London, Dec 2018
Both of London Escaped’s first two rooms struck me as promising and enjoyable game designs, being operated in a way that didn’t bring out their full potential. School of Magic is similar, except that the underlying quality of the game appears to be significantly lower. We had a much more communicative gamemaster who was trying hard on the intro briefing, but in pretty much all other ways it was a shambolic failure of a game riddled with problems.
Companies boast about how much technology their escape rooms use, as if that were a meaningful indication of their quality. School of Magic is a great demonstration of how blind reliance on tech can actively detract from a game. If players try the correct solution to a puzzle and it doesn’t register, because the mechanism is too fussy about how that solution is entered, then that’s effectively broken. That happened at two points in this game for us, both times hurting the experience much more than the one ‘actual’ tech failure that our host apologised for.
Tech failures appear endemic to this venue, and some of that is clearly due to damage inflicted by inconsiderate players – I could see many signs of items having been wrenched out of place. All venues suffer from the occasional thuggish player, and there’s really no excuse for players who resort to force and destroy the lovingly created rooms around them. However, some venues appear to suffer much more frequent breakages than others. Some of that is how robustly the room is constructed, and perhaps the briefing also makes a difference. But the game content plays a role too. If a mechanism is too stiff, that prompts players to use more force elsewhere. Something that looks like it should open encourages players to tug harder just in case. Frustrated, confused players more readily yank on fragile components.
So it’s a problem when a puzzle has two slightly different clues for the same puzzle, only one of which works. It matters when puzzles have highly ambiguous solutions, or when it’s not clear if what you’ve tried has had an effect or not. School of Magic has a parade of such problems, plus a terribly misleading red herring, unnecessary darkness, and a variety of other frustrations, and so it doesn’t surprise me if they experience a higher than average rate of prop destruction.
Maybe it’s inconsistent to complain that the content is poor and then add that there’s not enough of it, but that’s what I’m going to do. I was genuinely disbelieving when the exit door popped open, at a point that I’d assumed was barely halfway through the content. It hardly seems worth adding that the decor felt half-hearted, or that the hint system was usually too quiet to hear, or that the gamemaster was sometimes absent dealing with other groups.
The venue has since announced their fifth and sixth games, and I wonder if they’ve bitten off more than they can chew – perhaps an over-ambitious schedule of room openings has left them too stretched to properly fine-tune and maintain the games they have. If so, perhaps with time they’ll get on top of the breakages and fussy props and hone their games into the slick experiences they ought to be. In the meantime, School of Magic is one to avoid, an unfortunate example that buying a game design and putting a set of custom props in a room is not at all sufficient to create a successful escape room.