September 2014 Dealwatch Special: coupons and discounts to play exit games for less

"On sale" graphic"On sale" graphicNormally this site makes Dealwatch a once-a-month attraction. However, when there are deals to report, particularly ones which may well go quickly, there’s no time to wait. It’s inconvenient that the hosting service that this site uses has been having problems today, though their track record so far has been very satisfactory and today’s communication – to be fair – has been pretty good.

The usual rules are in operation: terms and conditions doubtless apply and this site takes no responsibility for deals that fall through for whatever reason. These are not exclusive in any shape or form. Many of these deals only permit a limited number of vouchers to be purchased and then the deal will expire; it’s quite possible that deals may expire between being published below and your attempt to use them. This site does not attract any commission, whether you click through and purchase the deals or not.

Lock and LOL of London are set to open on October 10th, as previously discussed, though the first seven days are showing up as unavailable in the booking system. The site has a Wowcher deal available, letting a team of up to five play for £39. Your voucher will be valid between 10th October and 27th March 2015.

Escape Rooms of London are set to have a second Groupon voucher. The deal is being released to Groupon VIP members today and to the general public tomorrow. Be warned that the first time the site had a voucher, the first batch of 100 sold out within four hours. The details are set to be confirmed, and this site will update this entry with a link once they are known if it can. However, this site understands that the vouchers are set to be restricted to use during off-peak hours.

((Edited to add: The deal itself is now available. £49 for three players, £59 for four players and £69 for five players. There are quite a few conditions: the deal is valid for new customers only, for the Pharoah’s Chamber room only, and is only valid all day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays or on games starting by 3:45pm on Mondays and Thursdays, until 30th October 2014.))

In the previous Dealwatch, we noted that Escape Hunt of London, announced as opening on October 3rd, have a 10% discount voucher available. News reaches this site that there is not just a 10% discount but a 25% discount for any booking made by 21st October 2014 with the code EscapeHunt25. It’s not immediately clear if there is a date by which the games purchased through this discounted booking must be played, much in the same style as the previous discount code.

Paying an acknowledgement to the consistently vigilant Intervirals, Escape Quest of Macclesfield have ((Edited for factual correction: opened advance booking and then made a Facebook post suggesting that a 10% discount is available when you use the shopping basket Facebook share button.))

Those are all the active deals, discounts and coupons this site could find; if you know of others, please send them through – and if your site has a offer not listed above, please don’t assume the worst; get in touch and this site will happily spread the good news. (Alternatively, if you would prefer that this site does not list your coupon, or if I have mangled the details of the offer, that’s fine too; again, please get in touch.)

September 2014 Dealwatch: coupons and discounts to play exit games for less

"On sale" graphicThis site loves it when new sites open and flourish, not least because new sites are the ones most likely to offer discounts; many sites hit the ground running and can do good business at full price before long. Here’s a quick run-through of the deals that this site could find that are still valid. (Ground rules: terms and conditions doubtless apply and this site takes no responsibility for deals that fall through for whatever reason. These are not exclusive in any shape or form. This site does not attract any commission, whether you click through and purchase the deals or not.)

Bath Escape have a Groupon deal available, though Groupon deals tend to go pretty quickly so there’s no telling when this one might run out. £39.95 lets your team of 4-6 play one of the site’s two games (doesn’t apply to the outdoor detective hunts). Book within 14 days of getting the voucher, expires 12th December, only valid Tuesday to Friday 11am-9pm rather than weekends. You must arrive 15 minutes before booked game time and bring your printed voucher on arrival.

Escape of Glasgow have a LivingSocial deal available for, it looks like, the next 11 days or so. £24 lets your team of up to five play at this exciting new site. Voucher expires at the end of 2014 and is valid from Wednesday to Sunday 11am-9pm. The Edinburgh site is hugely popular so it seems unlikely that there’ll be too long before the Glasgow site becomes just as much of a hit.

