Department of Magic: Prophecies Quest | Review

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Prophecies Quest Review | As the last hope for the magical world you must collect The Prophecies and use them before it’s too late. The Dark Lord has hidden The Prophesies so you must find them in The Department Of Mysteries before using them to defeat him. You need to hurry, The Dark Lord is on his way and only you can stop him.

 

Completion Time: 32 minutes (out of a possible 50)
Date Played: January 2023
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Easy

Having moved to Edinburgh a little over 6 months ago, you’d have thought I’d have played all of the rooms here by now? Well, not quite. There are a few that have been on my radar that I’ve been saving for a special occasion. Department of Magic was just one of those places, and the occasion of two of our loveliest escape room friends from home in London coming up for a weekend to visit was just the ticket to finally book it.

Sandwiched between the potion mixing cocktail experience at the bar portion of Department of Magic, and a trip round the corner to Cocktail Geeks (currently running a Lord of the Rings themed experience), we had an hour to spend. Without haste, we got ourselves booked into to play the more popular of the two games at this hidden wizard-themed speakeasy: Prophecies Quest.

Wands at the ready, witches and wizards…

 

Let the Magic Begin!

If you think of Edinburgh escape rooms, the chances are Department of Magic isn’t on your radar. But let me tell you why it should be. Located a stone’s throw from Edinburgh Castle is a mysterious little black door located at the bottom of a little rickety iron staircase. Behind this door is a tavern lifted straight of a storybook. The walls are lined with peculiar magic trinkets, and on each table is a gaggle of magicians brewing the most brightly coloured, bubbling, fizzing and smoking potions- I mean, cocktails.

This is the Department of Magic. It’s best known for it’s ‘pub’ portion. With advance booking, you can grab a table for normal drinks, or one of their special brew-your-own potions, which are fairly reasonably priced for how exciting they ended up being. We did book ourselves into one of their sessions in advance, but it ended up being about the same price as if we’d have just booked for a normal table and ordered off the menu. But in truth, we weren’t really here for the cocktails… We were here foe the escape room out the back.

When your game session begins, a mysterious wizard in a long dark cloak approaches you and asks if you’re the chosen ones here to save the world.

“Yessir!” we exclaimed, before following her through the door in the back and into the briefing area.

 

 

Fortune Favours the… Wise!

Before entering the escape room, we allocated a captain, and that captain looked at four great wizarding traits – Wisdom, Bravery, Cunning, and… Well, I forgot the fourth one, as people often do. We chose wisdom, and were given a special item for it, which would come into use later.

Them, in a flurry of magic, the bookcase swung open and we were off to a flying start!

Prophecies Quest is an unusual escape room for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a multi-room experience, but you have full run of the area. You don’t need to complete any particular room in order. Secondly, there are no locks. Everything is done with magic. Impressive – but probably a lot of work for our games master listening out for us saying the exact correct spell, or performing the exact correct action!

Beyond those two details, the room was your standard magical room. Players can expect potions, spell casting, dragons, dark wizards, the whole shebang. Just like in a pirate room I hope to see treasure maps and chests and the odd skull here and there, by now we’re familiar with rooms set in the wizarding world, and Prophecies Quest was a classic, well executed example. Notably, one that took good care not to tread too heavily on any particular well known IP. Kudos to them!

 

A celebratory drink for afterwards!

 

A Spellbinding Escape?

The room’s uniqueness was also it’s strength. We were very, very fast out of the room (almost record breaking in fact, there were just a few seconds in it), but I think on reflection it wasn’t really a room designed for competitive folk trying to break a record. It was a room all about fun. And on that note, it succeeded.

I absolutely love rooms that make you hop around on one foot and hum your favourite song, or make you flap around like chickens and crouch down on all fours. I love rooms that make you roleplay what you’re actually doing, so that you live and breathe and feel what you’re doing. Prophecies Quest did that really well, and it’s a shame it’s an 18+ room (well, the whole venue is) because this would be an excellent one for families.

Ultimately, this escape room is best played between a round of cocktails. I would expect 99% of players to go into this room having just come from the bar, so none of the puzzles are incredibly puzzling. Many of them require physical actions and working together in a silly way. So whilst it won’t necessarily challenge the most hardcore escapers, it will encourage you to have fun, and that’s a double thumbs up from me.

 

 

The Verdict

Well worth visiting! I’m surprised Department of Magic isn’t more popular. Not that it isn’t, just that I hadn’t heard any other enthusiasts recommend it on a visit to Edinburgh – but I want to change that right here and now. Add Department of Magic onto your trip, and for extra fun, book yourself in for their cocktail brewing experience for a perfect, photo finish to your evening.

Finally, a shout out to our host for the escape room, who was the fantastic Hannah. She let us know that she usually runs their other room (which we’ll definitely be returning to play), but today she ran our room instead and never once broke character, providing fantastic help, encouragement, and a thorough brief and debrief after. Escape rooms can sink or swim by their team’s hosting ability, and Hannah did a superb job!

 

Prophecies Quest can be booked at Department of Magic in Edinburgh.

Scarlet Envelope: Dinner with Anonymous | Review

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Dinner With Anonymous Review | “First course – peanut stew, main course – your dirty lies with a tahini dressing.” Five honourable guests have been blackmailed to dine with Anonymous, a charming psycho claiming to know everyone’s dark secrets. In a twisted turn of events, you find yourself in Anonymous’ basement, kidnapped and challenged to answer two questions: “Who is Anonymous? And what have these five people done to piss them off?”

Completion Time: ~60 minutes
Date Played: January 2023
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Hard

It has been a long, long time since I’ve last played a Scarlet Envelope game and I have to say – I’ve missed it! Scarlet Envelope are one of those monthly subscription types I used to save up and play with my good friend Bianca. However since moving to Edinburgh, I hadn’t had the chance to pick up and play with anyone new. That is, until today. Apparently, if you can believe this, it’s been a whole year since I played the last in the series: Screaming Venice Art Heist. A lot can happen in a year, but it’s nice to have that feeling of returning home when you pick up a puzzle game that is both exciting in its newness and familiar in it’s reliability.

 

 

A Collaboration between Scarlet Envelope & Keith, of USB Escape

The first, and most exciting thing about Dinner with Anonymous is that this is the first (but hopefully not the last) collaboration between Scarlet Envelope and Keith Dozois of USB Escape… And it shows! You can see the metaphorical fingerprints of both creators all over this game. There’s the physical, tactile experience of Scarlet Envelope combined with the horror themes of USB escape, married together with fantastic audio visuals which I’ve come to expect from both creators.

On a personal level, it was a lot of fun watching the two creators collaborate, their partnership unfolding over Instagram, and creating funny gems like this one 👇

 

But onto the actual game, how did it play?

 

You Have Been Kidnapped…

Dinner with Anonymous starts with the startling news that you have been kidnapped! Notorious serial killer with their eyes set on 5 unique victims has you in their clutches, but you have one shot at escaping. If you can figure out the name of the killer and exactly why everyone is being picked off one by one, they’ll let you go. If not, it looks like you’ll be on the menu next… So no pressure!

We spilled out all the contents of the envelope onto our table and got stuck in. At first glance, Dinner with Anonymous was a much lighter envelope than some of the others. The reason for this is because most of the game takes place online and that’s the first puzzle – how to get to the homepage to get started. With a slightly rocky start trying a few ‘hidden’ websites and deciphering details we found a little too early, we eventually made our way to the correct landing page and the game begun.

With a fantastic cinematic quality, the game begins by you being greeted by the serial killer themselves. An individual with a large TV on their head, cooking a horrific looking dish, blood splattered everywhere, and threatening you next. Hehe… Well, I did say it was a horror game, didn’t I?

 

 

There are 8 videos in total over the course of the game, so even if it does seem on the lighter side, it’s no less meaty (no pun intended) than any of the previous in the series. In fact, the web portal and video portions were some of my favourite in the whole game. They played brilliantly, added a level of tension, elevated the otherwise already satisfying tabletop puzzle game into something extra special.

Once we’d figured out what to do, we were off to a flying start. The gameplay that follows is fairly linear. The first puzzle gives you a clue to the next puzzle, then the next, and so on. Each one uses both the TV and the physical ephemera in the envelope to be solved. Then of course there is also a meta puzzle that uses secret details you found throughout the game and comes together for the big finale.

