People to meet, places to be

Meetup logoAs the previous post was about an exciting Meetup group in Manchester, it doesn’t take the greatest leap of imagination to try to find out what other exciting Meetup groups there might be out there. There are a couple of other interesting links at the end as well.

I mentioned the Escape Rooms and Puzzle Rooms in and around London meetup in a post about a year and a half ago, but it doesn’t seem to have been the most active group, having organised two escapes in the middle of last year and one in February. There’s more activity in the Escape Roomers London meetup group, whose members went to The Crystal Maze earlier in the month and have two escape rooms planned for May. London’s Secrets Society meetup takes a slightly wider purview, including escape rooms but also treasure hunts, “theme parks, pop-ups and the occasional unusual bar“.

We’ve covered the activities of the Treasure Hunts in London group quite a few times and probably the best way to keep up with them is to join their Meetup group; as well as the titular treasure hunts, they have a plan to play The Million Pound Heist at Enigma Quests on Saturday. However, they aren’t the only treasure hunt group in London; the Cultural Treasure Hunt Meetup of London has events every two or three months. The group has an impressive 800+ members so the hunts may well be popular. They’re free to play, though donations to the museums in which they take place are welcome. The group begat a sister group based around Cambridge.

Indeed, there’s no reason why London should have all the fun. As well as the Manchester group mentioned last time, Bristol is in on it; it has its own local escape room addicts group, which does not yet seem to have attracted a critical mass despite the efforts of the organiser, and also an exciting-sounding Rare Duck Club whose focus is more generally on live games – often of considerable, impressive scope.

A couple of other links unrelated to the Meetup site: Dean from Escape Review mentions Secret London Runs in passing; they have a variety of running tours, many of which involve several legs of running to interesting locations punctuated by encounters that go together to create a puzzle to solve. Many of their events are centred around 10 km runs, including breaks, so you’ll know whether that’s a surmountable barrier to entry or not. Lastly, Play Exit Games is currently running a giveaway competition with the prize being free tickets to Modern Fables.

Coming soon to, once more, London: Now Play This

"Now Play This" logoAll the exciting things seem to be happening in London – or, at least, I’m rather less aware of the exciting things happening outside London.

Now Play This describes itself as “a festival of experimental game design, showcasing some of the most interesting games and playful work being made around the UK and the world“. This was briefly touched on in a previous post, and a post back in 2015 discussed the first installment of the three to date.

So why cover it again? First, I loved the 2015 event; second, details have been announced of the games in the exhibition and the three days of special events. Lots of exciting possibilities and you’ll surely pick your own favourites, but I was drawn to “Of Plagues, Deceptions and Other Things”, being run on Sunday.

An international enemy plans to release a specimen of the Bubonic Plague in London and destroy the only antidote. While it is too late to retrieve the specimen, there is a unique opportunity to steal the antidote and save the thousands of lives currently at risk. You and your closest friends have been chosen to complete this dangerous, but heroic, quest. Success won’t be easy. There’s information to uncover, codes to find, places to be and people to trick. To make matters worse, the evil enemy have slyly sent four moles into the mix. Can you successfully retrieve the antidote, avoid detection and reveal the enemies hidden among you?

This game is put on by Block Stop, who have a variety of exciting-looking public and private games, but this seems to be one of their puzzliest. Tickets for Now Play This are now on sale; daily tickets are £8, or £6½ for concessions, and a three-day ticket carries a slight discount. Sadly I’ll be away busy on shift work and missing the event, as in 2016, but it’s likely to be packed to the brim with exciting ideas!

Also coming soon to London: GameCamp 9

GameCamp logoGood news! Hear ye, hear ye!

GameCamp will return for 2017! Tickets for GameCamp 9 are on sale now. ((…)) This will be the 9th London GameCamp Unconference, where we invite all doers, makers and thinkers from the broad community of “games” to gather into a freely organised series of talks, discussions and activities under the same roof for a day.

The secret ingredient is YOU; come along with a topic about which you’re personally passionate, write your session’s title on an index card and place it on the living schedule in a time slot and a room, then host the activity with your audience of fellow Unconference participants. Or spend the early parts of your day visiting other sessions and schedule your own when the inspiration strikes you! Other not-so-secret ingredients include lunch, a special giveaway, and after-hours drinks at a local pub.

