Played: 8 Jun 2024 Team size: 4 Time taken: 01:48:26 Outcome: Successful escape!
originalpeacefulquite easy

Take to the open waters of the beautiful Norfolk Broads on paddleboards, and navigate between clues along the riverbank to solve riddles, open locked boxes, decode ciphers, and solve the mystery of a missing fisherman.

The puzzles are standard fare: mostly observational, counting, etc. (together with necessary map-reading and physical effort required to paddle your board along the river and occassionally getting off/on at the banks), but what sets this game apart, quite simply, is its setting. Where else can you play an escape room in the sunshine of a late summer afternoon, out on the open water, as herons, signets, and ducklings glide past you? It's completely family-friendly, the owner was absolutely lovely and all required equipment is provided.

My only suggestion for players is not to attempt to go for a high-score time on the leaderboard; instead, savour the experience and the beauty of the scenery and wildlife around you. Even though it's a 2 hour game, we simply didn't want it to end.

Played: 28 Dec 2023 Team size: 5 Time taken: 60:00
originalfunnyfamily friendly
Nothing much to add that hasn't already been said about this game; It's fabulous, fun, surprising, joyful, silly, and quite unlike any other escape room. Joel is a great host (and puppeteer, and musician) and will gently guide you through the game, as well as show you a fascinating behind-the-scenes look afterwards. Definitely recommended.
Played: 5 Jul 2023 Team size: 4 Time taken: 44:00
story-drivenfamily friendlyeducational
This game was originally developed by History Mystery, and it reflects their heritage and experience in developing educational and informative games set in historic locations, with (somewhat) authentic use of tools and equipment, rather than a world of fake-believe magical potions. It is now run by a social co-operative called Shoebox which, in itself, is also an interesting real-world link.This is a unique game set in a genuine medieval hidden tunnel under the castle mound, and you use a range of archaeological tools - it will be an absolute joy for history buffs, but it does have a few niggly dexterity puzzles that might be frustrating and the game is pretty linear. So, judge it as a unique historical experience, with some gamified aspects, rather than strictly a game and you'll find it more enjoyable.
Played: 22 Feb 2024 Team size: 5 Time taken: 00:40
beautifulfamily friendlymagicalquite easy
We played Age Of Magic immediately after playing Ram Raid at the same Escape Reading venue, and the two games could not be more of a contrast of yin and yang! AoM could nearly be considered more of an experience or interactive art installation than a traditional escape room game. It is an ethereal, calm, mystical, fairytale journey. Yes, there are still puzzles, beautiful lighting effects, and a storyline to follow, but there is little tension or urgency - it is more of a voyage of sensory discovery.
Whether this style of game is to your tastes or not is a personal matter - of our family, half preferred Age of Magic, whereas half preferred Ram Raid. They both have exceptional build quality, attention to detail, a good variety of puzzles, some surprises, and excellent hosting. My one criticism is that some areas of the room were a little dimly-lit, which could cause issues for players. We let the kids solve those puzzles - I don't know if there was another workaround available.
Played: 22 Feb 2024 Team size: 5 Time taken: 00:40
great hostingfamily friendlyintense
Ram Raid is a thrilling, rewarding, surprising, and immensely fun game; basically all the things you want from an escape room, wrapped together in a tight package and delivered with expert hosting, which made this an absolute joy to play.

There's loads of attention to detail in the construction of some impressive set pieces, as well as many more subtle details - things like the dynamic music soundtrack and the thematic scoring and timekeeping system. There's lots of clever tech but it's so well-integrated and worked flawlessly that it was only in the post-game walk-through (which are always appreciated) that our excellent GM Thom pointed them out to us. There's lots to do, varied puzzles and, on the few occasions that our team needed a little guidance, he was very responsive to help.

Our family team of 2 adults and 3 kids, aged 10, 12 and 16 played this on a rainy, grey day in Reading and we left buzzing with smiles all round (and a million quid). What more could you ask for?
Played: 29 Aug 2023 Team size: 4 Time taken: 00:49:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
immersivefamily friendly

Really enjoyed this room with my 12yr old son and his friends. Lots of content, covering pretty much everything you could possibly imagine in an Egyptian tomb-raiding adventure, and kept all our team pretty much non-stop busy for the whole hour. 

There's a fair amount of tech, which is all integrated well and provides a clear purpose - it never feels like they've just added tech for the sake of it (and, it all worked well!). There's no single "wow" center piece, but rather a series of solid, satisfying set pieces that accompany story beats which mark progression though different areas of the game.

Theming is good - lots of large scale statues, walls adorned with hieroglyphs, and some archaelogical tools that need to be used. The puzzles are mostly searching, object association, combination, and usage - there is very little text, and no tedious "hieroglyphic" codes to be deciphered.

There are no TV monitors in the room - the game timer and clue system is handled via an iPad which can be carried around with you. We made use of a few clue requests, which were very quick to be replied and quickly put us back on the right track. 

