Bournemouth, May 2017
The MacGuffin Project is, at time of writing, Bournemouth’s newest escape venue, and it styles itself as a dark Victorian carnival. The carnival theming extends to the venue’s entrance hall, with lush decorations starting from a reception area themed as a sideshow booth right down to nice little touches such as chunky wooden fobs on locker keys instead of plastic. They’ve only got one game open so far but they have another two planned, and all seem linked by the same theme and overarching story. While I wonder whether that might eventually limit their options for future expansion, for now it gives a lovely impression of depth, implying there’s more detail to the world beyond the bits seen in the game.
I played this game only one week after it had opened, which I’d normally avoid. However, Bournemouth is far enough from London that repeat visits are hard to arrange, so I couldn’t resist giving it a go while I was there.
The production values here are top notch, up there with a select handful of top-rank escape games. After a suitably dramatic opening, the game interior takes the venue’s theme and ramps it up. There’s a steampunk vibe throughout, with mysterious brass pipes and dials and flickering bulbs in iron cages, and nary a padlock to be seen. Everything here is big and dramatically gothic in a way that will thrill your inner Dr. Frankenstein, backed up by lighting effects and audio.
On first entering, the quantity of interesting contraptions and equipment lying around looked highly promising, but we ended up using fewer items than I’d expected. There’s plenty of searching to do, in a fairly dim room, but some of the things I’d mentally pigeonholed as ‘probably a puzzle for later on’ turned out to be just decoration.
At a couple of points later on in the game we did something that seemed right but weren’t immediately sure whether it had had an effect, or where the response seemed a bit delayed. That was in contrast to elsewhere in the game though, where the puzzles gave excellent feedback.
I’m rating the game based on its current state, and as it stands it could do with clearer signposting at a couple of points when a puzzle is successfully completed. It would also benefit from fewer red herrings and more actual content – the game could do with at least one more big puzzle, and currently it’s probably a little on the easy side for experienced teams. However, it sounds like the operators are working hard to refine and improve it – there was a temporary hint system that’s due to be replaced by a custom mechanism, and one of the puzzles I found a little unclear will be replaced by a more complex and ambitious version. So there’s an excellent chance that in a month or two it will have improved in both substance and polish.
In the meantime, the game looks amazing and the set is a joy to run around in. Everything is custom and original, and the game follows a clear progression where you feel like you’re reconstructing experiments in a mad scientist’s workshop, not solving arbitrary puzzles. It’s already an impressive game with generally well-designed puzzles and plenty of sizzle; and with some tweaking and settling in, it may become better still.