Birmingham, Sep 2017
The second game we played at Escape Time is also the second one created by the venue (at time of writing, they’ve just announced their upcoming third game), and has a Wild West theme. That’s a style of game that seems curiously neglected by escape room designers, but which works very well, as Sam’s Saloon demonstrates.
Whereas their Bank Heist game has multiple smaller areas, here the game takes place in a single large self-contained area, and it’s refreshing to have such a big space to move around in. While it’s perfectly suitable for a team of 2-3, the spacious room and the many non-linear sections of the game make this one to consider when you have a larger team than usual.
The game starts with an in-room video briefing, setting up the story: the crooked sheriff has rigged the saloon with a bomb, which will go off if you try to leave, giving you an hour to defuse it safely. And there is indeed a chunky bundle of dynamite sticks next to the exit door, even if the keypad it’s wired up to doesn’t quite match the setting. (The digital notepad for us to make notes on looked out of place too. For some reason all four games I played in Birmingham used one of these – perhaps it’s a local convention.)
It actually took us a little while even to notice the bomb, because there’s just so much to look at. This also affected us a couple of times when we completed a puzzle and triggered something, but had trouble working out what had opened. The game uses a nice audio cue to signal when you’ve hit the correct solution and thereby opened something elsewhere, which is excellent feedback; but then sometimes we’d spend a while scouring the room to try to find what had changed. That would likely happen less with a larger team.
There is a large puzzle near the end that is unavoidably time consuming. I’m not a huge fan of it, since once you’ve worked out what you’re supposed to do it’s largely drudge work to complete it. We did it the inefficient way, by leaving it until we’d finished everything else and then both of us working on it until it was done; from the point of view of completing the room quickly, it’d be better to have one person working on it while the others solve the rest of the room. But on the other hand that leaves one person stuck with a comparatively dull task and missing out on large sections of the rest of the game.
A great deal of automation combines with plenty of locks and several clever uses of purely physical or mechanical puzzles. The puzzle style is themed more than immersive, with plenty that’s based on numbers and abstract symbols but which blend into the saloon setting well enough. It’s a classic mostly non-linear structure with a great many locked and hidden compartments to discover, plenty of variety in the types of puzzles you’re solving, and some sets of clues that build up over time before you have all the pieces you need. While quite a traditional game in that sense, it’s a particularly high quality one with lots to do, a great playing space and a fun theme. Its location in Sutton Coldfield may make it less convenient to get to than Birmingham’s more central venues, but it’s well worth the journey out.
This was a lovely game, and had several very nice elements. We could have finished a lot quicker than we did, but habitually we work on the same thing in a pair rather than split up (or realise there’s more than one thing going on right now!) A couple of times we failed to notice an effect we’d had on the game, but the GM helped to keep us on track with a bit of humour, which always helps. Fun, too!