Summer 2016: where are the gaps in the UK market?

Regions of the UK

From the National Archives; contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

In case anyone’s in any doubt, I’m absolutely thrilled with the job that Ken is doing with Exit Games UK since I handed it over to him. He’s definitely doing a better job of it than I could right now and may very well do a better job of it than I could do at my best. Certainly some of the changes he’s made to the administration of it are very smart, far better than I knew how to do. I’m thrilled that he’s brought the map up to date and also done a wonderful job revamping and improving the list of games, after a point at which I waved the white flag. His articles have also been top-notch, too. All that and it’s not even his first site!

I’m particularly glad that he’s brought the list of games up to date because it means I can catch up with this post. Every six-ish-ish months or so, this site looks at a snapshot of the UK market for exit games and analyses where the gaps are at that time. (See the older versions from September 2015, March 2015, September 2014 and March 2014.)

It’s possible that some of the first exit game room proprietors might have started business in the closest big city to where they happened to already live. However, if you had a choice as to where to set up business, where are the most obvious gaps in the market? Alternatively, where might people expect to see exit rooms coming soon? In mid-2016, now that some of the most successful operations have started two or more locations in different towns, where remains up for grabs?

The Brookings Institution analysed 300 of the largest metropolitan economies in late 2012 and identified 15 of them as being in the UK. Because it’s the same list I’ve been using previously, here are the 15 largest metropolitan economies in the UK, alongside the number of exit rooms featured in each one. If there’s a large metropolitan economy without an exit room, there’s arguably a gap in the market there. You can find details of which sites are in which locations on the Exit Game details page.

Metropolitan economy Sites operating Also consider
1. London ~27 2 under construction, Gravesend (1) is close
2. Birmingham 3 Nuneaton (1) is close
3. Manchester 6 Macclesfield (1), Warrington (2), Stockport (1), Atherton (1) all close
4. Leeds-Bradford 3 1 under construction
5. Liverpool 5 Warrington (1) is close
6. Glasgow 6 1 under construction
7. Nottingham-Derby 4 1 under construction, Mansfield (1) is close
8. Portsmouth-Southampton 2 Bournemouth (1) and Salisbury (1) are close
9. Bristol 4 Bath (1) is close
10. Newcastle 4 Sunderland (1) is close
11. Sheffield 3  
12. Cardiff-Newport 4 1 under construction
13. Edinburgh 7 Livingston (1) is close
14. Leicester 1 2 under construction
15. Brighton 2 1 under construction

For comparison, the Dublin metro area with 3 sites open would come just below number three in the above list.

So where are the gaps in the market? Er, there aren’t really any, any more. Too late! OK, that’s unduly flippant. I’ve linked to this before, even recently, but I really like Puzzle Break‘s Nate Martin’s take on competition between escape rooms.

Let’s use a different list, along the same lines: list of UK cities by their Gross Value Added. A more recently updated version of the data is available from the ONS, but that breaks it down almost too much. That list on Wikipedia does display some editorial judgment by amalgamating some sections together, but does so in what I consider to be a helpful fashion. Don’t read too much into the ordering as there’s a great deal of “well, it depends on what you count” – how great (for instance) Greater Manchester might be, and so on. Is it wrong to count Leeds and Bradford as distinct? How about Coventry and Nuneaton? How about Newcastle and Whitley Bay? How about Manchester, Altrincham and Bury? …and so on.

