Online, Mar 2021
A Study In Intrigue can’t be separated from the venue in which it’s located. Some game designs can easily be copied or transplanted from one building to another, but this one isn’t a room as such – it takes place in, and throughout, the much larger space of the Museum. I believe under normal times the Museum plays host to multiple different live games taking place simultaneously, in a shared space not sealed into different rooms.
At the outset this game appears fairly conventional, with an avatar and a room, but there was a much wider space available for exploration beyond the doorway; and that space was far more expansive and far more packed with items and decorations than were needed for the game. This isn’t a game where you instruct your avatar to investigate and search everywhere; you need to follow the trails the game leaves for you.
It’s an unusual, expansive structure in other ways too. Not only is it a 90 minute game, it actively encourages you to use the internet for external research and in some cases provides more than one way to solve a puzzle.
Your goal is to solve a murder, and this is as much a murder mystery as an escape room. Solving all the actual puzzles won’t spit out a tidy solution to whodunit; you need to piece together the information and come to the correct interpretation of the evidence.
Helping you do this are your avatar Sherlock (yes, that Sherlock) and also an Inspector Lestrade, who was somewhere between an unseen MC and a remote researcher. While Sherlock followed our instructions onscreen, Lestrade managed our inventory. This was a Google document listing all the clues and items we had found, linking out to a photo of each. And wow, there were a lot. Perhaps it was partly due to the presentation, where each document needed to be clicked through to separately, but few games have given me such a sense of overwhelm as this one. New pieces of information flooded in rapid-fire, often with plenty of text to absorb, some bringing puzzle clues and others providing snippets of information for unravelling the story.
Good escape room design has an efficient neatness where everything has a single specific purpose, and where once you’ve solved a puzzle the solution fits the clues like a hand in a glove. Murder mysteries have a different style that rewards intuition, creative thinking, and an ability to jump to a holistic understanding that the evidence only hints at. A Study In Intrigue uses elements of both. It also needs good skills at organising the flood of information, and dividing tasks effectively between players.
I suspect this will make it a very Marmite game that appeals to some tastes much more than others. On one hand it’s an intriguingly distinctive game, strongly story-led, that will challenge you and keep you busy right up to the last of its 90 minutes. On the other, you could easily end up lost in the many strands and frustrated that solving puzzles doesn’t give you a clearer resolution to the central mystery. I certainly felt a tension between needing to make sense of all the higher-level story info while simultaneously ploughing through self-contained puzzles at maximum speed.
I had a great time playing it, and my teammates even more so. That might be partly because the game went well for us. Had we struggled more, I suspect we’d have felt more frustrated and probably that progress was too dependent on the hosts’ help. (Given that they don’t expect teams to solve everything, it was nice that they provided access after the game to a reference document that filled in the gaps for anything we’d missed.)
So this is a game that I recommend, but to some groups of players much more than others – it may not be so well suited for beginners. If you like murder mysteries, or if you’re looking for a challenge, or games that will keep the entire team busy all the way through, then this should be high on your list.