Archimedes Inspiration – MAD [Review]

Brain Breaker

Location:  London, England

Date Played: May 5, 2019

Team size: up to 5; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 70 minutes

Price: £30 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Previously known as Kill M.A.D., Archimedes Inspiration’s MAD wrapped an escape room around an award-winning short film. To our surprise, it worked.

If you had asked us going in, “Do you think that building an escape room around a short film is a good idea?” we’d have been pretty dubious of the concept… and still kind of are. However, Archimedes Inspiration picked the right film and found a clever way to essentially turn it into a compelling and justified cutscene.

It was worth playing MAD to see how Archimedes Inspiration pulled this off. We especially recommend it for players looking for something different.

In-game: The hallway of an asylum with patient clothes hanging from hooks on the wall.
Image via Archimedes Inspiration

Now, as with Project Delta, this attempt at deep storytelling through gameplay stumbled in places. In the case of MAD there were two bigger issues that we found. The initial two thirds of the game were pretty standard escape room fare. The execution was fine, but nothing special, which was juxtaposed strangely against the interesting ending.

Additionally Archimedes Inspiration used a fairly recent real-life disaster as a plot point, which put an unnecessary social burden on this escape room.

Those challenges aside, MAD was worth playing for all of the things that it did differently. It was exciting to see the climax come together. That’s the memory I’ll keep from this game. If you’re interested in storytelling and don’t mind that the game is set in an asylum and pulls from a disaster in living memory, then MAD is worth your time, energy, and thought.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The strange and twisted story
  • Strong integration of an award-winning short film
  • A memorable ending

Story

Strange and terrible things were happening at Sally Star King Hospital. We entered this psychiatric institution to investigate unusual reports about its staff and patients. What we found was twisted…

Setting

MAD’s staging wasn’t fancy, but it was atmospheric. Archimedes Inspiration used each location that we visited within the hospital to convey something about the characters. It was spooky.

In-game: The hallway of an asylum with patient clothes hanging from hooks on the wall with the lights turned down.
Image via Archimedes Inspiration

Gameplay

Archimedes Inspiration’s MAD was an atypical escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, and puzzling.

In the end, we had to truly understand and internalize the story to earn the “optimal” conclusion.

Analysis

MAD’s story featured the 1993 sinking of the MS Estonia in the Baltic Sea. This was the second deadliest sinking of a European ship, claiming 852 lives (the deadliest being the Titanic). If the use of a real disaster from living memory is going to present a problem for you, then you should skip this game.

➖ We were unfamiliar with the MS Estonia going in. (I have a vague memory of it from when it happened.) Archimedes Inspiration’s website should disclose this aspect of the game. I’m not really sure what the MS Estonia added to MAD. If they had swapped in a made-up disaster, it would not have substantively harmed the game. It might have improved it by eliminating this whole discussion.

❓ While this escape room presents puzzles, it was more about the characters than the gameplay.

➕ Each environment within MAD conveyed something about the characters. The spaces were dreamily, yet eerily themed. It worked well.

➕/➖ Throughout most of the experience, the puzzles were good, but not particularly interesting or exciting. They worked pretty well. With the exception of the final puzzle, however, they weren’t memorable.

➖ One puzzle required us to coordinate an effort against really tight tolerances and some finicky tech. This was the low point of the game.

➕ Archimedes Inspiration incorporated an award-winning short film into the narrative and gameplay of this escape room. This was unusual and strangely captivating.

➕ The final sequence was beautifully lit and delivered a satisfying culminating reveal.

❓ At its core, MAD was a giant deduction puzzle. Our experience through the sets, puzzles, and gameplay would help us execute a final cerebral puzzle. There was no “correct” answer, but there was an “optimal” solution. This was an unusual approach to game design. We imagine that some folks will appreciate this approach to narrative and interpretation more than others.

Tips For Visiting

  • Take public transit to Bermondsey Station on the Jubilee Line.

Book your hour with Archimedes Inspiration’s MAD, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Archimedes Inspiration provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Plan – Battle for Britain [Review]

“… We shall fight them in the puzzles…”

Location:  London, England

Date Played: May 5, 2019

Team size: up to 7; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: £89 per team off peak / £120 per team peak

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Battle for Britain was fantastic blend of delightful, quirky design with an elegant but humble construction.

In-game: A slide viewer
Image via Escape Plan

Escape Plan created an entire escape game around directing the response to the Luftwaffe’s attack on London. Our job was to set the battle plan by placing squadrons on a gigantic map. When all was said and done, we watched the information come in on the success (or failure) of our plans… and it was a great moment.

Battle for Britain was a thoughtful game built into the right building. Escape Plan nailed the right details. This one is absolutely worth playing if you’re visiting London.

Who is this for?

  • History buffs
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A charming set
  • A unique mission
  • The massive battle map setpiece
  • The end sequence

Story

With the Luftwaffe inbound and poised to attack London, we had to decipher their ciphers, determine their targets, and dispatch fighter squadrons to intercept them.