I wouldn't say it was ever scary, but there are a few moments that my team shrieked (with surprise, or excitement). And I guess (what with this being set in a tomb in which an ancient king was buried), there could be some content that might put off the incredibly squemish. But otherwise, totally family-friendly.

Definitely recommended.

Played: 5 Aug 2023 Team size: 5 Time taken: 00:30:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
illogicaloverpricedred herrings

*SPOILERS FOLLOW* (although, tbh, it's hard to imagine how they could possibly make this room worse than it already is)

I'm normally hesitant to play escape rooms that are "bolt-ons" to other experiences, but decided to give this game at the Bear Gryll's adventure near Birmingham a try, as I thought that, even though the puzzles might not be the most innovative or original, at least there would perhaps be an element of exciting physical exploration or adventure. Oh God, I wish I hadn't bothered.

Thinking through the game afterwards, I think there are actually only 4 puzzles that you need to complete, in order, on the critical path from first entering the room to escaping. Absolutely everything else in the room is a red herring (either intentionally or leftover from a puzzle that is no longer used).
You know what's worse than having to solve a Sudoku in an escape room? Solving a Sudoku only to find you didn't even have to. Those three bits of paper with cryptic riddles about eyes on them? Not used. The runes on the floor and provided translation guide? Left over from a previous version of the room (as our guide informed us afterwards). The circled words on the book pages? Meaningless. The telegram pinned to the wall describing the last known location on the map, for which you find the grid coordinates opposite? Just for decoration.

A complete waste of £150 and half an hour of my life.

Played: 20 May 2023 Team size: 4 Time taken: 00:54

This is everything an escape room should be: from the moment the GM starts the briefing to the second you escape through the final door, you're transported back into WWII-era London. The puzzles are totally in-theme, they're interesting and varied, and give you a sense of satisfaction when solved. The story is exciting, and accentuated by clever use of ambient sound effects and props.

Special mention needs to be made to the beautiful "analog" lock mechanisms, which can only be described as high-tech in the most low-tech way possible. There's no anachronistic 4 digit keypads in this 1940s set - just beautiful, tactile, chunky locks that make this game feel like a consistent, complete package. What a delight.

Played: 3 Jun 2023 Team size: 5 Time taken: 00:52 Outcome: Successful escape!
family friendlyillogical

The individual puzzles were fine - nothing exceptional, but a fair variety and seemed solid enough. Unfortunately, the overall flow of the game was a mess. We ended up accidentally jumping over a puzzle early on and, from that moment onwards, everything kind of fell apart... On two separate occasions, we ended up solving electronic puzzles that made something happen in a room that we didn't yet have access to. We spent about 20 minutes following a series of puzzles that resulted in nothing more than an item that would have been the "intended" way to solve a puzzle that we had already solved via another method ages ago. And, due to an unfortunate GM oversight, when we entered the final area, the "big reveal" was, well, already in plain sight. They then tried to correct this error by remotely "unrevealing" the prize item again in front of us, and this made us even more confused as to what was going on.

We escaped, but our overall feeling at the end was one of confusion rather than success, and unfortunately can't really recommend this game based on our experience.

Time taken: 00:00:03

This is not an escape room in a box. It's barely a cryptex. It's a stack of 6 laser cut dials that you spin to a really obvious letter combination and the whole thing falls apart. 

Played: 17 Nov 2022 Team size: 2 Time taken: 1:30:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
A good mix of puzzles and codes, high-quality graphic design and a variety of (paper-based) components, enough narrative to provide an engaging story (but not so much as to make for boring reading) and, at about 90mins, it was just the right length to comfortably fit in a single evening's playthrough without overstaying its welcome. Recommended.
Played: 9 Oct 2022 Team size: 5 Time taken: 5:00:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
immersivestory-drivenfamily friendly

Brilliant, story-driven, character-interaction-led immersive theatre in a rich world full of lore. It's not an escape room and there are no puzzles to solve, just stories to discover and side-quests to complete.

Only criticism is that the experience is led by a mobile app (which, to be fair, worked flawlessly), which necessarily removes you slightly from the otherwise incredibly immersive world. But that's a minor downside, and I can't think of another way it could be facilitated.

Played: 9 Jan 2022 Team size: 8 Time taken: 00:45:44
story-drivenfamily friendlyunique
Situated in an (unheated!) medieval church in rural Norfolk, the Queenmaker must be one of the most unusual premises for an escape room, both in terms of its venue and its narrative. The gameplay starts off relatively slowly, and feels a little bit like a "pop-up" room - with fairly plain physical props scattered around the church, and flow controlled by the GM as you progress through chapters of the story. However, things get more intense towards the end, and the sheer novelty of the location makes up for some shortcomings in what are otherwise fairly basic puzzles.
Played: 3 Sep 2022 Team size: 5 Time taken: 00:41:04
originalgreat hostingfamily friendly

A casino-themed room containing everything you'd expect from the Las Vegas strip - poker chips, roulette, cards, criminals, and fruit machines. Good mix of "classic" ER puzzles and some more modern tech. The gameplay is fairly linear and the space is not huge, so I'd say that this room is best enjoyed with a team of 4 players or fewer so you don't get bottlenecked (we played as a family with 2 adults and 3 kids, which was perfect) - at least one player will need to demonstrate some agility too....

