London, Nov 2019
There are any number of games set in WW2, but I’d hazard none others that share the premise of Roll Out The Barrel: set immediately after the end of the war, you’re trying to break into the officers’ mess to get at their private stash of booze, all the better to celebrate victory. Your goal is a literal barrel, and barrels are used throughout as a motif along with the more obvious wartime decor and 1940s theming.
The escape room industry may be increasingly using prefabricated puzzle components purchased from third party suppliers, but Escape Plan continue to shine for their use of hand-made wooden components, custom constructed and carefully painted in a way that brings to mind a Victorian toy store. There’s an obvious showpiece puzzle, which is visible but tantalisingly unavailable until much later in the game, but the same craftsmanship shows in, for instance, custom wooden locking mechanisms built where another company would just slap on a padlock.
One step needed a little more force than I’d normally venture in a game, but in the briefing our gamemaster had given us a non-specific heads up that successfully prevented confusion. But puzzles throughout were smart and well-designed, mixing hands-on solutions with more abstract ones (the latter including possibly the most involved logic puzzle I’ve come across in an escape room yet).
As a sign of the consistently reliable game design, I found I was confidently dismissing some more tenuous possible solutions without bothering to try them. That’s the opposite effect to the way a bad game undermines your faith in its puzzles, and it makes the whole experience that much smoother because you don’t spend time trying iffy solutions on the off chance, and each solved puzzle is that much more pleasing.
In its original form Roll Out The Barrel was a Christmas pop-up. There’s nothing Christmas-specific in the current version, but it retains an upbeat, cheerful atmosphere that fits the theme of celebration rather than any serious peril. It’s full of fun flourishes and nice ideas, and with a 70 min time limit they seem to have made the decision to extend the time instead of trimming the content. While it doesn’t have anything as memorably unusual as the finale of their Battle For Britain game, it’s a happy romp that should go down well with almost any team.