca playing along with me, we decided to put on the playlist. The soundtrack that accompanies Tale of a Golden Dragon was, to put it simply: brilliant! From Lord of the Rings Dwarven chants, to Toss a Coin to your Witcher, I found myself singing along on more than one occasion.

So a word of advice – definitely don’t skip this playlist!

The second thing of note was the voice acting. With a lot of text to read in the more narrative parts of the game, we found that some pages were fully voice acted and others were not. Those that were, were fantastic. But I definitely felt like the whole thing should have been voice acted.

(As a side note myself + my VA-in-training partner volunteer our free labour if the creators would like any British accents in the game!)

The lack of, or partial voice acting wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I can imagine that with a larger group of people, pausing to read each page (in your head or out loud) could be tricky. I’m unsure whether the creators plan to continue adding more actors into the game to provide an audio alternative to written text, but it’s something we’d love to see more of because we loved it!

The Verdict

In a nutshell, we loved Tale of a Golden Dragon. It could well go down as my favourite game of 2022 and makes the whole subscription worth it. If Scarlet Envelope decide to set all future games in the Kingdom of Severin, I’ll be very happy!

*cough cough* Fantasy spin off… Anyone?

From the brilliant writing, to characters, to voice acting, and some of the most enjoyable puzzles I’ve ever had the pleasure of solving… Tale of a Golden Dragon is an almost flawless play-at-home envelope game in my opinion.

You can subscribe to Scarlet Envelope by heading to their website here.

The Cari Mysteries: Grandfather’s Fortune | Review

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The Cari Mysteries: Grandfather’s Fortune | Review | A young family comes to the Netherlands from the Dutch East Indies in the 1950s. One day, one of the grandchildren receives her grandmother’s diary. For years, the story has been going around that Grandpa brought a fortune back from the Indies and that Grandma’s diary was supposed to be the treasure map. The diary is incomplete. The fortune has now been a legend in the family for over 50 years. No one has ever been able to find it. Discover and experience this true story and help find Grandfather’s Fortune.

Completion Time: 70 minutes
Date Played: 30th January 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

Gezelligheid kent geen tijd!

Or, to those of us who aren’t Ash (the French & Dutch graduate) – time flies when you’re having fun! Our classic online escape team of us, Mairi and Tasha sat down together on a chilly January evening to see whether we could help search an old Dutch farm house, to find the family’s hidden fortune. Turns out, it was hidden in far more than a locked box, it was hidden in time itself.

So, put on your time-travelling glasses, and let’s get exploring.

A beautiful family farmhouse – so much to see!

This game begins with a wonderfully sweet introductory video, bringing you up to date with the family’s history and the mystery of their grandfather’s hidden treasure. It is a very nostalgic game, as players are reviled with tales of old family traditions and introduced to the various members of the family and their individual stories.

The first space you get to explore is the looming front door. It’s very easy to look around, and the exploration in the game feels very nature. The software itself helps to plant you in the game, as you can see the seemingly never-ending fields stretch out way in the distance from the farm house, it feels like you are really there! Ash was absolutely loving this, and wishing that she had played the game in Dutch, returning to her days living in the Netherlands as a student.

Are these…magic glasses?!

Once we managed to make it inside, we were taken into the first ‘space’ of the game: the house’s attic. Here, we found out what really makes this game special: the magic glasses! Players can click a button to put them on, and they are taken back in time! You can look around the room with a whole new perspective, new puzzles appear, people appear, the overlay of the present and the past is brilliant! It works pretty seamlessly too, so it doesn’t feel dis-jointed or laggy, which was a big relief.

We worked together to solve the puzzles, which were actually quite challenging. You have a diary which accompanies you throughout the day, acting as a handy guide/map. It’s a clever way of having a sort of ‘options menu’ without breaking the immersion – and works very well in the digital escape room format.

The treasure! Eindelijk!

This was a really fun, wholesome game. We had a great time exploring the many rooms on offer within the farmhouse, flitting between the past and the present to combine items to make our way to the family’s hidden treasure. There were a hefty amount of puzzles, and we did get a bit stuck a few times! We definitely have a new favourite kind of puzzle, one we’ve actually never seen before (which is unusual given we are now nearing our 200th game) – kudos to the Cari Mysteries!

