Our Finest Hour – Escape Hunt – Watford

Present, in May 2021, were: The Ant, Teenage Avenger, Aunty Ant

Hurrah, a return to Real Life Rooms! One of the few pluses of lockdown has been a proliferation of new and replacement games that have sprung up while we have been “away”. And a venue that opened for the first time in May, in the previous barren-ish landscape of Watford (sorry, Breakout) was our destination. We probably should have chosen an enthusiast-driven independent start-up, but the convenience of proximity to Aunty Ant won out and so we ended up at Escape Hunt, the multi-national behemoth.

Their new location – Miami, Paris, Singapore, Watford – has a prime spot in the Intu shopping centre, a view of the pedestrianised street between TGI Fridays and the cinema, and was attracting tons of passing interest on the busy first Saturday post-lockdown. A fair few enquirers that we earwigged on scuttled away quite rapidly on hearing a base price of £28pp (to play as a pair or a 3) but this seemed to be more to do with ignorance of the Escape Room format rather than indignation at London prices in not-quite-London. The free promotional glass of prosecco (J2O for TA) went some way to softening the expense, for us.

Escape Hunt Watford are currently offering four indoor games, none totally unique to them – Alice In Puzzleland, Our Finest Hour, The Fourth Samurai and Escape The Wild West. Due to TA’s WWII GCSE history, we chose Our Finest Hour, probably Escape Hunt’s most well-known UK title. Slightly terrifyingly, we were told that no one had yet managed to escape this particular incarnation of the game but they had high expectations for us (we tempered this with the knowledge they hadn’t yet been open a week and they had been plying everyone with free booze).

Sorry, Granny

I don’t know how this version compares with the six others country-wide, but we were pleased with the staging without being blown away. You are infiltrating a secret bunker to crack the Nazi codes and thwart a deadly missile attack, and the set is neat and effective, with some great bits of kit (and some stuffed pigeons, just in case you have Granny-esque bird phobia). Small bugbear was the soundtrack, which was appropriate but not always helpful when we were trying to listen to something else. We were, however, very impressed with the in-character voice interventions from our GM (Dale, on-the-ball, twinkly, enthusiastic), which helped with immersion and also building the tension (no clock, but regular time check announcements).

Puzzles were spot on with the war theme and so played into our strengths of codes and encryptions. There was plenty to keep us busy enough, even when splitting up, and there were also a couple of tests of teamwork and communication. They did break one of my Escape Room Golden Rules – raised with them afterwards – and I’ll include a little more info on that below under a SPOILER tag, if you want to judge the seriousness of the crime yourselves. It was the cause of a little swearing and held us up for a while, but fortunately we still managed to be the first team to escape within the hour. Poor Dale was less than enamoured with the idea of spelling out our team name on their little “best time” letter boards though…

This was a classy, classic Escape Room, generally as professionally tuned as you’d hope from such an experienced parent company. Nothing ground-breaking about concept or content, and still on the pricey side for our budgets, but on this showing we would be more than happy to return, in expectation of another fine hour.

  • Storyline: Save the world (well, Blighty), WWII spy hero stuff. Remembering your mission helps!
  • Theming and Set: Pleasingly expansive, with war-time minimalism.
  • Searching: A bit, not a priority.
  • Puzzles: Very much on the war theme, codebreaking to the fore. My favs.
  • Physicality: None really, a few things to lift and shove but in no way taxing.
  • Scare factor: Only deadline tension – although I suspect there is room, post-pandemic, for a bit of a jump scare.
  • Company Age Guidance: “All of our Escape Rooms are rated PG (8+)”. All under 16s need to be accompanied by an 18+.
  • Age suitability: This is a good room for relatively young ‘uns, with adult guidance. Educational vibes don’t hurt either.

Escape Hunt Watford website

*****SPOILER!*****

Minor spoiler point ahead, so don’t read on if you don’t want to know…

One of the accepted Golden Rules of Escape Rooms (ok, it might just be mine) is the principle of one lock/one key. You find a key or a code, it goes in one place and then, unless specifically stated otherwise, you can discard it. This room did break that rule, which meant we wasted several minutes looking for a new key/code when actually we just needed to reuse one that we already had unlocked something else with. Ironically, probably less of a hazard for inexperienced players, who might just make the assumption that things can be reused – we still found it very irritating! There is a faint possibility they might amend this, as it is a ‘new’ room, but that won’t help us. Rant, and spoiler, over.