Natural History Museum: Mystery at the Museum – The Search for Dippy | Review

Mystery at the Museum: The Search for Dippy Review | The year is 1905 and you have been invited to a special preview of the newest display at the Natural History Museum – ‘Dippy the Diplodocus’.  But when you arrive the curators are in a panic and you realise something is amiss – you’ve found a note that tells you several parts of Dippy the Diplodocus are going to be stolen before the display opens!  Follow the clues around the Museum, question the suspects and track down the culprit before the King arrives for the display’s launch. Can you help the curators prevent a national scandal?

Date played: October 2022
Time taken: 90 mins
Number of players: 3
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

 

Night at the Museum

 

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

 

Which of us wouldn’t leap at the chance to sneak around behind the scenes in a museum after the public have been ushered out and the doors locked behind them? And when that museum is London’s Natural History Museum in South Kensington the appeal is even greater.  London’s museums and galleries have long embraced the idea of late, after dark openings with extra access to exhibitions alongside bars and live music.  But the NHM’s ‘mystery’ evening might be the first time a museum has allowed eager ER enthusiasts and puzzle hunters to roam its corridors in search of suspects and solutions.  Trying to temper my excitement that, at nightfall and behind closed doors, the exhibits might come to life for me as they did for Ben Stiller, I headed down to South Ken to find out if my detectoring skills were up to solving the mystery at the museum.

Impressive Game Space

 

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

 

First up, wow.  Just wow.  When we arrive at dusk the Natural History Museum is looking glorious in the gloaming.  It really is a stunning piece of Victorian architecture which lives up to it’s ‘Cathedral of Nature’ epithet.  Entering under the main arch is thrilling when you realise that you’re really about to have this vast space to yourselves for the evening.  Well, you and probably 75 other people.  And only a few of the galleries.  But still.  You still feel… special.

But if there’s anything that’s guaranteed to make you feel insignificant rather than special it’s the humungous skeleton of a blue whale that greets you as you enter the central Hintze Hall.  Suspended dramatically from the ceiling and lit up in startling red, the whale certainly draws your attention.  There’s not much time, however, to feel the vast inferiority of the human species because as soon as you arrive a game card is pushed into your hand and you are whisked off to meet Inspector Lestrade.  The game, it seems, is already afoot.

 

Prehistoric Puzzling

 

One word of warning – although the publicity for this event promotes it as an ‘escape room-like game’, it is most definitely not an escape room.  Arrive expecting an ER and you will be disappointed.  Attempt to rummage around the museum, opening drawers and searching cabinets as you would in an ER and you’re likely to be expelled!  But while it isn’t an ER that doesn’t stop it being a whole heap of fun.

To get started you need to read the game card you were given on arrival.  It outlines the mystery that faces you.  The unveiling of the new exhibition featuring the skeleton of Dippy the Diplodocus is due to take place tomorrow.  But a suspicious note has been found, suggesting a crime will take place before the grand opening and which could plunge the museum into unwanted scandal.  The game card also gives you the names and brief bios of six suspects who have been ordered to stay in the museum by Lestrade until the case has been closed.

 

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

 

Lestrade also gives you a copy of the note and your next task is to decipher it.  This is really the only actual puzzle involved in the game and it’s not especially hard but does get you moving around the galleries that surround the main museum hall.  And stopping to ask a few of those suspects some penetrating questions along the way will also help your case solving.

Because this is mostly about interacting with those suspects.  It’s really a traditional ‘whodunnit’ and you will get the most out of your evening and the event if you spend time grilling the suspects (whose period costume makes them easy to spot) and honing your theories.  You can question them as often and for as long as you like, or listen in as other players ask their own questions.  Although they may tell you a few lies, they will also give you some nuggets of truth and if you can unpick their elaborate webs of accusations, fabrications, deflections and evasions, you might just be able to work out, in the words of Mr Sherlock Holmes himself, who had the “means, motive and opportunity” to commit the crime.

 

Dippy’s Dino Denouement

 

Once you’ve solved the opening puzzle, interrogated your suspects and worked out a convincing theory you can take your hypothesis and test it on Sherlock.  Holmes solved the mystery in 17 minutes himself so he’s happy to throw you a bone or two if you’re not quite on the mark.  And if, after a couple of guesses, you’re still not 100% correct, Holmes will take pity on you and give you the full story.  Because no-one wants to go home without knowing who really did design to destroy Dippy’s debut.

 

The Verdict?

 

Overall, if you approach this as a mystery solving game along the lines of a traditional murder whodunnit then you will have loads of fun.  The mystery is sufficiently knotty to keep you questioning suspects and untangling theoretical threads for well over an hour and, for the adults, there’s an in venue bar to keep your whistle wet and your mind sharp.  Full kudos to the actors playing the suspects who handle even the most obscure of questions with aplomb, keep in character throughout and manage to retain details of the multiple narrative threads all while dropping gentle hints and prods to get you moving in the right direction.  And the venue itself, the access to certain areas of it after hours and when it’s empty of tourists, is worth the price of admission alone.

A few minor niggles.  Any expectations of difficult tradition ER puzzling will be disappointed and I think, personally, that they should remove the reference to an ‘escape room-like game’ from promotional material and instead focus on the massive positive of it being a strong mystery-solving evening.   Those ER players who don’t enjoy engaging with live performers will want to steer clear as well.  Talking to the actors throughout is the only way to play this game.

There were also some weaknesses in communication that left us unaware we had to take our final conclusions to Holmes to be checked.  It was only when we eavesdropped on other groups that we realised.  And there’s no satisfyingly dramatic conclusion when the culprit is officially unmasked.  Because the event has a staggered start time with groups arriving and getting started throughout the evening, everyone reaches their final answer at different times.  Once we’d reported to Holmes, that was it.  Game no longer afoot.  So the evening sort of petered out.

We had a fun evening though.  Not too strenuous on the little grey cells, but a nice little mystery to solve in a fantastic location.

