Over the last year my experience of UK escape rooms has been fairly mixed. My first UK room was at Clue Quest. Clue quest is still ranked as the number 1 escape room in the UK on Trip Advisor and for good reason. I had a really good experience at Clue Quest but must admit didn’t realise how good it was for a UK game until I started to play some of the others. Their puzzles are solid and they have the right balance between wow, tech, puzzles and theme. They currently have 3 games and have a battle option with at least one of them. I have reviewed this previously but it is worth pointing out when we played the battle option, I was in the winning team! I hope to play the others before the end of the year. Highly recommended.
My next game was Secret Studio. Here location makes a difference. It feels cool just being there. Game play was strong, theme was cool and for a long time this was my favourite UK based game. I managed to book in for their opening week where they had a half price option. Secret Studio is still a personal favourite.
The next double bill we played was up in Birmingham. I don’t want rehash the worse game experience I have ever had again so I will just move on but needless to say in the time it took us to escape, I could have perfectly hard boiled an egg, a much more satisfying activity.
After Keyhunter we played Prohibition Pandemonium. The venue is a grand vast stone building underground in a very expensive part of London. For this reason groups have to gather 10 players or be joined with strangers (similar to the American model- it is an American company). At the time of playing they had 2 different games delivered multiple times. In our group of 10 there was a healthy mix of seasoned players and newbies which should have meant we escaped in reasonably good time. Unfortunately having 10 players meant you often got under each other’s feet and only had a crack at perhaps 1 or 2 puzzles. This was not a game I enjoyed. It felt false. It was designed for maximum turn around, so pretty much everything was nailed down. Reset time must have been a matter of minutes. This compounded with brick wall paper really put me right off. Sorry not a fan.
By now I was stating to feel escape room cursed. My faith was restored by Lady Chastity’s Reserve just a short walk from Clapham Juntion. Firstly a big tick for being set in a pub. The Sunday lunch was delicious. Now a tiny minority of readers may have, like me, engaged in the age old debate surrounding ‘use of actors’ in escape rooms. I was always sceptical of the idea until I came to LCR. Despite the confined space the Gabriel’s use of adult humour made it a really fun, engaging experience. This is not your classic escape room but in some ways it’s a bit of light relief from the ‘same old, same old’. The accuracy of Handmade Mysteries banner line ‘Crystal Maze on crystal meth’ is difficult to gauge having never been on the Crystal Maze (and just to be clear having never done crystal meth)… this was more of an intimate affair one which would most likely have titillated Richard O’Brian given half the chance. This is a really great way to introduced someone to the idea of escape rooms who doesn’t like the idea of running around a lot.
As much as I love escape rooms, I love escape room bargains more. With that in mind I am continually checking groupon for any bargains. It was on groupon that I discovered Hidden Rooms. This time I took ‘Team Hydra’ with me (We had previously played Secret Studio) . It was a little tricky to get to but one of the team was a proper north London boy… although this ultimately meant very little and we had to rely on google maps. It is in what appears to be a residential area of Finsbury Park. We played Chain Reaction first and were pleasantly surprised, not by the theme which was fairly non average, but by some unusual puzzles and really cool ideas. It felt more like a random puzzle room but because the puzzles were cool it really didn’t matter that much. “A few hours after a nuclear disaster! The radiation has not yet reached the city where you live. As you escape you get a sight of a nuclear bunker. Suddenly you feel free of the great fear in your heart. I am saved – you think. However, the fight for your life is still not over. As you enter the all-important bunker the door immediately closes behind you. There is nothing but darkness and silence here. Or is it? You will have less and less time to find the boot-codes of equipment necessary to stay alive and to be completely secure. Running out of air and there are plenty of challenges to bring to life the abandoned bunker” It made not have been as coherent as all that but it was decent and since they continually seem to have offers on, well worth a visit.
