Shrewsbury, Jun 2019
You wouldn’t guess it from the gnomic title, but The Beginning is set in a medieval/fantasy world which is threatened by cultists who aim to use a dark ritual to unleash a plague. Your task is to stop th- no, actually you are the cultists and your aim is to perform that ritual before any meddling heroes come along and mess up your plans.
This game is notable for the deliberate focus on physical tasks. There are certainly some non-physical elements to give your brain cells a workout, but the emphasis is on everything physical. That’s particularly well suited to the ‘ye olde’ theme, where a hands-on tactile feel fits so much better than electronics or number locks. It also enjoys a great variety in types of physical task. There was nothing that required brute strength, but other than that the puzzles spanned the full range, involving speed or fine motor control or working out the correct way to manipulate something.
A common problem with physical/dexterity puzzles is that if a team gets hopelessly stuck, the gamemaster doesn’t have any easy way to help them on to the next stage. That might apply here, though if so probably to only one of the tasks.
It’s not uncommon for a puzzle to turn out to be simpler than I expect, and in the vast majority of cases that’s because I’m overthinking it, as usual. One step of The Beginning was simpler than it looked for a much less common reason: it provided what looked like material for a larger and more complex puzzle, but then only used a small part of it. Puzzles can be flawed in much more serious ways, but it’s still a bit disconcerting; there’s a satisfaction in all the pieces coming together neatly to provide the solution, and that satisfaction is compromised when it turns out you only needed part of what’s provided.
That caused us a little confusion but was only a small speedbump. I reliably like physical escape room puzzles (as long as they’re reasonably well designed); it’s more satisfying to solve something when it’s large, or integrated into the room around you, or requires several people to co-operate. So a game that’s built around such tasks is always going to be an easy sell for me. The quantity of content is pitched more for beginners than for experienced teams; we finished within half an hour but enjoyed ourselves thoroughly throughout.