The venue is London’s South Bank University, the time is 9:30am to 5:30pm (and then onwards), and the price is somewhere between £13 and £19 depending on how soon you book or whether you are eligible for a concessionary rate. Further details are available at the official site. I went to GameCamp 8 last year and had a corking time; indeed, I’m still kicking myself over missing one particular session whose existence I didn’t know about until too late. This year’s event has every reason to be at least as good and quite possibly better. So will I be going this year? Ah, well; there’s a bit of a problem.

The problem happens to be the date: Saturday 6th May. Not only is that one of the dates for Horses for Corpses, as discussed in the previous post, it also happens to be the date for a certain puzzle hunt called DASH 9. There are few events for which I would throw GameCamp over, but DASH is one of them. Pity, really, but there must be something exciting of some different sort or another on every single week and the organisers would never practically be able to find a perfect date, not least because they must work around their venue’s schedule.

Admittedly tickets for DASH are not currently available, which might make your decision easier, but do bear in mind the well-placed suggestion that further DASH tickets may well be made available closer to the time. Whether you go to the ninth DASH or the ninth GameCamp, I’d bet good money at short odds that you’ll have a whale of a time!

Coming soon to London: A Door In A Wall presents “Horses for Corpses”

"Horses for Corpses" by A Door In A WallEvery time London interactive theatre company A Door In A Wall (for the company capitalises its words, even if its logo remains lower case) announce a major new work, this site gets excited. Spring and Autumn of the past few years have seen hit after hit, and this site has got excited about them more than a few times. One of those times of year is coming up, and the company will be putting on Horses for Corpses.

The ad didn’t say much: “Investigators wanted. No experience necessary.” Some horse trader apparently. You didn’t know much about riding, but you weren’t going to look this gift in the mouth. If only you’d asked a few more questions out of the gate…

Now you and your friends are finding out that racing is a murky world. It seems like everyone’s got form and the going ain’t easy. Somewhere amid the stalls and stables is the truth, and you’ll have to find it, otherwise it’ll be you who’s in the running… for murder.

There are a couple of slight differences to the usual A Door In A Wall format. Teams of 3-6 are suggested (though teams of 2 or 7+ are OK) and up to ten players (so perhaps 2-3 teams, or maybe even 4 tiny ones) get to start in their own private briefing in one of six 20-minute slots offered each afternoon or each evening. After the briefing, you have 2 hours 40 minutes to investigate, then the same players from the private briefing present their conclusions in a private debriefing and determine whether or not they have cracked the case correctly – so the whole thing lasts 3 hours 20 from start to finish. The event is offered on Tuesday to Sunday evenings from 5th May to 28th May, with weekends having additional afternoon matinee performances and a pair of performances on Bank Holiday Monday 29th May rounding things off. The venue is Camden Market, so plenty of good opportunities (and time within the schedule, too!) to grab something to eat and drink along the way.

This site really loved the review of a previous event at The Logic Escapes Me, which suggests precisely what sort of things might be involved: varied puzzles, highly immersive environments and plenty of characters to interactive with. From a starting-point that readers over here might be more familiar with, start with DASH, dial the interactions, interesting locations, storyline and pun fun up, then dial the puzzles slightly down, but not out altogether. (Ah, the things you can do when you are running an event 30+ times, with a professional budget, rather than once with just volunteers.) Book your tickets soon before the remaining dates sell out!

Register now (no, really, NOW) for DASH 9 in London

DASH 9 logoThis site refers to “one of the highlights of the year” reasonably frequently. We are lucky to live in a time when there are lots of highlights on the calendar. If I had to pick the two very highest of the highlights, they would be the online UK Puzzle Championships and the in-person DASH puzzle hunt. This site has written about DASH extensively in the past, but here’s the short version.

The ninth DASH puzzle hunt will happen in London from 10am on Saturday 6th May. DASH stands for “Different Areas, Same Hunt”; part of the attraction is that the same event will also be run in cities across the United States and Europe on the same day, so competition is somewhat global. This year’s line-up features 14 locations in the US and three in Europe (London, Enschede in the Netherlands and Vienna in Austria) and other locations might yet be added later; Denver and Portland are notable omissions to date.

