London, Sep 2017
Next up at Room Lockdown was Prison Break, which naturally involves you breaking out of gaol. Expect a split team start and some impressively authentic restraints.
As with their Doll game, this was a game that I enjoyed playing despite what sometimes seemed like determined attempts from the puzzles to undermine it. Again, I suspect a large part of the reason for the frustrations was the way the venue periodically changes all the puzzles in their games. We apparently played version four of the Prison Break game, which may or may not be representative of past or future versions.
Running through some of the frustrations, one puzzle had a visual clue that struck us as not just unclear but misleading; another had a clever mechanic but an immensely obscure initial clue; another relied on selecting the correct set of clues based purely on what could give the right sort of output, and then had an ambiguity where you had to arbitrarily pick the right one of two equally possible items. Perhaps most glaring was the clear, unambiguous four digit code we discovered… that turned out to be a complete red herring, not used anywhere in the game.
While the exact puzzles will vary between iterations of the room,they seem to show an approach to puzzle design that came out to varying extents in all of the Room Lockdown games we played, and which I think lets the games down. It seems like the designers don’t always distinguish between something being difficult in a way that presents an interesting, fun challenge and something being difficult because it’s confusing or ambiguous. The red herring code, for example, was left over from a previous version of the game, and deliberately left in as distraction information. If an item looks like it provides a clue but doesn’t, or if a clue is regularly misinterpreted by different groups, that should be seen as a weakness in the game not part of the challenge.
That’s a shame, because the room has plenty to recommend it in other respects. It uses an expansive, well decorated play area. Play follows a sequence that makes some narrative sense, not just solving puzzles until one delivers you a key to the exit door, and includes some satisfyingly physical moments. My frustrations with some aspects of the puzzles were blunted thanks to skilful hosting from the gamemaster, who I believe was also the main designer for the rooms, and was thoroughly friendly and enthusiastic as well as good at running the games.