Leicester, Aug 2018
Tempted up to Leicester by a remarkably generous summer discount for returning customers, I finally tried out the first three games at Escapologic’s new branch, starting with Operation Magnus, which places you in a World War 2 bunker trying to foil an enemy super-weapon attack.
Stopping the Nazis is a tried and tested escape room theme, but I was interested to note that in this game the enemy is an organisation called Spyke. I have no problem with games using Nazi symbology (as long as they’re presented as the bad guys…), but I liked the way Escapologic’s approach allowed them to use ominous-looking flags and decorations without actually shoving swastikas in your face.
Some companies aim for a minimalist style where everything in the room is relevant in some way. Escapologic often take the opposite approach, with busy, highly decorated designs in atmospherically convincing locations. Both styles can work well, the main thing is that the game be internally consistent, so that it doesn’t set expectations for how it works that later turn out to be misleading. Operation Magnus is absolutely packed with all kinds of interesting, authentic WW2 memorabilia, and although we did spend some time assembling unneeded items and peering suspiciously at wall cracks that were indeed just crumbling plaster, it’s mostly very good at presenting atmospherically elaborate decor that still manages not to be unnecessarily distracting.
Early on there’s a tricky moment that could leave teams frustratingly stuck before they’ve made much headway. Our team, for whom careful observation is frequently a weakness, unsurprisingly needed a nudge from the gamemaster to notice the relevant thing, but I suspect we’re not alone there. The couple of other places where we needed a prompt were both points where I felt a relevant piece of information was too effectively camouflaged amidst the surrounding flavour content; on reflection, one was probably reasonable, the other less so.
But although for me the sheer quantity of decoration occasionally impinged on the gameplay, it’s nonetheless a gloriously vivid WW2 game that hits a happy balance between gritty period accuracy and fun escapism. It’s full of custom machinery whose dials and wires and 1940s stylings belie the electronics under the covers, and big chunky metal components, all set in a crumblingly convincing space that genuinely feels like a wartime bunker.
The finale is a highlight, though best I say no more about it. That adds up a consistently impressive and thrilling game that would easily be the top attraction at most venues – that it’s last on my list of the three current Escapologic Leicester games is no reflection of any lack of quality in Operation Magnus, but rather a sign of how impressive its sibling games are.