Gravesend, Nov 2018
In the curious niche world of escape room enthusiasm, Gravesend is synonymous with The Panic Room. To the rest of the world, the town has a small claim to fame for its statue of Pocahontas, so it’s perhaps natural for the former to build a room honouring the latter. Basing a game around this particular historical figure could easily be mishandled, but the design takes care to avoid lazy Disney clichés or sensationalisation; the low-key theme has you in a small library searching for lost documents that may shed a little more light on her life.
Secret of Pocahontas is located within Gravesend’s Borough Market not any of the main Panic Room branches. The game and the operator’s desk each occupy one of the market’s standard size booths, which should give an idea of how small the game area is and why it’s intended for teams of no more than three. It was in fact originally a 30 minute game, but has now been expanded to a full hour.
The small space conceals a variety of hidden compartments, in a way that reminded me of a wooden puzzle box, but one that you open from the inside out instead of starting on the outside. Like a puzzle box, this sometimes means mechanisms where either you see it or you don’t, which are accordingly either trivial or frustrating. Puzzle boxes in escape rooms tend to be more popular with beginners, and I suspect that’ll be true of some parts of this game too, where experienced players will zoom through the more familiar puzzle ideas.
One puzzle seemed more than a little ambiguous – but then our first attempt at an answer was correct, so either we were lucky or it was clearer than I thought. But the rest felt solid, distinguished less for originality than for elegance of presentation.
The Panic Room offers bigger and more exciting games, and if you’re picking a few rooms to play for a trip to Gravesend then Pocahontas doesn’t need to be one of those at the top of your list. However, it’s elegantly compact and emphasises puzzles over drama, is approachable without being too easy, and strikes me as very well suited for a couple, particularly a couple who might hesitate to take on one of the venue’s scarier or more complex rooms on their own.