Lisbon, Nov 2017
Lisbon’s oldest escape game draws for inspiration on the city’s long time reputation as a centre for espionage, with the game’s aim being to sneak into, and then escape from, the apartment of a famous spy. It was built at a time when escape rooms were a strange novelty in Europe, with only a handful existing outside Budapest, and is stylistically close to the early Hungarian games.
Built inside an old apartment in Lisbon’s centre, it’s not easy to spot – the entrance looks like just another residential doorway in one of the city’s prettily crumbling side streets. This sets the tone for the game, which has very little decor as such, but which achieves an authentic atmosphere simply through the genuine age of its setting. Warning stickers are used to indicate areas that are out of bounds, but these are placed sparingly; there are few items in the play area that aren’t available to be searched through and checked over, though not everything is relevant.
Traditional style games tend to involve a greater degree of searching, along with lots of items to discover in padlocked drawers and desks. That’s true of this one too, though it involves rather less searching than we thought – we spent some time tearing the place apart convinced we’d failed to find a couple of items that in fact were released by a difficult puzzle a little later on. Even so, it’s a game where players should not be complacent about checking everything carefully.
The host communicates with players via walkie talkie, and he wasn’t shy about chipping in with comments and small hints as we played. More so than I’d normally be happy with, in fact, although here it was helpful in smoothing us past a few points where our assumptions about the game might otherwise have tripped us up.
He also needed to make a more blatant intervention partway through. This was for a central section that will likely be the most memorable part of the game for most teams; it has the flaw though that if a team reacts in the non-typical way that we did, it requires operator intervention to correct. I can also see this section causing some teams to get frustrated or to think there’s a problem with the game, but most will likely find it an entertaining surprise.
In other respects it’s a simple game (in style not difficulty – it boasts an 8% success rate for completion within the hour, though I think teams are usually allowed some extra time to complete the game after the official time limit). Don’t expect a gorgeous set or elaborate storytelling; it’s built mostly with found objects and second hand furniture, and I never really understood why we were breaking in so as to immediately break out again. It’s clearly the passion project of its enthusiastic designer, constructed in situ on a low budget. Despite or because of that, it achieves a quirky homemade charm. It’s not polished, but the location gives it plenty of character, and if you’re not expecting something slicker then it shouldn’t be a disappointment.