If I was being critical, I would argue that a few of the puzzles were a little anatopic or generic, but they were all logical, the tech all worked flawlessly, and there are some nice twists before everything comes together at the end. Also must mention fantastic hosting from Andy, who gave us just the nudge we needed at the right time to unstick us (and I immediately kicked myself for not seeing the solution to the puzzle), and happily talked us through the components of the room and answered any questions afterwards. Overall, a very satisfying room.

Played: 9 Aug 2022 Team size: 6 Time taken: 00:50
hi-techcleverfamily friendly

Plenty to do, some "hi-tech" puzzles, nice use of A/V, and a slightly corny story that ties it all together in a space theme. Another great room to add to the Locked In Edinburgh stable.

Played: 6 Oct 2021 Team size: 4 Time taken: 2:00:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
family friendly

The game starts off well, with a series of fairly simple but still satisfying puzzles, and we made quick progress through the first half of the game. I'm a sucker for laser-cut wooden puzzles, and there's some nice artefacts to handle and play with here (although the actual mechanic for which they're used is a little bit mundane), as well as another well-presented object. However, while the physical props are nice, the paper-based clues are just printed on value yellow paper, and in a "Comic Sans"-esque font...

The game took a distinct downhill turn at the meta puzzle stage towards the end, which just had too many unclued elements that could be combined in different ways, and just ended up with us spending half an hour or so guessing random combinations, completely destroying any flow that had built up. There was also some very dodgy text that could have done with some proof-checking/editing. There is a provided hint sheet, but it's tediously encoded, which added further frustration because it takes another couple of minutes to decode each hint, often only to tell us something we had already done (much like some real-life escape room games then!).

So, unfortunately, we left with a slightly sour taste and somewhat of a sense of relief that it was over rather than a jubliant celebration, which is a shame because with a bit more tweaking, this could have been really good.

Played: 6 Oct 2021 Team size: 4 Time taken: 00:40:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

Nuclear Countdown is the oldest of the escape rooms at CluedUp's Norwich location, and we played it having already enjoyed the others. It's fair to say that it's perhaps not as impressive as their other rooms; it takes place in a single, medium-sized room, and the decor is functional, but fairly plain. There is a section of the game that must be navigated by flashlight, but fortunately this does not continue for the whole game. The locks are mostly numeric, alpha, or directional combo locks, and the puzzles are fairly code and cipher-heavy. There's no Hollywood-style flashy moments.

That said, even though it might not have been considered state-of-the-art or stand out "wow!", there is still plenty to commend about this game:

- although there was only limited tech involved, what tech there was all worked flawlessly.

- the puzzles themselves were solid, and in-keeping with the theme: chemical formulas, locations of missile sites, access codes, that sort of thing. There was not a single puzzle that we felt was unfair, misleading, or out-of-place.

- Our GM was attentive and gave just the right level of nudge when needed

- There was some suitable background ambience music track which helped set the mood

- The room, lobby area, and entire building were well-sanitised, there was fresh air and hand sanitiser available throughout, and staff wore masks (as did we in those areas, but we removed them in the room itself)

So, all in all, still a very solid room, but if you only play one room in this location I'd probably recommend trying their Bank Heist or Prison Breakout rooms first.

Played: 23/07/21 Team size: 3 Time taken: 01:00:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
Played: 12 Sep 2021 Team size: 3 Time taken: 01:20:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

This game is so unlike any other "escape room" I have ever played, it feels almost impossible to describe: it's somewhere between the T.V. shows "Knightmare" and "Fingermouse", but with songs from a camp rock opera, and puzzles from the Legend of Zelda. With puppets. On Acid.

If you like any of....:

Puppets, Improvised comedy, Computer adventure games, , Musicals, Puzzles, Quirky Edinburgh Festival shows, Model-making, Silly songs, Fingermouse / Doodle Do / Zig and Zag , Bad jokes, Lumino City, The Little Shop of Horrors, Surreal trippy children's TV of the 1970s, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Live theatre, just sheer bloody-brilliant-I-can't-believe-some-folks-just-made-this-game-in-their-spare-bedroom-and-now-act-it-out-as-a-90-min-show-four-times-a-day...

...then just stop reading this now and book yourself in.

Played: 4 Aug 2021 Team size: 10 Time taken: 01:00:00
family friendlyoutdoors

Among the many different models of "play-at-home" ER game that have emerged in the last year, the Pursuit of Red Beard's Treasure is the only one we've played that is a large-scale physical game delivered to your door (assuming you live in, or near Norfolk).