 

 

Scarlet Envelope, But Make it Difficult

When ordering from Scarlet Envelope you get to choose the difficulty level of your game:

  • Starter
  • Experienced

Since I don’t remember specifying which difficulty I’m on, I assume I’m getting the latter. Because, well, these games are tricky and it saves a little pride if I assume they’re tricky because it’s “Experienced” and I’m not just losing my puzzle solving marbles.

Dinner with Anonymous was no exception, and after spilling out the contents of the envelope over Rebecca’s table, we weren’t sure where to begin. I would go so far as to say it might be the trickiest of the games in this series I’ve played so far. For each individual puzzle we used at least one clue, and in a few cases we even ended up revealing the solution.

In terms of those puzzles, there was a fun mix of them. My favourite by far was one that involved a certain recipe. Can I say the puzzle made me feel physically sick? And in all the best ways possible! However that was also the one we used the most hints on to get to the correct solution in the end. This game also benefitted from a few details hidden in plain sight… Without wanting to give any spoilers, I love it when something you’ve been holding in your hand suddenly turns out to conceal something brilliant, in a place you’d never have thought to look.

If I had only one criticism of the game it would probably be that – it was a little tricky, and the signposting of where to begin at the start felt less than I’d had on previous games. But overall, despite finding it trickier than usual, we had an absolute blast playing through.

 

 

Michelin Star, or Food Fail?

Overall, I really enjoyed Dinner with Anonymous. It’s up there as one of my favourites of Scarlet Envelope – and that’s saying a lot from me since I don’t enjoy horror at all. I went in with an open mind and a horror-enthusiast, expecting a fun little game and instead getting something far more atmospheric and mysterious. The combination of two powerhouse Canadian creators mean that this game is something quite unique, and I hope this means there’ll be more collaborations on the horizon for Scarlet Envelope in the future.

In terms of who I’d recommend this for… I’ll start by saying who I don’t recommend this for: Kids. It’s creepy, very creepy. Some kids will probably be fine with that, but I’m a bit of a wimp myself and it certainly sent shivers down my spine. For any horror enthusiasts, Dinner with Anonymous is a must-play and a standout game in the genre. It would be good as a standalone, or as part of the full Scarlet Envelope series. In short, a big thumbs up from me.

As I write this, next to me on my desk I have the next instalment: Ashes of Persepolis ready to go. After spending a whole year without playing a single Scarlet Envelope game, my appetite is once again truly whet and I can’t wait to get cracking on the next.

 

If you’d like to play Dinner with Anonymous yourself, you can purchase it via Scarlet Envelope’s website here.

Enigmailed: Chocolateral Bars | Review

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A puzzle-wrapped chocolate bar through the post every month? An idyllic village, ravaged with nefarious mysteries? The chance to vote for future flavours and storylines?

It’s a world’s first, people!

Have you ever been sitting there, eating a bar of chocolate, wishing that your experience was a bit more puzzley? Are you like me and want to include puzzles into all aspects of your life… Especially chocolate consumption? Are you slightly more normal and just want to get a cool gift for that puzzle person in your life? Enigmailed have the answer to all these questions.

Okay so those examples are a little extreme, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that British company Enigmailed have been hard at work these past months creating several new experiences, including my very favourite of which: Chocolateral Bars. Put simply, chocolate bars which contain brilliant little puzzles on the packaging!

At the moment, they have the following chocolate bars on offer:

 

 

Both chocolate bars have a mystery to solve – a kind of murder mystery come detective drama. Your job in both is to read the clues and discover a WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and HOW the curious crime was committed. As one of my friends pointed out when I gifted them a bar, “I’m not sure eating chocolate called Fatal Experimint is a good idea”, but I can guarantee, several bars of chocolate later, that they are not poisonous. Just creatively named!

Neither mystery is going to take you any longer than the amount of time it takes to eat the chocolate bar, that’s for sure. But I think that’s part of the beauty of it, making this a fantastic gift for just about anyone in your life – puzzlers and non-puzzlers alike. It’s like playing a sudoku in the morning paper over your cuppa.

 

The Verdict

Honeycomb Sting

Flavour: Honeycomb Milk
Completion Time: 10 minutes
Date Played: 11th July 2021
Party Size: 1

Both taste and puzzle-wise, Honeycomb Sting was my favourite of the two, but that’s mostly personal preferences as I don’t really like mint all that much. In Honeycomb Sting, you’re introduced to the setting of a palace with a world famous beehive kept on the grounds – but wait, somebody has been stealing all the honey! Eek!

Thankfully, the culprit has left behind clues on the chocolate wrapper. From lightly highlighted letters to curious strings of digits, each separate puzzle points towards a different piece of information, such as the identify of the thief, or where they’ve hidden the honey.

The only question remains whether you’ll catch them before you finish the bar!

 

 

Fatal Experimint

Flavour: Mint Dark
Completion Time: 15 minutes
Date Played: 11th July 2021
Party Size: 1

The harder of the two, Fatal Experimint adds a little extra tension to the game – Dr. Spears, the dentist has been poisoned! But if you can successfully solve the game, you’ll be able to find an antidote to save his life. In this mini mystery, you’re looking to make an arrest, and fast!

The puzzles differ a lot between the two experiences, with Fatal Experimint utilising more numerical puzzles, and a couple of well known beloved ciphers with an Enigmailed twist. Since I played (and ate) this one second, the chocolate might be getting to my head and making it seem tricker, but I’d definitely rate this one as the more challenging of the two.

 

Excalibar’s Sword

Flavour: Eton Mess
Completion Time: 15 minutes
Date Played: 19th September 2021
Party Size: 1

This time, a priceless artefact believed to be the Sword in the Stone has been stolen! Once again it’s your job to figure out who thief is, why it was stolen, where it was last seen and what it is being disguised as. As with the other chocolate bars, there’s also a (very tricky) bonus puzzle, for those who want to go the extra mile: How many millions the sword is insured for!

By the time you’ve played the first two, you’ll get the gist of it by now – all over the packaging many small puzzles are hidden. In Excalibar’s Sword you’ll be looking for any letters that seem out of place, ciphers, and hints in plain sight… Among other things!

Of all the flavours (so far) Eton Mess absolutely has to be my favourite. I’m a huge fan of white chocolate and strawberry, so it’s a double thumbs up from me!

 

Toffear Apple

Flavour: Toffee Apple Milk Chocolate
Completion Time: 20 minutes
Date Played: 30th October 2021
Party Size: 1

This time, there’s mischief afoot at the Longstocking Orchard. Apple wielding ghosts? Or perhaps just a Halloween prank! It’s the player’s role to find out who is disguising themselves as a ghost, how they’re evading security, what their motive is and where they are hiding out.

As a Halloween special, it’s delightful! Of course, Toffear Apple is part of the Chocolateral subscription, but as someone who likes to give Halloween gifts this makes it the perfect treat to give out to guests and adult trick or treaters.

But of course, as with all Chocolateral bars, the puzzles are not particularly easy. No sir. I’m very well acquainted with Enigmailed’s hints page by now. But, since you’re always looking for a word (or a few words), players can expect a bounty of exactly that: word based puzzles! In Toffear Apple in particular I enjoyed turning of the bar over and over on the look out for ghosts, apples, and making the words out of the peculiar things on the paper. Spooky fun, and just what I needed to kick off a Halloween celebration!

 

 

Seasons Eatings

Flavour: Chilli Dark Chocolate
Completion time: approx 30 mins
Date Played: 21st November 2021
Party Size: 2

In this edition of Chocolateral, we’re getting festive! But don’t expect tidings of comfort and joy…at least not straight away. There is something afoot, as someone has snatched all of the snacks which had been left out for Santa and his helpers! As usual, it is up to you to peruse the clues hidden in the packaging to solve the seasonal mystery, and there is plenty to sink your teeth into (geddit?!). Yes, not only have you got to figure out who left their footprints in the snow, when they struck, what they’re doing with their bounty of festive treats and how they managed to evade being caught- you’ve also got the chance to go the extra mile (all the way to the north pole maybe?) to figure out which popstar paid for them in the first place!

