Los Angeles, Nov 2018
Of the five games available at Escape Room LA when we visited, The Alchemist was the other one I’d had strong recommendations for. The venue operates on a public booking basis but here again we managed to get the room to ourselves by playing daytime midweek. And once again we found ourselves with the gamemaster in the room silently observing, though this time in a way that was a lot easier to ignore than for The Pyramid – in fact it took us a couple of minutes to realise we weren’t alone.
Despite those commonalities, Alchemist’s structure and style contrasts sharply with Pyramid. Where the latter makes heavy use of placing physical objects and matching symbols, Alchemist feels more intellectual, with a more abstract puzzle style. Its most distinctive feature is that the largest part of it is played on entirely parallel tracks. There are effectively four stand-alone mini-games, two of which can be tackled at a time, such that you’ll most likely split your team into two halves. I can see that working particularly well in a public game where you may be playing with strangers. Even though we weren’t, dividing two and two worked well, although meant I felt there was a larger than usual section of the room that I’d not seen.
Although it includes some notably beautiful elements, Alchemist is more functional and less instantly impressive. Coloured marking tape on the floor at one point helps clarify which parts of the space form different areas in a way that’s excellent for puzzle design but less so for immersion. But even if it’s less obviously showy it’s a high quality build full of slick custom components.
Puzzles are distinctively and creatively tailored to the game’s four element theme. I’m well and truly over getting any thrill from a smell-based puzzle and will admit to having resorted to a little bit of padlock hacking to complete the one here; I was also unimpressed by a couple of paper puzzles that could have been taken from a ‘Test Your IQ’ book. But those were well compensated for by a variety of interesting and creative puzzle ideas based around alchemy and the four elements, and the way the game is divided up meant a satisfying payoff on finishing each section. I also enjoyed the lack of searching, where any time you needed to find a hidden object you’d be told where to look for it as the solution to a previous puzzle.
Alchemist is a bit more traditional in its design than Pyramid and some of the other high-tech Los Angeles games we played, using various types of combination lock and other ‘classic’ escape room elements. It does have the risk that you’ll miss out on a big slice of the content due to teammates completing it while you’re working on a different part of the room, but the flipside of that is that you’ll get more input into whichever section you’re looking at. And with its distinctive structure and puzzle-first content, we found it engaging and a great deal of fun, an impressive and satisfying game to play through.