Metropolitan economy Sites operating Also consider
1. London ~27 2 under construction, Gravesend (1) is close
2. Manchester 6 Macclesfield (1), Warrington (2), Stockport (1), Atherton (1) all close
3. Birmingham 3 Nuneaton (1) is close
4. Leeds 3 1 under construction
5. Glasgow 6 1 under construction
6. Edinburgh 7 Livingston (1) is close
7. Tyneside 4 Sunderland (1) is close
8. Bristol 4 Bath (1) is close
9. Sheffield 3  
10. Cardiff 4 1 under construction
11. Liverpool 5 Warrington (1) is close
12. Belfast 2 1 under construction
13. Bradford 0 Leeds (2) and Huddersfield (1) are nearby
14. Nottingham 3 1 under construction, Mansfield (1) is close
15. Derby 1  
16. Leicester 1 2 under construction
17. Coventry 0 Nuneaton (1) is close
18. Wakefield 0 Leeds (2) and Huddersfield (1) are nearby
19. Brighton 2 1 under construction
20. Southampton 0 Portsmouth (2) is close
21. Portsmouth 2 Bournemouth (1) and Salisbury (1) are close
22. Plymouth 1  
23. Peterborough 1 1 under construction
24. Wolverhampton 0 Birmingham (3) is close
25. Hull 0 1 under construction
26. York 2  
27. Stoke 1  
28. Swansea 2  

Very roughly, this points to West Yorkshire and the West Midlands being underserved. Bradford is definitely a pretty plausible-seeming place, Wakefield somehow less so. Coventry and Wolverhampton have potential and Birmingham still has room to grow. Southampton and Hull look very plausible. The Home Counties still also look promising: moderately-sized mid-distance commuter towns like Reading, Watford, Luton, Dartford, where getting into London (or up to Oxford or Milton Keynes, or down to the Guildford area) may still be annoyingly far. This site remains positive about seaside resorts: Margate, Whitby (or Scarborough), Great Yarmouth and so on.

I would say that I was much more cautious about the market than I was last year, but the number of sites continuing to open just goes to show how little I really know!

Certificates of Excellence

This owl has been drinkingHurrah! Exit Games UK has been updated and it’s not by me, and it’s in safe hands, and I’m very little if anything to do with it any more, and that feels tremendous. Nevertheless, here’s a dry old post about exit games. No reason, just felt like it.

That funny old TripAdvisor owl has been out awarding Certificates of Excellence for 2016. As far as I can tell, they have been awarded to UK sites including, in alphabetical order:

  • Agent November, London
  • BathEscape, Bath
  • Breakout Games, Aberdeen
  • Breakout Liverpool, Liverpool
  • Breakout Manchester, Manchester
  • Can You Escape, Edinburgh
  • Clue Finders, Liverpool
  • Clue HQ, Blackpool
  • Clue HQ, Warrington
  • clueQuest, London
  • Crack The Code, Sheffield
  • Cyantist, Bournemouth
  • Dr. Knox’s Enigma, Edinburgh
  • ESCAP3D, Belfast
  • Escape Hour, Edinburgh
  • Escape Land, London
  • Escape Live, Birmingham
  • Escape Quest, Macclesfield
  • Escape Rooms, London
  • Escape, Edinburgh
  • Escape, Glasgow
  • Escape, Newcastle
  • Ex(c)iting Game, Oxford
  • Exit Newcastle, Newcastle
  • Exit Strategy, Liverpool
  • GR8escape York, York
  • HintHunt, London
  • Live Escape Rooms, Plymouth
  • Locked In Games, Leeds
  • Lockin Real Escape, Manchester
  • Lock’d, London
  • Logiclock, Nottingham
  • Lost & Escape, Newcastle
  • Mystery Cube, London
  • Puzzlair, Bristol
  • Salisbury Escape Rooms, Salisbury
  • The Escape Room, Manchester
  • The Gr8 Escape, Belfast
  • The Great Escape Game, Sheffield
  • The Live Escape, Huddersfield
  • Tick Tock Unlock, Leeds
  • Tick Tock Unlock, Liverpool

For the record, and for the benefit of those travelling from afar, that’s 7 in London, 4 in each of Liverpool and Edinburgh, 3 in each of Manchester and Newcastle and 2 in each of Leeds, Sheffield and Belfast. I don’t swear to that list being exhaustive (E&OE, E-I-E-I-O) but I think I like my methodology.

