#55: Excape (Exmouth) – E=MC Scared!

The theming in E=MC Scared! was done to a decent standard, but the puzzles were unsatisfying. I feel the creators, while enthusiastic, could have done with some more beta testing before opening to get the experience pinned down better. Playable, but unfortunately I can’t recommend it for enthusiasts.

Rating:★★ (Not recommended)
Location:Exmouth
Team:Family of 5
Date:28 December 2019
Hints taken:2
Time:Failed!
URL:Excape

Front & Briefing

Occupying some office space above a bank in Exmouth town centre, Excape is easy to find and after being buzzed in we went up a flight of steps to their floor. Both their current rooms are attached to a small mostly undecorated lobby, and while the rooms aren’t heated, our host did offer us a hot chocolate to get us warmed up.

The GM gave us a quick run-down of the story: we are schoolchildren trapped by “Professor von Doomington” and we need to escape before he gets back in 60 minutes. Everyone is also given a school tie and cap to wear, which is a little gimmicky for my taste but I could see other teams enjoying it.

Theme

As the title of the game suggests, this is tongue-in-cheek/twee horror, with a school science lab overtone. The storyline immediately falls apart as it appears that we need to break into the place rather than escape it, but it was functional and the game was fitted out to a good standard.

Puzzles

Aside from a couple of inventive physical puzzles the game was a let down in terms of both puzzle conception and execution. There were red herrings all over the place; one puzzle in particular was a case of trying nearly everything in the room in turn. I had deliberately overlooked one part because I knew I would be irritated if it was what I suspected, and it turned out to be so when we got a hint for it. “A classic escape room puzzle!” exclaimed the GM when someone mentioned it in the debrief.

This seemed to be a trend: the game relied on all-too-common tropes; for instance another puzzle basically required you to have encountered the same sort of thing done more logically elsewhere in order to know what to do; there was absolutely no hint I noticed to signpost it.

We also had what I would say was a technical failure due to doing two things in the wrong order that required me to apply my knowledge as a software developer to realise there was a problem and fix, and the GM didn’t seem to understand when I described the problem to him afterwards. I could go on; the game felt like irritation after irritation. There were also several unresolved padlocks by the end of the game which was rather unsatisfying.

Hint system

We’d been given a walkie-talkie during the briefing and checked it was working, but no other guidance as to how hints would be given. I hadn’t thought to ask in the briefing, but we had all assumed the GM would come on the radio every now and then if we were getting stuck. Eventually we realised during the game that this was probably wrong and asked for a hint. At a guess we were actually somewhat behind time by that point.

Finale

We ran out of time half-way through solving the final padlock, unfortunately! The room boasted a device that looked like it might have made for a fun success condition, but we didn’t get to see it. The GM did a good job at crafting a good ending for us nonetheless, which is always appreciated in the case of a failure.

While the team definitely wasn’t playing at their best for that room, I do feel that the technical issue we had and an earlier puzzle that could have done with having some maintenance, plus the other issues mentioned above, did cost us the couple of minutes we would have needed to get the last bit done.

Debriefing

The GM was happy to answer questions within the room after we’d finished, and took a team photo which was e-mailed to all the team members afterwards.

#54: Arctic Escape (Tromsø) – The Backroom

Well executed both for theme and puzzles, The Backroom was a highly enjoyable game and while the theme wasn’t one I would naturally be drawn to, this didn’t detract from it being very enjoyable!

Rating:★★★ (Recommended)
Location:Tromsø
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:22 December 2019
Hints taken:3
Time:55m33s
URL:Arctic Escape

Front & Briefing

Our GM(s) from Carla’s Secret (#53) sat us down to watch the video introduction for The Backroom, a sequel to John Winter’s Office (#52), before leading us into the room. John Winter has been growing his empire, but a raid at the local bar hosting his illegal gambling has scared him and his associates away for an hour and you must collect the names of those associates before they return.

Theme

The room is atmospheric when you enter and a step up from the first John Winter room in terms of décor and immersion, and, size aside, feels like a real pub.

Puzzles

We missed quite an obvious thing to begin with that we took a clue for immediately, but after that everything flowed fairly well. There was a good mix of puzzles too, including one that I hadn’t come across anything like before (funnily enough, until the very next game I played elsewhere) which was really well executed and relied on a slightly different skill set to the usual escape room fare. It was difficult to fault any of the puzzles, in fact. Arctic Escape also solidified themselves in my mind, after Carla’s Room, as being expert hide-and-seekers with some great moments of inspiration leading to finding an item!