This game lends itself well to being played online. It’s been designed with care, and with love. We would highly recommend this for a cosy Sunday evening with friends. It might be a nice one to play with family if you are all apart, it certainly made us feel quite nostalgic!

Grandfather’s fortune can be played by going to the Cari Mysteries website here.

Behind the Frame | Review

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Behind the Frame Review | Guide brush strokes and solve a variety of puzzles to help an aspiring artist complete her masterpiece amid her brusque neighbor’s gaze and his pesky cat. As her painting starts to take shape, uncover an emotional tale of chance and artistry revealed behind unrelated yet familiar moments.

Developer: Silver Lining Studio
Date Played: December 2021
Console: PC
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 1 hour

From the moment I first heard the phrase “escape room puzzles in a Studio Ghibli-esque world” I was sold. A game like this deserved my full attention, so I patiently waited until Christmas 2021 when I’d have more time to spare before downloading it. The cosy evening of the 23rd of December was the perfect time. A time when the wind and rain howled outside, for me to make a big mug of tea and dive behind the frame into a peaceful and wholesome world.

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

The story centres around you, an aspiring young artist living in a small studio apartment who dreams of of exhibiting her work in New York. Opposite, an elderly painter living with a tabby cat is occasionally glimpsed in a series of dream-like animated sequences. Each day you rise, make eggs on toast, pour a cup of coffee, and work on your painting. To your dismay, each time you power on your laptop you find your application to go to New York has been deleted, and your painting seems further from completion than ever before.

Your goal is to solve enough puzzles to discover more colours to finish your painting in time for the exhibition. But oddly, the details around you never change. The calendar on the wall displays the same date. But, as you play through this short game you quickly discover there’s a greater story unravelling around you in the stillness of art. Your life flits in and out of reverie and darker secrets bubble to the surface.

Who is the old man who lives opposite? More to the point, who are you?

Puzzles in Paintings

Behind the Frame is a puzzle game – and a point and click escape room at that – but it’s also a very narrative, emotionally heavy story. With each new chapter you learn a part of the whole story, but each time it feels like you’re scrambling to recover memories of the bigger picture.

In the escape room world really good storytelling is often missing from physical rooms and puzzle games. With just an hour’s time limit, it’s hard to write detailed narratives. The developers of Behind the Frame on the other hand have started with the story first, and then woven the puzzles throughout the game to support and advance the narrative – and it shows! It’s an incredibly moving story told through satisfying art-based puzzles.

In terms of puzzles, the setting dictates a lot of what can and cannot be done, and most puzzles centre around memory. Players will be shown a detail, and will later need to recreate it in their artwork to progress. In other sequences, players will encounter something in their environment and will need to recreate it on a wooden block puzzle they find in their home. In both cases, the game requires you to pay attention and use your artistic skill to solve the mystery.

At other times, you’ll discover hidden objects around your room and sketch or assemble them like jigsaws in your handy notebook. At no point during this game did I feel any of the puzzles were particularly challenging – but that’s part of the beauty. Behind the Frame is best played in one sitting, and each puzzle will take seconds to solve as not to disrupt the flow of the story.

Studio Ghibli, Eat Your Heart Out

…Haha, I’m kidding. Nothing can surpass a Ghibli film. But Behind the Frame comes close.

There’s a good reason this video game keeps being compared to the infamous Japanese film producer, despite the two having nothing to do with each other. Behind the Frame uses a combination of animated sequences and point and click gameplay. both of which feel lovingly hand drawn and perfectly in place with the style we see in many vintage anime films of the Studio Ghibli era.

What’s more, the story is heartbreaking and full of a sense of loss for a time we aren’t sure we ever knew. Players are encouraged to find the joy in every day life through the peaceful sound of coffee cups clinking and brushstrokes on paper. I am at once immediately at home playing Behind the Frame.

The Verdict

Behind the Frame is a magical puzzle game like nothing else I’ve ever played. It’s a marriage of my two favourite video game genres: escape room and wholesome, and this is a game I’ll be returning to over and over whenever I need a break from reality.

The game is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, and mobile devices – however I’d recommend playing it on PC or Nintendo Switch to get the most out of your artistic journey.