Picture this: a chilly but clear Sunday afternoon in the lead up to Christmas, eating delicious chocolate, sipping on festive spiced punch and solving puzzles! What better way to get cosy and in the spirit for the next month’s worth of festivities (oh yes, we looove Christmas!). We really enjoyed the level of detail Enigmailed have gone into- the classic Christmassy red, green and white colour scheme; the seasonal imagery of crackers, santas and presents; and the puns- oh how we enjoy a good pun at the best of times, let alone when Christmas is involved. The puzzles are cleverly interspersed into the packaging as usual, which if you’ve played before you will have come to be quite familiar with. We found some of the puzzles quite quick to solve and others took a bit more thought, which we thought would make this a great little activity to do over Christmastime with the whole family- there’s enough to go around in terms of both puzzles and of course CHOCOLATE (if you don’t mind sharing!)

The chilli dark chocolate flavour of the chocolate was lovely; the chilli wasn’t overpowering but provided a nice warming which felt perfect for a Christmassy bar. And we loved the fact that as a dark chocolate bar this month, it is suitable for vegans, so everyone can get on the chocolatey puzzle solving bandwagon, just in time for Christmas! Seasons Eatings was a perfect festive puzzley treat for the lead up to the big day itself!

 

 

Valentine Brawl

Flavour: Plain Milk Chocolate
Completion time: approx 20 mins
Date Played: 6th February 2022
Party Size: 2

What’s the classic Valentine’s Day gift? Chocolate! But, what’s the perfect VDay gift for your escape enthusiast Valentine? Puzzle Chocolate! In this edition of Chocolateral, trouble is afoot at the village Jewellers, Emerald Aisle (yes, we loved that pun) as someone has robbed all their rings, depriving many happy couples of their VDay engagement plans!

While nibbling on our non-engagement related chocolatey Valentine’s treat, we had to figure out the classic W’s- Who, What, Where and Why, oh why, were the rings targeted?! Each time we play we are amazed by Enigmailed’s ability to squeeze in new and different types of puzzle into such a small space and following a consistent format. We enjoyed the variety of puzzles offered and found that each of us had ones that just seemed to click with us instantly. The matter of Why did stump us for a while and we decided to go for a quick look at their handy hint page to help us out with this one and work the puzzle backwards, but we got there in the end! We were also very pleased with ourselves as we also managed to solve the bonus puzzle to find out the name of the owner of the jewellers.

With Valentine Brawl, as with all the Chocolateral bars, we love the feeling that the chocolate is a reward for doing a good job puzzling and, of course, puns-a-plenty is always a bonus to enhance the puzzle solving fun further!

Whether you’re cupid reincarnate, or not so much of a fan of the mushy lovey dovey stuff, Valentine Brawl is a fun option to celebrate or take your mind off the season of love!

 

Simply the Zest!

Flavour: White Chocolate Lemon Meringue 
Completion time: approx 20 mins
Date Played: 12th April 2022
Party Size: 2

Dun, dun, dun! There’s been a murder, but who dunnit?! It’s the classic soap, a mysterious murder, a woman found dead in her high-rise apartment, the suspicious roast dinner… Hold on, a roast dinner!? We are glad that this did not feature in the chocolate bar flavouring.

Our of all of the bars in this subscription, this one was the most ‘story based’ of the Chocolateral series we have played so far, asking you to find out who has committed the crime, as well as tasking you with identifying those pesky red herrings (ahh yes, enthusiasts will recognise the struggles of red herrings as well!)

We got stuck into this bar quickly (the puzzles we mean…of course…) and found ourselves with 4 of the 5 puzzles solved relatively quickly. They were all logical and had strong sign-posting, something which always impresses us as Enigmailed managed to squeeze this so much onto such a small chocolate bar wrapper! 

The final, trickier puzzles left us scratching our heads though. We could not figure out the WHEN of our murder mystery. In this case, finding out the ‘when’ was the the bonus puzzle of this chocolate bar, so the answer is not on the website. So, dear readers, if anyone knows the WHEN – please do get in touch and let us know! We promise we will pay you in chocolate (if there is any left…) 

All in all, another great entry into the Chocolateral series, and we cannot wait to see what fantastical flavours and puzzles the creator dreams up next.

 

 

Fool’s Errand

Flavour: Banoffee Milk Chocolate
Completion time: approx 20 mins
Date Played: 4th April 2022
Party Size: 2

So, we definitely should have played this on April Fool’s Day – we missed a trick there! But alas, we sat down to see whether we would be made fools of, or whether we could work out who was clowning around trying to set up poor Uncle Fumble? We are currently playing the month-long puzzle offered by Enigmailed – also named “Fool’s Errand” – so it was felt apt to tackle this game to check our puzzling skills were ready to challenge the enigmatic “Leaderboard”! Also, after playing one of the more recent games, we realised we could have used our chocolate bar to complete one of the challenges…double Fool’s Errand (can we have a shout out on the leader board if we manage to link the puzzles?!)

We found this bar one of the more challenging ones. We couldn’t seem to click with the puzzles in the same way as some of the others. However, we think this may be a good way to showcase how different each of the bars manage to be. Some we find we can solve in ten minutes, others we keep coming back to over a series of days to see if we can finally get that a-ha moment (and steal a piece of chocolate as a reward hehe). In this way, you can savour the puzzles in the same way you can savour the chocolate (well, if you want to…).  There was one stand out puzzle on this bar though that we did click with (after the hype around a particular word based game which we play religiously every day) – it must be all that practice. It was a really clever way of translating the puzzle concept onto paper, and we appreciated the effort that had been made to showcase a new puzzle type. 

If you’ve not checked out the month long puzzle that Enigmailed are running, definitely pop onto their website! It’s a great way to get your puzzling in, whilst providing that competitive edge so many of us puzzlers enjoy. You can find lots of fun challenges, and plenty of ways to work up an appetite (although who needs to work up anything to eat a delicious banoffee flavoured treat – banana, toffee, chocolate…it’s a dream combo!).

 

 

Crime Caramel

Flavour: Creme Caramel Milk Chocolate
Completion time: approx 20 mins
Date Played: 7th May 2022
Party Size: 2

Uh oh! There’s been a robbery! Lizzy (very aptly named) has had her most fabulous lizards stolen, and it is up to you to find out the WHO, the WHEN, and the WHY. Oh, and to add to the mix, one of the lizards suffers from a skin condition, and you need to figure out which one so you can get the lotion to them ASAP (an excellent way of adding a bit of pressure). We went for a pic of our lovely pet here (any excuse to put in a pic of Tilly – she was not helpful in solving Lizzy’s predicament)

As we play more of Engimailed’s wonderful Chocolateral series, we are beginning to learn a bit about the different puzzling styles featured on the bars. We are getting better at seeing patterns, and playing these games regularly is definitely helping to give our puzzling skills ticking over. However, that definitely does not mean that we are now finding these easy – there was one puzzle in particular on this game that we found especially challenging – and brought a wonderful A-HA moment when we finally solved it. We clicked with this bar better than the previous one and managed to get through all the puzzles without looking for a hint (although, when we did go to check the answers, we got stumped trying to find those (wink wink!)). 

We were stoked to also manage to solve the extra challenge of finding out HOW MANY lizards were taken. It would be creme-inal not to mention the excellent pun use in this bar. We are so here for some fun word-play and always enjoy Enigmailed’s humorous blurbs and storylines. 

We shared this chocolate bar with Ash’s mum to spread the love (and also because we had recently ordered a huge amount of reduced Easter chocolate oops). We’ve had some excellent feedback from her on the taste “very creamy, very caramel, perfect for a sweet tooth” so I think we may have another Enigmailed fan on our hands! These bars would certainly make such a good gift for anyone you know who likes chocolate (and who doesn’t?!), and enjoys a bit of puzzling. 

 

Tilly Enjoying Crime Caramel Chocolateral

Sublime Crime

Flavour: Lime and Chilli Dark Chocolate
Completion time: approx 30 mins
Date Played: 25th June  2022
Party Size: 4

With this edition of Chocolateral, we had been tasked with solving a crime from a slightly different perspective… For once we know WHO the criminals are and we know WHAT they’ve done.

