#48: Ctrl Alt Esc (Margate) – Spacescape

A brilliantly well-devised space themed room, Spacescape was made with love to a high standard, with just a single tech fault and a couple of out-of-character puzzles not detracting from the overall experience of a physically active room that kept you on your toes throughout.

Rating:★★★★☆ (Highly recommended)
Location:Margate
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:21 April 2019
Hints taken:Unknown
Time:71m out of 90m
URL:Ctrl Alt Esc

Front & Briefing

Our day trip to Kent ended quite late at night with a ninety minute game in a venue with a great view over Margate’s coastline. Ctrl Alt Esc is run by two brothers who greeted us on arrival, and we had a nice chat before being shown a video introduction with the usual details on what to do and not do in the room.

After this we moved to the corridor outside the room itself, where the GM briefed us somewhat in partial character of the mission leader. We were to wake early from our hibernation on board the ship as something had gone wrong and would need to be fixed…

Another novelty of this escape room, on top of being ninety minutes long, was the fact that each team member was assigned a different role on the ship. This gave an extra task in particular for one team-member to perform.

Theme

Sci-fi is one of my favourite escape room themes in general and the set here was executed to a high standard with some fun areas to explore. There were some special effects dotted around that provided more excitement than was strictly necessary, which is always appreciated!

Puzzles

A wide range of puzzles, from self-contained logic puzzles through to very physical tasks spanning a lot of the room. In fact this was a very physical game in general, which was a brave choice for a 90 minute room and I definitely broke a sweat at some points. It worked though, and it did feel like you were running around trying to fix things, even when some of the puzzles were stretching your suspension of disbelief regarding the setting. No padlocks here; most of the mechanisms were electronic.

There are some side-games going on through the main narrative where the team’s individual roles play a small part, which I thought worked really well in keeping the pressure on the team throughout, though we had a technical problem with one of them which the GM had intervene in the room to try to fix, and then later override remotely when he wasn’t able to do so. I thought this was handled quite well, though the equipment involved didn’t come across as particularly long-lasting in design.

Hint system

In addition to Mac, the captain who provides audio narratives and some pre-recorded hints, there is also JAC, the ship’s computer, who functions as the text interface for the GM’s clues. We received a few clues and they were generally helpful. I think it’s a testament to the escape room that we were busy enough that I didn’t count the number of clues we received!

There’s no visible countdown timer, though the side-games provide some insight into how far through you are. We finished with 19 minutes to spare so it’s possible there’s more cues if you get nearer to the deadline.

Finale

Super fun in a way that would be spoiling things if I said any more. It’s not the absolute best ending I’ve had in a space-themed room, but fairly close!

Debriefing

We had another nice chat with the GM afterwards, who told us about their other rooms there. Then we had our time revealed and a photo taken for social media.

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#47: The Escapement (Margate) – The Pit

An outstanding room with great puzzles, atmosphere, theming and game master makes The Pit an unmissable game. I’m delighted to give it one of my rare five star ratings. You should travel to play this game.

Rating:★★★★★ (Outstanding)
Location:Margate
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:21 April 2019
Hints taken:Unknown
Time:58m25
URL:The Escapement

Front & Briefing

We phoned The Pit about 25 minutes before the time slot was due to start and were very pleasantly surprised they were able to fit us in! Upon arrival the GM was understandably still resetting the room but we had a lovely chat with the venue’s owner in the meantime about our various favourite rooms. They seem like a venue that are extremely proud of their rooms, which is always a good sign!

The GM then greeted us in character as the representative of a mining company that had lost a previous team down The Pit and were sending us to investigate. The character he played was particularly enjoyable and definitely unique amongst the few other escape rooms that include acted-out GMs!

Theme

The game is set in an underground mined cave and even the entrance to the room was themed accordingly. Inside, the set’s theming is of an exceptional standard and was an absolute joy to explore and tinker with. Combined with the GM, who remains in character over the walkie-talkie throughout as a guide of sorts, it was a very immersive and exciting experience. There were plenty of “wow” moments and some nice little touches to finish. It was a very cleverly designed space.

Puzzles

The most entertaining puzzles for me were the more physical ones, and The Escapement have come up with some novel ways of getting the team to work together. More traditional puzzles fitted in well with the theme, and there weren’t any puzzles I felt I’d encountered anywhere else. For the most memorable puzzle in the game, they’d found a way of making it even more thrilling, which I feel summarises the whole experience: the creators and GM pull out all the stops to generate excitement and a sense of urgency.

