Leeds, Apr 2018
The Hatch is set on a mysterious tropical island, but to avoid disappointment players should be careful to temper their expectations as far as the set is concerned: the decorations don’t go much beyond some plastic foliage, and certainly don’t add up to an illusion of a distant beach. Expect an escape room with some light theming rather than a Hollywood set or an immersive experience, and focus on the game content.
That game content was something of a mixed bag. An early puzzle struck us as a bit ambiguous, with multiple ways of interpreting the clues, though I’d argue in its defence that the correct approach was also the most natural one for teams less prone to overthinking. An inventive way to get through a door was one of the better moments; something involving mirrors was a little confusing but unusual and clever. And so on for the rest: a variety that had its good and bad points without any serious design flaws. My biggest dislike was the moment when we needed to search for something quite easy to overlook, at a point where it was not obvious there was any reason to search and plenty of other information to focus on instead; I imagine a touch more signposting would mean far fewer teams chasing dead ends there.
As a general rule, games should have a gradually increasing difficulty gradient: some easier quick wins to start with to get the players going, building up to trickier puzzles later on. One version of that is to have a particularly large or time-consuming puzzle as the final step, like an end boss in a computer game. The Hatch doesn’t go quite that far, but its final step is a meta-puzzle that draws together items from several previous puzzles, with a more-than-usually tough puzzle for working out how combine them correctly, and which then requires a little work to extract the solution. It’s effective as a way of tying up all the game’s remaining loose threads, and also a good combination of intellectual effort with a very physical mechanism. For all those reasons, I found the ending to be the strongest part of the game, and one that successfully made up for the couple of earlier points I’d been less keen on.
Our gamemaster was quick to point out that The Hatch is one of Tick Tock’s older designs, and it sounds like they have considerably more elaborate sets in some of their more recent games. The one we played was already a decent, enjoyable game, with enough good ideas to make up for its few weaker moments; I’ll happily go back on another occasion to see how their games have evolved since they built it.