Maldon, Jun 2018
The Escape Network is not a typical escape room: they operate occasional pop-up games in real-world venues, with perhaps a couple of game slots available per week. They’ve created two games so far, with The Park Keeper’s Child being the second; while the game appeared to be very portable, there was a clear thematic connection to the venue that makes it hard to imagine it being run elsewhere.
In this case the venue was Maldon Museum, a delightful small museum housing an extremely eclectic array of objects associated in one way or another with the local area – which in practice ranged from Victorian children’s toys and a replica 1940s kitchen through to a stuffed crocodile. The game takes place amidst the exhibits, and although it’s made very clear what is and is not part of the game, the setting adds a great deal to the game’s appeal.
Being a popup game mostly based out of metal suitcases, much of the content is driven by printed clue sheets and an intimidating array of padlocks; we did find we had to try some of the codes in each of several different locks to find the correct one. With ambiguous puzzle answers that would have rapidly become tedious, but the tightly designed sequence of puzzles here each time resolved neatly to a clear answer, such that once solved there was no doubt about the answer you’d extracted.
Solving the puzzles successfully created a sense of discovery, both of the physical space of the museum and also of the game’s backstory, one which I found myself unable to predict and genuinely curious to see how the tale would end.
Enthusiasts might dislike the reliance on paper cluesheets, or the sometimes quite abstract puzzles used; though those are given a justification in the narrative. For my part I found those hardly noticeable in the smooth flow of a game where you might get stuck seeing how to solve something, but where you’re unlikely to get stuck due to not finding something or some accidental clue ambiguity.
The gradual drip of additional story fragments brought the puzzles together into something that felt a lot more substantial than the sum of its parts, with much help from the unique surroundings and the museum’s idiosyncratic artefacts, and it all led up to an unexpected and satisfying ending. The scarcity of slots for this game make it a tricky one to get to, but if you have a chance to book in, I warmly recommend giving it a go.