Hint system

As with the other two rooms we played, the GM cued us for hints rather than just dishing them out, except for the Very Obvious Thing we missed right at the start, which was a good judgement call. I think we took a couple of search hints, and one regarding a cultural difference between the UK and Norway which I should absolutely not have needed a hint for, oops!

Finale

No particular finale, but unlike other games where you’ve been collecting items from a list, the list of criminal names didn’t feel like we were just scrambling around for the last item forever, so it was much more satisfying.

Debriefing

We had a really nice chat with the GM and game designer afterwards, who had picked up that we were all experienced players and we exchanged notes about other rooms we’d played. It’s surprising that some venues can be internationally renowned, and at least I’d rated one of them as such here!

Unusually, there wasn’t a photo op for any of our games with Arctic Escape, though their Facebook page shows some group photos, so perhaps it was an oversight when we visited.

#53: Arctic Escape (Tromsø) – Carla's Secret

A real joy to play, with great set design and a nice range of puzzles with enthusiastic GMs with a strong theme. This was my favourite of the three Arctic Escape games I played.

Rating:★★★★ (Highly recommended)
Location:Tromsø
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:22 December 2019
Hints taken:1
Time:Unknown (lost notes – about 55m)
URL:Arctic Escape

Front & Briefing

We had time to have a quick wander around Tromsø including the very nearby Tromsø Cathedral (the yellow wooden one, not the Arctic Cathedral across the bridge) before returning to “the world’s northernmost escape room” to play their most recent game, Carla’s Secret.

The GM mentioned that this game was made in response to their previous, scary, game, VX Snatcher (which we didn’t play because we’re not keen on scary games) and was supposed to be the absolute opposite, and I’d say they pulled this off. A young girl called Carla has a friendly monster in her bedroom, and needs to persuade it to provide proof of its existence and that she’s not just imagining it.

Theme

This is an absolutely beautiful escape room and a great example of how everyday items can be used to fashion a great game. Upon entering the room looks just like you’ve entered a 9-year-old girl’s room, and everything stays in keeping with this. It’s bright, colourful, and a generally fun place to hunt around for clues in.

Puzzles

We were the first group to play the room in English, and they’d done a great job at making any text clues bilingual. Despite the everyday setting, the puzzles were varied and creative, with plenty of nods to the sort of pop culture that would keep children entertained (and us adults too, for that matter) without requiring any outside knowledge, plus some rather fiendish ones that I felt pretty pleased with myself for figuring out.

Hint system

Hints were via a screen that also showed the countdown timer. We had agreed with the GM beforehand that we’d like to be asked before getting any hints, and found the “hint available” text appearing on the screen every so often a nice way of going about it. I think we took just one hint, for a search fail that the GM said afterwards was a commonly missed thing and they were considering moving. I hope they don’t, because it was by no means impossible and was a great kick-yourself moment when they point it out!

Finale

Given the theme we had certain expectations of what the ending might involve, and we weren’t left disappointed in this regard. The ending had us all grinning.

Debriefing

A quick debriefing this time but with both the staff GMs around. They’re clearly proud of this room (and their other most recent game, VX Snatcher) and their enthusiasm shows. They’d re-arranged their schedule in order to get us into the final game of the night immediately rather than sending us out into the cold for an hour, which we very much appreciated, so we went straight into The Backroom (#54)!

#52: Arctic Escape (Tromsø) – John Winter's Office

A well-designed room with smart puzzles and a good atmosphere created from off-the-shelf items.

Rating:★★★ (Recommended)
Location:Tromsø
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:22 December 2019
Hints taken:3
Time:51m17s
URL:Arctic Escape

Front & Briefing

Arctic Escape claims to be the world’s northernmost escape room and deep into polar night with snow on the ground and streetlights on at 13:30 this was easy enough to believe! We were greeted by an enthusiastic GM and after a quick chat discussing how we wanted our hints, the briefing took the form of a video shown in the lobby before we were led to the room. In short, the aim was to find incriminating evidence of suspected criminal John Winter in his office before he returns in 60 minutes’ time.

Theme

The room was a pretty standard office theme with a couple of surprises, but executed to a high standard and with plenty of novel uses of off-the-shelf props.

Puzzles

A good mix, including some we hadn’t come across before, which is all the more impressive given the fairly standard theme and tech level of the room. I think everyone in the team came away with a favourite puzzle afterwards too.

Hint system

Hints were displayed in text on a screen that also showed the countdown timer. We had agreed with the GM beforehand that we’d like to be asked before getting any hints, and found the “hint available” text appearing on the screen with an audio cue every so often a nice way of going about it. We took 3 clues; one was a search fail, the other two were logic steps we hadn’t figured out but probably should have!

Finale

No finale to speak of, but it was clear when you’d finished because of finding the evidence mentioned in the briefing.