Some investigation points to a page suggesting that “The Certificate of Excellence accounts for the quality, quantity and recency of reviews submitted by travellers on TripAdvisor over a 12-month period. To qualify, a business must maintain an overall TripAdvisor bubble rating of at least four out of five, have a minimum number of reviews and must have been listed on TripAdvisor for at least 12 months.” TripAdvisor’s own rankings don’t even seem to marry up exactly with the certificates: it ranks some sites that have missed out more highly than other sites that have got them, and there are some obvious omissions that would surely be considered controversial. (It’s hard to believe they can have missed out on at least one of those criteria.) But there we are, and some degree of quasi-official certification of excellence may be more useful than no degree of quasi-official certification of excellence. Particularly if your site ended up winning one.

Now open in Brixton… but not for long: Oubliette

Oubliette logoThis site has always been rather… reticent to post about Oubliette, which opened in Brixon, south London, in January. The road to Hell is always paved with good intentions; as hinted at, Exit Games UK knew Oubliette’s proprietors, at least a little, before it opened and even volunteered to sand down some of the floors and walls in the building, which it hasn’t done for any other game. (Yet!) Exit Games UK even has a cracking interview with the proprietors while they were getting started which was, at one point, intended to be the “before” part of a “before and after” piece.

When you begin to play our room escape game, you walk through a door and find yourself plunged into New Pelagia, an Orwellian dystopia full of suspense and suspicion. The people here are watched over by the love and grace of JCN, a huge pervasive computer and CCTV network. The government rations and controls everything to keep things tidy – there are rumours that sometimes people get tidied away too.

You are members of the underground resistance movement who are being sent to infiltrate the ((propaganda office at the)) Ministry of Perception and find out what happened to a double agent who has mysteriously disappeared.

It’s a sixty-minute game for teams of up to eight; teams of six are recommended, but a team of three escaped, once. The price is higher than most at £30/player, but you get more for your money than from most rooms. In its months open, the site has received considerable praise from unusual sources, notably in the (mostly computer) game design and review community. Emily Short‘s review discussed the game in a way that this site doesn’t recall an exit game being discussed before:

…when, as a result of puzzle-solving, a new bit of story occurred — and again I’m being intentionally vague here — it generally ramped up the anxiety and threat level. I’m used to story-as-reward in video games, but here there was story-as-punishment. Solve the puzzle quickly? STORY GETS MORE WORRYING. This felt like a pretty natural and pleasurable extension of the existing principles. And it wasn’t as though we were going to stop trying to escape the room in order to avoid having more story bits happen to us!

If you’ve played and enjoyed exit games before, but never had that sort of experience, and if those sorts of descriptions sound like your cup of tea, then there can be few higher recommendations for the originality, intrigue and interest of this game. (On the other hand, if you know you’re lousy with dystopian stories – *raises hand* – then it might set your expectations as a game that might not be for you, and that’s cool too.) Closer to home, the game was reviewed at The Logic Escapes Me, rushing straight to very near the top of the recommendations; it was discussed in the first episode of the Escape from Reality podcast as well.

So why discuss this site now? The latest news is not good: the site is set to close, in its current form, at the end of Saturday 18th June. The Adventure Society shop, used as a framing device for the staging of the game, may also have to go on its next great adventure.

You may be thinking: ‘But I thought you were a permanent Escape Room?’ and yes, so did we. We were all set to sign paperwork to extend our lease by another year, when suddenly the landlord changed his mind. Now we’re staring at a countdown trying to get as much done as possible in the time remaining – which is kinda apt really. (…)

‘Are you going to open up somewhere else?’ We’d like to, but we don’t know, finding a space to move into and installing everything takes time and money, neither of which we have in spades. We may end up just selling off what we can and junking everything else. If you know somewhere we could move to, store things or someone who would buy things, please let us know!

