All posts by Richard John

Escape Room Evangelist

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

✮✮✮✮✮✮ Skill Rating

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.

One day in Tallinn

We caught the Ferry masquerading as a cruise ship from Helsinki to Tallinn.  The couple of hour journey was an event in itself.  The is always a live band playing and some very interesting dancing almost non stop.  You know you are leaving Finland because all of a sudden everything starts getting much cheaper.

The Medieval walled city of Tallinn is within walking distance of the ferry port but a taxi will do the job for a reasonable fee.

Accommodation was plentiful and options stretched from high end to budget with ease.

Tallinn plays heavily on its medieval heritage and for good reason.  It is a beautifully compact city with a rich history whether it be climbing 15th century tower or visiting the Estonian Museum of Occupations, there is something for everyone.

Escape Rooms

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Claustrophobia as a global franchise boasts:

7countries
91 quests
97 unique scenarios
13 cities
years of work
574203 played games
1373798 winners
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I have so far played one other claustrophobia game previously in Andorra.  I have come to expect high production values from this franchise and I wasn’t disappointed this time.  We played Gravity (yes it is basically the film) but you won’t find this elsewhere as this is not one one of the global franchise quests.  The room is essentially a self contained movie set with a few surprises up its sleeve.  The very plastic feel to the experience actually lends credibility to it.  You don’t feel link you are in a dressed up room because you are not.
The room itself is small, hence the 3 person limit and if you get motion sickness this may not be the room for you.  Whilst the puzzles are all solid and very relevant to the game you can’t help but think that maybe there aren’t enough.  This is probably to ensure you get to the end in plenty of time to experience the finale.  The anti search brigade need not feed however.  It is pretty much logically science based puzzles with a small dose of observation thrown in.  Over all this didn’t quite feel like a classic escape room but it really didn’t pretend to be.  The puzzles are essentially a prelude to end experience and it kind of feels that way.  Seasoned escapers will love to it as an experience and newbies will be totally blown away.
If the 3 games (with a 4th under construction wasn’t enough) wasn’t enough for you there are about 10 other companies to choose from.

Food and Drink

Without a doubt the best place to eat is Kompessor.  The very competitively priced pancake cafe serves gigantic savoury and sweet pancakes.  The beers are well priced too.  They don’t really serve much more than pancakes.

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If you fancy something a bit unusual and in keeping with Tallin’s medieval past then visit III_Draakon.  Beer is both cheap and served in pot flagons and the tavern itself is set within the old thick walls of the town hall.

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Things to do

If, after wondering the cobbled streets of the old town and visiting the numerous churches on the free or paid walking tours you still feel like you need more to do there are a number of excellent things to do.  Try the KGB museum.   It’s a fascinating look into the cold war and Soviet occupation of eastern Europe.  I’m a big fan of these kinds of museums but end up spending a large part of the time thinking about how it could be turned into am Escape room.

If you go at the end of May you will find an incredible Medieval festival with authentic craft, music, dancing and fighting.  It was the world finals of the battle reenactment competition.

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Summary

Stay: Zinc Old Town Hostel – Reasonably Priced private rooms; very central.

Escape Room: Claustrophobia – Graivity

Eat: Kompress

Drink: Ill Draakon

Visit: Old Town Tour, KGB Museum

 

One day in Stockholm

This was my third trip to Stockholm but my first visit as an escape room tourist.  I managed to pick up some pretty reasonable flights with Monarch.  The flight itself is just under 2 hours and although the plane was very cramped, Luton is on my door step so it made sense to travel budget because, boy, was I going to need all the cash I could lay my hands on.

Yes Stockholm is expensive but if you do your research and put a bit of effort in before hand it needn’t break the bank.  Once you arrive you have a few options.  Like most places the bus is always cheaper but always longer.  A single is about 10 quid and takes about 40 mins.  The train is double the cost but takes half the time.

There are some interesting accommodation options.  I went with a room on the Red Boat.  This is a reasonably priced floating hostel with the option of double rooms.  I stayed in the engine room.  It was spacious and the gentle rock of the waves proved conducive for a good nights sleep.

Because we arrived so early we tagged onto a free tour.  The old town tour takes you through the back streets of Gamla stan exploring the history of early Stockholm.  This is the kind of thing I usually enjoy but to honest to didn’t do it for me.   I slipped away from the crowd as quietly as I had joined.

