10 Things I hate about Escape Rooms

Ok so I could have written this in a vey industry friendly, positive and constructive way but instead I chose to follow in the footsteps ( do they even have feet?) of my two favourite muppets. Yes, sorry, I chose Statler and Waldorf. In the words of Peter Griffin I wanted to tell you what really grinds my gears when it comes to escape rooms. Now since I really love escape rooms, good ones that is, I found it difficult to come up with 10 so I enlisted the help of the antipodean Puzzle Queen, Nicole. Nicole is the one on the left by the way.

Number 1 – Brick Wall Paper. Ok so in the grand scheme of things maybe this doesn’t deserve top spot but I just hate it. If you want a wall, build one (Yes I am doing that in the style of Donald Trump). But seriously this speaks to the heart of what immersion is. (Me)

Number 2 – Clues given by people entering the room. Ok yes, this is a non existent problem in the west but quite common in Asia. A handful of games are changing this odd practice but not enough. I suppose I would add to this clues being given at the beginning of a game because no one can work it out without help. The is by very definition a bad puzzle. (Nicole)

Number 3 – Book wall paper. Let me ask you this, have you ever seen an ordinary room with wall to wall coverage of books. Even in a library you don’t find this. It really doesn’t take much to think of a creative way of dressing a room without resorting to a picture of what you want to display on wall paper. It’s lazy (Me)

Number 4 – Clunky puzzles. These are puzzles that don’t quite line up, they are puzzles that require matching something that doesn’t actually match but is considered right. A clock puzzles where the hands fall half way between numbers… is it 5 or 6? I can’t tell you how many times I have played a game, worked out the puzzle first time and then spent 10 minutes trying other permutations because the correct answer is temperamental. Sometimes this is wear and tear but more often than not it is just bad room design. (Nicole)

Number 5 – Rooms set outside. Before you think all I care about is aesthetics let me explain. In an escape room you want people to fell like they are actually in the place the room is set. Why set things outside making things harder for yourself. To create the illusion of being outside you need money and skill. I have rarely found this combination. A couple of pot plants and vine leaves up the wall don’t distract from the recycled dropped ceiling tiles. Use your environment to is advantage. (Me)

Number 6 – Games that overly rely on memory rather than logic. Probably a controversial one this. If you won’t give out a pen or paper don’t be surprised if people use their phones. You have to respect the room sure and yes you have to respect the rules but being able to retain 10 numbers in your head at once’s isn’t fun and I don’t want to play. (Nicole)

Number 7 – Laminated clues. Picture it, you walk into a perfectly fashioned Victorian living room, you open the mahogany desk and find a laser printed map that has been laminated within an inch of its life. I get that laminating preserves the life of a prop but seriously once a month printing 12 maps, staining them with tea and then crumpling them up goes a long way to help suspend disbelief. Laminating is lazy. (Me)

Number 8 – Overly complicated story lines. I suppose it depends on your definition of complicated but I really like a story line that permeates the Puzzle world. Sometimes I think Nicole would be happy with just one big puzzle room like the white room. We can just lock her away happily working through one unrelated puzzle after another.

Number 9 – Death by padlocks. Pretty obvious really but I have to say I am started to feel death by electromagnetic mechanisms too. Let’s have balance and variety.

Finally 10 – Rooms that feel like they have been put up in haste because the owner has read an article about how lucrative escape rooms can be and, since they have played one once they think it will be a quick way to earn a few quid. To those people I say this… Walk a mile in the shoes of those owners who have poured out their very souls into a room to ensure customers have the best game play possible. Bad rooms hurt everyone. It’s not like a restaurant, a bad experience means you never go back but you don’t stop eating out. Bad rooms can put new people off for life.

Nicole is the one on the right

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City Mazes

City Mazes is one of the larger new kids on the block in the Escape Room Universe. Headquartered in Bristol, City Mazes now operates in 4 locations, Bristol, Oxford, Cardiff and now London. Bristol boasts 4 rooms with a 5th on the way and Oxford and Cardiff both have 4. I played both Rooms in the London Location, just slightly off main road in Islington.

The company is easy enough to find with google maps and on arrival you notice a rustic but spacious waiting area. The staff were enthusiastic and professional in welcoming us.

First up was Bamboozled, now I’ve never seen Jumanji, either the original or the new one but I got what it was meant to be pretty early on.

