Dublin, Oct 2019
The second game I played at Clockwork Door was the older of the venue’s two games, Alice; which of course has a Wonderland theme. There’s no information about backstory on the website, and indeed not much in the way of plot in the game, but your task is to free the White Rabbit and that gives you a clear goal to aim for.
Where Witch House is a very linear game, Alice is not (as the gamemaster informed us in the briefing). Several different strands can be followed in parallel. That’s a structure that often works well, but is more challenging to implement well, and my impression was that Alice suffered somewhat from a common pitfall of non-linear games, where it feels like an unstructured bunch of disparate puzzles and the flow jumps around a bit confusingly. That was more noticeable because of a couple of other points where, for example, visual similarity between different items suggested that they should be used together where actually they were unrelated.
One puzzle took a familiar idea and put a twist on how we needed to extract a code from it. We found that one of the more frustrating parts of the game, since there seemed to be a variety of equally reasonable ways to tackle it. That might in part be enthusiast bias, where experience of other similar puzzles becomes actively misleading when the solution is different in some crucial respect; but even with the correct approach there were still two possible answers to try.
However, even though I found Alice distinctly less polished than their Witch House game, it also showed much of the same flair. The whimsical decor is both attractive and charming. It manages to be not just a nice backdrop, too – I appreciated some of the neat interactions between puzzles and decorations, which they’ve used for some genuinely imaginative puzzle ideas.
I normally think of escape rooms in terms of puzzles and tasks, but Alice also had a good example of something for the players to do that wasn’t really either a puzzle or a task, being neither difficult nor time-consuming, just an unexpected and playful bit of the design.
How you get on with it will depend on how willing you are to overlook the various points of unwanted confusion and enjoy the clever, pleasing ideas underneath. I found it a mixed bag, a game with plenty of potential that just needs a bit more polishing.