Paignton, May 2019
Planning a busy day of escape rooms is logistically complex, and often the simplest option is to play as many games as possible at a single venue before moving on to the next. Once in a while this has the unfortunate consequence that you play a game and discover that you really shouldn’t have booked more than a single game at that venue. Escape Rooms Paignton’s first room would not have inspired me to book in for a second, but by the time I realised that it was too late, so in we went.
Based on the 1963 theft, The Great Train Robbery is themed to the extent of throwing in miscellaneous railway references plus some facts about the historical crime – although also any number of entirely unrelated items and themes jumbled in. No need to be purist about the theming though, it’s the puzzles that matter; and yes, once again it’s good news for jigsaw fans. One puzzle looked potentially interesting, but as soon as we started looking at it the gamemaster hurried into the room to tell us that it was no longer part of the game, and just hadn’t been removed yet. Another was based on actually quite a clever pun, that almost justified the several minutes of drudgery needed to solve it.
Our gamemaster seemed to be aware that these games were not the best available, and, as justification for some of the design decisions, pointed out that the room was intended for eight people. I think that sheds light on the design philosophy underlying both games at this venue: the aim is to keep players busy. If you have eight people in a small room, you have to make sure they’re not bored, and that justifies flagrant red herrings, confusing puzzles, and tedious busy-work tasks.
I found the flaws of Great Train Robbery harder to ignore than those of their Agatha Christie room, but I think the two games are at a similar level; it was more that by the time we were on their second room I’d stopped giving them the benefit of the doubt. And of course there’s the sheer laziness of including yet more jigsaws in this room too.
To describe how flagrantly bad this game managed to be, the best example is the bit where a code had to be entered on the wrong side of the lock (that is, the opposite side to the one marked with a line); and of course that was a code where we didn’t have an order for the digits and just had to try all the permutations. But maybe that was just an accidental mis-set, and in any case I pretty much took that one in my stride, with so much else in the game that was misleading, distracting, tatty or just plain muddled.
We’d have given up entirely, but our gamemaster was the best thing about the game: he was quick to help and stepped in at various points where we’d otherwise have been completely stymied by one unsolvable puzzle or another.