In-game: a dartboard in a pilot's bar.
Image via Escape Plan

Setting

Battle for Britain was built into a beautiful old building that was brimming with charm. The various props and setpieces integrated perfectly into this space, like they’d always belonged there.

Escape Plan spread the game out over two different spaces: a pilot’s bar and a war room. The centerpiece of the entire game was the gigantic map of Britain, which we used to order squadrons about.

In-game: The door to the Operations Room.
Image via Escape Plan

Gameplay

Escape Plan’s Battle for Britain was an atypical escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

Our goal wasn’t to escape, but to order the fighter squadrons to the correct intercepts.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, puzzling, and keeping organized.

In-game: The war room map.
Image via Escape Plan

Analysis

➕ The charming set and props in Battle for Britain felt like they belonged in the building. They were fun to behold and manipulate.

➕ That giant map. The gameplay would have functioned just as well with a smaller map, but the battle wouldn’t have been the same. That map made all the difference.

Battle for Britain presented contained searching. While it was a search-heavy game, all searching was directed. We knew what we were looking for and how many items we still had to find. We didn’t mind searching because we weren’t searching blindly.

➖ The puzzles were themed, but not story driven. While they made use of the props, most of them rested on top of the mission rather than within it.

➕ Teams need to stay organized to succeed at Battle for Britain. Escape Plan provided all the tools to do this easily.

➕ The gating for the final battle was cleverly crafted to avoid teams triggering the climactic scene before placing all their squadrons.

➖ There were some in-game instructions that were out of character. While there will always be the teams who need this, it would be great if it could hit you over the head while still feeling like part of the game world.

➕ Teams don’t win or lose Battle for Britain. Instead they watch a battle unfold and see how well their squadrons performed. This unorthodox game design was intriguing and kept us engaged through the final scene, watching the battle play out. It was a memorable finale.

➕ Escape Plan minded the historical details, but not to an extent that it broke the game. They took liberties as needed for gameplay, but the escape room felt true to the source material.

Tips For Visiting

  • Battle for Britain is at Escape Plan’s Kennington location.

Book your hour with Escape Plan’s Battle for Britain, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape plan comped our tickets for this game.

Clue Quest – ORIGENES [Review]

Honey I shrunk the players. 

Location:  London, England

Date Played: May 5, 2019

Team size: up to 12 per copy of the game (they have 2 copies); we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: £30 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We were having so much fun wandering around and looking at things in ORIGENES that we could have accidentally lost this game.

The bizarrely-named ORIGENES shrunk us down and took us through a chapter of Clue Quest’s serialized adventure. We had no idea what the rest of the story was because we hadn’t played their other games, but it didn’t matter. Being tiny in this game world was joyous.

In-game: Closeup of a large circuit board with multiple glowing LEDs.
Image via Clue Quest

At the risk of sounding like Marie Kondo, we’re increasingly finding that a big differentiator for an escape game is how much joy it instills in us while we’re playing.

In the case of ORIGENES, our delight over the set and interactions made this a game that we loved, in spite of an ending that fizzled.

If you’re visiting London and love escape games, ORIGENES is a must-play. For more current information on other great games to play in London, check out the UK escape room blog The Logic Escapes Me. It’s written by Ken Ferguson and he’s a fantastic reviewer.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A delightful set
  • Great set pieces and interactions
  • Entertaining puzzles

Story

In order to stop the evil Professor’s plans, we had to shrink down and enter his base.

In-game: a red glowing LED strip labeled "THE RULER OF..."
Image via Clue Quest

Setting

Clue Quest began our adventure in a shrinking machine. Once we’d figured out how to get our shrinkage on… we entered a delightfully oversized world.

This set was a joy to explore.

In-game: Closeup of a circuit board with a large glowing green LED.
Image via Clue Quest

Gameplay

Clue Quest’s ORIGENES was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: closeup of a large circuit board.
Image via Clue Quest

Analysis

➕ The world of ORIGENES was fun to explore. The set delivered its own aha moments as we reoriented ourselves as small beings in an oversized environment. Recognizing the huge set pieces and props as real world objects was as fun as anything else in the game. Clue Quest didn’t strive to keep the all props and decor to scale against themselves. They didn’t need to. From our shrunken vantage point, each aha was as exciting as the last one.

➕ The oversized mechanisms were a delight to manipulate. The puzzles built into these props solved with satisfying haptic feedback.

➖ We encountered some confusing gameplay as the result of multiple ghost puzzles. We respect Clue Quest for removing these from a game already jampacked with content. With a few more tweaks, however, they wouldn’t be so unnecessarily distracting.

➕ The puzzle flow was lovely for the majority of the experience. The gameplay came together well.

➕/➖ One late-game puzzle slowed the pace of gameplay. This sequence had a lot going for it in both story and interaction. It was an interesting take on the “boss battle” puzzle. From a gameplay standpoint, it was a bit too clunky and made the climactic moment drag.

