The Escaporium: Area 51.5 | Review

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Area 51.5 Review | Well known alien hunter and conspiracy theorist, Professor Ross Well lives at 51½ George Street. After years spent collecting, and hunting evidence of extra-terrestrial life, he got his lucky break and came across a crash site up on the moors, complete with a live alien! He brought the alien back to his house with the intention of keeping him, but the mothership has tracked their friend down and arrived to collect him! You begin your mission outside Professor Ross Well’s house – what you will find in there is anyone’s guess! But what you do know is that you only have one hour to return the alien back to the mothership, or our planet will be destroyed!

Date Played: October 2023
Time Taken: ~40 minutes
Number of Players: 4
Difficulty: Medium

Hidden away in the entirely unhidden town of Halifax, is Escaporium. Now, my entire family since the beginning of time is from Yorkshire, so how the heck have I never been to Halifax before?! It’s so incredibly lovely. Even posting random Instagram stories from around the city resulted in many replies from friends along the lines of “wow Halifax! You have to go to this place” or “you must visit here”. Halifax is a popular place. But now I have an even more compelling reason to come back – and that reason is Escaporium.

A couple of weeks ago I spend a weekend in Sheffield with my co-writers Al and Ash, and our friend Tasha. For us, this meant a weekend of board games, delicious food, and of course… Escape rooms. Newly opened just a short drive away was the sci-fi room “Area 51.5”. The Escaporium is also fairly close to a few other standout companies and rooms in the area – notably Project Breakout, and although Al and Ash have played all of their rooms multiple times, we made the detour just so I could play there too. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get back to The Escaporium.

 

Welcome to The Escaporium

We were greeted on arrival by our enthusiastic host in the warm and well decorated lobby area. There are actually two Escaporium locations in Halifax, both just a minutes walk from each other. At the same location as Area 51.5, you can also play Operation Moonshine, and their seasonal Christmas game. On arrival, we were given the usual pre-game briefing – here at the locks, here are the keys, nothing is too high up, and so on. We were then led into the room, directed to a short video, and before long we were off!

The story goes that Professor Ross Well, a man whose house you need to break into, has been hunting evidence of aliens. It’s rumoured he’s keeping one such alien under life support within his very home, and with the mothership about to obliterate planet Earth in search of this missing alien, it’s up to you to get in there and rescue it before it’s too late. So we had three missions:

  1. Break into Professor Wells house
  2. Find the alien and rescue it
  3. Escape!

Though I suppose ‘escaping’ wouldn’t really be one of those missions only, the goal of every escape room is to technically escape, so I’m putting it there too.

 

Escaporium Area 51.5

 

Aliens and Anagrams

…Though not actually anagrams, I just wanted to use the word for ✨alliteration✨

Area 51.5 is a multi-room experience. Put shortly, there’s a huge amount of stuff to do in every new area you discover. I don’t think there was a single moment in the whole experience where we weren’t doing anything. Between working together and splitting up to cover more ground, it was all hands on deck from the first second to the last – and I love that.

Of those many, many puzzles, I genuinely enjoyed them all. That’s saying a lot. Even the best escape rooms often have duds. But of all the puzzles I took part in and watched my co-escapees tackle, everything just made sense and above all – was fun to complete. There was a good mix of logic, maths, visual puzzles, as well as a few brilliantly tactile ones as well. Tactile puzzles aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but when they work, they just work.

In our particular run-through the team were testing a new item in the room. I don’t want to give too many spoilers because mainly – I don’t know if they’ll keep the item in the exact iteration we discovered it in. But essentially it’s a printed version of something which was previously delivered via audio. For us, this was a huge help – and I mean that in the best possible way. It gave us an anchor point to return to every time we needed to move onto the next puzzle. Probably part of the reason the room felt like it had this big, overall cohesion to it.

 

 

Easter Alien Eggs

One of my absolute favourite thing about this room was it’s decor. Seriously, if anything there could have been fewer puzzles – if only to give me the time to really appreciate the environment we were in. This room is packed with references from pop culture, and all integrated seamlessly into the environment in subtle and delightful ways. It’s a feast for the eyes – and in some cases, other senses too- oh god no wait don’t lick the alien eggs I didn’t mean that!

At the end of our experience, our Games Master stuck their head in and talked us through the experience pointing out little bits and bobs we might have missed the first time. I really enjoyed the recap, not least of all because it gave me a chance to experience anything I might have missed.

The only downside to the room, and it’s really very small, is that we had to wait upwards of two weeks to receive our team photo. Only a downside because I really just wanted to post about the room immediately, and tell the whole world how great the game was right there and then. I also wanted to write this review whilst the experience was fresh in my mind… But perhaps a little time between playing and receiving your photo only makes the heart grow fonder? Perhaps.

Either way, in a day and age where photos are usually taken on the customer’s phone, or sent immediately based on the email we give during the waiver signing process, it was an unusual experience. I was reminded of this meme.

 

The Verdict

Overall, I loved Area 51.5. In fact, in my whole trip down to Yorkshire to visit Al, Ash & Tasha, this was my very favourite room I did – and I’d be surprised if it didn’t make a regular appearance on all the enthusiast lists in the future.

I’m also choosing to award it a special badge:

For that reason, I’m awarding this one a “Best in Genre” badge for being just a really fantastically stand-out sci-fi room. I mean, I’m a sci-fi super fan, so that also had to count for more, right? The whole room was just packed with little sci-fi Easter Eggs from video games, films, and TV series. My nerdy brain was in overdrive.

If you want to book Area 51.5 at Escaporium in Halifax, you can head to their website here.

PostCurious: The Morrison Game Factory | Review

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The Morrison Game Factory is a narrative puzzle adventure that blends board games, escape rooms, and interactive fiction. New and experienced players alike will enjoy progressing through a charming story packed with puzzles and physical materials.

Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 2 Hours
Date Played: October 2023
Difficulty: Medium

Spoiler Warning: This review mentions key plot elements of The Morrison Game Factory.

So, it turns out we’re big fans of PostCurious – a revelation that came frankly far too late in my ‘puzzle life’, when I think about all the years I was just out here like, never having played a PostCurious game before. I mean, did I really even know what a good puzzle game was until now, hmm. But now I know there’s only one thing to do about this fact, and that is play every single PostCurious game I can get my hands on as quickly as possible. So what’s a better way to ‘catch up’ on the catalogue than play the newest PostCurious games before it even launches! Wait what?! Well, this week on The Escape Roomer we were super lucky and incredibly grateful to be sent a copy of The Morrison Game Factory, a brand new Kickstarter game from the puzzletale creators.

The Morrison Game Factory is a sweet little puzzle game, a little shorter than the others from PostCurious but no less brilliant. It’s a powerful story, and one set in it’s namesake factory centred around a ‘board game printing machine’ that gains sentience. It also gets to go down in my private hall of fame as one of the only games which made me tear up. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a lonely little sentient robot. Move aside A.I. and Wall E, 3248 is  my new favourite lonely robot.

But first, a little background on the game and it’s creators.

 

 

The Morrison Game Factory, A Background

A while back I wrote an article on marketing tabletop puzzle games on Kickstarter, it was published on Medium but there’s a version here on The Escape Roomer. One of the most interesting (though perhaps not surprising) things I found was how prolific PostCurious is on Kickstarter. They’ve built up an incredibly solid fanbase over the years and now we’re at the point where a PostCurious game is guaranteed to fund within the first 24 hours, and probably go 200, 300% higher than that by the end. After a successful ‘remaster’ of Tale of Ord earlier this year, the latest Kickstarter launch is a collaboration game titled The Morrison Game Factory. This is probably where it gets quite interesting, because this would make The Morrison Game Factory is a new breed of PostCurious game. One not directly created by Rita Orlov, the company founder – but one designed by someone else and published under the label. It marks a bold and exciting new move for the company, and after playing this game, a trend I hope will continue and lead to even more brilliant games being made in the future.