The hosts arrive at the location you choose (we played it in our garden, but I guess you could book them for any public location), and set up a very large pirate's chest and various other physical items, (all housed under a marquee in case of bad weather). They also stay on-site to act as gamesmasters/hint givers if required as you play, but otherwise stayed out of the way and let you get on with it. We played on a beautiful sunny day with two large families - four adults, six children aged between 8-15yrs old (and a dog!), and it was perfect for that sort of group - everyone could find something to do - and it was a novelty to be able to spread out outdoors while we played. The hosts were lovely, and stayed for a good chat afterwards and let you ask any questions about the game etc.

The puzzles are exactly what you'd expect from a pirate game - treasure maps, skull and crossbones, looking glasses, curses and sea monsters etc. And because this is an at-home game delivered in-person rather than through the post, there's some chunky artifacts and physical props to examine rather than just paper photocopies. It's basically comparable to many escape rooms, but they bring it to your house. There's no electronics, but there's still some satisfying purely mechanical tech as you interact with the chest and the items it contains. There wasn't any single particular item or puzzle that stood out as exceptional, but everything was solid and flowed together well, and all fitted well in the theme and narrative.

There was plenty of content, all of it family-friendly, and I think this would make an absolutely great activity for birthday parties or other family get-togethers where you want some entertainment that's a little bit out-of-the-ordinary, and where you want to accommodate 10+ players in a single game. Recommended.

Played: 5 Sep 2021 Team size: 1 Time taken: 01:40:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

I'd heard good things about the in-person version of this game but, if that's the case, I can only conclude that sadly it does not transition well to being online, because this was just confusing and frustrating...  felt a bit like a point-and-click adventure that had been made during a 12hr game jam - the potential was there, but the user interface was awful, large parts felt unfinished (hotspots didn't work, graphics were low resolution and you could clearly see the camera in reflections in objects in the game etc.) and ultimately it just wasn't fun to play.

Played: 3/4/2021 Team size: 4 Time taken: 60:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
Played: 21/9/2021 Team size: 5 Time taken: 01:00:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
illogicalbroken techoverpriced

Played this game for my Dr Who-obsessed youngest son's birthday, and the only good thing I can say is that at least he had a good time. And, if you like Daleks, you *might* too. But not if you like escape rooms.

Almost all the puzzles are fundamentally broken - in one puzzle, the GM had to repeatedly ask *us* over the monitor system whether *we* had inserted the tubes in the correct order - as if they were asking us for a hint whether to press the button to activate the next section of the game or not. There are objects with designs that match other elements in the room, but apparently are only for "decorative effect". There are other elements of puzzles that apparently are only relevant if you play with a certain number of players,  but they don't deactivate them if your team is of a different size, so there's no way to know whether they're used or not. Another puzzle has you "interacting" with an A.I. by literally asking it a series of about 20 arbitrary yes/no questions (waiting for about 5 seconds after each one to get a response). What a waste of an hour.

Played: 22 May 2021 Team size: 1 Time taken: 25:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

The Quest Pyramid is a laser-cut puzzlebox, resembling a great Egyptian pyramid. Despite only being slightly physically larger than a Cluebox, it is significantly heavier and somehow feels more imposing - more like a small tabletop game than a handheld game.

Completing the pyramid requires a sequential series of steps to be performed based on puzzles contained on all sides of the pyramid. No language or previous knowledge is required - and puzzles require mere observation, association, and mechanical interaction.  I liked the thematic interpretation, but I failed to be gripped by the puzzles themselves - they were a little bit too simplistic, and unfortunately there simply wasn't enough content to make this stand as a full game in its own right - it's more of an intriguing tabletop curiosity.

Played: 1 Feb 2021 Team size: 1 Time taken: 45:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
beautifulvalue for moneyclever

The second Cluebox from IDventure is similar in form and style to the original, but with a new set of challenges that not only take place on the visible, exterior sides of the cube, but on its interior after disassembly as well.

As before, this is a charming item to hold and interact with, and retains a lot of character despite its mass-produced lasercut material. There's a range of language-free puzzles to solve, and satisfying simple mechanical interactions. My one criticism is in the bastardisation of a well-known cipher - which is both anachronistic to the story of a 18th century pirate, and also reassigns meaning to each of the symbols, which is unnecessarily confusing.

Still, there are relatively few other puzzleboxes in this price bracket, and it remains an excellent and novel choice for an at-home game.

Played: 29 Dec 2019 Team size: 1 Time taken: 40:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
value for moneyoriginalclever

Cluebox is the first of the current generation of mass-produced lasercut puzzleboxes, and it sets the standards by which all future games of this style should be judged. It's affordable,  charming, satisying to hold and interact with, and not difficult (it's language-free, and almost exclusively depends only on observation and pattern-matching, with gentle manipulation of the various sliders contained on each side of the box). It doesn't last long, but it's worth every penny.

