The School Room – Axes & Escapes – Fakenham

Present, January 2019, were: The Ant, Aunty Ant, Jack-Jack, Lioness, Parker, Amazing J.

Our Norfolk Christmas trip this year was to the rather random Axes & Escapes. Very festive – nothing says Christmas like the urge to hurl a deadly medieval weapon against the wall. We weren’t actually there for the ‘Maniaxe’ (much better name) section – we’d chosen to do the family-friendly classroom-themed Escape Room (Jack-Jack in tow), although we all agreed that the other two rooms (Spy vs Spy and The Gauntlet) looked more appealing. Their Santa’s Workshop game had closed, as our Christmas party was, obviously, at the end of January, and new game WhoDunIt was yet to open.

First thing to say is that A & E is not actually in Fakenham, but a kind of weird industrial park just outside. Factor that in, if you are planning post-game analysis over food and drink. Also, if you visit on a Sunday, you might have to factor in extra time to get in and out of said industrial park due to the bizarre security arrangements. Not of the company’s making, and something that they are trying to resolve.

Once we did get inside and established that the gate system hadn’t actually been part of our game (I’ve been in less complicated rooms), everything was much more straightforward. A nice, friendly welcome, a fairly plain 1st gen room, laid out loosely like a primary school classroom. Idea is that you have been given detention and have to solve the puzzles to get out before the tuck shop closes. Simple, but cute – I liked that the GM hints were given in character. Decor is very basic, but seemed to fool Jack-Jack, as he plonked himself down and started reading his way through the phonics books. No CBeebies required at any point, so the room succeeded in entertaining a just-turned-5yo, even if he was zero help with any puzzles (we didn’t pay for him). Those puzzles were quite sweetly divvied into school subjects – science, music, maths, art, etc. Interesting class, teaching both ABCs and advanced geometry, but that’s a minor quibble.

Now, we did have what could have been quite a major quibble. Early on, we solved a puzzle, unlocked another brainteaser, solved that to get a code, which we tried on every lock in the room, to no avail. After a few minutes of struggling, the GM directed us back to the puzzle we had solved initially, which caused even greater confusion. We ran through the steps of the puzzle again, and found we could unlock something else too, which got us up and running again …until the endgame, when we suddenly realised where that loose puzzle fitted in, and that the code was for the one lock we hadn’t tried – the exit door. We could have set a world record and been out in under 5 minutes!

The lovely GM was understandably a bit discombobulated – behind the scenes there had been a huge amount of panic, fearing a botched reset. But they had done absolutely nothing wrong; it had been a complete freak that within our team a misunderstood question led to a misheard answer, which happened to work on a lock that we weren’t supposed to be opening. One in a million chance though it was, they could probably use some belt and braces to ensure that the endgame isn’t potentially accessible so early on. Handled nicely by staff though – almost certainly not a related fact, but we got prizes (!) in bag of sweeties to share for making it to the tuck shop in time.

We also got a taster session at Axes, leaving us with a favourable impression of their customer service (rather than an axe-shaped impression, fortunately, despite the best efforts of Aunty Ant’s wayward aim). Great fun, but I can safely say that this blog will not henceforth be known as ‘Granny & The Anthropomorphic Panda Avengers Throw Axes’. A bonus did come on Monday morning though, when my boss casually asked “Do anything nice at the weekend?”. “Axe throwing” I replied. “Shall we talk about my payrise now?”

  • Storyline:  Pretty basic, but made sense.
  • Theming and Set: Puzzles nicely integrated into the theming. Actual set underwhelming.
  • Searching: Not actually a huge amount.
  • Puzzles: Several seemed like variations on the same theme, two were more interesting. Intellectual rather than cryptic.
  • Physicality: Zero – gym class not included in this curriculum.  
  • Scare factor: Escape room? Real school is much scarier. Axe-throwing? Terrifying.
  • Company Age Guidance: Participants 8+.
  • Age suitability: Well pitched for pre-teens/young teens – Amazing J was able to get very involved. Babes-in-arms welcome.