Debriefing

Seemingly commonly for rooms outside the UK we weren’t greeted by the GM until we got back to the front desk. They ran through any questions we had, then sent us on our way; we had our next room with them (Carla’s Secret (#53)) booked in 40 minutes’ time!

#51: Escape Quest (Zürich) – Magical Championship

Frustratingly, this could have been a four-star (highly recommended) room, but so many small things let it down, mostly around the puzzle design and game flow, that despite its good looks it’s difficult to recommend Magical Championship to experienced players.

Rating:★★☆☆☆ (Not recommended)
Location:Zürich
Team:Team of 3 in Zurich (R, Z & me)
Date:29 September 2019
Hints taken:3
Time:75m (failed!)
URL:Escape Quest

Front & Briefing

One street back from a well-served bus stop, Escape Quest is somewhat hidden behind a garage facade, where you’ll need to ring the bell to be led through a car park and up the stairs of the small office block it resides within. The briefing was fairly short and took place in the room itself. It’s certainly one of the more novel concepts I’ve experienced: the task was to discover which of four animal magicians had won a past magical tournament, using clues around the room, and a central playing board that felt a little reminiscent of the board game in Jumanji.

Theme

My first impression of walking into a dimly lit room was of disappointment – dim lighting often tends to get used to cover up a set design that’s been left wanting, or to artificially make puzzles harder. In this case, I think it was misplaced, because the artwork around the room was beautiful and I feel the creators should have celebrated it more.

As the game progressed, the quality did drop somewhat, with the final few puzzles feeling like we could have encountered them in any other escape room (as I often have!)

Puzzles

The puzzles started off fairly well in sync with the theme, but descended into more classic escape room fare pretty quickly. While the game wasn’t particularly linear, all the physical puzzle games got clumped together, as did the brainteasers, which meant that different members of the group weren’t able to play to their strengths in parallel.

That said, there were a couple of clever mechanisms, including a small incidental one that I haven’t seen before and was a clever use of the theming; it has brought a smile to my face just thinking of it.

Such mechanisms were unfortunately outnumbered by ones that, if they were signposted or hinted at by the room, we totally missed. We needed two hints alone just to work out what to do with a prop that really should have been obvious, and the actual solution didn’t feel satisfying. Having to work out how the central board game interacted with the rest of the room was also a problem at the beginning – it wasn’t clear what sort of solution we were trying to get from other puzzles in order to interact with it, which held up our ability to make logic leaps.

We had caught on that we were running behind time by the end of the room, which made the choice of the physical puzzles, which you can’t speed up by taking some extra hints, especially frustrating for me.

Hint system

Hints were by request only, via a wall intercom here. When we did ask for hints the GM didn’t seem to have been following what we’d done so far, and having to explain what we were having trouble with and what we’d tried so far was a little irritating.

Almost uniquely there was no countdown timer of any sort in the room. I can’t blame our going over time on this (one team member had a watch, and we incorrectly assumed we could see where the game was heading towards a finale, which it wasn’t), but it was an odd omission.

To the venue’s credit, they allowed us to go over time, which they say they will try to let teams do if there isn’t another team booked into the following slot.

Finale

The game had a natural finish, but nothing I would particularly call a finale here. In fact it wasn’t even immediately obvious what we were supposed to do when we finished the game’s main objective (wait for the GM to greet us, mostly).

Debriefing

Quite a functional debriefing; we were over time so this may have affected things, but it was a photo (using our own camera) of us with a couple of props, then payment, then we were lead back out the building by the GM.

#50: Escape Rooms (London) – Pharaoh’s Chamber

Unfortunately, Pharoah’s Chamber wasn’t much more than some reasonably interesting puzzle loosely tied together with a vague theme. For a central London location, this made it all the more disappointing.

Rating:★★☆☆☆ (Not recommended)
Location:London
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:8 September 2019
Hints taken:0, or 3, depending on who’s counting
Time:55m48s
URL:Escape Rooms

Front & Briefing

A couple of minutes’ walk from London Bridge station must make this the most central location I’ve been to a escape room in, and the venue was naturally pretty easy to find, just tucked away down a side street off the main road. We were welcomed inside and given the basic info jointly with another group doing a different room. Our GM then lead us to the room and gave us some more room-specific details before setting the timer on the wall and leaving us to it.

Theme

The title of the room implied a fair amount about what we might expect of the content, though upon entering I found myself a little disappointed at the sparsity of the area, especially given the marketing material on Escape Rooms’ website. There were some Ancient Egyptian props, most obviously the ones spaced around the exterior, but apart from that it was largely a white room with some thematic cues rather than feeling like you were truly raiding a tomb as per the room’s description.

