Houdini's Workshop – Deadlocked – Northampton

Present, in October 2019, were: Granny, The Ant, Panda, Cynical Panda Crew

Harry Houdini. The Great Houdini, “world famous jailbreaker and Handcuff King”, master of mystery, icon of escapology. Basically, this guy should be the patron saint of Escape Rooms. One of the strongest venue brands in the country is named after him. But actual Houdini-themed games? Currently I reckon there are only three running in the country – Houdini’s own Last Secret, Houdini’s Workshop from escape, and this offering from Deadlocked Northampton. A reflection maybe, that it is tricky to get bang on-theme unless you are planning to dangle your customers upside-down in a chainwrapped tank of water. Don’t want to do the risk assessments for that one…

Deadlocked’s rather more sedate take on the concept is a visit to the great man’s workshop, to test your skills against his props. It is a very loose story with no real narrative or jeopardy, the total plot being a kind of tutorial level Escape Room. The lack of scares or pressure do therefore make it a good room for newbies, nervous players or kids (barring claustrophobia, more on that later).

The workshop set is just functional, really. In terms of aesthetics, it is a magician’s storage office rather than a mystical hub for conjuring illusions. Very much “behind the curtains” reality of backstage, not a full-on glitzy theatre production. Red herrings here were a distraction for me – some genuine set dressing, others were just unnecessary. Fortunately, the teenagers were robustly immune, telling me repeatedly “of course we don’t need that!” There is a possibility I was overthinking, as the puzzles were generally straightforward.

Er, no, thanks
(not in-game footage)

The teenagers did also greatly enjoy the well-built centrepiece of this room. It is not a spoiler to say that the game starts with one player locked in a (spacious, apparently comfortable) box. This proved to be a fun concept and the big talking point in post-game analysis. Always worth knowing in advance though, as with any split-start, especially if you are playing in parent/young person group. Could have been a very dull game for someone, if the teens had been in sole charge of opening that box.

Our young people were also excessively amused by the option to be shackled at the start. Due to the caution of the GM (risk assessments!) and the girls’ skinny-minnie wrists, they were able to slip out of the handcuffs almost immediately, but gamely kept up the pretence until we found the keys.

This is a padlock-heavy game and the puzzles are fair, if quite traditional, while the centrepiece feature does lift Houdini’s Workshop into something more memorable. We liked the novel light projection clue system, avoiding an intrusive TV screen, and we had fun, the kids especially enjoying most aspects of the gameplay. But, all-in-all, this doesn’t feel anywhere close to as daring, innovative, thrilling and mysterious as Mr Houdini himself. Needs a little more magic.

  • Storyline: Non-existent, in any practical sense.
  • Theming and Set: Some interesting touches of history but unescapably still an office set.
  • Searching: Not a lot, due to fairly restricted space.
  • Puzzles: Fairly traditional, quite mathsy.
  • Physicality: At least one player needs to be agile. 
  • Scare factor: Only for claustrophobics. But as they probably wouldn’t volunteer for the box anyway, none.
  • Company Age Guidance: “For anyone over the age of 8 although under 16 year olds do need to be accompanied by an adult.”
  • Age suitability: 8+s would be fine and would definitely enjoy parts of this game. Under 16s play at Deadlocked at a discounted price.

Deadlocked website