Present, May 2019: Granny, The Ant, Panda, Teenage Avenger
Warning: extended metaphor ahead.
Escape Room experiences are like Frankenstein’s monster. Different teams can hold completely contrasting views on the same game, because each experience is composed of disparate parts stitched together to form a unique whole.
The skeleton of the game is the room itself, the set. Some can be Greek gods of perfect beauty; some are patched together from the discarded limbs of plague victims. Maybe a little bald in places, a few creaky joints, or with gangrenous parts that come away in your hand. Storyline, theme and plot flow are the flesh and muscles holding the bones together; some unnecessarily flabby, some positively emaciated, some pleasingly buff. But beauty is only skin-deep – we have all done a Valley Girl or Himbo room, which looks very pretty but with nothing of substance under the surface.
Which leads to the next body part – the brain, the puzzles. Depends very much from which individual the organ has been transplanted. One with dazzling wit to spark scintillating conversation? A serious academic, their extended company ending up as worthy but little a bit dull? A hyper-active coffee fiend, jumping between topics and styles at an impossible rate? Or a whimsical bard, rambling in a way that sounds clever, but ultimately makes no sense?
The brain and the body stay fairly constant, aside from the ravages of age (a sad sight, the once-gorgeous body and brilliant mind withered and worn by the fingers of a thousand teams). But compatibility between components is key – one man’s thoughtful philosopher is another man’s insufferable bore – and the experience each time is powered by the soul, the team. Responsible for choosing right from wrong, deciding how to move forward, stopping to smell the roses or driving ambitiously through; the team, and their harmony with the physical essence of the room, is central to how the game plays out.
The final factor in our monster’s creation is no less crucial though – the heart. I’ve assigned this role to the GM. They have to keep the blood pumping steadily through the game, to keep the body and brain functioning well enough for the soul to fulfil a destiny. If the heart is struggling, or erratic, or hammers too fast, particularly during a crisis, it can kill the experience stone-dead.
So, was our Frankenstein’s Reanimation a successful experiment?
- Body is sound. The corpse used is no Brad Pitt, not even a gothic beauty. Maybe Tom Hiddleston-as-Loki, more creepy than conventionally handsome but with enough quirks and charm to win us over. Nice nods to the room’s previous life as Area 51, and a lovely era-appropriate touch in the jingling bells when a task is completed.
- Brain was fun company, mostly on our wavelength. Maths and science vibes, as befits the set, but also a word puzzle that had us squealing with delight.
- The soul? Well, that’s not for me to judge.
- And the heart? Ah, the heart…
This is where our monster had a few problems. For the most part, it functioned fine – bright, steady, on the beat, veering towards brisk. We bounced out of the room, buzzing at our escape. And the GM flatlined on us. Time, photo, snap, gone, without a goodbye. All our Trapp’d GMs have been great post-game – chat, questions, discount card, sign the wall. Not this guy, he just…went. We hung about the lobby, collected our stuff, but he didn’t come back. Panda founds some pens behind the counter and we signed the wall anyway, while our buzz faded into bewilderment. Could have understood his disappearing act if we had been late or overrun, but we had rocketed out in half -an-hour.
A perfect example of how all the vital organs of an escape experience need to function in harmony, and not just for the timed section of the room. The body and brain of this game were great. But our heart quit on us before we were ready – leaving us a soul adrift, in a car-park in Corby.
- Storyline: Not as meaty as some.
- Theming and Set: Attractive in weird crush way. Atmospheric lighting better than dark, but did odd things to my eyes.
- Searching: A bit, in a sort of sideways fashion.
- Puzzles: Enjoyably nerdy.
- Physicality: Some quite tactile puzzles but no great effort required.
- Scare factor: Mild. Only the missing apostrophe in the title gave me sleepless nights.
- Company Age Guidance: “Suitable for ages 10 years and over. Players of 16 years and under must be accompanied by an adult.”
- Age suitability: Ideal for ages 10 and over with guidance, or fine for independent teens with a bit of Escape Room experience.