Escape Rooms

There are 6 escape room companies in Stockholm, all with fairly positive reviews on Tripadvisor.  I was lucky enough to play 4 different rooms from two companies.  The first two were in Soldermalm.  ExitGames has been in Stockholm for the last two years initially opening up two games in Gamlastan, Valhalla, Crazy Grandma and more recently The Cell.  There other venue is a year old hosting the slightly more edgier games, the Collector and Mission Undercover.  Goran, one of the business partners, an engineer by trade, mentioned that the Gamla stan venue is a hub for tourists with Crazy Grandma being the most popular game.  Corporate events are common place in Gamla stan but the Soldermalm venue has seen a spike in the number of bachelor party requests. It seems Swedish bachelor parties are much better behaved than their English counterparts.  The Soldermalm venue had a rustic, rough and ready quality that was in keeping with the games.

Mission Undercover

During the cold war CCCP established a secret military spybase right in the middle of Stockholm. The base was the center for contra spionage with food and water to survive for many years. The base has now been discovered and a team has been sent there for termination. Mission Undercover – you and your well-equipped team shall sneak all the way into the heart of the base and adapt the explosives. Maybe you will also escape the room before the bomb explodes, maybe not…Put all your creativeness together and use the adrenalin to accomplish the mission – and survive!  This room was a fairly robust room with a fairly low tech approach that was appropriate for the game.  The mechanical emphasis of the room was good and most of the puzzles made sense apart from the last one which did spoil it a little bit for me.  Tip… don’t wear your best clothes. *


The Collector

In the deepest catacombs, behind locked metal bars and without any hope to survive. You are just in line to become a part of a human collection. But a phone call interrupts the process and the ”Collector” just disappears to his office. Suddenly your team might have chance to escape or is this also just a game for him after all. It is you against HIM. Your team must collaborate to escape and please, dont waste any blood – every drop counts in the end!  I really liked this game.  It had all the elements of a classic escape room with the added benefit of making you jump… a lot!  The ambience was excellent, the music really accentuated the experience and above all things made sense.  I hate leaving a room wondering why.  The GM had perfected the art of making you think you are about to be scared and then holding off until you feel safe and then scarring you.  This is Hitchcock meets John Carpenter.  I liked how the puzzles appealed to the different senses.  Overall this is a really good room that will definitely appeal to thrill seekers.  It carries an 18+ age recommendation.*


Heading north, a short walk for the central train station you will find Escape Stories and Roomescape Stockholm.  Roomescape is the one of the Fox in a Box flagship rooms.  I had been invited by Fox in a Box CEO Bob Melkus to play the remaining games in the Fox in a Box family, having played Zombie, Heist and Bunker in Nice and Prison break in Gran Canaria.


Tesla’s Mystery

Tesla died in 1943 in the famous New Yorker Hotel’s room 3327. After his death you have received a letter from Nikola Tesla himself. In the letter he asks you to come to his room to find his last invention and share it with mankind before the FBI gets to it. When you arrive to the room FBI is already on their way… you have 60 minutes before they get there and arrest you for trespassing.  Our GM was an enthusiastic young man who quickly took you into the time period, the story and then the room.  Now there are some rooms where you feel like you are still in the same building you entered.  This is not one of those rooms.  You really do feel like you are in a hotel room in the 40s.  From the beginning you get a sense that the individual puzzles contribute to a larger meta puzzle.  Tesla is a challenging game, particularly for two, but has a definite classic appeal that will please those for whom story line is essential to the enjoyment factor.  We didn’t get out but I blame T man completely and even though he now denies it, he did accept full responsibly for our failure to escape.  This is an impressive game with a few impressive wow factors for good measure.  *


Zodiac

You are captured by a serial killer. Tied up and left in his lair, escape is your only chance. His method of operation is much like one Infamous Zodiac killer had. Has the real Zodiac returned or is this his copycat? You have only 60 minutes to escape, or the next body in a morgue will be yours.

I must admit I had high hopes for this room and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.  There is a high level of authenticity and the variety of different types of quality puzzles.  Thanks to my tendency to over complicate and over analyse things we lost 20 minutes on one puzzles that we solved 5 minutes into tackling it without realising.  Remember two monologues do not make a dialogue.

There were plenty of wow factors in the room and like it’s Tesla counterpart we were left several times thinking… this is really cool.  Zodiac is the complete package and despite me still waking up in the middle of the night with that damn tune in my head, I can honestly say this game now features in my top ten.  If you are not able to play it in Stockholm, and believe me Fox in a Box books up fast, then you could try getting in on the action in Madrid, Paris, LA or Miami to name a few.  *


Food and Drink

Meatballs for the People

If you want some traditional Swedish meatballs then this is decent option that doesn’t require a second mortgage.   Its about 12 quid for what you see below.  It wasn’t amazing but it was good enough.  If you are really hungry go to the one of the Lion Bars for something to eat.  Cheap by any standards and super sized portions.


