Mazes and Crystals

It all started with a big CrystalThere is much more to say about the Red Bull Mind Gamers finals show, much of it very positive. Not tonight. I am still bitter about my Internet access here yesterday, and how resetting a router can make things worse when every other time – including a measly ten minutes after the show finishes – it makes it better. That’s not important right now. (At least I got to see the show, even if I have used up half my mobile phone data for the month.)

The live The Crystal Maze experience is clearly a hit, selling out months in advance in London and sufficient to inspire a second official maze in Manchester. (There are some very positive reviews of the Manchester maze previews at Escape Game Addicts and at Brit of an Escape Addict!) When the show comes back to TV, after the one-off Stand Up To Cancer celebrity special, it will come back further into people’s consciousnesses and be a rising tide to lift all boats further. Hurrah!

Here is a statement which I don’t think reflects any great insight, but I don’t think I’ve seen anybody else yet make. The world of escape games is already enough that there can be reasonably well-established subgenres within it: a zombie game, a prison break game and so on. Aside from the issue of whether the live The Crystal Maze experience “counts” as an escape game or not, I think there is room for the existence of a “The Crystal Maze” subgenre of escape games, and that there will be more escape and related games in the UK that, for want of a good adjective, have some degree of the essential The Crystal Maze nature.

This is a gradual scale, with shades of grey, rather than being a binary distinction. There have long existed scored games, an early example (and probably the most famous?) of which is Clue HQ‘s The Vault. Some use the score element to reflect how quickly you were able to solve the regular puzzles in the game which you must complete before you can get to the scored activities. Others use scores in different ways; I enjoyed reading The Logic Escapes Me‘s reviews of the Ruby Factory at Trapped In and Bad Clown, as was, at Escape Quest. More topically, Time Run’s new The Celestial Game game is a scored game; from what I know about it, I thought it sounded quite crystalline, though Escape Review’s, er, review (which is spoiler-y for format alone, though certainly not for content) tended to differ.

The Bolton News recently wrote about an upcoming site called Crack The Maze, in which “teams between two and six are tested in physical, mental and skill challenges to win time for an ultimate final challenge. There will also be escape the room challenges in the huge complex.” So there are plans for an explicitly labyrinthine game on site and escape rooms as well. Exciting!

I also enjoyed reading about Never Give Up which opened in Newcastle-on-Tyne about a month ago. “Take on various challenges to successfully complete each type of game. 1 or 2 players can play each game while the rest of your team shout instructions through the doors or windows to help. ((…)) Successfully completing a game will earn your team a “clue sphere”. Collect as many of these precious sphere’s as possible to win clues for the epic centre-piece of the game, the escape from King Tut’s Tomb. ((…)) The various Egyptian themed rooms- mental, skill and physical games are up to 3 minutes long and will last for approximately 35-40 minutes in total. The final challenge, the King Tut’s Tomb will last 15-20 minutes.” So it’s two parts The Crystal Maze, one part escape room. Thumbs firmly up from here… and it has a great name, too.

Part of the reason why escape games have done so well in the UK, I am convinced, is the high esteem in which The Crystal Maze is held, even decades after the fact, and the extent to which people can relate to it as an immediate cultural touchpoint. (Escape game owners, raise a toast to Challenge TV. I’m not kidding.) It strikes me as logical to wonder whether Fort Boyard, the French predecessor show, might have a similar effect in countries where it is beloved. For instance, Oslo in Norway has a game called Fangene på Fortet, which is also the name of their local version of Fort Boyard. The game seems slightly more Boda Borg than anything else, but that’s another game that… if not quite along the same axis, is another asteroid in the same cluster.

Flying slightly into fantasy, it’s tempting to wonder whether other game show properties might ever see the light of day. Given the popularity of the Knightmare Live theatrical shows, I find it easy to imagine that there would be people who would pay to play a Knightmare experience – and that certainly could be replayable. (LARP is a whole different topic, but one not at all far away.) Flying considerably into fantasy, I’d rather like to visit the alternate universe in which John Leslie is providing a star guest appearance at the opening of the (1994 ITV one-series smash-miss) Scavengers experience…

Now open in Newcastle: Lost & Escape

Lost & Escape logoA double helping of exciting news from the north-west coming very soon, but actual open sites take precedent over previews, and today is a particular day to celebrate.

Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year! It is the start of the year of the 羊, often translated as goat or sheep. Accordingly, today this site focuses on a site in, or at least very near, Newcastle’s Chinatown. The influence of Chinese culture on exit games around the world cannot be overstated; if you were to produce a list of the world’s top ten cities for exit games, it might well include Budapest, Toronto and eight Chinese cities. You might boggle at Budapest featuring something like 66 games, but according to the China EGA site (viewed through machine translation!) China has seven Budapests alone, with Beijing estimated at not just 66 but 175 sites. (Or, perhaps, rooms; machine translation does not make the distinction clear.)

Lost & Escape is a new game in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. According to its Facebook page, it opened on Sunday 8th February at Suite 1 (First Floor), Blackfriars Court, Dispensary Lane, Newcastle, NE1 4XB. The site is set to feature two games, though it is unclear whether the second room has yet opened; the games are suitable for groups of either 2-6 (according to the web page) or 3-6 (according to Facebook). Booking takes place by telephone, or possibly through the WeChat app.

Room One is entitled Time Travel to the 1900s! and has a story that asks You accidentally went into an ancient house. The door of the house is a time machine, which brought you back to the 1900s. You found strange symbols everywhere. The only way to go back is to get the key in 60 minutes. The person who runs out of time will be locked in the past. Can you travel back successfully?

Room two is called The Lost Treasure and has a different story: One of the treasures in national Museum is lost at night. It is the greedy art collector, Mr. Evil, who stolen the treasure. Tonight is a good opportunity to get the treasure back, however there is only 60 minutes to finish the mission. You, the secret agent, are allocated this mission. Can you manage on time? This room may well be associated with a Twitter posting that suggests “Our unique laser room is testing now! It Looks amazing! Can’t wait to try!

Always exciting to see sites trying something unusual; looking forward to reading the reviews!

Coming soon to Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Escape

Adapted from "Newcastle-upon-Tyne-bridges-and-skyline cropped" by JimmyGuano - Newcastle-upon-Tyne-bridges-and-skyline.jpg. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - of the Millennium and Tyne bridges between Gateshead and Newcastle, adapted from a file licensed under Creative Commons; mouseover for specifics.)

This one came as a surprise! It’s well-known that Escape in Edinburgh is doing very well; the TripAdvisor reviews are extremely good and the site has had some days that more or less match up with the busiest London locations in terms of business. On top of that, the owner has started a second location in Glasgow, where the early signs are just as positive, just over a month ago.

Two sites would keep a great number of operators more than busy, but news has arrived that a third is on its way very shortly. Much as Escape were the first to open in Edinburgh and Glasgow, they’ll be the first to open in another big untapped market, with a third location in Newcastle-on-Tyne.

Bookings are not open yet, though this site has reason to believe that they’ll open before too long with games available from mid-October. The site suggests that the first game to open in the Toon will be the Classic Live Escape Game as found in Edinburgh and Glasgow, though it’s not instantly clear how different the Newcastle game will be from the popular versions north of the border. ((Edited to add: A little investigation reveals that the three games share little more than a setting.))

It’s interesting to note that the Newcastle site is based in a Citibase office building (in an excellent location for those coming in by train or on the Metro) as is the case for the Edinburgh site, suggesting that the location has flexibility and room to grow over time. The games offered in Edinburgh have been changed up from time to time and it’s easy to imagine that the ones offered in other sites are likely to vary as well. (For instance, the Glasgow games page mentions a game called “Contagion” coming soon…)

Exciting times! Both the Edinburgh and Glasgow branches had social buying vouchers offered briefly upon opening, so it seems plausible that Newcastle might just do so as well. More news as it arrives.