The only issue? it’s far too short. At six chapters long, the game is playable within 30 to 60 minutes. I went back and played it twice in order to collect 100% of the Steam achievements – another unchallenging pursuit – and still felt I needed a little more. More paintings, more stories from the girl’s life, more of everything. I need more of the magical whimsy Behind the Frame sprinkled into my life on a cold December evening.

To play Behind the Frame, head to the developer’s website and choose your platform here.

Ratings

Houdini’s: Lady Chastity’s Reserve | Review

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Lady Chastity’s Reserve Review | Enter the lair of the deranged Lady Chastity as you pit your wits against her mysterious belongings and strange contraptions. Those who prove themselves worthy will whoop their way through an hour of surreal gaming, leaving with Chastity’s fabled bottle of aphrodisiac wine.

Completion Time: 50 minutes
Date Played: 15th January 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Hard

Through fits of uncontrollable laughter after a pint downstairs, we stumbled into the famous (or should I say, infamous) Lady Chastity’s Reserve. Tucked away above The Hope in Farringdon, it’s a venue I literally pass every day of my life and never once realised an escape room was hidden within. But that’s how we found ourselves, in the earliest week of January we could get our team together, excitedly buzzing with anticipation that we finally secured a Lady Chastity’s Reserve booking.

[cue more giggling and excited noises]

What Happens in the Lady’s Parlour… Stays There!

So first things first, let’s clear the air. Lady Chastity’s Reserve is an 18+ room. Some of the reasons for this, we assume are:

  • Themes of a sexual nature (she’s not that chaste after all – are you offended by light-hearted references to Victorian orgies?)
  • The prize of a bottle of wine (tantalising!)
  • The location of the escape room being above a pub (it’s unlikely kids are allowed in after a certain time!)
  • It’s a little bit spooky. You may encounter a dead body.

For those reasons, the owners have slapped on a strict 18+ rating. Whilst we reckon in theory the game could be toned down for a 16+ audience, we mention the reasons why both as a content warning, and to ensure other bookers avoid disappointment. Keep the kids at home for this one!

So with that aside, let’s get into the light-hearted spooky debauchery that is Lady Chastity’s Reserve…

Lady Chastity is a woman who is well known for her… Errr… Parties. Her aphrodisiac wine is a big hit and brings all the ladies and gentlemen to her parlour for some fun. After suffering heartbreak, the lady hosts one final lavish party but- oh no! Disaster strikes! A candle left unattended tips over and sets fire to a curtain, engulfing the building. Whilst all the visitors manage to escape in various states of undress, Lady Chastity is never seen again. Rumour has it at the first sign of fire she ran to her cellar and locked up her last bottle of aphrodisiac wine, but didn’t make it out in time.

This is where you come in. The house has been refurbished by the ever-dutiful Gabriel. Her housekeeper turned inheritor. But he’s never found that bottle of aphrodisiac wine. Can you follow in The Lady’s steps, figure out what happened to her, and claim that bottle of wine?!

Creepy Corners, Candlelight, and Curtains for Days

One of the stand-outs for us in Lady Chastity’s Reserve was the decor of the room. We didn’t have to ‘suspend disbelief’ even for a second… It really felt like being inside a Victorian parlour! The whole space was lit with candlelight – torches were provided, which was a nice touch for an otherwise very dark room – and the furniture, curtains, wallpaper and decor felt lifted directly out of the Victorian era.

Darkness is marmite in an escape room. It makes it harder to solve puzzles. But for me, Lady Chastity’s Reserve was dark for a reason. It’s lit by candlelight, and it really works! None of the puzzles were hindered by it, it only added to the ambience. Dark shadows darted around in our peripheral vision, and when a sudden loud noise rang out from somewhere you were never quite sure where it came from.

Even the smell of the room was authentic. It feels funny to praise an escape room for having a good smell – but the slightly smoky, musty smell felt brilliant.

What I’m trying to say, is full marks for the decor. A lot of folks will be put off by a darker room, but I propose that instead players treat the darkness as an extra character. It really adds to the story.

Photo (c) Lady Chastity’s Reserve

What of Lady Chastity’s Puzzles?

