Winchester, Dec 2018
Given the names of ClueCapers’ previous two games Winchintzy and Winchokey, I was surprised their third wasn’t named A Curious Winheritance. Fortunately, it turns out to be set in the Winsonian Museum, thereby maintaining a good level of Winchester-themed punnage. As with ClueCapers’ other games, the premise is that you’re entering an unstable portal to a parallel universe, apparently similar to our own but with odd differences.
‘Stepping through a portal’ is a device various other escape room companies use, as a handy excuse for why you’re in the Middle Ages or Ancient Egypt or wherever. ClueCapers use it for settings that are, on the surface, far more mundane; this one is an art gallery, a setting which might seem not to need such an exotic explanation as an interdimensional portal. But what I find so clever about this venue’s game design is the way they use that premise to break players’ expectations in all kinds of ways large and small. The surroundings may look deceptively normal, but you can’t count on things working the way you expect. The first instance of that was perhaps my favourite in the whole game, an unexpected and delightfully hand-crafted detail to spot in the room’s decor.
Like ClueCapers’ other games, it’s ambiguous whether this is a 60 minute game or a 75 minute one – 60 minutes is presented more as a goal than a deadline, and you have until the 75 minute mark before you have to surrender and leave the room unfinished. I always like longer than usual games, and this one is tricky enough to need to extra time, though I’d perhaps prefer it to be presented simply as a 75 min game – as it is, if you finish between the two deadlines it takes a little away from the feeling of victory, as a slightly second-class triumph.
While the art gallery setting might be less showy than some escape room themes, A Curious Inheritance shines with originality and wit. The humour shows in small details where text is part of the decor, but also in the various surprises when an item or the room design manages to catch you by surprise.
The two of us struggled at several points, helped through by a friendly gamemaster who gave clues more readily than we’d have preferred – although they were very clear beforehand that we were welcome to ask for fewer hints, so that’s our fault for not doing so. One puzzle stands out for being particularly obscure, requiring at least three difficult insights in combination, with no feedback to show that you’re on the right track until you’ve solved the whole thing. I’d confidently predict that very few teams get past that one without a hint, which suggests it’s too cryptic for an escape room; much admiration to groups who do work it out unaided.
If advising an arbitrary group of beginners on where to go to try their first escape room, I’d point them to somewhere a little easier with more traditional puzzles rather than sending them to this game, where they’d be likely to end up a bit lost, or led through too much of it by gamemaster hints. But the challenge level and the creative originality of the design are a treat for experienced players.
I’d recommend a slightly larger team than our group of two. There’s a good amount to get through, but more importantly it requires lots of ‘aha’ moments of insight, some subtle enough that experience is no guarantee you’ll get them all. Few escape room puzzles really need more than one person solving them, other than for reasons of physical layout, but here I suspect that having three or four brains available will give you a much better chance of spotting how to proceed. The difficulty level and the style of puzzle may mean you get less of a feeling of ‘flow’, unless you’re doing particularly well, and you may well find yourself running into dead ends. But if you like your escaping to be challenging and don’t mind working through when you get stuck, then the payoff on finding the solutions is all the more rewarding.