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.

Elementary – Insideout Escape

Today got me thinking. Does experience make you a better player?

 I went with 3 friends across to Kentish Town to play insideout Escape. Sed (Secret Studio, Hidden Rooms, Clue Quest) was fashionable late but our wonderful hosts didn’t hold it against us. SweenDog (Sherlock unlock, The Room Berlin), was desperately hung over after an extended St Patrick’s day, but raring to go having not played a room in almost a year. T-Man (Enigma) was fighting fit and focussed on success.  

Insideout has been up and running since September last year and are in the process of beta testing their second room, CSI. The hosts were welcoming and really engaging. They clearly understood the industry and loved escape games. But back to my original question. I’m on around 60 games but has it helped? Well.. Yes and no. Search fails will always happen no matter how experienced you are. During Revenge of the Sheep (Clue Quest) played a few months ago we did suffer from a number of epic search fails with a far more experienced team than this time.  We were proud to have no search fails this time. 

So when you think about the sheer volume of rooms worldwide surely most puzzles are either ripped off from other rooms or variations on a theme. To be honest having played 60 games in 10 countries I have rarely seen a direct rip of a puzzle and variations on a theme are not as common as you would think.  Experience can also be a hindrance because of how you know a puzzle has been solved previously and there is no guarantee it is solved the same way in every situation.   

The puzzles in Sherlock were challenging but there was no over reaching between ‘in room clues’ and the outcome of the puzzle. I was pleased that there were a variety of different types of puzzle and everything worked. The room felt in keeping with the theme without being too cluttered. This is a solid game with a good balance of puzzles for virgins and veterans alike. I would have liked a more definite ending but this is the kind of game I like.  We escaped with about 20 minutes to spare which more than made up for Sed’s tardiness.    I would recommend “Finding Sherlock Holmes” as an above average classic game that would be suitable for everyone.  

Andorra, we adore her…

Andorra has a population that doesn’t quite break 100000 people and makes the top 20 least populated states in the world. Andorra is also an unusual place because of its status as a principality with two co princes.  Whilst the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell make somewhat of an odd couple as the co prince heads of state, it does foster a sense of uniqueness that no other country can claim.  There are probably only 3 reasons to visit Andorra: skiing, tax evasion and duty free shopping.  The former and the later reasons make choosing a week in Andorra quite easy.

There now may well be another reason to visit.  Escape Rooms.  According to The online escape room directory there are 2 escape rooms in the capital city Andorra Le Vella.  I was fortunate enough to find a third.  Claustrophobia is a short walk from the city centre, opposite the hospital.  The Andorra franchise has been open since May 2016 and has just opened their second game.  The Claustrophobia is a Russian franchise model that has a huge inventory of games.  I had a suspicion that this game, like many Russian games, would be high-tech.  I was right.  Claustrophobia boasts 155 games in 11 countries and 33 cities.

The reception area was modern with a VR machine available if you arrived early.  I spied luxury chocolates and champagne by the main counter.  The games themselves are specialist builds within the complex.   Due to limited time, I only got to play An Avalanche of Oblivion, reasonably priced at 21 euros per person.  Their newer game, Cinema despair is cheaper at 15 euros and apparently a lot harder with no successful escapees thus far.

“You were travelling in the mountains of Andorra, when suddenly a snow storm hit you. Your chances for survival seemed slim, but suddenly you saw an abandoned hut in front of you. But as soon as the door closed behind you, avalanche descended, and the door was blocked with snow. You can’t wait the storm out in the hut, and there is not enough fuel in the generator, so it will only last for one hour. You have to repair an old radio and to call for rescue as soon as possible. But in some time you come to an awful understanding: there is something wrong with this house, and awful things are happening in it!”

So what about the game?  The photos in the promotional literature are real life photos of the build and believe me that doesn’t give anything away.  It was incredibly impressive.  When you first enter you will not only be impressed by the build but also by the immersive nature of the experience.  No spoilers though.  The puzzles are varied and make sense.  One of them has been overused and needs realigning but it did not take away from the experience.  One of the puzzles didn’t work correctly at the end which did spoil the finale a little bit but the overall experience was so high quality it didn’t matter too much.  After escaping with about 8 minutes to go… and no clock to let you know, we were very satisfied by the experience.  Afterwards we did start to ponder the story and the more we thought about it the less it made sense.

If story line is essential you will have serious questions about game but you absolutely won’t question the high production values.  This is not quite the holy grail of escape rooms I thought it might be but its is one of the best builds around.

