Refuge: Prologue [Review]

“Oh shit! We’re competing against each other… and I know how smart my friends are.”

Location: New York, NY

Date played: April 14, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 6-8

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $38-43 per ticket

Story & setting

Refuge: Prologue was an immersive, narrative-driven, competitive puzzle game.

Set in a dystopian mirrored reality where humanity’s decisions have caused an environmental apocalypse, we were competing for coveted spots in billionaire Alex Ayers’ prosperous Refuge. Our lives depended on proving our worth.

Refuge: Prologue took place in The Mist, an immersive entertainment space in Chinatown. The various rooms were staged for different challenges, each stylized, some more intriguing and involved than others.

At any given point, our group was divided up, competing against each other in different challenges. As Alex’s recorded voice narrated the instructions for various activities, we also learned the extent of the plight of Earth and human society, a narrative that unfolded over the duration of the experience.

In-game: a player looking upon a picture hung on a wall in a hallway.
Image via Refuge.

Puzzles

Refuge: Prologue pitted us against each other as we each vied for a future in Alex’s Refuge.

The puzzles took different forms: understanding the objective and context of any given contest, puzzling our way through, and strategizing against each other.

During the various puzzle challenges, we used logic, riddles, math, intuition, deductive reasoning, reaction time, agility, luck, strategic thinking… and more.

In-game: A hand interacting with glass bottles containing rolls of paper.
Image via Refuge.

Standouts

Refuge: Prologue painted a compelling dystopian parallel reality. Its message provoked thought about our world.

Refuge: Prologue meticulously designed printed materials and set dressing. It was deliberately crafted and looked polished.

The puzzles and games were challenging. For most interactions, each individual had to rely on their own understanding, make quick decisions, and continually strategize.

My favorite challenge was physically involved and lots of fun. The story unfolded through the escalating complexity of the puzzle. It was clever.

Without spoilers, the website for Refuge: Prologue was as clear as possible about what this experience entailed.

Shortcomings

The tech in Refuge: Prologue was repeatedly buggy. Even before we accidentally knocked something a little too forcefully, it was finicky. The set was delicate, and the tech even more so. Much of the set and technology needs modification in order to stand up to repeated use.

It wasn’t entirely clear how points were calculated, and therefore which actions and decisions mattered most. It also seemed like luck played a substantial role in some of the games.

The challenges varied in quality. One slow-paced game seemed to drag on. In another puzzle, the order of activities seemed to create a markedly unfair situation for the players.

Throughout the experience, there was a lot of information to take in in short amounts of time. Sometimes it was reading on top of audio instruction. Other times it was comprehensive reading while searching for other information. While this was part of the challenge, it was also more frustrating than it needed to be.

Should I attend Refuge: Prologue?

Refuge: Prologue was not a room escape, but it was an immersive, narrative-driven puzzle adventure. It was challenging and interesting.

In Refuge: Prologue, you will be competing against the others in your booking. You will be alone, vying for your own spot in a better future. If you usually count on others to pull some of the weight, you’re in for a rough ride.

Your adversaries are the others who’ve booked into your session. We recommend that you bring a group of people you know are equally competitive, skilled, and engaged. All the better to strategize against them… Also, leave the sore winners and losers at home.

While the technology implementation and set design had flaws, the folks behind Refuge: Prologue were attentive to detail.

Note that the website gives the following warnings, all of which matter: Don’t be late. Wear comfortable shoes. Also, one puzzle uses the full spectrum of color; colorblindness will be problematic.

If you like quick-paced puzzle competitions where you work on your own against opponents, and you don’t mind that the game, the rules, and the points will be a bit opaque, then we recommend visiting Refuge: Prologue.

If you’d rather work as a team or you don’t want to compete without a clear picture of what’s going on, you might want to sit this one out.

Win or lose Refuge: Prologue offers a new form of immersive puzzle adventuring. We’ve seen a lot collaborative gaming, and a little head-to-head team-based gaming, but Refuge is its own beast. Battling your friends by yourself offers a new style of interactive intrigue.

Book your spot in Refuge: Prologue, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

2 thoughts on “Refuge: Prologue [Review]

  1. I really appreciate your impartial views… I was left debating if you loved it or thought that it sucked. The set up and premise sound awesome, but I am the kind of person who prefers a clear direction and points system. Sounds like I would have equally loved and hated this myself.

    1. That’s the funny thing about these kinds of experiences; they largely exist in shades of grey. Some will adore a game like this. Some will hate it… That actually happened in our small group of 6 players.

      Our goal isn’t to tell you what to think. We strive to describe an experience without giving too much away and let you decide if it’s right for you. We wish that there was an easier way to do this, but this is the solution that we’ve landed on. Star ratings are thought terminating, and that’s the last thing that we want to be.

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