Because, where The Morrison Game Factory really shines is in it’s story… And is that really surprising since the game’s collaborator is the popular Nebula-nominated Lauren Bello (a TV writer best known for her work on Apple TV+’s Foundation and Netflix’s The Sandman)? I suppose not! And it just goes to show what a powerful collaboration this is, and how much care and attention PostCurious put into picking a game to publish that just fits so well with their others. It’s true, it took me by surprise just how brilliant the story was – but that just served to remind me of how important story has been this far with the other games I’ve played by the same company. It’s safe to say that PostCurious really put the ‘puzzle’ in their self described ‘puzzle tale’ title.

 

@mairispaceship unboxing a new kickstarter board game: The Morrison Game Factory by PostCurious 👏 #boardgame #boardgames #kickstarter #kickstartergame ♬ Cafe / video cute lofi ♪ Chill(885831) – ImoKenpi-Dou

 

(please note, the above video was recorded before we played!)

 

Meet 3248, The Morrison Game Factory’s Sentient Computer

Now, there isn’t a huge amount of information on this game on the internet so far, so I’m going to describe the game with as few spoilers as possible. But I think it’s not possible to explain it without introducing the main character: 3248. 3248 is the technical name for one of the board game printing machines at the Morrison Game Factory, the game’s narrator, and it’s principle character.

The game opens with a letter from an unknown source, inviting you to investigate the Morrison Game Factory – an old abandoned factory. There, waiting on a conveyor belt and freshly printed was this very game you hold in your hand. It quickly becomes apparent that nobody left this game for you – no, it was printed after the factory was abandoned, by one of the very machines within it. A real mystery, and a real puzzle to solve. What follows is a dive into the past – the history of the factory, it’s workers, and it’s machines, as we retrace the breadcrumbs left behind across meeples, boards, locked boxes, and components from scattered board games past.

It’s a story about friendship, but also about loneliness… And it’s told through the actions you take and through the story you read. Yes, reading. So, there is quite a bit of reading to do in this game- not necessarily within the box itself, but more on the side of the web portal as the game unfolds. You’ll have to recover memories and read through in order to both advance the story and also understand what to do in the game. But despite my saying “quite a bit”, it’s also somehow simultaneously the “exact right amount of words” to tell a perfect story. The characters so believable, the story so happy and so heartbreaking. It’s *chefs kiss*

 

 

Puzzles Vs Storyline

So, let’s talk about those puzzles then.

The game is gentle in it’s puzzling. I won’t lie, we did use more than a few hints to get through it – but at no point did we feel lost about what to do. The hints were delivered in character and were helpful and straightforward with steps and instructions. As such the general lower level of difficulty, thorough signposting, and straightforward hints mean it’s probably a game quite suitable for a more generalist audience. The Kickstarter recommends the game for an audience of 14+. In my particular playthrough, I played it with my 14 year old brother, who absolutely loved the puzzles and the story. I think it would really depend on the child – but I found that neither the puzzles nor the story contained anything that would be difficult for a younger audience, except that the tale itself is complex and nuanced. But each to their own.

In terms of the styles of puzzles, it erred on the side of the logic style of puzzle I recognise from other PostCurious games – though that may be confirmation bias on my part. I notice logic style puzzles because frankly, I love them. I mean, I’m literally currently working on a videogame where the central puzzle style is the kind of “if this, then that, but not that” puzzle I can’t get enough of. So when they pop up in games I notice them.

Besides logic puzzles, there were also some fantastically delightful moments hidden in puzzles too. Think ‘showstoppers’. One in particular prompted some external materials in a moment of what I can only describe as pure science delight – resulting in us both gathering round the table and gasping in delight. I think these moments of puzzle-light but spectacular-heavy really pull a game like the Morrison Game Factory together nicely.

I will say that in our particular playthrough we encountered two minor, minor issues. One of them was a print error which has already been corrected for the general sale of the gamet. The second is that the game does require making a US phone call which did cause us some issue, being all the way over here in the UK. After some googling we couldn’t figure out an easy way to make the call other than… Well, the obvious… Just phoning it and paying the $$. We made the call as quick as we could, recorded it from another device, and hung up as fast as we could. It cost £0.16 on my phone plan (~$0.20). Not breaking the bank, but I only mention it as I know a lot of international phone plans don’t allow for international calls. There is a warning about this on the Kickstarter page, and the promise of a workaround if you’re unable to call the number – but it’s just worth keeping in mind!

 

The Verdict

The Morrison Game Factory has been one of my favourite games, at least so far in 2023. Which is saying a lot, since it’s already the end of October and I don’t think there’s anything else on my to-play pile that will pip it.

So why The Morrison Game Factory? For me, it’s the perfect blend of puzzles and story in a high quality box that is packed with retro illustrations, fun little meeples, and curious things to discover. I’d recommend this game for just about anyone, and if you’re reading this whilst the Kickstarter is still alive I implore you to back it.

At the time of writing, The Morrison Game Factory can be backed on Kickstarter in October / November 2023. After, it will be available on PostCurious’s website here.

Please Note: We were sent an early copy of The Morrison Game Factory to review ahead of the Kickstarter. As such, we weren’t charged for our experience. There also may be small differences between the version of the game we played, and the final print production edition. We’ve taken lengths to ensure that this does not affect the content of our review.

 

PostCurious: The Emerald Flame | Review

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The Emerald Flame Review | The Emerald Flame is a narrative tabletop puzzle game told in three parts. Commissioned by an organization shrouded in mystery, players take the role of a historical expert embarking on a quest to piece together the recipe for a fabled elixir by investigating maps, drawings, alchemical diagrams, and mysterious artifacts. Combining history, hand-drawn illustration, vibrant characters, and original puzzles, The Emerald Flame will challenge and engage players of all experience levels and has been called “a captivating adventure from beginning to end.”

Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 6 Hours
Date Played: June – September 2023
Difficulty: Tricky

 


Wait, what? This game took you nearly four months to play? Yes… Yes it did haha. Between my co-writer Rebecca and I, we split it into three sessions. But you know what, from the first session until the very last, I thought about this game a lot. Like, all the damn time. If it weren’t for various life events (work trips and holiday trips), and the Edinburgh Fringe taking over our city for a month, we’d probably have binged this game in just the one setting. But like a really delicious three course meal, a game like this is best savoured. So I’m not even mad at myself that this took 1/3 of a year to play.

So what is The Emerald Flame? The Emerald Flame is one of the most popular Kickstarter games of all time. It’s a labour of love from PostCurious, who are best known for creating the Tale of Ord, among other award-winning and cult hit puzzle board games. It takes somewhere around 6 hours to solve – maybe a little more if you work solo – and the whole thing is just fantastic puzzle after fantastic puzzle, linked together with a compelling and detailed narrative.

I think it is probably the very best example of a tabletop puzzle experience in this entire genre. Yep, there, I said it. It’s creative and delightful, challenging but immensely rewarding. The materials are impressive and unmatched by any other company.

 

 

Introducing the Koschei Historical Society

PostCurious games, unlike a lot of other at-home experiences, pay particular attention to their worldbuilding and storytelling. The story of The Emerald Flame begins with the mysterious Koschei Historical Society and an ancient alchemical elixir. Told over three chapters, taking between 1 and 3 hours each, you the player go in search of that elixir and it’s magical properties. You’re guided through on your journey by a series of old papers and documents. Each document felt as realistic as the last – all aged and yellowing, with hand illustrated watercolours. In each chapter too, is a series of correspondences between Marketa and Hannah, our main characters, whose own lives are unfolding as that of your own adventure progresses.

There’s multiple layers of narrative, but never did the game feel too convoluted. Even after returning months later, we were able to pick up the threads of the story fairly easily. The micro, the macro, and our peculiar hunt through history on the trail of an elixir that may or may not even exist.

At the very end of the game, without wanting to spoil anything – the player gets to make a choice. In our playthrough, we didn’t realise it was a choice, and charged into it a little blindly. After reading out the ‘finale’, we realised that very choice was, how to say, quite important. But by then, our fates were sealed. So no spoilers, except to say – keep an eye out for that one.

 

 

The ‘Puzzle’ Part of Narrative Puzzle Adventure

In terms of puzzles, for me at least, this is where all PostCurious games really shine. There’s a real mix of delightfully unique and original puzzles in here that use their materials to the maximum. Most of the puzzles we encountered were multi-steps, and leaned heavily on logic (which is excellent for me, because I love logic puzzles), meaning that whilst each individual step may not have been too tricky, continuing the thread from start to finish within each one was.

