Wirral, Sep 2018
Two of the many things I’ve learned from escape games are: if you enter an ancient tomb it’s certain to be trapped and/or cursed; and any such trap or curse will take precisely sixty minutes to take effect. Clue HQ’s Egyptian theme is one of their more immediately impressive designs, and while the clue screen and modern padlocks show that they’re not going for realism, the decor still created a good impression up front. They get points for the gratuitous puns, too.
Your mission is to find a mystical crystal, which, since you’ve just walked into a deathtrap, is also your only hope of getting out alive. Much of the scene-setting is done by the intro video, a standard feature of Clue HQ games that I have mixed feelings about – it delivers a consistently polished introduction, but a video lacks the personal touch, and of course also requires them to place a monitor in the room even when it’s out of place. Or maybe I just got impatient waiting for the voice on the video to catch up with its subtitles.
The most unusual feature of Cluetankhamun came partway through, when it gave us a choice of two options. Option one would allow us to immediately proceed to the next stage, but at the cost of leaving one player trapped for a fixed period of time; option two needed us to solve an unknown quantity of puzzles. With our team of two, we were effectively gambling on whether we’d be able to beat the next section of the game in less than five minutes – although with a large team it might be rational to take the shortcut on the basis that the temporary loss of one player will make little difference. It’s a curious idea, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Something that can leave a player stuck unable to contribute for a period seems like a bad idea, and in any case why would a group that’s paid to play an escape room choose to skip some of the puzzles? But on the other hand, it’s an interesting and novel choice to offer the players, and I can see different groups interpreting it in different ways, some making a tactical calculation, others letting someone make a ‘heroic sacrifice’.
In other respects Cluetankhamun follows well-trodden ground with its style of puzzles. More than the other Clue HQ games I’ve played, the sheer number of padlocks all with four digit codes got a bit wearing. That’s partly because when you solve something you then need to go round all the padlocks looking for the place to use the code, but it’s also because it makes the puzzles a bit more predictable. There are a great many ways to have a puzzle resolve to a four digit number, but some ideas come up often enough that they get over-familiar; and if you know that you’re going to end up with a four digit code, you can apply that knowledge to help guess at how a puzzle might work, in a way that weakens the eventual ‘aha’ moment when you solve it.
Not that there’s no variety in lock type – I was amused to see a lock that had undergone creative modifications to make it work with a riddle, in fact. The use of plastic slabs in place of paper felt more out of place in this game’s setting than it did in their others, as did all the Western letters and digits. But as long as you’re not a stickler for theme consistency and are just looking for a nicely themed room packed with puzzles, then Cluetankhamun delivers well. Some weaker moments, such as a dull pen-and-paper style puzzle, were balanced out by some much more satisfying puzzles, particularly the final one.
Cluetankhamun is very approachable for beginners: not only is there a clear place to start provided by an initial satchel of clues, the game structure keeps players focused on an initial subset of the puzzles before opening out. All the way through there is an obvious indicator of progress, even if the ending arrived one step sooner than I’d expected. While most of the puzzle content is unexceptional, it’s also solid enough that we had no complaints with it, and the presentation is slick enough to add a bit of fizz. It’s not a game to seek out from afar, but if it’s nearby – and with eight copies around the country, it probably is – it’s well worth a play.