Hidden Rooms’ Prison Break was much better… “Foreign country, foreign place! It seemed to be a great party with friends, but then something went wrong. Suddenly they woke up in a jail. You know that you are not guilty but you have been sentenced to life imprisonment. Your only thought is how to get the guards on and escape from captivity. You have to hurry, since you only have 60 minutes to go before the cell door closes behind you forever. Find solutions to the riddles and puzzles, open the padlocks, go closer and closer to freedom. The outcome is up to you! Either you manage to get out and see freedom or the cold hole takes you prisoner forever.” The theme was much more coherent. I enjoyed this game a lot and was glad we played it last. One of my enduring memories of this game was when one of the team said “will it ruin the game if I just pick the lock” I replied “yes but if we don’t find the key in a couple of minutes do it.” He was from Surrey so something like that was to be expected. We escaped in good time and left Hidden Rooms quite satisfied. Certainly for their second room escape the boys really enjoyed it. That night was particularly memorable because that was the night I discovered you could simple tap your bank card on the oyster pad to get on the tube. Result! Hidden Room has since added a third room that boasts no locks.
Unfortunately my next UK double bill was a return to mediocrity. I had purchased another heavily discounted groupon code for Sherlock Unlocked. The branding was good but seemingly unrelated to the games. The team this time was Chris from the Hydra as well as Clara and Brian who had not played an escape room since Berlin. (the rest of the Hydra had something better to do) I had read the reviews a few days prior to game and had decided to tweet them to let them know I was coming. The last thing I wanted to do was add another negative review to the litany that already existed. The Tube ride through Canary Wharf is impressive. I warned the team in a nearby wine bar that they should lower their expectations and that way they might enjoy it. They reassured me that it didn’t matter. So began our first game… ‘You knew something was wrong … Your memory is hazy… Somewhere near the Jurassic you remember a massive collision… Was it an asteroid, a massive T-Rex… Or something even worse? Nobody knows quite where Walter Spiegel has disappeared to… Life on Earth hangs in the balance… It is down to you to solve this knot in the fabric of time, and save life as you know it!’ Ok so this wasn’t too bad, some ok puzzles. The room was a bit bare but it was ok ish. Our second game followed on almost immediately afterwards… “Governments across the world confirmed this morning that a devastating biological attack of massive proportion could be coming at any moment! Professor Nemrov has created a virus so contagious that a single infected victim could easily start a global pandemic and life as we know it will come to an end. A highly trained team from London has been sent to take down this incredible threat to the whole world.” Our biggest mistake was playing the second game. Had we simply stopped with the time travel one we wouldn’t have felt so let down. The second room was identical, structurally, with the first. The puzzles were, again, ok ish but again the decor was drab, uninspiring and lacked imagination. The return journey home was was a sober affair.
This almost brings me up to date with my most recent UK escape room. It was the day of the local elections and hope was rising across the country that not only would there be a tremendous outpouring of grass roots involvement in politics but also Escape Rooms on Groupon would be decent (although probably very few were hoping the latter). I got a Groupon for QuestRoom for 3 people. Initially I had intended for just Nicole (of puzzle queen fame) to go but we roped a naive young kiwi with small legs known as James Andrew (sounds very biblical huh!) We caught the train to West Hampstead and then on to Willesden. Perhaps the most memorable part of the evening was taking an Uber for the first time. After checking on google maps it seemed like a right old trek from the station. An Uber later and we were there. The host was very genial and seemed very enthusiastic about us being there. “You are sealed in a cell. There is no way out. As you look around, you notice that scattered around you is evidence that others have been here before. They must have escaped! But how? Looking closer, there are clues which will lead you back to the outside world.”
James Andrew got straight into it and had a positive experience. I liked some of the puzzles but some of there were a bit out there. There was also a fair amount junk in the room that went beyond red herrings. A red herring is something that could feasibly be an alternative route or a viable distraction. There was so much junk in the room it was the escape room equivalent of a Blue Peter bring and buy sale. If you had never played a room before you would have liked it. If you had you would probably have thought it average. Another Uber and two trains and I was home to watch a hugely uneventful night of coverage of local elections.
So what now… well I do have another Groupon to the imaginatively named Escape Room London’s Theatre escape room as well is the equally imaginatively named Escape London, doing two out of three with Team Hydra. Will keep you updated.