Gravesend, May 2017
Your glamorous host greets you for the game show of your life – Million Dollar Date Night! The two of you are in a small room where one thing is clear from the start – there’s little by way of serious theming, no story, but an enormous number of puzzles to attack.
Helpfully the room has a clear difficulty structure (with commensurate rewards), allowing you to start on some easier puzzles before attacking the harder ones.
Whilst a number of the individual puzzles have linear components, overall we counted over a dozen separate puzzles that could be done in parallel. This meant we weren’t stuck frustratedly on any one puzzle for too long as we could always try another.
This is, then an entertaining room for puzzle purists; some great puzzles, but the lack of serious theme or story for me prevent it being any higher ranked. That said it’s still a fun room to do and worth squeezing in if you just want to rack your brain for an hour!
It’s important to realise that Million Dollar Date Night is emphatically not a normal escape room. The name suggests a game show, and that’s pretty much what this is – if someone decided to make a game show loosely inspired by escape room puzzles, they might well come up with something along these lines.
If you mainly enjoy escape rooms for the story, the exploration, the theming, then this isn’t the game for you. But for puzzle addicts, this is pure unadulterated puzzle-heroin straight to the bloodstream.
There are padlocks. There are maglocks. There are lights and electronics and LEDs, and a glorious diversity of every type of puzzle you might imagine. A couple of these would normally strike me as out and out unfair – but the clever thing about this game’s design is that it really doesn’t matter if they are, because no-one’s expected to complete all of it. Players can, and must, pick and choose which tasks to work on, and can select the ones that appeal to them or which play to their strengths. So if one or two parts are crazily difficult that’s just the top end of the difficulty scale, which ambitious players can tackle for bonus points and other teams can happily ignore.
Because of the non-linear structure of most of the room, a larger team would have a clear advantage, though they’d also find the space cramped; but in any case the game is strictly for two players. Despite the name ‘date night’, teams will largely find themselves splitting up and solving different areas of the game in parallel, and we found ourselves working on things separately a lot more than in other escape games.
It’s always a bit painful leaving part of an escape room incomplete. All teams will have to leave some of the puzzles unsolved, and most will find they’re leaving behind a pretty substantial portion of them. And that definitely is a potential point of frustration about MDDN. However, for me that was just a momentary twinge that didn’t detract from the experience, perhaps because I’d had the opportunity to solve any given part of it. It’s up to the players which areas to focus on, and how long to devote to any individual element. And of course the flip side of that is that all teams are guaranteed to get a full hour of game for their money.
The huge choice of tasks to work on induces the kind of frantic hurry that you see in gameshow contestants on, say, Supermarket Sweep or in the last few seconds of grabbing golden tickets in the Crystal Maze. It’s great to see Panic Room innovating with different formats, and the market could do with a lot more games for teams of two; and while this game won’t be to everyone’s tastes, I found it non-stop high-quality entertainment.