#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.

#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.

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