Present, in January 2023, were: The Ant, Aunty Ant
A love letter to the codebreakers of Bletchley Park, and to the 1940s in general, Hut 17 is the first offering from a brand new venue, Cipher, on the outskirts of Milton Keynes. On the site of and in conjunction with the Formula Fast Indoor Karting track, Cipher have three rooms planned, all based on the World War II theme. Always keen to check on new games in the local area, we headed over not long after opening.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect and my initial experience of getting lost on a slightly soulless industrial estate (Aunty Ant says it was much easier to find approaching from the South!) made me a little anxious. However, finding their building (just to the left outside of the main Formula Fast doors) dispelled any fears – the exterior clad in sandbags and camo; clearly a huge amount of thought has gone into every little detail.
The interior lobby is a joy, beautifully decorated and filled with genuine 1940s nicknacks, with a catchy boogie-woogie soundtrack, it is designed to immerse teams in the era before they even set foot in the game itself. Even the loo is decked out with scrapbook-style wallpaper. I can’t think of an Escape Room with a classier waiting room.
Cipher have definitely leant into the decision to use the Bletchley codebreakers theme and it really works. War games are not really amongst my favourite genres, but I do love an immersive world. It is a seamless transition from the pre-game briefing into the Hut 17 room and thankfully the attention to detail is carried through into the most important bit – the gameplay. The space itself is again brilliantly decorated, with no jarring anachronisms and some really impressive bits of vintage kit.
Your mission is a standard Enigma-based one – get the machinery up and running to decrypt the enemy messages and warn the next target of an incoming attack. The plot is very well thought through, dodging most of the perils of artificial Escape Room logic and instead providing a coherent and satisfyingly spy-worthy story. There are a few padlocks but also some lovely and ingenious methods to combine the puzzles, theme and props. Clues (and time checks, if required) are run through on a traditional telephone and there are even nice theatrics to ensure your game, win or lose, ends with a bang.
The flow throughout was very nice – we gave a little feedback on a couple of slightly sticky points, but that was very much a case of perfecting rather than fixing. It is a decent challenge on the puzzle front and we were very well GM’d (thank you, Charlie). We completed in about 48 minutes and were gainfully occupied throughout, so I think the puzzle volume is just about spot on. I think even inexperienced groups could have a good crack at it, with a bit of support. The room is wheelchair accessible, and I’ll give a gentle warning about the ending for sensitive/asthmatic players, but this can be tailored with a word beforehand (the venue does do a check).
This would be a terrific game for GCSE history students, as a wholesome, stealthily educational activity with some thrills attached. But it is also a terrific game for puzzle fans or anyone who loves a narrative in an immersive environment. The story of the Bletchley Park codebreakers is such a fascinating and important part of history, and in Cipher they finally have the sort of quality game that they deserve.
- Storyline: Very smartly followed through, a clear aim with steady logic.
- Theming and Set: Theoretically, just an office, but a beautifully-realised 1940s war office.
- Searching: Not search-heavy but you have to keep your wits about you.
- Puzzles: Lovely on theme, some very creative. Compulsory Morse.
- Physicality: Tiny bit of scrabbling, nothing strenuous.
- Scare factor: Intensity builds towards the end, no actual scares.
- Company Age Guidance: “The minimum age to play is 12 years old. Participants under the age of 16 must be joined by at least one participating adult. Not suitable for infants and young children; we cannot host spectators in venue”.
- Age suitability: Makes sense. Respectful teens only.