➖ ORIGENES fizzled out at the end. We were coming off a slower puzzle sequence, but with a sense of accomplishment. Then, in order to escape, we had to re-enter the shrinking machine and un-shrink ourselves. While this made narrative sense, it lacked excitement the second time around.

❓ We never felt connected to the story or a part of a larger world and its characters. While they factored into the puzzling, we weren’t invested in their plight.

➕ There was a lot of joy in this game.

Tips For Visiting

  • Take public transportation to King’s Cross.

Book your hour with Clue Quest’s ORIGENES, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Clue Quest comped our tickets for this game.

Archimedes Inspiration – Project Delta [Review]

Recursion

Location:  London, England

Date Played: May 5, 2019

Team size: up to 5; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 100 minutes

Price: £35 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Project Delta was a 100-minute sci-fi mystery that took risks in service of storytelling. We wholeheartedly recommend it to players who are looking to explore a narrative-driven world. Archimedes Inspiration is one of the few companies that seems really committed to conveying story through gameplay.

In-game: a glowing sci-fi computer in a spaceship.
Image via Archimedes Inspiration

That said, when pushing out to the frontiers of storytelling through immersive gameplay, there are common pitfalls. In Project Delta, these primarily stemmed from editing.

There were puzzles that would have been more entertaining if the interactions had been streamlined: more grappling with the concept and less fighting with the input mechanisms.

Project Delta told the most detailed and nuanced story that we have encountered in our escape room careers to date. It felt like too much to take in through the gameplay, necessitating an extensive debrief at the end.

These are the kinds of problems that creators encounter when they push boundaries, so they aren’t the “bad kind of problems” to have in escape room design. They are lessons to learn from.

Absolutely go play Project Delta. Pay close attention. Know that the gaps will be filled in at the end.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • An ambitious story
  • Some great puzzles
  • Surprising interactions and twists

Story

As new recruits for Rainbow Galactic, we had boarded our spaceship and set off on our first mission: Project Delta. Our goal was to run a series of experiments with the aim of improving upon the human race.

Our mission seemed straightforward until we learned that our employers had been far from truthful.

Setting

Archimedes Inspiration transported us to a spaceship for experimentation. The set was distinctly homemade. Some elements looked quite detailed; other aspects looked like present-day household furniture painted to match the color of the ship.

For the most part, it looked good enough to maintain the illusion. Every once in a while, something jumped out as being out of place.

In-game: Illuminated displays in a spaceship.
Image via Archimedes Inspiration

Gameplay

Archimedes Inspiration’s Project Delta was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty, and a lengthy, nuanced story.

Gameplay was almost entirely linear.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

Analysis

Project Delta took us through a series of solid puzzles with distinctive inputs. We enjoyed the varied puzzles and the many unusual input mechanisms.

➕ Archimedes Inspiration included some challenging layered puzzles. We especially appreciated how puzzle nuances were justified in the narrative and the game world.

➖ With involved layered puzzles, when a solution was incorrect, it could take a long time to uncover the error. Additional feedback would make some of these puzzles more approachable for a timed escape game. Sometimes they started to drag.

➕ In Project Delta, we built mastery of concepts that then recurred… with a twist.

➖ There was a lot of required reading aboard the spaceship.

➕ Archimedes Inspiration used their space creatively to support their narrative. While the decor was minimal at times, it was used thoughtfully to illustrate important story beats.

➕ /➖ Archimedes Inspiration attempted to tell a complex story through gameplay in Project Delta. The story was interesting and inventive. We picked up on pieces of it through the gameplay, which was neat. Some of the key story beats, however, weren’t communicated clearly enough through gameplay. When Project Delta “told” us rather than “showed” us the narrative, it became tedious and a bit annoying to follow.

➖ Archimedes Inspiration was eager to tell us the story after our escape and we were eager to understand it. This rehashing of our playthough, however, felt as though we were in school, being quizzed. This was a rough way to end an entertaining and engaging experience.

Tips For Visiting

  • Take public transit to Bermondsey Station on the Jubilee Line.

Book your hour with Archimedes Inspiration’s Project Delta, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Sherlock: The Game is Now [Review]

“You look but you do not see.”

Location:  London, England

Date Played: May 5, 2019

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 100 minutes

Price: £54 per player

Ticketing: Private or Public

Emergency Exit Rating: meets amusement park code

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Sherlock: The Game is Now carried a lot of hype:

  • It was made in partnership with Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue, and Mark Gatiss, the writers and producers of the BBC’s Sherlock.
  • Sherlock: The Game is Now featured audio and video performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Mark Gatiss, and Andrew Scott, the show’s Sherlock, Watson, Mycroft, and Moriarty.
  • The entire experience was “Presented by Time Run,” one of the most impressive escape room companies that we’ve had the fortune of visiting.
  • There are 5 copies of Sherlock: The Game is Now built within a 17,000-square-foot facility.
  • At £54 per ticket (approximately $71 US when we played), Sherlock: The Game is Now is almost certainly the most expensive escape room on earth as of publication.

