London, Jun 2018
This is of course a game I’ve reviewed before: see here. The reason for the repeat review is that it’s been revamped and relaunched, with most of the game updated, including the plot. I found I did in fact recognise a couple of the puzzles from my previous play-through – although just too late to be any help in solving them.
Major X takes place in a park, which gives a well-defined game space that is still much larger than any normal escape room. Playing on a sunny Saturday afternoon meant it was packed with people, who with typical British reserve pretended not to notice our curious goings-on and ignored the suspicious bomb-like object we were clustered around. I think it was a coincidence that three policemen strolled past partway through…
We played as a team of ten enthusiasts with a ridiculously high total of escape rooms played between us, and screwed the game up royally. Much of that was dysfunction caused by the team size, with too many people clustered around small clue objects and much confusion about what had been solved when; after much too long spent trying to coax a hint out of the gamemaster for the penultimate puzzle, we had less than a minute remaining for the final step, and ended up going over time.
Exacerbating that was the piecemeal nature of some of the clues, which were fiddly to assemble on the slats of a park bench, and which sometimes then had to be re-assembled later when we discovered we hadn’t finished with them after all. That would have been worse on a day with a strong wind. While the game has become more sophisticated in several ways compared to its previous version (such as greater use of technology and a storyline that ties it into the other missions), the puzzle structure seemed less modular, meaning we more often needed to refer back to earlier information and build up a careful understanding of the items we’d already solved. That did not combine well with the outdoor play area and even less with our too-large team size. One step in particular had been in the original Major X game, and then struck me as right on the line between challenging leap and unreasonable; in the updated game it felt outright unfair, at least without more pushing from the gamemaster.
All of which makes this a very difficult game to review and rate. As an experience, it somewhat went off the rails for us. However, it was freshly minted and is likely to be tweaked over the coming weeks. More importantly, almost all the problems were either due to, or made noticeably worse by, the size of our team; which was bigger than the game’s theoretical limit. That leaves me with a tricky judgement call, since I don’t want to sugar-coat the problems that we encountered, but neither do I wish to penalise the game for anything that was specific to the timing and nature of our trial of it.
A major doubt I’d had about Agent November’s games previously was that their games are most fun when played with a team of 4 or less, at least when the players are experienced enthusiasts; but their fixed pricing structure means small teams are prohibitively expensive. However, it appears that this is something else that’s changed with their relaunch. The price of a game now scales with the number of players, and while a small team is still expensive, it’s less out of the question than before. That in turn makes me less inclined to judge it harshly for any weaknesses specific to playing as a large group.
Which leaves me with: it’s a similar game to the one I played and enjoyed 18 months earlier. I thought the changes added some extra polish, while leaving the actual puzzles a bit weaker in places – though I’d be surprised if some further tweaking doesn’t occur after this point. Even more than most games it’s one where your experience may vary depending on your gamemaster, on your team size and also on the weather and other factors outside the operator’s control. But book in with a manageably small group and I’d expect it to be closer to my first experience of the game than my second: an entertaining hour of searching and solving in the park.