So you see how I said I liked the darkness and they didn’t hinder the puzzles – well not strictly true, as this room does rely on a lot of search-and-find especially at the beginning. Just be sure to shine that torch everywhere!

The whole room follows a linear format. There’s a clear goal, and each puzzle leads onto the next seamlessly. You’re guided not only by clues from your host, Gabriel (of which you can claim just 3 of them over the course of the game), but Lady Chastity herself will often ring out from the darkness and the gloom. Listen to her carefully for she often gives big clues in subtle ways.

Players can expect to encounter quite a few padlocks and 4 digit codes (hey, this Lady is trying to protect her wine from thieves like us!), and some ingenious uses of physical manipulation, smoke and mirrors. For sure, there were a lot of puzzles to get through, but some of them were so utterly delightful I can’t help but still smile about them days later. Conversely, there were some that other members of my team solved so efficiently that I didn’t even see how.

Cue my “Woah look at this, you can do that!” to everyone replying in unison, “Yep we’ve solved it“. Haha, oops.

We were warned that the room was a little on the harder side, but managed to escape with 10 minutes left on the clock after using 2 clues. I think I’d still agree that it’s hard – but not impossible. For a team of 4 fairly experienced enthusiasts, some of whom on our third pint of the evening, we didn’t do too badly! We’d definitely recommend aiming to play with a similar sized group, but don’t be put off if you go in with a smaller, or brand new team!

Team ‘Lamb Sauce’ Achievements

How much does Lady Chastity’s Reserve cost?

For London, it’s not the cheapest escape room for sure. But it’s also not the most expensive. And hey, how many rooms let you take home a bottle of wine if you win?

This is a conversation we regularly have on The Escape Roomer. How do we measure “value” when different regions are priced so differently? There’s no right or wrong answer, so we try instead to ask “was it good value?” In all this room costs a flat fee of £30 per person – regardless of team size (therefore it’s £60 for a team of two, and £180 for a team of 6). Originally this escape room was also non-exclusive, meaning you might get put in with strangers. Whilst this is common in the United States, it’s unpopular in the UK. It seems like in recent times this policy has been scrapped and bookings are exclusive. Phew.

So, with this in mind, did we get a good value? Oh yes, absolutely!

Once upon a time, the original creators of Lady Chastity’s Reserve, Handmade Mysteries, closed down and for a while we thought the escape room would disappear forever. Whenever I asked other enthusiasts about their favourite room, I’d hear this one mentioned so often. Too bad it had closed down! Argh, the heartbreak.

But when the news that Houdini’s had purchased the game and was bringing it back – no price was too high for me to book this. It so happened that we got extra lucky with a Black Friday discount and didn’t pay full price between the four of us. But honestly? I’m just glad I survived the pandemic long enough to see this gem reopen.

The Verdict

*chef’s kiss*

Lady Chastity’s Reserve absolutely lived up to the hype for us, and I’m thrilled that we chose it for our very first escape room of 2022. Start the year as we mean to go on, eh?

It’s creepy, musty, sordid, manic and above all, just so much fun. We also in particular want to shout out our Games Master at The Hope Farrington for his fantastic portrayal of the caretaker Gabriel. From start to finish he never once broke character – all the way from a perfect intro briefing, to scaring us quite a few times, to presenting the bottle of The Lady’s Reserve to us at the end of our game.

After some deliberation in the pub downstairs, The Hope, we’ve decided to award this game our Fun Factor badge – awarded to all escape rooms that are just that extra bit of fun. Lady Chastity’s Reserve takes itself seriously yet still managed to balance the hilarity and silliness that we love in a room. We were all smiles and laughter from start to finish, and it’s certainly going to be a room I’ll remember for a long time.

I would highly recommend Lady Chastity’s Reserve to anyone wanting something a little different to play. At the time of writing, the Farringdon version of the game is the only one available on Houdini’s website (aww), but well worth the trip into London.

Lady Chastity’s Reserve can be booked at Houdini’s in Farringdon here.

Code Bakers: Fudge Fiasco | Review

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Fudge Fiasco Review: A pack of puzzles to solve to uncover what flavour fudge you’ve been sent!

