Escape the Review

Okay, sure, April is a pretty weird time to be reviewing a Valentine’s themed game. The real reason is of course that I got to it later than planned, but I’ll claim the excuse that a game based around romantic love is suitable for any day I’d the year.
All Cluequest’s games share the same fictional universe of secret agents and cartoon mice, but in this one, instead of foiling a dastardly plot, you’re helping a robot get to grips with human emotion. That sets the tone for the game: somewhere be...
The latest game from designer Edaqa is, like the previous ones, a slick and cheerful point ‘n’ click puzzler designed for cooperative play. It shares the same clear cartoony art style, and feels polished, the creation of an experienced designer using a mature platform. With physical escape rooms, office decor tends to mean low-effort, but here the setting provides a rich source of puzzle ideas enlivened by some gentle mocking of the mundanity of the 9 to 5 working environment.
The game provides...
London is blessed with many museums large and small, and The Museum of the Order of St John is one I’d never heard of before they opened an escape room. The Order of Saint John, it turns out, has a history spanning centuries, from a medieval chivalric order to the modern St John Ambulance charity; and this is chronicled in the small museum in a 16th century gatehouse in Clerkenwell.
Their game Treason! is a popup running in an upstairs room, set up in a portable form involving padlocked chests ...
Two player games are a bit scarce on the ground, but Clue Adventures is an exception - Jet2Space is their second game that not only is playable by two, but which requires exactly two. This one takes the players on a ‘WheesyJet’ automated journey on a budget spaceship that almost certainly won’t go wrong…
This is a light-hearted game where the puzzles are peppered with puns and innuendo, some subtle and some really, really not - references to Uranus abound. It’s also compact, and heavy on the el...
Played: 2021/08/23 Team size: 4 Time taken: 49:54 Outcome: Successful escape!
The second room we played at Eltham was their Jack The Ripper game, which involves a little gore and jumpiness but is a sufficiently mild form of horror that most players should be fine with it.
You’re trying to capture the Ripper and believe you have found his lair - where, in the best horror movie tradition of bad decision making, you decide to split up and enter from different directions.
At time of writing, Ripper is the venue’s newest game, and in most respects it looks like a big step up...
Played: 2021/08/23 Team size: 4 Time taken: 62:16 Outcome: Successful escape!
Asked to describe Temple of the Lost Spirit, I might use words like compact, well-decorated, or entertaining; but first and foremost would be Too Dark. What lighting level is reasonable for a game varies a lot, by theme, types of puzzles, and by who’s playing, and I’ve enjoyed plenty of games that were darker than this one. However, the low lighting was a frustration for the majority of the game, and wholly unnecessary - a choice to prioritise aesthetics over gameplay by keeping lights dim and p...
In real life, being kidnapped by a criminal and left shackled in a box next to a ticking bomb would I suppose be a thoroughly unpleasant experience - so in that sense I guess you could say that Komnata have nailed the realism here.
Sherlocked is a 45 minute concept game for two players. (You can book for four, but in that case you play as two separate pairs, in the two copies of the game.) Each player is handcuffed and locked in one of two adjoining ‘coffins’ - though fortunately these padded b...
Maze of Hakaina was for a time the well-reviewed flagship game at Komnata‘s New York branch, and was opened in London with a certain amount of fanfare. It’s easy to see how it could have caused some stir back when it was originally launched, with much that was striking and cool - but it ended up being a somewhat confusing experience for us. The middle of the road rating I’m giving it doesn’t represent a middle of the road game, but rather a cool and distinctive one let down in too many ways.
Played: 2021/09/11 Team size: 1
Moulin Rouge is a digital game set in Paris, where you’re investigating the murder of a young lady. This is a paid game with a guideline time of two hours, but note that there’s a free 15 min game from the company if you want to get a feel for the style before purchasing.
Their games have a connecting premise where you’re agents for a mystery solving agency run by one Mr. Tippley, who is a prominent character in this game - each step has a short animated video, with Tippley discussing your prog...
Played: 2021/09/05 Team size: 3 Time taken: 34:35 Outcome: Successful escape!
Having launched in the early days of the pandemic, Enigma Fellowship is now well established with a range of five different box games, so I’m very behind the times reviewing their first one. The Enigma of Lost Knowledge has you commissioned to investigate a missing professor, and provides a fat envelope of papers with which to do so.
I found the style here quite similar to the Escape The Crate games, in that you have various envelopes that mostly represent a lock or other obstacle that you enco...
Played: 2021/08/23 Team size: 4 Time taken: 50:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
The game name might have lost something in translation from the Portuguese; I didn’t notice much score-settling going on. Instead, the story is that you’re helping a young guy escape from the hideout of a notorious motorcycle gang before they return.
Score-Settling was an old school game with fairly simple decor, and plenty of numerical padlocks to open, along with other more physical mechanisms. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing in a game, but it makes it even more important that the puzzle...
Played: 2021/08/23 Team size: 4 Time taken: 60:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
With increasing numbers of digital conversions of physical escape rooms emerging, The Clare Abbey is an innovation that seems obvious in retrospect: why limit yourself to digitising your escape rooms when you can digitise any environment and turn it into a game? This game is set in the historic ruins of Clare Abbey in West Ireland, and uses a set of 360° views photographed on-site. Hotspots provide close-ups and clues, as well as navigating between locations. You additionally have a very helpful...
Played: 2021/08/24 Team size: 4 Time taken: 63:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
EXIT’s puzzle games are endlessly creative within a very tightly defined format, and while the difficulty level and theming vary, once you’ve played one you know what you’ll get from another. Except that The Sacred Temple takes the range in a whole new direction, by adding in jigsaws as part of the game, not as a brief novelty but as a core part of how it’s played.