Escape Hunt of London are set to open on October 3rd. The site has opened for booking very recently, with the highlight being an opening offer. Book by 21st October, to play by 30th November, using code ESCAPE10 and you’ll get a 10% discount. There’s a flyer to print out and share. Additionally, Escape Hunt pays vouchers as commission to those who refer companies wanting Christmas party or team-building activities.

Dealwatch is getting more and more difficult, but that’s not bad news in the least. Those are all the active deals, discounts and coupons this site could find; if you know of others, please send them through – and if your site has a offer not listed above, please don’t assume the worst; get in touch and this site will happily spread the good news. (Alternatively, if you would prefer that this site does not list your coupon, that’s fine too; again, please get in touch.)

Coming soon to London: Escape Rooms’ “Room 33” and Escape Hunt

Big Ben and its surrounding tower in London(Public domain photo via London Pictures.)

Two very exciting developments are coming soon to London. Escape Rooms opened a little over a month ago and its first room, the Pharoah’s Chamber, is already earning TripAdvisor reviews that are proving first class. The site’s second room, entitled Room 33, is scheduled to open this Thursday, 18th September, and the site is taking bookings already. The site is proving popular, particularly at weekends, with people who have enjoyed the site’s first room likely to come back to try the second, so you may well want to book soon.

The story behind Room 33 is that of a heist. As a guard to the emperor of the 17th century Qing dynasty of China, a valuable porcelain vase (believed to ensure that the dynasty will last forever) is stolen on your watch. Players travel through time to Room 33 of the modern-day British Museum, hence the name, and have to retrieve the priceless artefact and return it while your time machine’s portal remains open. Sounds intriguing and this site looks forward to hearing whether the second room matches up to the first.

A little further ahead, faithful reader Dean has pointed out that London’s Escape Hunt has published its location: 5 George Yard, right at the heart of the City of London, close to Bank station and within a javelin’s throw of some of the most famous old business institutions of the capital. While bookings are not being taken quite yet, The London Sinner have more, tantalising, detail, including a projected opening date: 3rd October.

The article suggests that the location will have ten(!) rooms, offering three different games. (While this site doesn’t yet have sufficient information to claim this as a record, a fortnight ago, The Mindtrap in Thessaloniki was being claimed to be Europe’s largest with only – “only”! – six. There are different ways of measuring “largest”, of course.) Quoting The London Sinner:

Find the murderer of a famous artist, save the life of a kidnap victim and, in a completely new departure for The Escape Hunt, track down the antidote to a deadly poison in an enigma especially created for the London experience(…)

All three games sound exciting, and the sprinkle of stardust is something new and distinctive. It’ll be a lot of fun to find out!

Interview with Paul Bart, CEO and Founder of The Escape Hunt Experience

Escape Hunt global logoHere’s a perspective you won’t find elsewhere. This site has already discussed Escape Hunt, set to open in London in August. There are already three Escape Hunt sites open, in three different countries, and the locations list details the ambitious expansion plans around the world, particularly over the short-term future.

Accordingly, it’s exciting to be able to feature an interview with Paul Bart, the CEO and founder. There are very few brands with a similar global perspective and profile, so Paul’s take on the genre, and his background, will be distinctive. The questions asked by Exit Games are tagged with EG and Paul’s responses with PB below.

