Poland escape room tour 2021

By | September 4, 2021

In August 2021 I played 35 escape rooms in Poland on a short trip organised by Escaperoomers.de. The itinerary was based around highly recommended games, and pretty much all of them richly deserve proper, detailed reviews; but I’m going to have to give just a quick overview guide of them instead.

The games were mostly in Bydgoszcz, Wrocław, Katowice and Gliwice. (For Warsaw, see here, and the guide by The Logic Escapes Me; for Poland reviews in general, the LockMe.pl directory / review site is very active and a very useful resource.) To jump to a particular venue:

And for the full list of ratings that we have for Poland escape games, and leave your own reviews, see here.

An important note about ratings

When playing a large number of highly recommend games in quick succession, it’s very easy to mentally recalibrate standards for what counts as, say, a 4* or a 5* game. It’s also easy to underrate games played on a tight schedule, when they’re one of many and there’s no time to properly savour each game and reminisce about it afterwards.

I hope I’ve sufficiently accounted for those effects in the scores I’ve given the games from this trip, but it’s worth also noting that as ever more amazing escape rooms are created each year, I’ve become more exacting in my standards; many games I rated in years gone by might get a slightly lower score if I played them now. Which is to say – the list of games below were generally of a very high standard, and the ratings are intentionally parsimonious.

Mr Lock (Bydgoszcz)

Both rooms here were relatively small in size but each had something about the set that was cool and different and which I hadn’t seen elsewhere. They also benefited from fun themes implemented with strong puzzle design.

Superheroom was a loving tribute to the heroes of the Marvel universe and beyond. Starting with the premise that your super powers have been taken away, it takes you through a series of puzzles that each smartly tie in with a different character. While more modest in scale than many of the games on this list, the joy in it is in that theming, and in the set design, which was memorable in multiple ways; and at 70 mins of game time there’s plenty to enjoy.

Klątwa Czarnobrodego (Blackbeard’s Curse) was, of all the pirate games I’ve played, perhaps the one with the narrowest floor area; but at the same time managed to make that space atmospheric and entertaining with a trick I won’t spoil here. When we played the game audio was in Polish, which our host translated for us over the broadcast system in realtime. If there was a hitch it was that the trickiest step was difficult for more than two people to look at simultaneously, making it a bottleneck for larger groups. I’ve seen it listed as a 50 min game, though our host said 60; either way it’s a little on the shorter side.

Break The Brain (Bydgoszcz)

Of the four games here, I had a clear favourite. It also happens to be their newest room, which bodes well for the game they’re due to open shortly. Oh, if you’re visiting this venue, and particularly if you’re playing multiple games here, be ready for multiple flights of stairs!

The Wrath of Olympus had a nice set of Greek-themed puzzles with a non-linear structure that we ploughed through at some speed – until we hit one near the end that was harder in a way that struck me as a bit of a stretch. Other teams may have no problem with it, but while the room was fun I found it the least memorable at the venue.

Insanity is the venue’s horror game, set in an old mental institution; before the game we asked whether it included an actor and the host refused to comment. I’d describe the scary elements of this game as fairly mild for the most part, but did provide the room’s most memorable moment. Be aware that there is a large communication element to this game, which could be frustrating but for me was what I liked best about it. The old asylum setting translated to a set that was atmospheric but not pretty.

Freakshow was by some way my favourite of Break The Brain’s four games. It was available to play in remote avatar format, though I’m glad I got to try it in person. Its creepy clown theme aims for a lower-key type of scare than its sister game Insanity, and I found the result much more atmospheric, darkly funny and fun. That’s helped further by a lush set that takes the carnival theme and runs with it.

In A Galaxy Far Far Away is of course a Star Wars homage, and another 75 min game. I believe it’s now the venue’s oldest game, and must have been ground-breaking when it opened. It has a large physical task that could easily turn into a frustrating chore (I was happy to leave it to a teammate), and the ending felt a little flat to me; but there are several cool moments along the way, particularly at the start.