With all of that in mind, Sherlock: The Game is Now is a fantastic experience if – and only if – you are a fan of Sherlock.

You have to be excited to spend a couple of minutes hanging out in 221B Baker Street. You must look forward to having Sherlock and Mycroft condescend to you for 75 minutes. To enjoy The Game is Now, you have to be eager to step into the world of the show.

Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty.
Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty

Sherlock: The Game is Now stood out for us because of 3 key factors:

  • the amount of worldbuilding
  • the Sherlock-esque deduction
  • Andrew Scott’s performance as Moriarty, which stole the show

All of this boiled down to an appreciation of the world of Sherlock.

If you’re just a fan of escape rooms or you saw the show a few years ago and kind of enjoyed it… or kind of remember it… The Game is Now is just a very fancy, very expensive escape game. The stuff that made it special will fall flat for you.

Similarly, if you were a diehard fan of Time Run and you’re eager to play the third Time Run game, this won’t be it. This was something different. It was not necessarily worse, but it served a different purpose for a different audience.

Go play Sherlock: The Game is Now if you love the show or you want to see big-budget immersive fan service done well. Make sure you leave plenty of time to hang out in the bar after the game.

Brush up on Sherlock season 1, episodes 1 & 3 and season 2, episodes 1 & 3 before you visit this game. You’ll want to have a strong grasp of the story and characters.

The living room of Sherlock's cluttered London flat. The wall is graffitied, "THE GAME IS NOW."

Who is this for?

  • Fans of the BBC’s Sherlock
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Great performances from the show’s original cast
  • To hang out in 221B Baker Street
  • Detailed sets in a physically massive game
  • The deduction puzzle
  • Andrew Scott’s killer performance as Jim Moriarty

Story

As new recruits in the clandestine service known at The Network, our new boss Mycroft Holmes had brought us in to assist in an investigation. His dear brother Sherlock was out of the country and we were the best he could find on short notice.

The Doyle's Opticians faux storefront. .

Setting

Sherlock The Game is Now was a pretty game.

We began in a “front.” We entered an optometrist’s office in a London mall. It was fairly convincing.

From there we explored a number of familiar locations from Sherlock. Each set was detailed with show accuracy in mind. (We encountered the exact phone from Mycroft’s desk in the show.)

We exited Sherlock The Game is Now into the experience’s bar, The Mind Palace. Like the game, the bar was beautiful. It was also fairly well stocked.

A skull and preserved bugs in 221B Baker Street.

Gameplay

Sherlock The Game is Now was an atypical escape room with a high level of difficulty.

The experience progressed through a series of sets, each presenting a unique collection of challenges. We had only a certain amount of time in each set before we were moved on to the next scene.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, deducing, and puzzling. The deduction component was an intriguing addition to the game.

A smiley face spray painted and shot into the wall of 221B Baker Street.

Analysis

➕ From the moment we entered the optometrist’s store, we were in the game world. Our gamemaster’s introduction was entertaining.

➕ Before the game started, our gamemaster led us through a deduction exercise to get us thinking as detectives. It was a humorous in-world onboarding.

❓ The onboarding was long. If you don’t want to engage with the actor – or aren’t sure how to – it will likely drag on. For escape room players who understand the idea of deduction and aren’t fans of the show, it will likely feel tedious. That said, it was worth playing from both a narrative and a gameplay perspective.

Sherlock The Game is Now was at its best when it asked us to deduce, (almost) as Sherlock did in the show. For us, this scene was the strongest in the game because it zeroed in on what made Sherlock Holmes special.

➖ Although we enjoyed the lab’s deduction puzzle, that scene lacked some cluing, which was especially evident in the presence of a lockout safe.

➕ Mycroft’s office had some nifty input mechanisms. They were fun to manipulate and worked well. They also felt believable in this spy-esque office, but were hidden enough that the office felt like a set pulled directly from the show.

A silhouette of Sherlock Holmes flanked by profiles of John Watson & Mycroft Holmes. A yellow spray painted overlays the image.

Sherlock The Game is Now included audio and video from the original cast. It was exciting to meet the characters again and solve mysteries along side them. Andrew Scott’s killer performance as Jim Moriarty was exceptional.

➕ 221B Baker Street was true to the show. We enjoyed poking around in this familiar space. The women playing before us were huge fans of the show, but not escape room players. This was their favorite part of the experience. Additionally, the transition out of this space and into the gameplay worked well.

➖ If you don’t know the show, you’ll feel a lot of dead time in this game. 221B was purely experiential, with no action you could take to further the game. The actors perform information, which could easily be more accessible in other medias and through other interfaces.

➕ The hint system was a part of the gameworld. We enjoyed Sherlock’s jabs at our intelligence, or lack thereof. The hint system was designed for players who need a lot of hinting. If they are dragged through the puzzles, they’ll enjoy that process because it was another tie-in with the show. (That said, for escape room players, the hint system might feel overly pushy, especially in the first act.)

