Athens, May 2019
Live actors are a major part of all three Brainfall games, but this takes a very different form in Down The Rabbit Hole, which is considered an ‘action’ game. This means that you’re not interacting with actors simply through dialogue, but running and hiding from them.
Our briefing explained that in this game, we would be unwelcome guests in the Mad Hatter’s realm, and should aim to avoid being caught by him. Green buttons might be found which, when pressed, would randomly change the Hatter’s mood to one of three options: while in a Good mood the Hatter would be courteous and helpful, but in a Crazy mood he should be avoided, and in a Bad mood he would be actively hunting us. Each mood would last for only a brief period, before returning to default hostility. Getting caught by the Hatter didn’t actually result in anything more than a temporary inconvenience, though in his Bad mood he was intimidating enough for us to make strenuous efforts to stay out of his way.
A large part of the game therefore consisted of hiding from the Hatter, or sneaking around behind him, or distracting him, or finding a button and pressing it until we managed to get him in an all too brief Good mood. Even more than other actor interactions, whether you enjoy this is a matter of taste. It’s set up well, and with the right group it could be huge fun; I think it’s particularly well suited to larger groups where some players are happy to focus on dealing with the Hatter while their teammates solve puzzles. It didn’t work at all for us; my teammate hated it, and I found it started out fun but very soon became repetitive and irksome, a frustrating distraction that pretty much entirely killed our ability to make progress with the puzzles. However, once it became clear just how little we were enjoying the action dynamic, the gamemaster immediately intervened and removed the Hatter from the game, after which we played it as a pure puzzle experience.
And as a puzzle experience, it was excellent. Of the three Brainfall games, I think it had the most interesting and involved puzzles, using a panoply of mechanisms to keep things hard to predict. It uses a split start with an unusually complex sequence required to reunite the team, an excellent beginning section with the one drawback that it was at first a bit frustratingly hard to hear each other. Thereafter it progressively opens up into a space that was more of a maze than a room, smartly designed so that you often become aware of an area before you’re able to gain access to it, making it all the more satisfying when you eventually get in.
The central feature of Down the Rabbithole is the interaction with the Hatter, which really wasn’t to our tastes. It’s worth noting though that that’s only a feature of the central third of the game, with everything before and after it played as a normal escape room. If you like the sound of playing hide and seek with the Hatter, then you’ll love Rabbithole. But if you really don’t, then it’s worth asking the venue whether you can play a no-actor version, so as not to miss out on this part of their trilogy.