‘So… why are you here?’ I hear you ask. Well this time we’re on the case to work out a few of the finer details of the case. Two lovers on the run but caught at the first hurdle. But can we help track down the clues to work out what both the lovers’ jobs were, where they were hoping to escape to, what caused the police to get on their trail, what crucial mistake they made and last, but by no means least, what was their attempted getaway vehicle? Think Bonnie & Clyde (but with truffles) 

Given that we had all that to work out, we cracked on with nibbling away at the chocolate and the clues. We enjoyed the variety of puzzles yet again within this edition, particularly the cryptic combination of flags with what appeared to be binary code. Once again, Chocolateral gets you to think outside the chocolate box, with a few helpful nudges tucked away under the opening flaps to get you onto the right tracks. The mix of puzzles were perfect for the group of us with Alice’s parents solving it, as there was something that everyone excelled at, and all of us got the ‘A-HA’ moment for at least one puzzle each, which felt like a very fair share This was our first bar in a while which we didn’t need to check any hints for, so we were very proud of ourselves for clicking with this one so well.

And the flavour? Slightly warming, but not too spicy. A great mix of the fresh lime and warming chilli, which pairs perfectly with the richness of dark chocolate. As a dark bar, it’s also dairy-free so perfect for vegans and those less tolerant to the lactose. All in all a great bar once again!

 

Sea No Evil

Flavour: Sea Salt Milk Chocolate
Completion Time: 30 minutes
Date Played: 3rd December 2022
Party Size: 1

As with all Chocolateral bars, there’s drama and mystery afoot. This time, the peculiar case of a cage left overnight at the zoo and in it’s wake, not one but three missing monkeys. My mission was simple: Find the monkeys, find their stash of bananas, and find the name of the staff member who forgot to lock their cage the night before.

In typical Enigmailed fashion, I’d have my work cut out, and in typical me-fashion, I refused to let myself eat the chocolate until I’d cracked the codes. With my “zoo hat” on, it was time to get down to business. No time for monkeying around!

With Sea No Evil, the best tactic is to examine the bar front to back. Take stock of what you see and wait for the patterns to emerge. There are around four self-contained puzzles total. There’s also (I believe) a secret 5th puzzle which I didn’t solve. Within this boundary, plenty to discover. In particular there was one symbol-based puzzle that I definitely overthought, and so having an extra pair of eyes on hand in my case proved useful. I turned to my partner and said “what do you think?“, to which they spotted the solution immediately. It just goes to show… Chocolate is best shared!

Once past the symbol puzzle, the others varied in difficulty from “Got it!“, to “I know what this is and how to solve it I just need to do it“, to “Lets just have a cheeky clue or two“.

Finally, the flavour? Absolutely delicious! Sea salt is a personal favourite of mine and Enigmailed did not disappoint. It’s perfectly salty (perhaps slightly saltier than the average ‘sea salt milk chocolate’), but for fans of the flavour the balance between sweet and savoury beautifully hit the spot. I’ll be back to reorder this specific Chocolateral flavour in a heart-beat.

 

 

Fight for Your White

Flavour: White Chocolate
Completion Time: 30 minutes
Date Played: 3rd December 2022
Party Size: 1

What do you get when you cross delicious chocolates, tricky puzzles, with a cow-theme? A Chocolateral bar that’s absolutely packed with a-moo-sing cow puns!

Now, white chocolate isn’t usually my thing but I decided to pair it into a puzzling morning as I also took on my very favourite flavour: Sea Salt Milk Chocolate! All in all, a successful time cracking the codes of both games in one sitting. After successfully finding the monkeys, I turned my sights to another animal: The Cow. This time, an illegal rave took place in the old dairy barn in town. My mission was simple: Find out who organised it, what music they were playing, how did they keep an eye on the path, and where tickets were being sold.

On balance, Fight for your White was probably a slight bit harder than Sea No Evil, but they’re otherwise not totally comparable. Different puzzles, different styles, different taste of course. But in the same way as it’s salty counterpart, I relied on a second pair of eyes to crack some of the trickier codes here. Now, my regular Player 2 doesn’t usually engage with puzzle solving, he’s the bemused witness to the endless puzzle packages I receive in the post. However with Chocolateral comes the promise of chocolate once I correctly solve it – so he’s eager to hop in when I need help. More help means a larger share of the bar, right?

So puzzles aside, onto the taste. Again, perfection. The sustainably sourced cocoa is produced in Cornwall, so it hasn’t travelled far from my plate and retains all it’s delicious creaminess – fitting, for a bar of chocolate about cows!

 

 

About the Chocolate

The chocolate manufacturer is Kernow Chocolate, created and hand-packed in Cornwall, UK. If you need any evidence of all the love and care gone into creating this chocolate, just look at the list of ingredients! I’ve never seen a shorter ingredient list in my life – it’s all totally natural, not a chemical in sight.

Even without the puzzles, I already find myself browsing the manufacturer’s website to see what else they sell. It was that tasty, and I feel great about supporting a local UK business.

 

 

You can purchase a Chocolateral Bar over on Enigmailed’s website here, and also use the promocode MAIL10 for 10% off an order of Undeliverable!

 

Top Escape Rooms: Rockstar Swan Song | Review

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Top Escape Rooms: Swan Song Review | Dean Waylon is the front man of the band – Us, Them, Or Dean. Tonight, they will be performing the kick-off show of their concert run at the Colosseum Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Checking in Dean’s dressing room, his manager finds Dean’s personal belongings, but no sign of Dean. Find the clues and solve the puzzles as you retrace the career of Dean Waylon. If you’re quick, you can get the scoop on his disappearance before security catches you.

Completion Time: 59:00
Date Played: 8th October 2022
Party Size: 3

About Top Escape Rooms

Rockstar Swan Song is one of five escape rooms provided Top Escape Rooms in Holt Heath, Worcestershire. The room is based on the touring band Us, Them Or Dean and their frontman called…. *checks notes* Dean; whom has gone missing before a Las Vegas show and we need to locate him!

This was supposed to be a party size of 4. However one of the party was ill, therefore 3 of us had to take to the stage instead!

Poster (c) Top Escape Rooms

Before We Begin…

The party consisted of myself and 2 friends who all share two things in common… our love of the Netflix series Cobra Kai and that we are all current/former music professionals.

Another thing… my teamies had never done an escape room before. As an escape room ambassador, I’ve got to get this right and not scare them off! When I saw this music-themed room advertised I booked it post-haste.

Poster (c) Top Escape Rooms

I’ve Lost My Frontman…

Our GM was welcoming and friendly. He explained that the game was linear, allowing us to fully focus on the task in hand. We then passed round a directional lock (see below) for familiarity, giving us a practice go on them to get a tactile feel of how they work. This was great, especially as my two teamies had not used one before.

The GM then spoke about his own background of working in the music industry. This was interesting in itself and I didn’t even realise the fluid change into the backstory of the game; until it actually happened(!) Next thing we know, we have been tasked with finding his frontman Dean, as the show was to begin in one hour.

We were given our backstage/dressing room passes, alongside a digital notepad and the timer starts to tick away!

Pay Attention Russ…

Mental Note. Don’t steamroll the room. I had to make myself not get too involved and at times, stand back to allow my teamies to experience as much escape room fun as they possibly could…. otherwise the escape room gods would never forgive me.

This Felt Too Familiar…

I’ve been there before. About to go on stage and a band member (usually the frontperson!) has gone for a walk without telling anyone. The rest of the band now sweating bullets and arguing about who is going to sing in their place…

The dressing room was very thematic; there was that feeling of a bare room being dressed-up for it’s specific habitant at the time, ready for it to be changed for the next performer in minimal turnaround time. On one wall, were three very distinctive touring posters of the band from years past. Each one, telling a story (and a puzzle) of what happened and what is to come.

All but one of the puzzles were padlock based. The one, was an electronic-based, fader/mixer type puzzle with an amplifier. It looked incredibly authentic and had the biggest wow factor. I personally would like to have seen more electronic-based puzzles, especially considering how much electronics are used in a musician’s day-to-day life! The types of puzzles included, but not limited to; map-reading, wordplay, maths, light-based and musical.

