Halifax, Apr 2018
Although driving to Halifax and back took out precious time from a packed schedule of escape games in and around Leeds, I’d heard enough recommendations for The Escaporium that I was keen to squeeze them in; and the owners were kind enough to let us play at a non-standard start time to make everything fit. (When visiting, note that their two games are in different locations, though the distance between is not far.)
Operation Moonshine is set in the Prohibition; your team are gangsters, breaking into the headquarters of your rivals to steal their ill-gotten gains (and presumably thereby make them twice as ill-gotten?). Story takes a back seat to puzzles, of which there are great many; the design style is to build a cool-looking themed environment and then take absolutely every element therein and base a puzzle on it.
Which is to say, this game has a lot to do. It bristles with padlocks and clues, and has a mostly non-linear structure that makes it well suited for larger teams. In games of this type, all but the most disciplined groups tend to generate a great deal of confusion, by losing track of what items have already been used or other communication failures. It’s particularly important therefore that the game design doesn’t amplify that confusion or provide accidental dead ends or intentional red herrings that mislead players further. Here The Escaporium have done an excellent job of smoothing away any such sources of frustration. Each time we solved something, there was no doubt that we’d solved it or what the solution was; where doors were triggered to unlock by something elsewhere, they popped open to make it clear something had happened; and despite the huge number of clues and items, there was almost no point where we weren’t sure which pieces belonged together. The only times we were unsure whether a code would work was when we tried something speculative and incorrect.
Enthusiast owners tend to be a lovely lot, and the couple running Escaporium were hugely welcoming – I could happily have stayed and chatted for the rest of the afternoon. That always lifts the experience, and it also meant skilful hosting of the game, with excellent judgement for when to give us a nudge and when to hold back.
I tend to prefer games that aren’t heavily based on padlocks and arbitrary number codes; and I am often remarkably bad at searching. That ought to mean that Operation Moonshine isn’t very well suited to my preferences. But it’s a lovely, busy game that’s built with an excellent sense for solid puzzle design. It throws some quick wins at the players to get them started and keeps up the frantic pace with a gradually increasing difficulty gradient, up to a final step that brings the team together for a clear and satisfying finish. Maths-phobic players might dislike a couple of the puzzles, but the quantity and variety of the content should mean there’s plenty here to satisfy all tastes, and I struggle to imagine any team not enjoying this game.