Southampton, Jul 2018
The second game from Other World is Vermilion, and has clearly been designed as a race game: there are two side by side copies, placed so that two teams can be briefed together then start at the same time. We played as just one team, with an unrelated group in the other copy of the room, and although we weren’t officially competing we had the same simultaneous start. However, thereafter there was no interaction; where some games designed for side-by-side play include mechanisms to check which team is ahead, or even to slow them down, here the two games rooms were independent. Impressively, there was zero noise leakage through the joining wall, and we almost instantly ceased to be aware of our counterparts.
Vermilion is set in a 1930s cigar lounge, though apparently an alternative 1930s with some steampunk trappings; your mission is to find a particular set of blueprints. Other World have an overarching plotline linking their games, involving a shadowy organisation called the Syndicate, and the briefing included multiple elements in a slightly disjointed way: a video snippet to introduce the Syndicate, the normal health and safety rules, an intro specific to the room, and so on.
After a good start, which keeps the players focused on an initial puzzle so that they’ve solved one thing before getting distracted, it opens up into a quite non-linear structure with a great deal to look at and work on. I’d describe Vermilion as a very puzzle-driven game, where at any one time you’re likely to have a dozen clues for a variety of different puzzles, some of which can be immediately completed and others need to be tackled later on, and where solving something usually unlocks a box which releases additional clues.
Helping hugely in keeping track of all this is the labelling system where each lock is decorated with a picture, as a hint which puzzle will unlock it. That was a very welcome help in avoiding padlock hell, and I don’t remember needing to try any codes or keys in more than one place. And while there are plentiful padlocked boxes, it also has an assortment of other mechanisms to keep things varied.
But more than any specific puzzle, what you’re likely to remember about Vermilion is the hint-giving automaton, Tommy, who is both the highlight of the room’s decor and the source of any clues you might need. It’s not just that the hint system is themed and in-character, or that the Tommy robot is a lovely prop. What I really enjoyed was that Tommy doesn’t mutely wait for you to get stuck – while he doesn’t provide help unless you need and want it, he’s always ready with a quip or a friendly comment. That cheerful background repartee both helps give a great atmosphere to the room and also means that, if you do need help, it’s delivered in a way that doesn’t break immersion at all.
I thought Vermilion was quite modest in its design: physically it’s not that large and the majority of the content consists of fairly traditional puzzle solving and padlock opening. It does that very well, with solid puzzle design and mostly elegant, attractive props – occasionally let down a little by information simply written onto clue items and sometimes quite faded. But like the original game at the venue, it has a cheerful, happy feel that made it instantly enjoyable. Part of that was the back and forth with Tommy, partly the very solid puzzle design, and partly because the game is set up well to deliver a quick-fire succession of small victories. I chose it as a first game for a relative who hadn’t played an escape game before, and it was an excellent introduction to them; but it should also be reliably fun for experienced teams.