Norfolk, Jul 2017
Another weekend, and a chance to sample a new type of escape room experience. This time it was the turn of Rustic Riddles, which describes itself as “an outdoor escape game for the creative thinker and the curious”.
Set at the end of a fairly anonymous country road somewhere close to RAF Lakenheath in East Anglia, it’s an easy 35 minute drive from Cambridge, and around 55 minutes from the M25 at Epping. There are decent enough signs showing you the way once you’re fairly close, and it goes without saying that for a outdoor farm type venue location there’s ample parking. There are also customer toilets, which might be helpful given the fairly remote location.
We were greeted by the owners (and gamesmaster) the latter totally dressed for the occasion, as what I could best describe as an authentic medieval shepherd. We were led to the start of the game by a small wooden gate, just under a bridge of passing goats. That isn’t, by the way, a typo. The entrance to the game is literally under a wooden goat bridge which allows the resident caprines to wander freely across the site.
Goats and Trolls feature heavily in the “Pan’s Problem” storyline, which was given to us folk fable style as we walked towards the rustic puzzle arena. The general gist of it is that the Trolls have gone off shopping for a bit, and will be back in an hour or two. The teams’ job is to protect the goats, and create a “Troll be Gone” potion, which is made up of five special potion ingredients. Pretty simple.
It’s a theme that sounds vaguely scary on the website, but in reality is gentle and aimed at children of all ages (and adults, too). The game itself is set in the Hockwold Hollow. It’s a dipped wooded area, with paths and heavy vegetation. It’s hard to describe without being there, but needless to say it’s definitely rustic, but with enough care and attention taken to make it a perfectly safe place to play an escape room. It’s an enormous space, and the puzzles are spread out amongst the hollow and woodland areas, some puzzles spanning multiple areas both physically and logically.
In terms of the gameplay itself, it’s decidedly varied. A couple of traditional padlocks, a wooden building to get into, puzzles that span 100ft+ in some cases.
There’s a high degree of parallel gameplay here, with only a small amount of progress restriction from hidden objects and puzzle dependencies. Some wonderful ‘hidden in plain sight’ set pieces help create a strange (but welcome) dichotomy of wide open space and intimacy.
It’s definitely possible to split up and work away at individual puzzles in isolation, but a lot of the enjoyment value here is group exploration. It feels like a win to actually find a puzzle area, and then work on it together. Expect a lot of running around between zones. Fun exercise, fortunately, not “make work”.
The top level of the game play area (above the games master’s vantage point) is up a steep grassy bank which in itself isn’t too big a deal. It’s the 10th traversal that probably gets the calf muscles burning a little. Exercise for the body and mind for a change. Let me be clear though, assuming you’re okay to walk along cleared paths, you will not need a great deal of mobility to play a part in the team’s puzzle solving. I played with a pregnant team member and a seven year old without issue, for example.
Speaking of the seven year old – he remained incredibly engaged with the story, the puzzles and the whole feel of the game. The in-character gamesmaster added to the overall theatre of it all. The puzzle content is fairly grown up in terms of difficulty, it’s not aimed at children per se, but there’s some more physical challenges (think Rural Crystal Maze) that suited children down to the ground.
“Do it slowly Daddy or it will leak!!” was one typical outburst from the 7-year old self-appointed team captain. He was, as usual, the Most Valuable Player., but we would never admit it.
Seeing his wide eyed wonderment at the game, I can’t recommend this highly enough for families with children — especially given they’re only £5 per player for under 10s.
As we gathered the last of the potions in the central area, we realised the game was drawing to a close, and savoured getting the potion, with a typically rustic finale.
By the time of publication of this review, I’m told a couple of tiny “Week One” gameplay tweaks will have been made based on our feedback, and the whole experience will be slick yet rustic, tiring without being exhausting and like us, teams will definitely leave with a smile on their slightly flusher faces.
There’s a few other things nearby if you wanted to make a day of it – Ickworth House is an excellent NT property in the direction of London from the venue, and there’s also an interesting Flint Mine (English Heritage) very close. We had some lunch at the excellent Browns Cafe (https://www.facebook.com/Browns-1453874121508410/) which from the outside looks like a naff transport ‘caff’ but actually serves superb local food and drink. Definitely worth a ten minute trip.
Also, if you like animals, there’s also the opportunity for a spot of goat petting, right next to the escape room venue, as the owners have quite a few friendly specimens!
Rustic Riddles is a genuine evolution and progression of the escape room concept, adding fresh air and nature to everything we know and love about them and an experience that you can definitely share with the whole family.
Full disclosure: we were invited to play this game for free for review purposes.