 

This event runs for a limited number of days in October and November. Book via the Natural History Museum website here.

 

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

Local Bonus

If you want to get into a suitable detective frame of mind before the game, or want to continue afterwards, then I highly recommend a visit to the Evans and Peel detective agency (about a 15 minute walk away).  A secret speakeasy bar with a fantastic, and inventive, cocktail menu, you need to provide a good cover story before you can gain access.  The more imaginative and bonkers the better.  It’s advised to book.

Evans and Peel Detective Agency, 310c Earls Ct Rd, London SW5 9BA

 

Compendium Bury: Laboratory, Bedlam, Wrong Turn | Review

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Date played: March 2022
Time taken: 48 minutes / 46 minutes / 45 minutes
Number of players: 2
Difficulty: Easy / Hard / Medium

As someone who lives in London, I don’t often get the chance to venture ‘up north’, but there are quite a few companies that are making a name for themselves! Just outside of Manchester (an easy tram ride away) is the small town of Bury, home to “Compendium Escapes”. We decided to tick off all their rooms at once, so here I’m covering the first three, and leaving their award-winning final room for a post of its own!

 

Compendium: Laboratory | Review

You and your friends have been given the challenge to find and steal a Laboratory’s TOP secret remedy needed to cure a deadly disease. You have been entrusted with all the information you need to gain entry to the lab but no idea how to find the antidote undetected and once inside you find yourselves trapped. Do you have what it takes to save lives and escape the lab with the antidote?

 

When we entered the lab we found ourselves in a relatively large, clean room with plenty of science-y artifacts lying around. The premise is simple; locate and recover the antidote for the deadly pandemic that is ravaging the planet (I swear this was launched long before Covid-19). We immediately split up and started searching for clues, locating a number of interesting items and numbers dotted about. The decor in the room was great – it played into the theme and there quite multiple times when something which initially appeared to be a prop turned into a key puzzle!

 

Image (c) Manchester Evening News

 

This room is often said to be the best room for families, and I can see why – the room is full of bright colours and varied puzzles, with most puzzles within reach of small hands and some exciting little spaces to explore. The only issue is that the one main puzzle in the room (to access the parts of the antidotes) would not be possible for younger children, and indeed was not possible for me at 5ft3! However, the GM handled this really well, and let us off as he could see we had made quite a few attempts, but just physically couldn’t manage it. If this had been later in the day I can imagine this would’ve made us quite frustrated, but as it was we brushed past it and chalked it up to a slightly annoying thing.

Accessibility (Spoilers!)

The location isn’t very physically accessible, being up some quite steep stairs, but the room itself has a chair to sit in and is well lit. There is some reliance on colour, and that pesky physical puzzle. Hints are given via a screen, so otherwise no reliance necessarily on hearing.

 

Compendium: Bedlam | Review

 

Bentham Asylum has been standing since the 1900’s. In 1950 Bentham was given the nickname BEDLAM because of the events that happened in those 50 years, In 1974 Cell p23 was mysteriously locked without an explanation as to why. Bedlam has secrets that need to be uncovered. You and your team are the top journalists in your field, you have been tasked with uncovering the secrets that are held behind Cell P23’s walls. Can you go undercover, get in the cell undetected and escape with all the documents that will uncover the secrets of BEDLAM? 

I am really not a horror fan. I am a massive coward, so the idea of doing not just one, but two ‘scary’ rooms was a little daunting. However, we spoke to the Compendium team prior to booking who assured me there would be no live actors or jump scares, so we went ahead and booked. Bedlam definitely fits into the ‘creepy’ and suspenseful area of ‘scary’, with atmospheric background music/sounds that felt extremely immersive. I actually found myself really enjoying this! The combination of dingy lighting, a chair with handcuffs, and random screams in the background helped set the mood and get the adrenaline running before any puzzles have taken place.

The room itself is very small – we played as a duo, and I’m not sure I would’ve wanted to play with anymore! Despite this, I was amazed by how much Compendium have fit into this space, and we were constantly surprised by certain discoveries. There are so many hidden areas carefully blended into the padded walls that we really had a sense of excitement and never knew what was coming next.

The puzzles were a fantastic example of thematic design – they all fit the theme perfectly, and to a certain extent helped carry the narrative too. They were fairly non-linear (I know there were a few puzzles I never saw), with a couple that also required some team cooperation.  None of the puzzles frustrated us, and all the logic made total sense. There were also some really interesting mechanisms used for these puzzles, but I don’t want to spoil anything!

Accessiblity (spoilers!)

Like all their rooms, this is very much not accessible. Obviously, you need to climb up some steep stairs to reach the room itself, but there is a chair within the room. There is the requirement for at least one team member to be happy with crawling and small spaces, although this really isn’t the room for anyone with claustrophobia given the general size. The room was fairly dim, but we found a torch which helped!

 

 

Compendium: Wrong Turn | Review

 

You and your friends are driving along route 66 when you notice your gas running low, a friend suggests to make a turn at the next set of crossroads to see if there is a gas station… you don’t find a gas station but decide to explore the one place you have discovered by taking that WRONG TURN…. Will you escape or will you spend your life regretting that wrong turn?

The third room we did at Compendium was another ‘scary’ room – this time we entered the home of a serial killer. Once again we confirmed there were no live actors or jump scares, but unfortunately, there were plenty of mannequins (which is my specific phobia). The team were great though, and removed what they could, giving my mum a warning of where others were so she could deal with them for me. That aside, this room was fantastically creepy in a different way to Bedlam. Rather than screams, the soundtrack was instead an old fashion song and commercial, and the room and set dressing were just off enough to be unsettling.

 

Image (c) Manchester Evening News

 

Rather than entering into the lair directly, we instead found ourselves in an old-fashioned kitchen off Route 66. At first glance, nothing seems amiss, but look a bit closer and you realise that maybe things are not as they appear. The set dressing here was excellent, with a lot of relevant props and accessories to investigate, but not so many that they would count as red herrings (and none dressed as puzzles). The difference between this room and the lair (when you discover it) is very stark, and quite horrific (as you might imagine).