Medusa Bar


Things to do

So here are the things I did.  Went to the Fotografiska.  This is great if you like photographic art.  Warning, check the the details of the exhibition before you go.  I was expecting something distinctly Swedish on permanent collection but it was horses and minority people groups when I went.  The view of Stockholm from the top floor restaurant is stunning.

The churches and historical buildings are fairly standard.   I asked Bob and the rest of the Fox in a Box guys what one thing would you do if you had one day in Stockholm and they all replied visit the Vasa museum.  This museum houses a 333 year old warship and is the most visited museum in Scandinavia.  On my fourth visit this will be top of the list.

Summary

Stay: the Red Boat

Escape Room: Zodiac at Escape Room Stockholm aka Fox in a Box

Eat: Meatballs for the people

Drink: Medusa Bar (also eat – super sized portions)

Visit: Vasa Museum
*no payment was taken for these games.

One day in Helsinki

There are plenty of ways to get to Finland. I took an SAS flight from Arlanda, Stockholm, to Vantaa, Helsinki. It was a pretty short flight with some interesting company en route. Once there, the easiest way to get to the centre is by train. I'm convinced we got the wrong ticket but no one checked.  If you want to be ultra prepared download the trainline app and get your ticket in advance.   I was excited about visiting Helsinki but found it a bit tricky to navigate at first.  The best thing to do is get a travel card and go everywhere by tram. The locals are really helpful and of course speak perfect English. For some reason I had it in my head that Helsinki was smaller than it was. It's pretty sprawling. Most of the cool architectural stuff is within walking distance from each other.  We bumped into the Danish royal yacht again with the members of the royal family in Helsinki to celebrate 100 years of Finnish independence.

Escape Rooms

According to Tripadvisor there are 14 Escape Room companies in and around the city of Helsinki.  I was lucky enough to visit Escape Room Helsinki.  This should be confused with Exitroom Helsinki who has subsequently changed their name but still exists on Tripadvisor. Escape  Room Helsinki is one of the oldest in the city, opened in December 2014 and expanded rapidly.  They now operate in 5 locations around the City, all within 5/10 minutes walking distance of each other although I understand they are seeking to draw all there rooms together in one place.  Owner Yvonne was initially reluctant to do this because many of the rooms have connections to the place they are in such as Ghost of the Opera, set in a real life "haunted" opera house.  Yvonne is a story teller and the power of the story is the driving force to their immersive philosophy.  When the company began they wanted to 'do it right' so they enlisted the help of an the already establish company in Manchester.  Ed Roberts from Breakout travelled over to help guide the company in technical aspects of the setup.  Since then the company has gone from strength to strength.  According to Yvonne, tourism is a growing part of the trade they do but word of mouth and their growing fan base on Facebook has attracted more and more Finns from Helsinki's 600k strong population.  Even with the puzzle savvy Finns Yvonne thinks only about half of Finns have ever heard of Escape rooms.  And like in many Escape Rooms, VR is a growing trade although currently not as popular as the rooms themselves.  So what about the rooms…  I only had time to play one game and that was the Dinner Party.

The Dinner Party

You have received a dinner invitation from an unknown hostess. Out of curiosity you have accepted it, and arrive to her beautiful apartment in the middle of Helsinki. Who is your hostess and why has she invited you? Has she got a hidden agenda for her dinner party? As you step into the dimly lit dining room, the door snaps shut behind you. The table is set, but what do the strange symbols on top of it mean? You have 60 minutes to find out what is going on and escape, before it’s too late.

This is one of their oldest and most popular rooms.  Set in a fairly ornate apartment building, the game begins in an atmospheric well decorated dining room.  Whilst I wouldn't say it was was particularly scary or even creepy, there was a definite 'otherness' to the room that kept me interested throughout.  As ever the important things to me are how much the puzzles make sense in the context of the rooms.  Here they did.  The music supported the pace throughout.  There were some clever touches to the room but the abiding feeling you got was this was created through love more than a high tech desire to impress.  We didn't quite make it out but again T Man accepts full responsibility in this area and admits he definitely didn't pull his weight.

