Leeds, Apr 2018
As a broad rule, games with unusual names are often worth trying – an imaginative theme is sometimes indicative of creativity that shows in the game design as well. Of course, that’s not a reliable rule: there are many excellent games that use common themes and uninspiring names. And there are exceptions in the other direction as well, where a promising sounding game is let down by its implementation. Sadly, that was my experience of Madame Virtue.
Located over Leeds Market, the venue is a little tricky to find – look for the logo sticker on a glass door, and call the venue’s phone number to be let in. A big vote of confidence here for our friendly gamemaster, who was filling in for a sick colleague at very short notice but welcomed us with aplomb.
First impressions were reasonable. They’ve used generic office space, which shows through in places such as the plug hatches in the floor; even so, although the decorations were not slick, it had a low-budget homemade charm that left me willing to suspend disbelief.
A number of gameplay issues left me unenthusiastic about the game. First was a slow start, where little progress was possible until we stumbled across the first solution. It’s not great design when the solution to a puzzle is something you try on the off chance; a good puzzle has an internal logic to it where it might seem baffling at first but as soon as you’ve cracked it the solution is completely convincing. That’s a high standard and having some more arbitrary puzzles doesn’t spoil a game; though it’s worse if a game starts with something tenuous, while also giving players a great many other clues to look at. In the absence of any signposting, that practically guarantees a stretch of frustrated flailing before someone thinks to try the right thing.
We hit a more serious problem when we arranged some clue items in a way that we expected to be useful but which actually rendered the puzzle impossible to solve. The gamemaster had to enter the room to fix it. He said we were the first in a hundred teams to hit that problem, which might be true; groups less prone to overthinking would be less likely to try what we did. But relying on the initial position of components is a nasty flaw in a puzzle even so.
While the majority of the puzzles tried hard to follow the theme, that was typically with the approach of providing themed materials that were then used for abstract puzzle mechanics. We made quite heavy weather of the game, so perhaps take it with a pinch of salt when I say I found much of the content a bit tenuous and uninspiring. But small frustrations accumulated in a way that left the team dispirited and low on energy.
I wanted to like the game; while I have no information about the designers, it gave the impression of a low-budget game put together by someone doing it for the love of escape games. But in its implementation even its strongest moments were only average, and its weaker sections had a sufficient number of flaws that enthusiasts may find it hard to enjoy.