To tackle this experience, Rebecca and I mostly divided and conquered. Meaning, after reading each chapter’s narrative introduction, we leafed through each puzzle trying to figure out where to get started. In most cases, the puzzles were non-linear meaning that they could be done in any order to get to the end of the chapter. On the one hand, most of the puzzles felt very single-player – in that whilst one of us was solving, the other didn’t have much to do with the puzzle. But on the other hand, this suited us really well, as we shine in a two-player team left to our own devices.

After solving each one, we typically swapped notes to make sure we were on the page – before continuing on to our confirmation mechanism. Speaking of, the confirmation mechanism is an online portal. Well, it’s essentially a chatbot, but a very clever one that makes you feel as if you’re talking to a real person! Log in, go to the relevant part, and input your answer to proceed.

We used a few hints throughout our experience – and mostly just to keep us on the right track, or more likely get started on a puzzle.

 

 

Curious Paper Ephemera

The last thing I’d love to mention about The Emerald Flame is the quality of the materials. You, the player, are scouring through papers that are hundreds of years old on the tail of an alchemist. Every single object in this game looked, and felt impressive. From the tea-stained papers, to the fabrics, to the curious ephemera tucked inside little bags and glass cases. I’m a big fan of the illustrative, watercolour style, and I really enjoyed the tactile mix of materials. In particular, there are two instances of using a necklace, and they were both some of the most delightful interactions in a tabletop puzzle game I can remember! It’s clear the designer has really thought outside the box.

There’s also… Like… So much in this game as well? Which, since the experience is broken up into three parts, I didn’t quite realise until I needed to spill everything out onto the table in order to take some pretty photographs and videos. The paper ephemera just… Kept… Coming. For a relatively normal sized board game box, it’s like a TARDIS in there.

Last, but not least, for the price, really reasonable. The only reason I didn’t back it originally was that it launched in 2020 and 2020 was my “year of being absolutely broke”. Whilst I couldn’t justify £60 on it then, today the game retails for £75 (converted from $90 USD), and having seen the wealth, breadth and creativity of the materials in the box – I’m surprised it’s not even more expensive.

 

 

The Verdict

If it weren’t obvious from this review, we really, really enjoyed The Emerald Flame. I’m repeating myself, but it may well be one of the very best in our genre. For this reason (and a million others), I’m awarding this tabletop game The Escape Roomer “Badge of Honour“.

BADGE OF HONOUR The highest award of them all! The Badge of Honour is the best badge The Escape Roomer team can bestow upon a game. These games were incredible!!

I’d recommend The Emerald Flame for enthusiasts, and folks who are interested in a bit more of a challenge than your average game. It’s on the pricier side, but well worth the investment. I’m glad I played it, and my only regret is not backing it on Kickstarter or playing it sooner. I won’t make that mistake again on PostCurious’s next game, that’s for sure.

 

The Emerald Flame can be purchased by heading to PostCurious’ website here.

All photos in this review were taken by me, the author, Mairi Nolan.

 

Mysterious Package Company – Body of Evidence

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Body of Evidence Review | From the devious minds at the Mysterious Package Company comes a new type of game: Body of Evidence. Dissect the clues in this grisly web of deception and intrigue. Body of Evidence will test your skills of observation, pattern recognition, and will push players to the cutting edge of a detective investigation. A murder mystery experience, with a twist!

Date Played: August 2023
Time Taken: ~2 Hours
Difficulty: Easy
Number of Players: 2

Please Note: We received a complimentary, pre-launch copy of Body of Evidence with the expectation of a review. This does not affect the content of our review.

The Mysterious Package Company, a company based over in Canada and best known for the Curious Correspondence Club series, among other spookier experiences, recently gifted us an exclusive sneak peek of their new game ‘Body of Evidence’ which will soon be launching on Kickstarter! Although there are still a few production elements to finalise (such as the construction materials and some of the writing) this was a great insight to what we can expect from the finished product.

 

Photo provided by Mysterious Package Company

 

Unlike a traditional ‘murder mystery’, the premise of Body of Evidence is that it’s a murder mystery, but one you will primarily be solving via an autopsy of the victim. As well as your standard murder mystery evidence, such witness interviews, the victim’s belongings, maps of the location, and details about the crime scene – you benefit from being able to get your hands on and explore the physical body of the victim as well. As well as of course, your own knowledge.

 

 

To guide you through your autopsy of the victim, you have on hand a handy “Coroner’s Handbook” which helps you understand what you’re looking for and what this could mean. This Coroner’s Handbook is the meat of the puzzle part of the experience, as these guiding steps are smaller, bite-sized puzzles. I really enjoyed this aspect, and found it very unique and different to other games on the market in both the “murder mystery” and “tabletop puzzle game” genres. I felt very immersed, all the way noting down my observations and reading the information to understand the implications.

At various points your start to open up the body, and I was so impressed by the depth of detail they included, and the way this happens! But since this is the real ‘centrepiece’ of the experience, we’ll not put spoilers here and instead let you experience that part for yourselves.

Alongside the autopsy there are various other pieces of information to read through, including witness statements, call logs and sometimes seemingly irrelevant papers. These all did a fantastic job of painting a full story of the city of Thornhill, the restaurant where the murder itself takes place, and the various suspects that could be found in the case. Once I’d completed the game I looked at these again and noticed lots of small hints and features that made so much more sense once the killer was uncovered. But equally, as a lot of murder mysteries do quite well, were a lot of realistic red herrings and plot twists that didn’t contribute to the killer’s narrative. It all added together to make this a very layered experience.

My favourite ‘puzzle moment’ was creating a timeline from all the witness statements, trying to figure out who was lying and who was just misremembering. Again, the way the witness were fuzzy/vague on the timings felt very realistic and this was so much fun for me to sit down and puzzle through.

 

 

The case is solved at each stage via ‘Evidence cards’. Each folder contains two questions that you answer by drawing the correct cards from a deck – if the ‘red threads’ on the front of the cards match, your answer is correct. If not, you’ll have to go back and take a closer look at your deductions.

Eventually, you create a full timeline using these threads, which leads you directly to the killer. I thought this was a really fun and thematically suited mechanic, as well as providing a very clear signpost each time for what I was meant to be solving. As the case fell into place, my red threads connected throughout like building a gigantic murder board.

 

 

The overall experience took me around 2hrs, and I found it very enjoyable and unique. I only got stuck at one point, but I was able to move pass this without too much frustration and complete the game. A departure from the traditional murder mystery – Body of Evidence gives you a hands on experience as you explore the autopsy. The narrative pulls you in with red herrings and interesting plot twists that make this an amazingly layered experience. I really recommend backing this one!

Body of Evidence can be backed on Kickstarter in September 2023. If you’re reading this review later than then, head to Mysterious Package Company’s website to purchase.

Please Note: We received a complimentary copy of Body of Evidence with the expectation of a review. This does not affect the content of our review.

Scarlet Envelope: Holiday Greeting Cards | Review

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Scarlet Envelope Holiday Greeting Cards Review | Decipher Santa’s wish, solve multi-layered puzzles with Rudolf, THINK, and HAVE FUN!

Date Played: August 2023
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 20–30 minutes per card
Difficulty: Medium

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… 🎶

Okay, so here in the UK, it’s pretty warm right now… Something, something heatwave this, that and the other. But that won’t stop me from being excited about the coming festive season! And so, in true festive style, Scarlet Envelope have kicked off the season early with their launch of a new Kickstarter experience: Holiday Greeting Cards! For me, Christmas really is all about solving puzzles together. So it’s no understatement to say I was really excited to get my hands on these and get stuck in!

So, Christmas Cards and puzzles? What is this all about and how does it work?

Well, Scarlet Envelope’s new Kickstarter is for a suite of festive greeting cards. The cards are your traditional, beautifully illustrated festive scenes complete with wreaths, snow, and Santa Claus iconography (yes, I really did just say “Santa Claus Iconography”, haha). But, hidden inside each illustration, if you look really closely, are the puzzles! To guide you, inside each card is a poem. Most Christmas cards say something kitschy like “wishing you festive tidings for the year” and most people don’t even read them… But this poem instead provides subtly hinted clues as to where to start and what type of thing you’re looking for – whether that be a reindeer name, a secret message from a cat, or a sweet festive message. So pay close attention!