Played: 20 Jun 2021 Team size: 5 Time taken: 2:00:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

Not quite as good as Witchery Spell, but this still goes down as one of the top-5 standalone boxed puzzle games we've played. Great mix of puzzles, including some lovely "magic" set pieces, wrapped in a (surprisingly edgy, considering recent world events) engaging narrative. Only slight let-downs were a few minor QA issues (typos etc.), and a tiny bit of confusion in the gameflow towards the end, where we seemed to get lost as to what the active chain of puzzles should have been. Nonetheless, very, very good, and plenty to keep a group of adults entertained for a couple of hours.

Played: 17 Jun 2021 Team size: 4 Time taken: 33:00
great hostingfamily friendly

Another really enjoyable, solid game from CluedUp. No fancy tech, no surprises, and no absolute "Wow!" moments, but just a really solid set of well-structured, satisfying puzzles.

GM was very attentive, and there was a nice bit of in-character scene-setting as the prison guard before we began our stay in HMP Norfolk. From there, the gameflow to achieve our escape was pretty flawless - and everything just *worked the way it should*....  I know that seems like an obvious thing to say, but I'm sure we've all had experiences that have been slightly soured by things that shouldn't have happened, and there was none of that here at all: No broken tech, no sticky directional locks, no need to arbitrarily spin the final digit of a lock, no faded UV ink, no "Well how the heck were we meant to work that out?!" moments. Just a satisfying continuous flow, and the padlocks fell to the floor with reassuring regaularity - we never felt lost, or stuck, or "cheated" by the game.

There was a slight anticlimax at the end, as we hadn't realised we'd solved the final puzzle (there were two puzzles still remaining in the room, but it turns out these were optional), but overally definitely recommended.

Played: 19 Jan 2021 Team size: 4 Time taken: 3:00:00
value for moneyfamily friendlyepic
Played: 19 May 2021 Team size: 5 Time taken: 00:59:26
originalstory-drivenfamily friendly

I admit it's hard to write an objective review right now, because it's hard to know how much enjoyment is due to just being able to play a real-life escape room for the first time in over a year, but this was just an absolute joy to play.

Well-structured, lots to do, and with a nice scoring system that meant that you don't just "escape" or "not" - rather you decide how much risk you're going to take by stealing as many valuables as you can from the bank vault, right up to the last minute before making your escape (we *just* got out with seconds to spare, but with a perfect score :) ). We played as a family with two adults and three kids (8yrs, 10yrs, and 13yrs), and there was something for everyone to do.

Attentive gamesmaster was on-hand to deliver hints if necessary, but doing so incurs him taking a cut of your earnings and therefore affecting your post-game score, which is a nice risk-reward mechanic. The theming for a "bank" scenario is not particularly tricky, but it was done nicely and utilised a range of suitable props and knowledge that you might expect to find.

The whole experience felt well-managed, very Covid-safe (hand sanitiser inside and outside the room, masks worn (although that actually helped with the "bank robber" theme...), some props placed in additional plastic wrapping), and was just an hour of thrilling puzzle-solving fun.

If I had to be critical, I'd say that the gameflow was fairly linear, so if you *did* get stuck on a puzzle, you might find it hard to proceed - but then, that's what the hint system is for.


Played: 3 May 2021 Team size: 3 Time taken: 2:00:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
family friendlybroken techunoriginal

The Balthazar Stone is nearly a great game, but unfortunately it gets lets down by a series of minor niggles in nearly every aspect so it's hard not to leave feeling frustrated, both as a player and on behalf of the creators that they didn't deliver the potential that the game clearly has.

Let's start with the good: the game centres around a physical box. Even though it's laser-cut plywood, it's a good size and weight and and it's beautifully-decorated. It feels interesting and satisfying to interact with. As you play through the game, you'll find various smaller artefacts - all above average quality, that would make nice souvenir pieces if you're the sort of person to display trophies of your game conquests, say. The puzzles are relatively solid, and there's an online hint system if you get stuck. The game is totally non-destructive, and there's also an excellently-clear guide as to how to reset the game and pass it on to someone else.


- There's a lack of clear signposting at one point near the start, which led us to spend 10 minutes trying to solve a puzzle without yet having been given all the materials required to do so. We then eventually decided to give up and consult the hints site, only to discover that the first online "clue" you can reveal is actually required to proceed in the game!

- One of the puzzles is either broken, or contains red herrings - it's a bit hard to say. But it certainly made us waste time solving things that turned out to have no relevance to the game.

- A part of the game requires internet access, but it's very thin webpage content, and does not make nearly as good use of the medium compared to similar games from Society of Curiosities or The Detective Society. The simplistic presentation of the online components also does not match the quality of the physical presentation of the box itself.

