Strange Things – Locked – Dunstable

Present, December 2019, were: Granny, The Ant, Panda, Teenage Avenger

We learnt two valuable lessons this day. One, a piece of advice seen in the Enthusiasts’ Facebook group – never play a room in the first month of opening. And two, should be obvious to parents everywhere – never play an Escape Room if your teenagers are hangry.

We were late, of course. Of the Strange Things occurring in Dunstable, one appears to be the duplication of shopping areas named The Quadrant in one small town. Our satnav took us to the wrong one. Don’t get sucked in by the dark forces; use the postcode. Once we got to the correct place, which is clearly the superior shopping centre, our overwhelming impression was of fresh paint, a strong indication of how new this venue is. Our hosts were friendly and enthusiastic and generously accommodating of our lateness, even though we know it must have had a knock-on effect on later bookings.

A confession: I’ve never seen Stranger Things, the show around which this room is based. We didn’t choose this particular game because of any level of fandom. Panda has seen maybe 2 or 3 episodes, she was the sum of our knowledge (beyond basic pop culture references). We had won a discounted voucher in a Facebook competition and the Eighties vibe of Strange Things appealed more than the Train Robbery or Peaky Blinders (none of us has seen an episode of that, either).

There is plenty of Eighties vibe straight away – clothes, toys, film posters, cassette tapes and VHS all suitably retro. Strange Things is a fairly standard bedroom set, but they’ve definitely put in some effort to hit the cultural waypoints. It’s a shame the era-specific stuff didn’t really filter down to the puzzles – we didn’t particularly want to solve a Rubik’s Snake or play the Mastermind peg game, but some more tie-ins between theme and content would be nice.

This is where the review gets a bit tricky. Because the room is so new and we did give feedback (gracefully received) to the venue, I didn’t want to focus too much on the problems that we found. They may yet make tweaks that we think would improve the playing experience, such as light levels and a less intrusive soundtrack. There may also have been issues of our own making, as we seemed to unlock elements in a very random order – several times resulting in the unlocked ‘prize’ being a clue to something we had already completed. Couldn’t tell if that was just us, or a more basic problem with the game dynamics. It seemed like the game was meant to be linear, but some of it could be solved in a non-linear way, which meant we met ourselves coming back.

We did struggle with being blocked, where either there was only a single, linear, solo puzzle to work on, or not enough room for us all to work on a puzzle together. Panda and Teenage Avenger spent a chunk of the game sitting on the bed, discussing Cher and wondering whether to play MouseTrap instead. This could well have been due to ‘hangriness’ (see above) and maybe their lack of motivation was as much a contributing factor to our dismal lock-in as any room fault. But for us, the game lacked any flow.

To end on pluses: puzzles were a bit padlockly, but also displayed some nice originality. Tech all worked when and where it should. Use of video was a nice era-appropriate way of moving the story. Clues were clear nudges (rather than answers) and the GM was attentive with a surprisingly effective walkie-talkie. I’ve heard good things about their Peaky Blinders set and about their Train Robbery puzzles. This generally felt like a quality operation, just missing the mark in several areas with an unpolished game.

  • Storyline: Save Billy by activating or deactivating something in his bedroom. Yeah, all kind of made sense.
  • Theming and Set: Lacks immersion, despite efforts. Bit too small for a playing 4, low light was a problem for us. Spacehopper – TA v. happy.
  • Searching: Ultimately, not very much.
  • Puzzles: One cool, VERY frustrating manual puzzle. A couple of other nice ideas.
  • Physicality: Some dexterity, and a tiny bit of clambering.
  • Scare factor: No scariness that I noticed, although some atmosphere.
  • Company Age Guidance: “Whilst we don’t have a specific age limit on our rooms we do recommend the games to ages 13+ due to the complexity of the experiences. Under 13’s must be accompanied by an adult”.
  • Age suitability: Suitable to take in a non-playing tot or babe-in-arms. Younger playing kids wouldn’t get much out of the game, teenage fans of the show would probably enjoy it. And you always have the fun of trying to explain what a tape deck is…

Also at this venue: The Great Train Robbery