Reading, Aug 2018
While there are a handful of hard-core enthusiasts who might attempt to play solo, for most players solving as a team is one of the joys of escape rooms. A disproportionate number of my most memorable moments in games have involved tasks that required players to work together in some clever way. And while Blown Away is an impressive game in many ways, what I really loved about it was that it’s built around interesting, smart puzzles that can only be solved by a team working together.
Blown Away is a ticking bomb scenario: the city centre has been evacuated and you’ve been called in to defuse the explosive device before it goes off. Although the lightweight backstory would work reasonably well in any old room, they’ve taken the trouble to construct a basement area that feels convincingly deep underground, perhaps a maintenance area attached to the London Underground network. The atmosphere is built further with themed announcements at intervals to warn you how much time is left, and with the excellent bomb prop itself, but in other respects immersion takes a back seat to puzzle solving.
Some venues boast about how difficult their games are, and that’s usually a red flag – it’s trivial to make a game hard to complete, simply by including unfair puzzles or hiding critical items in very obscure locations. Blown Away manages to be difficult in a way that’s rigorously fair. At a couple of points it has steps where either you see it or you don’t, which it’d be easy to overlook and thereby get stuck – but in each such case it includes clues elsewhere to direct you towards them.
What makes it challenging is the quantity of content, the originality of the puzzles – meaning less of an advantage from having solved similar things in other games – and the way some parts are more than typically complex, requiring a chain of multiple steps to reach a usable solution. Plus anything that requires co-ordination between multiple players takes longer to solve, and this game has several such tasks.
There are apparently a few small ways in which they tweak the difficulty for the team. One of these was a tricky puzzle with a hint that is presented in one of two forms depending on the team, where it’s made a little more blatant for inexperienced players. The subtler version we got would have been a bit obscure for non-enthusiasts, but was perfectly judged for us. (That is, we failed to get it until given a hint, but then kicked ourselves hard for missing it. And then cooed over what a neat idea it was.)
Everything here is firmly in the classic style of escape room tasks, but designed with a skill and originality that even after a few hundred games it still felt fresh. Even taking into account the fine-tuning of the game’s difficulty level, I’d expect this to be quite a challenge for beginners, who may be better off tackling something more accessible first; although it’s non-linear enough that a larger group can use numbers to their advantage. But for any players who’re confident of their abilities, Blown Away is an absolute blast (pun intended). Stick with the minimum player count of four if you can, so that you get to see as much of the game as possible.