I’ve Never Heard “Helpful” And “Stage Manager” Put In a Sentence Together…

When we were stuck and needed a hint, an electric guitar chord would strike and the stage manager would leave us a tailored message under the countdown clock. The hints were useful and relevant, however in some cases; unsolicited. There were times, I feel, if the stage manager had let us have another moment or so to reflect, we would have solved the focussed set-piece on our own.

My suggestion would be to Top Escape Rooms for all their games; to ask how much input the hint-giver should provide to the team before the game begins.

*Internally Panics*

With around 12 minutes to go, I felt we were doing rather well….

Until we opened a padlock to a second room.

At this point, I internally panicked.

“We have 12 minutes to solve another room?!”

Well, it was two puzzles total. However, that revelation turned me from a semi-seasoned escaper, into a fumbling idiot. The majority of work for the last two set pieces was done by my teamies, who once again, had never done an escape room before. (Well done Russ, you’re letting the whole escape room industry down here….)

To their credit however, they pulled us (me) through with one minute to spare.

As much as the first room was thematically and immersivity beautiful, the second room felt bare in comparison. Firstly, because there were only two puzzles, it felt unbalanced from a weighting perspective. Secondly, the walls were blank with one poster, that didn’t really add to the theming or immersion in any way; it lacked the personality the first room had. It wasn’t a complete deal-breaker, but the overall experience was certainly reduced because of this.

As you can see, my music career was short-lived, based on the way I held a guitar…

For The Music Dreamer Or Virtuoso?

My escape newbie teamies found the room not too easy and not too difficult. Therefore, this would be a perfect choice for someone who hasn’t played an escape room before. More seasoned players however, might find (particularly the first few) aspects of the room, to not be challenging enough.

The puzzle designs (again, particularly with the first few) are almost-all quite common and have been often used in already existing escape rooms. There are also two maths-based puzzles. There is a calculator in the room, however if you are really adverse to them, the second of the two may cause frustration…

The music based puzzle however, was very innovative. That being said, we collectively agreed that it may completely stump a team with zero musical intuition.

Unfortunately however, this room is now retired! We were the very last team to play it!

Touring Is Expensive!

For a party of 4 as we intended, this room cost £17.50 per person. This is a solid price point, however big thanks to Top Escape Rooms for handing me a £10 voucher to use for a future game in light of our poorly 4th player. This kind of customer service is greatly appreciated and I have already booked two further rooms here in the upcoming months as a result of this gesture.

Rating

Overall, Top Escape Rooms have a solid room in Rockstar Swan Song. It is a great one for beginners, with its linear design and organic learning curve. The second room falls a little bit flat, however the first room has a strong thematic and authentic take on the dressing room of an actual touring musician, which was a welcome sight for us as a team of musicians.

My teamies both enjoyed themselves and are looking to do another escape room closer to Christmas time. I’m counting that as a mission successful from an ambassador point of view!

Top Escape Rooms’s Rockstar Swan Song is now retired, but their other games can be booked by heading to their website here.

Arcadium Adventures: A Most Mysterious Convention | Review

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Arcadium Adventures: A Most Mysterious Convention Review | Chapter One in Arcadium’s Most Mysterious Cases, now you can enjoy more of the intrigue, the mysteries and the stories from wherever you are! This experience is a most enjoyable way to spend an afternoon or evening at home and can even be used as greeting card or gift.

Date Played: August 2022
Time Taken: ~1 hr
Number of Players: 2
Difficulty: Comfortable

After taking a long break – mostly spent moving house from London to Edinburgh – I was excited to return back to the world of puzzle games! They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Well this saying is definitely true for all things escape room, board game and a combination of the two (like this one).

Having settled down, I couldn’t wait to invite fellow puzzler Rebecca round for an afternoon of puzzling. The very first game in our list came all the way over from Arcadium Adventures in Australia. Arcadium Adventures is a brick-and-mortar escape room based in Brisbane who specialise in all things magic and mystery. For book lovers and adventure afficionados, they also have a series of “play at home escape rooms” whose names all begin with “A Most Mysterious…”

Over the course of two hours, broken in the middle by lunch, we played through both Chapter One and Chapter Two of Arcadium Adventures’ series. Here’s how we got on:

 

 

A Mysterious Box Arrives

The first thing to note about Arcadium Adventures is the boxes they arrive in… So small, yet so much fun! Chapter One was about the size of a small paperback, so it fit perfectly through my letterbox. It’s a good quality box, very sturdy and lightweight. However, if you wanted to play the game but didn’t want to pay postage, the company also offers the games as digital downloads. I’m assuming these would be a PDF version of all the printed materials we received. A few items may need to be printed out, but mostly there’s no reason it couldn’t be played online.

Inside, we opened it up to discover a wealth of different pieces of paper and clippings all that related to our mystery at hand. A black envelope sealed with a wax stamp titled “Begin Here” points to where (and how) to get started. Inside this envelope was an introductory, expositional piece. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was simple:

 

ARCANACON – The Annual Mystery Convention

ARCANACON is the fictional (awww!) annual mystery convention and sadly we were not able to attend this year. However, the organisers of ARCANACON have sent us a letter with a secret message. Across the materials about the convention is a puzzle to be solved. If we manage to solve everything, we’ll uncover the secret message.

The ARCANACON Radio was also available to us which, we were pleasantly surprised to discover wasn’t just music but also a true radio-style broadcast that occasionally interrupted our play with fun messages. We also had access to a webpage which provided recipes, a chatbot, additional hints, and a place to input our answers.

The creators of Arcadium Adventures really outdid themselves with all the little extra details, and we appreciated those a lot! They added an extra level of immersion to the whole experience. I only hope that one day ARCANACON will be a real life thing we can actually attend. Now that would be fun!

 

 

Puzzles & Papercraft

In terms of the puzzles, the structure of the game was quite simple. Every puzzle was tackled in isolation and every puzzle gave a digit output that at the end of the game would be strung together to reveal the secret message. Whilst this is a fairly common ‘secret message delivery system’ regular players will recognise from other games out there, Arcadium Adventures required a 23 digit code. The more digits, the more room for error… And there was a little bit of error on our part. Such as accidentally mixing up the order of two puzzles, or making small typos when relaying the 23 digits. But nothing we couldn’t overcome after a few attempts.

In terms of those individual puzzles, there was a range of different puzzle types. There were some folding puzzles, plenty of cipher puzzles, puzzles where you had to overlay one material onto another, logic puzzles, and so on and so on.

Overall we’d probably say that both the game’s puzzles and it’s overall input wasn’t particularly innovative. For starters, we both agreed that every puzzle in the game we’d seen somewhere else before – but that does come with the territory when you play hundreds and hundreds, so I can’t fault them there. But more than this there was an overall sense of the objects being quite random, and their solutions feeling a little forced. There’s a lot of discourse in the industry I won’t get into here about mimetic and diegetic puzzles, so I’ll just distil that down into “the vibes” were a little off.

But that’s not to say we didn’t have fun, and this would be an excellent introductory game to somebody who has never played a “play at home escape room”. The creators should be very proud for building a well balanced and enjoyable puzzle game.

 

Image (C) Arcadium Adventures

 

The Verdict

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the first of the Arcadium Adventures games. It was good for at least an hour’s worth of puzzling fun, set within a quirky story about a mystery convention, and really pushed us to think outside of the box on some of the puzzles. It’s a great quality box with a wealth of fun details inside. As mentioned, we’d recommend this game for beginners who want to try their hand at a ‘play at home escape room’. It’s a good level of difficulty to be challenging in parts and satisfying in others.

There is room for improvement for sure, but as the company continues to make more adventures like these I’ve no doubt they’ll get better!

 

A Most Mysterious Convention can be purchased from Arcadium Adventures’ shop here.

Treasure Trails: Kidderminster | Review

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Treasure Trails: Kidderminster Review | Police intelligence has discovered a plot by international carpet thieves to target a unique collection of extremely valuable carpets secured for a charity event. The Midlands Crime Agency has put together a list of suspect volunteers… they need YOU, our best detectives to help catch the Carpetbaggers!

Kidderminster? Where’s That?

I can already hear you asking that question. First off, Kidderminster is my hometown. It is located in the West Midlands approximately 25 miles south-west of Birmingham.

