Present, January 2020, were: Granny, The Ant, Panda, Teenage Avenger
Christmas Escape Rooms have not really been on my radar. Not Escape Rooms at Christmas, of course: any gathering is an excuse to chuck in a game or two – here I mean specifically Christmas-themed rooms. They’re just not something I would get super-excited about. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. But I tend to be quite cynical about festive commercialisation, pop-up cash-ins and John Lewis twee-ness. I’m definitely not a decs-up-in-November, elf on the shelf, follow Santa on NORAD type of parent. So I was a little worried I would go all bah-humbug on Want To Escape’s temporary Christmas room.
Reassuringly, Santa’s Stowaway dodges the off-putting saccharine seasonality, because it is a heist. Hey kids, let’s go rob Santa! Merry Christmas! Idea that, fed up with being on the naughty list, you sneak in chez Claus and thieve the presents you think you deserve. In a bid to retain the moral centre, you’re not allowed to take anything that isn’t ‘rightfully’ yours (assuming Father Christmas made an error and you should have been on the ‘nice’ list). It’s still a pleasingly salty start, and having a list of presents to retrieve adds depth to the room – you have the option of escaping before you collect all the presents for a partial win.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of build, as this is a temporary seasonal room. Designed by a pair of enthusiasts as their first project, in partnership with Want To Escape owner James, it could have all been a bit Blue Peter. But no, this is a beautifully-made proper set. The atmosphere is immediate from the opening of the door, stepping in from the cold outside to a lovely cabin feel. It even smells of Christmas (cinnamon and candles, rather than Brussel sprouts and disappointment). Add in the Yuletide pop soundtrack and, even though we played in mid-January – way outside my ‘Christmas music acceptable’ window – we all felt full of holiday spirit.
Gameplay is pretty much that – games! In a really nice touch, many of the puzzles are built into typical toy present ideas, so Guess Who, Nerf Guns, Connect4 and ermm, Finnish chess all make an appearance. Mostly padlocks, but employed in cute and creative ways. Santa’s Stowaway is an almost totally non-linear game, so we scattered and tackled the puzzles separately or in pairs, swapping over when we got stuck. Two sections caused us problems. One, we felt, was a little open to interpretation – even when we got roughly what we were meant to do, we still came up with several combinations as a final answer (yet not the right one!). The other was a theoretically simple task that the four of us royally messed up, much to the hilarity of our lovely GM Ruth. Neither of these struggles affected our enjoyment of the game, although Panda and TA were both flagging (exam fatigue) by the end, with TA becoming increasingly Scrooge-like. Granny and I enjoyed the bonkers finale, but the grumpy teens were less enthusiastic…
Against all my anti-Christmas-when-not-actually-Christmas feeling, I would love to see this as a permanent game, it’s certainly quality enough. But at least, because they are closing this room at the end of January, I know Want To Escape will have space to build a new one, and that is a present enough in itself.
- Storyline: Heist game in an unusual setting, with a little bit of Christmas magic to cover up the plot holes.
- Theming and Set: Lovely with lots to look at and play with.
- Searching: A fair amount (we missed a bit).
- Puzzles: Plenty of them, less about intellect and more about playing and being organised.
- Physicality: More than I thought there would be – a fun skills task and some scrabbling around at different levels.
- Scare factor: Well, our singing along to Christmas songs was a horror show. In game scares? No.
- Company Age Guidance: “We recommend 8+, but wouldn’t restrict anyone from having a go. Children under 16 need to be accompanied by an adult at the venue, but not necessarily in the escape room”
- Age suitability: Very family friendly with youngish children able to participate in some of the puzzles.