Bury, Sep 2018
Ruby Factory was high on my list of games to play in Bury mainly because it sounded interestingly different: a game with an almost totally open, non-linear structure, where instead of any single goal, your aim is to collect as many rubies as you can. Even better, the game description emphasises that the challenges include physical as well as mental elements, which sounded highly promising. And I did indeed like it a lot – to start with. As the game went on it began to bog down, and by the end I was quite frustrated with it, giving a close inverse correlation between how far through the game I was and how much I was enjoying it.
Starting therefore with the good, while it’s not a huge space it has a lovely array of large unusual props, with a big mechanical feel that fitted well with the factory theming. It also has a less-lovely array of padlocks, of varied types though predominantly four digit, but many of them were marked with symbols that promised to help show which lock to try for which puzzle. And it’s generous with the number of rubies that can be quickly gathered on the first reconnaissance of the room, giving a happy feeling of immediate progress.
The problem was that, with such a non-linear game, we quite rapidly finished a large chunk of it, and were then left with a set of puzzles we were stuck on, where each time we finally made a breakthrough we’d gain a couple of rubies but nothing to help us make progress elsewhere. That’s the game style, but it’s not conducive to a feeling of ‘flow’ as you play. (I’ve played a game with a similar design and didn’t notice that effect, probably because that game had a much larger number of puzzles that were, on average, easier; so there was little danger of grinding to a halt until near the end, if then.)
It’s important to note that we played as a pair in a room that has an official minimum of three. It would absolutely be wrong to criticise Ruby Factory for any problems that were caused by us having fewer players than expected. And it’s possible that an extra one or two people would have got us further. However, I don’t think it would have made much difference to that dynamic, unless the extra brains could have allowed us to finish everything, or close to it.
Discouraging though it can be to be stuck with several puzzles that you’re making no progress on, that’s part of the fun of an escape room, and it was a number of smaller problems that made it feel more like a grind than a challenge. One was a flakey piece of equipment that kept resetting itself while I was using it; that turned out to be due to a loose battery. Another was a rather cool item that, due to a tech failure, failed to drop out rubies when it was supposed to, meaning we spent a long while trying to use it as the clue for something else when it actually had no further use.
The quantity of locks became a problem too; in theory the labelling should have mitigated that, but the symbols used were little use, and at times actively misleading. We were also perhaps unfortunate in missing something that would have wiped out four of the remaining four digit padlocks in quick succession, meaning that all the way through to the end we had a tediously large number of places to try each possible code. That could still have been no more than a minor nuisance if the game had given confidence that solution codes would be obvious when we’d attained them, but the nature of some of the puzzles had us trying ideas much more speculatively, and so we spent a lot of time spinning padlock dials to no avail.
Your mileage may vary. Whether you end up in a similar padlock grind will depend on the order you complete things in, and how obsessively you check through somewhat-likely possibilities. In the game’s favour is its originality, the visceral thrill of collecting an ever-growing set of shiny rubies, and the several satisfyingly large and unusual puzzle items which emphasise physical solutions as often as mental. I got the sense that the room isn’t as maintained quite as carefully as it should be, but with a little more attention and better labelling of puzzles and locks, I’d likely have had a radically better impression of it.