More importantly however, the history and heritage. Kidderminster is historically known for two main things: carpet factories and Rowland Hill, the creator of the first ever postage stamp; The Penny Black.

Today, I have been tasked with undertaking Treasure Trails: Kidderminster. As a Kidderminster native, I have brought a friend (Alakazam) along, who is not from Kidderminster to help me. Is this a good idea? We shall find out!

One more thing… I made sure I was suitably dressed!

 

 

What’s Inside a Treasure Trails Booklet?

The adventure trail is formed as a nice, tidy, A5 size booklet. The first two pages have the introduction, briefing and safety notes, alongside the hint system for when you get stuck.

The objective is to deduct clue-by-clue, who is the Carpetbaggers insider and what weapon they used during the heist. On the back of the booklet are a list of suspects and potential weapons to eliminate.

The hint/answer system is text message based. Each clue in the booklet has a unique reference number to send. There, you receive the answer (up to a maximum of 3) with the details of where the answer lies.

There is also a bonus A3 activity sheet for children to fill in and play with outside of the trail itself, which is a welcome addition; what kid doesn’t like free stuff?!

 

 

The booklet also includes where to begin and where to park your car (if you arrived via car!).

Off we go to clue 1!

 

…Are We Going The Right Way?

Right off the bat with the first clue, we came across a stumbling block. We couldn’t access the area where the answer lay due to the building being cornered off by metal grate fencing. Not to worry we thought, we can at least look through the grating and see if we can find the answer we are looking for…

Again no sadly. The answer was covered by a large amount of wild foliage, it took our eyes to squint really hard to find the answer. See below: I’m not one for giving answers away but this one is nigh impossible to find without using the answer system at this point in time.

 

 

Moving on to clue 2, we had another stumbling block. Namely, this sign.

 

 

Ok so we weren’t drivers per se, but it did make be feel nervous passing this sign to get to the next clue. The answer to clue 2 was a little difficult to find due to erosion, however once we found what we needed we swiftly returned to the public pathway!

 

A Shaky Start But Uphill From Here!

From clue 3 onwards, its was mostly enjoyable. Clues involved walking around Kidderminster’s largest church site (and finding lush greenery round the back that I had never seen before!), walking along a canal and seeing Kidderminster’s oldest secular building. More importantly, both the old carpet factories and Rowland Hill are referenced towards the last half of the trail. In terms of theming and historical research, I can’t fault it. Furthermore, it gave me the gift of standing still and truly taking in the wonderful architectural designs and nuances of Kidderminster’s industrial history.  

The puzzles themselves are primarily observational (sharp eyes are required due to some erosion), alongside code-cracking. These are ideal for families as per the recommendation on the front of the booklet. The route that the trail takes you is mostly linear with the exception of the end…

 

The Last Leg Of The Trail

For the final four clues, the trail changed from being completely linear to more criss-cross. As a result of this, we struggled with where to go/what to look for and used up 2 of our 3 clue/answer limit. I feel that the last four clues could have been rearranged to be completed in a linear fashion and it wouldn’t have caused any problems with the endgame.

 

 

For The Kidderminster Native Or Newbie?

As it says on the trail’s booklet, this is perfect for families to do. It has a small learning curve, you just need to be ok with a look of looking around and occasionally, checking your phone online for some bits of outside knowledge. Furthermore, because there is a competition to win £100 in a monthly prize draw if you submit the correct suspect and weapon, the maximum amount of answers you can get from the clue system is 3. To get around this, I would suggest taking 2 (or more) phones with you to get more answers if required. This is especially important if obstacles like for clues 1 and 2 become more apparent.

As mentioned in the booklet also, please be advised that the trail has accessibility issues and is not recommended for wheelchair or pram/buggy users.

The trail is priced at £9.99 for approximately 2 hours of activity time plus the additional activity sheet included. This is a good price point overall.

 

 

The Verdict

Whilst I wholly appreciate the input of the trail’s design (ie: setting up the clues, using actual Kidderminster historical information and turning it into clues), there are some sustainability issues that will naturally occur in this town (or any for that matter) where routes can become blocked off, over the course of time. That being said, it is on the whole, a great way to spend 2 hours around a town with a rich depth of heritage.

 

If you want to play the Kidderminster Treasure Trail, head to their website here.

Studio Stamp: On Circus Grounds | Review

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On Circus Grounds Review | 1883, Circus Maester in Dalfsen, the Netherlands. Right in the middle of his opening speech Nicolaas Maester collapses in front of the audience. The ringmaster of Circus Maester appears to have been murdered. It doesn’t take long for somebody to be arrested and for the case to be closed.

Date Played: July 2022
Time Taken: ~2 hours
Number of Players: 3
Difficulty: Hard

 

A new Kickstarter game?! Argh! Take all of my money! 2022 has been an excellent year for Kickstarters honestly… From Ruff Bluff, to Unsolved Science, to PostCurious’ Light in the Mist, to Curious Correspondence’s Doomensions. But now we have another, just as exciting game to look forward to from the brilliant minds of Studio Stamp: On Circus Grounds. The best part of this one is that it’s already been released in Dutch as Meester, 1883 to rave reviews and a solid 8.7 on Board Game Geek.

From the moment our box arrived and I popped it open on our table, I knew we’d be in for something very special. A small box, yes, but an in calculable number of beautiful documents came pouring out. A locket, a little vial, scrolls upon scrolls. Studio Stamp’s attention to detail is *chefs kiss*, and we couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

 

 

Come One, Come All

Roll up, roll up, for Nicolaas Maester presents a circus night like no other. Enchanting dancers, lion tamers, fortune tellers, and death defying stunts… But tonight is not a night like any other. Tonight the ringmaster of the circus suddenly, in the middle of the show, collapses dead. The case goes cold, the evidence grows dusty on a shelf, and soon society forgets the curious case on the circus grounds. That is until the mysterious box packed with evidence arrives on your, the player’s, doorstep. Can you crack the cold case and identify the true culprit of that fateful night?

If you couldn’t tell, On Circus Grounds is a lot more in the category of “murder mystery” than “escape room”. For starters, you’re not really escaping anything. For seconds, the experience is all about deduction and paying close attention. There is a medley of characters each with motives as compelling as the other. But to succeed in this case you have to pay close attention to everything they write and every little detail about their person.

Sure, there are quite a few puzzles in the game too, and I think Studio Stamp does a good job of balancing puzzles against story, but more on that later! For now it’s important to know that you’re not looking for a specific number combination or word output. No, the puzzling is softer. In the introduction letter, the game sets out four key questions to answer:

  • Who murdered Nicolaas Maester?
  • What was their motive?
  • What object was used to commit the murder?
  • If applicable, how did the culprit gain access to it?

So, no pressure, hey!

 

 

Roll Up, Roll Up

I chose to play On Circus Grounds in a team of 3 players over a quiet evening, each of us with varying levels of experience in solving games like this, and each of us at various levels into our glass of wine. Given that circumstance, I will say that we definitely struggled with this game. We struggled first with who was who, and then with who did what, and after quite a bit of arguing we weren’t 100% sure on the ‘correct’ answer to input into the website in the end. It’s a murder mystery, but it’s a deeply complex one that should challenge even the most seasoned puzzle enthusiasts.

But the flip side is, this isn’t the first time our very specific team has struggled with a murder mystery case in a box, as regular readers might remember from The Fire in Adlerstein. So I will say perhaps murder mysteries just aren’t quite for us, and that’s okay.

But unlike all the other murder mysteries in a box we’ve ever played, this one had a LOT going for it. For starters, it’s packed with puzzles. A lot of the information is just given in plain text, but a lot more must be solved before it can be used. Think ciphers, folding puzzles, reading maps and so on. So there was never a boring moment in the whole game. For seconds, the quality of the materials was absolutely gorgeous. No, seriously. I kind of want to take the whole game and frame it, it’s that pretty! I’ve never encountered a box with such a consistent level of high quality materials and I cannot believe the retail price is under €50. For that money you get so much material, lovingly hand-made and hand packed, and beautiful to spread out over the table.

 

Puzzling through the Circus

So this is The Escape Roomer, we have to talk about the puzzles! Puzzles, there are plenty.

