Birmingham, Mar 2019
The game themes that Escape Hunt have been rolling out sound a little like costume ideas for a children’s party: cowboys, vikings, Doctor Who, pirates. Since this is an industry that deals in escapism, that’s all to the good, and we eagerly signed up for their Blackbeard game.
Your job is to sneak into the cabin of the recently deceased Captain Blackbeard and swipe his loot before the ship sinks; our gamemaster played the role of our confederate on the outside with gusto. Pirate themes always seems to be well decorated, and this one was no exception – it was immediately clear that it follows Escape Hunt’s usual pattern of high production values and multi-room environment, with some enticingly large-scale physical puzzles and plenty of piratical trimmings.
We had a great time playing Blackbeard without much in the way of sticking points, but thinking back over it I’m struck by how many steps could have tripped us up. Of the two steps that we did need gamemaster nudges on, one felt unintuitive since it relied upon the gamemaster to trigger it when we did the right thing; that was the case with one step in Escape Hunt’s Wild West game too, and in both cases I was dubious about needing to do something that I could clearly see wouldn’t have an effect without outside intervention. But perhaps that’s less confusing for beginner teams who have less idea what can and can’t be automated.
One point in the game suffered from over-cluing, where the designer adds in multiple trails pointing at the same puzzle solution, presumably in an attempt to make it easier; but that instead becomes more confusing, since having solved the puzzle with one set of clues, the other clues become a dead puzzle with no apparent answer.
In addition, there were a selection of puzzle types that I’ve seen and struggled with in other games – things where even when you know exactly what you’re supposed to do, the execution can be a frustrating struggle for reasons that have more to do with the puzzle items than with the player.
Blackbeard is a slickly polished, pretty game with lots of fun ideas but also many opportunities to get stuck or frustrated. I’d expect it to be divisive, with many teams having a blast but also many finding it brought down by one or more of the potential gotchas.