Reading, Aug 2018
Knockout cheerfully warned us up front that they go for quite minimal backstory with their games. In this case the plot was essentially that you’re in a mad scientist’s laboratory and need to solve puzzles to escape – but delivered in a nicely light-hearted way.
This laboratory leans into the mad scientist clichés, being populated with a variety of science-y objects rather than looking like an actual lab; but funky lighting gives a nicely atmospheric impression. The science theme extended to a greater use of maths-based puzzles than in their other games.
It would be easy to struggle at the start of Mad Scientist. There’s an early step that we solved immediately thanks to having seen the same mechanism used elsewhere, but which could be a barrier for a team who were encountering it for the first time. It’s a perfectly good puzzle, but since it needs to be completed to get any further, and since there is no shortage of other items in the room on which players can waste time overthinking, I suspect some teams will find they get off on the wrong foot. But once past that point it flows more smoothly.
That flow is a little unusual for the way it jumps around the room, and inspired a discussion afterwards about the physical positioning of locks in a game, and what is and is not reasonable. Many games use a sequential structure, where you can predict which padlock will be the next one to open – if there are a set of locked drawers, you’ll probably open the top one first, then the second one down, and so on. If a game has more than one room, you’ll open everything in the first room, then move on to the second room. Clear ordering is very useful when you’d otherwise have to try a code or a key in each of a dozen similar locks. But unpredictability has its own charm, and that’s the approach taken by Mad Scientist; and since there are only a smallish number of padlocks of any given type, that works perfectly well. (What does not work well is when a room appears to follow a progression, but then unexpectedly deviates from that… but that wasn’t the case here.)
Mad Scientist’s weakest moment is a puzzle based heavily on laminated sheets (rarely a good start), which requires a moment of insight to make progress. Unfortunately, the information provided allows for all sorts of overthinking and confusion – even after that moment of insight – and I’d expect few teams to work it out without a hint. Searching for a hidden message with a single UV torch while the rest of the team stood and waited wasn’t a highlight either.
However, despite the occasional dodgy puzzle, it’s broadly a solid room that doesn’t take itself too seriously and that throws in a selection of fun moments that – more or less – tie into the mad science theming. If you’ve played a great many rooms then you’ll likely find it a bit run of the mill; it’ll shine more for less experienced groups.