All right. This is very clearly a special game in a busy field, which may very well not be around for long. On the other hand, there may be people for whom a demonstrably, tried-and-tested, game with a unique extent of focus on its story would surely be of interest in a business sense as well as a player sense. The business model for Oubliette is a bit different from that of most other games, and to try to make it fit in a similar box to most other games would be to destroy some of the ways in which it is most attractive. Nevertheless, a game this distinctive and critically acclaimed would be a remarkable addition to any facility, so the countdown is on… in more ways than the usual one.

Can there ever be such a thing as “too many”?

Overloaded brainThis post is far from a claim that there are “too many” exit games in the UK. It is, however, a call to consider whether there can be a meaningful concept of “too many” games, and – if so – what “too many” might look like.

One follow-up question is whose perspective is being used to ask the question. As a player, can there be too many games? If the lack of replay value drives you to seek out more and more games to play, the bar for “too many” would surely be set very high, if it existed at all. If someone were to want to play every game that existed, or play a game at every site that existed, then a quest to keep up with every new opening might exceed the time and resources you have available. However, such a quest without limiting yourself to a relatively small area strikes this site as an inherently pretty extreme task. While it’s a delight that new sites and games continue to advance the state of the art, surely there comes a point where additional games, except the latest and greatest, have relatively little to offer. This may or may not be before your resources run out.

From the perspective of someone trying to make a living either as staff or owner of a game, “too many” may look quite different. Our society is capitalist; no business has an inherent right to survive. (It’s amusing to consider the existence of an exit game in a planned economy; surely a meritorious citizen would have to apply to play and then wait months or years for a space to play.) On the other hand, the extent to which a game thrives or even survives may not reflect the quality of the game in question, so much as other matters like the effectiveness of the way in which it is marketed. It seems sadly likely that there will be some brilliant games which fall by the wayside even when lesser – or merely good – games continue for longer; for those businesses, the raised bar for continued survival might be said to have arisen from too many games.

Another way to look at it might be that “too many” simply reflects more than “the right number” – and presupposes that there could be such a thing as a right number. Someone at last week’s unconference seriously looked forward to the thought of there being 300 or 400 sites in the UK; no names, no pack drill, but it was someone who knew a lot about brand expansion. It’s certainly true that the UK has fewer sites than some other countries – even some other smaller countries – and that, say, London has fewer sites than other major conurbations. Do the UK and London have to be at the top of these charts, though? Is the demand really there? The signs have looked good so far, but there surely has to come a point where things find a natural limit.

Do you suppose there could be a million players in one year? How about three million? (There aren’t many hobbies who get three million players in a year; an estimate sufficiently credible for the BBC suggested that there were only four or five million people who played tennis at least once in a year, with maybe a tenth of that playing once a week.) Even allowing for people playing multiple games, and enthusiasts bringing the average up, considering real-world typical team sizes, a million players in a year might look like 300,000 games in a year. (Maybe 250,000; maybe 400,000.) That’s 5,000-8,000 teams per week, keeping the numbers simple. When looking at it last year, the figures pointed to a room (not a site) being more successful and popular than most if it was played twenty times a week, with more than half of these at weekends. So a million plays a year might look like roughly 300 rooms, all being pretty busy at weekends. There were more than 230 rooms in the UK and Ireland at the end of 2015, and quite possibly close to 300 rooms in the UK alone by now.

There’s an awful lot of supply out there already. Whether there’s “too much”, and hence “too many” sites, remains to be seen; fingers crossed that demand remains strong and has further to grow.

Charitable Connections

Breakout Manchester Charity Day detailsBreakout Liverpool Charity Day detailsThis industry-wide call to arms has kindly been written by Del from Breakout Manchester and Liverpool, to whom questions should be directed (see below for details!) but everybody is welcome to join in. Exit Games UK finds the idea of a focused, cross-site, charity initiative extremely promising and exciting, even if it might take a good chunk of planning ahead to execute to its full potential.

The exit games industry is such an exciting place to be for all involved. Customers love doing something different with their day, they like being challenged, they like feeling accomplished. As the company bringing them that, it is genuinely heart warming to be part of that experience and get to share that buzz with them.

