Birmingham, Mar 2019
As one of Clue HQ’s older games, Cell Block C is available at over half a dozen locations around the country, and I had not rushed to try it on the assumption that its age meant it would be one of the company’s less interesting offerings. But it neatly filled a gap in our day’s schedule of escape rooms, and I was pleased to discover it actually stood up well to most of Clue HQ’s newer escape rooms.
Imprisoned for a crime you didn’t commit due to the machinations of Clue HQ’s usual bad guy antagonist, your mission is standard fare for a prison-themed game. As with many such games, you can expect a split-team start that relies on cooperation to progress. This initial sequence was in fact the highlight of the game for me, a tightly designed series of puzzles that used the room’s layout cleverly, in a way that focused on physical manipulation of the environment more than purely mental problem solving. The design has a potential downside in that players can accidentally mess things up, but not in a way they can’t recover from.
Clue HQ have a distinctive style of prop and puzzle design, and the bulk of Cell Block C followed that style closely. Puzzles are typically self-contained and easy to identify, with minimal ambiguity about what clues belong with which puzzle; and they mostly result in a code for a padlock. Written information is often presented on robust plastic slabs instead of paper. They’re not shy about including puzzles that are arbitrary hoops for players to jump through, and this game had one of the thornier pure maths puzzles I’ve seen in an escape room.
That all means a game that’s nicely accessible for beginners, though on the easy side for experienced players. Our team of four split into two pairs and blitzed through most of the game working strictly in parallel, finishing quickly but with each half of the group having barely seen the puzzles the other half had solved.
Although Cell Block C is definitely a padlock-fest, and sometimes had us trying a code in each of several similar padlocks, it has plenty of technology used for building atmosphere. As well as up-beat background music, the game uses lighting changes, dry ice, and various flashing lights and audio messages to keep energy levels up and to punctuate your progress. Together with the good quality of props and well-maintained room, that gives a slick finish to a game that might otherwise feel rather by-the-numbers.
I’ve escaped from more convincing-looking prison cells, and from ones that had much more realism in their puzzle design; and certainly games that presented more of a challenge. But the low difficulty level is partly because everything is clear and free from unwanted ambiguity. Thanks to that, plus an excellent start and the energetic presentation throughout, I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was to play.