Birmingham, Mar 2019
Grand Escape’s second game is a very different beast to their first. Closely inspired by a 2007 horror movie with a similar name, it swaps Grail’s cheerful medieval decor for a modern hotel room that’s less showy and more realistic, and has a set of puzzles that are both more plentiful and more difficult.
Although it’s a paranormal horror theme, it’s creepy rather than terrifying. The restrained styling includes familiar tropes such as clues provided on laminated paper, but also a number of much more inventive ideas; the various hidden items are mostly signposted by clues rather than requiring intensive searching.
We struggled a lot with the middle section of this game for a couple of reasons. It’s risky to give players access to an electronic lock-out safe before they have a chance to find the code for it, because they may try every other code they find on it in the meantime. That goes double if there’s no indication of what length of code the safe expects, and even more so if the alternative place(s) to use codes are non-obvious. That, combined with a clever but ambiguous and highly confusing clue, left us extremely stuck for a considerable time.
We also managed to complete a couple of sections before we should have been able to. One of those was very much my fault – I could hear the faint clicking of electronic switches opening and closing, and couldn’t resist using that to work out the solution to a puzzle we hadn’t yet received the clues for. As a result we did several pieces of the game out of order, making it more confused and confusing than it should have been. On the other hand, that was also because we were utterly stymied by the misleading clue and casting around in desperation for any possible way forwards.
It’s certainly less immediately impressive than their other, but I really felt that 1409 ought to be the better game at Grand Escape. The decor is low-key but effective, the puzzles plentiful and often interesting. As it is, the game’s strengths are too easily obscured by small frustrations, and from the owner’s comments about their observed success rates, I suspect it relies too much on hinting from the gamemaster to get teams past points of confusion. Even with the rather muddled way we ended up playing through it there was plenty to appreciate; with some relatively small tweaks this would be a significantly more enjoyable game.