Fabryka Czasu (Bydgoszcz)

Fabryka Czasu, or Time Factory, have over half a dozen games, but we only had time to play two.

At ul. Warszawska 21

The 70 minute Sacramentum was originally run in Poznań by another company under the name The Yellow Sign. Much kudos here for creating a distinctive, effective atmosphere, using a cool location with some elaborate and macabre decorations. Be warned that this is a horror game that involves separation and restraints. We blundered through the puzzles needing an embarrassing amount of help, which punctured the sense of foreboding, and also resulted in one of our group being left stuck for rather longer than anyone was happy with. That bumpy experience was assuaged by a unique and theatrical finish that returned the game to the creepy, stylish tone it should have had all the way through.

At ul. Fredry 1/1

After Sacramentum I wasn’t certain what to expect from Godzina do zmroku (One Hour to Dusk), and the opening suggested it might be more full-on still. However, once the game began it rapidly became clear that this was a much more normal escape room, with a creepy vampire theme but relatively toned down scares. This location appears to have previously been a different company named Ewakuacja, now incorporated into Fabryka Czasu. If you’re looking for something memorably different, go for Sacramentum; if you want to solve a whole bunch of puzzles then stick with this game.

Wyjście Awaryjne (Bydgoszcz)

Wyjście Awaryjne, which translates as Emergency Exit, are split across three locations in Bydgoszcz: their original location with two older rooms, their downtown venue with four much more hi-tech games, and a third location on the north of the city which was previously a separate company One Hour Escape. Note that many of their games are also available to play in Warsaw.

At Plac Teatralny

W Cieniu Piramid (In The Shadow Of The Pyramid) was a superb room, my favourite in Bydgoszcz. The top-notch construction was visible right from the outset, which was also one of the more original ways to begin a pyramid-themed game, and proceeded through a whole series of highlights to a clever ending, with rock solid puzzle design at all stages. If I had a regret it was that our team of four left the narrow spaces of this game feeling cramped – for maximum enjoyment I’d suggest playing it as a team of two or three, even if that means dividing across two separate slots.

Nautilus: Podmorska Przygoda (Nautilus: The Underwater Adventure) was a tech-driven game that would stand out a lot more at most other venues. For a game set in a submersible it’s surprisingly spacious and was well suited to four players. The impressive array of mechanisms included some puzzles that stuck in my mind as clever ideas.

Currently (I think) the newest game from this company, Operacja: Metro (Operation: Metro) was sophisticated and polished with a strong narrative, and invites comparisons to the well-known Metro game in Paris. Like that one, it’s a mostly linear game where my experience was that I struggled a little to get the flow. The high-pressure conclusion may be divisive, depending on whether you succeed or not. I preferred Pyramid but I can see this being an absolute blast (!) on a good play-through.

Legenda Miecza (Legend of the Sword) has a solid physical design with the same flair seen in the venue’s other rooms. An unintended ambiguity in a late puzzle tripped us up far more than it should have, but it would be fairer to the room to talk about a certain lovely little physical puzzle, or the hefty props, or the progression between very distinct areas, all of which were excellent.

At Jagiellońska 73

Cela Nr 4 (Cell no. 4) was I think the oldest room at Wyjście Awaryjne, and it showed its age – but it was also thoroughly enjoyable. The prison break theme is familiar from dozens of other games, and so were many of the low tech puzzle ideas, but it was a very good example of a traditional design that kept up a good pace and mixed in a number of fun tricks. There are plenty of rooms in Bydgoszcz I’d recommend ahead of this, but if you have time in your schedule then it’s certainly worth fitting in. (If you play it at their Warsaw branch, there are two copies of it set up for a race format there.)

Also at the venue’s older location, Plan Na Włam (Break In Plan) sends you into a casino to ‘recover’ a valuable painting, where the first task is to get inside. Like its sister game it’s an older style of game that still works well, though if you can only play one of them I’d give the edge to Cell no. 4.