In DASH, teams of typically 3-5 players solve maybe 8-9 puzzles as quickly as possible over the course of, perhaps, 5-8 hours. You walk (or take the tube) from puzzle location to location, enjoying the journey and hopefully the weather. The travel is not timed, so you can take whatever comfort breaks, meals and other pauses you like between puzzles, though there’s an overall time limit for practicality. The cost in London is, this year, £36 per team. Each team is required to bring a smartphone running iOS or a recent version of Android; much of the administration will be performed by an app called ClueKeeper. Bring your own pencils, scissors, tape, clipboards, lemonade, magic wands, marked decks of cards and so on.

DASH has historically tended to concentrate on word and picture puzzles, rather than logic puzzles, with a focus on pattern recognition and some codebreaking here and there along the way. Bet money on there being a metapuzzle to tie everything together at the end. The DASH style is to have an overarching story running through the event, though there aren’t many clues as to this year’s theme yet. Take a look at past years’ puzzles from DASHes 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 to get a feel for the form and difficulty level.

DASH tries very hard to be accessible and family-friendly:

  • It’s possible to register for the more difficult Expert Puzzles at the very start of the hunt, though clear guidance is given as to which level of difficulty will suit you best;
  • It’s always possible to take hints on each puzzle if they’re required (indeed, the software keeps rolling hints along on a timed schedule even if you don’t ask for them) and there’s never a worse punishment than a missed scoring opportunity for not solving a puzzle;
  • The puzzles are often designed so that everybody in the team should be able to contribute to each puzzle, because feeling “we solved this together between us” is fun;
  • In practice, there really is an ethos of offering as many hints as are required in order to get people through as many puzzles as possible and making sure people are having fun at all times.

This year’s registration process has… rather crept up on me. Late on March 3rd, there was a note that registration would open in several cities on May 4th. Registration did indeed open at noon (Eastern US time, I think) on March 4th. About a dozen hours later, there appear to be 3 (three) slots remaining in London. Whooooaaaa. I’m not sure if this was just an initial wave of tickets with more to be released, or reflective of the capacity of the event, or something else. Suffice to say that if the hunt sounds exciting at all, you really need to get moving straight away in order to book your place.

More information will be posted at the London Twitter feed, or send questions to the London organisers. (If you’re less interested in playing and more interested in helping out, or if all the teams’ places have been filled, you can also volunteer to help, and maybe even playtest the puzzles if you’re really quick – so if the 6th May date doesn’t work for you, this might be your chance.)

Live from the latest Unconference in London!

It’s the biggest unconference in the UK yet! The attendance number is to be confirmed but possibly around ninety. Certainly there is too much fun to contain on a single floor! We have four sessions today, each offering six different options to choose from:


H and S, legal matters

Design for unusual groups

Sourcing

In game Monitoring and clue giving

Sales and marketing tips

Venues

Bad competition and crisis plans

Designing great experiences

Finance: pricing and costs

In-game automation technology

General marketing: what games rooms are

Pop-ups

Insurance

Suppliers and Premade Rooms

Scaling Up

Booking systems

Social media

Non-room games
Copyright information
Cyber security

Franchises

Using client information

Cross Promotion

Future of the industry

An exciting, busy day! ((Edited to add:)) Sadly too exciting and busy for me and I have had to call it a day at lunchtime, but I look forward to hearing more about it for those who could stick around for the whole day.

New year, new unconference

"The Steam Room" at Drink, Shop and Do in London2016 has undoubtedly been a spectacular year for escape games, but it has been such a bad year in terms of the way has gone that I’m looking forward to 2017 already. There’s something very specific to look forward to at the start of 2017.

Start 2017 with a fantastic meetup with like-minded Escape Room owners and enthusiasts. Your lunch and welcome and wrap-up drinks are included. In a gorgeous themed bar just five minutes from Kings Cross we can host up to 70 folks for the latest in our series of escape game unconferences. We will then segue neatly into Happy Hour (which goes on for three hours here, apparently)

The fourth UK escape game unconference, and the second in London, will take place on Tuesday 10th January 2017, at The Steam Room bar within Drink, Shop and Do, which legitimately is about five minutes’ walk from King’s Cross station. (Depends which exit you use; two minutes from the closest exit, seven or eight from the furthest one.) It’s just down the road from ClueQuest, Omescape and doubtless others. It’s also quite an interesting area in its own right, but more of that another day.

