Cambridgeshire, Mar 2018
Located half an hour’s drive outside Cambridge city centre, Cryptx isn’t the easiest location to get to but from their booking calendar seem to manage to attract a steady stream of teams nonetheless. They emphasise that they’re an enthusiast-run operation with all games designed in-house, and periodically switch out older games for new.
They’re also experimenting with the standard escape game format: Heist is a game based on points not time. There are three parts to it, in fact. The first set of puzzles must be completed to open the exit door and escape. The second set unlocks drawers of jewellery and valuables, which are what determine your final score. And the third set is a bonus track involving the store’s secret connections to the Illuminati. And as an extra wrinkle, you’re allowed to take up to 70 minutes if you wish – but at the cost of 10% of your score for every minute you remain past the end of the hour.
The three parts are very distinct, with stickers marking puzzles belonging to the first and third sets. Everything lacking a sticker is a jewellery puzzle, and these are often hidden around the room in more subtle ways. The majority of the content is non-sequential, meaning the room contains a quite overwhelming number of locks, so the signposting is appreciated.
When going to play this game, you should be clear on one thing: you are not going to solve everything. The volume of content is deliberately pitched so that even the most inhumanly fast teams won’t be able to open every lock. Maybe with six experts having a good day you might have a chance. The rest of us should expect to exit with plenty of the room left unsolved.
This actually means teams have a choice of strategy – while solving the exit door sequence is required, it’d be possible to make a conscious decision to focus on the jewellery puzzles or the bonus Illuminati sequence. The game instructions encourage teams to go for the former, and that’s likely to produce a higher score, but it’s interesting to have the option of concentrating on the other trail instead.
Heist is a game that concentrates on sheer quantity of puzzles. The style of those puzzles tends towards the mathsy at times, though a calculator is provided to help. Several of them were of the abstract sort that could be provided on a printed sheet of paper; some of those were in fact provided via laminated sheet. The content is stronger with a couple of fun physical tasks, and I also rather liked a deduction task in the main exit code sequence.
There were a couple of places where it was possible to lose information, in one case making a puzzle a little harder and in the other rendering it impossible to solve. That’d be a big no-no in most games, but here it’s more or less okay – because being unable to solve that puzzle doesn’t stop teams from progressing, it just prevents them from getting one of the many drawers of jewellery. Enthusiasts might still feel a little grumpy about it though.
But as long as you’re not going to feel disgruntled at leaving behind unopened padlocks, the game’s unusual design makes it an interestingly different challenge, and one where all teams are guaranteed a full hour of solving. It’s also particularly well suited to a larger team – the volume of content and the very non-linear design will give everyone plenty to get stuck into.