Oxford, Feb 2019
Picking a game for the afternoon slot at Escape Hunt’s Oxford branch was a choice between pirates and cowboys, and we chose the latter. Wild West casts you as lucky but imperilled miners: having discovered a rich seam of gold in a remote and dusty frontier town (incongruously but conveniently already formed into bars), you now need to make a quick exit by train before the local gangsters arrive to take it all from you.
That premise is used for an unusual scoring system. You need to find as many gold bars as you can, but have the option of finishing the game having found only some (or none!) of it. Additionally, you also need to find coal with which to power to train, and the more gold you’re escaping with the more coal you’ll need. Ignoring concerns of realism (exactly how heavy is this gold??), it’s a clever twist that means you can end up with gold that you can’t take with you.
It’s a very non-linear game with plenty to do, and if you aim to find everything then it’s definitely the hardest Escape Hunt game I’ve played yet. But the scoring system means that even groups who are doing terribly at it can still get out and claim a victory, while enthusiasts can try to get the lot, resulting in a game that can provide a good level of challenge to a much wider range of groups than most. (Oddly, their leaderboard only shows escape time, not number of bars collected. I suppose you could completely ignore the gold so as to get out in the lowest possible time, but you’d only be cheating yourself out of half the game that way.)
One puzzle which relies upon the gamemaster manually triggering something on completion seemed to me a cute idea that didn’t entirely work in practice, partly because to our enthusiasts’ eyes a large part of the puzzle seemed redundant. It takes away from the satisfaction of solving something if the solution is to jump through arbitrary hoops until the gamemaster decides your attempt was good enough. Still, I can believe that with larger groups of beginners it could provide entertainment.
Comparing Wild West to Escape Hunt’s other games, it actually feels a bit more ‘old school’. Where their other rooms tend to avoid padlocks, this one has a lot of them (though also plenty of hidden tech). Although I briefly worried we’d be trying each code in half a dozen different locks, we quickly learned we could count on each code or key working on the lock physically closest to where we’d found it. Playing to our weaknesses, it also involves a great deal of searching, but though we inevitably needed a hint to find one last item, none of the hiding places felt unfairly obscure. Both the quantity of padlocks and the amount of searching could have put me off, if done differently, but here were implemented with skill.
More generally, we found this just a thoroughly enjoyable escape room throughout. A handful of dexterity puzzles and some nifty physical ideas combined well with the more technology-driven features, and although not huge it managed to progress through a set of distinctively different stages. It’s a very solidly designed escape room with a satisfying quantity of puzzles to get through, with an extra twist provided by the unusual scoring system.