As puzzle games, they’re great! But as Christmas cards, they’re also gorgeous. So a pretty perfect gift for puzzle people and puzzle muggles alike! But how did we get on with them? Let’s get into it…

 

Santa’s Wish

Your goal is to decipher Santa’s New Year’s wish hidden in a cheerful Christmas poem (the four words right before “And Happy New Year!”.)

Santa’s Wish is Scarlet Envelope’s first ‘Holiday Puzzle Card’, which is probably why you may already recognise the design. They launched this puzzle game a few years ago, and it’s enjoyed some success since then.

On the front of this card is a festive scene of ‘the night before Christmas’, with a roaring fireplace and stack of presents beneath the tree. Inside the card is a lovely poem about Christmas. But again, look closely and it holds the clue to solving the puzzles within. At it’s core then, there are four ‘puzzles’ and each one is looking for a single word output in order to complete the final line of a rather festive and puzzle-y poem. The puzzles are ‘hidden’ across the front, the back, and inside the card itself. The puzzles ranged from quick wins, to “okay I need a hint“, but overall this game fell on the more straightforward side – at least compared to some very outside the box thinking on the later cards in the series.

It’s a cute one, and a good introduction to the ‘series’. A few trickier moments pushed me into the hints section – but mostly to figure out if I was on the right track, or get a small nudge in the right direction.

 

 

Rookie Reindeer

Ho ho ho, welcome to your puzzle card adventure! To start, notice how the poem inside the card tells you that Junior Reindeer is about to begin his new job in Santa’s team. Six reindeer coworkers made a team-building puzzle game for him, with the answer being his new cool stage name. You can see the empty name tag with six letters waiting for you to fill them in!

In the second of the three puzzle cards, we turn to Santa’s workshop! Here, the senior reindeer have decided to take the day off. They’ve had enough! They’re on strike! *gasp* Thankfully there’s another reindeer who is able to fill in on the big night, but all he needs to start his job is a cool name. Taking a letter from each reindeer’s name gives him his new name – but which names, and which order?

In this puzzle card, there were a few additional steps more than in Santa’s Wish. Essentially, more puzzles to find and solve – one for each letter. But overall, these puzzles felt shorter and snappier than those in Santa’s Wish, meaning both cards took more or less the same time to solve. Most were traditional puzzles, but some took a more “outside the box” approach to figuring out the solution.

Funnily enough, I fell onto one puzzle first, which I later saw in the hints was the ‘most difficult’. This worked well for me to get the ‘hardest puzzle’ over with before diving into slightly easier ones.

For me, this one had the illustration I liked the most. I can’t tell you exactly why, it was just so bright and colourful and fun to spot the well-hidden details. Of which there were many! Or perhaps it’s just that I love big moons (and I cannot lie). Either way, out of the three, this will be the one I’ll place at the front of my festive mantlepiece when December comes round.

 

 

Clawy Christmas

Alert, naughty kitty on the loose! This Christmas, Santa’s furry friend has decided to “redecorate” – lighting up the tree (literally), creating unique wall art with her claws, and snacking on tinsel like in an all-you-can-eat buffet. But why is this usually purr-fect kitty behaving so claw-fully? Can you figure out what will turn her back into the angelic furball she usually is? Dive into this hilariously cute adventure, and let the festive feline fun begin!

Last, but by no means least, is Scarlet Envelope’s most recent card named Clawy Christmas. This card features a rather mischievous cat! Imagine a beautiful home all ready for the holidays… Completely destroyed by the claws of a pesky kitty. Yeah. There’s a reason I’m more of a dog person. *shakes fist at fictional cat*. But paired with the scene of festive destruction is one of the cutest opening lines,

“Have all the holiday fun you can get away with”

Now, full disclaimer, I played this card just before the final artwork was finalised. So whilst I did have a tiny struggle – I realise that these minor qualms had already been addressed in the final art pass – which looks absolutely gorgeous I might say!

But that aside, these puzzles are certainly the most entry-level of the three. They’re well sign-posted,  quick and easy solves, and involve fun interactions with the physicality of the shape of the card. There’s a playful narrative about the cat woven throughout the puzzles that culminates in a festive twist too. In all, I’d probably recommend this one more for an audience including kids and families – perhaps one for non-puzzle people to dip their toes into before jumping into the other two in the series.

Out of the three, this one was also my favourite, if that helps sway your opinions! 😉

 

 

The Verdict

One of my favourite things about all three cards – apart from the puzzles of course, was how lovingly illustrated they are. Although I played in August, each one felt fuzzy and warm and cosy as heck. I cannot stress enough how cute these are – even for non puzzle people. If these cards had zero puzzles inside them, I’d still love to buy some for friends and family because of how lovely they look on the mantlepiece. It really helps having a mix of fun puzzles, backed up by lovely illustrations. A round of applause for these!

But back to the puzzles… In some ways, having a little date stamp on the back reminding mewhich one was designed in 2020, which in 2022, and which now in 2023 was like a time capsule into Scarlet Envelope’s history. I am a really big fan of Scarlet Envelope. Not just as incredibly lovely and generous people, but also as talented puzzle designers and game creators. They’ve made one of my favourite games ever, and over the years they’ve made better and better games and puzzles. The way I played all three cards (in chronological order) reminded me of this, and it was like tracking a designer’s skill increasing over time.

So the verdict is, we love them! I would recommend these puzzle cards for just about anyone. They lean towards an easier puzzling-level, with a few real head-scratchers. They’d probably be appropriate for a particularly smart child, but as with all things Christmas, you’ll probably get the most out of them if you sit around with family and solve them together.

At the moment the Scarlet Envelope team is Kickstarting the three cards, so now is an excellent time to go ahead and back them if you want to see these (and I hope more in the future) come to life and made available to the general public.

 

 

If you want to purchase your own Puzzle Christmas Cards, you can back these directly on Kickstarter here. If you’re reading this after the Kickstarter has concluded, you should be able to find them directly on Scarlet Envelope’s website here.

Please Note: We were sent a complimentary preview copy of the Puzzle Christmas Cards. This does not affect the contents of our review.
Photos in this review are taken by us at The Escape Roomer. Please don’t use without permission! 🙂

Escape Room Cottage Tewkesbury | Review

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Escape Room Cottage Tewkesbury | A holiday cottage cross escape room – Can you solve the puzzles, unravel the story, and gain the prize… all in one long weekend? The house is filled with puzzles and clues, all woven together into a story for you to discover. 

Date played: July 2023
Time taken: Played over a long weekend (Fri-Sun) with approx 10-12 hours of puzzling
Number of players: 4
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (different puzzle levels available)

 

A Weekend of Puzzles

Playing escape room games is a bit like (I imagine) being addicted to drugs.  That first game you play gives you a massive, excited, cerebral high, sending you back out into the world buzzing.  It feels so good that you’re soon back, searching for a repeat of that high and, for a while, each new game also gives you the sought after buzz.  But it’s not long before one game at a time isn’t enough.  The comedown after a single game sends you scurrying to book a second straight away and pretty soon you’re booking escape room days of five or six games in a row.  By this point you are a fully fledged ER addict.  So when an opportunity to actually live in an escape room, where you can eat, drink, shower and sleep surrounded by puzzles, comes along, it doesn’t take much persuasion to hand over your cash for a full weekend of ER highs.

And at the Escape Cottage in Tewkesbury a weekend of highs is exactly what you get.

 

Escape Cottage?  What Is That?

