Manchester, Jul 2017
This game is no longer available.
The first game we played at Lucardo was, of course, the one they describe as their hardest room. The gamemaster told us in the briefing that it’s hard not because the puzzles are unusually difficult but because of their sheer quantity, and that was entirely accurate. Fortunately it’s also a game with plenty of content to tackle in parallel, and since we’d come with an unusually large team of five we were well placed to divide and conquer.
Contamination is a laboratory themed game. That’s not a theme I’m very fond of since too often it amounts to mostly plain decor plus some test tubes, lab coats, a periodic table and assorted other cheap paraphernalia to make it look science-y – and that was the case here. Decorations aside, since this was a laboratory game there was, of course, a mad scientist and a dangerous formula which needed to be respectively stopped and destroyed.
The game starts in a small antechamber, from which the players must break into the main lab. Once inside the first thing that struck me was the sheer profusion of padlocks, here there and everywhere. These were also predominantly four digit locks, with the result that each time someone solved one of the many puzzles that gave a code of the right length, they’d shout that code out and everyone would busily get to work trying it against each candidate lock. Now, having to try codes in each of a number of identical padlocks tends to be a major irritant for me in a room – it seems simple for the designers to avoid and leads to tiresome busy-work for the team, as well as increasing the risk of accidentally failing to use a correct code. That said, it seemed much less of a problem here than the number of similar locks would suggest, probably because there were five of us and because almost every puzzle resolved clearly and unambiguously.
There was one big exception to that, with a puzzle that had at least four different reasonable ways to produce a code, but even there the correct answer was the most logically consistent one (albeit only the third approach we thought to try…). How annoying you find this will depend on how many locks are left to try possible codes on at the point you’re tackling it.
While the puzzles may have been too padlock-based for my tastes, they impressed on both quantity and variety. If the satisfaction of playing an escape room lies in successfully solving puzzles, there’s a great deal to satisfy here. Search plays a minor part, though the game includes one hidden item that I’d describe as exceptionally tricky to find (and which, obviously, we needed a clue for). The rest runs the gamut, almost like the designer purposely set out to think of different types of puzzle to include and cover as many as possible. Not much is wildly unusual, at least for experienced players, and some puzzles are quite simple, and there were a couple of bits and pieces that looked like clues but turned out to be irrelevant.
In the end it was the variety that made the room work well for me: even if many puzzles weren’t all that sophisticated or original, they were different enough from each other to keep our interest; and even if each answer had to be tried in half a dozen locks, we had a great time ploughing through them one after another.
There were a number of parts in this room that I felt held it back. The sheer number of puzzles in this game would in my view significantly hinder smaller teams; there is a lot of retrying multiple identical padlocks (nearly 10) which would be much more time consuming and I daresay incredibly frustrating with say only three people. Although fine for us, overall the puzzles were also fairly maths heavy in order to generate a sufficient number of 4 digit padlock codes, which may bore some groups. The calculations complexity was compensated for by a calculator, but nonetheless it was rather limited and some groups may get bored churning numbers.
Other challenges were that there was an additional puzzle that appeared ambiguous but where we seemed to get lucky; I would describe the decor as adequate, having recently been in some much more sophisticated lab themed rooms.
Nonetheless most of the puzzles were reasonably logical, and I liked that there was a nice blend of techniques needed for some of the puzzles.