Overall, players can expect to encounter a few different ‘types’ of puzzles. But, this being a game consisting of mostly paper, these puzzles usually fell on the side of ‘cipher’ or word style puzzles which, if I have to admit, erred on the longer side to decode. In general, I can’t over-emphasise how much reading there is to do. We often found it hard to know exactly what to do to tease out the secret message or the secret author of the text, but a quick check of the hints page usually set us along the right way. That said, in many more moments we knew exactly how to decode a puzzle but found the contents of the text so lengthy we again consulted the hints to skip a little manual decoding time.

But when they weren’t lengthy ciphers, the puzzles were great fun! My favourite in the whole game involved a little jar of a curious concoction we needed to take to our kitchen and mix. Whilst it didn’t work perfectly (I blame the unseasonably hot weather we’ve had here in the UK), we understood how it worked and were delighted by the physicality of it. Any puzzle that surprises and delights is a double thumbs up from us.

Mostly, the puzzle output for each item in our box was looking for a connection between two people, or a motive and a person, or so on, but we got there in the end… Sort of, anyway! After 2 hours of sorting and resorting through everything we knew, drawing timelines and striking names off pieces of paper… We were ready to make our deduction! We promptly headed to the linked website to answer a few questions on a futuristic AI style of police database.

Only… We got it wrong!

Whoops… The wrong suspect sentenced to prison? Well this is a cold case and all the suspects are long gone. So, thankfully the game’s finale let us re-choose our answers until we finally got them correct, and we were able to experience the fun finale as it was intended.

 

 

The Verdict

So, we didn’t succeed, but I think that’s okay. Unlike traditional escape games in a box where the answer is super clear, murder mysteries deal in deduction and nuance and small details and meticulous note-taking. Which are all things we’re not so great at. But, the most important part was that we had fun playing the game. A lot of fun in fact! There was plenty for a team of 3 to get along with, and some brilliant moments of discussion between us as we ironed out details. The game is beautiful, the puzzles enjoyable, and I have no doubt this will be a fan-favourite for many armchair detectives for years to come. A round of applause for Studio Stamp, and I highly recommend checking this game out on Kickstarter.

 

On Circus Grounds can be purchased in Dutch via Studio Stamp’s website here. For the English version, back their Kickstarter.

The Goonies: Escape With One-Eyed Willy’s Rich Stuff | Review

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The Goonies: Escape with One-Eyed Willy’s Rich Stuff takes players on an epic adventure through the trap-filled caverns of Astoria, Oregon. Using the treasure hunting skills of the Goonies, players will navigate their way to finding One-Eyed Willy’s rich stuff! Can you get the gang to the Inferno, nab the treasure, and get to freedom all while staying one step ahead of the nefarious Fratelli family?

Completion Time: 3-4 hours
Date Played: August 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

It’s widely reported that Cyndi Lauper hated her song The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough. Lauper had recorded it specifically for The Goonies but ended up leaving it off her album and even refused to play it live for a while. To be honest, when I first thought back to the film, I barely remembered the track ever being present. However, I recently stumbled upon a cover by Radical Face that, on first listen, instantly made me recall the movie. It’s a great version of the song. I recommend giving it a listen. Though, I probably like it so much because of the connection to the film. That’s nostalgia for you, I guess.

Nostalgia is certainly a powerful tool. Being able to take a beloved brand and attach it to your product is certain to raise its appeal for many and that’s exactly what this Coded Chronicles game has had the opportunity to do with one of the best-loved movies of the 80s. The Goonies is a film that I remember fondly. Not only for its epic content, but because it was part of my childhood. A time when I was likely forming my passion for puzzles and escapes. A time when I innocently thought a pair of wind-up teeth on a spring could hold the weight of child. A time when I didn’t creak like an Ent whenever I attempted to move before 7:30am. Needless to say, I was looking forward to this…

Getting Started

Comedy, adventure, fiendish traps, implausible gadgets, catchphrases that would be bellowed for decades to come… the Goonies had it all, and on setting up Escape with One-Eyed Willy’s Rich Stuff it’s clear that a lot of what made the film so memorable has been replicated within the box. The styling and inclusion of so many familiar elements set the scene well and instantly reassures that this treasured IP will be treated well.

Getting started is simple. Like the film itself, you start out with only an old (laminated) map, a suspiciously shaped (cardboard) doubloon, and a sense of adventure. Unlike the film, you also have small tokens representing the characters, a pile of mystery envelopes that vary in pudginess, and narrative journals for each of the titular Goonies.

Yes, of course, the gang’s all here. Brand, Andy, Mouth, Stef, Data, Mikey, Chunk and Sloth all feature and each has their own ability that you’ll need to take advantage of should you want to get your mitts on the rich stuff. That in mind, although Goonies is playable solo, it felt apt that I formed my own posse – one of whom possessed their own unique skill of having never watched the film, making the Truffle Shuffle something of a new experience. This ultimately proved savvy as some of the more verbose characters demand a fair amount of reading and dividing the journals between the group allowed for roles to be played, the work to be split, and the scenarios to form more naturally.

Playing The Goonies: Escape with One-Eyed Willy’s Rich Stuff

These narrative journals are at the core of this game. You want Mikey to explore an element of a recently revealed tunnel? You add his character number to the respective area code and read that section of his journal. You want Brand to use a knife to cut a rope? You add his character number to the combined item digits and read his related excerpt to discover what happens next. Combine/take/lift the wrong thing and odds are the Fratelli gang will move closer to your location and eventually cause a penalty to be added when you arrive at the end of the third and final act.

As mentioned, while everyone gets a time to shine. Some characters are used far more/better than others. Stef’s sassy ‘explain’ ability, for example, feels a little bolted on and is usually unnecessary once Mikey has swept through and explored everything thoroughly. However, the way Data’s quirky gadgets are implemented is a highlight as these are activated through separate puzzle cards that you can use when the situation suits. While occasionally essential for progress, they can also help by slowing down the Fratelli family and moving them away from your location if you use them in the right place. An excellent way of making use of one of the more unique characters who has true abilities beyond generically picking up and using things.

The Verdict

The Goonies is an amazing way to spend 3-4 hours and, thanks to some convenient breaks that are built into the story, it’s easy to cut the experience into chunks if you prefer to take smaller bites. Some smart puzzles really pull the rug from under you at times, which is a wonderful feeling when you’re searching for codes and not expecting anything more tangible. Even the player among us who had never seen the film was impressed with the overall theming and high-quality puzzles. Nostalgia helps, but it’s not the only trick Escape with One-Eyed Willy’s Rich Stuff has crammed up its sleeve. It’s excellent in its own right and certainly worth experiencing with a gaggle of your closest puzzle/adventure loving pals.

Head to The Op’s website to purchase the game for yourself.

36 Inch Penguin: The Society | Review

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The Nayland Rock Hotel, once Margate’s most glamorous destination, visited by the rich and famous. A downstairs bar, The Crescent Suite, hosted regular meetings of a little known Society. When the Hotel closed for renovations in the 1980’s the Society and the bar’s Landlady vanished without a trace.

​The Crescent Suite never reopened.

​For years rumours have persisted of valuable items hidden away in the suite and then, with the death of an American man in 2021, clues came to light of those items whereabouts. The dead man’s children, The Twins, live in the US and can’t come to find them themselves, but…

​…with the help of a friendly security guard they can get you inside.

​Can you help ?

Date Played: 23 April 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: ~40 Minutes
Difficulty: Medium

 

We slid into Margate’s The Society on the back of a four escape room day.  We’d played Quick-E-Mart, Detention, Frankenscape and Spacescape at Ctrl Alt Delete back to back, with the time so tight between the end of Spacescape and the start time for The Society that we’d had to throw ourselves in a cab and make a desperate dash across Margate’s seafront.  We literally fell in through the door at the Nayland Rock Hotel, brains fried, energy depleted, a little dazed and confused.  Luckily the “friendly security guard” who met us took pity on us and let us grab a quick breather and chocolate snack. So we were soonfuelled up and ready to get back on the escape room treadmill.

Atmosphere

The pause also meant we had a bit of headspace to take in our surroundings.  And it’s definitely worth the pause to absorb it.  Because The Society takes place in a unique environ.  This isn’t an escape room carved out of an industrial space, a warehouse or railway arch, an empty office building or high street shop front.  This isn’t an escape room that’s repurposed a space that has no connection to its story.  This is a game that takes place in an actual abandoned, empty hotel.

