The Great Gotham Challenge: MMXXIII [Review]

No Wrong Brownies Were Consumed

Location: Secret locations in Manhattan, New York

Date Played: June 10, 2023

Team Size: 2-4; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 3-5 hours

Price: $199 per team

Ticketing: Public event, played with a small team

Accessibility Consideration: All players must be able to walk approximately 2 miles and climb stairs

REA Reaction

Pulling off an event like The Great Gotham Challenge: MMXXIII is an astonishing feat of creativity, perseverance, and adaptability. It is hard enough creating coherent games in digital or self-contained physical forms; to have a game set in one of the busiest sections of one of the busiest cities in the world, where people and landmarks are constantly shifting, truly raises the stakes to the next level.

The Great Gotham Challenge: MMXXIII was packed with daring “wow” moments, the sort that make you go “they couldn’t possibly have… oh $%&#, yes they did!” In these moments, game elements — some small and subtle, others big and bold — seep into the real world, much like in a big-budget alternate reality game, yet in a form where your team gets to fully experience every interaction first-hand.

For a few hours, you get to feel like a secret agent as you traverse the mundane real world with a VIP pass for curated wonder.

A wax sealed envelope

Though I’ve played multiple at-home experiences from The Great Gotham Challenge, this was my first time participating in one of their famed in-person events, and it did not disappoint. It also revealed some further context for some of the design choices in their virtual events, particularly around how their games emerge from the eclectic hidden histories of a given area.

At its core, The Great Gotham Challenge: MMXXIII was a puzzle-driven event, yet its focus was more on creating memorable interactions, with puzzles usually just present as supporting characters. Most of these puzzles were sufficient for their purpose, while a few fell flat due to minor design flaws or suboptimal positioning within the overall flow of the game. As The Great Gotham Challenge looks to continue leveling up in future events, I’d love to see them more thoughtfully approach their puzzles as opportunities for special moments and not just as a means to an end. Furthermore, there was a missed opportunity for an overarching narrative, objective, or through line — something tying the gameplay together and giving a “why” to our adventures, beyond just the loose “random Gotham historical trivia” and “this is a competition” framing.

The Great Gotham Challenge: MMXXIII was slated to be a one-off, but they’ve added another date on June 24, 2023. Tickets will sell quickly, so secure your spot now. This limited-time labor of love is not to be missed, especially for physically mobile players with a taste for exploration.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • History buffs
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Competitive players
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A grand adventure through a bustling city
  • Impressive “wow” moments
  • High production value

Gameplay

The Great Gotham Challenge: MMXXIII was a puzzle-driven urban game with a moderate level of difficulty, spanning nearly a dozen outdoor and indoor locations around an area in Manhattan.

Game materials included both a web app providing location clues and answer verification, as well as physical components acquired at various locations throughout the game. Many puzzles and riddles required outside research and out-of-the-box thinking.

A book safe with the GGC logo sitting on a bench

Analysis

➕ The Great Gotham Challenge: MMXXIII wowed us with exciting environmental ahas. Numerous physical props and actor plants were seamlessly embedded in the environments around us. The route was well choreographed and paced. It was magical.

➕ When running a dynamic game in an urban setting, things are bound to go awry in some form. Landmarks get removed last minute, security guards change shifts, and so on. The Great Gotham Challenge showed their experience in running logistically complex events as they elegantly handled the few such issues that arose during this game. The GGC team was clear and timely in their communications with teams.

An assortment of people in a portrait gallery.

➕/➖ The very first puzzle both included one of my favorite puzzle reveals of the entire game, but it also was longer and trickier than most of the other puzzles that followed. There could have been a smoother on-ramp.

➕/❓ We were cleverly clued to connect with our surroundings in an iconic location. This interaction worked well for our team, though I heard reports from multiple other teams that encountered technical issues. For digital security reasons, I wish that the naming of a certain element had been a bit more on the nose to confirm that we’d found the correct thing.

➕ A communication puzzle in a highly public place involved multiple thematic ahas. Thoughtful measures were taken in an attempt to distribute load.

➖ Though perhaps unavoidable in a sequential game of this format, a number of environmental reveals were partially spoiled when we arrived at a location to find a number of other teams already crowded around the element we were intended to discover.

➕ The biggest reveal of the game was epic. This was a moment I’ll remember for years to come, and I greatly appreciated its sense of humor.

➕ We vibed with a boldly placed clue that guided us to a tasty place. This was a common trope (at least in the puzzle hunt world) done well. (Though to my fellow plant-based or lactose intolerant folks: I recommend bringing your own snacks!)

An assortment of people in an upscale food court.

➕ A cinematic moment was impressively produced and presented, showcasing the creators’ strengths and ambitions.

➕/➖ The final puzzle started off strong with a great interaction and a beautifully produced prop that I’m excited to hold onto. The puzzle contained within was completely reasonable as a puzzle, yet it underutilized its medium of presentation and felt anticlimactic as the finale to the overall game.

➖ A handful of puzzles were solid ideas in concept but shaky in implementation. One puzzle was practically solvable with only a third of the information provided. Another puzzle’s solution seemed clear, yet actually executing that solution was more finicky than it needed to be. Another was clunky to solve just on mobile devices and would have benefited from a printed reference.

❓ My team solved The Great Gotham Challenge: MMXXIII without any hints so I’m unable to directly comment on the hint system. That said, we quickly became annoyed by the repeated alerts asking if we wanted a hint just minutes after arriving at a new puzzle location. Friends on less experienced or less competitive teams also remarked that they wished there had been a noncompetitive mode where they could freely take hints as needed without being “shamed” with time-score penalties for each hint.

Tips For Visiting

  • You’ll be searching the internet heavily throughout the game, so we recommend bringing a fully-charged mobile device and a portable power bank.

Grab your team’s spot for The Great Gotham Challenge: MMXXIII, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Great Gotham Challenge comped our tickets for this game.

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