At CWZS Zawisza

Originally created by a different company, Skarbiec (Treasury) feels rather different to the others from Wyjście Awaryjne. It’s a straightforward heist game with a more stripped down appearance than Break In Plan. The puzzle design here is quite content to let players do things the dumb, hard way, which we proceeded to fall for; I’m not sure that’s a good design principle, but I liked the game more in retrospect after realising where we’d gone wrong.

Tajemnica Władcy Nilu (The Mystery of The Ruler of the Nile) was also previously run by One Hour Escape, which explains why the company has two Egypt games in the same city. It’s an attractive tomb-crawler that has the misfortune of being utterly put in the shade (no pun intended) by the company’s In The Shadow Of The Pyramid game.

Exit19.pl (Wrocław)

There is an excellent selection of companies in Wrocław, but for efficiency we stuck with just one, and binged ten of their eleven games in a day. Five of their games were available in a remote avatar format; I thought those ones were good but not the best games at the company. Exit19’s brand new game in particular was a tour-de-force that makes a shortlist of my all time favourite escape rooms.

At Ofiar Oświęcimskich 19

You may have already seen the steampunk vibe of Time Machine – The Secret of Leonardo via its remote avatar version. Of Exit19’s more recent tranche of big, glossy games, it’s the only one that was available for remote play, probably because it has a big open layout and a somewhat non-linear structure that suits it well to that. Fitting the setting, there are plenty of big puzzles built with rope and wood, satisfyingly hands-on. I thought the structure made it easier to get confused or stuck on what to focus on next, but good puzzle design reduced that risk; and it had a particularly good way to enter and leave the game.

Asylum has won a prestigious TERPECA award for the last two years running, so came with a reputation; and it lived up to it. Making full use of its 90 min game time, it puts you through a journey that goes beyond the old asylum setting. If you play on a Monday the game includes an actor; that was the version we played, and that increased the tension somewhat, though the game works perfectly well without, and for that reason the actor’s part didn’t feel very integral to the game. But it’s a luscious sequence of detailed sets filled with interesting, well-designed puzzles, a game I’d have liked to play on a less tight schedule so that I could spend longer afterwards savouring the experience.

Instead, we plunged straight into King Arthur’s Dungeons, another 90 minute game of over-the-top quality. In a curious inversion of normal Arthurian legend, Lancelot is a malign would-be usurper who has framed you, and you must escape and save the kingdom. This started off as a nice medieval themed room, and then stepped it up, and then when I thought we were about to finish it kicked things up another notch. A game of this quality and size would be the showpiece room at most venues, so it’s remarkable that it was only my third favourite at Exit19.

Betrayal in Breslau was a change of pace, a somewhat older game with an ambitious split-team structure that means your experience of the game will be quite different depending on your starting point. It also rather relies on the two halves of the team progressing at a similar pace – if the timing doesn’t work out right, it’s possible to end up bottlenecked for a while. I suspect the game was inspired by its physical location, which is effectively atmospheric; and there are some neat physical puzzles involved in the process for reuniting the team. (This game was run in avatar format, but the structure was changed and simplified for that version.)

In complete contrast to the venue’s top-billed glossy games, Prison Escape is compact and simple and almost a concept piece. One of your team is imprisoned, and the rest have to free them. This game is based around communication to an extent I’ve rarely seen elsewhere, and will be a rather different experience depending on whether you’re the prisoner or the rescuer. If you play this, choose carefully who will be the prisoner; if communication breaks down it could be a highly frustrating game all round. I had fun playing it, but would hesitate to recommend it too strongly. It was originally made as a semi-final event for the national escape room championship, and it’s best approached as an unusual challenge rather than a normal escape room experience, and if possible in a team of exactly two.

