A short while ago, I was playing a horror themed escape room. Like all good horrors, it was more narrative driven and had a mystery to solve. We solved puzzles, we got scared, and overall we had a lot of fun.
At the end of the experience however something was nagging me. As we sat talking with our game master about the experience, I asked him a question: who were we in the room and why were we there?
He gave me a confused look and replied he did not know. Was it important that I did know?
I said, yes. Yes, it was quite important.
After Thursday I could barely find time to sit down and actually write the blog. And if there was time, I opted for sleep instead. So I decided to finish off my trip in one fell swoop when I got back!
Here we go!
Canadian Bumpkin Status- Skyrocketed To 200%
I experienced my first real travel anxiety attack. We were running a bit late and suddenly all the possibilities of all the appointments and travel deadlines I would miss and the unfamiliarity with the country I was in came in at me in one overwhelming swoop. I became a silent, worried mess. Thankfully it’s good to have friends around who will shove you in a cab so you can get to your AirBNB and tell you things will be fine. Things were fine.
Also, friends who do all the planning are awesome. Thanks Lisa of REA!
I learned in the Netherlands that cars will stop for people but cyclists will not. The cyclists are mad with power.
There is no such thing as a cheap meal in Europe. However there is no tipping so I think it sort of works out in the end.
Amsterdam is lovely. I want to live on a houseboat but it is 1.2 million euros to live in one.
Canals are so cool!
The European transit system is amazing. The buses seem to come every five minutes and you can pay your fare with your credit card instead of standing awkardly with not quite enough change. And they have paper tickets you can tap on an electronic reader! I gawked at it like the bumpkin I am for a full five minutes.
Every person I came across in Breda warned me of pickpockets in Amsterdam. I tried my best to put on my “I don’t care about your life” Toronto face and walk confidently down the street while at the same time discreetly glancing at the precious blue line on my map which would tell me where to go. I was not pickpocketed but I don’t think it was due to my attempted ruse.
I realize that before GPS we used these things called maps. I am glad I did not have to read a map myself but am secretly glad there was no way I could get lost.
Speaking of which, I missed the straightforward gridlike structure of Toronto streets. These medieval streets were pretty but lacking in all logic or sense.
We went to the strangest, hippest Thai restaurant/clup called Chin’s Club (or something like that). It had a wall of waving cats, Nintendo decorations, rude waiters and expensive hip food.
I discovered kroketten. They are meat mixed with gravy/flour deep-fried in batter and wrapped in bread. They were the best Dutch food I had.
I got propositioned. Twice.
On to the important stuff! Which Escapes did we do?!
Friday I was travelling with David and Lisa of REA and Juliana of Escape Room in a Box! The first stop was a beachside town called Zandvoort to visit Escape Room Zandvoort (note: we would have easily stayed in that town just to hang on the beach for a week).
We did two rooms there: The Boat Trip and The Goldmine. Since Lisa and David were doing these rooms and we all gave our thoughts afterward I will let their reviews speak for most of my thoughts.
They were fun, but they did remind me of a lot of other Canadian rooms puzzle and set design wise. These were not the fabled Netherland experiences I had heard so much about. However they were still mostly solid and did have some fun tech elements I have not seen in Canadian rooms all that often.
After that we rushed to Amsterdam and did Boom Chicago. The room was movie themed and did some neat things with the space Again, since David and Lisa also did it with me I would read their review since we all had the same thoughts on it.
Then there was Sherlocked’s The Vault.
Oh man. The Vault.
I was not originally going to do this room. The main reason was my lack of an available team (the secondary reason is heist rooms make me nervous ). My friends seemed to have already done or were doing it at times I was not available.
Then lo and behold who should message me but a complete stranger who was looking to do it that very evening! It turned out it was a newlywed couple on their honeymoon who had booked the room only to later learn they needed a minimum of four. They joined the enthusiast group with the express purpose of finding someone and were shocked at the number of potential players currently in the Netherlands (they had no clue there was a conference going on)
Because I was in the midst of my travel freakout I waffled on actually going, but David said that I of all people needed to play this room. I am so glad I did.
The Vault is by far in my top 5 escapes of all time. THIS was the experience I had heard all about. From the moment you book the room, the focus is all on immersing the player into the world of the game. You do not even walk into an escape room upon arrival. You are texted a location to go and meet your contact.
From that moment it felt like I was in a movie. That feeling remained throughout the escape. The combination of actors, narrative, lighting, set, sound and puzzles all made for a fantastic experience.
There was one element toward the end though that almost took me out of the experience. I hesitate to call it a tech failure but that’s probably the closest term to what occurred. The most I can say was that physical brute force was absolutely necessary. I had been warned about this aspect ahead of time and I’m glad I was. Most of the players I have talked to who completed it also had complaints about this part of the game. If they tweaked just this element, it would be a near perfect experience.
Still! Go play Sherlocked’s The Vault if you get the chance! It is an unforgettable experience.
Most of Day 6 was Introvert Tourist Day! Again, I was a bad enthusiast but having never traveled I think I made the right call by booking alone time throughout my trip just to take in the sites.
Canadian Bumpkin Status- Tacky Tourist
I wen to the Anne Frank House. I hate to say something like “I enjoyed it” about such an experience, but it was an important museum I wanted to see and although it was sad I am glad I got to see it. I am even more glad the museum gift shop consisted only of copies of the diary. I seriously dreaded what kind of stuff might be there.