❓ The premise of the crime felt a little haphazard and impersonal for a Sherlock mystery.

❓ The memorable moments were delivered as an extension of the show, to the fans. They were the moments spent in Sherlock’s world, touching his things, hearing from to his friends and enemies, and experiencing that charming condescension first hand. The gameplay worked, but the moments were largely forgettable. Your mileage will vary.

➕ Post-game, our gamemaster presented a personalized analysis of our team’s performance at each stage of the game. It was funny and felt pretty accurate.

The Game is Now let us out into their own bar, The Mind Palace. The bar was beautiful and well stocked.

The Mind Palace's wooden bar.

Tips For Visiting

  • Sherlock The Game is Now takes place in a mall.
  • There are 5 copies of this game. Most bookings are private, but there is 1 copy always reserved for public bookings.
  • Watch the following episodes of Sherlock before your visit: season 1, episodes 1 & 3 and season 2, episodes 1 & 3.
  • Leave time to visit the bar after your game experience.

Book your hour with Sherlock The Game is Now, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Time Run comped our tickets for this game.

BBC Sherlock Escape Room: 19 Questions with Time Run’s Nick Moran

I loved Time Run. I enjoyed Sherlock. Earlier this week, we were finally able to announce that these two incredible worlds are about to collide in Sherlock: The Game is Now.

I asked Nick Moran, Creative Director at Time Run, more about this collaboration. It sounds to me like a trip to London will be in order. Read on and decide for yourself.

1. Room Escape Artist: Tell us about your new project.

Nick Moran: Sherlock: The Game is Now is our next project, which has just been publicly announced this week. It’s a collaboration between the Time Run team (Josh Ford, Director, Sheena Patel, Producer and myself) and Hartswood Films, the creators of Sherlock. It’s a live game, set in the world of the TV series. This is not a pop-up, or a small-scale temporary event; this is a proper, full-scale escape room experience. We’re excited!

A silhouette of Sherlock Holmes flanked by profiles of John Watson & Mycroft Holmes. A yellow spray painted overlays the image.

2. How did this come about?

Incredibly organically. Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue, and Mark Gatiss came and played Time Run. Conversations started… and it just seemed to make sense. I wish I could say it was some grand orchestrated plan, but honestly, it was just a project we were all excited by. Naturally they love puzzles and mysteries – and have created a show bathed in them. Our business is puzzles and mysteries. It was a natural fit.

3. What was it like working with writers Steven Moffat & Mark Gatiss? You can be brutally honest. There is no way that they read Room Escape Artist.

Steven and Mark are great! Obviously, you hear stories about all sorts of projects and collaborations, but honestly, Hartswood Films is an absolute dream to work with. They’re fun and unbelievably clever. They understand we love and respect the show, and that we’re trying to create an experience that exemplifies everything that’s great about the show, but in a live environment. To that end, they’re up for anything. They’re open-minded, generous, and enthusiastic about the available possibilities. It’s been such a satisfying creative process. They really got into the mindset of this alien format. They’re cinematic thinkers – and yet suddenly they were working on something entirely new – and they were totally game, no pun intended.

So, hopefully we’ve come together to make something really cool.

4. Is this ‘alien format’ a traditional escape room? Or more akin to Celestial Chain? Or something else?

This definitely plays more like a traditional escape room than Celestial Chain.

In-game: a large and mysterious metal vessel. It could be a submarine or a space ship.
Celestial Chain

5. Without spoilers, what can people expect from Sherlock: The Game is Now?

So, when you arrive, you go to W- Oh… without spoilers. This is difficult.

You are at the centre of your own episode of Sherlock. You’ll get to step into the shoes of Mr Holmes and be the protagonist in your own adventure. You’ll experience amazing gameplay, beautiful environments (both familiar and unfamiliar) and journey through a world that doesn’t break from the moment you enter until the moment you leave. And (spoiler alert) – you’ll have a whole lot of fun, or at least, we damn well hope so!

The living room of Sherlock's cluttered London flat. The wall is graffitied, "THE GAME IS NOW."

6. Is this set in an existing Sherlock episode? Or is it inspired by an existing Sherlock Holmes story?

It’s an all-new adventure in the world of the show. It’s not set in an existing episode. Telling you any more… well, obviously, that’d be telling.

7. Do people need to have seen the show or read the books to enjoy the experience?

If you haven’t seen the show, it’ll be a great experience, but if you have seen the show, you’ll get a lot more from it. The show has dedicated fans worldwide and we want to respect them and the legacy of the show that they love. So, to answer your question succinctly: no, not at all. But it sure helps to have seen it, otherwise you’ll miss some of the fun details, references, and Easter eggs!

8. Since Holmes, Dr. Watson, Mrs. Hudson, Inspector Lestrade, and Mycroft are all characters in this game… who are we, the players, in this experience?

