Bucharest, May 2018
Market take-up in the UK having very clearly indicated an enthusiasm for Harry Potter as an escape room theme, games set in Wizard Schools have proliferated around the UK, tip-toeing around the line of IP infringement. Over in Romania there’s little hesitation to use copyrighted themes, and Inside Rooms takes its setting directly from the books. The story doesn’t follow any specific Potter adventure, but in spirit it’s pure J.K. Rowling.
Following a series of screw-ups that were entirely my fault, we turned up more late than I’ve ever previously been to a game, and although the owner was very gracious about it I was still feeling thoroughly embarrassed as the game started; so naturally we then spent fifteen minutes faffing about without solving anything beyond getting the lights on. Eventually a hint pointed us to the key thing we’d completely failed to notice, and from that point on everything went so quickly we were able to emerge feeling we’d redeemed ourselves for our performance if not for our lateness.
Making notes on the game after we’d left, I was surprised to remember that one early step involved a crude pen and paper puzzle that should have been wildly out of place in an otherwise very sophisticated game. But although that certainly wasn’t one of the game’s stronger points, it still fit in with the school setting. There’s an academic flavour to some of the puzzles that gives the impression of learning about magic and how to perform it, that combines well with the much more action-based style of the rest of it.
A quirk of this game is that all players are given a wand during the briefing. These lovely props had dual torch functions for normal light and ultraviolet. They worked not just as useful tools, but had an immersive effect much like playing a game in costume; despite being notorious for immediately leaving behind any walkie-talkie, tablet or other hint device I’m given, my wand stayed in my hand throughout the game, and I barely suppressed the urge to try opening a door by flicking my wand at it.
In a dimly lit game it was also refreshing for all players to have their own torch. I was initially worried that the UV option would lead us to spend our time endlessly scanning every object and surface for hidden messages, but (apart from the previously mentioned initial fifteen minutes of faffing) that didn’t happen – driven along by a nice clear structure to the game, we didn’t hit those moments of not knowing how to proceed that might have left us feeling we had to exhaustively scan everything in sight.
The Harry Potter theme seems to have mass appeal, and most players are doubtless choosing it to feel like they’re in the world of the movies or the books, to learn spells and defeat evil. That experience is exactly what Inside Rooms’ game provides, mixing in a decent brain workout along the way but ultimately prioritising action and adventure, delivered with some first rate decor and atmosphere. It’s both a lovely escape room and a great themed adventure.