Tunbridge Wells, Aug 2019
Back in 2016, before there were any permanent escape room venues in Margate, Clue Cracker ran a six week pop up game there named Jailbreak. Three years on, the same company are back with a revamped version of that game, now at a permanent location in Tunbridge Wells, attached to a pub. (I’m always surprised more escape venues don’t do this, since the first thing many teams want to do after playing a game is sit down and discuss it over a meal and a drink.)
Clue Cracker’s 2016 pop up gathered very favourable reviews, but the industry has moved on in leaps and bounds and I wondered whether even a reworked version of that game would now come across as old fashioned. But although I never played the original pop up, judging by the new version they’ve put a lot of effort into building something slick and impressive. As well as the decor, which starts off well and improves further, it uses a variety of sound effects for extra atmosphere.
A design style that initially focused on classic ‘padlock code’ puzzles became more varied, inventive and physical as the game continued. The section we needed most hints on was in the middle of the game, with a set of puzzles where it’s easy to end up chasing dead-end ideas unless you pick the correct starting point; although some more signposting would have helped there, it was also the most immediately impressive part of the game for both decor and puzzle style.
The hint system was also nicely themed – though that came with the drawback that hints were drawn from a set of pre-recorded messages. That means even skilled gamemasters give hints which are a bit less tailored to what you’re stuck on – although Clue Cracker did override that to give custom hints a couple of times when we were struggling to hear the pre-prepared message.
Playing as a pair, as we neared the end I was sure we were going to go over time. Although we faffed about on a couple of the earlier sections, that reflects the quantity of content in Jailbreak – there’s no shortage of puzzles to solve. My guess is that over time they might whittle the content down a little bit to make it more accessible for beginner teams, but at least for now the game is satisfyingly busy for experienced players. The result is a good-looking and solid game packed with things to do, with enough smart ideas to be interesting even if you’ve broken out of a couple dozen prisons.