Loughborough, Nov 2019
Of the sixty or so Christmas pop up games available this year, Break Escape’s is the only one I managed to try; but it set a high bar. Pop up seasonal games are typically simpler affairs than longer lived escape rooms, since it doesn’t make sense to invest as much in something that’ll only be available for a few weeks, but it looks like Break Escape got carried away with this one; it sounds like they’re considering keeping it as a year-round room, and I don’t see a reason why they shouldn’t.
Naturally, Santa’s run into trouble and needs your help to get the festivities back on track, in this case by getting his sleigh working. The twist is that that’s a relatively small part of the game; the larger part of it is to gather as much (physically embodied) Christmas Cheer as possible, from a wide variety of optional puzzles that can be mostly tackled in any order.
With a large team and a huge number of things to look at it was chaos for the first few minutes of this game, like a North Pole present factory three days before Christmas – everyone dashing from puzzle to puzzle without solving much. But although it wasn’t until the initial frenzy settled down that we got a grasp on the structure of the game, it’s actually organised extremely clearly. The main thread of puzzles that must be solved to save Christmas are based around the rather magnificent contraption at one end of the room, and the many bonus puzzles are arranged around the rest of the space in an order that’s intended to reflect increasing difficulty. Most puzzles resolve to a padlock code, and each padlock is marked with a symbol that indicates which set of clues go with it.
The quantity of puzzles is such that, if played with a smaller team, all but the most elite players would struggle to get through everything. Of course, you’re not intended to get through everything. Since most of the puzzles can be worked on in parallel, bigger teams will be faster. Once we hit our stride our large and mostly very experienced group did indeed find that padlocks started popping open at a satisfying rate.
We still finished right up against the deadline, but had been struggling with the same two puzzles for well over ten minutes, and would definitely not have solved them without increasingly blatant hints from our gamemaster. I thought both were in different ways quite wildly unreasonable, and hope that the venue adjusts them. However, that wasn’t the fatal flaw it would have been in a different game; since they were effectively optional, the fact that they were more or less impossible to solve without hints mattered less, since very few teams will complete enough of the puzzles to end up blocked on them.
Christmas games should, as a rule, be cheerful and busy and fun, and Christmas Cheer is all of those things. The very parallel structure means even with larger groups it should keep everyone busy, and while some puzzles are more solid than others you’re expected to pick and choose the ones you want to work on rather than solve the lot. And there’s an exuberant energy throughout from the bright colours, cute mechanisms and the nice ways it recognises and rewards progress. As a game it’s a lot of fun; as a Christmas game it’s right on the money.
Disclaimer: We played this game on a complementary basis. This does not influence the review or rating.