The puzzles themselves were a bit trickier than the other rooms, but still had a great flow and were fairly non-linear. I really appreciated the need to hunt for items and keep track of these throughout the room, as well as the requirement to move between the kitchen and the lair. The space is also a lot bigger than initially anticipated, with a great sense of atmosphere. There were also some unique physical puzzles here, which I quite enjoyed!

Accessibility (spoilers!)

In terms of accessibility – again, steep stairs to the location, but chairs inside. There is a requirement to be able to crawl to reach the lair, and there are some smaller, darker spaces to be aware of. You will need to be able to differentiate colours for this room too.

 

Compendium, The Verdict

 

I think Compendium is a fantastic company, who clearly pay close attention to all aspects of room design. I have written a separate review about their final room, UI-55, which is currently my number 1 room. Out of these three, I enjoyed ‘Bedlam’ the most, followed by ‘Wrong turn’, but that’s probably my cowardice talking. I would say you shouldn’t be put off my the scary aspect of either room though, as they are worth playing!

The team at ‘Compendium’ are also fantastic – we spent a long time chatting with them and they are top-notch. Given we booked all 4 rooms they’d actually ‘closed’ the place for the day, so we could be a bit relaxed about timings and decide when we wanted to play each room. This gave us time to grab refreshments between rooms, and decide on our lunch break, rather than either rushing out of one room and into the next, or else sitting around in a long gap. This was a little touch that was really appreciated and so unexpected. I also just enjoyed talking to them in general, as they are clearly passionate about what they do (which shines through in the rooms) and so we spent a while comparing and recommending rooms to each other! Compendium is definitely a must-visit for me.

These rooms can be booked on the Compendium Bury website.

Layered Reality: The Gunpowder Plot | Review

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The Gunpowder Plot Immersive Review | London, 1605. A city divided. The fuse of rebellion is lit. The peace of the nation balances on a knife edge… Step into a world where spies and informants hide in every shadow. Your mission is to go undercover and unmask the mysterious figures behind history’s most infamous plot. But when you’re surrounded by ‘traitors’ who can you trust?

Date Visited: 17th July 2022
Number of Players: 3
Time Taken: ~120 Minutes

Remember, remember the 5th of November… Gunpowder, Treason and Plot! For I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.

The Gunpowder Plot Immersive is London’s newest immersive experience created by the award winning team behind War of the Worlds Immersive, and located in the iconic Tower of London vaults. From the very moment the experience was announced months ago, we were very excited. Layered Reality have built up an excellent reputation of blending immersive theatre, actors, jaw-dropping set design, all to tell brilliant stories.

As such, it’s not really your ‘typical’ escape room experience, but since most of us are big fans of the immersive, anything with Layered Reality’s name stamped on it is well worth checking out. Layered Reality experiences differ from other immersive theatre as your experience is guided by a series of actors around an environment and the story plays out around you as mostly-passive viewers. But unlike regular theatre, you’re thoroughly in the thick of it. Take care to notice all the little details and interact wherever you can. You won’t regret it.

But how did their newest immersive experience, Gunpowder Plot fare? In this joint review between Georgie, Mairi and Karen we’ll pick apart what worked, and what might not have worked so well, and who we recommend this for.

Let’s Dive into the Past…

 

Mairi: If in doubt where Gunpowder Immersive is located, look out for the enormous Tower of London. Yep, that one! This experience is located quite literally underneath, and accessible via a well-signed doorway near the All Hallows by the Tower church. It’s conveniently located right near a train station, many bus stops, and plenty of other iconic tourist attractions, cementing itself squarely on the “must see” list if you’re a tourist visiting London who also wants to sample some of the local history.

Georgie: From the moment we walked in, Gunpowder Plot felt immersive – we made our way down some stairs into the start of the vaults, where we were offered lockers and guided to the dungeon-esque themed bar. Once our group was called we were led to the ‘briefing room’, which is where the experience begins. Our host launched into a partially themed- partially factual briefing about who we were, where we were, and what to expect. She did a fantastic job of separating the initial, ‘admin’ information from the more dramatic introduction. This introduction really set the scene for the experience to come, and even as someone who knows the history fairly well, I learned some new facts about the context of the plot, and some of the reasoning behind it.

 

Remember, Remember…

Georgie: We were then guided through the experience by ‘the wick of rebellion’, which is in fact a firey-themed light that surrounds the doors to move through. Helpful to know where to go and this fitted really well with the theme in the dimly lit corridors!

From the first room, it is obvious what is meant by ‘immersive theatre’ – we found ourselves in the cells of the tower, meeting a prisoner and hearing his tale. He told his story through words, action, and the environment. Although you are not expected to be particularly active (which suited me well) and were largely there to observe.

This first room did an excellent job of laying out the story, why we were there and giving us a taste of how the rest of the experience would pan out. It was also a great introduction to the live actors, who were superb throughout. I will also say that despite all the many warnings we read in the waiver, there were no jump scares or unnecessary scare tactics, which I greatly appreciated!

Mairi: And what a story it is too! As we explored each environment in a larger group of around 12-20 people, the story of the Gunpowder Plot diverged a little from what I had expected, with brilliant consequences. We won’t go too much into the actual tale since there’s an element of choose-your-own adventure and some delightful moments of surprise, but we really enjoyed the story aspect of the experience. Characters flitted in and out of the experience and much later we’d be reunited by characters we thought we’d abandoned earlier.

 

…The 5th of November

Georgie: Throughout the experience the low lighting, small spaces and eerie soundtrack keep the sense of atmosphere and immersion. The actors did a great job of flawlessly handing over the narrative to subsequent characters, keeping the story moving and never leaving us alone for too long. The story was really engaging and fascinating as it developed, and they did a fantastic job of showing both sides of the story (and their rationale). The location itself is huge, with seemingly endless corridors and vaults to move through, with authentic sets and surprises round every corner.

