Online, Nov 2020
I’ve played several audio-based games now, but the ones run by Trapped St Paul’s are the purest examples of the format I’ve seen yet – in that, although there were a handful of pictures shared to help give us idea of our surroundings, or to provide detail on specific items, almost all the game took place purely in spoken form. This is essentially an escape room run as a table-top role-play session.
It takes place over Discord. I find that much less effective for videoconferencing than Zoom, but works well for combined voice and text chat, which is what Super Squad uses. Due to the minimal visuals, it’s perhaps even more important than usual to play without distractions.
Super Squad’s story has you investigating an incident at the local Science Museum; given the title it should be no surprise that super powers are involved. This is Saturday morning cartoon style cheerful heroics – no brooding Dark Knights.
Although there were a few puzzles that were clearly ‘escape room’ in style, for the most part the challenge is to solve situational problems – fewer codes, more making use of environmental features. This includes sometimes allowing players to MacGyver their way past puzzles in unexpected ways, if they come up with something sufficiently creative and effective. There was a slightly artificial limit to that, in that some possible solutions might have allowed us to bypass too much of the game, in which case the host had to find a reason why it wouldn’t work, even a fairly arbitrary one. But the result felt like a different type of challenge, one that encouraged individual ingenuity. In fact, some of the later steps felt weaker precisely because they had obvious solutions using the resources we had, rather than needing out of the box ideas.
Without a physical set of any kind, a game like this truly relies on the host’s ability to not just bring a scene to life but to inject it with drama or humour, while also managing to deal with whatever weird and wacky ideas the players think to try. Our host did that well, and it made me think that running audio games might be a good way to train up hosting skills that would benefit avatar style games also.
Was it a fun experience? Absolutely. Was it an escape game? Nnooot exactly… at least in my view. Does that matter? Probably not, depending on what you’re looking for. With its emphasis on creativity, the more you as players put into it the more fun it’ll be.