Basingstoke, Dec 2017
With three successful games under their belt at their Southampton branch, Exciting Escapes have expanded to a second branch in Basingstoke, with one copy of their original game plus two new ones. Dark Deeds is the first of those new games and has a 1920s theme, set in a grocery store that might be a front for illicit gambling and stolen goods.
An old-fashioned British grocery store is perhaps not the most glamorous setting for a game, gambling or no gambling. But the decor is solid and the theme is held to throughout, with minor anachronisms such as a TV screen for the remaining time and overly modern padlocks. Clues are provided via a nicely thematic telephone.
The company describe this as their hardest game, and we barely escaped, squeaking out in the final five seconds. Thinking it over, I’d agree it probably is their toughest game so far, with some tricky puzzles and plenty of content, but even so I’d expect many experienced teams to beat it in far less time than we managed. We struggled partly because early on I made a number of wrong assumptions about how the game structure, in particular incorrectly deciding that it was a linear game; and also (of course) due to missing some search targets.
Still, there are two ways in which you might find this game a bit harder than usual. The first is that some of the puzzles rely on spotting clues in the objects and environment that are a little more subtle than typical, or involve a greater number of steps. Search might not be my strong suit, but there was nothing here that struck me as unfair; everything made complete sense in retrospect.
On the other hand, the game structure provides a great deal of rope with which players can hang themselves. A clue provided at one point may not be useable until later, or a promising approach may seem to give a code that just doesn’t work, and it’s very easy to waste time chasing dead-ends. Maybe that caused us more confusion than most teams since we tend to make guesses at the puzzle sequence and use that to concentrate in the right areas, and with this game that backfired.
The confusion could have been much worse, but Exciting Escapes use a system where each padlock is labelled with an icon to indicate which puzzle is associated with it. I’m more than happy to overlook any artificiality there, since it makes a huge difference in avoiding unnecessary frustrations with the puzzles.
I have to pick out one mathsy puzzle that I took a dislike to. If you’re a purist about theme and numbers then it’ll probably seem glaringly wrong to you too; everyone else will no doubt not even notice it. With that one exception, I’d praise Dark Deeds as an intellectually satisfying game, with a puzzle-centric design that enthusiasts will find to be a good challenge.