Because of all this excitement around what we do with our various companies, it gives us the opportunity to help people outside of providing them an hour (or hour and a half, as is the case with some of your games out there) of entertainment. I don’t know about other companies, but at Breakout Manchester and Liverpool we are always receiving emails from local charities and fundraisers asking if we can donate a game for a raffle or auction as it’s something different to offer people and drive the interest up. There are obvious parameters we have to set, but on the whole we can agree to these requests and help the people these charities are supporting with their time and often limited resources.

In 2015, Breakout decided that we could do more than provide free games and having donation pots in our reception area. We contacted some local charities and game them our rooms for a day. This altered nothing from our end of the arrangement as these would be running anyway, we just took them off the booking system, told the charities our prices and let them book the slots themselves and take the money we would have received as a direct donation. The sales from any games we sold ourselves got donated to the charities. It wasn’t without its problems, as no first time event ever is, so we addressed these and addressed these and created a charity evening 6 months later, working with only one charity this time in Manchester and several in Liverpool. We’ll continue this biannual charity event, because it’s great to give something back to the communities that support us in whatever way we can.

BUT, for this April, we’re proposing something different. We’ve decided to go NATIONAL.

We want to see if you other exit games in the country want to join us, on Thursday 21st April, in giving some or all of your games to charity with us… We’re working with The Christie (a cancer specialist hospital charity) and Joining Jack (Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy) in Manchester and Imagine If Trust (fighting poverty through education), Barnardo’s (helping vulnerable children and young people) and Parkinson’s UK (supporting and funding better treatments for Parkinson’s), but ultimately this event could benefit any charity of your choosing. The groups we’ve worked with have been so happy about being involved in the event and being able to offer a distinctive product in exchange for donations. They’ve sent us buckets, balloons, T-shirts, stickers for the day and they’ve even come along to be part of the greeting team for customers and give a big thank you to them. The customers are happy as well, as they get all the benefits of playing a game whilst also knowing their money is going somewhere worthwhile.

If you’d like to join us, give us a shout on hello@breakoutmanchester.com, let us know who you’re supporting and definitely let us know of any interesting plans you have and how you get on. Feel free to contact us with any questions as well!

Can’t wait to hear from you and build our community further.
Breakout Team

Good news for March 2016

"Good News for a change!" - adapted from Rick Warden, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence

Here are a selection of stories that will hopefully put a smile on your face. Just think about the people involved and the smiles that must have been on their faces!

  • First to Puzzlair of Bristol, who are celebrating John’s proposal to Claire. May all their escapes be great ones!
  • It seems almost disrespectful to focus on more than a single couple’s big day, but more and more sites are hosting these happy occasions, and also sharing the good news is Escape of Glasgow. This time it was Annie who proposed, and thanked Nick and Kim at Escape on Twitter for their help. The Escape team went on to post further details of the happy event.
  • Not a proposal, but something that might happen somewhere down the line for some happy couples. To say more would be to spoil the surprise, so let The Great Escape Game of Sheffield tell the story. Perhaps there will be a nearer miss than two days being talked about by an exit game before long. (Lovely name, too!)
  • So this story is almost telling a story of the progression of a relationship. One happy step further down the line for some relationships is a fifth birthday party; for one here, we have to go to Locked In Edinburgh. The event they describe sounds wonderful here, whether celebrating a fifth birthday or a fifty-fifty birthday.
  • Perhaps your five-year-old will grow up and start their own business. Perhaps their business will win an award, as in this happy story as Can You Escape? of Edinburgh celebrate their victory in the Best-Performing Business (1-10) category at the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce awards. Congratulations and here’s to many more!

Coming soon to your own home: Escape Room in a Box

The titular box in which an escape room can be found

A phrase that I once heard and has got stuck in my mind runs “say it best, say it first, say it last or say it worst”. By cute coincidence, the only citation for it that I can quickly find comes from Professor Scott Nicholson of white paper and Escape Enthusiasts fame. Today’s article is about Escape Room in a Box, the Kickstarter campaign for which closes in less than two days’ time with glorious success; under $20,000 required to fund it, easily over $100,000 raised. Saying it best or first seem impossible now; at least this can be the last place where it gets mentioned… until the next place becomes the new last place.

