Peterborough, Sep 2019
The Bank Vault is of course a heist game. It’s also designed to be a variable score game, where your success is based on how much money you get out with, not how quickly you finish. Staying past the 60 minute mark is a failure, but the gamemaster prompts when your time is short to make sure you don’t accidentally stay too long, so it’s a question of how much you can unlock in the time provided. This design has the big advantage for enthusiasts that you’re pretty much guaranteed a full hour of game time, with the trade off that you may have to leave some puzzles unsolved behind you.
Bank Vault has three distinct sections to it, of which the first impressed me the most for both visuals and puzzles. The middle section sagged a bit, suffering from the plain office decor and a puzzle that struck me as a bit tenuous. And then there’s the conclusion, a flurry of solving and unlocking to try to rack up your score.
We ended up clearing out the full £600,000, which according to the gamemaster was only the second time a team has done so. While that leaves me with a pleasant smug feeling, it’s a little awkward from the point of reviewing the game, since it means that the ending we had wasn’t very representative. For one thing, we had to be told that we’d run out of loot to plunder. For another, there wasn’t the tension of wondering whether to persist with a lock for a few seconds more or to gather our gains and make a dash for it.
This is actually the second variable score game from Escape, who did something similar with their Casino game. That had a lot of puzzles to solve in parallel, and was easier to clear out completely. Bank Heist is more linear, and that seemed to work well.
I very much liked the frantic conclusion to Bank Heist. The structure worked well and gave an excellent energy to the game – although games always feel more fun when you’re doing well at them. The puzzles were however more concerned with quantity than quality. In the endgame section, there were a number of entirely satisfactory puzzles and quite a few that I’d describe as filler, with some rather similar ideas used more than once each. And one step requires a leap of guesswork, with no clues in game to even suggest the right answer – we only got that one thanks to a nudge from our host, who also confirmed after the game that teams just had to guess it. If we’d finished with that as the only unopened lock, I suspect I would have been fairly unhappy about it.
While that’s a flagrant flaw, and despite other points that fell below the norm for Escape, I’d still describe Bank Heist as one of their more interesting games for an enthusiast team. First and foremost, that’s because you won’t be in danger of finishing it within 30 minutes. And secondly, if you forgive its weak points, it’s a genuinely satisfying game, with a strong start, a clear progression and an exciting finish.