Peterborough, Dec 2017
This game is no longer available.
New to the Cambridgeshire scene, Stranded is a desert island themed escape room, located in central Peterborough.
As usual for the local rooms, myself and ‘Mrs Chris’ signed up as a dynamic duo, hoping for a nice relaxing hour of escapism on a rather cold and wet December weekend. The location, as is the norm with a lot of escape rooms, was hardly salubrious – in what looks like an industrial shop unit under a multi-storey car park. Undeterred, we entered to be very warmly welcomed by the host (and designer, I later found out) Jason.
Jason has previous puzzle form, running a local company which specialises in puzzle creation, physical puzzle boxes for schools etc. He can occasionally be found at local craft fairs and fetes showing his wares. I’d come across his puzzles before, so it was nice to make the connection.
The venue itself is fairly spacious, the usual set of “wonder what’s inside there” doors, and a gamesmaster station out in the open area. Some lockers are provided, and the toilet facilities were clean and pleasant. We were offered free water bottles, and a comfy chair to receive the briefing.
After the briefing, we were asked to put on blindfolds, and led into the room itself. A very dynamic and dramatic introduction to the room, led by Jason himself provided much appreciated back story and a sense of excitement for the hour to come.
Once able to see, it was clear a lot of effort had gone into the staging of this room. The designer clearly has a lot of flair for design and creativity, and the whole set felt well made, robust, and clever. Many of us perhaps take for granted how hard it is to make a grubby office block become a highly themed, immersive experience. No concerns here though. We really felt engaged in the theme, combining sound and smell to great effect. The weathered woods and sandy feel added to the realism. The puzzles themselves are largely bespoke and built for this experience. There’s still a fair number of word and number padlocks, but lots of variety in obtaining codes made a big difference to the hour. Perhaps this is what you’d describe as a 2nd generation room.
On with the puzzles – this is a very carefully designed room from a theming and a puzzle perspective. The first, simple puzzle led to some item discovery which really kicked off the processes involved in making quick progress. Whenever we hit a road block, it wasn’t long before we figured out where we were going wrong. We twigged a few things extremely quickly, but were hampered on others. Progress was steady.
A superb clue system, which would be terrible to spoil in a review, adding significant humour and levity to our roadblocks. This room oozes class and craft. It is so obvious the designer *gets* what makes a good room, and a good puzzle. The attention to detail and the interaction with the players was top notch throughout.
A slightly clumsy physical puzzle (but hugely rewarding) delayed progress for a while, but once past that, it was into the nitty gritty of escaping as things really opened up.The theme tells of a previous unlucky strandee, who had left us some help in escaping, despite his own misfortune in making it off the island. The story holds together extremely well throughout, and actually adds significant drama to the puzzle aspects.
Flashes of humour and tongue-in-cheek distractions are aplenty here, and as a reviewer, it’s hard to get across how innovative and different some of the puzzles are without spoiling them. Needless to say, this was shaping up to be one of the best local rooms we’d tackled so far.
What was also becoming clear though, was this is a tough room for a pair, there’s quite a lot going on, and a couple of times we wasted time trying to solve a not-quite-ready problem. We were solving problem after problem, but still more came! The last ten minutes were pretty frantic, combining items found across the whole hour to create some means of escape and giving us information needed to sail to safety. A bit of brute force guessing helped us complete the main puzzle, needed due to a issue with a label (since addressed in the room) – this didn’t really slow us down though. With an extra person or two, I think we’d have escaped, but alas, we were a couple of puzzles short of getting off the island. Failure.
Whilst failing a room can sometimes leave the players feeling deflated, or even frustrated this was quite the opposite – we both thoroughly enjoyed getting almost to the end. It simply didn’t matter.
After the time ran out, the host came into the room and walked us through the puzzles we’d done – discussing what went well, and badly, and we had a long chat about the escape room scene, and the room itself. Their passion is clear, both verbally and in the room’s content and this is the crux of what makes this room highly recommended.
They also have a very cool return player scheme, where you can get free entry as part of a new team – playing either the part of the gamesmaster, or to go into the room itself to watch your friends have a go too. I absolutely love this idea, because it not only works as a good way of getting new business, but also brings players to the other side of the CCTV monitor and see what it is like to observe others. Running rooms myself means I know full well how exciting this is – often more fun than doing the room personally.
The venue is soon to open a Merlin themed room, due Feb 2017 which I will be hopefully reviewing ahead of opening.
We absolutely loved doing Stranded. We’ve passionately told anyone who will listen to go and give the room a try, so if you’re in the area, this is definitely one to check out.
Thinking Outside The Box closed their Stranded game at the start of September, and I made a quick dash to play it on its second last day of operation. Since the game no longer exists this is purely for historical interest.
It’s quite the challenge to take a room and make it feel plausibly like a desert island, and TOtB did an excellent job. The decor uses paint and faux sand to great effect; despite a door outline or two visible in the ‘horizon’, they make it easy to willingly suspend disbelief, partly due to a brilliant intro sequence. Many games have players blindfolded as they enter, but for Stranded this was extended into a dramatic and amusing induction. The operator delivered it with gusto, and the addition of sound and even smell to set the scene got things off to a first class start.
The creativity and gentle humour continued into the game, particularly with a very suitable custom hint system and a big set-piece puzzle that provided most of the mid to late part of the game. There was a lot of escape room logic to the puzzles, and some distraction items, but the highlights of the game went well beyond that to more interesting and naturalistic ideas. Some components looked a little run down but since it was right at the end of the room’s run that’s understandable.
It had a great deal of charm and fun as well as originality, so it’s a shame it’s shut down – but I’m eager to see what TOtB builds in its place.