9 Countries, 55 Rooms -Mexico 

So strictly speaking this was less of an escape room tourism holiday and more of a laying by a pool in an all inclusive resort holiday.  I have a couple of more days left at the Hotel Tequila in Playa del Carman and whilst the pickings were slim in terms of escape rooms, the friend I am here with not only has never played a room before but actively dislikes the idea of playing.  As far as I can tell, escape rooms in mexico are still in their infancy with only 11 companies in a country of 120 million people.

After much arm twisting I finally convinced my friend to play.  Anomalia stands next door to the infamous Coco Bongo club so you really can’t miss it.  Just make sure to look up (it’s visible from outside but it’s on the 1st floor).  The pricing structure is really interesting.  They have 3 prices depending on the time of the day and the day itself.  The cheapest is about 50 quid and the most expensive is about 70 pounds.  You pay per room with no sliding scale based on numbers.  The designer was a pleasant Russian chap and they had been open for 8 months.  They have another game planned and programmed but they are unsure of the venue yet.

The room itself was impressive.  Very impressive.  It was highly technical the attention to detail was excellent.  The story is simple “You are a team of treasure seekers and only you are able to complete a lifework of the famous archeologist Michael Widges.  Find the Masks of the Mayan Gods, reveal the secrets of pyramids, and discover the mysteries of the future.”  I was a little bit apprehensive of an escape room that had a portion set outside.  I had played one before in Penang and it was appalling.  This however was Awesome literally with a capital A.  Scenery was first-rate, technology and design was some of the best I had ever seen.  The puzzles were varied but not overly hard except the last one which I couldn’t work out if it was broken or not.  It wasn’t!  So despite my best efforts of playing effectively as a one and baby sitting my friend I didn’t escape but was very, very close.  It is a highly interactive game definitely one that I would recommend particularly for beginners.

2017 and beyond 

I have spent the last few days laying by the pool in a lovely resort in Mexico planning my escape room trips for 2017.  I am going back to Cluequest soon with hopefully all of team Hydra.  I have struggled to book InsideOut escape Ldn but hopefully will be able to secure a slot in March.  I may get chance to play one in Andorra in February but I’m unsure.  In the absence of the puzzle queen ( living back home in Oz) I need to find a new low maintenance escape room travel buddy for a trip during the Easter holidays.  The prime candidate is my new housemate commonly known as T Man.  I played one beta game with T man previously.  He is smart and the right kind of nerdy to make a good escape room buddy.  

So my ideas for Easter currently stand at either Ljubljana, Zagreb, Dubrovnik or possibly Hungary again then Bucharest.  A trip I have been longing to do for a long time now is Tallin, Helsinki then St Petersburg.  

I guess just watch this space.  

Escape Room Themes – No Limits?

In March of 2016 escape rooms hit the national press.  Now Barnum told us there was no such thing as bad publicity but just how true is that?  The UK’s Independent carried the headline “Disgust over Anne Frank themed escape the room game”.   The Games creators, Escape Bunker, according to the Independent were forced to apologise although, to date their website is still carrying the Anne Frank Game.  In fact they now have a new game opening soon called “Operation Market Garden”.  The history buff among you will recognise this as the name for the failed allied attempt to liberate the Netherlands in 1944.  There were between 15000 and 17000 allied casualties.  Like most war themed games immersive entertainment is a difficult path to navigate.  I, like many, love a historical link to a game.  A Cold War game in Berlin (, a code breaking game at Bletchley Park ( or an Alcatraz escape in San Francisco ( but when is it too soon for some historical theme games?

Today, I read of an escape room in Greece based around the idea of escaping from Auschwitz. The text of the game stated ” “In frozen Poland, the walls of the crematorium of the infamous Nazi concentration camp for prisoners, primarily of Jewish origin, still reek of burnt human flesh, they say.  Take on the role of a prisoner still looking for signs of life from loved ones, dare to stay in the shadow of the historic crematorium, discover the big secret and escape before you, too, turn into ashes.”  

Thankfully the creators saw the incredibly offensive error of their ways after some negative publicity closed it.  It did however get me thinking about the appropriateness of some rooms.  Earlier I mentioned an Alcatraz themed room in SF, no problem there, but how about one based around the Earthquake of 1906?  Sounds cool at first maybe, then you start to ponder the 3000 people who died in it.  How about a room in Budapest, next to the House of Terror, based around the 1956 uprising.  Again, it could be amazing but then you think about the 2500 Hungarians that were killed and the 200000 who fled as refugees as a result.  How about a witch themed escape room in Salem or a nuclear war themed room in Hiroshima?  I was designing a room back in April around the idea of a creepy attic.  My partner and I thrashed out the issues of taste concerning the plot line of the disappearance of a child.   We had a similar conversation over the plot line of an imminent bomb explosion given the current climate of terrorism.