Curse of Maya Treasure is one of those games where I have to not let the frustrations of one specific puzzle overshadow the rest of the game. The puzzle in question did in fact make good sense, but allowed for plenty of false trails in the process of working it out, which for us were made much worse by an unfortunate tech fail. That aside, it was a small but pretty game with a mostly low difficulty level; my favourite thing about it was in fact the cool clock showing our remaining time.

And then there was Abandoned Hotel, the company’s brand new game. I’ve reviewed that properly here, so will just say that it was a clear step up even on Asylum, and is in my shortlist of all time favourite games.

(The final game at this branch is Identity, which we didn’t play.)

At Pawła Włodkowica 21/2

Despite a visual style that makes extensive use of candles and skulls, Necromancer is not designed as a horror game. You have 70 minutes to defeat the immortal spirit of the titular evil necromancer, in a game whose puzzles were reliably high quality but still took second place to the gothic splendour of the set and its moments of theatre. Our team of four was fine for the space, though I’d suggest maybe three as ideal here; either way it’s a good reason to make the short walk from Exit19’s larger branch.

Volcano in Madagascar is a cute game full of jungle decor and animals. That might make it a great choice for a family group, except that I also thought it was one of this company’s harder games. The number of puzzles that involved animals in different ways gave some scope for confusion, and there was a bit of a tech issue when something didn’t release correctly, but that was made up for by some nice physical puzzles and an unexpected moment of glorious silliness. It’s also one that kept going considerably beyond the point where I expected to reach the finish – so plenty to enjoy, but you’ll want to keep up a good pace.

Lastly, I can’t give a rating for Murder At The Office because for logistical reasons I ended up missing most of it and only playing the final fifteen minutes. That was however enough to get a sense of the game, and in particular how different it is to a normal escape room. This game tells an involved plot of fraud and mafia deals, and unlike most escape rooms it’s important to actually pay attention to the details. You need to not just progress through the room but also make sense of the evidence and form a conclusion about the culprit on the base of it. My teammates heartily disliked it, and I suspect if I’d played it in full it wouldn’t have won me over either. However, that’s a matter of taste not quality. It’s attempting something interestingly different, which some players may love, particularly fans of murder mysteries where you have to hypothesise a solution from partial information.

Open The Lock (Gliwice)

Open The Lock is a chain with branches across Poland; their Gliwice branch has two games with a third due to be released, of which we played only the 80 minute Temple of Doom. This was one that just didn’t manage to click with me. In theory the expansive layout and variety of puzzles should add up to a good game; for me, I found the pace uneven and the decor too close to lightly disguised office space. I don’t want to be too harsh on it because I can absolutely imagine other groups having a great time playing it, but I felt the frustrations outweighed the charms.

Tick Tack (Gliwice)

Tick Tack have four games across two locations; we missed out on two of them due to time constraints. The two that we did play are both 75 minute games, and both were exceptional.

I expect Christmas games to be cheerful and festive, and often designed for families or constructed in a temporary way. Cicha Noc (Silent Night) is none of those, except perhaps festive. You’re travelling into the past to restore the joy to one child’s disappointing Christmas – and if that sounds sweet, be warned that the menacing Krampus lurks outside. I had a little difficulty finding the flow of this game, but that didn’t disguise the quality and creativity of the design, matching the original theming with some outstanding effects. Few games manage to be both nerve-shredding and heart-warming, but Silent Night manages it, keeping a fine emotional balance with a game that keeps improving as it continues.

Lokalizacja (Location) combines a curiously bland name with a top of the range set. Your job is to sneak into a mansion and swap out a valuable painting with a fake, a clever variant on simply stealing it. This takes the heist format and does it on a large scale, and at times the game environment genuinely left me with no sense of where I was relative to the outside world. Although the game’s premise was straightforward, the room had much that implied a deeper backstory; I appreciated that, but would have liked it to have been used for more than just background colour. Some small moments of silliness also added to my enjoyment of Location, such as the response a particular puzzle gave when we tried the wrong answer, which we ended up quoting for the rest of the trip.