Hint system

You’re in regular contact with the GM via a walkie-talkie, who remains in character throughout. This was really novel and blurred the line between hints and the story in a really pleasant way. There’s no countdown timer or anything like that in the room; you’re told your time afterwards but the game relies on the pacing created by the puzzles and the GM to get you out.

Finale

I can’t say much without spoiling the ending but like the rest of the game, the ending was a heck of an adrenaline rush, and theatrically brilliant, if a little out of the blue story-wise.

Debriefing

The debriefing here is the most thorough I’ve had, with the GM, now out of character, thoroughly taking you behind the scenes of the game, which I personally found fascinating, and his excitement was contagious here: the team here clearly love their jobs and care about giving teams a good experience. Finally, a photo for social media and another nice chat with the owner.

#46: One Pound Lane (Canterbury) – The Crime and Punishment Lab

Crime and Punishment Lab felt like an early-generation escape room despite being quite new, but pulled it off with a high standard of theming and a huge stack of puzzles that we found very enjoyable.

Rating:★★★★☆ (Highly recommended)
Location:Canterbury
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:21 April 2019
Hints taken:1
Time:52m33
URL:One Pound Lane / Escape in the Towers

Front & Briefing

One Pound Lane, just to the side of Canterbury’s Westgate, seems mostly to be a bar/restaurant when you go in, but there’s a small foyer with a couple of seats for escape room attendees. At the correct time our very enthusiastic GM collected us and led us upstairs to where, oddly given we’d been sat downstairs, there was an actual briefing area to sit in.

This is an escape room inspired by the location, the venue’s original 1830s prison cells, rather than aiming for more historically accuracy like One Pound Lane’s other offering, The Comms Room (#45). The storyline is a little light but essentially you’ve become locked in a macabre 19th Century punishment research lab. The room immediately gets off to an immersive start as you’re lead to the starting point of the game.

Theme

There was a high standard of work put into this room, which used the existing space cleverly and complemented the building rather than trying to disguise it (for instance, the GM was keen to point out a few original features of the jail cells just before we began). Aside from a few anachronisms and bits of escape room logic, it was easy to get into the spirit of the room

Puzzles

The creators have jammed a lot of puzzles into this escape room! There was always plenty to do and yet the room was designed to unfold at a rate where we never felt too overwhelmed with the number of tasks to get through. During our briefing we were told there would be audio cues if we were getting behind, which is an interesting concept, though it wasn’t used for us, so I can’t say whether it would have been motivational or panic-inducing! The puzzles themselves were all of pretty high quality, with a mix of purely physical puzzles and some ones with some underlying tech. My only two issues would be the presence of quite a few escape room tropes, but they were on the lines of familiar puzzle mechanisms rather than flaws in the room; and a sizeable number of identical padlocks, though it was generally clear which one or two to go for at any given point.

Hint system

The time was shown on a screen which also displayed a visual hint for our single clue during the game – it’s nice to see when escape rooms have anticipated what areas might be problematic for players and have crafted clues appropriately. The hint we got was enough to give us a moment of realisation without straight up telling us the solution.

Finale

There wasn’t a big finale moment, which is fine, though the puzzles at the end were a lot more physically entertaining than at the start, and included one puzzle that felt particularly satisfying to perform.

Debriefing

Our GM went through the game with us, took our photo with the escape time written on a board, which ends up on social media, and had a nice chat to us about other escape rooms in the area. We booked two later in the day based on his recommendations and they were good!

#45: One Pound Lane (Canterbury) – The Comms Room

A very well-planned room with a strong theme and extremely well-themed puzzles, The Comms Room worked well as a dual WW2 experience combined with an escape room, and we came away feeling like we’d learned something about the history of the building too!

Rating:★★★☆☆ (Recommended)
Location:Canterbury
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:21 April 2019
Hints taken:2
Time:47m32
URL:One Pound Lane / Escape in the Towers

Front & Briefing

An escape room in Canterbury’s medieval Westgate! Having lived in Canterbury for quite a few years while I was studying, it was a pleasant surprise to see that when they said the room was in the Westgate, they really meant in the Westgate. The briefing area, if it can be called that, is in an area off to one side of the main road, however, and consists of little more than a couple of seats in the foyer of One Pound Lane’s bar and restaurant area. It was only because another group were already there that we were sure we were in the right place!

