Winchester, Sep 2017
Winchokey is ClueCapers’ second escape room, and has a prison escape theme – hence the ‘chokey’ in the name. The venue frames its games as excursions through a portal into a parallel universe, and here your task is to rescue a fellow portal traveller who’s found himself locked up. That means the aim is not just to escape but also to rescue the right person – without much prior information about your target, you must make sure you don’t accidentally bring back a dangerous inmate instead.
Where more commonly the group is left in the game room while the operator goes to start the clock, here you start it yourself by pressing a button that also opens the entrance. That eliminates those few seconds of standing in the room waiting for the game to begin, and causes a scramble to get into the room as the clock begins ticking.
Once inside, although the room is not designed to look naturalistically like a jail cell, the theme is followed consistently. Other than one obvious central feature this build has not so much of an instant ‘wow’ impression, but impresses in the details. From the outset the design has a quirky feel to it that avoids the obvious options and continually manages to be fresh and surprising.
Most games have a hard cut off at sixty minutes, if the team hasn’t escaped. Some will let players finish if they’re on the last puzzle. ClueCapers has one of the most lenient policies I’ve seen, with teams allowed to continue up to the 75 minute mark. It’s distinctly tougher than the average escape room and claims only 19% of teams get out within the hour; in fact it wouldn’t be unreasonable to describe it as a 75 minute game with 60 mins given as a goal not a limit. All of which is of course intended to slightly lessen the embarrassment of admitting that it took us 67 minutes to escape with a team of four…
Feeble excuses aside, it’s a tough game. That’s partly because it has some decently challenging puzzles, but it’s more because it’s often not very obvious what to focus on. The game requires you to actually pay attention to the scraps of information you unearth as you work your way through it, rather than using a more standard approach of solving every puzzle in sight until one of them drops an exit key in your lap.
To me the result was that the game didn’t flow as smoothly as their other, though I’m hesitant to criticise it on that basis. ‘Flow’ is a very elusive, subjective concept, and it’s easy to decide that any game where you struggled must have bad flow. Winchokey had a logical, often non-linear sequence of puzzles untroubled by needless ambiguity, so what I mean here is that, for example, it has a quite tricky opening section that many teams will need a hint for. It’s often good for a game to give teams a couple of quick wins at the start of the game so they don’t feel they’ve immediately hit a brick wall, but the fact that Winchokey doesn’t do so isn’t a flaw, it just means it’s positioned as a more difficult room. Beginners will likely need plenty of hints to complete the game, and even experienced teams should expect to have to work hard on scouring the area for clues, and to think hard about the information they’re given. As long as you go in with suitable expectations, that makes it a good choice for enthusiasts looking for something a little more challenging than usual.
(There’s currently no ‘dastardly’ version of Winchokey, but they may be one in the future. If so, don’t be put off trying it by the implication that the game’s hard enough already. Going by Winchintzy, any dastardly version is likely to make individual puzzles more complex, whereas what we struggled with here was working out what we should be solving; and that aspect of it would likely be no harder in a dastardly variant.)
The game is not just challenging but also clever and refreshingly original. There’s a greater use of written information as clues than in their original game, but the same inventive use of the environment and quirky sense of humour. To beat it you’ll need to think outside the box and be ready to draw inferences on partial information, not just follow spoon-fed clues through to the end. I’d recommend beginners play a few other games first before attempting this one – but experienced players looking for something a bit tougher shouldn’t miss it.