Athens, May 2019
I’ve been eager to play Paradox Project’s original three-hour game ever since I heard about it. I’m now heartily glad I didn’t play it sooner – because if I had, I’d have missed out on the chance to also play its 200 minute sequel. The first is an excellent experience that you shouldn’t miss; the second is an outstanding achievement that surpasses it in every way and then some, and entirely justifies booking yourself a trip to Greece right away.
I had to persuade the owner to let us attempt it, since he’s barely finished translating it to English and it hadn’t previously been played by a team of two in either language. (I actually found it very well suited to an experienced team of two, since it’s mostly linear. I’d only suggest attempting that if you’re used to playing multiple normal games back to back and don’t mind the higher cost – but if so, and if you can, book with two so that you get to enjoy every moment of this superb game.)
You may also be told that you can’t play it unless you’ve played the first PP game. While you might be able to persuade the company to make an exception there, I recommend playing both games in order if you possibly can. Not only does The Bookshop contain many spoilers for The Mansion, if you jump straight into the second game you’ll miss some of the context and small references to the earlier story.
The website gives away little about The Bookshop’s plot, and indeed it’s difficult to say much about it without spoilers, since it’s a continuation of their other room. You could correctly surmise that it’s set in a bookshop, but it ranges much more widely than that, transitioning between disparate settings in a way that follows a kind of dream logic, exploring a history as much as a physical space.
It’s often an effort to remember all the details of a game, particularly when I’ve binged on a large number of escape rooms in a short space of time. But thinking back on The Bookshop, I found I could easily remember almost every step of the 3+ hour game. That’s partly due to the puzzles being distinctive and interesting, but also because of how each step formed a logical part of the scene in which we found it, and those scenes in turn combined into an over-arching narrative. Despite the vast quantity of things to solve, I never had a sense that a puzzle had been thrown in for the sake of it. Everything chimed together with an underlying logic that would have kept me eagerly playing even with twice the run time.
In a couple of places I thought the puzzles attempted to be a little too clever for their own good, where they maybe use an idea that the designer liked so much he’s kept it even where it’s a bit unintuitive or unreliable in practice. But the hint system quickly eased us past any such moments, and in any case they were massively outweighed by the gorgeous, creative and evocative highlights. Perhaps the most stand-out moment for me was a certain effect I’d heard about and had always wanted to see used in an escape room, but any of a host of other moments would have counted as a memorable highlight in a more normal game.
Like its predecessor, The Bookshop goes further in enclosing its players than would be allowed in many countries. The unexpected realism is great for immersion, but seemed unlikely to meet fire safety regulations in respect to players being able to make a quick emergency exit without help from the gamemaster. I wasn’t even aware of that during the game, but could be a concern for some players.
The Bookshop is of course epic. As far as I know it’s the longest escape room in the world, excluding an occasional pop-up special event. It could so easily have been notable just for its length, focusing on quantity over quality, but it’s so much more than that. The extended play time is used to create something that just wouldn’t have been possible as a shorter game. You could take individual sections and they would be excellent stand-alone escape rooms, but in combination they add up to a glorious experience that blows most games out of the water, one of a tiny handful of escape rooms that are genuine contenders to be considered best in Europe. Now go buy your plane ticket to Athens.