Mairi: If the experience sounds large, I’d add that it is well paced! With a bar at the start, the end, and one right in the middle, the whole experience is broken up into ‘bitesized’ chunks. In particular, I loved the middle ‘rest’ area, a much needed break. Players were sorted into various tables made up of your own friends and family, and total strangers. We quickly realised there was no such thing as a stranger in this experience however, as we all jumped right into conversation, speculating about what would happen next and what had already been. With a plot this thick with backstabbing an intrigue, there’s a lot to mull over a pint (or two, if you have the time).

The Past meets The Future

Georgie: One of the features that sets this experience aside from others is the use of Virtual Reality (VR) technology. At 3 separate points we were asked to put on a VR headset to experience a facet of the story which would be hard to create otherwise, removing the headset to find the room somehow transformed or a new actor appeared. I have previously felt motion sick when using VR, but fortunately didn’t feel anything like that here, so I was able to full enjoy the experience.

The first two Virtual Reality segments are accompanied by a moving element, and again there were no fake scares, just excitement. The final experience allowed us to free roam a little more, although this wasn’t made clear so anyone not familiar with VR may not have known to do this. The VTs also featured an amazing performance by Tom Felton, who has proved what an incredible actor he was. In reality, and in the virtual space!

Mairi: Agree! Virtual Reality is something Layered Reality does really well! Unlike War of the Worlds Immersive however, I found there to be slightly more VR. Where Layered Reality’s first experience often creates more physical sets, like slides, or moments where you have to jump, due to the physical limitations of it’s location, Gunpowder Plot leans more into the VR. No bad thing – just a consideration! If any player struggles with VR, they can bypass these sections quite easily.

Finishing the Tale

Georgie: Just to jump back to the story, we’re going to attempt to talk about the ending without giving away too many spoilers, although given this story is over 400 years old I think you probably know what happens. The final room features the peak of the drama, followed by the final dramatic VR. From here we were guided to the exit, with a really excellent video explaining the factual and fictional aspects of the experience. I really enjoyed this little wrap up, and nod to the story.

Again, they did a great job of highlighting the contrasting moralities and beliefs at play, whilst mainting the elements of mystery we still don’t know about. There is a classic photo opportunity too, although this will cost you a little extra.

Mairi: One thing players may not be expecting however is that you are given a choice at one point in the game. I’m unsure how much this choice actually affects the ending – probably not at all since, well, we all know what happens. But convincing the rest of your team to make the ‘right’ choice will certainly ease your conscience, so you can emerge back into real life afterwards knowing that you did all you could.

“Poor old England to Overthrow”

Georgie: I had a great time, but there were a few small parts I didn’t like as much, which it’s worth being aware of ahead of time.

Firstly, there was little in the way of interaction – most of the time a character might ask you a simple yes or no question, or tell you something which you also immediately tell another character. It felt more like watching an (admittedly amazing) play than taking part ourselves. Where there was a decision, it definitely wasn’t unanimous and I think the cast could have done a better job of ensuring this was (something like raising hands, giving our group of strangers more than a minute to decide, or even just realising the signs for it not being unanimous). Even then, as Mairi mentions, I’m not convinced the decision had any bearing on the experience other than maybe a line or two spoken by an actor.

Mairi: Also, since this is The Escape Roomer, we have to mention the puzzles. There was also only one ‘puzzle’ in the whole experience so don’t go into this thinking it’ll be puzzly! Although, to be fair, that is one more puzzle than you’ll get in The War of the Worlds. For me, The War of the Worlds still takes the cake as my absolute favourite immersive experience in London, but Layered Reality have taken the same formula and done something slightly different to a different effect here.

Georgie: In terms of the VR, there could’ve been a bit more of a briefing about how to use it. For example, in the last area, you could move around – but none of us knew this fact and stayed rooted to the spot, potentially missing a part of the action.

Finally, Tom Felton’s performance was amazing, but all virtual. This wasn’t exactly surprising, knowing he’s currently appearing in a different play in the West End, but as he played such a key character it obviously presented a conundrum. Rather than subbing in a different actor and asking us to suspend our belief, we are instead presented with someone covering their face and using a speaker to broadcast Felton’s voice. Unfortunately, the effect was more of a robotic-cowboy-scarecrow rather than a heroic-villainous character, and it could have been handled better. It also got in the way of the final scene a little, which already felt fairly chaotic without this.

 

 

A Note on Accessibility

Mairi: If anyone has any hesitation on accessibility, Layered Reality have produced a full access guide here. Whilst the base experience doesn’t feel like it would be accessible to folks in a wheelchair for example, it’s worth noting they do offer special performances which are geared towards accessibility, such as the wheelchair performance. For any other requirements, they encourage players to reach out to them directly.

Mairi: There are a lot of stairs and small spaces to fit into, so a reasonable level of physicality is necessary. Most of the experience is dimly lit, with an atmospheric sound track. Most of the actors project well, although I admit I, as someone with hearing impairments, missed a few things I wouldn’t say this was necessarily essential. Given it was an extremely hot day, the rooms were nice and cool.

 

The Verdict

Mairi: Gunpowder Plot Immersive is a really unique experience. For me, it’s impossible not to compare it to The War of the Worlds which, I’ve said before and I’ll say again, is my favourite immersive experience in London. By contrast, Gunpowder Plot has a more mass-market appeal. From tourists wondering what Guy Fawkes night is all about, to locals who want to be immersed in history in an iconic building. It’s target audience is clear. Whilst that target audience might not necessarily be the overlap between escape room enthusiasts, I personally had a great time!

