Cold War – Thunderbowl – Kettering

Present, in June 2022, were: Granny, The Ant, Panda

We didn’t have super-high hopes for this game at our nearby bowling alley, but Granny can’t resist a Russian-themed room (tbf, neither can I). Add the potential excuse of “revising” for Panda’s history exam and an acceptably low price, and we decided it was worth a whirl on a damp Sunday morning.

The original Escape Rooms at Kettering Thunderbowl (previously named New York Thunderbowl, for slightly unexplained reasons) were amongst some of the earlier games we ever played. Even then, we knew they were pretty much first gen type rooms, with not much in the way of wow factor, but fairly decent, solid puzzling. I’m not sure when the original two games were replaced – I hadn’t seen any kind of promotion about it – but since we last went bowling the whole venue has revamped with a fairly extensive pirate theme, so they had clearly been doing some work.

The two new Escape Rooms on offer are very generic in description “Egyptian Room” and “Cold War“. To be honest, if I were them, I’d have at least gone for one pirate-y one, given the surrounding decor, but ok. The bare bones story for the games on their website do give you a taste of what to expect – this is not all-in on immersion or narrative. However, this kind of worked for our choice of Cold War. The room itself has quite a Soviet-era bleakness to it – deliberate or not. You are trying to identify a double agent (not quite the story on the website), so no fancy scenery is required.

Their mini-golf theming is much more like it

The actual gameplay is maybe in a bit of a timewarp as well, in a fairly linear, walkie-talkie, padlock-heavy style. In terms of format and innovation, it hasn’t really moved on from the games we played here nearly six years ago. So if you are looking for pyrotechnics and immersion, this isn’t the place for you.

However, and this is the crucial bit, I suppose we actually enjoyed playing this, and not just because of the Soviet element. The puzzles built quite nicely as we moved along, they had some solid and interesting props, a couple of original-ish ideas and, despite the lack of narrative beforehand, we could visualise an actual story around the agents we were investigating. It was stripped-back, nostalgia-tinged Escape Rooming, and definitely more satisfying than some rooms we’ve played that have tried to be fancy for the sake of it and have ended up a confused mess.

It wasn’t perfect – better signposting was seriously needed for inputting codes. We’re a well-oiled machine when it comes to trying codes in multiple locks (we have been doing this for a long time) but it isn’t my favourite thing. In addition, one piece of translated code made no sense to us, but there was enough info in the bits we could translate successfully that we could solve the puzzle without it. Our GM couldn’t see us, which isn’t great, but she was lovely, enthusiastic and still very good at keeping us straight, so she was clearly paying attention.

So, it’s a cautious recommendation, either as a gentle starter room or as a low-expectations diversion for those who are happy to just puzzle in an less immersive way.

  • Storyline: Doesn’t match the website, but in-game narrative made more sense.
  • Theming and Set: As first gen as Adam and Eve, but marks for consistency (used this phrase reviewing the previous rooms and I’m sticking with it).
  • Searching: Not much really, but we still had a fail and needed a hint.
  • Puzzles: Suitably Cold War-ish, codes and stuff, but all bar maybe 3 were 4-digit padlock based.
  • Physicality: We did a bit of laying on the floor, maybe not necessary. 
  • Scare factor: Absolutely none.
  • Company Age Guidance: Children under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult.
  • Age suitability: Very family friendly, under 10s would be fine, although maybe not much for them to do. 
  • Over 12s allowed unaccompanied, which is unusual but completely understandable given the low level of jeopardy. Not much room for babes-in-arms, which is a shame as they could probably sleep through it quite happily.

Thunderbowl website