London, Jun 2018
In a complete break with all precedent, I tried an outdoor escape game on a sunny summer’s day instead of in freezing rain – astonishingly it turns out that that’s a better way to play! This was the first of three games for Agent November’s big 2018 relaunch, which released revamped versions for all three of their main games; Robyn Yew is the replacement for the game previously called Rainbow Syndicate. I never played the previous version, but I believe the update keeps the style of the game the same while refreshing most of the content. If you’ve played Rainbow Syndicate, you can probably play Robyn Yew as a new game as long as your memories of the former have faded enough to not mind the parts that remain unchanged.
A couple of disclaimers here: I played this a part of a launch event in a huge team of ten players, when the game had barely finished beta testing. Most games need a couple of weeks of last-minute tweaks to sort out teething problems uncovered by the first wave of public bookings, but Robyn Yew had few issues. The main one was that it was difficult to properly see or hear the story videos, due to ambient noise and light overwhelming the tablet used to display them, but I’d expect that to be quickly sorted out with a portable speaker or similar. Our group size was also larger than the suggested maximum for the game, and I’d strongly recommend smaller numbers – though if you were determined to play one of the Agent November games with a large team, this is the one I’d suggest first.
I was pleasantly surprised at how distinctive in style each of the three games was – they are emphatically not the same format repeated with different puzzles. Robyn Yew is the most mobile, an outdoor treasure hunt through London streets that leads you between locations discovering clues along the way. That makes it sound like one of those smartphone-driven games which have tasks such as, say, finding a particular pub, spotting some detail on the building and typing it into your phone to receive the next clue; but no, it’s very much a proper escape game, just one that’s distributed across a larger area and that takes place amidst the general public. In fact, the two things I perhaps enjoyed most about the game were the ingenious system used to pinpoint locations, and the thrill of uncovering game clues hidden in apparently mundane surroundings.
There are a great many similar padlocks to open, and if you hate locks then that might put you off; although mercifully each is labelled with a word or other mark that makes it very clear which code goes with which lock. Much of the content consists of abstract stand-alone puzzle ideas, and some clues were messages on simple paper scraps – though as the game settles in it’s possible they’ll upgrade those to more durable components. But I was impressed by the variety of puzzle ideas, particularly those that used the various non-paper clue items; and where we might have sunk into ten minutes of trying to solve things for we hadn’t yet gathered sufficient information, our gamemaster was quick to keep things on track.
It’s no doubt best played excitedly dashing between locations, and our leisurely saunter (with road-crossing delays) nearly cost us the game, with a surprisingly large number of puzzles to get through. Part of that was time lost to herding our oversized group around, but groups shouldn’t underestimate the challenge here.
How strongly I’d recommend this game depends on how much you like the idea of solving puzzles outdoor, in the midst of passers-by and traffic, rather than in a themed game room. But even though that’s not a great match for my tastes – wandering around in a group wearing identical hats smacks a little too much of being on a stag do for me – I still enjoyed the novelty of it, as well as liking the game itself. So if the idea of outdoor escaping appeals, you should find this game a safe bet.