Macclesfield, Jul 2017
Mr. Chuckles’ Funhouse is an updated version of the earlier Escape Quest game Bad Clown, which was a 90 minute game with a live actor and a propensity to terrify. The current game is toned down to be less scary and of a normal length.
The game opens with an audio briefing in the darkened room, where Mr. Chuckles does his best furniture-chewing gleefully-mad villain routine and sets out the terms of his game: by solving his puzzles, each player can find a golden ticket that’ll give them safe passage out of the room, but anyone left ticketless when the time runs out will meet a grisly fate.
The lights come up as the game begins, to reveal an environment that lives up to its Funhouse billing. The style starts with good-sized custom puzzles displayed carnival-style on walls and in booths, mostly resolving to padlock codes.
It’s big and flamboyant and fun, macabre but not out and out scary. The designers have clearly had a lot of fun with the demented carnival theme, and several of the elements feel like funfair games. In fact, we lost a couple of minutes diving into a couple of these before stopping to think whether we were actually achieving anything by doing so. It’s a great game for a larger team, since much of it can be tackled in parallel, with the only downside being that by the end I’d missed some interesting-looking sections that my teammates had solved without me!
All of that makes it a strong escape game, fun and original and distinctive. What really made this game for me though is the cunning twist on the win condition. The operators explain before the game that completing all the puzzles will provide a set of golden tickets, enough for all the players, at which point they can hit the exit button to win. However, at some point before then, one player may discover a single gold ticket… at which point they can hit the exit button to escape as a solo victory, treacherously abandoning their teammates to their doom.
Players may, of course, be too loyal to each other to take that option, and how it plays out will depend on team dynamics; and in any case it might be that the team reaches the end of the game without finding the single ticket that enables the betrayal option. It helps that the game is packed with golden tickets, all tantalisingly unobtainable, and the players will often be looking at different things and not fully aware of what their teammates are doing at all times. I’m sure some teams won’t want the feeling that they may not be able to completely trust their co-players, but for me this dynamic was a touch of genius, adding a unique feeling of slight paranoia as we worked together while still keeping an eye out for anyone acting suspiciously. (And yes, I managed to grab the single ticket, and then got busted by the others before I could use it, so we finished with the group victory.)
If the betrayal option sounds off-putting to you, go play this game anyway: it’s too good to miss, and you can always make a solemn pact with your teammates to only go for the group victory. If a little mistrust and betrayal sounds entertaining, then you need to go play with Mr. Chuckles just as soon as you can get to Macclesfield.