Escapemobile: Houdini’s Last Trick

Mobile, Feb 2017

Rated between 3.5 and 4 out of 5
This game is available on a day hire basis for events. You might be lucky and catch it at a festival somewhere.
Houdini’s Last Trick is an escape room in a van, which at time of writing is part of the Waterloo Vault festival; and is a 25 minute mini-escape not a full hour. (The site stated 20 minutes, but the operator told us 25, so they may have extended the limit a little.)
Seeing the van from the outside, I was worried it would be extremely cramped with the four of us inside. But when the door opened it was more spacious than I’d expected, and while there were moments of trying to get past one another it worked fine.
There’s obviously only so much you can do with the inside of a van, but the decor was well-executed given the constraints – and in any case most available surfaces were taken up by the actual game puzzles, of which there are many and varied.
The game uses some familiar tropes (padlocks! UV!). However, they’re used in exactly the right way. There was never a point where we had a code and weren’t sure which of several locks to try it on, for example. There is an overall structure to the puzzles which, after a few moments of looking around, gives a clear goal and a way to measure progress, without anything so crude as written instructions. That clarity is a mark of good design in any room but is particularly critical in a mini-escape, where the team needs to spend every precious minute engaged with the puzzles.
The game also allows the puzzles to divide well across a team, with different people working on different puzzles in parallel. In fact, I’d say this was an example of outstandingly good puzzle linking, as good as I’ve seen anywhere. Some games impress with technology, special effects, atmosphere and budget; this one just has really good puzzle design, in a way that’s easy to overlook because you’re too busy enjoying playing.
The biggest flaw in the game by far is simply that it’s too short – I wanted more! Of course, it’s explicitly a 20 (or 25?) minute game, and priced accordingly, so that’s not in any way a criticism of the implementation. We also blitzed through it very quickly, so had a shorter experience than average. It does make it hard to rate, though; what’s there is top-notch but there’s also (intentionally) less than in a full-size game. A sixty minute game that maintained the same level of quality throughout would be at least a 4½ star rating; I’m giving Houdini’s Last Trick slightly lower, but only because a delicious bon-bon, however well crafted, can’t be quite as satisfying as a full meal. 4 / 5
The Mystery Machine Escapemobile is fun to play! It’s a houdini themed game – and from the get go, you can’t miss it. The van is well decorated inside and out (and acts as its own advert, too).
Yes, it’s a short game (and even shorter if you’re an experienced team), but it’s advertised as short, and priced accordingly.
Yes, it’s in a small space – but it’s well decorated, well lit, and (for a team of 3-4) not crowded. It felt cosy and it’s pretty clear that you have the full attention of your gamesmaster.
Yes, it relies on quite a few padlocks – but it uses them in a theme-appropriate way, and for an incremental progress mechanism that gives you a sense of achievement. You never find yourself wondering which code goes where – and each is linked to a different puzzle.
Taking the limitations of running a game in a transit van and creating a fun experience is no small feat – and I was impressed.
We talked about the game afterwards, and of course there were always a few more things that might have added a little something here and there, but overall the puzzles were good (and varied), and the theme was nicely woven in to each (and consistent across the game).
Overall, I think for my personal preference the game is a little too short, but it makes for a great casual introduction to escape rooms, or an ice-breaker as part of a night out. 3.5 / 5

Want another opinion? This room has also been reviewed by the following fine blogs:

2 thoughts on “Escapemobile: Houdini’s Last Trick

  1. I think short games have a fundamental issue for enthusiasts. Most games give an “intro” to players – a few simple puzzles at the beginning that effectively explain how an escape room works. Experienced players will finish those in a few moments while novices will take maybe ten minutes to get through them. As the game continues, however. things become a bit more even, to the point where clues can make up for the inexperience and all teams can finish in around the 50 minute mark if desired.

    In a short game, I think there’s a big risk that the vast majority of the allocated time is dedicated to that “intro” section with the result that experienced players are disproportionately affected. Certainly I’ve seen that in other mini-games where we blitz through it and other teams are just utterly bemused.

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    1. I’d agree with that, although even as a (fairly!) experienced player I occasionally find I just start a room on the wrong foot for whatever reason and it takes a little while to properly get going on it.

      There’s an interesting comparison to Celestial Chain here I think, since that’s effectively a set of linked 12 minute games that you play back to back…

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