Tickets are now on sale. If you book very, very soon (by the end of October?) then there are still a very small number of tickets available for £28 + booking fee, representing a 20% cut on the standard charge of £35 + booking fee. That’s not a trivial sum, but as well as excellent company and incisive discussion that you’re not going to get elsewhere, the sum pays for lunch and drinks. (Take a look at the Drink, Shop and Do web site; the sum pays for pretty pricy lunch and drinks.) If you’re interested enough in the genre to be reading this, you’d very probably have a whale of a time, whether you’re a player or a professional. Take a look at posts about the first three unconferences to get a sense of what to expect.

The other interesting thing about Tuesday 10th January is that it’s the second Tuesday of the month, so it will be a Puzzled Pint night as well, once the unconference has finished. If you’re come from afar for the unconference, why not make a full day of it in London, and see what Puzzled Pint is about as well?

The Crystal Maze live: what a rush!

This is how you do a team photo“What a rush!”, as the wrestlers used to say a quarter of a century ago. Perhaps it was a little more like “Oooohhuurrgghh what a rush”.

The second most frequently asked question I had in the Exit Games UK years racked up all its appearances in a single day: when I organised the industry-wide trip to the live The Crystal Maze attraction in April, I was asked remarkably frequently which team I was playing on and people were surprised that I had sold all 32 spaces and wasn’t playing myself that day. I had long known that I would be playing in a group on Saturday June 18th. It was well worth waiting for; the game left me beaming with joy for a good hour afterwards. No wonder everyone had been buzzing so much on the day in April!

The recent two tickets left post bore fruit; Shasha and Avi completed the team of eight. The operation at the site is labour-intensive, but clearly a very tightly-organised ship. We were the green team, which meant that we entered through the Medieval zone, but also that we made it to the Crystal Dome last and got to see everybody else play the Dome before we did. (The photo above wasn’t my team; it was another team playing at the same time, but one who led to an utterly boss photo.)

I was first up, playing a physical game, and I got to play the one I hoped; no spoilers here, but it’s an authentic game from the (fairly spoiler-heavy) official trailer. I fairly threw myself into it (the top of my shoulders and the back of my neck did rather hurt later, but probably due to lack of sleep rather than due to the maze) and escaped with the crystal, feeling modestly heroic, with an announced twenty seconds remaining. Later on, I successfully solved a maze in an unfamiliar-feeling mental game in the Futuristic zone.

Our team was great fun and did well; nobody got locked in. In total, we played seventeen games and took thirteen crystals to(-o-o-o-o-ooo) The Crystal Dome. Here we earned a score of 390 gold tokens, which tends to point to a different sort of exchange rate to the one found at the industry-wide trip – for instance, our 390 was only good enough for third place and the winning score was not far off 500. (Our crystal total and token score would have beaten all four teams in the next game, so I felt happy enough about it.)

Our maze master was Jezebel, not one of the eight I had seen at the Dome on the industry trip. The different maze masters interpret their role in ways between the authentic O’Brien (or Tudor-Pole) and factual or fictional members of the Village People; while Jezebel is a name with its own cultural baggage that I wouldn’t want to disparage, the way Jezebel played the position had something of the manic pixie dream girl to it, which definitely worked for me. The hosts worked really well, particularly in the set piece at the Dome, to set an appropriate tone; it was clear that the hosts were here to sell success throughout and the level of refereeing was rather more… generous than the famously rigorous show, but the level of competition was not quite toned down but put firmly into the appropriate context with a wink in its eye. It’s a fine line to tread and the hosts manage it well.

Playing seventeen games between the team was slightly fewer than I was hoping for, having first-hand evidence of a team going 15/19 on the industry day (and hearing that there has been a team who brought 18 crystals to the dome from some unknown number of games). In part, it seems very likely to be that we weren’t all that quick at the games. In part, it seems very likely to be that we definitely weren’t all that quick transitioning between the zones. In part, it seems a little likely that Jezebel didn’t completely prioritise trying to fit as many games in as possible… and that may well have be a decision that arose as a result of her reading our team and our body language to see what sort of team we were, not being the team in the biggest rush of them all.