The Escape Cottage in Tewkesbury is an AirBnB property run by the lovely (and very responsive) Caroline and Rich.  And honestly, the cottage itself and Tewkesbury would be more than worth the price of the weekend.  The cottage is really a three floor house right in the centre of medieval Tewkesbury.  It is a little jewel box of a property, filled with eclectic, quirky and lovely artwork, sculptures and books, that can accommodate up to 5 guests across three bedrooms (a double, twin and single) and with three separate bathrooms.  It is beautifully decorated, luxuriously comfortable and spacious and has everything you need for a weekend break, including a fully equipped kitchen. It sits in the heart of the lovely town of Tewkesbury, which is rammed with characterful, wonky, beamed medieval and Tudor buildings, as well as narrow, atmospheric lanes and alleys and a stunning Medieval abbey.  Tewkesbury was the site of a key battle in the War of the Roses, commemorated throughout the town with colourful banners representing the many warring families, and there are plenty of self-guided walks around the key historic sites available.  And even if history is not your thing, Tewkesbury’s location as a point where the River Avon and the River Severn meet, creating the Severn Ham nature reserve, means there are wonderful riverside and country walks also on the cottage’s doorstep.  Also just outside the cottage door are a great variety of independent cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops.  There’s no private parking at the cottage (though a cheap long stay car park is a few mins walk away) but, honestly, once you’ve arrived everything you could possibly need for a weekend is all within walking distance.

 

Yes, Yes, Sounds Lovely, But What About The Escape Room?

 

 

TBH I wasn’t sure what to expect of the escape room element when I booked the cottage.  I thought that perhaps, in order to appeal to the widest audience possible, the puzzles might be too simplistic for my team of experienced ER nerds, or that it would simply consist of nothing but padlocked boxes dumped in a room.  Oh how wrong could I be?  The puzzling element of the cottage blew our minds and vastly exceeded every expectation we had by miles and miles and miles.

The puzzling starts even before you’ve arrived, as in your welcome email your host sets up the story behind your weekend adventures and gives you the first puzzle that will give you the code for the property’s keybox.  OK, this puzzle IS fairly simple but then you don’t want your guests to spend hours sitting outside your property wondering how on earth to get inside!  But once inside, the puzzle world expands and the house becomes a treasure trove of clues, secret messages, mysterious locked boxes and intriguing artifacts.  While areas of the house that are definitely NOT part of the puzzle world are clearly marked (by locked doors and stickers), and you are told before arrival that most clues will be straightforward to find so “you won’t need to pull everything off the walls and disembowel the furniture” there is an element of ‘searching’ needed to get puzzling properly.  And inspiration and clues can strike at any time – even an innocent mid-puzzle trip to the loo can suddenly reveal a detail hidden up until then.

 

 

There is a clear narrative thread to the puzzles, and hints and clues are found in letters and postcards discovered as you move through the property.  My advice is to read them carefully because at the end of the puzzles you will have to make a decision based on all you’ve read beforehand.  While that narrative winds its way throughout the game play, once you’ve reached a certain point (I won’t say what as it’d ruin the excitement of the discovery for future players), the order in which you tackle the various puzzles no longer matters.  Through some very clever tech, you can choose which puzzles you want to focus on, or jump around between the different ones if something stumps you and you need to think about something else instead.  From that ‘certain point’ mentioned above hints are easily available if needed, but hosts Caroline and Rich are also accessible via phone or AirBnB messages if you really get stuck.

The variety of puzzles is impressive – there are some purely physical ones, as well as ones for the mathematician in your group, or the music-loving team member or the crossword obsessed player, the logic puzzle solver or that player who just enjoys a good jigsaw.  There are some lovely little moments of puzzling and discovery magic that delighted my entire team and had us squealing with excitement, racing up and down the stairs, or just saying “wow” repeatedly.  As a team we’ve pretty much seen and played it all before, but there were some elements here that had us genuinely surprised and excited.  And to stop the puzzle-hardened obsessives from simply locking themselves inside for an entire weekend, also built into the experience is an outdoor puzzle/treasure hunt that takes you through much of medieval Tewkesbury, giving you puzzling pleasure, a tour of the town and a dose of fresh air all rolled into one.  My team failed to find a part of the initial set up for this treasure hunt but still had a lovely time wandering the streets of the town and managed to find all the answers we needed.

 

 

And there are differing levels of involvement and commitment to the weekend too.  You can choose to take things at a leisurely pace, solving just a handful of puzzles that get you to a certain narrative point, or you can keep going and solve more, or, as we did, commit to the completionist experience and make sure you’ve solved every single thing in the house including the few ‘bonus’ puzzles.  Overall I think our team of four puzzled hard for around 10-12 hours in the cottage (but we also squeezed in 11 other escape rooms in Cheltenham and Worcester, on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday) so you can take your time, enjoy the luxurious cottage space and the beautiful town it’s in, and still play through most of puzzles on offer.

In other words, this escape room cottage experience can be enjoyed by anyone who likes to puzzle.  There’s enough to keep a diehard ER enthusiast busy and satisfied, while a relative newbie or a family group could also play and have an absolute blast of a weekend.  In short, this escape room cottage surpassed my expectations by a (beautiful) country mile and is amazing value for money, given the loveliness of the house and town and the sheer quantity of puzzles squeezed in.  Would 100% highly recommend to pretty much anyone and everyone.

 

 

A Note on Accessibility

The listing on AirBnB makes it clear that this is an old house split over 3 floors with only stairs for access, so unfortunately it may not suit those with mobility issues, especially as the puzzle-solving requires quite a lot of going up and down across all three floors.  Some of the puzzles use colours or sound so may be harder for those with restricted vision, colour blindness or hearing loss.

 

Full details of the cottage and how to book are here.

 

Photos in this review are either (c) Cottage Owners (from AirBnB), or Karen Myers, Jake Andrews, Jane Blackwell.

Clue Cracker: Mega Bite | Review

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Mega Bite Review | Yo dudes and dudettes! Put down your Boom Box and step into a world beyond your wildest imagination, where the lines between reality and the virtual world blur. You’ll be transported through a Zombie arcade game and thrown into a carbonic, mad-capped world that will have you on the edge of your seat. MEGA BITE is not your average escape game. It’s a multi-dimensional experience that will push you to your limits. You’ll have to use your wits, skills and teamwork to escape this fantastical world and make it back to reality.

Date Played: 6th July 2023
Time Taken: 53 mins 13 seconds
Number of Players: 4 (3 adults, 1 child (12)) 
Difficulty: Easy to Medium

Ok, so, lets cut to the chase here – if you’d spotted my Facebook and Instagram posts on the day we played this game, I simply said five key words – YOU.MUST.PLAY.THIS.GAME!

And here is why….

 

 

Firstly, if you’ve played Clue Cracker games before, you already know that you are in for a treat. Having played Jail Break, Diamond Dogs and Temple Quest here, there has become a certain expectation that they create high quality immersive experiences, on a level only dreamt of by other companies.  Clue Cracker have a very obvious style which is visible across all of their games in terms of decoration, puzzles and game flow.

But before I pinpoint how this game exceeds all expectations, lets talk customer service…

 

The Warmest of Welcomes at Clue Cracker

Clue Cracker has two separate locations within Tunbridge Wells. Their original is based at The Shuffle House, a beautifully appointed restaurant with some food to die food – so Id highly recommend that after a brain taxing hour in an escape room. Their newer location is literally just over the road (so no excuse to still not grab a bite to eat!) and houses both Temple Quest and their newest addition Mega Bite.

The reception at Clue Cracker is quirky yet practical. Some big comfy sofas, a handful of lockers and a two player arcade machine – this kept my son Fin quiet for a good twenty mins whilst we chatted with owner Ben.

Now, lets be honest here, as an owner, you’d expect a certain level of enthusiasm and pride in your product, however chatting with Ben for the first time was a complete delight. As we were there for opening day, there’s no doubt that this would have been a very stressful day, and as the last team of the day at 9.15pm, I wouldn’t have been surprised to be met with a slightly bemused GM and owner who was ready for the clock to hit home time – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Ben was engaging, genuine, humorous and thoughtful; clearly proud of the creation we were about to face. And, he had every right too, as he guided up down to the brightly coloured neon entrance to the room.

 

Up Down, Left Right and START!

Given that this is a brand new room, we were yet to have seen any reviews, and the website is a little sketchy in terms of a full disclosure about the game, we were chomping at the bit with anticipation not knowing behind what was behind the door. Quick normal pre-game health and safety talk, and game rules completed, Ben accompanied us into the room.

However, this game started very differently to how we were expecting – its tricky to go into detail without creating a spoiler here, so forgive my approach… He guided us around the initial room with some do’s and don’ts, quickly followed by a phrase that all owners must dread to say to their teams on opening day “Ah crap, this is embarrassing. Day one of opening, and the main feature of the room isn’t bloody working. Give me a minute and I will see if I can fix it

…..And with that, he walked off and shut the door.