Built in 1895 it was once a famous seafront holiday destination, where Charlie Chaplin vacationed and where Mick Jagger hosted his parents’ Golden Wedding anniversary party.  But now the hotel is a shadow of its former self.  When cheap overseas holidays lured us Brits away from our seaside towns, once fashionable resorts like Margate fell into a decline and hotels like the Nayland Rock struggled to survive. 

The doors closed in the 1980s and while a room or two is still rented out (I think), on the day we visited, most of it was empty apart from some of the larger rooms being used as prop storage for the shoot of Sam Mendes’ upcoming “Theatre of Light”.  There are apparently plans to renovate the whole hotel and try and return it to its former glory, but for now it’s a ghostly shell and the perfect space for a creepy (but not scary) ER.

Down into the Bar

And when 36 Inch Penguin’s publicity material say that you’ll be exploring a hotel bar that hasn’t been touched for nearly 40 years, they really mean it.  There’s a real visceral thrill in being given a couple of small torches (don’t worry more lighting comes on later) and pointed in the direction of some ropey looking stairs down to a dark and ominous basement bar.  Before you head off to investigate you first need to listen to a recording from ‘The Twins’ who’ve hired you to explore the hotel.  Now I’m not massively keen on ERs that lean heavily on narrative and expect you to wade through a lot of reading material.  I want to be playing puzzles, not reading essays.  But paying attention to the recording at this point is kind of important for everything that follows.  From then on in the narrative is delivered in fairly small doses, often in quite intriguing and unusual fashion, and which are easy to digest and don’t feel like roadblocks in the way of the puzzle flow.

Once you’re inside the bar, the unique location of a real hotel space really comes into its own.  Despite being a real, historical location, the escape room designers haven’t just stuck a load of padlocked boxes in the middle of the room to figure out.  This escape room directly engages with the space it is in.  The narrative is part of the fabric of the room itself and the actual fabric of the room is sometimes a literal part of the puzzle.  It feels really good to be able to get properly hands on with physical puzzles that are built into the historic rooms themselves.  One of them had me asking “the hotel owners really let the designer do that?”.  But they did.  And it’s great fun.

Hand Crafted and Theatrical

In terms of puzzles, there aren’t a vast number and my escape room enthusiast team of two moved through it fairly quickly, but there were several puzzles I had not seen in any other escape room I’ve played.  They were clearly lovingly handmade puzzles, both small and large.  At one point you get to see the mechanical back of the puzzle you’ve just solved and I was wowed by the craft behind it.  There is theatrical ingenuity on display here and when you look at the designers’ history as creators of immersive theatre that’s really no surprise.  The room definitely has ‘atmosphere’ and is probably the most genuinely immersive escape room experience I’ve had.  The theatricality means that there’s the right level of creepiness (at least for me) without being a full on scare or horror room.  All the creeps come from the shadowy spaces and your own (over-active) imagination.

The sound design is also a huge factor in this game, again thanks to the theatrical background of 36 Inch Penguin I suspect.  At one point I genuinely thought we were going to be finding actual live actors in the space because the sound design was so effective. And if you’re an 80s kid like me, you will love the music design too.  It’s hard to resist just enjoying the disco even when you’re supposed to be puzzle solving.

For me, this room had the almost perfect blend of narrative, searching, small hand held puzzle props and larger physical puzzles.  One part of the game involves a physical challenge (but not a difficult one) that only one member of the team can do as the other watches.  As the one doing the watching in my team it was hilarious.  I’ll say no more because it would be a spoiler but I was crying with laughter as my teammate valiantly carried on.

The Verdict

I was worried that playing The Society as the last game of five in a single day would mean that I was too tired or brain fried to enjoy it.  But it is such a great experience that I left totally buzzing.  For enthusiasts the complexity of the puzzles might not be too challenging (although a few did leave us head scratching for a while) but the atmosphere, the cleverness and creativity behind the puzzles and the physical interaction with a genuine space are massive plus points.  I’m a huge immersive theatre addict and could feel the strong immersive credentials of 36 Inch Penguin at play here.  The joy is as much in the atmosphere as the puzzling.  I really hope the designers are already working on their next immersive escape room experience because I will genuinely be the first in the queue.

As the Nayland Rock Hotel is scheduled to be refurbished at some point, there’s always a chance that The Society might have to move out and move on.  I suspect the gameplay will be just as excellent even in a new location, but you can’t replicate the environment that the game is currently in.  It is a character in its own right.  So get down to Margate without delay!

The Society is currently open for bookings between 22 July and 4 September 2022.  You can read more and book here

Escape Tales: The Book of Rituals | Review

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The Book of Rituals is an interactive puzzle book. As an adept of alchemy, you will learn the secrets of elements and alchemical ingredients to perform powerful rituals. Start your mystical journey now and become a Master of ancient magic!

Completion Time: 10-12 hours
Date Played: June 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

 

Water and alcohol are among the more recognisable ingredients you might find in sun cream. There are many others, but I can’t pronounce them, so it seems wrong to copy the spelling from the back of a bottle and expect someone else’s brain to do the work. H.A. Milton Blake is credited with its creation and – as the Crown paint colour chart places my skin tone somewhere between ‘Writing Paper’ and ‘Fresh Coconut’ – I’m very glad he put in the hours. I was in Spain while I battled with the Book of Rituals. It was 38 degrees. Never has the combination of those ingredients been so needed. Or so I thought…

 

 

Blake dabbled in chemistry, of course, and in the Book of Rituals we’re instead dealing in the more archaic branch of ‘shoving-stuff-together-to-see-what-happens’ known as alchemy. Water and alcohol are still very important here. So are 29 other ingredients, and each requires a puzzle to be solved to learn its true name and value. All these ingredients will be required if you want to tackle the 13 daunting rituals that cover the final pages with any hope of success. Only then will you fully understand this mysterious book.

I say mysterious as this is not your book. At least, you’re not the first owner. Someone else has contributed to these pages packed with elements, ingredients and rituals. Footnotes, ramblings, corrections and improvements have been jotted down to aid you in solving the puzzles and avoiding the supposed corruption the book threatens. A sort of Half-Blood Prince’s Advanced Potion-Making/Darkhold hybrid if you fancy a couple of popular culture reference stickers to slap on the cover.

 

Taming the Book of Rituals

The format is simple but fulfilling. Each element poses a puzzle. The top right corner will let you know which other ingredients (if any) you need to have solved already to put that puzzle together. These may well be later in the book, so there’s no order to speak of. You tackle them in whatever sequence you’re able to with the ingredients you have available. The inclusion of a question mark in your required ingredients list means that the book itself must be used in some way – and these puzzles are a true highlight of this beautifully put together and well-thought-out title.

Each correct solution you enter into the slick website will reward you with a true name and number to write into the fold out section on the back cover. Gradually filling it in is satisfying, but reliance on the site to get to these answers does means that an internet connection is required to make progress. The same website also holds any hints you might need, as well as occasional further information on the formatting of answers.

As you go backwards and forwards through the pages adding your own notes and mistakes to the ones already put in place by the previous owner, it does feel chaotic and immersive. That’s the point. Errors and ruined pages are almost inevitable – something that’s recognised by the creators by way of copies of the key puzzle tables and grids being repeated at the back of the book. Perfect for additional attempts once the originals become indecipherable.

 

The Verdict

The focus in the Book of Rituals is definitely on quality. 45 honed puzzles that, at times, require a huge amount of thinking is certainly preferable to an inconsistent dump of teasers that goes on forever. There’s zero fat on this book. No filler. The puzzles are so well-designed that you know that each is solvable without huge leaps of logic, meaning the temptation to dip into the hints felt non-existent.

I think that’s close to the highest praise I can give. There’s no need to rush. It’s never too daunting or boring. Hints were the last thing on my mind over the week it took me to slowly chip my way through. For those that have done a lot of puzzle books then, sure, there are a few well-trodden ideas contained within, but that’s simply the limitations of the format. What we have here are clever puzzles, laid out in an excellent way, that are sure to provide plenty of entertainment to those that like a challenge.

You can purchase the Book of Rituals here.