Our very smartly dressed GM turned up at the time of our booking and led us across the road to the entrance to the building. We were briefed that this was somewhat more of an experience than the average escape room, and they were making the most of the location which genuinely was used as a Second World War comms room.

Theme

The aim is to defend Canterbury from air raids during the second world war, and the room was decorated using authentic equipment from the period featuring various command and control areas to deploy various air defences. While the floor space is quite small, they’ve fit quite a lot in here and it felt very immersive, save for one piece of modern tech used to move the game along.

Puzzles

The creators had gone to great lengths to make the systems for defending Canterbury as close to the actual tasks wardens would have been expected to perform at the time, which is a good game idea as, of course, none of your team is likely to have had training in this area, so there is a lot to figure out! Very little “escape room logic” here; in fact you really do have to consider what you’re doing in the context of the game in order to solve some parts. There was one puzzle that was a bit of an escape room cliche, but in the theme of the room it worked well. You’ll also need a tiny bit of local geographical knowledge, and knowledge of the Imperial system of units, which I lacked, so it would have been useful to have a hint about these somewhere in the room, but that’s my only minor gripe with the puzzles.

Hint system

The GM will give you clues at their own discretion – in fact ours told us beforehand that asking will almost never get us anything as they like people to apply themselves first. We had one technical fault with the game early on which required us to vacate the room while it was fixed; the GM was a little slow to pick up that this had happened and it took a while to fix, and I’m not convinced that the five minutes we were given back was sufficient to cover this. After we’d restarted, the GM seemed a little over-keen to give us search hints before we’d even finished scanning around the room, which irritated us; it felt like they had a tight schedule to get back on. We were given the offer of a free coffee afterwards to make up for this.

Finale

It was fun! We’d got into the rhythm of the game, which was pretty linear, by this point, and it managed to pull out a couple of things to surprise us anyway.

Debriefing

Another thing that felt like we were being hurried out was that although we were told our time, there was no opportunity for photos despite seeing that other groups have had theirs published on social media. Photos aren’t an essential feature for me but it highlighted how tightly packed their schedule was following our technical fault.

#44: Red House Mysteries (Exeter) – The Shadow Darkens

While there was nothing wrong with The Shadow Darkens, there wasn’t a lot about it that stood out either. Compared to Red House Mysteries’ current other game The Heist (#26), it felt a bit of a let-down.

Rating:★★☆☆☆ (Not recommended)
Location:Exeter
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:9 April 2019
Hints taken:0
Time:44 minutes
URL:Red House Mysteries

Front & Briefing

We had a different GM than our last visit, who was enjoying some music on a record player I hadn’t noticed the first time around. The briefing was the usual; the mission to find various bits of “evidence” in protagonist detective Jack Armstrong’s office in order to prove him innocent after a wrongful arrest.

Theme

The room is set in the 1940s and Red House Mysteries have sourced materials and props that looked right to my untrained eye. Some of the items in the room were starting to look a little worn, though given that this was supposed to be a working office, this didn’t detract too much. I’m not sure if this is a problem or not, but the choice of background music in the room was extremely relaxing and it took some willpower to ramp up and start searching the room!

Puzzles

A nice set of mostly mechanical puzzles with a couple of slightly higher tech things thrown in later. Not too many padlocks but also nothing particularly astounding here. One interesting aspect was the “evidence” which had to be collected in a certain way; this didn’t particularly work for me but the other two players on my team seemed to understand it. Given how it was presented, I didn’t feel like it logically proved Armstrong innocent and required a bit too large a logic leap for me.

Hint system

Integrated nicely into the room. The only time it was used for us was, unfortunately, for the final puzzle, where the GM had to double-check we’d done the correct thing and then notify us of an equipment failure.

Finale

The finale was an interesting concept in that you could do it as you go along, or leave it all to the end if you wanted to. As I’ve mentioned above, I didn’t personally find it particularly exciting, and we had a technical problem with it.

Debriefing

A nice chat with the GM afterwards, who took our photo for Facebook and Instagram with the same props as for the Heist. We also found out that they have another room in the works, though unfortunately they’re replacing The Heist rather than this one, which was a surprise since I felt The Heist was a much better room.