  • EG: How did you get into “escape games”, Paul?
  • PB: I was looking for a new business idea a while back and I noticed around a year ago that a few escape games were spring up and doing well in other cities. I decided it was worth looking at how they were being run and what the potential was to expand with them globally. Unfortunately none had a truly global vision and I decided I had to go it alone. Hence The Escape Hunt Experience was founded.
  • EG: What is your background that could possibly relate to this?
  • PB: There are many factors here and, without boring you, let’s just say I have always been fascinated and challenged by puzzles. I was the kid who would stay up late at night in bed trying to figure out how to solve a maths or word puzzle. I also have a good psychology degree specializing in several areas one of which is IQ testing and another is data analysis relating to statistics. Add in many years of corporate training, seven languages and a lot of other eclectic experience and that might tell you why I love what I do so much.
  • EG: How do you see this market now and in say 12 months time?
  • PB: Now it is growing fast and it will continue to do so. There are two main types of players now – larger companies like us of which we are the clear global leader and then local games with one or maybe a send branch only. As time goes on, this will get more blurred with regional players, more different styles and a lot of different ideas. We are clear where we will be in 12 months time – around 100 branches worldwide in our own style but maybe more advanced games as this changes monthly.
  • EG: What is your current personal contribution?
  • PB: I run the business so I have a lot of strategic responsibility. I also oversee all the global marketing and franchisee relations. Most of all I love game design so that takes a big chunk of my time leading our global game design team based here in Bangkok.
  • EG: Which puzzles, games and other artworks have influenced you most over the years in your designs?
  • PB: That is a hard one! I love art – everything from Renaissance to Modern and also sculpture. I also love languages. Add in some darker stuff like the occult and great literature and you can see its very eclectic. Most of all we try very hard to be logical and balance our games. Many game providers don’t see the need for that but it is very important especially as we operate in so many countries with so many languages.
  • EG: If you could predict the future for escape games, what would it be?
  • PB: Growth, growth and more growth! Then some diversification into new areas. We have huge plans here. Watch this space as they say…
  • EG: Do you see it appealing to different markets in different geographies?
  • PB: Of course. It’s a global phenomenon. At our Bangkok branch we have seen nearly 20,000 players and I can’t think of a country not represented. It is a fascinating anthropological study, believe me. Filipinos are so different from Thais, Brits from Americans. They all have fun in different ways. Doing as much corporate work as we do is amazing too as we see global companies bring their worldwide staff – all very different styles!
  • EG: How, in practice, do different countries vary from each other in what their players are looking for?
  • PB: They all want fun but some are more serious. It sounds like stereotyping but it is true that Europeans take it more seriously and Asians take more photos afterwards as just one example…
  • EG: Have you identified any trends as to which nationalities prefer which styles of puzzle?
  • PB: Actually Chris, it is fairly culturally neutral overall. I see no bias for different preferences actually but If you ask me about ability, that is a totally different question. Asians are renowned for their quantitative skills whereas Europeans and Western nations in general are more qualitative. This bears out in game play too but it is also about initiative. Asian players are generally better at solving puzzles once they are “shown the way” if you like whereas western races grasp the idea quicker but then don’t make such good progress in average. It all equals out in the end pretty much and then differences some done to social factors such as assertiveness, cooperation and leadership. It’s a long story; maybe I can answer next time in a specific chat on this point.
  • EG: How do you deal with language issues, particularly in countries where there are a multitude of languages spoken or where tourists are such a high proportion of visitors that you cannot reliably make assumptions about what languages they speak?
  • PB: That’s a great question, Chris. We run both multi-language games and single language depending upon the location. Our Asian branches are multi but London will be single language. It is not always obvious which language either! Phuket will run in English and…. Russian. Not Thai as you would expect. Overall, we adjust for cultural bias and language in our games so language plays a very small role in overall game play. Bangkok is another great example of this. We run in Thai and English but despite even messages in Japanese on our website to say “we do not speak Japanese. These games are only in Thai and English”, such is our popularity amongst Japanese locals in Bangkok and tourists, they still come and speak absolutely not one word of Thai or English. We still have great fun using sign language and they leave with a big smile!
  • EG: Where are you based and how does that allow you to work?
  • PB: I am based in Bangkok but travel all over the world. I am on the road a lot setting up our game centres and I install all games personally. I love that…
  • EG: What is a typical day for you, Paul?
  • PB: There is no typical day but overall it is around 30% game design, 20% franchisee support, 20% marketing, 20% technical things and 10% on Bangkok branch.
  • EG: What are the most memorable reactions that you have witnessed?
  • PB: I have to say that large groups of Filipinos are the most exuberant when they solve the puzzles and then they all get so happy in a huddle but for me it is the 3-4 occasions where an older player has personally shaken my hand and thanked me for the “best time they have ever had with their grand children”… Really makes all the hard work worthwhile!
  • EG: What has surprised you in the last 12 months?
  • PB: A lot of things but mainly for us how successful we have been and how we have adapted our proposition to all the different cultures and geographies. In Bangkok branch, we also developed a huge corporate following without a single call to a company. They all find us. Singapore has also been so successful only a short time after opening it shows the power of our global brand.
  • EG: What have your years of corporate training experience taught you about how to tailor the experience when you offer corporate events?
  • PB: Wow! OK, the short answer is always understand beforehand what the agenda is. We have hosted ExxonMobil and Shell at one end of the scale and small local travel companies at the other end. The key is to know how they want to play things. Our website has a sample corporate agenda in the FAQ section but actually it is the whole atmosphere that counts. We always keep it fun and stimulating but we can also get into some deep coaching too if needed. I try to personally host each corporate event as I have the skills but we even get into quite esoteric stuff at times like hypnosis and visualisation techniques. It is all about what the client wants and we do cater to all needs…
  • EG: What would you say to anyone who feels they want to work in this industry?
  • PB: Go for it. It’s a great and exciting place to be. Whether as a game designer, game master or even the administrator, its never a dull moment. There will be courses at universities soon on “Escape Gaming” or as we call it, “Experiential Entertainment”.
  • EG: What misconceptions about the industry would you most like to dispel?
  • PB: I think all the press and feedback is positive. The only things I would say that are unfair are the criticisms of games at number one on TripAdvisor. We have been number one in Bangkok since a month after opening and we deserve it as we offer an extremely high level of satisfaction. Sure, we are not a temple, but maybe we offer better service and satisfaction! I guess the only other point is that the industry is not only for geeks as is often assumed. We are a major international company operating in many countries so its hardly geeky anymore – no more geeky than working for Apple, I guess!