Georgie: Once I realized there would be no jump scares or unnecessary scares I was able to relax and enjoy myself. I had a really fun time – it was very immersive, did a fantastic job of bringing the characters and story to life, and was a very pleasant way to spend some time in a historic location. I’m not sure I would’ve felt the same had I paid the full price (around £70 per ticket), but then again I’m not sure what the average immersive theatre ticket goes for in London, and I imagine I enjoyed this more than I would enjoy them!

 

The Gunpowder Plot Immersive may be booked by heading to this website here.

From now until 30th September 2022, use code ESCAPE10 for £10 off your tickets!

Breakin’: War on Horizon Alpha | Review

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War on Horizon Alpha Review | With the expansion of the human race on other planets, an oppressive regime has risen to power and instated a dictatorship on the Colonial Republic, the dreaded Alpha One faction. You and your team are part of a rebel alliance trying to overthrow the regime and reinstate democracy. A massive assault will take place on the Horizon Alpha space station, serving as the Alpha One headquarters, which aims to destroy it, thus sparking a revolution on all planets. Your mission is to infiltrate the station and deactivate the shields in time so that the assault may be successful. Without the shields down, the entire offensive will become a suicide mission. Good luck, you are the galaxy’s only hope!

Date Played: June 2022
Time Taken: 55 minutes
Number of Players: 2
Difficulty: Medium

It’s official! I’ve now played every single escape room at Breakin’. Which is why I can safely say that War on Horizon Alpha is the most “meh”. Don’t get me wrong, I love a sci-fi theme. Even more love for a sci-fi theme that’s clearly inspired by Star Wars. But there was something about this one that didn’t just click for us. A little tired, a little broken, and more than a few puzzles that I’m still not sure I understand even now, weeks after playing. That’s okay, not every room is for every person. I preferred Wizarding School or Heist Plan, but you might prefer this one.

 

Never Underestimate a Droid

The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into War on Horizon Alpha is an enormous R2D2. Or should I call it the IP skirting D2R2? Haha. The second thing you’ll notice is a huge amount of buttons. War on Horizon Alpha is a single-room escape room so pretty much everything you’ll interact with is right in front of you and it’s… A lot! There’s an enormous panel of buttons and screens and 99.9% of the buttons do absolutely nothing and there’s not much to indicate which are the ones you’ll need and which aren’t. Oh dear!

But, once the first hurdle of figuring out where to start (which we ended up spending our first clue on 10 minutes in), we were off to a flying start! As with most Breakin’ rooms, this one was fairly linear which suited our team of 2 quite well. We worked together on everything and progressed at a steady pace through the spaceship.

 

 

The cool thing about the room was the sci-fi vibe of it. It was a bit of a tight space but it was also clear a lot of care and attention to detail had gone into the set once upon a time, which by now is the good quality set design I expect from Breakin’. They know how to make a good atmosphere. Think neon glowing lights and blinking buttons and a fun musical track that ramped up in excitement as we headed towards the climax of the game.

We asked for a record breaking number of clues and many more of those clues either led to puzzles that were broken or things we found so illogical we had to be given the answers for them. We also wasted a good 20 or so of our minutes ‘solving’ a puzzle that was on full display but wouldn’t actually activate something until the very end of the game. So when we then got to the end we looked up at the camera like “we’ve already done this please don’t make us do it again“.

Once our GM had taken pity on us and given us the final answer, the game came to an abrupt halt and our host appeared to ask how we found it. We asked a million and one questions about all the things that didn’t make sense (there were a lot), had our photo taken, and were hurried out of the building without so much of a goodbye. It wasn’t the usual Breakin’ experience I’m used to, but everyone has an off day and every room loses it’s magic eventually.

 

 

The Verdict

Overall, not my favourite room. Lost points for puzzles and general wear and tear, but earns points for a fun sci-fi theme. I felt a little bad about it as we booked this room for my birthday and as one of the final rooms to play in London before moving out of the city. But as I say not every room will click with every team and that’s just the luck of the draw when you try a new room!

If you love Star Wars and sci-fi themes and a particular style of puzzle, you’ll probably love this. We’d loved everything else at Breakin’ so far, but this one was a miss for us. So if you do book this room, be sure to book a couple of others at Breakin’ at the same time to experience the full magic the company has to offer!

 

War on Horizon Alpha can be played by booking on Breakin’s website here.

Breakin’: The Flying Dutchman | Review

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The Flying Dutchman Review | Avast ye! Tell me, shark-bait, have you heard the legend of The Flying Dutchman? That dreaded ship captained by the sea-devil Davy Jones and his undead pirate crew? You’d best start believing in ghost stories… you’re in one! After your ship sinks in a great tempest you awake aboard the Dutchman. If you don’t escape before sunrise you’ll be trapped aboard her forever. Legend tells of a mythical diamond – the Heart of Calypso – which can break the curse. It’s hidden somewhere on the lower decks. The sun rises in an hour. So shiver your timbers, swash your buckles, and batten down the hatches. You need to discover the diamond to escape the ship and a watery doom!

Date Played: May 2022
Number of Players: 6
Time Taken: <30 Minutes
Difficulty: Very Easy

My favourite thing in the whole world is introducing new friends to escape rooms. My second favourite thing in the whole world is when they love the escape room and spend the whole time laughing and having an absolute blast.

For me, The Flying Dutchman at Breakin’ Escape Rooms was a perfectly ‘okay’ escape room. For the friends I took with me to play this one, 4 people who had never ever played any escape room before, they loved it. This makes The Flying Dutchman a fantastic ‘entry level’ room to bring your puggle friends to. It perfectly encapsulates what an escape room is with a mix of physical and mental puzzles, but isn’t in the slightest bit challenging meaning that even the most beginner of teams will ace through it and feel extra smart.

 

A Pirate’s Life for Me!

The story of The Flying Dutchman is your classic pirate ship escape room game. You play as a team of pirates who find themselves trapped on the dreaded ghost ship – the Flying Dutchman, captained by Davy Jones. Your ship has sunk and you’re trapped on this one with just one hour to try to escape or else you’ll find yourself in a watery grave too. Nothing like a little pirate themed peril to get the excitement going.

