Brentwood, Jun 2018
The Brentwood branch of Clue HQ has an unusual location out in the Essex countryside next to a Cold War era nuclear defence bunker, which we didn’t have time to visit as well but which seems a highly appropriate neighbour for an escape room venue, even if the games we’d chosen to play on this visit used different themes.
Our first game was Dungeon of Doom, which uses a faux-medieval setting with one of your team (or possibly two, if you’re playing in a large group) imprisoned and awaiting a grisly execution, from which you need to rescue them. This is a theme park version of the Middle Ages, decorated to be thematic and entertaining rather than setting out to be a convincing ancient dungeon – which on the whole I’m grateful for, since it meant reasonable light levels and a spacious area to move around in.
We played as a pair of enthusiasts; that’s a smaller team than the room is designed for, and our host made an adjustment to one step which might otherwise have been impossible without a third person. My impression was that Dungeon is well suited to a larger group in other respects too – the busy array of puzzles on offer provides plenty for a team to divide and conquer. The two of us ploughed through the puzzles with what seemed an acceptable speed, only to find the game kept revealing ever more locks and clues for us to work through, until we barely squeaked a victory before the time limit.
Clue HQ games have a recognisable house style, which emphasises clear and recognisable clue items more than naturalistic design. It’s very much based around padlocks, and purists may dislike that along with some anachronisms and laminated paper clues. I found those bothered me very little, because Dungeon isn’t aiming for realistic immersion: it’s aiming for fun themed puzzle solving, and the quick-fire small triumphs of opening one lock after another made for a pacy game where we were constantly under time pressure without spending any significant amount of time stuck.
The eclectic selection of puzzles has stronger and less strong points; I suspect one mathsy early puzzle will win few fans, but we found the skilful game-mastering eased any points where we’d otherwise have struggled. Nicely presented decor was enhanced by suitably dramatic background music, and the various non-linear threads of the puzzles drew together to bring the game to a tense and satisfying conclusion.
Dungeon seemed to me very well suited for a larger group of beginners – it’s a polished and accessible experience with a great deal of content to keep a team busy. It’s firmly in the mainstream of escape room design style, and easy to enjoy.