Rating: Fudgin’ brill!
Completion Time: ~30 minutes
Date Played: 29th December 2021
Party Size: 2
Recommended For: A sweet treat!

Penguins taken from codebakers.co.uk (not literally)

A Christmas Treat!

A combination of a sweet treat + an escape room style puzzle…

…We are so there!

The team at Code Bakers have hit the jackpot with this winning combination which allows players to combine delicious sweet treats with puzzling to definitely make you feel like you’ve earnt your dessert! The Fudge Fiasco game sends players two mysterious blocks of fudge, challenging you to find out what the flavours are before tucking in.

A mystery map!

For Fudge Sake!

After receiving Fudge Fiasco as a part of the UK Puzzle Bundle, we cracked it open on a cosy afternoon, looking to fill half an hour of puzzling and tuck into our afternoon snack. These games are interesting in that it can be difficult to know where to start, especially when you are presented with multiple puzzles at once. But, once we had figured out what we were doing and what bits went together, the puzzles flowed really well.

It is great how much the Code Bakers’ team can pack into their small envelopes!

The map puzzle (pictured above) was definitely one of the more innovative versions of this style of puzzle that we have seen. It did leave us scratching our heads for a while, but once we realised some slightly ‘outside the box’ thinking was needed, we worked our way through this nicely!

It was very satisfying to solve, and the aha moment left us both smiling.

The puzzles are good for teams of two or more working together in a more relaxed atmosphere. We think this would be a great pre-dinner game for a family or a pre-escape room warm up for a team of enthusiasts (plus then you’d have the sugar kick from the fudge ready to go in and boss your room!).

Ash looking 10/10 happy with discovering her fudgey flavours

The Delicious Finale

Once we had made our way through the puzzles, we treated ourselves to two tasty bars of fudge! It’s nice to have a physical reward for solving the puzzles, which helps make these games stand out in that ‘at-home’ escape market.

We always enjoy a game from the Code Bakers – I think we will start using these to send gifts to our friends (to make them work for their treats!).

We look forward to playing more of these in the future!

Fudge Fiasco can be purchased for yourself (or given as a gift) by heading to Code Baker’s website here.

AIM Escape: Patient Zero 2150 | Review

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Patient Zero 2150 Review | Armageddon beckons. The world’s superpowers are no more. Renegade factions vie for domination. Rogue scientists have breached all moral boundaries creating pathogens that create non-humans. Nerve agents so nightmarish that they corrupt physically and mentally, turning those exposed into the living dead – zombies. In the subterranean depths of their secret facility, the pathogen has escaped. It must be contained or all humankind, as we know it, will cease to exist. Your mission – contain the bio-threat, secure the facility and escape uninfected. Can you hold your breath for 60 minutes? This high tech terror will test the smartest players.

Date Played: 21st January 2022
Time Taken: 60 minutes (plus 15 seconds)
Number of Players: 2
Difficulty: Hard

In a picture-perfect exit, we escaped with the countdown timer ringing in our ears. Well- okay, not quite. We technically overran by 15 seconds. But we tried our best, and saved the world in the process. What more can you ask for, eh?!

AIM Escape is one of those venues I’ve been dying to try out since I took on Operation Mindfall, hosted by them around London two summers ago. But of course, thanks to the global pandemic, the world had other plans and we kept putting off the visit. That was until an icy cold January Friday evening when we booked the game for two. Patient Zero 2150 – save the world from a deadly virus? Well, that’s close to home, but hey after dealing with you-know-what for two years, we’re experts.

AIM Escape

About Patient Zero 2150

The story of Patient Zero 2150 is a creepy one – but not a million miles from *gestures vaguely at the past few years*. In the not too distant future we, a pair of intrepid scientists are a part of Team Beta and sent in to investigate a mysterious laboratory disaster. We arrive to discover dead bodies, cages ripped open from inside, rooms on fire, and even a whisper of zombies.

You see, this laboratory was investigating deadly pathogens and nerve agents. But clearly, something escaped and went on to kill everyone else in sight. So our job was simple: isolate areas of the lab, and develop and escape with the antidote. Simple.

Oh- but one catch, to avoid catching the virus ourselves we should probably hold our breaths for the full 60 minutes. Or, ya know, we might become zombies ourselves.