Should I return their Sauna room is a must do.  Yes I'm not joking, a Finnish Escape Room where you have to escape from a sauna.

Food and Drink

Magneetti Vallila – Mashiro is a great little Japaneses restaurant a short walk from where we were staying.  It was pretty empty but the food was good and the price was reasonable.  The salmon as you would expect was excellent.

This places is easy to get to, its just next door to the outdoor  market square.   There a multitude of small shops and eateries the best of which I thought was Soppakeittio.  It's basically a tiny soup cafe.  Have the sea food.  It is was seriously one of the best things I have eaten/drunk in a long time.

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Things to do

There are 287 things to do on Tripadvisor.  I managed to do 3,4,6,7,8,9,10.  It was mostly walking around looking at things from the outside.  Helsinki Cathedral (no7) overlooking Senate Square (no.10)  is impressive and in the right light quite beautiful.  I stood and looked at it for a while and then moved on.   Number 3 believe it or not is the public tram system.  I spent a lot of time on that getting lost.  Always ask the locals, it way quicker than trying to work it out for yourself.  I did use it however to get to the slightly out of the way to the slightly underwhelming Sebelius monument.  No. 6 in the TA list is the Uspenskin Cathedral, an austere looking Orthodox Church that looks down on the harbour.  When we went it wasn't open. They rest were markets and gardens that to be honest I didn't realise they were things to do until afterwards.  What do the locals say is the best thing to do?  Well again its the thing we didn't do.  You really should visit the fortress of Soumenlina.

Summary

Stay: I stayed in CheapSleeps – its a short bus ride outside the city centre.  I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend it.  It is a hostel with some private rooms.  I stayed in a private room.  Apart from the American gentleman calling everyone arseholes for taking his coffee from the Kitchen it was a fairly average affair.

Escape Room: Escape Room Helsinki

Eat: Without doubt go to Vanha kauppahalli

Drink: Magneetti Vallila – Ok so its cheap (for Helsinki) and has to be seen to be believed.  Only go if you are near by.  It looks like a 1980s Christmas party that never got cleared away.

Visit: Soumenlina, a short boat ride from the harbour near the outdoor market.
*no payment was taken for this game

6 days in Northen Europe


I have been planning this trip for a while now.  I have been to Stockholm twice before, once in the early 2000s and more recently a few years ago.  Escape rooms were certainly not a thing on either trip.  I am looking forward to going back to such a beautiful city.  I have a couple of days in Stockholm then fly to Helsinki.  I had hoped to get the ferry but it will shave to much time off the trip.  I then have a few days in Helsinki, a place I have always wanted to visit.  The ferry to Tallin shouldn’t take more than two hours.  Staying in the old town means I shall be well placed to access the growing number of escape rooms.  

I would have liked to have tagged St Peterberg on the end but to do that trip properly I think you would need at least 10 days.  I will share my itinerary when things are more firmed up.  I want to strike the right balance between enjoying the city and enjoying the escape rooms they have to offer.  

Breakin Escape Room London part 2 – Return of the Hydra

The last time Team Hydra was all together was Clue quest:Revenge of the Sheep.  I had previously played Butcher, Heist and Sherlock’s despair and enjoyed the experience to varying degrees.  It was a Friday night and after a couple of beers at Sed’s house we got the tube into town.  We went to Bird again, a mid priced chicken burger joint, a few doors down.


We had a double bill booked (we couldn’t fit in Flying Dutchman) of War on Horizon Alpha and Blackwing’s Cave.  These had been described as more high tech and less traditional than the previous three I had played.  This made me slightly nervous because I like traditional games but after playing both I didn’t think they were particularly different to normal escape room.  One day I will join the debate about different generation rooms (I think it’s mostly nonsense).

So first we played their Star Wars inspired ‘War on Horizon Alpha’.  This was both the groups and my personal favourite of the evening.  We got into it pretty quickly and made steady progress throughout.  The puzzles were mostly logically based and connected in a coherent way.  There wasn’t much opportunity to for search fails, which was of great benefit to our team.  Instead logical observation was a key factor in success.  Our progress slowed up towards to the end and we had to take a hint of the final puzzle.  This coupled with what must have been a tech glitch left the exit of the room a rather anti climatic affair.  Shame because this is an awesome game.   The slightly retro space feel was a strong feature of the room and you genuinely felt immersed in the room.