I ate a Dutch pancake. It was apple bacon. It was amazing. The syrup however was not. It was thick and tasted odd to me. I missed maple syrup.
The Dutch seem obsessed with being American. There were always American options on the menus or American roadhouse style restaurants all around.
I went on a canal cruise! It was a beautiful day and a lot of locals were on the water. Their boats had really comfy seating and space to put their food and drinks. The people of Amsterdam know how to live.
I stopped by a tack tourist booth and bought tacky tourist magnets. In Toronto I laughed at tourists who bought Canadian souvenirs. Now here I was…one of them.
I ate Indonesian food which I was told was really good in the Netherlands. My friends were right.
I spent my last few coins taking tacky tourist pictures like this one. Gotta support local artists?
I went full Canadian bumpkin when our Dutch friend suggested we sit somewhere illegal to have some drinks (or at least just somewhere the public aren’t supposed to go). I was practically stamping my foot in panic. They relented to my cowardly/law abiding ways and we sat by the canals. I assured them that were it an escape room, I would be one of the first over the fence. Maybe.
I was also weirded out by drinking alcohol so freely out in the open on the streets. I quickly got over that.
There was only one escape for Day 6: Logic Logiclocks’ The Catacombs.
This. Was. Terrifying. And awesome. Awesomely terrifying.
This game appealed to me even moreso than the vault because of my love of ghost stories and horror. And boy did it deliver. Much like the Vault, the pre-game experience seemed to be just as integral to the game as the escape room itself. Also like the Vault, which was housed in a real bank vault, the Catacombs was located in a real church catacombs.
I played this game with my new British enthusiast friends Sera and Sharon. The game designers dialed back the jump scares a bit due to the fact that Sera has a heart condition. It was pretty easy to see where they would have appeared though and I appreciated that even with the jump scares they would have used them sparingly.
What the room did really well was slowly ratchet up the tension and creepiness with small, well placed scary moments. They do what horror does best: let the players fill in the gaps with their own imagination and let the fears fly!
And fly they did. Sharan was the brave superstar of our group, and we readily sent her into the most terrifying situations of the room. This backfired a couple of times when the two scared people of the group suddenly found ourselves alone in the room with no brave player to protect us. It all worked out though.
Again, it felt like a movie. I felt like a paranormal investigator in over their head. The actor was probably one of my favourite actors of all the escape rooms I played that week. The energy he brought just completed the experience.
It all came to a huge climatic ending that of course I won’t spoil. I mention it though (and Sherlocked’s the Vault) because these rooms have something a lot of escape rooms here lack: a satisfying ending for a lose state. Not every team will win, but every team will get an ending that at least feels just as complete as if they had won.
The Catacombs also had something that I do not see enough of (to be fair, I have not played as much as some enthusiasts): they managed to use subtle environmental storytelling and weave it into the puzzles.
Subtle sounds we had heard throughout the experience at first seemed like just great ways to scare us. But they also held important clues for later puzzles. At the same time, the sounds were not beating us over the head with meaning. When the puzzles eventually appeared later, the aha came to us organically. It was really nice, little touches like this that launched this game into my top 5 as well.
I did not realize while playing, but the Catacombs is a scored game. Some of the scoring depends on how closely you have been paying attention to the narrative. I had not seen that done anywhere in scored escape rooms before. It usually just depends how many puzzles you complete and how fast you solve.
Best of all: this game had credits at the end! Credits! That named everyone involved! I really wish more escapes did this!
It was such a great way to end my time in The Netherlands. Afterward my friends and I bought a bottle of wine and drank along the canals nerding out about escape rooms. It was the perfect conclusion to the whole trip.
Stay tuned for my final summary and thoughts on European escape rooms!
And now we get into some of the more involved escape room exposition tools. Super exciting times! (said the nerd) Read the rest of this entry
There are many ways to introduce an audience to a story. Mediums are not limited to any one method although there are usually a couple that are most effective.
Escape rooms are still going through some growing pains. Like video games, they are an interactive experience. Unlike most story heavy games, escape rooms have a set time limit, making it next to impossible to allow players the leisure to discover the story by interaction alone.
So what DOES make an effective exposition for an escape room? Let’s take a look at some of the methods currently used, the pros, the cons and how they can be taken to the next level. For consistencies’ sake, I am going to look at all of these methods using one of the most common escape room themes: The Mad Doctor/Scientist.
I’ve been seeing lots of talk about the Red Bull Mindgamers tournament that happened recently. It’s sparked some interesting discussion but there’s one point in particular that seems to keep coming up that almost warrants its own post.
That point is the competition design did not really feel like an escape room. Either the puzzles were too cerebral or it did not feel immersive enough (To the viewers. According to the players, there was much more story there to follow) or there were too many task based puzzles or a myriad of other complaints. Read the rest of this entry
Over the last year and a bit Errol and I have had a new obsession: Escape Games. Twelve year old Manda has become insanely jealous of adult Manda for getting the opportunity to physically experience adventure games (let’s face it, that’s what they are). We simply can’t stop going to them and with Toronto being one of the meccas of the escape world, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of new ones popping up. We enjoy them so much we even started a blog reviewing them.
Well one event led to another and before we knew it, we suddenly found ourselves helping to plan our own escape event. A live, large scale, one night only escape event called A Night At the Speakeasy happening this Saturday, September 19th at the Gates (66 Gerrard St E.). Look! You can see the website here! Read the rest of this entry