Epsom, Oct 2018
Located in the main clubhouse at Horton Park Golf Club, Epsom Escape’s games are from the same enthusiast designer as Escape From The Room in Sutton, and now hosts that venue’s Old Maid Milly game. Golf and escaping wouldn’t have occurred to be as an obvious combination of leisure activities, but Horton Park seems pitched well to small family & friend groups which could make it a good fit.
Operation Sealion is set in WW2 France, where your mission is to retrieve key intelligence to prevent a Nazi invasion of Britain. Both the story and the usual health and safety warnings were explained beforehand via a video that was curiously stilted, and also a little hard to hear due to being located in a corridor area next to the noisy bar. If that gave an unpromising initial impression, it was almost immediately dispelled by a gently theatrical intro that both led us into the game room and also got us into the right mood for some escaping.
The centre for the Resistance is the stock room of a French grocery store, a setting with shades of ‘Allo ‘Allo; French language is used here and there throughout the game content, though of course you don’t need to know any French yourself. Your first few tasks are spelled out clearly as a list of instructions (telling you what you’re aiming to achieve though not, of course, how to do it), a device that I thought worked extremely well: it allows the game to be quite non-linear right from the start while keeping players from being overwhelmed by the quantity of things to look at, and makes it very approachable for less experienced groups. Not that it’s easy; between a challenging co-operative skill task and another tricky puzzle, we struggled more in this first section than with the remainder.
Operation Sealion’s design style is recognisably consistent with the games at Escape From The Room, and is characterised by very solid puzzle design coupled with clever physical reveals. That’s despite a near total lack of common electronic mechanisms such as maglocks. Instead, puzzles are often custom built mainly from wood, often as part of the structure of the room itself. Operation Sealion has a larger and more complex play area, and uses that to provide a series of surprises that are all the more pleasing for the low-tech implementation.
I’m a little wary of escape rooms set up as add-ons in venues whose main business is something else entirely; too often that results in games created by people who have little understanding of escape rooms or puzzle design. Fortunately Horton Park have brought in an enthusiast designer with a good track record, and the result is a lovely game full of satisfyingly inventive puzzle ideas which just work. There are more obviously spectacular games out there, but Operation Sealion has a creativity and quality of design that should make it a reliable hit both for beginners and for experienced players.