We got into the Batman inspired room about 15 minutes after escaping Alpha.  This game was a nice contrast to Alpha,  in terms of feel.  The bat cave was dark and the puzzles slightly harder to get into.  They felt a bit more hit and miss than the previous game.  One of the puzzles was skill based and that combined with the heavily linear nature of the game meant two of us sat down in the dark for about 7 minutes having a little chat.  The ending again was a little bit weak.  I had mixed feelings about this room.  It wasn’t a bad room it just didn’t excite me.   Maybe played in isolation I may have felt differently about the game but because it was played directly after a really strong room, I just felt a bit like…meh.


One thing I would recommend.  The past two times I have been there the doors been left open in the entrance hub.  Just a personal preference but I like to be surprised when I first enter the room.

Breakin Escape Room is definitely the breakout company of the year but haven’t got it spot on yet.  Their trip advisor reviews are generally excellent except for one rather suspicious “poor” post that seems like a personal grievance than a proper review.  They certainly have the capacity to attract a strong corporate clientele and this is the perfect venue for a Christmas party or highend works outing.  For the “ordinary person” it the perfect environment to get broken in, just make sure you have someone who can do a bit of maths.  For the enthusiast it has strong and challenging games: Alpha, Sherlock and Heist.

If you break(in) it you don’t necessarily have to pay (much) for it. Part 1

Breakin London is currently offering significant discounts through groupon and living social. This means that for those of you who want to play multiple games in one day, you don’t have to pay through the nose. Breakin Escape Rooms, London, Breakout in its native Romania, offers six rooms and are in the process of building replicas of two of their existing games. They have 12 games in their portfolio but are currently embedding 6 of their most popular in London. They have very quickly established themselves as a market leader in terms of size and quality.


89 Holloway Road is on the site of an old shoe factory turned dance studio, now housing a purpose build control room, spacious reception area, games hub room and 6 games. The brand has been well crafted and the minimalist rusty steam punk motif really works.

I assembled the new dream team, Brian, T man and Sed, and just like in our last encounter Sed was late, even though he lives round the corner. Fortunately it was early and there were not many bookings so Stefan kindly waited until he arrived. Steffan was a smart engaging young man from Bucharest who knew the industry inside out. After Sed finally arrived we were professionally briefed and led to Heist. Now Ken, of the logic escapes me had already given me his initial thoughts on the games and on that basis I was definitely looking forward to Heist.


Heist was a cleverly designed room that employed some excellent mechanical, skill based puzzles. There was variety to the activities and the story line and linked puzzles made perfect sense. Their hint system is clever and requires minimal observation from the control room with the hint being delivered via a walkie talkie in the form of a number which reveals a written clue on a fixed tablet by the door. We escaped with thirteen minutes to spare and we all felt a great deal of satisfaction. Sound effects were excellent made the overall experience top notch.

Next up was Sherlock’s despair. Despite being Breakin’ hardest game it is one of their most popular. From the moment you walk in the feel is atmospheric and authentic. There was a very traditional approach to the game play. There was probably a higher than usual reliance on a need for knowledge that cannot be found within the escape room universe. I didn’t mind that but I know some people may find it frustrating. There was a mix of skill, word and number puzzles, most of which made sense in the room. Music was incidental but added to the ambiance.

We didn’t escape but I wasn’t too bothered. We lost a significant amount of time an a search fail assuming everyone else was doing it and we became obsessed with something that turned out to not be quite what it seemed. This is the kind of room I like, very challenging and very traditional. It was T man’s favourite room, I liked it, Sed definitely did not like it and Brian thought it was alright.

We broke up the day with a chicken burger at Bird, round the corner. Tasty food, slightly cheaper than London prices.

Our last game of the day was the Butchers Lair. We got off to a quick start and looked to be flying through the room but with 30 mins to go we started slowing up, which is probably how it should be. It is billed as their easiest room but was that because the puzzles were a little bit more straight forward. There wasn’t the same degree of complexity that there was in say Sherlock. The puzzles tended to be a little bit more self-contained and not involving multiple layers of working things out.

I described Butcher as a horror theme to the new dream team before we entered but it really wasn’t that horrifying. If you don’t like blood you may want to give it a miss but in reality as realistic as some of the props are they are not very scary.

Overall I really enjoyed the experience.  I would encourage you to have someone in your team who do intermediate maths! Fortunately T-man had that covered. I particularly enjoyed the homage to certain films without ripping off the IP or infringing on trade marks. There were some nice little Easter eggs that true fans of the film would really appreciate. This definitely gives Clue Quest a run for its money and the lack of a second room within the room doesn’t detract on the experience at all. Two thumbs up.