Photo (c) AIM Escape

Escape… The Living Dead!

One thing we both absolutely loved about Patient Zero 2150 was the ambience. I mean, this room is so ultra-immersive that for 60 brilliant minutes we forgot where we were. At the start of the escape room there’s a map on the wall showing the vast sprawling laboratory. Sure, you never actually get to visit these places but you do truly believe you’re there. Cut to an age later, we were several rooms ahead and I remember saying “hey behind this wall is the infirmary“. Nope, it wasn’t relevant at all – but AIM Escape really managed to make the world seem bigger than the escape room we were playing in.

We even encountered along the way small windows and doors into other ‘rooms’ and ‘areas’ – not real, of course, but you’d have fooled me!

One of the best ways AIM Escape achieves this effect is by the use of sound. Throughout the whole game we heard noises and walkie talkie chatter that set the scene of the chaos around us. Elsewhere in the laboratory, a war between the living and the dead was raging. Subtle crashes, muted gunfire, creaks and noises lurking behind every door. It was… Perfect! Kudos to the sound engineers – which is another thing I’ve never ever said about an escape room before.

One thing we would mention is that some sections of the game are fairly dimly lit. It makes total sense given the setting. Of course there would be dim lighting in places – it is after all quite a creepy game – but we wanted to mention it as a heads up for prospective bookers. You’re provided with torches throughout the game and there’s also a torch added to the walkie-talkie you have to communicate with your Games Master which comes in handy.

Photo (c) AIM Escape

“I’ve pushed every button in the room, now what?”

In terms of puzzles – I won’t beat around the bush – we found this game HARD. Not impossibly hard, and over a pint afterwards we remarked that none of the puzzles made you feel stupid. But for some reason a lot of it didn’t click and we used many clues. Sometimes those clues were the little nudge we needed before an “ohhh! That’s brilliant!” moment. Other times we still didn’t quite click with what the puzzle was asking us to do and why. But hey, that’s okay! It was a welcome challenge.

At the start of our briefing our fantastic host Mads joked that we could ask for unlimited clues, and that they wouldn’t judge us (ok well maybe a little). At about our 6th clue (some requested, some volunteered), we began to wonder if we might be breaking a record for most clues required in this game.

The website does warn that it’s a hard game. Not only that but it’s the hardest available at AIM Escape. In hindsight booking with just two players – one of whom it was her third escape room ever – maybe wasn’t the best choice. But we were there to have fun, and we did have a lot of fun, twenty thousand clues or not.

With no locks, every puzzle we encountered was technological. Push buttons, do things on screens, to trigger the next step. This meant that when we were particularly stuck on a digital dexterity puzzle, our Games Master could helpfully in-character ‘remotely hack’ it to move us along to the next step. As a player, I felt bad doing this. We should have stuck with it and kept trying – but time was against us!

Photo (c) AIM Escape

A Challenge for the Brave

So difficulty aside, who would we recommend this room for? For starters – not kids! It’s not overtly scary, but there’s a definite sense of looming threat and a couple of minor jump scares, and plenty of fake blood that little players might get upset with. I say that knowing fine well that my own brother, aged 12, probably would have found the whole thing absolutely brilliant. But better safe than sorry.

We also would recommend a team of 3 at the minimum. The mix of rooms jumbles up linear and non-linear moments – meaning there’s plenty of opportunity for players to work on different things at the same time. Our recommendation of 3 comes more in terms of ‘brain power’ however. We escaped – but only just! And our host did give us a lot of much needed help, so I’m calling her our honorary third player.

The Verdict

We had an absolute blast at Patient Zero 2150 and it’s been cemented in my imagination as one of London’s must-play rooms – especially for enthusiasts! It’s a challenge, but a fully rewarding one that transplants you, the players, into the middle of a high-adrenaline thriller zombie film where the fate of the world is literally in your hands. The ambience and atmosphere is second to none (no, seriously, I mean it!), and the staff (despite it being very busy when we booked) went above and beyond to make sure we were well looked after.

Sure, it’s a hard room, but also saving the world from a deadly pathogen was never going to be a walk in the park!

Patient Zero 2150 can be booked by heading to AIM Escape’s website here.