Gravesend, Nov 2018
If you’ve heard anything at all about Revolución Olé, you’ll probably be aware that it’s a highly unusual sort of escape room with a unique game style. Exactly how it works was clearly explained to us twice, first by our host – who even switched from his in-character Russian accent to more familiar British tones to make sure we understood properly – and then again in an intro video. Still, I’ve heard players saying that they hadn’t quite got the idea until partway through their game. I’ll outline how it works here, so stop reading if you’d rather not know – although this is very far from spoiler territory, and in fact understanding how it works before you start is pretty essential to enjoying the experience.
The setting is a fictional banana republic (which just happens to share a flag with Cuba, though I’m sure no slight upon that country is intended), where your revolutionary group has just ousted the corrupt president. Your job is to make a series of policy decisions to bring five influential individuals over to your side, and thereby secure your position before your fledgling government is crushed. To do so, for each decision, you must work out what opinion whether each of those five people is pro or anti towards the potential policy, and then declare yourself for or against it. Each decision will bring some of the five closer to supporting you and alienate others, depending on whether you picked the option that matches their views or not. While I suppose civic-minded players could choose policies aimed at furthering the prosperity of the country, the intention is that you decide purely based on what will gain you most support.
Most of the game therefore consists of gathering information about the stated opinions of these five national leaders. While there’s plenty to solve in the normal escape room style, the payoff of solving a puzzle tends to be some clue about what one or more of them think about such-and-such. The designers could have gone down a more traditional puzzle route with, for instance, logic conundrums to work this out; instead they’ve mostly gone for providing information in a more naturalistic style, meaning there’s quite a bit of reading through documents and printouts to scour out the information you need.
That could have made Revolución Olé a rather dry exercise in gradual information gathering. But the truly distinctive feature of the gameplay is that you don’t have the leisure of waiting until the end to make your decisions. Each policy question comes one after another with only a few minutes available to you to decide, and depending on what you’ve solved you may or may not have all the information you need. You may have to make a guess based on partial information; or you may unlock something too late, and find that it helps you with a decision you’ve already made. With your first decision due only precious minutes after the game begins, the pressure is immediate and keeps up right to the end.
As an escape room, I thought the content was overly centred on simple information gathering (despite a clear attempt to mix it up with more variety), had a couple of weaker, confusing puzzles, and somewhat overused a particular contraption. Nonetheless, as an experience I loved it anyhow, and had a great time. The originality, the non-stop time pressure and the entertaining cynicism of the premise kept me entertained from start to finish. However, my team did well at it and managed to answer each policy question with the certainty we were making the correct (most popular) choice – sometimes getting that information only a minute or so ahead of the moment when we needed it. That means my experience was of the game working near-optimally. (One minor downside was that we hit the win condition before we’d finished solving everything in the room, though our host let us continue to completion).
Our other group had a different experience, getting a little behind and then struggling to catch up; and although the game’s design does a superb job of encouraging you to find information in roughly the order you’re going to need it, if you focus on the wrong thing first you could end up doing badly through no real fault of your own. Since you always have the option of guessing, that doesn’t necessarily mess up your game, and if you’re getting properly into the spirit of the thing you’ll have a great time anyhow. However, those who hate uncertainty or can’t bear to make a mistake (who I suspect are over-represented amongst escape room enthusiasts) may emerge from the game fuming.
I happily recommend Revolución Olé to two groups of players: those sufficiently confident in their solving that they’re likely to smash it, and those who really don’t mind whether they win or lose. With its utterly original and distinctive design it’s a great choice for experienced players looking for something different. Other groups should approach it with a little caution, but as long as you’re not expecting a normal escape room and don’t get hung up on whether it goes well or badly, I’d encourage you to try it.