Paris, Jul 2017
Having been thoroughly impressed by Claustrophobia’s franchises in Tallinn and Amsterdam (though the latter is now Questomatica), I made a point of booking into their two rooms in Paris. As well as impressive sets, the Russian company’s rules stipulate zero padlock use and typically have extremely well disguised mechanisms, with the game’s hidden workings pretty much undetectable before they’re activated, all of which usually translates to excellent games.
The first of their two games that we played was Da Vinci. Matching the theme to the game’s location, this has the players inside the Louvre after hours, trying to discover the secrets of the worldwide conspiracy of the Illuminati. My first impression was that the room was surprisingly plain, an effect of another Claustrophobia design rule: that everything should be part of the game. However, while the lack of extraneous decor gives it a simplicity of design, that initial impression was misleading: it turns out to be quite visually impressive.
Playing as a pair, we struggled quite a bit with this room, receiving several hints and finishing with less than a minute to go. The hint system is via a button that the players push to request help, which is then received over an audio system, although I think the operator does also pro-actively provide help if badly needed.
The distinctive style of Claustrophobia games tends to mean high quality sets and original puzzle ideas. The potential weakness of the style is that it can devolve into following the instructions given to you by the game, or guessing what the game designer might have intended you to do next. It seemed to me that those were somewhat more of an issue here than in the previous Claustrophobia games I’ve played – though that might be more due to us putting in a sub-par performance than to any weakness in the game.
There were some points that could be tightened up on though. One small one was something that we initially ignored on the assumption it wasn’t part of the game; another was a search task that seemed unnecessarily time-consuming and difficult. More generally, with invisible mechanisms it ought to be clear when something has been successfully activated by the players, and here that wasn’t always the case.
Even with those gripes, it’s a very good game. There is some appropriate and exquisite artwork, and the economy of design, the inventive mechanisms and the sheer quality of many of the components are comfortably up to Claustrophobia’s high standards, and therefore well ahead of the herd.