It’s worth noting that the levels of fitness varied heavily through the team, from experienced obstacle race runners to those with joints that didn’t work all that well, bordering on mild mobility issues. In practice, it wasn’t an issue, though a few more ups and downs and it might have started to approach becoming one. On the other hand, the ups and downs were fun (at the time, though they started to add up and tell later on through the day…) and added considerably to the adventure playground feeling aspect of exploring the landscape.

Some non-spoiler-y tips: in the darker zones (and that’ll make sense in context), there are things to look out for outside the cells, to give you something to do other than watching the game and shouting suggestions. Talk to your maze master and see if you can get some hints. Another tip is that with time being so critical, if you’re in a game with an automatic lock-in on a third failure, that’s a borderline invitation to make two failures just to save time. A risky tactic but one which may save tens of seconds.

The whole experience felt convincingly thematic, barely stopped moving and was an absolute thrill. Some of the games were less brilliant than others; the ones that were of the form that we would consider similar to what we know as an escape room now and were not the most wonderful examples of the genre. If part of the attraction is being surprised by something you’ve never seen before and having to work it out on the spot, as well as to execute it within the time limit, then if you’ve seen a lot of episodes of the show recently, you might not quite get everything you want here. On the other hand, Challenge have been giving lighter emphasis to the show on their schedules recently, so it might not be so much of a problem.

For another view on the whole enterprise, I’d recommend the review at Bother’s Bar – there’s nothing there to disagree with, even if the whole experience adds up to something moderately closely approaching practicable perfection for me and marginally less so there. The Dome is the best sort of mayhem, full of completely benign sensory overload, to the point where I wouldn’t recommend it to the overly sensitive or easily overwhelmed. I’m glad to note that more and more theatre shows are occasionally staging deliberately calm performances of plays from time to time for the neurodiverse; a deliberately calm performance here would appear to be a contradiction in terms. (On the other hand, I would be delighted to hear from a knowledgeable expert who knew better.)

Does the experience offer good value? This is going to be an intensely personal decision; the experience is so unique and benefits so much from authenticity (noting the points at Bother’s Bar that it cannot be completely authentic and so does not even try to be a replica) that you may find the premium worthwhile. Would you get more from playing two really good, high-end escape games, some time apart? If you’re not bitten by the nostalgia, quite possibly so. The prices offered at the Kickstarter (£1,000 for 32 players; £300 for 8 players) definitely seem entirely justified in context, simply because there is so much really cool stuff to play with; the prices available now are a step higher still. In terms of smile duration and happy memory per unit cost, this certainly does well. It was an utter adrenalin rush and joy rush, as well as a non-stop frantic dash.

It’s tempting to play a game where you can imagine what the rent and rates bills for the Maze might be (for commercial properties’ rental prices can often be found online, at least until soon after the property goes off the market – though there’s no guarantee that the listed rental price is actually the price at which the deal was struck), try to look for counterpart commercial property in – say – Manchester, estimate the number of players over the course of a year, try to amortise the lower bills over the number of players and then conclude that the whole enterprise could be done for x pounds per head fewer in Manchester than in London. The economics probably bear much closer comparison to that of a high-end theatre show, though; not many shows will play in both London and Manchester at once, and the concept of travelling to London to see a show is so well-established that this should be considered more as an attraction than an activity.

It’s very tempting to wonder how much more there is that we didn’t get to see. Certainly there seemed to be more cells that we didn’t get to explore than I was expecting, the trailer video points at unfamiliar-looking games, and I wasn’t quite cheeky enough to start looking behind random windows to see if there really were lots of other games that were good to go at no notice, or if there’s some magic going on. (Surely maze masters and black-clad game resetters would not approve, but there’s definite scope for stealth.) If you played a second time, would you get to play different games? How does the experience compare for teams who start in different zones; what exactly happens to the team who get to the Dome first?