    Thank you for your time, Chris, and letting me tell my story! For all those who want to be part of our future, we still have franchise opportunities available in many locations. For those who want to work with us, send us your resume via our website. We are hiring in all sorts of areas!

Thanks so much for that, Paul! This site very much hopes to feature more interviews in future as a way to get a variety of perspectives from behind the scenes. It also considerably adds to anticipation for the London opening, just a few months away.

Weekend round-up

US Sudoku Team logoTechnically this is the US Sudoku Championship logo rather than the US Puzzle Championship one, but it’s always been a beauty. This weekend’s highlight is the US Puzzle Championship, a 2½-hour online language-free culture-neutral puzzle contest, where participation is open to entrants around the world. You can still register to take part; once you’ve logged in, the instruction booklet is available. Download the puzzles in advance; the password will be revealed at 6pm UK time on Saturday 17th and you have until 8:30pm UK time to submit your answers in order to score as many points as possible.

It’s worth reflecting at this point that as recently as 2010, the UK puzzle season was the US Puzzle Championship – and, if you didn’t qualify for the World Championship, that was it. 2010 was a pivotal year with the launch of the UK Puzzle Association and also Logic Masters India bringing frequent tests; 2011 saw the start of the UK Puzzle Championship and so much has followed since. The US Puzzle Championship is quite a traditional event, what with its fixed timeslot; it is clearly aimed to find the best competitors for the phenomenally successful US team for the WPC and sets its difficulty accordingly. If you’d like to know more, this site recommends Dr. Thomas Snyder’s nine-part Better Know the USPC series from 2011.

Let’s round up the latest exit game news as well:

  • In Edinburgh, Escape opened today, and this site has the joy of turning their red “opening soon!” map dot to a glorious yellow.
  • In Manchester, Make A Break have announced good news: they have proved popular enough to extend their opening hours at weekends.
  • In London, HintHunt also have good news to announce: they are opening a second Zen Room from 1st June; they will be able to host five games at once, making them the biggest single site at the moment. They are fully booked up at weekends until mid-July, other than for this second Zen Room, so this is a very rare weekend opportunity to play.
  • However, unfortunately, it’s not all good news; Escape Hunt have announced that their London opening will be delayed until late August. Good things come to those who wait!