Naturally, you are… you. Once you have signed up, you are willing recruits of the Network. What’s the network? Well, it’s Mycroft Holmes’ web of recruits that seep out under the skein of the world.

Now, as the trailer says – and Mycroft says it better than I do – many of these particular agents suffered rather unfortunate ends. Sadly it’s time to turn to the public, as numbers are low (and the great unwashed are quite expendable). He doesn’t find this a particularly savoury thought, as you can imagine.

9. Many escape room players are over Holmes. They’ve played so many Holmes-themed escape rooms at this point. What are you doing to make this experience really capture the world of Holmes and set it apart?

Well, Sherlock and the works of Conan Doyle are as different as any adaptation can be! The show is the product of two writers who were utterly enamoured with the source material and set out to create their own, unique universe. The usual escape room fare is just slap-on-a-deerstalker-and-hope-for-the-best.

In Sherlock: The Game is Now you step into the world of high-octane, fast-talking, high-functioning sociopath, Sherlock Holmes and his sneering, supercilious brother, a world dripping with humour, pathos, action, and adventure. This game will be so much more than some loose, Sherlock theming: a battered pseudo-Victorian study, assembled from bric-a-brac, as you see in some poor escape games. Here, you are at the centre of an amazing adventure, in not just *a* Sherlock Universe but *the* Sherlock Universe. The show has become a cultural totem in and of itself. It stepped out of the shadow of Conan Doyle the moment it was born. It’s that world in which you play, which is markedly different from the typical escape room fare.

10. You have such a well-defined mythos of your own at Time Run. Is this connected in any way to the Time Run verse?

Haha, sadly no. Babbage and Luna are off gallivanting through time and space, alone. Although, as we’ve poured ourselves into the game, if bits of us didn’t seep in there somehow, I would be shocked.

Time Run’s lobby.

11. Will people experience the same level of world-building that we’ve come to expect from Time Run?

100% yes. Time Run very much had our game design ethos: a world that never breaks, from beginning to end. A world that makes sense. Games with logic, internally and externally. We try to maintain this ruleset across what we do because it’s our design ideology. It’s all about losing yourself inside a experience, one that just happens to be a game. It just wouldn’t be a Time Run game otherwise.

Lance of Longinus

12. Compared to the high level of detail you had in your original two games, how does this measure up?

Experiences live and die in the detail. Naturally, the same team is behind all of our games, so we sure hope it will measure up. However, these are, naturally, real world environments. There can’t be the same flights of fancy that Time Travel allows. It’ll feel similar in detail, but different in emphasis.

Before we close, let’s expand on a few of the details from the announcement:

13. When do tickets go on sale? When does it open? How long will this run?

We’re currently selling tickets from October 2018 through January 2019 and will open more dates further down the line.

14. Where will this experience be located? (And please let the answer be Baker Street.)

Oh, it’s a top-secret location. Or at least, mildly secret. Well, alright, it’s just a bit secret. But we won’t tell you where yet. That’ll spoil the fun.

15. Your facility will be 17,000 square feet. That’s is huge! How is that space being used?

There are five copies of Sherlock: The Game Is Now. There are also elements we can’t reveal just yet. Let’s just say it’s an immersive experience from beginning to end…

16. Your official announcement mentioned plans for a worldwide roll out over the next 5 years. Can you give me any hints on timing or location? Can I put in a request for New York?

I can’t answer, sorry.

17. What does a ticket cost? Private group booking? Minimum/ maximum group size?

Tickets cost £54 (~$72) per person. You have to book as a group of 4-6 players. And yes, all private group bookings.

18. £54 is a considerably higher ticket price than escape room players are accustomed to. What do you say to someone who’s looking to choose between playing two escape rooms at the more typical price or visiting Sherlock: The Game Is Now?

This isn’t for me a question of “or;” it’s a question of “why.”

When you want to create an experience based upon an existing show – and a premium one, at that – there’s a choice. Do you treat the programme with respect, or not? Do you invest in making it full of beautiful environments, and experiential touch points? Do you ensure that there’s enough staff so that every group has the best possible experience – a ratio over and above that of pretty much any escape game?

I’ve not been to any of the previous brand tie-in events, but I’ve heard tales of experiences that did not do justice to the shows or films concerned. That saddens me. When we say it’s a 90-minute adventure, we’re not lying; you’ll be in the world from the moment you arrive. The entrance will surprise and amuse. There’ll be actor-led elements. We’ve included AV content from the cast of the show. The lovely sets – some small, intimate and detailed, others straight from the series – are created primarily as a gift for the audience. There’s other elements we haven’t revealed, too.

I would say to an enthusiast: trust us. We’re enthusiasts, too, all of us. We are determined to do justice to this show and this experience. If you don’t find my answer convincing, I understand, but it’s the truth. Enthusiasts are smart people. They get that doing this kind of thing well isn’t easy. When you factor in everything – from the A/V elements from the cast of Sherlock to the large-scale production – you’ll understand. I’m certain you won’t be disappointed.

19. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask: Time Run closed in April. Are there plans for a new Time Run facility in the cards?

Oh, Time Run is just sleeping – and nothing sleeps forever, does it?

Time Run – The Celestial Chain [Review]

Time crunch.

Location: London, United Kingdom

Date played: October 25, 2017

Team size: 3-6; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: £33 – £42 per ticket depending upon timing

Story & setting

The vengeful goddess Nemesis broke free from the Celestial Chain. Could we travel through time and gather all of the components needed to bind her once again before she unleashed her retribution on the world?

In-game: An intricate and aged tomb or temple.
This is really what the game looks like.

The Celestial Chain was split into segments. Each segment was set in a different time and place within history. In each segment, we could earn up to 5 resources. We needed to gain at least 1 resource from each era in order to bind Nemesis. Earning at least 3 from each granted us access to the top win condition. Anything beyond 3 was essentially bonus plunder.

Additionally, each segment had its own game clock. The Celestial Chain was more like 5 Wits for adults than a traditional escape room. As a result of this structure, multiple teams were playing different segments of The Celestial Chain at the same time. We could not hang back in an era once that segment’s game clock expired.

As with Time Run’s first game, The Lance of Longinus, the sets were among the finest that I’ve encountered. The Celestial Chain spanned many different periods and places and each looked and felt distinctive. Furthermore, the beautiful sets felt lived in.

Puzzles

Time Run built unique sets with puzzles that tied to each room/ time period. Every era in The Celestial Chain had a cohesive and related set of puzzles. They had established this design with The Lance of Longinus.

In-game: A concrete Soviet bunker with concrete walls, a PA system, and a photo of Stalin hanging on the wall.

In The Celestial Chain, however, the individual set game clock created a continual time crunch not felt in their other game.

Standouts

The first room was an especially smart on-ramp for the game. It had a fantastic core mechanism that really lifted the experience.

The Celestial Chain’s sets were amazing. The variety of spaces that Time Run created was dumbfounding. In nearly any other company, this one game would have been 4 or 5 separate escape rooms.

The varied yet cohesive puzzles were entertaining and felt at home in each segment of The Celestial Chain.

The pacing was intense. When we gained access to a new area/ era, I wanted to dash into it.

I knocked The Lance of Longinus for not having a climax. Oh my, did Time Run go the other direction in The Celestial Chain. The final moments were memorable and impressive.

A lushly decorated office filled with artifacts.
This is the lobby for The Celestial Chain. The lobby!

I mentioned this in the last review, but it bears repeating: Time Run built a whole world to explore. The entire facility – front door, lobby, gamemasters, and both games – were all part of a beautiful Time-Run-verse.

The Celestial Chain concluded with us receiving a detailed score and assessment of our team’s ability and style of play. This was as funny as it was accurate.

Shortcomings

Time was a precious and limited resource in The Celestial Chain, even more so than in most escape rooms. The constantly resetting game clock drove the pace. Not all challenges were equally fun and we would have rather apportioned our time differently, but we didn’t have that luxury. Additionally, it was kind of heartbreaking to have to leave a challenge seconds away from completion.

In The Lance of Longinus, Time Run instituted a standard aesthetic for time travel. This was essentially abandoned in The Celestial Chain (probably for spatial reasons). Consequently, the transitions from era to era were a little harsh. It was a small detail, but I missed walking through portals.

While especially cool, the conclusion was a little chaotic. We nearly missed some key details. We’d also earned more components than we needed, which added some confusion. (As Ikea will teach you, extra parts are always a bit confusing.) When all was said and done, we collectively felt like we had failed. It turned out that we had achieved one of the highest scores ever, but in the moment that was undermined by our confusion. We got over it.

Should I play Time Run’s The Celestial Chain?

Yes, you absolutely should play The Celestial Chain, but only if you’ve already played The Lance of Longinus. Time Run has a particular style and approach. You will enjoy The Celestial Chain so much more if you learn the ropes in their more relaxed first game.

From set, to puzzles, to facility, Time Run is comfortably sitting among the best in the business. The Celestial Chain was their sophomore game and it pushed a lot of boundaries. Some of those boundaries cracked a little, but none of them broke. The pacing, intensity, and beauty of this game was remarkable.

In-game: a large and mysterious metal vessel. It could be a submarine or a space ship.
Look at all of the details. Just look at them.

The Celestial Chain can be enjoyed by players of most experience levels. We dissuade true newbies from booking it; this game will be hell if you are clueless. It operates under the assumption that you have at least a basic idea of what goes on in an escape game.

Depending upon your skill level, you’ll have to adjust your expectations. If you’re moderately experienced, shoot for 3 resources per era. Trust me when I say that 3 per era is par… and quite a good performance.