There are four separate jigsaws in the box, each separately bagged and with a different printed pattern on the back so they don’t g...
Played: 2021/08/23 Team size: 4
I’d been meaning to return to Escape Kent and play their pirate game for something like four years, during which time it’s gone from their exciting new game to one of the more venerable ones at the venue. There was a certain amount of buzz about it at the time, and I was pleased to find that it was still very much worth a visit.
You are (arrrr?) sneaking onto a ship in search of one Black Diamond, as explained by your pirate captain via video intro. Pirate games are often well decorated, and th...
Played: 2021/08/23 Team size: 4 Time taken: 63:00 Outcome: Failed :-(
It’s often hard to know when booking a game with a spooky theme whether it’s going to be mildly creepy or sixty minutes of terror. But most nervous players should be fine with The Haunting - the fear factor here shouldn’t go above a degree of apprehension.
It’s currently the top rated of the games at Escape Kent, and it was clear why: the set starts well and improves. I find it a good sign when, partway through a game, I find I’ve lost awareness of where I am in relation to the outside world, w...
The second of only two Christmas pop-ups I played this year, An Elfin Mistake is available for in-person play, but since I didn’t have the chance to nip over to Wales I played it as a remote avatar game; and on careful consideration, that might actually be the best way to play it.
Like many play from home games, this one uses the Telescape platform. Avatar games began using that as a digital inventory system, to help players keep track of items they found and allow them to view those items more...
I’ll admit to being a natural Grinch on whom the joys of Christmas spirit are largely wasted, and so I normally only play one or two festive games each year; TimeQuest’s was my only such physical room for the 2021 season, so I was glad to find it was a good one. Elf Magic 2 has you filling in for a kidnapped Santa, sorting out presents to save Christmas.
That’s a familiar sort of plot, and the game is full of familiar elements, drawing on the usual palette of Christmas themes. But it buzzes wit...
Swamp Motel will be familiar to many enthusiasts from their Isklander trilogy of online games released during lockdowns, starting with Plymouth Point; they’ve now moved from the internet to the real world, and The Drop is a physical escape room / immersive theatre hybrid that takes place in a location in Aldgate. It’s designed for small groups of 2-4, and is due to run until the end of the year.
From the website description you’ll learn that the plot involves a precious lost book and London’s s...
Over lockdown, Mystery Mansion Regina established a reputation for their impressive avatar games, including their Sleepyman horror trilogy, so a pop-up avatar game for Halloween was one to catch. Though the announcement contained the curious detail that apparently they’d got someone else to design this game, and their own gamemasters hadn’t seen it yet..? However, you might guess that there’s some blurring of the line between reality and fiction going on here - this game starts the world-buildi...
Played: 2021/08/23 Team size: 4 Time taken: 46:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
Incognito is a company I narrowly missed out on visiting when I last passed through Dublin, so I was glad to have a chance to try one of their games remotely. Baker Street Mystery is the only one they’ve converted for avatar play so far, and I suspect they chose it because it’s a classic style of game, a Sherlock Holmes theme with furniture and locks.
Our goal was to crack one of Holmes’ unsolved cases, a gangland murder where we need to find the names of the victim and the perpetrator. The int...
Played: 2021/08/22 Team size: 4 Time taken: 40:10 Outcome: Successful escape!
Creepy cabins mostly fall into ‘psycho’ and ‘supernatural’ sub genres; Escape Manor‘s is the latter, with a nasty case of demonic possession to sort out. In the original in person game it seems there would have been an in person actor; this version also has a live actor of course, as your avatar. She was in character, deliberately nervous but not letting the characterisation slow down the progress of the game.
Like an increasing proportion of avatar games, Cabin 13 uses Telescape as its invento...
Played: 2021/08/22 Team size: 4 Time taken: 38:46 Outcome: Successful escape!
The Exit series of puzzle games keeps rolling on; the games follow a well-defined format and style, and at this point are definitely starting to blur one into another. On the other hand, it's a format and style that works well and reliably delivers a decent evening's puzzle game, albeit one that we find significantly less challenging these days now that we're familiar with the types of puzzles and tricks that the designers like to use.
You're searching for a legendary artefact hidden in the tom...
Played: 2021/07/31 Team size: 2 Time taken: 74:00
A Study In Intrigue can’t be separated from the venue in which it’s located. Some game designs can easily be copied or transplanted from one building to another, but this one isn’t a room as such - it takes place in, and throughout, the much larger space of the Museum. I believe under normal times the Museum plays host to multiple different live games taking place simultaneously, in a shared space not sealed into different rooms.
At the outset this game appears fairly conventional, with an avat...
SENSAS is not an escape room. As an experience it’s closer to the style of the live Crystal Maze, in that it involves a series of challenges for you to tackle as a team, collecting tokens for your successes as you go. Unlike the Crystal Maze, in SENSAS it’s usually more than one person active at a time, most often with half the team taking point and the other half supporting, then swapping round.
As the name suggests, SENSAS is based around the concept of the five senses, and each section is th...
I don’t normally review games that are pending a crowd funding campaign, but I’m making an exception here for two reasons. Firstly, this game has already been available for some time in Dutch - the Kickstarter is for the new version, upgraded and translated. And secondly, it’s such an impressive game it deserves all the publicity it can get.
It opens with a familiar premise: an old case of a girl gone missing, with a collection of documents that may just hold the secret of what happened. Even b...
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 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.
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 was more enjoyable with stronger puzzles. 
Magician from Muveszet District was distinctive from the start due to the room design; 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.
A single room venue on the outskirts of Warsaw, Escape Project's game is Przeklętej Wyspy (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.
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. 
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.
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.
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, where 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nautilus: Podmorska Przygoda (Nautilus: The Underwater Adventure) was a tech-driven game that would stand out a lot more at most 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.
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