- Even though the story and puzzles were generally well-executed, there was nothing we hadn't seen before, and everything very much sticks to the standards expected of a "haunted pirate box"-esque game. That's not a huge problem, but don't expect any surprises.

- But the biggest problem: the final puzzle has a catastrophic mechanical failure, which led to us reaching the end of the game after only solving about half of the puzzles. Frustratingly, it seems that this was known about and has been reported by several  reviewers who received early copies of the game (who were then sent replacement fixed boxes), but KS orders were still sent out using the defective boxes, and despite contacting the company I've not been offered a replacement.

It's such a shame, as this could have been one of the top at-home games, but instead we left with a sour taste. I'm awaiting delivery of the next two in the series, and am hopeful the designers will learn from their mistakes... fingers crossed!

Played: 26/3/2021 Team size: 4 Time taken: 00:56:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

Virtual X-Caper is a silly, joyous, family-friendly spy-themed romp of an escape room that's hard not to love.

The set is somewhat basic (it is, after all, being delivered during lockdown in, what I assume, might be the GM's own flat), the puzzles are solid but relatively standard, and the storyline is your typical fare....

...but where it absolutely shines is the delivery: our host/avatar was a superb performer - both in their physical performance (such as when we instructed them to touch an "electrified" circuit...) and their witty dialogue and responses, which were clearly off-the-cuff and pitched perfectly for our group of players. The game also features plenty of nice "Easter Eggs", such as the unlockable achievements to find, lots of in-jokes, and it just made us smile for a full hour.

Played: 16/01/2021 Team size: 4 Time taken: 01:00:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

This is a well-produced digital escape room, of the point-n-click variety, with some accompanying PDF printout materials. The tech worked well - we played witha remote team over Zoom - although the multiplayer experience is not completely seamless: one connection is assigned as the "lead player", and while additional players can join as "companions" to the same game session (which means they share the same game state, and can mostly view the same puzzles), there are certain interactions and puzzles that can only be solved by the lead player. As a result,  we ended up screen-sharing the lead player's view anyway, so that everyone felt more equal members of a team.

The puzzles themselves use a nice variety of common escape room mechanics and some light papercraft, and they mostly flow well, although there were a handful of occassions when we solved puzzles apparently out-of-order (since we later discovered items related to those puzzles which we didn't make use of) . But they provided a good hour or so of entertainment, for a very reasonable price. Sections of the game are narrated, and the voice-acting is good.

My biggest complaint is that, while the storyline and puzzles were solid enough, the game itself didn't feel like it had much character.... we didn't ever really feel engaged, or experience strong emotion as we had with other games - it wasn't scary, nor funny - it was just... fine. And for only $10, that's still not bad.

Played: 07/01/2021 Team size: 2 Time taken: 01:15 Outcome: Successful escape!

Episode 5 continues the high quality of The Detective Society series, and I was relieved to find that it disn't contain quite the same degree of slightly tortuous arithmetic puzzles from the last episode! Instead, there's some nice audio/spatial puzzles, the usual website searching, logical deduction, and a virtual treasure hunt runaround finale. 

Really enjoyable, lovely flow throughout - though there was one puzzle that could require a little outside research if you're not familiar with the basics of genetic inheritance. We completed it in a shorter time than average - I don't know if this was because we're becoming more attuned to the creator's style of puzzle, or whether there was actually slightly less content in this episode but, either way, it didn't affect our enjoyment - I'd much rather a well-rounded experience that lasted just over an hour than one that is filled with extra fluff just to pad it out, and we didn't find any fluff in this game.

Played: 30/12/2020 Team size: 4 Time taken: 1:00:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

This is a sweet, Christmas family game - a story told through a series of narrated comic art panels, interspersed with occasional puzzles.

The general presentation, and especially the delivery and quality of audio is excellent - which is good because, compared to some other at-home games, it's relatively light on interaction - you'll find yourself sitting back and watching (and listening to) significant portions of the story unfold withouth much involvement.  I'd consider the experience to be somewhat more like watching a Christmas pantomime or play rather than a highly-involved puzzle game.... and, when you do come across a puzzle, there's nothing that will ever cause you to break out much of a mental sweat.

We played with our youngest kids (both aged under 9), and they engaged with the puzzles and the story, but I think an adults-only group might find it a little simplistic.

Also, the creators deserve recognition for the game's positive representation of minority groups and characters with disabilities, which is excellent.

Played: 26/12/2020 Team size: 8 Time taken: 2:15:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

As an inclusive, acccessible family Christmas puzzle experience, The Charm of Christmas Past has a lot to commend it:

  • It is beautifully presented, printed on thick linen card, and contains a variety of interesting trinkets and possessions.
  • It tells a gentle sentimental story which would appeal equally to playing with young children as with your nan.
  • The flow of the game is well-designed, being subdivided into several chapters that provide convenient stopping points and, within each chapter, there are multiple puzzles that can be solved simultaneously.
We played it as a mixed group of eight, split over multiple locations via Zoom (with a physical copy of the game in each location) and, as a Covid-secure replacement activity for a Christmas Day afternoon when we would have normally played a boardgame together, it did the job admirably - everyone could find something of interest (at least at first) to become engaged in, and it prompted some conversations and reminisces of Christmases past between the older members of the team.