Lots of open questions to enjoy thinking about, and it would be great fun to know a little more about how things work behind the scenes. It’s highly intriguing to ponder how the maze will change over time; it’s noticeable there have been changes already – teams went around the Maze wearing the bomber jackets in late April, but were advised to wear a single light layer only when playing in June and only wore the bomber jackets for the photos. Looking at the tickets site, there’s an extended break over Christmas and the New Year, and perhaps the contents of the maze might be refreshed at that point. I’m definitely very idly thinking about a second trip at some point, but – of course – it’s booked out so far ahead that that might be a problem.

Or might it not be so much of a problem? Looking at that tickets site, you may spot a gap on June 30th when no tickets are apparently being sold. A little detective work suggests that that is not the case.

Gay Times suggests that The Crystal Maze is due to be taken over on June 30th. “The Crystal Maze Pride Takeover will commence on 30 June, and will see a host of characters from London’s cabaret scene guiding guests through the recently revitalised maze. HIV-awareness charity Terrence Higgins Trust will collaborate with the venue ((…)) Drag superstar Jonny Woo will host the event alongside The Family Fierce, a collective of quirky queer cabaret stars who will act as ‘maze masters’ during the event.” Richard O’Brien would surely approve wholeheartedly – if you look at O’Brien’s work, it’s hard to imagine he would choose it to happen any other way. It wouldn’t be a surprise for this even to be a personal O’Brien initiative.

There are tickets going for this unusually special day at The Crystal Maze, so perhaps you might only be waiting until the Thursday after next to play, rather than months and months. Tickets for this one day are the special price of £69, plus 5% booking fee. I imagine that it will be one of the best days of some people’s lives!

2 The Crystal Dome

A pentakis dodecahedronVery quickly:

This Saturday afternoon, my better half and I will be going to the The Crystal Maze attraction in London with a team of four lovely people, three of whom you might know from past puzzle hunts. As the game is designed to be played by teams of eight, this leaves two places on the team spare and the tickets are available at cost price.

The Crystal Maze is essentially booked out for months and months, barring stray cancellation places. For instance, there’s a rare space for five at 3pm tomorrow as I type, then nothing until three individual spaces dotted around August. Accordingly, this is a pretty unusual opportunity, and the company should be rather good as well.

Are you interested? If so, please get in touch ASAP. The places might have gone by the time you do!

P.S. Too late!

“This one time at GameCamp…”: a grand day at GameCamp 8

GameCamp logoAs previously discussed, today saw the eighth almost-annual GameCamp in London, at a campus of South Bank University near Elephant and Castle. The day saw something like 200 or 300 attendees enjoying an ad-hoc programme between 10am and 5pm (and an afterparty in the pub…) with people offering talks and activities on the half-hour, along with an extensive board game library and digital game demonstration lounge and occasional social games in the hallways. There were plenty of very knowledgeable, smart people there and an awful lot of fun ideas.

I enjoyed the event not only as a random attendee but also as a student of unconferences, having had only the Leeds edition (as an attendee) and the London edition (as facilitator) of The Great Escape UK. In truth, I had rather a shy day. The night beforehand I had grandiose plans for running a chocolate-tasting game with a box of tiny Green and Black’s flavoured chocolate bars, but (a) the bars are so small that the game wouldn’t have been fair and (b) the chocolate was out of date and some way past its best. (Maybe next year, though, with more preparation and more chocolate; in context, it would have fit in quite well.) I had also thought about trying to run sessions about puzzle adventures outside locked rooms or The Genius (or, more generically, “proper games on game shows”…) but it quickly became clear that the standards were so high – session attendances varying from approaching ten to more than fifty – that I wouldn’t have been able to busk the sessions. Again, maybe next year, with proper preparation.

What I did do, though, was play one published board game (Mr. Jack, a two-player detective-vs.-Jack-the-Ripper deductive chase game… not bad, though needs more than one play for each player to get the hang of the strategy), a late-stage prototype board game (very mechanically satisfying, sort of an inside-out version of one of my favourite early Reiner Knizia games), a late-stage prototype of Fabulous Beasts (which compared very favourably to the early playtest version I enjoyed in mid-February 2015) and a handful of prototype social games: a very simple, silly card/dice game that didn’t outstay its welcome, a real-time play-via-SMS negotiation game (cute medium, well worth exploring) and the mighty, silly, playful, rule-changing Cat On Yer Head mob party game. Half an hour of each was the exactly correct bite size. I also attended a number of talks, more of which than I had expected having a common theme of mental health. (This development is to be applauded; the more talking about mental health that happens, the better.)

