London, Apr 2017
Casino is in many ways a fairly traditional escape game, but with the twist that you may have the option of escaping without solving everything in the room. Players may therefore find that they’ve opened the final door, but choose to delay their exit to try to unlock more cash.
By ‘fairly traditional’, I mean two things: firstly, most puzzles consist of finding a number (or, occasionally, a physical key) to open a padlock; and secondly, the room looks more like a casino-themed room of puzzles than an actual casino.
Solving one puzzle sometimes unlocks a clue needed to solve a different one, but the game structure is largely non-linear and provides plenty of different puzzles to work on simultaneously. Curiously, there’s nothing in particular that marks out the puzzle that rewards players with a way out of the room. That means that players may happen to solve that one relatively early, or it may happen to be the very last thing they solve. That’s an odd decision, since it seems more logical to have a well-marked central path leading to the exit and separate optional tracks, so that if a team is struggling they can make sure they’re focused on the tasks that will get them out of the room. As it is, on the assumption that solving everything in this room is a challenging bar for most teams, the effective difficulty of the room varies depending on which puzzles players happen to focus on.
It also bruises immersion a bit to get the exit door open, to be met by the operator telling you that you can stay on to solve the remaining puzzles. Despite both those points, I really liked having a variable quantity of puzzles to solve – it makes it more solvable for weaker teams while maintaining the challenge level for teams who are doing well.
I’ve objected to rooms with large numbers of padlocks in many other reviews, particularly when you have to try the same code in multiple locks. That problem is seriously exacerbated when solutions to puzzles are ambiguous, resulting in a nightmare of several dozen permutations of lock plus possible answer. Casino suffers from this problem, with a couple of puzzles that have two plausible answers, and one particularly bad offender that arguably has six. Our experience was that this didn’t particularly affect us, partly because the types of lock vary enough that there are only a few of any given length of code, and partly because we left the most ambiguous one until later when we knew which lock it must be for. Other teams could find this a much bigger frustration though. On the other hand, having a set of clear locks to aim for gave a great sense of progress as we knocked off each of them in turn.
The lobby setup initially made me concerned that the operators would not be attentive enough, with a central desk monitoring up to three parallel games shared by two staff who were also dealing with room resets, team photos, and meeting & greeting new teams arriving. In practice though we had zero problems, and where needed hints were delivered skilfully. The operators were in fact excellent, clearly very experienced and good at the job, and full of energy and jokes in a way that distinctly added to the experience.
In many escape rooms, especially older ones that use lots of padlocks, if you come across a number with a suitable number of digits, it’s probably the code to a lock, for no other reason than that it’s prominent and wouldn’t be included in the room if it weren’t a clue. That’s in contrast to rooms which aim for a more natural style of puzzle that aims for clues that fit plausibly into the story and setting, and thereby avoid breaking immersion. Casino is firmly the former type. With a couple of exceptions, it’s also pretty low-tech, and teams who’ve played plenty of escape games will not find much that’s original or different. But somewhat ambiguous puzzles aside, it’s well-designed and works smoothly. London has plenty of more ambitious and sophisticated escape rooms these days, but Casino delivers a great deal of fun, and the variable win condition gives it appeal to a broader range of players.