#43: Locked Room (Budapest) – The Secret Lab

While not a stand-out game, The Secret Lab provided a lot of interesting puzzles and was worth our decision to book in one final game in Budapest before heading to the airport probably a little later than we should have!

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (Recommended)
Location:Budapest
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:26 March 2019
Hints taken:1
Time:51m04
URL:Locked Room

Front & Briefing

As #40; and again it was very quiet in the waiting area ­– I wonder when their peak time is? At any rate, the room was ready to go when we arrived and we started more-or-less immediately. Unlike the rest of Locked Room & ARoom’s games, this didn’t have an introductory message on a TV screen inside, which makes me wonder if it’s an older game. (If it was, it didn’t show.)

Theme

The story the GM gave us at the door was a little different to the one on the website, but essentially your team is investigating a house that is rumoured to be running a drug lab. As such, the decor you see when you enter the room is basically “a house”, which they’d executed well. It’s difficult with such a theme to have the place decorated while avoiding red herrings and I was pleased to find that the bookshelf in it was sealed off behind transparent perspex – so no rifling through books required!

Puzzles

Mostly lower tech stuff in this room, though the puzzles were generally very inventive and there were some nice “a-ha!” moments. Towards the end there was a little more tech, though it was largely based around entering codes.

Hint system

A buzzer to get in contact with the GM, as with Locked Room’s other offerings. We took one clue near the end, which turned out to be essentially a search fail.

Finale

It’s clear where you’re heading for and how you might go about solving the final puzzle from part-way through the game, but there wasn’t really a finale to speak of. Unfortunately one of the clues we had to take was near the end, which rather took the momentum out of it, but I’ve no general complaints about the ending.

Debriefing

After congratulating us and taking our payment, the GMs were pretty hands-off. Clearly the venue was set up to have a lot of people around at any time; the photo opportunity was self-service in a photo-booth-style room with some appropriate placards to fish through for failing or succeeding the various rooms in the venue.

#42: Mystique Room (Budapest) – The Cathedral

A pretty basic escape room, with some theming that was “good enough” but puzzles that were generally not very exciting.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (Not recommended)
Location:Budapest
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:26 March 2019
Hints taken:2
Time:52m
URL:Mystique Room

Front & Briefing

Back in Mystique Room’s main building after finishing their newer room Pirate Bay (#41) and with another story recited that, like Mystique’s lesser offerings, bore little relevance to the actual room (in short: collect the artefacts), we were shown into the room, a medieval-themed room based about the notion of a medieval cathedral.

Theme

The old basement of the Mystique Room property lent itself well to this theme, and some parts were simply uncovered wall. There were props and decorations you might expect from the theme, and not a lot in the way of major set pieces; certainly nothing with any kind of wow factor. Breaking immersion was a lot of padlocks, though other puzzles used more authentic-seeming devices, and there was some electronic tech behind the scenes in a couple of places.

Puzzles

Very little out of the ordinary, including one game that is seriously overused in escape rooms (in fact, Mystique Room’s own Tower of Wollongong (#37) contained one of these puzzles in it; as I mentioned for Pirate Bay (#41), it’s very disappointing when one venue recycles puzzles). Finding the combos for the padlocks was fairly run of the mill too, though there were a couple of more interesting puzzles based around this. One of the more high tech puzzles required a bit too much of a logic leap and we had to take two clues before we understood what to do and what that had done; as far as I could tell there was no signposting for it at all.

Hint system

Walkie-talkie with the GM. Unlike some of Mystique Room’s games, this one did have a countdown timer on display.

Finale

As with most collect-the-artefacts games, there was an element of non-linearity to it, and what ends up being your final puzzle depends on which puzzle you finished last. Inevitably we finished the most tiresome one last, and it was one where the last team member (of three) was just sat down waiting for the other two, so probably the least exciting finish I remember in an escape game recently.

Debriefing

As with the other games, the GM met us and there were some costumes to wear for a group photo, which the GM took using one of our own cameras.

Final thoughts

It’s interesting to see the earlier games from a venue that also has some good ones on offer (see Pirate Bay (#41) and Time Machine (#38)), and finding out where their initial strengths were and how they’ve learned from what didn’t work in the earlier rooms such as this one. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that this was a pretty basic escape room.

#41: Mystique Room (Budapest) – Pirate Bay

Pirate Bay is a high quality room with only a couple of minor issues preventing it from being faultless.

