Watford, Feb 2018
Inside the M25 but technically part of Hertfordshire not London, Watford has just gained its first escape venue with Breakout Rooms. Their website shows an ambitious list of three further games planned, but for now they’ve opened with two identical copies of a spy-themed game. The enthusiast owners are currently only able to run the game at weekends, though perhaps that’ll change as they expand.
Spy Games is set in the Cold War, and the premise is that your group of espionage operatives has been lured into a trap, from which you need to escape and find your way to a safe house. While the narrative doesn’t play much of a role in the game other than setting the scene, there are some nods to it in the puzzles.
Set decoration is quite simple, using office style decor based around padlocked drawers and similar, and to an enthusiast’s eye the game design uses a catalogue of escape room staples. That said, the physical room is more substantial than is immediately obvious, and while it makes use of several familiar tropes it broadly does so skilfully, avoiding the ways they can become frustrating.
When the game begun we struggled a little to find an initial starting point, but then we’d declined the offer of a hint to get us going, so less over-confident groups won’t have the same difficulty there. We managed to jump ahead of the mostly linear puzzle sequence a couple of times by cracking things before we’d received all the clues for them; although that left us with a confusingly unopened drawer that we kept going back to, it also skipped us past the puzzle that I’d judge as the most tenuous of the game. That and a couple of red herrings led to a certain amount of confusion, but in other respects the game flowed without particular design flaws. Two puzzles in particular struck me as notable for being more difficult than average, while still making complete sense.
I visited the venue within a week of it opening, which is much earlier than I’d normally try a new venue, and it’s to the company’s credit that it all seemed to run smoothly without obvious teething problems. Experienced players won’t find a whole lot here that’s unusual or special, but it’s a solid room that we enjoyed playing.
Watford is a fresh market for escape rooms and despite the proximity of London I imagine they’ll get a high proportion of first time players, for whom Spy Games will be challenging but a good introduction to the concept. While it’s a relatively plain room it shows solid design sense, and it’s worth giving a go if you’re in the area.