Introducing the Timeline

This site is pleased to present the Timeline, a sourced attempt to track the chronological progression of exit room openings and closures in the UK and Ireland. It covers the past and the present of exit rooms, so let’s look to the future and see which sites are likely to be next to be added to the Timeline. There was a big rush of openings around December 2013, give or take a month; there may well be another big rush of openings coming soon.

  • Tick Tock Unlock in Leeds has probably got to be considered the favourite to be next to be added to the Timeline. The first date on which books available has been pushed back at least twice, from April 29th to May 12th to the current date of May 19th, but the social media campaign remains active. Perhaps this could be interpreted as a sign of the site being very close to opening.
  • Can’t see anything on the Cipher web site or social media about when they are due to reopen for their second season, but the suggestion is that bookings are not being taken only for May. Fingers crossed that a reopening may only be a few weeks away.
  • Not much obviously happening around Escape Live in Birmingham, but the team may well be hard at work on the physical site and they may well hit their June target.
  • Likewise, our coverage of Clue HQ in Warrington was only very recent. The web site continues to be updated and suggests an opening date of late June.
  • The Escape Hunt London site has nothing obviously new – most notably, still no location yet, which points to the previous estimate of “June or July” remaining active. A little searching through Facebook and LinkedIn reveals the addition of the London branch’s Facebook page. Seven five-star reviews before the site has opened is a little cheeky.
  • The Can You Escape? Indiegogo for a site in Edinburgh has gone a little quiet, but this site remains on the case and the campaign mentions plans in case the Indiegogo does not reach its target, so nothing too worrying there.
  • Moving towards the back burner, the silence from QuestRoom of London is possibly bigger cause for concern; still nothing from the long-term hope at Live Escape Game of Brighton and Puzzlescape is now getting quite cold.

Looking forward to Escape Hunt in London

escapehuntI’ve previously made passing mention of Escape Hunt in the light of mention that it would open in London in June. It’s very interesting to follow the progress of the global Escape Hunt web site – and even more interesting to see that a London Escape Hunt web site has opened.

The original Bangkok site has proved sufficiently popular that a new challenge has been issued to celebrate 15,000 guests. Six other franchises are sufficiently well-advanced to have spawned their own local sites; most of them have addresses publicised, a few even have opening dates. Sadly for us, London has not got that far yet, but we do have a pricing structure and a suggestion that there might even be outdoor games available as well as the indoor ones, which would be distinctive. If the suggestions of unusually high levels of accessibility to the young and the less mobile make it to fruition, that would be another point in its favour. I would tend to regard much of the other information, such as the number of rooms, as not yet set in stone.

The Bangkok Facebook site also suggests that there is an optional additional costuming activity once teams have finished their game, and this would be unusually appropriately thematic in a London location with allusions to a certain fictional, but traditionally London, detective.

Exciting and ambitious! We will follow the progress of Escape Hunt with great interest; more news as we have it.

Where in London could the next exit game be?

London skylineLondon plays such a vast role in the UK economy that it comes as no surprise that it can sustain two exit rooms already. The two there already are both very successful, jostling with – of all the things – the Brick Lane Music Hall in the top 3 list of TripAdvisor’s reviewers’ London attractions.

It possibly should also be no surprise that it could well be the location of a third and quite possibly many more exit room sites; compare with Budapest having 44 exit room games and the rest of Hungary 22. Escape Hunt is open in Bangkok and lists London as a location in which it will have opened by June; I like the ambition and look forward to following other locations’ progress along the way.

I did enjoy reading plans to start an underground farm deep below the surface of London, in one of apparently eight deep-level bomb shelters built in the 1940s. That strikes me as potentially an extremely atmospheric location to situate an exit game!

The Wired article suggests that “There have been occasional requests from ambitious club promoters to host parties in the tunnels, but the lack of appropriate fire escapes makes it an unfeasible venue” – and, I fear, that might rule them out for ever hosting exit games. Nevertheless, perhaps this might not be an insurmountable problem after all, and the returns could be spectacular!