Rawtenstall, May 2019
Magic School has proved wildly popular as an escape room theme, and Lucardo have one such game in each of their two branches. Instead of taking the easy route of duplicating a single game, these are two completely distinct games. (I guess it would make narrative sense to play the Manchester branch’s Entrance Exam first, but Dragon’s Heart is entirely standalone and we had no problem starting with it.)
While this entire genre of escape room owes an obvious debt to the Harry Potter franchise, this game has few veiled references to it beyond being set in a similar kind of fantasy world. It’s is named for a magic artefact which has been stolen, and which you must retrieve.
The first thing to point out is that Dragon’s Heart is gorgeous. You’re questing for the Heart in a shop selling wizardly supplies, and you could easily spend five or ten minutes just peering around and discovering all the little details of your environment. In fact, if Lucardo set up just the shop as a novelty tourist attraction with no puzzle content at all, I suspect they’d still do a fine trade. The best word for it is enchanting, in that it’s not only beautiful but manages to really convey a sense of magic.
Naturally, we ignored all the wonders and got straight down to looking for puzzles to solve. Lucardo tend to use a lot of numeric padlocks, and there are plenty here, but also several very decorative locks that are perfect for a magic shop, and some showpiece mechanisms that provide some of the game’s highlights.
The venue’s high standard of puzzle design was on display here again. I’d pick out one step as an exception to that, which seemed to me to need a big leap to get. It would be much more reasonable with some thing in the room to focus attention in the right area, but as it was seemed no more plausible than a dozen other possible actions. Naturally that may be sour grapes at the one step that we really struggled with, but it stuck out as a hard-to-ignore snag in the otherwise very slick flow of the game.
The meticulous detail of Dragon’s Heart is first-class eye candy. But more important than that is that the game uses it to build a story where you are an active participant. I’ve played other games where narrative is inserted in the manner of a cut scene in a computer game – no matter how well done it is, you end up impatiently waiting for it to finish so you can continue playing. Lucardo’s approach keeps you involved, or as the one moving events forward, and frequents manages to surprise.
With my most mean reviewer’s hat on I could quibble that the later stage of the game felt a little bit sparse in content – though perhaps that’s just because the rest of the game set a high bar. Still, this is escape room design done right. I know with some games that they’ll appeal to some players more than others; this is the opposite, a lovely feel-good crowd-pleaser of a game that should go down a treat with basically everyone, regardless of tastes or experience level.