And what about an escape room getting too political?  If you want to hit the head lines do a game feature Islamic fundamentalism or the IRA.  I have no doubt a Donald Trump themed room is just around the corner.  Escape Artist DC has an unusual game based around you taking on the role of an alternative energy lobbyist.  Not suitable for climate change deniers.

Some Escape rooms certainly have age appropriate issues.  Hell in a Cell looks genuinely terrifying whilst Odadan Kacis has the option of choosing between thriller or horror for many of their games.  If horror isn’t your thing then maybe “entering the world of passionate orgy” might do it for you,”Client visited us and indicated that he was a victim of a blackmail by women with whom had sex. Unknown group of people requests from him 100,000 pln for not revealing compromising him of amoral nature. We decided as an office to take up the job and to check blackmailer’s apartment.”  This room in Warsaw currently has 11 5* reviews on Trip Advisor.

So which themes are off limits?  Could escape rooms tackle difficult subjects in an educational way that actually teaches us important lessons.  Could you ever build a room that helps humanity understand evil or genocide in a genuinely meaningful or educational way without trivialising it?  I some how doubt it and the trauma it would cause would surely make it a mental health concern due to the emmersive nature of the room.  No answers here except this.  Escape rooms aren’t art, they are commercial enterprises that need mass appeal.

Escape from London

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 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.

Fox in a Box


I must admit I never really took to the name.  However in an escape room business world saturated with Escape from this or Escape from that (hands off that name by the way I want it), something unusual and unique has sticking power.  So a bit about FiaB…”We started the business in 2013. Our first real life escape room was in Vienna, Austria. Today our network stretches over 3 continents with over 20 locations. Our exclusive showrooms are located in Sweden (Stockholm), Austria (Vienna) and California (Los Angeles).

Our Research&Development centre is located in Serbia. Our goal is not only to be the best real life escape company on the market, but to have our brand Fox in a Box become the synonym for real life escape games. Our philosophy is to build strong bonds with our partners so that we can grow together in the competitive market of escape games.

Become an important part of a great company which is going to change the face of entertainment forever!

Their franchise models suggest a 2 to 3 month start up time.  They describe the initial start up entry fee as very low.  I am not quite sure what that is but I would imagine depends on a number of factors.  FiaB will also take a fixed commission percentage on a monthly basis.  In return you get: the game (instructions) website, booking system, IT support, marketing strategy and training, services of a designer, any specialist equipment for the room(s) you choose.  Someone from FiaB will come along to help and supervise all installation help train you.

The upside is you know you are getting a quality game and you will be supported through out your business life.  The model seems both sound and popular.  This certainly could be one of those scenarios where a rising tide lifts all boats.  I have witnessed rooms that just look like a jumble sale, crossed with a padlock wrapped in a Sudoku and my heart sinks when I play those game.  As a game player I know when I see FiaB I will have a strong game play experience.  I look forward to playing the remaining 3 games.

Happy Half Century

So picture this.. me sunning myself on a beach in the Canary Islands for several weeks.  Ok so it wasn’t a great sight to behold but it does make you wonder, sun, sea, scape room?  The perfect combination?   After two weeks of relaxing I’d had enough.  Fortunately a friend had just arrived from the UK and I now had a partner to do some escape rooms.  There are however only two companies on the Island.  Hungarian born Parapark, now in 17 locations world wide, opened first (and appears to have moved from Las Palmas to Playa del Inglis) and Fox in a Box, a fascinating franchise model working out of 25 locations in 11 countries and growing rapidly.

I had already played 3 Fox in a Box games in Nice last November which I really enjoyed (all is forgiven Zombie Lab).  Fox in a Box GC had the Bank game which I had already played but thankfully also the Prison escape I hadn’t.  At the time I figured this was the 4th and finally game in the FiaB saga.  I have subsequently discovered they have 7 games.  So anyway I got a cab to the location.  It wasn’t too difficult to find and when we arrived we were greeted warmly by an incredibly enthusiastic owner and his business partner.  The reception was cool and inviting.  My escape room partner Louis was a first timer and really enjoyed his experience.  I had thought initially if he is really rubbish I could perhaps play the game alone with him watching.  Hubris!  Sheer hubris!  We were separated into different cells from the outset and my super plan was foiled.

You absolutely know where you are with FiaB.  It really is a sign of quality.  The game was really strong, the environment was conducive good game play and the games master was very keen to please.  I would highly recommend this game experience.  A really nice tough was the owner took me round their bank game, which was probably still my favourite from the FiaB family.  It was really interesting to see how two different franchises used the same game.  Bottom line, if you want  a bit air-conditioned relief from the sweltering sun give this a try.  It is competitively priced and well worth it.