2 – 10 people

✮✮✮✮ Skill Rating

After playing a mysterious board game that you found in your attic

you’re somehow transported into a jungle world! The only way to escape

is by completing the game in 60 minutes or less! Will you be able to finish

it before whatever is lurking in the wild finds you?

So when Team Hydra and I got in the room, we all thought “ok, potential but nothing says wow”. The Jumanji style centre piece was strong but the kind of precision needed to operate it hampered progress throughout the game. There was a reasonable mix of puzzles but the linear nature of the game was a tad frustrating. Now sometimes the decor in the room either enhances the experience or can cover up for weak puzzles. Here the cheap decor did little for the game play or promoted a strong sense of immersion.

If the puzzles hadn’t been ok I would have been far more disappointed than I was. Even though they hadn’t been open long the wear and tear on the room had already started to show. Despite all of the this the room for improvement was large and potential to be a strong room was obvious. The key here is simple, a better job at immersion would take this from being an okish to slightly disappointing room to being a good room. The test is this, look up, and if you see office panels don’t expect much. A few extra hundred quid on creating a real jungle feel would go a long way.

I had high hopes for the next game having seen through the door at the end of someone’s game. Was the Lost Cabin about to set things right? Well not quite.

THE LOST CABIN

2 – 8 people

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CAUTION! EXTREME CHALLENGE!

Day 74 on the Island. Last week on a scavenger hunt, you saw

a Cabin in a clearing that had never been there before. The day

after when you went to show your people…it had gone. Did you imagine

it? You can’t have. You just woke up in it. How do you get out?

quite

From the outset the Lost Cabin ticked most of the decor boxes. I even resisted the need to examine the ceiling for a good 10 minutes. The first puzzles was explained to us before the doors closed and it’s a good job it was…maybe we are all pretty thick but the first puzzle was a logic leap way beyond us. We made steady progress despite a real lack of coherence to the story. Was it a horror virus, was it a spaceship, was it a Cold War experiment gone wrong? We got stuck a couple of times, and after the hints were given we all asked “why?”; for me things need to make much more sense. The virtual reality element of the game seemed to be there for the sake of it rather than being in anyway linked to the actual game play. We got out with a few minutes to spare but didn’t realise we had escaped, in my view another issue. My experience of Russian bought rooms has been quite good but this left me disappointed.

We left doubly disappointed and kind of glad we had got it on a groupon.

The Room

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The Room is a multi award winning 3 dimensional puzzle game for the IPad, This 2012 best game of the year winner has set the standard for this kind of game and to be honest has never been beaten except perhaps by its sequels. FireProof Games is a British development team. They broke even on the initial 60k investment within the first week of release and by 2016 the 3 games had sold over 11 million copies. Now if you look for something comparable you will find a ton of “opening door”style games such as DOORS and it’s sequels but in all honesty I have yet to find anything that even comes close.

The Room ticks every box you can conceive of. Graphics are outstanding, story telling is excellent, puzzles are strong and even the music has the ability to draw you into the game without being intrusive. The Room is the perfect introduction to both the series and this kind of game play.

If you are interested in game design or puzzle design check out their Flickr behind the scenes page. It’s a fascinating look into the process by which this extraordinary game was made.

Of course the best news for everyone is that the next instalment of the room is due for release on the 25th of January. When the Room 2 and 3 were released I was convinced there was nothing new or better they could do. I was wrong then and I am now convinced the Room: Old Sins will push the envelope again. Try it, you will beg for more,

Journal 29

I picked this up from Amazon about 6 months ago and after playing a handful of pages I decided to save it for my next international trip. This extremely well put together puzzle book is something to enjoy with others. So, most days while I was in Hong Kong and Bangkok, the Puzzle Queen and I worked our way through Journal 29. Now I have heard a number of people complain that the lack of a coherent back story was a weakness. To be honest, I kind of liked the lack of a story. The book contained puzzles, pure and simple. For those of you who have played it, it is the puzzle book equivalent of the White Room in Budapest.

So why do I like Journal 29 so much? The variety of puzzles are excellent. Most are limited to logic contained within the pages but some break that rule and require external knowledge. I didn’t mind that here. I also liked Journal 29 because of the clever way in which it uses the physicality of the book itself. Don’t worry no spoilers. Another reason to get Journal 29 is the hint website. We were fortunate not to use it often but there were a few pages where we needed the cryptic advice of others, particular thanks to Yoda! The other strong feature is the use of the internet to ensure after solving a page you have something external to give you keys to subsequent pages. If you are playing this abroad you will need internet access.

I am counting down the months to the much anticipated sequel.