Norwich, Dec 2019
Most of the reviews I’ve written of games by History Mystery could start in a similar way, by saying: “this is the first game I’ve played inside…”. With Secrets of the Tunnels, that sentence ends with “…an underground medieval street”. This is a genuine archaeological site near Norwich Castle, accessed via the KindaKafe that your booking confirmation will send you to.
For the sake of calibrating expectations correctly, note that ‘street’ here is a relatively small game area, though with some additional areas that are off-limits but which add to the setting. Reactions may vary; my teammate was a bit put off by the dim lighting and the dusty environment, whereas I thought it a remarkably unusual and cool space for an escape room. (Be warned that it’s also quite chilly, so best to bring warm clothes.)
History Mystery’s game style ties into their locations’ history in a way that isn’t limited to the presentation, with a tendency towards an almost academic feel to some puzzles. That’s true of Secrets of the Tunnels too, which gets you performing tasks that give the impression of real archaeology, involving messing around with quite a range of interesting pieces of equipment. These are both cool and used well – one item in particular was something that’s been a fiddly pain to use where I’ve come across it in other games, but here worked exactly as intended.
One central piece of equipment is less exotic; a laptop is used as the centre point of the game. A computer in an escape room can easily be a weak point (case sensitivity for passwords, allowing access to irrelevant programs, being a bottleneck, etc.), but none of those were the case here. As well as providing a system for turning puzzle solutions into fresh clues, it also reinforced and advanced the story. That worked well, though some players may dislike being continually brought back to a screen at each step. (Our game was also briefly interrupted due to the laptop’s keyboard failing, but fortunately our gamemaster quickly stepped in to swap it out for a working machine.)
That culminated in a finale reveal that was pleasingly dramatic and which also made me appreciate more fully just what a cool location I was in. ‘Finale’ isn’t quite accurate – there’s a coda that perhaps detracts from the otherwise dramatic ending, being a drier and more academic task than the moments before. That’s representative of a game that cares as much about striking an authentic tone as about providing excitement; but I thought it managed to do both.