Shamley’s – DarkMaster – Crowborough

Present, in February 2023, were: The Ant, Aunty Ant, Mark & Bex

Shamley’s Toy Makers at DarkMaster was a landmark occasion for us – our first proper 90 minute room and our first with complete strangers (I’ve done plenty of games with random teenagers, but usually someone in our group has known them…). We were excited for this game though and, having experienced OneWing at DarkMaster already, we thought we had some idea of the scale of the task ahead.

Reader, we really didn’t, I don’t think much can prepare you for Shamley’s. In many ways, it is best to go in blind to avoid spoilers and enjoy the surprises, but at the same time we are glad we had some warning. This was the reason for our expanded team – general booking is for three players and although you can play as a two the overall consensus is that is makes for a very tough challenge. So we put out a call for enthusiasts in the area and struck lucky with the wonderful Mark and Bex. They had played the other DarkMaster games too, so had a little insight into the venue’s mindset already.

Chiefly though, this game needs a lot of brains and a lot of hands. Four would seem to be a perfect number to me – a few spaces would get crowded with more – but we definitely needed to divide and conquer here. It is more a case of large amounts of content, rather than puzzles needing complex octopus-maneuvers, there’s nothing that absolutely needed all four of us to work on at the same time. So you could try as a two if you want but, escaping in 88 minutes, we were very glad we hadn’t been brave enough to try.

DarkMaster’s games are all linked by the eponymous sinisterly mischievous character, the world’s most elusive criminal mastermind who travels the world causing chaos. In this instance, it is some of shrink-ray world domination plan, with a miniaturised weapon (this is important!) hidden inside an abandoned toy shop, allowing for much crazily creative theming and some nice doses of nostalgia (plus, creepy dolls). It is a super-fun idea and builds to a suitably bonkers conclusion. The “shrinking pills” are also a nice touch!

Be aware that this is a very physical game. Not quite in the league of Into The Reliquary (look out for that review soon) but it does involve crawling, clambering and … other stuff. Young people would adore this aspect of the game. However, there is some serious puzzling in here too, it is definitely more grown-up in that respect. We absolutely felt we had the full mental and physical work-out by the end.

More than anything else though, this is a huge amount of fun. DarkMaster have a nice sense of humour running through their games and this is very enjoyable, particularly in the later game interactions. It really works for being 90 minutes and the time just flew by. The cost is prohibitive (we’re used to £18pp Northern/Midlands games) but as a special treat this is worth it. It would be painfully expensive for a family – there is an under 17s discount of 25% off, but bear in mind that they don’t (theoretically) allow under-12s anyway. That fits with my impression that this game is actually perfectly designed for a big (shrunken) kid, rather than a naturally smaller version.

  • Storyline: Sort of makes sense and necessary to keep in mind – we totally flubbed our actual mission, requiring a last minute back-track.
  • Theming and Set: Impressive – massive and cleverly engineered. The shrinking concept is fairly inconsistently applied, but has some great moments. A little bit of sound bleed from the next door game.
  • Searching: Not a major amount, although we still had a complete facepalm early on.
  • Puzzles: A big variety, using the toy shop props really well. Couple of hmmm moments.
  • Physicality: Oh yes, both in the puzzles and navigating the space.
  • Scare factor: None really, although gets quite intense (also, did I mention the creepy dolls?).
  • Company Age Guidance: “Due to the complexity of the puzzles and the nature of the special effects in all of our rooms we no longer allow children under 12. We cannot allow under 17s in our rooms without an accompanying adult due to health and safety precautions. A child for booking purposes is aged 12 – 16 inclusive.”
  • Age suitability: This is a really great room for experienced young teens in a mixed age team.

DarkMaster website