The Celestial Chain is one of those rare games that will make even the most experienced of escape room players scramble. Don’t go in cocky. No team has earned a perfect score in The Celestial Chain. We came pretty close, but fell short. Remember than any resources gained beyond 3 of a kind are for vanity and not needed in the finale. We were told this by our gamemaster and forgot it in the heat of the moment.

Enjoy the world that has been created within this facility. The Time Run world is so fleshed out that it could be made into a novel, movie or television series. I think that it would be a hit.

If you haven’t already, go play Time Run’s games. They will be open through the end of the year and maybe into 2018… but eventually their building will be leveled and turned into housing. It’s only a matter of time, so run and visit them while you still can.

Book your hour with Time Run’s The Celestial Chain, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Time Run comped our tickets for this game.

Images via Time Run.

Time Run – The Lance of Longinus [Review]

94% infallible.

Location: London, United Kingdom

Date played: October 25, 2017

Team size: 3-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: £33 – £42 per ticket depending upon timing

Story & setting

Inventor and adventurer Luna Fox created a time machine and uses it to yank powerful and mystical artifacts away from those who would use them to distort history. While Ms. Fox was off on one of her missions, her steampunk robot Babbage summoned us to complete a quest of our own: acquire the Lance of Longinus before its legendary messiah-killing powers could be used in the service of evil.

A massive circular door with an elaborate hourglass engraved. The right side reads, "The Laboratory."
Literally Time Run’s front door.

Time Run’s experience ran from their massive front door through the escape room’s conclusion. We were greeted by an actor in a beautiful set, introduced to the lore of Time Run, and then seamlessly sent off upon our journey through time.

A steampunk office with a map of England and a massive collection of metal and wooden parts.
Time Run’s lobby was more detailed and aesthetically pleasing than most escape rooms.

The Lance of Longinus spanned multiple time periods. Each new period involved a completely different set, feeling, and experience. The various settings were all magnificently executed; they stood in stark contrast to one another.

Puzzles

Each time period within The Lance of Longinus had a completely different feel and style of puzzling that fit with the era.

Throughout the escape room, the puzzles felt tangible and chunky. The props and puzzles were large and part of the environment. Solutions involved physical action. This design connected the entire experience.

Standouts

Damn near everything within The Lance of Longinus as well as Time Run’s facility looked and felt perfect. When we entered their grounds, we entered their world.

In-game: An ornate Greek tomb filled with statues of gods.
This was just one room of The Lance of Longinus.

The puzzles and challenges were inspired by each time period. Every segment felt like its own individual escape room. In fact, with a few more puzzles, any one of those segments could have stood on its own as a complete escape room.

There was a series of puzzles involving many large components and an even larger gamespace. The scale gave this whole run of challenges a gravity that I’ve rarely felt in an escape room.

An illustration of steampunk robot Babbage and inventor / adventurer Luna Fox.
Babbage & Luna Fox

The audio and video portrayal of Luna Fox and Babbage sent them though time with us, while keeping us consistently within the experience.

The actors that we encountered before and after the escape room were fantastic.

Hints were timely, useful, and well embedded. Babbage delivered them.

At the conclusion of the game, we received a card assessing how we had played. It was funny… and accurate. It was clear that someone had watched us intently.

Shortcomings

The climax of The Lance of Longinus was not particularly thrilling, when compared to the journey we took to arrive at it.

For anyone with a short attention span, the volume of introductory content would likely be a bit much. I found it entertaining, but there was a lot of it. Then there was a little more.

While absolutely not a shortcoming, there was a minor cultural difference that Americans might want to keep in mind. This caused a significant slowdown for us:

Very minor spoiler

Europeans write dates as DD/MM/YY. We knew this, but didn’t think about it at the time.

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Should I play Time Run’s The Lance of Longinus?

Yes… if you’re in London, you should visit Time Run.

Everything in Time Run was consistent, interrelated, and part of a larger story. The front door, lobby, hallways, gamemasters, and both of the escape rooms (review of The Celestial Chain coming soon) were part of a larger time-jumping, artifact-nabbing world. It was impressive and delightful.

Plus, if you’re a tourist visiting London, I cannot think of anything more authentically British than Time Run’s premise: “We’ve invented a time machine and we’d like you to plunder ancient artifacts. It’s for everyone’s own good that we hold onto these things.”

Time Run operates its games through a private booking system. You need a minimum of 3 players to attempt The Lance of Longinus.

If you’re a newbie, The Lance of Longinus will be a steep but doable challenge. This was, without a doubt, the more approachable escape room at Time Run. That being said, I strongly encourage you to play another escape room or two before attempting Time Run. You will be so much happier playing The Lance of Longinus with a basic understanding of escape room gameplay.

Experienced players will find a lively, ever-changing, and beautifully constructed world of actors, puzzles, and set design all loaded with nuance and detail that will stick with you long after you’ve returned to the present day.

Book your hour with Time Run’s The Lance of Longinus, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

All images via Time Run.

Full disclosure: Time Run comped our tickets for this game.