If you’re reading this, the concept hardly needs explaining. Escape Room in a Box “…is a 60-90 minute cooperative game where 2-6 players solve puzzles, crack codes, and find hidden clues in order to find an antidote to thwart a mad scientist’s plot to turn them into werewolves.” How good could such a game be – or, more to the point, how much could you enjoy such a game? It depends perhaps what aspects of traditional location-specific exit games you most enjoy. Some aspects, like the puzzles, can reasonably be replicated in your own home. Other aspects, like the theming of the environment and ambitious physical props, are much harder. (If a big part of the attraction for you is getting to play with toys that you wouldn’t have the chance to play with elsewhere, it’s less attractive.)

The Logic Escapes Me thought hard about the potential opportunities and limitations of the format and expressed them in their tremendous preview. Perhaps it might best be read in conjunction with Room Escape Artist‘s review of a preview copy of the game, which validates Ken’s concerns and suggests that they have largely been dealt with in a fashion close to reaching the immediate potential of the format. On the other hand, to give full context, perhaps you should compare that review with Esc Room Addict of Canada’s counterpart review of a preview copy, which was rather less enthusiastic.

In any case, the concept appears to have been in the right place at the right time and caught people’s attention more widely; the campaign has been discussed at the Huffington Post and also by those alpha YouTubers at Geek and Sundry. Also excited was Adrian Hon of Six to Start (probably best known for the Zombies, Run! fitness app), also who mentioned it on Twitter. Subsequent discussion started with his opinion “Last escape room I played was $45 *per person*. Surely they could have a higher price/tier, and make the game better or longer?” Perhaps the success of the campaign points to there being the demand for the genre after all – and, from there, it’s tempting to wonder how other members of the family might differ.

Could a later iteration be a partly digital game, requiring its players to supply their own mobile device on which to run an app? Plenty of potential there, starting with being just another medium through which to deliver different sorts of clue, going through being a unique input device and going as far as in any other mixed media game. Certainly the prediction that there may be competitors was proved quickly correct, with ThinkFun introducing Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor this month (at a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of US$21.99, so set your expectations to low-tech), set to be distributed in the UK by Paul Lamond from June. That promises to have an online hint system at the very least.

Exit Games UK would be very interested if existing exit game brands were to consider this technique as a brand extension. Suppose someone has come and played your game, had a tremendous time and have left the room in high spirits. Might this be an excellent time to try to sell them a game so they might have related fun at home? It would take a certain sort of set of strengths for the combination to make sense; home games can convey puzzles very well, so this would work particularly well for a site which prided itself not just on its puzzles but also on certain sorts of puzzles which would translate to a home environment. It would also be a good way to advance the story of a persistent game universe, to keep them keen on playing within your universe when it takes so long and so much to introduce another physical game set there.

The League Table: end of February 2016

Abstract graphic suggesting growth

This is the twenty-third instalment of a (just about) monthly feature which acts as a status report on the exit games in the UK and Ireland, hopefully acting as part of the basis of a survey of growth over time. It reflects a snapshot of the market as it was, to the best of this site’s knowledge, at the end of 29th February 2016.

The Census

Category Number in the UK Number in Ireland
Exit game locations known to have opened 122 8
Exit game locations known to be open 109 5
Exit game locations in various states of temporary closure 5 2
Exit game locations known to have closed permanently 8 1
Exit game locations showing convincing evidence of being under construction 9 0
Exit game locations showing unconvincing evidence of being under construction 12 0
Exit game projects abandoned before opening 2 0

The term opened should be understood to include “sold tickets”, even when it is unclear whether any of those tickets may have been redeemed for played games; the definition of location should be understood to include outdoor locations, pop-up/mobile locations with open-ended time limits and component parts of larger attractions that are played in the same way as conventional exit games. Pop-ups with deliberately very short runs (e.g. Hallowe’en specials, or games run at conventions or festivals) are not counted in this list; games with deliberately finite but longer runs (e.g. Panic!, which awarded a prize to its champion at the end of its sixteen week run) are counted.

