#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.

#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!

#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.

#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.

#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.

#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!

#38: Mystique Room (Budapest) – Time Machine

An above average room with a strong focus on the steampunk theme makes it a must-do room for anyone keen on that style, though the puzzles, while often creative, felt lacking in some places.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (Recommended)
Location:Budapest
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:25 March 2019
Hints taken:2
Time:52m
URL:Mystique Room

Front & Briefing

We came to this room having just had a disastrous experience in The Tower of Wollongong (#37), but had put that to one side and attempted to see Time Machine through fresh eyes (despite an immediate technical failure of the exit door resulting in the instruction “just don’t leave until you finish the last puzzle”). It was worth doing so.

Theme

Upon entering the room it was clear how much work had gone into the theme of this steampunk-time-travel game. It was decked out floor to ceiling in exciting looking props and everything you’d expect, without heading too far in the red herring direction. There was a rough storyline to this; something about a scientist trapped in the past after trying to go back in time to see his deceased wife once more; but the basic premise was to find your way into the lab and activate the time machine.

Puzzles

Some really novel stuff in this room; while one puzzle required a bit too far a logic leap and we had to take a clue for it, the rest of the room flowed well and had some very clever mechanisms in places. Like the set itself, the puzzles were of a high build quality; the room wasn’t entirely padlock-free but I don’t think that’s a problem when there’s a wide variety like in this one. It definitely benefited from having differently-minded thinkers on the team as a solution to one puzzle was obvious to one person in a way that had completely passed another by.

Hint system

A walkie-talkie with clues on request, as with the rest of Mystique Room’s games. We took two clues, one for the aforementioned logic leap, and another for a search fail. I would suggest leaning slightly towards asking for hints sooner rather than later if you are struggling with any particular part or unsure how to proceed.

Finale

The final puzzle was combined with several satisfying effects, including something that we very much did not expect to happen; unfortunately the GM came in and terminated the effect barely after we’d “escaped”, which I can sort of understand but was a bit of a pity.

Debriefing

The GM was happy to answer questions about things we hadn’t quite understood the significance of at the time, along with one part we’d rather done by trial and error rather than discovering a particular clue at the right time. We had a photo taken using one of our own cameras in the room itself. There were hats.

#35: E-Exit (Budapest) – Heaven and Hell

A well-thought out room with a unique take on the topic that was quirky, enjoyable, and kept us engaged throughout. Recommended.

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Location:Budapest
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:24 March 2019
Hints taken:0
Time:46m
URL:E-Exit

Front & Briefing

Down the stairs from the pavement and into a basement den for our eighth Budapest escape room. After the usual signed waivers we were also given an A4 page of paper filled with the storyline for the room – the GM told us at the time there was nothing we needed to memorise from it but it was a little strange to be reading that in silence beforehand, and it was way more wordy than it needed to be.

Theme

In short, you’re attempting to investigate the afterlife by “hibernating” yourselves, then escaping the nether worlds and reviving yourself within an hour. Quite gruesome sounding, and the first area I wouldn’t recommend to people who might find gallows humour disturbing, though there wasn’t any gore or major jump scares throughout the game and the death-themed sections were fairly tongue-in-cheek. In fact, the rest of the game had a good sense of humour too; we particularly enjoyed some of the more heavenly aspects!

Puzzles

The sense of humour lent itself to a diverse range of puzzles, with a range of puzzles from pretty low tech standard escape room fare to some satisfying physical puzzles and a few more advanced electronic puzzles. The more physical bits were definitely the highlight for me; there are some bits I wouldn’t have minded having a go with again after we’d finished!

Hint system

Via loudspeakers on request or at the GM’s suggestion.

Finale

While the game flowed nicely to the finish and there was a final puzzle of sorts, it wasn’t the most memorable, especially not compared with some of the other parts of the room. My feeling was that the game should have ended just before that point, puzzle-wise, but it was necessary story-wise.

Debriefing

Congratulations from the GM, and a photo that appeared on Facebook shortly afterwards. Then we were given walking directions around the block (a two-minute walk) to E-Exit’s secondary location to play their next game (Santa Muerte (#36))!

#33: Enigma Mission (Budapest) – Enigma Mission

My first 90-minute escape room, and while I was starting to feel the time, there was enough variation throughout to keep the team occupied, and the puzzles generally made up for what the decoration lacked. Overall a very satisfying experience!

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Location:Budapest
Team:Rhubarb Rhubarb
Date:24 March 2019
Hints taken:4
Time:85m out of 90
URL:Enigma Mission

Front & Briefing

Enigma Mission is a single-room venue and the foyer reflected this, being just a single sofa and a desk. The GM was just finishing resetting the room when we arrived but after that we had the full attention of two very friendly members of staff, which was nice!

We were briefed in the lobby rather than the room itself, which is common for the UK but less so in Budapest, then led into the room.

This was a 90 minute game! I’d not played such a long one before and was curious to see whether it could hold together and keep my attention for that long.

Theme

The theming of Enigma Mission is pretty minimal; it was nominally to retrieve an artefact called Enigma but there was no coherent theme running through the game. It was clearly a homemade game done on a budget, with one very impressive bit of tech towards the end of the game (unfortunately playable by only one member of the team). The place felt like it could do with a clean a little more often than it got, especially in a section that needed you to get down on the floor.

Puzzles

The puzzles were varied, and while they were mostly quite low tech and using off-the-shelf items, they were more inventive than average even when there were padlocks involved. There was even a section that used a single-use component that we were reasonably sure what to do with, but had to call out to the GM to let us know if we were about the break the game! The puzzles called on multiple skill sets and there was value in determining which member of the team was best suited to solving certain ones in particular. One puzzle was made significantly harder for bespectacled people, which was unfortunately the whole team today!

Hint system

Hints at the GM’s discretion from a supposed remote agent called “Alexandra” who was absolutely just the GM; another example of the theme falling a little flat. That said, the GM was clearly paying attention to us and judged when to give us clues (via the room’s loudspeakers) appropriately.

Finale

Getting the “Enigma” artefact involved several more stages than I’d expected and honestly it seemed to drag out a little. The space Enigma Mission had to work with was large and it felt at times they were adding extra things just to fill it up. The artefact itself was also a little disappointing – this seems like a silly thing to bring up but is another example of the budget of this game letting it down a little.

Debriefing

The GM was happy to run through things with us, and took our photo in the room.

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