I think I must be the biggest cheapskate going (either that or I am massively generous by paying for everyone to play and therefore always looking for bargains) but I managed to secure some reduced price escape rooms in London this summer. The first one was one of three offerings from Escape Games London, well sort of… it is the first to open.
Escape the Theatre had been open a few months and Escape Millbank and Escape the Tower were due for a September opening. For a full and frank review see http://thelogicescapesme.com/review/escape-games-london-escape-the-theatre/ I will simply concur with much of what was said but will add this (and this will be a long running theme) there may not have been enough puzzles for 15 there were simply too many for 3 or 8 if you added both teams together. Even with a 3 vs a 5 we both only got to what seemed roughly like 2/3rds of the way through. 45 minutes was no where near enough time. It just didn’t feel like an escape room. The curse of groupon strikes again! We left feeling a little irritated for all the reason Ken outlines in his review. It was the last room I would do this side of the world for a very long time with Nicole (the puzzle queen) as my long time escape room partner was leaving to go back to Australia. Fortunately our spirits were lifted by lovely pub with an excellent view of the river. Now here is a bit for the nerds… Millbank tower is actually really fascinating with a rich history despite only opening in 1963. For me Millbank Tower will always be synonymous with New Labour. It was from there that the 1997 landslide was masterminded. The 1 million a year rent soon (after 5 years) priced the Labour party out of the building and they moved to Old Queen Street. Other high profile organisations have been housed there over the years including offices of the UN, the World Bank and even the Conservative Party. What I like most about Millbank tower is that it has featured twice in Doctor Who serials. 1968 saw the Towers first appearance in the Invasion with second doctor and then again in 1975 in Terror of the Zygons (the third doctor who video I ever owned), gotta love Tom Baker!
About 2 weeks later I was back in London, this time with team Hydra minus Chris (sort it out Chris) in Shepherds Bush. I have never been there before but I am a massive Steptoe and Son fan so another pilgrimage plus escape room experience.
We were playing a double bill of Escape Casino and the Da Vinci room. We arrived at the tube station with about 30 minutes to spare hoping to find the place then pop for a quick drink at a local boozer. We wondered and wandered the streets of Shepherds Bush looking for the venue eventually phoning the company twice for directions. We were informed once we had got there that we were late! Thanks for your clear directions I replied with sarcasm in my head. I tried to explain google maps says it is in a very different location. Well not on my phone the young man proclaimed indignantly. Well screw you my eyebrows seemed to suggest in reply. He was at least enthusiastic and gave us free drinks. We started with the casino room. We entered and I thought, yeah this will be alright. I left feeling like I had been interfered with by a thousand padlocks. Now some people go overboard and declare NO PADLOCKS, I don’t mind a few because people do have padlocks, it doesn’t seem out of place, just not a million of them. There were some good puzzles, the decor was good, there was an awesome wow factor at the end that we never got to experience because we were so thick.
Even though we had done really badly the game master lavished great praise upon us for doing so well. Never mind I thought, the next room will be better and it was. Top marks for the decor, the puzzles were generally well constructed, a lot less padlocks but we left still feeling like we had been a bit short-changed. Both rooms just didn’t feel quite ready. I have met some people who scoff at beta testing but it is a vital part of the gaming experience. Maybe they did it and ignored the feedback I don’t know. All it leaves me to do now is get all preachy so here goes.
An escape room shouldn’t make you feel stupid, it shouldn’t leave you feeling ‘but why?’, an escape room should make you feel satisfied even if you didn’t make it out. How many times have you not made it out only to be shown something or told something at the end that made you go “oooohhh yeah, of course”. That head hitting moment is important for non escapees. With this game I just felt why, so what, oh that’s just ridiculous, how on earth would anyone… It is not a badge of honour to say so far NO ONE HAS ESCAPED FROM THIS ROOM, it means you are doing something wrong.
Now you might say sour old Rich, Escape failures for the last 4/4. He is just a bitter rubbish escaper. Whilst that may be true but there is a broader issue. You could make a game so hard only Stephen Hawkins, John Nash and Victoria Coren (what a team by the way) could escape from it but his is an entertainment business and if people leave feeling like your room made no sense or there were massive holes in the plot or the puzzles didn’t link or had no point, from a customer point of view why would you come back. In an ideal world most people would escape with seconds to go. Escaping in 12 minutes is crazy (Keyhunter) escaping in 40 (the room Berlin) felt good but looking back even that is too early. Obviously groups differ in skill, intelligence and experience but the sweet spot is escaping with just seconds to go, the groups love it, the suspense, the drama. A final plea to Escape rooms of the world, you are not Mensa, you are essentially entertainment. People need to feel good leaving or they wont come back.