However, judging it strictly as a premium at-home puzzle experience, we often felt that the mechanics of the puzzles didn't quite live up to the shine of their presentation.... there were some ambiguities in interpretation of correct answers, a couple of occassions where the solutions weren't quite as elegant as they could have been, a few mistakes (one of which was puzzle-breaking), and an online answer-checker that was too rigid in terms of the exact format in which it required answers to be entered etc. - all individually fairly minor shortcomings, but it meant that ultimately the experience was not as memorable or satisfying as it could have been. And, while the underlying puzzles were solid enough, there wasn't really anything truly memorably or original that a keen puzzle player would not have encountered before.

So, a good family experience, but if you just want puzzles, I'd say there are better, cheaper alternatives available.
Played: 19/12/2020 Team size: 2 Time taken: 2:00:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

We felt this was a little bit of a dip compared to the previous two games (which were really excellent) - this episode depended rather too heavily on having to perform quite a lot of maths calculations (think fractions and percentages of sets of data). Any ER where you decide halfway through to set up an Excel spreadsheet has to give a little cause for concern....! that said, the tasks were at least completely in-context for the story, and the excellent design and tongue-in-cheek humour in all the content was still very much in force.

Played: 14/11/2020 Team size: 1 Time taken: 01:30:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

The third book from the author of Journal 29 brings more of what we've come to expect from any recent puzzle book:- a somewhat vague storyline that gives an excuse to present backwards writing, a few mazes, spot-the-difference, shape and logic puzzles, reading numbers as text.... each of which resolves to a single word solution. Type that solution into a website and you get another word back, which might be used as the basis for a later puzzle. So, if you like that sort of thing, great. The puzzles are mostly fine, but for me I have to admit they're getting a bit tired now, and I never felt wowed by any of the content (and there was at least one puzzle that, despite having got the answer correct, I cannot see how it was meant to be clued). If you've played J29/J29R/Trip1907/Codex Engimatum you will have definitely encountered many of these puzzles before.

To give The Cypher Files credit, it does have a decent attempt at providing a narrative to tie the puzzles together. *But* the vast majority of the exposition takes place on the website in which you enter the answers rather than in the book itself.

And that brings me onto my biggest gripe: which is that you cannot enjoy this as a standalone book. You *need* to have constant internet connection to be able to verify answers and progress in the story. Indeed, many of the puzzles themselves require you to access an internet resource (such as a 360' photo) to find an answer word. So I can't enjoy reading it in the bath, on holiday in a remote cottage, or just when you want to do some puzzles that don't require screen time, say. Yet, at the same time, it feels like many of the puzzles have been limited to try to fit into the paperback medium, which is why they are often restricted to fairly generic paper-and-pen puzzle mechanics.

I feel that if the author wanted to make a puzzle *book*, they should exploit the benefits of the book format - make it standalone, portable, and use paper-and-pen puzzles (though you can still make use of the fact that the player can scribble notes, tear pages, see through from one page to the facing page, whatever).

Or, if they wanted to make an online puzzle game, go nuts and exploit the full range of puzzle types that opens up, in the way that some recent ARGs like Society or Curiosities or The Detective Society have.

But this feels like a compromise that fails to deliver the benefits of its paper medium, nor the opportunities of it being inextricably dependent on the internet.

Played: 31/10/2020 Team size: 5 Time taken: 1:30:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

Played this game with the family as a Halloween treat to make up for the fact that we couldn't go trick-or-treating, and we all really enjoyed it (despite the slightly spooky-sounding title, the game is really no more scary than a Scooby Doo episode, and uses similar tropes surrounding circuses).

It was good value, fun, purely online, not too long or difficult, and used a variety of different digital sleuthing techniques.

However, what really elevates this from merely a "good" game to an "outstanding" game is the conversational interaction you have with an in-game character. I don't know exactly what tech Society of Curiosities use to facilitate this - whether it's a mixture of automated chatbot and real, manually-entered human responses - but it's seamless, responsive, and completely natural. The character serves as your in-game guide, narrator, hint system but also provides memorable, laugh-out-loud funny responses. For UK players, this was handled through a WhatsApp-style web interface (which also simulated voice-calling), and it worked completely flawlessly and totally made the game for us.

Played: 29/10/2020 Team size: 2 Time taken: 2:00:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

With this third game in the series, it seems that The Detective Society is settling into its own distinctive style: engaging storylines,  some very British humour, excellent design and *lots* of detailed content scattered across digital and physical components, offering plenty of Easter Eggs for those more curious to explore. As in the previous episode, the "puzzles" are completely in-keeping with the storyline, and never feel like they've been shoe-horned in to pad a game - they feel like problems that need to be solved - and are satisfying when done. The tech worked flawlesssly once again, making this one of the best subscription box games I've played to date.

