Ghent, Jun 2018
I tend to assume that any hint of an Egyptian theme in a game’s description means an Indiana Jones style tomb adventure, but this one is very clear that that’s not the case: you’re attempting to retrieve an artifact from the office of an egyptologist, not from the depths of a pyramid. Still, there’s no shortage of pyramids, Egyptian deities and hieroglyphics to deal with.
‘Office’ often implies a more traditional game design, involving locked drawers and boxes and abstract puzzles. That’s broadly true here, and much of the gameplay consists of collecting various types of clue object, each of which could be used to solve a puzzle once all pieces had been found. It’s to the game’s credit that it was always clear which of the many clue items belonged together, and when we’d assembled all of one set; it didn’t lead us to waste time trying to solve something without realising we only had part of the information.
Despite the office setting it avoids paper clues, using instead mostly more interesting themed items. The handful of padlocks are outnumbered by hidden electronic release mechanisms, with a level of technological sophistication that increases as the game progresses.
Giving an escape room a strong and satisfying conclusion is a tricky balancing act. If the final step is too easy, it risks being a damp squib, or players being uncertain whether there’s still more to do. Ideally it should bring the team together for a final tricky challenge that delivers a clear payoff, perhaps adding an extra ratchet of the tension at the last minute. La Planque d’Ali almost nailed that, but then undermined itself; avoiding spoilers, it throws in something which cleverly re-uses some of the room’s elements, but for an abstract puzzle that detracts from the game’s theme. Worse was that it used some digits written very ambiguously, reducing the final step to guesswork between three or four possibilities.
That was a shame, since the end would otherwise would have been the highlight. Even so, I found it an enjoyable game though one that felt quite bitty – more a grab-bag of puzzles than a unified experience. That plus the occasional worn component took some of the shine off it, but solid puzzle design avoided frustrations and gave it a nice flow throughout.