Bemused, we looked at each other, until it dawned on us – ooohhhh, that’s what we need to do to escape! Game On!

 

Visually Mind Melting

Now with a theme which is so called 80’s Zombie Arcade, you’d expect bright, loud, neon. And that’s exactly what you get! As you can see from the images kindly supplied by the guys at Clue Cracker in this review, you are immersed into a wacky world of 80’s animation, with a booming sound track, with a little hint of Stranger Things. You truly are thrown back in time, and its truly wonderful. Its quirky, unapologetic approach is a full blown attack on the senses, which fills the brief and then some! All this, whilst keeping the same Clue Cracker style that is seen across all their games.

There are some truly remarkable aspects of technology in this room, more than a handful of wow moments that will take your breath away, and some brilliant surprises that you are unlikely to have encountered anywhere else.

 

 

Puzzles… This Ain’t Pacman

When first chatting with Ben prior to the game, he discussed the need for this game to have a much more family friendly approach which is accessible to all. As enthusiasts, this concerned us a little as I didn’t want to smash the door down, be there for 30 mins and walk away without the brain getting a decent work out. But, never fear! Our concerns were alleviated when hit with puzzle number one! We all know what happens to those of us who have played far too many games – you get a bit puzzle blinded and “oh, i’ve seen this before” overthinking brain kicks into gear. And that’s exactly what happened to us! Don’t be fooled by the animations, visuals and outstanding effects in this room; there’s clearly moments when the brain cells need a work out!

Every puzzle fitted into the theme perfectly. The loud, bright animated approach isn’t just the set design, but the puzzles too. The game is very tangible so there’s lots to pick up and move around. There is very little to read, which for a family friendly game is perfect – you’re never stuck in bits of paper and you’re not hunting around for tricky maths equations. Its all big, chunky and impactful. But, don’t forget to search – look high, look low and question everything. Its easy to be bamboozled by the colours in here, but the colours may well be the thing that help you!

 

Sorry Alan Sugar, Atari Has Nothing on This

Whilst there is no doubt this is 100% a family friendly game, with puzzles galore, team work is the name of the game.  One area of games that often gets overlooked, is the manner in which they flow; including how you work as a team. A great aspect of this game is how is separates you at moments and then pulls you back together – many puzzles need open discussions, where as others can be a solo mission. At no point did you really feel like you were completely lost, but similarly, the flow of the game meant that it challenged everyone enough to get a subtle hint to push you on your way.

Speaking of hints, the clue systems in this game were a lot of fun. A well loved “character” from the 80’s may likely make an appearance, and well, you may well need the help of another character in the game, who has a bit of an issue of his own too.

One thing that Clue Cracker have done well in, particularly in both Temple Quest and Diamond Dogs, is heighten the sense of pressure nearing completion of the game. And Mega Bite follows that same pattern. Don’t expect to just open a door at the end and walk out, with the obligatory “well done for escaping” comment from your GM here. Expect full blown action, sweat dripping, music booming-type escape, with a huge smile on your face.

 

Mega Bite: The Verdict

I think if you have read this far, you can clearly see quite how amazed we were by this game. Our de-brief for every game we’ve played in the car on the way home, usually revolves around  one key subject “what would you change?”. And guess what, this is the first game we’d played where there was absolutely nothing! The customer service, game play, puzzles, theming, technology, effects, ticked every single box with a huge green permanent marker!

I often try to not get drawn into the “what’s your favourite room” conversations, as it often depends on the context. One place may have strong puzzles to make it a favourite, one might be due to the immersion, others might be how visually simulating it is. However, this room has to feature in every single one of them categories.

Clue Cracker have always been a company that, within their games, haven’t taken themselves too seriously, and upon each new room, that continues to demonstrate their enthusiasm, passion and devotion to their craft. This room, yet again shows, that the love of the game, produces a lovely game. And, without doubt, I leave you with the same five words that we started with… YOU.MUST.PLAY.THIS.GAME!

 

To book this game, visit: Mega Bite – Clue Cracker Games

George Wylesol: 2120 | Review

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George Wylesol 2120 Review | You’re Wade, a schlubby middle-aged computer repairman, sent to fix a computer in a vacant, nondescript office building. When you get inside the door locks behind you, and you can’t get out. Now the adventure begins! You have to explore this building and try to find your way home. The building is huge on the inside with a lot of sprawling hallways and empty rooms but your only hope is to uncover clues and try to work out the mystery this whole experience hangs on.

Date Played: June 2023
Time Taken: 3 Hours
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: Hard

Wait, hold on a minute… Is that… Is that Avery Hill Publishing?

A couple of days ago I spotted a review on my friends Room Escape Artist’s website for a book by none other than one of my favourite authors at my absolute all time favourite publishing house. Is it strange to have a favourite publishing house? Maybe. But I’ve backed just about every Kickstarter they’ve ever run, and any time anyone gives me money and tells me to treat myself, I head immediately to Avery Hill’s website. I don’t know why this started, and I’m not like this with any other publishing house. It’s just whatever they publish I know I’ll love. I haven’t disliked a single book they’ve produced, and that’s cool.

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. This isn’t’ about Avery Hill, this is about George Wylesol’s 2120. My love for Wylesol started way back with Internet Crusader – a book I’m proud to say isn’t just on my shelf, but is now also on the shelves of most of my good friends too. According to Wylesol’s website, Internet Crusader is:

“full-length graphic novel telling the story of a doomsday cult and the fight against the literal devil, told through collages of chat windows, video games, and other early web design.”

I… LOVE IT.

So when I found out 2120 had come out via spotting a review on REA, I did a double take. Not just a new book, but a new book literally packed with puzzles. Sign me the heck up.

 

 

What is 2120?

And why am I writing about it on The Escape Roomer?

Well, I would describe it as a choose-your-own-adventure escape room in a book. Yes, it’s a graphic novel, but one you don’t get the luxury of reading left to right. No, you have to choose your path carefully and many of those paths will be blocked by puzzles. Fiendishly difficult and sometimes slightly obtuse puzzles… But hey, I’ll take puzzles in books wherever I can take them.

The story of this experience puts the reader in the shoes of a computer repair technician called Wade. You show up at the mysteriously vacant office building at 2120 Macmillan Drive and, after stepping in, you find the door locks suddenly behind you. You have no choice but to venture further into this building. But where on Earth are all the computers?

What follows are pages and pages of wandering around a labyrinth of non-descript office corridors. Occasionally you come across untold manmade horrors, but more often you just find locked doors. Sometimes these locked doors have padlocks on them. Yay! Sometimes they just stay locked. Boo!

It’s like if House of Leaves had a baby with a graphic novel, and also the year is 1999. From the plastic yellow, to the sinister shadows just out of the corner of your eye, to the building that just seems to get bigger and bigger and bigger… It’s a true horror. Chilling and disconcerting and definitely not one to ‘read’ right before bedtime unless you enjoy trippy nightmares about faded carpets and strange cupboards with strange blurry photographs inside them. For some reason the book made me feel like I was reliving the Y2K bug, like some unspeakable technological nightmare awaited me on the next page. But no, it’s just a book. But good books should make you feel things right? This one gave me all the feels.

 

 

Okay, I get it, but you’re not selling it…

If you don’t like horror, this might not be for you. But if you like innovation, outside the box thinking, and wacky surrealism, then this is definitely for you.

I don’t want to describe it in too much detail, because I found that going in with almost no expectations was the best way to approach it. It made each new puzzling twist and each new reveal as I turned a new corner even more surprising. The book does a good job at avoiding spoilers – unless you go looking for them really hard, usually the next page you need to flick to to progress is within easy reach, meaning you don’t have to go walkabout too far. So in true nature of not spoiling it for you, I’ll leave it at that.

Although I was itching to complete the experience – the very weekend after 2120 arrived, I had friends staying with me. One of them made the mistake of asking “what I was currently playing”. Expecting me to launch into an excited discussion about video games, I shook my head and grabbed 2120 by George Wylesol and opened it up to one of the many bookmarked pages:

“I’m playing this book right now”

I wasn’t expecting much, except that everyone started to gather round and make helpful suggestions as we flicked through-

Hey, go through that door” and “What’s this? How do we solve this?