This month… well, the numbers get a little bit funky. The number of open games in the UK goes up by nine, but the number of games known to have opened only goes up by eight, because the number of games known to have closed permanently drops by one. The accurate reaction to this would be derision at this site’s concept of “know”, which has proved rather less accurate than suggested; welcome back, Escape Land! Take the distinction between temporary and permanent with an appropriately large dose of salt.

The Report Card does not appear this month because of external time pressures; you may note that there are seven sites which need to be added onto the lists of open games and the timeline, which should hopefully happen within the next week… maybe even before more games start opening, maybe not.

This site supports all the exit games that exist and will not make claims that any particular one is superior to any other particular one. You’ve probably noticed that this table has removed the review summaries; this site has pages with the review summaries for every site in the United Kingdom and, separately, for every site in Ireland.

This site takes the view that if you’re interested in review summaries, you probably care (at least to some extent) about the question of which site probably has the best popular reviews. Accordingly, you might be interested in the TripAdvisor’s escape game rankings lists in (picking only cities with multiple exit games listed) Belfast, Blackpool, Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Bristol again, Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Inverness, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham or Sheffield.

Additionally, TripAdvisor now has pages entitled Top Escape Games in United Kingdom and Top Escape Games in Ireland. No obvious changes to the ranking algorithm from the previous month. The top two sites remain constant; congratulations to the site which remains top of the UK national list for a sixth consecutive month.

You might also be interested in listings at Play Exit Games, a few of which contain ratings and from which rankings might be derived, or ranking lists from other bloggers. Looking at London sites, The Logic Escapes Me has provided recommendations, top five and detailed comparisons, as well as a brilliant brand new comparative ratings table from a handful of critics; see also this piece at Bravofly and thinking bob‘s comparisons. In the North-West, there are the Really Fun room comparisons, the recently-updated Escape Game Addicts rankings and Geek Girl Up North site comparisons as well. If you have your own UK ranking list, please speak up and it shall be included in future months.

Now open in Blackpool: Escape

Escape Blackpool logoThe Escape chain has been expanding steadily southwards, Edinburgh and Glasgow to Newcastle and now Blackpool. (They have good business in other countries too, notably the Dublin site in Ireland, among others.) The site will be opening on Leap Year’s Day; by tradition, of course, this is the single day every four years on which the site gets to escape the players, rather than the other way around. Exit Games UK has always thought that Blackpool was a market with excellent potential and Clue HQ seem to have done well already. The Escape location is central to the town, very close to Blackpool South train station and opposite a branch of KFC.

Escape Blackpool is launching with three games, each of which takes two to five players and has a 60-minute time limit. Exit Games Scotland point out that the games represent the best of both the Edinburgh and Glasgow branches of the Escape chain.

The Da Vinci Room sees you “take on the role of thief, but for the greater good. Dr John Albright has studied the workings of Da Vinci in great detail. He has amassed a huge collection over the years, including what many believe to be the Holy Grail. Having gained his trust by helping him “acquire” items over the years, you have access to areas of his home and knowledge of his security that no-one else does. You’ve been paid well for your services over the years, but you’ve always felt that an item of the importance of the Holy Grail should be on display for all to see. The professor is away and now is your chance. Get in the room, grab the grail and get out. It should be easy! “The Da Vinci Room” is a live escape game with a twist, you need to get an item out of the room as well as you! The setting is a beautiful old study with artwork, certificates and various vintage items ranging from typewriters to violin cases! Primarily focusing on code-breaking, symbolism and association problems The Da Vinci Room offers an exciting challenge for players young and old.

