London, Apr 2017
During our introduction from Wynne, a mechanical toy / human, he asked us “Who’d pay real money to get locked in a room, just to get out of it again? With strangers!”. He has a point. I’d suggest he was a wind-up merchant, but he was, quite literally, just that. In fact, he’s pretty satisfying to wind up, as visitors to Handmade Mysteries will inevitably find out. Wynne’s dedicated host role starts from interrupting your quiet drink at Islington’s ‘The Depot’ pub to say the game is ready, throughout the game, and then all the way to guiding you back to the bar to decompress. It’s always fun to have the gamesmaster as part of the game itself. This experience is an evolution of that process.
For those who’ve played Handmade Mystery’s debut room “Lady Chastity’s Reserve”, you’ll already know what to expect from the new one. It’s a “pick-up” style open booking game, where teams of less than six will likely end up sharing with other people. It’s always refreshing doing rooms with new people. It’s harder, for sure, but the chats afterwards are fun, and makes finding games more accessible for those wanting to play with just 2 people.
Set in a Toymakers workshop, the general gist of Poppa Plock is for your team to step in where the Toymaker left off (missing due to an unfortunate head/paint incident, no less) and create ‘Roy’. Roy is, shall we say, a man apart. Apart from his legs, hands, feet and more or less everything else. Better figure out what’s going on, and give him his body parts back.
Just as with Lady Chastity, teams are guided softly through the experience, which Escape Room purists might not approve of, but neatly adds some structure to what is perhaps one of the most bizarre, surreal rooms I’ve seen. The interior setting is a mixture of awesome puppetry, carnival games, back alley grime and surrealism. Augmented by the excellent artwork of Eric Cox, the artistic direction is as crafted as much as the puzzle flow. These people care about the aesthetic and everything is honed, chiselled and whittled to become the final artefact – the room in which we get to play.
Being super critical, the downside is that the puzzle content itself isn’t really groundbreaking. Most of the puzzles are facsimiles we’ve all seen before. Sequences, codes, locks. The familiarity seems at odds with the surroundings – the mechanised robot toy assistant who is verbally helping/goading in equal measure, the stylish setting. Familiarity aside, the puzzles are fun and engaging throughout. Everything’s solid, thematically sound, thoughtful, funny and smart. It wasn’t until sitting down writing the review that I suddenly noticed the slightly derivative nature of what we *actually* did for the 50 minutes or so we took to complete the game.
In truth, none of the negatives mattered at all. Our minds were filled with surprises, amusing commentary, the host’s welcome interjections and more than anything it was fun bringing Roy to life. All of this whilst paired with complete strangers. It’s an achievement and yes, it’s as good as the original.
This is a must play room in London.
Handmade Mysteries are famous for the quality of their hosts, who are costumed and in character from the outset, and Poppa Plock upholds that reputation – Wynne was excellent.
The large space is a big change, and an improvement, on Handmade’s previous game, which for bigger teams could get a little cramped. It’s also packed with gadgets and geegaws. With loud audio and a stream of suggestions from the hint doll in the corner, it approaches overwhelming, at least until you start to get a grip on the structure of the room and can focus on the right areas.
The hint doll provides suggestions thick and fast, which left me feeling thick and slow; and also annoyed at the interruptions. I wanted to concentrate on whatever I was looking at, but felt obliged to go listen to the doll’s interjections for fear of missing a vital clue. The dialogue is great, but during the game I’d have preferred to get the thing to shut up a bit more. I’m still not sure exactly how helpful it’s intended to be, and how much teams should feel free to treat it as background noise. The host Wynne also wanders in and out of the room throughout the game, which was a bit disconcerting the first time but works fine when you get used to it.
Completing each major puzzle switches on one of a sequence of lights, giving a very clear indication of progress.
My biggest dissatisfaction about Poppa Plock is one that’ll be an active draw for others: the fact that Handmade Mysteries use a public booking system. Plenty of players enjoy doing a game with strangers, particularly since it means you can book in without getting a team of players together. On the other hand, it means you’re likely to be playing with a team of five or six, and that’s a bit over the ideal size for this game, at least for enthusiast teams. It’s a mostly linear game with a couple of points that can turn into bottlenecks that only one or two people can work on at a time, and although each stage is decently complex, there isn’t enough to keep six busy throughout. Teams who naturally let each person take the lead for different sections will be fine; teams with a couple of dominant players may find that the others could end up a bit sidelined.
It’s a busy, complex game that at times is in danger of being a bit chaotic, but mostly stays on the right side of the line through good sequencing and the prompting of the two hosts (one live and one mechanical). With its larger scale it loses the self-contained neatness of Lady Chastity’s Reserve, but it gains instead an impressive degree of spectacle. Whether you’ll prefer this game or their original offering will be a matter of personal taste.