It’s safe to say, 2120 has been a hit with pretty much everyone I’ve shown the book to so far, even in passing. I’m proud to have it on my shelf. So even if it doesn’t initially look like something you’d be interested in, I’d implore you to reconsider and give it a go.

 

 

Choose Your Own Nightmare

In terms of the gameplay, since it’s choose-your-own adventure, it’s no surprise there’s an element of choice. However on successfully completing the book, I flicked back through and found that most (if not all) of the paths I’d already found. Since there are so many puzzles in the experience, I often found myself pausing and then retracing my steps to find a doorway I didn’t go through, or a cross-roads at the end of a long dingy corridor where I could try taking the other path. Eventually, the book allows you to loop around and come back to where you started in a seamless way, if you want to go back and rediscover more. In this way, although there are some alternate endings the player can stumble across, I did get the impression I’d “completed” the game by the time I finally put it down. But I’m not sure if “complete” is really the right word with an experience like this.

Like, did I complete the game, or did the game complete me?

But it worked so well. 2120 definitely encourages the player to be exploratory. Often the solutions for the puzzles the player encounters can only be solved by taking meticulous notes and by retracing their steps to re-examine something that seemed innocuous earlier but turns out to be central later.

The feeling the book manages to evoke is definitely that of early 90s computer games. Not just the strange, blocky illustration style, but also the text and the way you feel as if you’ve “clicked on something” every time you go to look at something closer up. In that case, it was possibly missing an inventory system, especially to collect clues as you go – though how an author could pull that off, I do not know.

Overall, I did find the puzzles erred on the side of difficult. I’m not shy for a puzzle or two, but more times than not I found myself putting down the book in frustration, or aimlessly flicking back through the pages I’d already consumed in annoyance. More than once I ‘cheated’ to get ahead – having found part of a solution but being entirely unable to find the remaining part, I made some educated guesses about where the book wanted me to go, and found those to be correct. But this may just have more to do with my own expectations of ‘reading a book’ and wanting to hurry on with the story, than any particular flaw with the puzzles. It’s an interesting medium, and the author used it to a fantastic degree, so I can’t fault them for that.

 

 

2120: The Verdict

Maybe I’m just not as used to booked like this – the usual “escape rooms” I consume are the physical or tabletop kind. But I was seriously impressed by 2120. I’m less used to experiencing my escape rooms in book format, but I enjoyed it. A lot. I hope this kind of book becomes more popular, and more puzzle designers consider it as a medium for telling interesting stories and sewing the seeds of interesting puzzles.

For this reason, the verdict is very simple – we adored this book, and we think George Wylesol is a playful genius when it comes to creating visual experiences.

Who do we recommend this for? Everyone, and no-one at the same time. This book is for you, and it’s also probably not for you. I don’t make the rules.

2120 can be purchased directly from the publisher by heading to this link.

We were sent a complimentary copy of 2120, but this doesn’t affect our review in any way whatsoever!

Cambridge Escape Rooms: Heaven and Hell | Review

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Heaven and Hell Review: Ever wondered what happens when you die? Does heaven exist? What if you’re sent to hell? As mere mortals we do not have the answers to these questions, but now you have the opportunity to find out. You will enter a state of hibernation. This will last for one hour and give you the chance to explore the afterlife. After your adventure you will need to use a defibrillator to return to life. However the defibrillator only works for one hour! If you do not find it in time, you may be stuck in hell forever! It could also be heaven, but in this case it’s nearly the same thing…

Date Played: June 2023
Time Taken: 46:52
Number of Players: 3
Difficulty: Easy-Medium

Content Warning: Death

When Al and Ash of Escaping the Closet recommend a game to me – I know I’m in for a treat!

This was exactly what happened when I mentioned in passing that I was travelling to Cambridge to play a few escape rooms.

“Oh, you’ve got to try Heaven and Hell while you’re there!”

Oh yes. You can be absolutely sure that this was the first room we booked – and in fact, the very room we planned the trip around!

Visiting Cambridge was also a super fun trip because I was playing with one of my co-writers, Georgie! Since moving up to Edinburgh I don’t get down South as much, and so we wanted to make the most out of a brief visit for my birthday and play as many escape rooms as we could possibly cram in on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. After a brief stop for lunch, the third in our trip was the ever-exciting and mysterious Heaven and Hell.

Cambridge Escape Rooms is tucked away off a busy road near a bus stop a short ride from the station. Buses run regularly so you can be fairly safe in both getting there by bus and getting back on bus as well. The lobby space is welcoming, and there’s physical puzzles you can play with whilst you wait – and the usual shelves of play at home puzzle games if you’d like to buy one and take one home with you.

 

As Above, So Below

A question enthusiasts love to discuss is “which escape rooms have the most exciting ending?“. But with Heaven and Hell I’d like to submit it for the discussion category of “escape rooms with the most exciting BEGINNING“. You see, Heaven and Hell is a game played in the afterlife… Hence the name. So in order to enter the escape room you’re going have to die. Yep, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you. I just hope you’re ready to meet your maker.

Getting the pesky concept of “dying” out of the way, what followed was an exciting journey through the after life and indeed – to Heaven, and Hell. Our central goal throughout our trip was to come back to life. And of course, as expected, we had just one hour to complete this goal within else risk being trapped on the other side forever.

*dun dun dunnn*

 

 

Heaven and Hell wasn’t always available at Cambridge Escape Rooms. In fact, the room was originally created by E-Exit in Budapest. The room has been lovingly recreated here in the UK, but from what I can tell from a quick Google online, Cambridge Escape Rooms has added their own twist on it. Whilst many, if not all of the puzzles are exactly the same, the set design itself seems to have had an overhaul. This is at least based on some photos I found of the Budapest version, and my own memory of being in this room.

Which is interesting, because the set was definitely the thing I loved most about this room. From the fun technology, to the “wow moments” every time we opened up a new door and discovered a new part of the afterlife, lovingly rendered in fluffy white clouds (or indeed the flames from the bowels of hell). Heaven and Hell as an experience was a really pretty one. Always something new to look at and always something fun to discover.

It’s almost impossible to choose between a favourite moment in the room – the hell portion, or the heaven portion, or even the exciting moments that built up to those two. There was something uniquely magical about stepping into the heaven room, all fluffy clouds and white doves. Equally, some of the interactions with the set in the hell portion were hilariously good fun. What can I say? I enjoy being in hot places being prodded by devils with pitchforks*

*there aren’t actually any devils prodding you, don’t worry!

 

Note: This is a photo from the Budapest edition of this room which differs in set design from the Cambridge version.

 

In terms of the puzzles, these were smooth sailing. Well, mostly. We were actually stumped on the very first puzzle for the longest time, which wasted a large amount of time we rushed to catch up on after. But a little nudge from our Games Master and we were off on our way.

We found that we didn’t get too stuck on anything after this point, which is probably why we’ve given this an Easy-Medium rating. Medium for that one puzzle, and Easy for everything else. There was a mixed bag. Some of the puzzles were a little too easy to bypass for my liking, and a few others felt a little contrived, but for each that didn’t totally click with us there were plenty which absolutely did.

 

 

Heaven and Hell: The Verdict

The original Heaven and Hell in Budapest is an immensely popular game, and this version of it in the UK has been faithfully recreated in case anyone can’t make the trip out to Central Europe. We really enjoyed our experience at Heaven and Hell, and spent a lot of the trip back into London discussing which was our favourite of the two we played at Cambridge Escape Rooms, this one or The Secret Clubhouse.

In terms of accessibility, there were several moments of big claustrophobia. One of them seemed to be compulsory for every player – although if you let the venue know in advance, they’ll let you skip this part. The others were optional, in that you can pick one member of your team to be the sacrifice and get in the small space. In our team, I was that person – but hey I kinda enjoy the small spaces! There is also a smoke machine in this room which can be disabled if you request it.

I’d recommend this escape room to anyone who can make the trip over to Cambridge. It’s a very unique experience and well worth it!

 

Heaven and Hell can be booked at Cambridge Escape Rooms. This room is also available at some sites in Madrid and Budapest.

Turbo Button: Floor Plan 2 | Review

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Floor Plan 2 Review | A comedy adventure inspired by escape rooms, packed with more puzzles than you can fit in an elevator. On your first day of work, the boss sends you on an errand to retrieve a lost treasure that will turn the company’s fortunes around. And good news: it’s somewhere in the building! Just use the elevator down the hall. Oh, and by the way, each floor is a gateway to another world, nobody speaks your language, and time and space are fluid.

Developer: Turbo Button
Date Played: Summer 2022
Console: Oculus
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 6-8 hours

Listen, I LOVE Floor Plan 2.

That’s it. That’s the review. Stop what you’re doing, grab your VR headset and give it a download.

It’s one of those games that even though I finished months and months ago sometimes I just log into it for fun.

We’ve mentioned Floor Plan 2 in other posts, such as this one (which is somehow still our most read article on this whole website by a massive margin), but somehow it flew under our radar to write a full review until now.

So, full disclosure, we as The Escape Roomer were given a code to play. Unfortunately for personal reasons the specific reviewer who was assigned to the game wasn’t able to complete the review. The months rolled on and regrettably Floor Plan 2 slipped down in our priority list. Until one day I sat down and thought to myself – hey, I could really do with a fun escape room VR game right now. I DMed the original reviewer assigned, since they were one of the only other people I knew with a VR headset and passion for puzzles, and the name Floor Plan 2 came up. So I went off and purchased a copy.

So whilst this review isn’t comped exactly, this review was sparked by an “oh my god this game is so fun why haven’t we reviewed it yet” …”oh wait” moment. As such, it’s a completely honest and unbiased and perhaps a little over-excited verdict on Turbo Button’s Floor Plan 2. The verdict? It’s fantastic and I love it.

 

Are you ready to climb the corporate ladd- I mean, elevator?

So yes, I love this game, but equally I’d be lying if I said that some moments in this game didn’t frustrate me so much I wanted to virtually slap the stick of butter out of the strange little creatures’ hand and shout at my CEO. But good art should make you feel raw, visceral emotions, right? Which also brings me to the other big thing I wanted to say about this game: It’s comedy. It’s surreal. It’s mind-bendingly bizarre yet also so surprisingly recognisably corporate too.

It reminds me a lot of those point and click puzzle adventures from the 90s and 00s. You know the ones I mean – where you wander around locations picking up objects and combining them in surprising ways to create unimaginable outcomes all in the name of puzzle solving. Floor Plan 2 is similar in a way – you collect objects as you go, and then eventually you’ll find a use for the object – and it definitely won’t be how you expected it!

But this is where the puzzles get much more interesting than anything else we’ve encountered. Floor Plan 2 is in VR… So throw all your preconceived notions about how games work out the window. For starters, your mode of transport is an elevator (or lift, here in the UK) taking you between floors of a large sky scraper. Some objects can’t be taken in the elevator, so how are you supposed to get them to the floor above or below? Well there in lies one of the first big puzzles.

 

 

Okay… So it’s an office block? I get it.

Do you? Because I’m not sure I do! Because the things you find in the office block are bizarre. Try a nightclub chicken party. A bathroom that rotates 360 degrees. An ancient Egyptian tomb. Outer space. A bumblebee kingdom. It’s bright, it’s colourful, and it’s a joy to spend time in. Floor Plan 2 is playful in its environment design, and even more playful with it’s puzzles and absolutely nothing can be taken for granted. Not even gravity. For all of these reasons and more, I absolutely adore this game.

My favourite moment in the game is the moment that first sold me on the idea of the game. It’s you, you’re sitting behind a desk, and people come to you with their problems. They scoot up on chairs and express their issues to you in loud voices that sound like someone going “bleh bleh bleh” into the microphone. No shade, I think its hilarious. You with your little name badge and boring desk job solve their problems. After all, this is Puzzl Corporation, and your company’s motto is to solve any problem.

 

 

At some point, you get promoted and gain access to the elevators, and this is where the game ‘really’ begins. Cue all the bizarre gravity defying chickenery.

The puzzles themselves are a mixed bag in terms of difficulty. There are some real tricky moments where you’re pulling your hair out, and many other moments where you walk in and have a sense of exactly what you need to do. Overall I’d probably say it’s a little bit too tricky – for the light-hearted, almost childlike environment, there were a few times where I almost put my headset down and didn’t return. But the difficulty of the puzzles makes for a longer, and much more satisfying game when you do eventually solve it all.

In all, the base game lasts about 1-2 hours for the core game, but after which an “overtime” remixed version of the experience is unlocked in which players can explore freely and try out new versions of old puzzles. One of the things you can do in “overtime” is hunt for missing pets, scattered throughout the building. Doing this unlocks new hands you can try out. Yes – really. A “totally not painful procedure” where you stick your hands into a loud machine and your hands come out completely different…

Do with that information whatever you will, but I had a blast!

 

 

A Comfortable Ride in the Elevator?

As with all VR games, I like to mention comfort – because VR isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Floor Plan 2 gives the players a fixed position teleportation system. Since most of the game happens in the elevator, you’d do well to make space in your floor to move freely about the elevator – maybe 2×2 meters to be safe. Beyond this, when the elevators open you can teleport to a fixed space within the room outside. In this way, it’s one of the least nauseating games in VR, and very suitable for people prone to VR sickness. You could even play the game sitting down, if you wanted to.

Similarly, the graphics are bright and colourful but very simple shapes – so I never experienced any game breaking or lagging issues on my device (Oculus Quest 2). It runs smoothly, feels comfortable to play, and is a fun experience start to finish.

 

Floor Plan 2: Backside Story

So why am I writing this review now exactly? Well, at the time of writing Floor Plan 2 had just released a brand new, FREE upgrade called Backside Story.

When an ancient elevator awakens and the experts are busy, it’s up to you and the PuzzScouts to retrieve the lost treasures that lie within.

I already owned the game, so all I needed to do was hit update, pop my headset on, and I was immediately transported back into Puzzl Corporation. And yes, I immediately started grinning from ear to ear! I was BACK! Back in this wacky, ridiculous, wonderful world of Floor Plan 2 for all new puzzles in all new locations. In this upgrade, players are contacted by a member of the PuzzScouts who needs help. You’re sent into a brand new elevator in search of three specific items hidden across 6 new locations.

In the new locations, there’s a Dungeons and Dragons themed maze with wizards and knights, there’s a circus tent with definitely-rigged games to play, and there’s a cockroach hotel room of corridors and locked doors to be accessed. In all these three locations, the elevator now gives you the ability to go “behind the scenes” on them. These are new locations in and of themselves, and the key to success with these puzzles will be seamlessly interacting with the front – and the back of the same location to succeed.

 

 

If you don’t already own Floor Plan 2 and wanted to buy it, this upgrade will be available with your purchase. However be mindful that the game will now be slightly more expensive overall (just a $5 increase).

In any case, I really love that the developers added this in. It patches a lot of things from the base game including plenty of accessibility options, which I love, but more importantly it added a huge amount of gameplay for free. The addition added an extra hour or two onto the base game (or in my case, at least 3 because I got very very stuck on one particular moment and spent days faffing!) is no small feat! It’s not so common that developers finish a game, and then return and add more content to the game just because they want to make it an even better game, but I applaud them for it.

 

 

Floor Plan 2 (and Backside Story) – The Verdict

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but Floor Plan 2 is a world that is an absolute joy to spend time in. It’s like a cross between a classic escape room and a game like Job Simulator, but more fun than both of those. When people ask me what VR games I recommend, this one comes up again and again. For goofy silly fun, but actual brain-boggling puzzles that really make you scratch your head – or rather, scratch the top of your VR visor.

For the absolute silliness and bonkers attitude of this game, we’ve decided to award it the special “Fun Factor” badge – awarded to games which are extra fun to play. You can read more about our award badges here.

FUN FACTOR All games are fun, but look out for the Fun Factor badge on any review that goes all out on fun!

 

Floor Plan 2 is available on Oculus and Steam VR.

P.S. Whilst we did receive a copy for free, the reviewer in this case (me) is not the recipient of that free copy.