Our group were split on which of the two Tick Tack games we preferred: Silent Night wins on character and originality, Location on scale and technology.

Quest Cage (Katowice)

Quest Cage have three games in the city centre by the train station, plus another six at their original location further out; the former venue seems to have been a separate company named Clue Town, now operated by Quest Cage. Due to travel problems we ended up only able to play one game at each location.

At 3 Maja 6-8/3

Tunele po miastem (City Tunnels) was an unusual game that lived up to its name. I would absolutely recommend playing it, with a couple of warnings: you need to have good mobility, and you should play it with a small team, two people if possible. That’s both because much of the game is physically narrow, but also because there were several highlights that it’d be easier to miss with a larger group. It’s atmospheric, fun and different, definitely worth trying.

At Dębowa 65/2

Moriarty sp. z o.o. (I don’t know what the intriguing initials stand for!) casts you as Moriarty’s henchmen, sneaking into Sherlock’s home. Being based on the TV series it’s a modern day setting not Victorian. Recreations of 221B Baker Street tend to use a reliable set of Sherlockisms, plenty of which are here; and my first impression was of fairly traditional low-tech game with living room style decor. That’s accurate as far as it goes, and this is definitely not a big budget room; but it’s also one crafted with a great deal of inspiration and attention to detail, where the design went significantly beyond what I might have expected from the initial impression. Combining physical ingenuity with moments of drama and comedy, and a great many smart puzzles, this provided a better experience than many games that must have cost far more to build.

ER 1871 Inny Wymiar (Chorzów)

Of the 35 games I played on this trip, Niepokój (Anxiety) was the one most designed as a fear game, and needs a big warning label. Many of the Polish games had us enter the room blindfolded; several used restraints at the game start, and a couple of them didn’t include a quick release mechanism. In Anxiety the period for which you’re restrained is significantly longer, and there’s no emergency way out without help from a host.

Anxiety was a game of three parts. The opening act involving escape from our restraints was a clever sequence of physical puzzles. The game’s conclusion was imaginative, dramatic, and done with style. The larger section in between was less enjoyable, with a lot of searching around in a dark and somewhat dirty area, where several of the puzzles were on the simple side (such as, each digit for a lock is written in a separate location), with a couple of ghost puzzles where clues in the room no longer related to anything useful. With no particularly nervous players on our team the fear elements of the game had only a muted effect, but if you’re specifically looking for scary games you might find it worth a try. They did however provide the single best post-game photo of the trip.

Escape Project (Warsaw)

A single room venue on the outskirts of Warsaw, Escape Project’s game is Przeklęta Wyspa (The Cursed Island), and sets you the task of escaping a desert island. The generous amount of sand can’t disguise that you’re actually indoors, but the lovely handmade decor allows easy suspension of disbelief. You can choose a difficulty level; we chose the hardest and found it still a not particularly challenging game, so this is a good family choice – at least, as long as the team includes someone who likes maths, since that features more here than in most games. They could perhaps have done more with the concluding section, but you’d be hard put to not enjoy this well-designed game full of charm.

Mysterious Room (Warsaw)

Mysterious Room is right next to the main Chopin airport, which made it convenient as a final stop before leaving the country. They currently have three rooms, of which we played two.

Magician from Muveszet District was distinctive from the start due to the room layout; I’ve seen a similar effect in a couple of other rooms, but it’s still cool. What stuck with me though was the puzzle design, which reached a level of complexity that I’ve seen in few escape rooms, while remaining completely solid; it’s rare to see as many different elements come together to a single solution in a way that’s completely organic and convincing. There’s a crime solving element here too, where you have to identify the correct suspect, although there’s no penalty for getting it wrong and trying again.

The Mystery of Mayan Temple made less of an impression than Magician. It was (and currently still is) available for avatar play, and is well suited for that format. I found the ending a bit abrupt, and although the game gets more visually impressive as it goes on, I thought the non-linear earlier stages were more enjoyable with stronger puzzles.