The setting was a large and well-furnished pirate ship. Think wooden floorboards, cannons and cannonballs, ropes draped from the ceiling and a big ol’ pirate ship wheel in the middle of the room. At first glance, especially compared to someone of the other escape rooms at Breakin’ you might think “this is is” but there’s a couple of sneaky extra spaces hidden around the environment making it slightly larger than you first expected. Though be warned – some of those extra areas are very small and very cramped!

Your goal is the simplest: Escape. And what follows is a somewhat linear series of puzzles to get you from A – locked in the ship to B – escaped!

 

Pirate Puzzles

For me, I’d definitely put this room in the category of “very easy”. We took zero hints and didn’t pause for even a single second. When taking new people into a room I’m always a little worried about solving things and jumping ahead with prior knowledge, so resigned myself to taking more of a backseat role. But in The Flying Dutchman this wasn’t needed, the rest of my team flew off to a flying start with no nudges from our Games Master, or even no need for me to step in and put my “escape room hat” on.

As mentioned, there was a mix of different puzzle types. They were all fairly well themed within the pirate universe, and a mix of ones that we triggered ourselves, and ones that we could tell the Games Master triggered for us. One puzzle, towards the latter end of the room was a very dexterous, manual puzzle which was a bit of a bottleneck for our very large team. With only two people able to complete the puzzle at one time, and multiple steps and chances to go wrong, the other four of us found ourselves standing around a little bit longer than we might have liked. But after 10 minutes (1/3 of our whole game time) passed, I spotted a sneaky hack that got past the slightly more boring part of the puzzle and skipped us closer to completion. Do I feel guilty? Yes, yes, a little bit. But if a puzzle is meant to be un-hack-able, it should be designed as such.

Besides this, the game was enjoyable from a puzzling point of view. There was a distinct absence of padlocks. Instead the room was surprisingly a lot more high tech than expected for a pirate themed room. Though that said, high tech comes with some downsides and we encountered one technological hitch with a puzzle where a door sprang open a little too early, giving us the final piece we needed to escape before we’d actually finished the game. I don’t think the rest of my team noticed so much though, and all was well that ended well since it ensured we broke out of the room with record time to spare.

If we had any issues along the way (we didn’t), in true Breakin’ form, we were given a walkie talkie that our Games Master could give us a code via. The code was input into an iPad on the wall and a hint would be displayed. This is the same as in all of their rooms, and a mechanic we are fairly used to by now. Though again, we didn’t need to use it.

 

Team The Escape Roomer escapes!

 

The Verdict

I had a good time playing The Flying Dutchman. Again, it’s not my favourite room in all of Breakin’ but it did the job and introduced a new group of friends to escape rooms. For a room best suited for a new team – the verdict is yes, that new team had a blast. For me? I found it much too easy, and a little wear and tear (to be expected after opening 5+ years ago) caused some hiccups with the tech and ease of brute-forcing a few puzzles. It’s probably what the enthusiasts call a “Gen 2” escape room. It’s a very early one, but it’s moved away from padlocks and codes as the primary source of puzzling into something much more atmospheric and immersive.

Add in a beautiful, well themed set, and it’s still a winning escape room. For the best experience, don’t bring any more than a team of 3 into the room. There just simply isn’t enough for a larger team to do. If you do choose to go in an enthusiast team, expect to escape in around 30 minutes as we did – and why not book yourself into a second room whilst you’re at Breakin? I’d recommend Wizarding School or Heist Plan.

 

The Flying Dutchman can be booked by heading to Breakin’s website here.

ESC WELT: House of the Dragon | Review

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House of the Dragon Review | An aging Japanese carpenter felt abandoned by his son who had left home and started a family of his own.  But when a dragon came to the carpenter in his dreams and told him he still had time to bond with the grandchildren he’d never seen, the carpenter designed and built a wooden toy.  The toy was a puzzle box that children alone couldn’t open so children, parents and grandparents worked together to solve the mystery of the ‘House of the Dragon’.

Date played: May 2022
Time taken: 60-90 mins
Number of players: 1
Difficulty: Medium

 

Puzzle Box Joy

First up, I love wooden puzzle boxes. They are beautiful little works of art.  I had a money box as a kid that was a simplified puzzle box with panels that you had to slide around to find a hidden drawer with a key, then do some more sliding to find the keyhole.  I loved it, even when I’d done that sliding so many times it was no longer a puzzle.  I guess that was when the ER bug first bit, even though there was no such thing as ERs at the time.  It also explains the little jolt of joy I get in ERs like those by ‘Escape Plan’ where they use cute little wooden puzzle boxes in place of the ubiquitous padlocks. So much of the pleasure I get from ERs is that they are safe spaces for adults to indulge in childlike play and I guess wooden puzzle boxes are a direct, visceral link between adult me and the little kid I once was.

Which is a very long winded and philosophical path to saying that when EscWelt asked us to review their latest puzzle, House of the Dragon, I jumped at the chance.  I hadn’t played an EscWelt game box before, though had taken on similar puzzles by iAdventure, so was excited to unbox it.

 

Handmade Heaven

‘House of the Dragon’ looks and feels lovingly hand-made, a fact confirmed by a signed slip inside the box from the EscWelt bod who put it together.  In keeping with the Japanese theming and narrative, with the back story laid out on a paper insert, the puzzle box takes the form of a miniature pagoda, crafted from sustainable birchwood.  There’s lovely carved detailing and beautiful etching on every side, with cherry blossom tumbling down one side, and a dragon wrapped around the roof.  Each side and each section has a unique design and feel and a quick scan around the box gives you the sense of multiple puzzle elements.

But Where Do I Start?

