Margate, Jul 2018
First of the three games I played at The Escapement, Pirates of Polaris places you in the brig of a pirate galleon, abandoned by the crew and left to go down with the ship, unless you can find a way to escape. The venue has achieved quite a reputation amongst enthusiasts, and it was instantly clear why: Pirates is a beautiful game that starts well and never misses a beat.
As the website description states, some of the decor is taken from an actual antique ship, from which the game takes its name. That authenticity combines with a high quality build and some first-rate atmospheric effects to create a stunning game environment. It’s currently fashionable to equate lack of padlocks with sophisticated game design; this room demonstrates how to use padlocks well, with an array of pleasingly old-looking key locks that are entirely at home in the pirate ship setting, and which seemed a much better fit for the theme than invisible maglocks and RFID sensors would have.
As an escape room, the style initially de-emphasises traditional logic or pattern-matching puzzles in favour of a more hands-on style based on search and physical manipulation. But it subsequently balances that with a large multi-part puzzle that struck me as more challenging than is typical for escape rooms – difficult not because of any ambiguities or flaws in the design but because of the number of different parts that all tie into the overall solution. Even there though Pirates felt like a very physical game, where even the most abstract puzzle ideas are implemented with large-scale components and solving something often involves heaving around one part or another of the ‘boat’.
I also admired a neat feature of the game where some sections are a little harder or easier depending on how quickly the players reach them, a clever auto-balancing mechanism to increase the challenge specifically for the teams who’ll most appreciate that. That fits with the venue’s philosophy of ensuring all teams get to the end of the game, even if they’ve gone substantially over time, something which I’d be delighted to see the industry adopt more widely.
I’m still waiting to find a pirate themed game with disappointing decor; Pirates of Polaris was quite the opposite, a gorgeous set that should be guaranteed to wow players. It’s also the most immediately accessible of The Escapement’s current games, kicking things off with some quick wins to get nervous teams into the game, while including enough of a challenge later on to make sure enthusiasts won’t feel short-changed either.