The talk I most enjoyed was Oubliette‘s Mink ette on Designing Escape Games. This had a few dozen attendees. Adrian Hon had spoken on the genre at GameCamp 7, two years back, as mentioned at the time, and the audience (heavy on game developers, but game developers in many media) were much more up-to-speed now than they were then. Mink had given a talk at Strange Tales to an audience who were focused on narrative; this talk – completely off the cuff – was much more development-focused, and hit the mark completely with the audience.

As this is Ex Exit Games rather than neutral old Exit Games, I can say that Mink absolutely nailed it; I had a huge smile on my face for 26 minutes, and a covered mouth and furrowed brow for the other two. By the same token, I am of the opinion that Mink’s breadth of multimedia storytelling game experiences means that she gets it much more than most – she has a variety of perspectives, approaches and understanding of the modern story game aesthetic that I have heard infrequently elsewhere. Here’s a slightly silly analogy based more on feeling than anything else, but with at least a grain of truth behind it: Punchdrunk is to Myst as Time Run is to Monkey Island as Oubliette is to Gone Home; all great, in different ways. As discussed, Oubliette won’t be around for long in its current form. It would be a terrible shame to lose Mink’s experiences and vision from the world of escape rooms (yes, this is pretty much a direct HIRE MINK, SHE’S GREAT plug) but, if it happens, we can be sure that something not very far away will gain instead.

Another interesting session was a crowdsourced instant awards show: a very simple, elegant, effective design for a facilitator and at least a couple of dozen players. The protocol is simple:

  1. a player suggests an award category;
  2. other players can make nominations for the category, offering brief reasoning in favour;
  3. after each nomination, anybody can briefly rebut it;
  4. once the flow of nominations dries up, there’s a vote among the players (today using Approval voting) to determine which nomination wins the category.

I suggested the GameCamp 8 award for GameCamp 10’s “That’s so GameCamp 9”, which I should have more neatly called this year’s next year’s last year’s thing, and which was not unreasonably elided to “flashes in the pan”. VR games were nominated first and much discussed. The fourth nomination – obviously not by me – was that of live-action escape games, described in some most unparliamentary language. Oddly enough, I rebutted the nomination, to a decorous round of applause from the nominator; when it came to the voting for the award, VR games won, but escape games did come a pretty close second. On balance, I don’t mind the nomination at all; one of the ways you know your genre has made it is when there’s a backlash against it.

If there’s a negative criticism to the day – and this, I fear, is one where the committee had worked long and hard on the practicalities – it’s that the lunch was merely serviceable (and I’ve juggled a few alternative adjectives here) with three thin slices of very moderate pizza and a merely competent salad, when previous GameCamps have had the communally broken bread as a highlight. Plus points for free water, minus points for no dessert. I nearly said in the debriefing session that “I’d have paid a higher entry fee for the budget to cover a lunch that included dessert” – but, when I went to the café afterwards and looked at the prices charged for dessert there, I internally said how much? and bought a cheap banana instead. That position of mine is not quite inconsistent, but it’s certainly incongruous. (That said, I nearly bought a cake just for the purposes of taking it to a session taking place in a room that had been renamed Cake for the day, but decided it a gag not quite worth the money.)

Many thanks to the committee for all their hard work, to the overseers of the board game library and to all those who contributed, either by leading a session or just by contributing to one. (Playing games definitely counts here.) It was lovely to see people from both Puzzled Pint and from the London The Great Escape UK unconference – no name checks, but you know who you are. (It’s also great to start to bump into people more and more frequently; that’s how you make friendships!) It was also lovely to get something that had been weighing on my mind somewhat out into the open, and it was received as well as I could have hoped.

The unexpected conclusion that I came away with from the unconference is that it was absolutely the right decision for me to move from Exit Games UK to Ex Exit Games. Just as well, really!