But that’s where I came a bit unstuck.  The iAdventure games I’d played previously had a handy ‘start’ etched somewhere on them to give you a clue where to begin. ‘House of the Dragon’ doesn’t.  It’s clearly designed to be trickier and that’s no bad thing but it can also lead to frustration.  Maybe because I’m singularly dense, or maybe because I was playing alone, with no-one to bounce ideas off, I just couldn’t spot an obvious ‘way in’ to the sequence of puzzles.  So I spent a lot of time just turning the box around and around in my hands trying to get an insight into where to start. Which is ok for a while but my patience did erode fairly quickly.

 

Let It Flow

Eventually after a bit of wiggling of box parts, I made the first step and after that things flowed a little more, although you still have to be a bit experimental and willing to try some random poking around, in some cases literally.  After the first element was solved and I’d done a bit of Japanese language translation, I realised I was looking for a specific sequence (of what I won’t say coz spoilers).  And from then on, the puzzle flow around the box was more satisfying and fairly slick.  Constrained by the size of the box, there aren’t a huge number of puzzle elements and I probably took longer figuring out where to start than I did actually solving it all but the sheer physicality of the puzzling is very satisfying.  And, like in any good ER, the revelation at the end is worth all the effort that preceded it.

 

The Verdict?

My minor niggles would be that lack of a clearing start point and the fact that the playability of the box is impacted by some parts being too stiff and some too lose.  In some case parts don’t move easily, meaning you feel like you haven’t solved that element when you actually have.  Some parts also move but have no function other than looking pretty.  On my box the roof element rotated so I spent ages thinking there must be a significance to that.  But there wasn’t.

However, these are minor issues in a puzzle box that is beautiful to behold.  The tactile physicality of the box is the true selling point.  When you can’t get hands on with an ER out in the real world, and online or paper ER type games just aren’t hitting the right spot then a puzzle box like ‘House of the Dragon’ is a treat.  Sliding panels, buttons to push and pull, secret doors and secret codes.  All in the comfort of your own home.

There’s a QR code system to get access to EscWelt’s tips and hints on the puzzle box and once you’re done and found out the secret at the heart of the labyrinth, there’s also a resetting video so you can play again or pass the box on to someone else.  Maybe you could even hide a little treat inside and see how long it takes someone else to get inside ‘The House of the Dragon’.

 

‘House of the Dragon’ and other puzzle box games from EscWelt can be bought at their online store or at other online retailers. 

Escape Room Geeks: The Gilded Carcanet | Review

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The Gilded Carcanet Review | An ancient treasure has been said to be buried on a small island outside the coast of Turkey. Little is known about it and its existence has been heavily debated in the archeology community. Professor in archeology, Bartholomew Wilson, has always dismissed the idea as a myth. Until now.

Rating: Quite challenging and thoroughly enjoyable
Completion Time: 45 minutes
Date Played: 22nd June 2022
Party Size: 2
Recommended For: Graphic novel and treasure hunt fans

I’m currently sitting on a train from Edinburgh to London having just played The Gilded Carcanet, the newest printable escape room kit created by Escape Room Geeks. My partner and I decided to pack up the sheets of A4 so we could enjoy some puzzling on the journey, and we weren’t disappointed!

On turning the first page, we were thrilled to discover a comic book style introduction. As massive graphic novel fans, this was the perfect way to get us engaged with the story and excited to see the puzzle designs that lay ahead. The illustrations were beautiful, and the muted colour scheme really set the tone for the mysterious world we were about to enter.

 

 

First, game mechanics

The Gilded Carcanet is split into chapters, each containing a puzzle you have to solve before continuing the adventure. But this isn’t simply a “do a puzzle, turn the page” sort of game. You’ll have to refer back to previous pages and discovered items to progress in your search for the ancient treasure, which I love as it’s almost like you’ve got a trusty backpack filled with maps and journals ready to be investigated at any point.

You’re given a handy key which lets you know when you can discard certain pages, and when to continue turning. There are also icons which let you know when to fold and cut the paper, which luckily I read before we set off so I packed a pair of scissors for the road (train track?).

We were really impressed by the answer checker. You simply cross off letters in a grid you have used in your answer, and see if it matches a specified pattern. If it does, you’re right! The pattern could appear in many places in the grid though, so it’s not easy to simply guess the answer which could have been tempting if we were really stuck.

 

Puzzle Selection

A lot of the puzzles are logic based, requiring your skills of deduction to find the correct answer. What was great though was that these puzzles often linked with codes, maps and even some jigsaw style conundrums so you’re always kept on your feet. My love for cyphers was also satisfied, with the secrets of many mysterious symbols needing to be cracked.

I particularly enjoyed the plan of the tomb and having to use your navigation and deduction skills to find a particular chamber. As well as tapping into various brain skills, you had to use several pages to get to where you wanted to be and it felt like a real achievement once you discovered the answer.

 

The Mystery Unfolds

This is a very typical treasure hunt story, but honestly that’s all that’s needed here. The illustrations let your imagination flow and the quality of the puzzles shone through. I loved how we were placed in the shoes of protagonist Bartholomew, meaning we had some great interactions with our companion, Oscar and received praise throughout the game for solving puzzles. A fictional pat on the back is always appreciated!

 

 

The Verdict

We thoroughly enjoyed this game. I think the age suggestion of 13+ is accurate as the puzzles can get quite complex, but they were actually the perfect level of difficulty for a train journey. Not too easy that we fly through it, but not so hard that we bang our heads against the teeny tiny lap tables. At $29, this is on the higher end of the scale for print at home games, but there are some great multi buy offers on their website if you want to treat yourself to a bundle. All in all, a brilliant game which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

The Gilded Carcanet can be played by heading to Escape Room Geeks website here.

Crux Club: Mob Treasure | Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mob Treasure Inspiration

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

 

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

Hackers: Blood Over Baker Street | Review

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Blood Over Baker Street Review | Sherlock Holmes is missing. You are a group of journalists from The Strand magazine, sent to interview the world’s most famous detective. But you discover the remnants of a scuffle – his usually fastidious Victorian lair is in disarray. But there are clues that something is afoot, a nefarious game that pulls you into the depths of London and beyond. 