Played: 29/9/2020 Team size: 1 Time taken: 00:15 Outcome: Successful escape!

This is a promotional mini-game to accompany the Enola Holmes film recently released on Netflix. However, whereas the film was an enjoyable romp that successfully brought fresh ideas to the traditional "Holmes-ian" Victorian detective genre, this game sadly fails to bring the same innovation to its puzzles.

It comes as 16 sides of well-presented, full-colour A4 PDF, but the puzzles are simplistic (mirror-writing, dot-to-dot pictures, basic maths riddles) and the thematic tie-ins are predictable (a map of London, an old newspaper, a set of books...) - the result feels more like a children's activity book than an escape room. But, it's free, so it's good to pass the time during a lunch break, or maybe occupy the kids for a while on a rainy day, but doesn't particularly inspire me to try Escape Hunt's other play-at-home games.

Played: 22/09/2020 Team size: 2 Time taken: 01:15:00 Outcome: Successful escape!
Our experience of the first part of the Detective Society was a bit underwhelming, and I was a little apprehensive before playing this second part of the ongoing case of Claire Makova. However, this time the game really shined - delivering a much tighter, well-balanced experience, a touch of humour, and a good range of well-executed, enjoyable "puzzles".

I say "puzzles", although perhaps "activities" or "tasks" might be a better description, since they are completely diegetic and embedded into the context of a detective investigation:- there's no crosswords, arbitrary lining up transparent overlays to reveal a 4-digit code, or brainteasers set by a puzzle-crazed madman (because, why?). Instead you'll be required to employ "real" sleuthing skills - hacking phone records, checking out CCTV, tweets, and websites, and communicating with various in-game characters via SMS/email/WhatsApp to glean information that will help develop the narrative. It's fairly tech-dependent, but all the resources worked perfectly.

As this is part of an ongoing narrative, I was a little worried that I would have to remember details of the previous installment, but this isn't really a problem - there's a short recap of the relevant facts included in the briefing letter, and beyond that the game is largely self-contained.

There's no artificial "Only open this envelope when instructed" gating either - all the physical components you need to play the game fall out of the box in one big bundle, and it's your job to sort through and make sense of them. Fortunately, the signposting is excellent - there's just enough indicators to guide you into making the correct associations between the components, and the flow was absolutely smooth - every time we thought "I wonder if we have to...?" we were rewarded with success, which felt natural and rewarding, creating a completely engaging experience.

Even though the majority of content is paper- or web- based, we weren't ever bored by having to do too much reading... the text is pretty much all relevant to the case, the writing is high quality, and includes some genuinely funny moments. There's also a handful of photographs, brochures, a few physical items - all very well-designed. Note that you will need access to a *PC* (not just a mobile or tablet) and internet connection to play the game. There is also an expectation that you will have access to certain well-known PC software, but it's fairly easy to find a suitable free web-based alternative online.

We played as a couple with a bottle of wine, which I found is the optimum setup for many of these games, but I'd say that a group of up to 4 people (and 2 bottles of wine) could work on this together. It's not too hard and would be a perfectly good after-dinner game for a group, even for relatively newbies to puzzle games. Strongly recommended, and I'm really hoping that Episode 3 continues the upwards trajectory!

Played: 7/9/2020 Team size: 4 Time taken: 5:30:00 Outcome: Successful escape!

We have greatly enjoyed the previous two "Oldervik" play-at-home games, and this third entry in the series continues to impress. As before, the game combines a handful of print-at-home paper elements (around 6 A4 sheets) with digital online elements accessed via QR code or weblinks. We played in a team of 4 over Zoom, with each of us having printed our own copies of the paper sheets, and also screen-sharing as appropriate.
On Course for Kantawe is the most ambitious of the series yet, and extends the existing mechanics from the previous games in almost every way  - in terms of the sheer scale (yes, it really does take nearly 6 hours to complete!), the gameplay mechanics (including the concept of "keyphrases" which you'll have to discover in order to tease information out of conversations with various NPCs), the clever puzzles making use of novel elements of the print and digital media, including papercraft activities and clever web interactions, and just the overall polish and finishing touches (e.g. the sound effects and voiceovers of key characters). The story is engaging and there's enough background of the characters to be interesting, while not so much to bore you.
One puzzle was a bit tedious, but the hint system is elegant and effective - and you always have the option to jump straight to the answer if you want to skip any puzzles. If I had to criticise it, I'd say that it could perhaps have been thinned out a little, or perhaps split into two chapters - we were mentally exhausted at the end of it! (There are natural stopping points where you're prompted if you'd like to take a break) But, otherwise, in terms of a quality game at very good value for money, this is pretty hard to fault.

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