London, Aug 2017
With my escape game addiction thoroughly out of control, I often have 5-10 booked games in the diary at any one moment and it’s not unusual to turn up to a game with only the vaguest memory of what it was called or what the theme was. In this case, I hazily remembered something about diamonds so was expecting maybe a bank vault and probably a laser maze at some point. That was misleading: the story actually places you in the residence of a thief. The thief has already been arrested, and your task is to locate the five large diamonds she stole as well as identify her accomplice from a list of possible suspects.
The game is located in a basement under a restaurant/café, and from that and the theme you’d be correct in guessing this isn’t a particularly large or high-tech game. It is after all a pop-up, and I think has been assembled at speed on a low budget. However, that doesn’t at all mean it’s slap-dash or poorly put together – rather, it uses simple components to good effect. The popup nature of the game comes through with, for instance, the host peering in through a peephole instead of watching on CCTV. (If like us your first impulse on seeing a hole in the wall is to stick your fingers in, please check that the host’s eyeballs aren’t on the far side first…)
Many, many games are built around puzzles that resolve to a set of digits, with something to determine the order to read them in, which are then used to open a padlock or safe or electronic keypad. Several of Dynamo Diamonds’ puzzles are of a similar style, except with a tendency to resolve to words instead of digits, which then give instructions for where to look or what to do next. That probably sounds like a very minor difference, but for me it really improved the game. I suppose the potential downside is that a team could have accidentally jumped ahead of the intended flow at various points by stumbling across things they were supposed to find via a clue later on. Whether it’s because of good game design or due to our usual lackadaisical searching, that didn’t happen to us. As a result, we’d solve something and the result would point us to something that had been right there undetected all along, with a happy sense of surprise and discovery.
Some games impress with amazing sets or electronic wizardry. This one had neither, but made remarkably good use of what it did have. One basic but effective innovation was to have a set of information on a board on the wall with a clear plastic cover over it, meaning that we could effectively write directly on the clues with marker pens without damaging anything – extremely simple and easy and a much better experience than having separate pen and paper, and I’m amazed other games don’t use the same approach. Same with the puzzles, which had plenty of physical elements and imaginative design. Finding the diamonds gave a clear indication of progress, as did the suspect elimination thread of the game; and although the clues for picking the right suspect were pretty simple, I liked the naturalistic way they were presented.
Don’t expect a big or lavish design of game here. Note also that it uses a public booking system where if you book for fewer than five people you may find you’re playing with strangers (although we had a team of three, and the remaining two spaces went unfilled). But if that doesn’t put you off, then for a very neat and successful set of puzzles Dynamo Diamonds is well worth catching during its three-month run.