 

Date Played: 8th May 2022
Time Taken: ~1 hour
Number of Players: 4
Difficulty: Easy/Medium

 

An Escape Room? Nope… An Adventure Room!

Ok, so, where to begin?! Lets start at the beginning.  The rooms are also located within the same building as a really cool bar and beautifully themed adventure golf course – all run by Hackers. Its safe to say, we were all salivating whilst waiting to check in at reception, given quite how phenomenal this downstairs area looked. Making our way upstairs to the ‘adventure room’ area, we were greeted by an awesomely large waiting room packed with stacks of games to play whilst waiting for your game session. This certainly kept us entertained!

We were also greeted very warmly by our two hosts and first impressions always count so we knew we were in for something special!

Now onto the experience itself…

 

Walking through the first door, the initial area, although simplistic in nature given its Victoria London roots, gives the players just small glimpse of what is to come. Its safe to say, when Hackers themselves bill their rooms as “Adventure” as opposed to ” Escape”, they couldn’t be more honest! This room whets the appetite for adventure like nothing we’ve played before.

Sherlock Holmes has gone missing, and Dr. Watson… Well… He’s been replaced with a robot for reasons made very clear you you in a quirky and light-hearted video at the start. Your first challenge is to work out primary suspect behind Sherlocks disappearance. This was a really novel way of starting any escape room: the normal pressure of time didn’t feel as if it weighed heavy on our shoulders and it gave a nice, steady start into the experience with something for everyone to do in the room.

As ever from me, NO SPOILERS, however, we’d recommend you pay close attention to your briefing from the gamemaster. The way in which you deduct suspects is really clever and although we didn’t make mistakes in our deduction approach, it is very easy to slip up, so pay attention! It’s a clever display of modern technology merged with an exceptional Victorian theme, and expertly done in this first area.

 

But Then… Things Take a Bit of a Dark Turn

This room features a pretty spectacular storyline – so all we can say here is: Expect the unexpected!

Whereas other rooms put their puzzles are the centre of their escape room experience and then build a storyline up around it – Blood Over Baker Street takes the opposite approach. A rich and complex storyline with multiple characters and locations, with each puzzle serving as a mechanic to further the storyline along.

Yep, there are some dark moments (in both theme and atmosphere) but nothing that is there to scare or shock. In fact, my 11 year old came along and there were a few moments where he was a little on edge but nothing that would keep him awake at night!

Again, although we very much wish to stay away from spoilers, perhaps a few of the images from Hackers’ own website will give a sense of that eeriness we encountered…

 

 

Do You Need to be a Detective to Solve this Mystery?!

The short answer…. No!

All the puzzles in this game are short and sharp and won’t push the brain cells to work on overtime. This sits really well with the family approach that Hackers are taking! There is no need for any outside knowledge, if anything there are a number of puzzles in this game which are physical in their nature. With these physical puzzles, it certainly gives everyone there time to shine.

By that train of thought, don’t expect an overwhelming volume of ciphers, combination locks, taxing mathematical equations. Sure, there are a few, but the more physical, tangible style of puzzle takes precedence here. A refreshing break from the norm!

 

An Epic Adventure for the Eyes

Aesthetically, this room is certainly up there as one of the very best. The outstanding combination of attention to detail, lighting, sound effects, and some really inspired room transitions, mean it won’t be one we will forget in a while.

The experience starts in modest style, with a Victorian room as you would expect. Just don’t get too comfortable! As this game carries on, the design just seems to get more and more impressive. Every time we swung open a new door, or got down on our hands and knees to crawl to a new space, inevitably one of us (the first into the new room) would audibly say “Wow!”.

The puzzles also sat brilliantly within theme. Although the storyline definitely takes a few twists and turns and veers off in a direction none of us where expecting, the puzzles sit well within their environment. Not once was there any thinking of “hmm, not sure brightly coloured plastic balls were likely to sit within Sherlocks era”.

Care had really been taken to ensure that everything kept tightly on theme and it felt great!

Something that I found slightly different here to other rooms, is that is does have a very, very linear approach. The opposite would be a multi-faceted approach of giving team the opportunity to work on different puzzles at the same time – this wasn’t the case here. Beyond the first room, it was very much one puzzle after the next, after the next. Although there were a few moments where as a team we were bunched up working on each puzzle together, I actually didn’t mind as it gave me the opportunity to take in the love that had gone into designing this experience and really take stock of the phenomenal detail on show.

 

A Big (and Unexpected) Finale

This experience features no clock at all, so it is really difficult to keep track of time- although there is no actual allocated time to try and escape in. With this in mind there isn’t the normal escape room time pressure, however slowly but surely you could definitely feel some kind of pressure. This mostly came from the storyline ramping up dramatically as we went along. How would it end?! By the final section of Blood Over Baker Street, the tension had increased to a palpable state and clearly the four of us knew it was time to get our game on, and really push on.

Lets just say, discovering the culprit was half the battle, saving Sherlock was a whole-nother game!

 

The Verdict

A beautifully structured game, which, was not only visually stunning, but also had a really strong storyline and varied puzzles which were certainly different to the norm. An experience which would suit the whole family, and one where enthusiasts can get lost in an experience which doesn’t quite fit the normal “escape room” genre.

In terms of accessibility, there are some moments of crawling, and some steps to achieve the full experience. Get in touch with Hackers directly if you have any concerns.

In the worlds of a certain famous detective, booking this experience is elementary my dear Watson!

 

To book this experience, visit the Hackers Billericay website…
Hackers | Adventure Rooms – Escape Rooms – Mini Golf – Billericay, Essex

 

Crux Club: Puzzle Rap Star | Review

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

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

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

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

 

 

About the Puzzle Rap Star Book

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

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

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

 

 

Nothing Rhymes with Puzzle…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Puzzle Your Way to the Top

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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