Puzzles

Similarly, by and large the puzzles felt like they could have been transplanted into any space, and some were out-and-out anachronistic. One of the trickier puzzles, which required some intuiting over how a system worked, was made even harder by an instruction given to us during the briefing, which, at a guess, had been added to the briefing to make the first stage of the puzzle less bewildering for escape room beginners, but it actively prevented us from finding required information later – we required a not-a-hint (see below) in order to solve it.

One other puzzle stood out as a massive missed opportunity to engage all the members of the team more, and as it stood there really wasn’t much teamwork involved at all in the whole game; certainly not at a physical level.

Hint system

Escape Rooms (that is, the company running this venue) has a different notion of what counts as a hint to most other places I’ve been to. The GM is happy to talk to you and provide what I myself would call hints or clues in any other game, without it technically counting as a hint. (And they did so with quite a high frequency!)

This mattered a bit for this venue as no-hint winners got a team photo on a special wall of fame in the foyer. We didn’t take any official hints, but I would imagine they are pretty much just telling you the answer based on the non-hint information we received.

Finale

The game ends when the last of a few possible puzzles were completed. This reminded me of Cathedral (#42), where inevitably the puzzle that has been most aggregating ends up being your last, which I’m not convinced is good game design. As with Cathedral, it also meant that one team member had started the puzzle and didn’t really need input from the others mid way through.

Debriefing

As one of the team put it afterwards, this was actually the most fun bit of the room! As winners we were given a black sheet of paper on which to affix a team photo, and some glittery pens to decorate the border with. This is then put up in the hall of fame in the foyer.

#49: Escape in Time (London) – Secret Studio

An exciting room that stepped up the tension well through the game, with a few standout elements making the room easy to recommend, though let down a little in places, mostly by poor organisational choices and the occasional unthemed puzzle.

Rating:★★★☆☆ (Recommended)
Location:London
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:8 September 2019
Hints taken:3 + some for technical difficulties
Time:58m37s (adjusted to 56m37s after)
URL:Escape in Time

Front & Briefing

Secret Studio is one of London’s older escape rooms and immediately lives up to its name, sending you instructions to find their secret location by email shortly before the day of your booking – I think this makes it the first room I’ve played where taking a photo of the entrance for this blog would constitute a spoiler! I would, however, suggest you arrive marginally early as this will get you a slightly better experience than another team that turns up for the same slot – there are multiple copies of the room and the times aren’t staggered.

Once we made it inside, we were briefed alongside the other team that had appeared in a joint session. This was in the form of a spooky tale which to be honest fell a little flat for me, and I had trouble following the storyline, which was roughly: a film editor has gone missing from the edit suite while editing a horror film, and you’ve been sent in to find out what happened to them.

Theme

The themes in this room lend themselves quite well to being reproduced pretty faithfully, and we could tell that this would have been pushing the envelope when the room was new in 2015 – the final puzzle in particular was a very clever use of space and some real-life processes that made performing the actions particularly enjoyable.

There were also a couple of very nice surprises done using a mechanism that I haven’t come across before, which makes the room much more easy to recommend than I think it otherwise would be.

The soundproofing could have done with being improved a little; the other team playing in the copy of the room next to us could be heard winning which is a little disheartening while you’re still going!

Puzzles

An interesting mix of lateral thinking, pattern spotting, use of space and plain old hunting for clues (where once again the team took a couple of hint hits for failing to spot something we should have!) made for a room that kept our interest going throughout, with some satisfying payoffs.

On the other hand, some of the puzzles felt completely out of place for the space they were being performed in, and unfortunately others were well into the escape room clichés by this point.

We had one setup/technical problem that left us confused and needing to take a literal answer for one puzzle; we queried it afterwards and the GM confirmed that they’d reset the room badly after the previous occupants. It felt like the sort of thing that should have been on their reset checklist, and so close to the end of the game could have cost us the win, even though they added two minutes back to our time, retrospectively, after we queried it afterwards.

Hint system

Hints were at the GM’s discretion, and via text on a monitor, though they were able to hear us – in particular we appreciated that they responded to one of our team member calling out that we didn’t want hints just yet after the GM chipped in a little early on one puzzle. The time was also on display throughout.

Finale

Smart, and unique. I shall say no more than the fact that it was one of the more memorable finales I’ve experienced.

Debriefing

The GM was happy to go through stuff with us, and had noted a few amusing things we’d said throughout. Both teams in the time slot were around at the same time, though I’ll note that each team did have their own GM.

Finally, a photo of the team, which was later emailed to us with a custom note from the GM; a nice touch – it wasn’t just a generic Facebook link.

#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.

#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.

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