London, Feb 2017
Having just played one mini-escape from Escapemobile, and being in the right area, we decided to try another mini-escape: the 12¾ minute escape room at Namco Funscape on the Southbank.
Interested players should note that they don’t take bookings – you just turn up and see if the room is available. When we tried it wasn’t, though it wasn’t entirely clear whether that was because it was in use or because the staff didn’t have someone spare to run it, or just didn’t feel like it. But we came back after a meal and managed to get a game.
As that suggests, the room is operated as one of various attractions alongside a bowling lane, pool and air hockey. That explains the no-booking policy; as with a pool table, you just turn up and see if it’s free, or wait your turn if it’s not. It also means the staff are spectacularly indifferent.
The game is explicitly linear. The operator went as far as pointing out the starting lock and the clue for it in fact, not that it was hard to spot. Each of the four puzzles had a laminated card as a clue, with a target lock; opening a lock gave access to the subsequent puzzle.
Decor is straightforward but enthusiastic, in what I think of as a ‘paintball arena’ style – achieved mainly through the paint-job and props picked to be cheap and robust. While there’s no shortage of red herring objects, they weren’t particularly a distraction since the game structure and time limit don’t allow for or encourage exploration.
I actually found the puzzles reasonably creative and interesting. However, that was badly spoiled by slapdash implementation, the crude reliance on written clues, and by the dubious English in which those clues were written. Possibly the clue phrasing was intended to be cryptic, but it seemed like the biggest difficulty for most of the puzzles was less solving it than understanding the intended instructions.
We failed the room, though I think we saw most of it. My impression is that the room is deliberately pitched to be very difficult. Most escape rooms, even if they boast of their low success rates, want teams to succeed or to come very close. This seemed more designed in the style of a fairground game where a victorious player is a rare and exceptional event. Though perhaps that’s just sour grapes. :-p
Playing 765 left me thinking that it’s incredibly hard to design a mini escape room with a time limit under quarter of an hour, because of how severely it limits players’ time for exploration, as well as their leeway for making mistakes. Either the team gets it right from the very start, or they fail. Maybe it’s possible to build a really good 12(ish) minute room, but 765 isn’t it. It’s cheap and short, so if you’re in the area and aren’t put off by the staff it might be worth giving it a go just to see if you can beat it; but best to go in with expectations kept firmly low.
For an example of a great little game on a tight budget, see Escapemobile. This is not that.
765 felt like it was a purchased game (and we’re reasonably sure it must be). It ran with a couple of locked cases, a cabinet, a few props, a projector, and some stickers on the walls.
Staffing an escape room with people who didn’t apply for this and couldn’t give a jot is “ambitious”. The bar staff are not escape room enthusiasts, or familiar with escape rooms, or interested in puzzles, and you can tell. When we first arrived and asked about the game (they don’t take bookings), we were told it wasn’t available for several hours (didn’t you just say they don’t take bookings?!) and then the barman tried to discourage us from playing and suggested we have a round of pool instead. Perhaps we should have taken his advice, but we wrote it off as bad attitude or a stressy night (and hoped he wouldn’t be our gamesmaster).
We ate down the road, and came back when the game would be available.
The manager took over and led us to the game, explained that we had 765 seconds to complete the game, that it was broken down into 4 puzzles, which puzzle to tackle first, almost everything we needed to know to tackle the first puzzle, and where to use the answer to the first puzzle once we had it. Oh, and “you can put these jackets on if you like but you don’t have to”. This all felt like overkill (with a smattering of disdain), but if the game doesn’t make it clear which puzzles are in play then you have to be told, I guess!
The room itself is half-heartedly decorated. There were some clues for bits and pieces of the puzzles that were printed on sticky labels and stuck to the wall. There were some desks a couple of chairs, some jerry cans (for aesthetic!), a couple of locked cases, and a locked cabinet.
The scene was set, so our bar manager left the room and a loud video played to set the scene (again). Apparently there was some kind of murder and/or investigation we may or may not be involved in or perhaps we were supposed to rescue someone? It barely mattered, because then the game began and we went for the first puzzle because he’d told us that was where to start. Significantly, the clues were poorly worded – and so we got jammed up on ambiguities instead of spending our time on the puzzles themselves (which were not terrible – although barely themed). There is a wide gulf between a challenging puzzle that takes time to solve, and telling someone what to do but not very clearly. This was a big frustration that could have been avoided with a little more playtesting.
In discussion later, we concluded that the game itself could have been salvaged with some effort, but with active disinterest from local staff it is inevitably going to carry on unchanged until no longer profitable. Don’t bother.
Want another opinion? This room has also been reviewed by the following fine blogs: