Barnstaple, Jun 2019
Valondor is in peril! Evil forces rise to threaten the realm again! This game’s setting didn’t appear to be imitating any specific movie or book, but the swords and sorcery style was instantly familiar from any number of fantasy stories. The exact nature of the enemy wasn’t specified, but your job is to defeat them by performing a ritual that unites the four elements.
(Despite the name, Escape Down The Rabbit Hole do not (currently) offer an Alice in Wonderland game. They do run a café/restaurant alongside their escape rooms – I was expecting a small catering corner and instead found a large and airy dining hall serving themed food, and wished I’d set aside some time to eat there.)
Once inside the room, my impression was of a pretty although by-the-numbers medieval decoration scheme, with swords and shields and decorative maps of non-existent countries. One early puzzle stood out as being dramatically more difficult than the rest of the game, in that it used a classic type of puzzle which a player could easily sink twenty minutes into without solving it. At least, that was my impression – I can’t be sure because we got a hint showing us the solution outright before I’d made a serious attempt at it. I suspect it’s as tough as it appeared, and the venue deal with it by giving teams a chance to do it and then simply giving them the answer if they haven’t solved it. That is of course much better than just leaving them to struggle, but perhaps they could find a way to provide some extra partial clues for it within the room so that more groups get the satisfaction of finding the answer themselves.
A great many of the other puzzles followed a particular style, relying heavily on written clues given in gothic ‘ye olde’ text on framed pictures. At one point we had such a stack of these in front of us I felt like I was in the spare room of an art gallery. While there was little to criticise in each puzzle individually, in combination it felt a little repetitive, with the designers restricting themselves to quite a narrow palette of puzzle ideas.
While I’d have liked a little more variety and less use of written clues, they definitely get points for presentation – the framed pictures were vastly superior to simple scraps of paper. Component quality has impressive throughout in fact, with items that were consistently attractive and well-made. Perhaps the grand conclusion could have been more dramatic than the exit quietly clicking open, but it was an enjoyable, attractive game free from any particular points of friction, and one which is very well suited to less experienced teams.