Southampton, Aug 2017
A small handful of escape games give you a goal other than completing the game as quickly as possible, and Pandora Heist is one of them. This is a heist game where instead of a bank vault you’re sneaking into the collection chambers of another art thief, with the aim of recovering a priceless artefact from Greek mythology. However, the room has a wide variety of other art pieces too, and you’re expected to pick an additional four to leave with. Different objects have very different monetary values, and your aim is to maximise your final take.
The game is polished and inventive from the outset, with a well-made video briefing and a strong start. Since this is a wealthy individual’s home the set isn’t as elaborate or striking as some more exotic themes, but the decorations are excellent quality, with objets d’art that look plausibly valuable and with no sign of corner-cutting.
It requires a combination of investigative and physical skills as well as straightforward puzzle solving, and different parts of the game have contrasting styles. The theme of valuable relics from antiquity is carried through the design, including with one centrepiece puzzle that wasn’t mentally taxing but still a pleasure to complete.
While it’s well built and well designed throughout, it was the scoring system that really stood out for me, and the types of puzzle it enabled. In a normal escape room, there are quite narrow constraints on what counts as a good puzzle. It mustn’t be too difficult or time-consuming, or it will be unsuitable for the majority of groups that play. It should avoid ambiguities, and clearly resolve to an answer that, once solved, is recognisable as correct. That leaves little scope for piecing together fragmentary clues via guesswork and instinct.
All that is dictated by the need for teams to have a fair chance of completing the room. If there is a range of possible successful outcomes, where a perfect score is intended to be just short of unachievable, those rules go out the window. And Pandora Heist takes advantage of that extra leeway. Everything necessary to a successful completion of the game is properly clear and free from ambiguities, as it should be. But for the final decisions on which pieces of loot to snaffle, the clues provided are much subtler. It’s not a matter of following the breadcrumbs to their logical conclusion, but of deciding how to interpret snippets of information and doing your best not to be misled. Those over-used to being able to resolve their puzzles with confidence may dislike this, but I loved it and wished we’d spent longer going over the evidence instead of making a hasty decision – particularly when the host totted up our score and I realised the mistakes we’d made!
Over the last year Southampton has gained a healthy selection of very solid, high quality games, leaving enthusiasts spoiled for choice. The best option is clearly to make a day of it, but the extra wrinkle of the scoring mechanism in this game, and the puzzles it builds off, make this one to be sure not to miss from your schedule.