Athens, May 2019
Brainfall’s trilogy of games all play on an Alice in Wonderland theme, but the venue itself styles itself as a hotel: a darkly luxurious establishment where the staff are in costume and you might see a skull behind the checkin desk. The design may not obviously link to the games themselves, but very effectively sets the tone of reality through a darkened mirror.
While the three games can each be played stand-alone, they do share a narrative arc, and if you intend to try the whole series then Looking Glass is the right place to start. Lewis Carroll’s stories are only loose inspiration for the plot here, which has you returning to a Wonderland in which your childhood friend Alice has been trapped for years, having been tricked by a malevolent Mad Hatter.
A crucial piece of information about all of Brainfall’s games – which I’d not realised until our pre-game briefing – is that they use live actors. This is the genre of escape room known in East Europe as a performance game, where interaction with the actors is as important an element as the puzzle solving, and in fact some puzzles rely upon actor interactions. Even more than the other couple of games we’d played in Athens with actors, I found that the Brainfall games emphasised this. Looking Glass is more escape room than immersive theatre experience, but the extent to which you enjoy immersive theatre will be an important factor in how much you like the game overall.
Looking Glass is the first room the venue built, and that showed a little in the style of puzzles with a greater reliance on abstract puzzle ideas and numeric codes. However, the set design provides one of the most instantly pleasing rooms I’ve seen yet. I spent precious minutes just looking and enjoying the effect they’ve managed to create.
Thinking back on the game, I remember the actor interactions and the clever set design much more vividly than I do the puzzles. Our actors were skilled and performed their roles with energy, and I very much enjoyed that side of the experience. Still, it shifted focus from solving, and the involvement of the actors meant that much of what we solved felt like we’d had help from the gamemaster, even where we were in fact expected or required to receive information from them to progress. What it lost as an escape room experience it gained as a theatrical experience, and while I liked the result it felt like I appreciated it in a different way to other escape rooms; I’d expect that to weaken the game for some enthusiasts and to be a novel and welcome addition for others.