Rating: ★★★★☆ (Highly recommended)
Location:Budapest
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:26 March 2019
Hints taken:2
Time:48m
URL:Mystique Room

Front & Briefing

Pirate Bay is actually next door to Mystique Room’s main entrance, though both are inside the same pleasant courtyard just off the street, so I would guess that this makes Pirate Bay the newest room. The GM took us through the usual stuff then we entered the room.

Theme

This was a fetch-the-artefact game; in this case a chalice that would allow the team to drink from the fountain of youth. The blurb on the website mentions a “real” pirate ship – I don’t know about real but it was certainly extremely impressive and exceeded our initial expectations of it based on the other rooms we’d played at the venue. The production values on this room were very high and the whole area was a blast to roam around and explore. Little touches on the set had been put in that really helped with immersion.

Puzzles

Definitely tending towards the higher tech here (it boasts no padlocks), though remaining fun and very physically interactive. There were two puzzles reused from Tower of Wollongong (#37), which was disappointing as we’d essentially already solved them, and one of them in particular would have been rather impressive if we’d encountered it here for the first time (though at least the mechanism actually worked in this version!) There were enough other original puzzles to offset this.

Hint system

Via a walkie-talkie to the GM. We took two hints, both search fails, though one in particular (quite near to the end) was way too difficult to expect teams to find, especially given it was combined with red herrings that made it seem like a different type of puzzle.

On a related note, there was no countdown timer in the room; I presume at some point the GM might have buzzed in to give teams the remaining time, but that didn’t happen during our 48 minutes, so I suggest checking the start time yourself as you go in if such things matter to you. They don’t seem to mind people using mobile phones for this.

Finale

The room delivered on its promise; it was quite an understated finish but satisfying nonetheless.

Debriefing

The GM let us back into the room for any questions, and also took a photo of us on our own camera from inside. A box of assorted pirate things were provided for this.

Final thoughts

While not the Pirate-themed game of choice I would pick for Budapest (that would be Pirate Cave (#34)) there’s no reason you shouldn’t do both!

#40: Locked Room (Budapest) – Research Base

A high quality room with some slick theming and some pleasing puzzles, Research Base again demonstrated the Locked Room/ARoom’s rooms are generally solid games with little to fault.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (Recommended)
Location:Budapest
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:25 March 2019
Hints taken:2 out of a maximum of 5
Time:52m22
URL:Locked Room

Front & Briefing

Another basement, and a large one at that! The main foyer area reminded me of a laser tag waiting area, with clusters of wooden benches, each with a TV screen in the centre presumably for briefing purposes. It was, however, devoid of people when we arrived, and we walked through the wonderful smell of pine to the reception desk. The staff showed us where the lockers for our bags were and told us to come around when we were ready. Within the room itself, as we’d expected from their ARoom branch (see #28 and #29), there was a short video on a monitor introducing the story and then showing the clock.

Theme

The aim of Research Base is to break into an underground tech research facility and retrieve an artefact from a safe. They pulled the theme off perfectly for me, with little touches everywhere reinforcing the sense that you were underground and some authentic equipment used to deck out the rooms.

Puzzles

The puzzles all suited the theme well, and there were some nice bits of tech, both to interact with directly and powering some of the electronically-operated puzzles. The game was reasonably non-linear, but had a nice flow to it; it was generally clear what you needed to do. One thing I particularly liked was that upon completing the puzzle, the game usually highlighted the effect of it subtly but clearly; I’ve found in other games with electronic mechanisms that it can be difficult to tell what exactly you’ve just unlocked by finishing a puzzle, and that wasn’t an issue here.

Hint system

Hints on request via a push-button doorbell-style button near the entrance. We took two clues, both search fails in a sense. (This is not unusual for this team!) As with the rest of Locked Room’s game, you are limited to 5 clues per game.

Finale

It’s clear where you’re heading for and how you might go about solving the final puzzle from part-way through the game, but there wasn’t really a finale to speak of. Unfortunately one of the clues we had to take was near the end, which rather took the momentum out of it, but I’ve no general complaints about the ending.

Debriefing

After congratulating us and taking our payment, the GMs were pretty hands-off. Clearly the venue was set up to have a lot of people around at any time; the photo opportunity was self-service in a photo-booth-style room with some appropriate placards to fish through for failing or succeeding the various rooms in the venue.

We liked the room enough that we squeezed another of their games (The Secret Lab (#43)) into our schedule before leaving Budapest!

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