Brentwood, Jun 2018
Sacrifice, currently the newest game at Clue HQ Brentwood, is a versus game; not in the sense that they run two identical copies of a stand-alone so that two teams can compete head to head, but using the rarer configuration where a single room pits one half of the team against the other, and the only way to play it is competitively. [Edit: The operator clarifies that with teams of 2-3 players, it’s possible to play the game non-competitively if preferred.]
That makes it best suited for a team of 4 or 6; we played with 2, with each of us effectively soloing our half. That worked well enough but isn’t something I’d recommend; escape rooms are always more fun as a team activity, and without someone to bounce ideas off it’s very easy to struggle with otherwise quite reasonable puzzles.
Each of us had a separate room with some limited ability to see what the other was doing, and each half contained an identical set of puzzles. The pre-game briefing tells you that there will be five particular puzzles that resolve to codewords, which you must enter into a console provided. Backstory is left deliberately vague; it appears you’re held prisoner and being made to compete by some demonic force, and the decor includes a few lightly gruesome touches, but it’s a veneer for the main purpose of the game, which is: who can solve the puzzles faster?
In our case, the answer was that we both performed abysmally, something that I’ll blame on the novelty of solo solving. The space was small enough to be manageable without teammates, and would feel crowded with more than three in each half; I believe the play area is in fact a little larger at the Brentwood copy of this game than at the other Clue HQ branches that run Sacrifice. The mostly linear sequence of puzzles ought to reduce confusion too, although in practice I found it often hard to guess which of the many items around the room I should focus on; I sometimes had several items or apparent puzzles that could plausibly be the next step, only one of which could actually help move me forward. But the stumbling blocks that I struggled with overlapped only a little with those that caught my teammate, which is good evidence that the problem was with the players not the game.
In any case, hints on the overhead screen helped us past sticking points. These were one of several factors that encourage Sacrifice games to end in an excitingly close finish; the operator will naturally tend to be freer with hints to whichever side is lagging behind, but in any case all hints are visible to all players (though flagged for the intended recipient to avoid accidental confusion). Since hints for a puzzle you’ve already solved are useless, and hints for a puzzle you’ve yet to reach can help a great deal, that naturally helps the losing side catch up. A couple of other features in the room use a little light interaction between the teams in a way that similarly has a levelling effect. Since an outcome where one side handily thrashes their rivals is less entertaining, anything of this sort that encourages a nail-biting photo-finish helps the competitive structure.
My impression was that the puzzles themselves were a little less strong than in the Dungeon game we’d played immediately beforehand, with less variation in the lock types, though still plenty of variation and nice ideas in the puzzles. But Sacrifice is less about the satisfaction of puzzle solving or the immersive experience; it cuts straight to the important business of trying to beat your friends. If a bit of friendly rivalry appeals to you and you fancy yourself a faster escaper than your teammates, Sacrifice is an opportunity to demonstrate it.
…and no, I do not wish to comment on which of the two of us got out first. 😣