In Contagion, “You and your team of fellow scientists have been working tirelessly to create a vaccine for the fatal CYE disease. Unfortunately you have all managed to contract the virus. Either sit around and let it take you or you redouble your efforts and create a vaccine. This is not your only problem. After creating the vaccine you must find a way to beat the lock down on the laboratory. The timer is set to 60 minutes, after which the room and all traces of your work, will be incinerated. Create the vaccine and escape the room if the rest of humanity is to benefit from your work!

There’s also the Taken room, which (aside from being a good excuse to link to this post by Really Fun) tells the tale of “A rogue policeman, Brian Miller, has been obsessed for some time with finding the killer of John Doe and in his eyes the evidence points to you and your friends. Part of your group will be Taken and locked away, meaning you will have two tasks to complete: rescue your friend(s) and escape the room. Although separated, the full group will still be able to work together to complete the game. Officer Miller has been cunning in the way he has hidden clues around his somewhat dilapidated room with some impressive gadgetry used along the way. You will need to do some searching and finding in the room as well as the puzzles if you want to Escape. This room is no normal room – let’s just say it’s lacking in some of the comforts of our other rooms – but it’s just as much fun!

Games start on the half-hour between 9:30am and 10:30pm seven days a week: nine games of Taken, nine of Contagion and eight of The Da Vinci Room. (There’s probably wiggle room in the schedule, by arrangement, if two teams want to race against each other and start at the same time.) The tariff matches the Escape UK standard: £66 for a team of 3-5, though couples can apply a code to play for just £48. The site’s Twitter account has posted a code for a 25% discount for a limited time and a quick search reveals no social buying deals yet, so this might be the best time to get involved.

Now open in Wigan: Atherton Escape Rooms

Atherton Escape Rooms graphicMore specifically, now open in the borough of Wigan; Atherton is a town of its own, about half-way between the town of Wigan and the M60 ring road around Manchester. (You can take a local train out from Manchester in the direction of Southport or Kirkby to get there; don’t go a station too far otherwise you’ll end up in Hag Fold, which sounds like a good name for a witch’s dance move.) Atherton is one of a number of towns in the area whose names have been adopted as surnames over the centuries where the surname has gone on to be nationally famous; when you think of Atherton, you might think of Mike Atherton. Similarly, the next town along to the south-east might make you think of Clive Tyldesley. The next town along to the south-east from there might make you think of someone else.

Thanks to Mark from Really Fun for pointing out Atherton Escape Rooms which opened on February 4th. It made a big splash, opening with four one-hour rooms, each designed to be played by a team of two to six. The Room of the Missing Child game is “…simply a child’s room containing all the usual things a child’s room would contain, ordinary objects & toys that a child would possess. There is just one thing missing “THE CHILD”. Using everything to hand contained in room, can you find out what has happened & escape from the room before the time runs out.

In The Log Cabin, the tale goes that “A retired detective leaves a distinguished career blemished with just one unsolved case. A group of campers had disappeared without a trace, despite searching the area & a nearby log cabin the case remained unsolved. The retired detective, unable to let the case rest, still believes the Cabin holds the key to the mystery.” If you’d prefer to play inside The Office, you’ll be investigating a different sort of crime. “The sports promoter is involved in criminal activities. He is using his office as a front for illegal dealings. You have turned up to an arranged meeting, the office is empty. As a journalist, your instinct is to snoop around. Have you got time?” Lastly, if you’re caught in The Train Waiting Room, “You have missed your connecting train in a remote station in the dead of night. The waiting room door becomes mysteriously locked. Using all your skills & with clues to hand, can you escape the room to get your next connection before the final whistle blows. Not all is as it seems!

Games will eventually be available seven days a week, though for the first few weeks the site is in operation from Thursday to Sunday only. The site has already been covered in the Wigan Evening Post, along with hints that more rooms might follow. The location inside an old mill is a little unusual, though Trapped In of Bury also use a mill, and surely there are plenty of other mills in Lancashire that are looking for exciting occupants. Looking forward to the views of the bloggers of the north-west on this one!