Did DASH 9 leave you wanting more?

whatsnext

The sidebar says it all; Ex Exit Games is a web site about Puzzle hunts, puzzle games, escape rooms and more, and it works out to be roughly in that order. It’s all pretty seasonal; many of the hunts take place once a year at similar times, and so do many of the puzzle competitions, so that’s when the posts most naturally tend to happen. Happily these days there are many excellent blogs that will tell you all the latest news and reviews about escape rooms, so I don’t feel bad about downplaying that aspect of things.

Perhaps you’re coming here for your first time, or one of your first times, as a result of DASH, or perhaps you couldn’t go but thought it sounded great; you don’t have to wait another year for DASH 10 to get your fill of puzzle fun, for there are plenty of exciting-looking things coming up:

  • The most distinctive and unusual sort of game coming up is probably Defenders of the Triforce put on by SCRAP’s Real Escape Game brand in mid-July. “This is not an escape room, it is more than that. Solve puzzles together with other teams, in a huge area, all within a set time limit. Interact with classic items and characters seen in The Legend of Zelda series like the Goron, Zora and Kokiri tribes.” I get the impression that it’ll be somewhere between a puzzle hunt and a night at Puzzled Pint. The game is on a tour of North America and Europe, and North American reviews suggest this is as good a SCRAP game as there ahs yet been, though that’s not quite as ringing an endorsement as it might sound. My post on the game has links to these reviews. 
     
  • A Door In A Wall have just started their latest public murder mystery game, Horses for Corpses, on Friday and it will be running for (at least) just over a month. Turn up at your assigned time at a location in Camden Market, with at least one smartphone per team; you then “have 2 hours and 40 minutes to explore the area and gather evidence: solving puzzles, interacting with characters and collecting clues“, before returning to make your accusation as to who the killer was. In some ways, this is as close to another DASH as you’ll get, dialing the story strongly up and the puzzles slightly down, and it may be closer to the canonical puzzle hunt experience than DASH actually can be. Ken from The Logic Escapes Me swears by them, and sometimes at them. 
     
  • Fire Hazard‘s stock in trade is High-Energy Immersive Games; top of their list is the five games they are running in July of their new design, Evasion, which asks “Can you search a room without leaving a trace? Can you defuse an explosive situation? Can you impersonate an enemy agent without blowing your cover? ((…)) You’ll race against the clock completing special missions, cracking cryptic messages, and keeping your cool while the enemy is in hot pursuit” and promises “added escape-room style puzzle-solving tasks“. Take a look at this interview for further details. Other than that, they still offer the high-speed City Dash in various locations around London (and, this Saturday, in Odense), and the low-speed Raiders of the Lost Archive that walks all around the Victoria and Albert Museum. There’s also a pop-up second Raiders game, Raiders: the Sunken Tea Set, that takes place on other levels of the museum – so if you enjoyed the original then a rare second helping may be on offer! 
     
  • I don’t thiiiink our friends at Treasure Hunts In London have anything lined up, but checking the meetup groups, there’s plenty going on elsewhere. The Cultural Treasure Hunt Meetup group are hosting a hunt around the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge on May 20th, and another one around the National Maritime Museum and Historic Greenwich on July 29th. The latter of these might seem a little ironic considering that’s where we were for DASH, but I get the impression that there may be less crossover between the two than you might expect. 
     
  • ((Edited to add:)) Rich Bragg from ClueKeeper points out that there are self-guided hunts available using the ClueKeeper platform, and some of these are based in London! Treasure Hunts in London have hunts in Chingford, in Brixton and around Spitalfields, and Urban Hunts have hunts around the City of London and in the Museum of London. Perhaps the puzzles will be easier than DASH, but this is by far the most authentic way to get some of the DASH experience whenever you want some. 
     
  • Further North, all are welcome at The Armchair Treasure Hunt Club‘s Spring one-day hunt in Hebden Bridge, also on May 20th, and the Manchester Puzzle Hunts Meetup have a report from their first event, with the implication that there should be a second event in about a month’s time; follow the Meetup group to see more details of when it’s going to happen. 
     
  • Slightly more speculatively, the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society have organised a 24-hour in-person puzzle hunt in Cambridge for each of the last five years, and while nothing appears to have been announced yet, I would bet small money that the next one will happen on Friday 16th June running into Saturday 17th June – i.e., the last day of Full Term – and that the site’s Facebook page would be the best place to look for an announcement. 
     
  • The Manorcon board games convention takes place at one of the halls of the University of Leicester, and for each of the last sixteen years, there has been a puzzly Treasure Hunt on each of the Sunday afternoons. 
     
  • Before all those, there’s dear old Puzzled Pint in London – and now also in Manchester! – on the second Tuesday of each month, also known as “tomorrow”. The puzzles here come from a rather more DASH-like background, but are deliberately accessible to all and designed to provide an hour or two’s fun for a team enjoying food, drink and good company. 
     
  • It’s not clear when the next big online puzzle hunt is going to be, for the Melbourne University Maths and Statistics Society‘s event that normally takes place around this time of year isn’t happening in 2017, and the Puzzle Hunt Calendar doesn’t really have much either. On the other hand, if you like logic puzzle contests then the calendar looks busy. The World Puzzle Federation’s Grand Prix season’s contests take place every four weeks, with the next starting on Friday 19th May. The next contest is set by the US authors, who ran an event with a loose escape room theme last year. That’s not all from US authors, though; the US Puzzle Championship will be on Saturday 17th June. Look out (perhaps at @ukpuzzles on Twitter?) for news of the UK Puzzle Championship as well, with the last two having been in late June; if DASH is my in-person highlight of the year, the UKPC is my online contest highlight, so I’m really looking forward to it!

Coming to London in July: Defenders of the Triforce

Real Escape Game's Defenders of the TriforceIt’s a cute coincidence that this is the second consecutive post about a fantasy-themed live action team puzzle game, but no more than coincidence; I only found out about this earlier today, with a tip of the hat to Thomas from London Escapists.

The very first post I ever made to dear old Exit Games UK touched briefly on the history of the genre, pointing to Japanese Wikipedia’s suggestion that the first known game, as a commercial enterprise, was run by a company known as SCRAP in Kyoto in July 2007. (Happily, a tenth anniversary celebration is planned.) SCRAP use the English-language brand name “Real Escape Game” for the games they have run, and licensed to be run, around the world, with games notably played in the US, in France and in Spain. They run Real Escape Rooms, which the rest of the world have followed somewhat closely in their format, but they also run Real Escape Games, where many teams participate at once, in a larger location, in parallel. Today the world discovered that one such game is coming to London for three days in July.

Real Escape Game are bringing their latest such game, Defenders of the Triforce, to London on July 14th, 15th and 16th! “This is not an escape room, it is more than that. Solve puzzles together with other teams, in a huge area, all within a set time limit. Interact with classic items and characters seen in The Legend of Zelda series like the Goron, Zora and Kokiri tribes.

Another page on the site says more: “There will be multiple teams during each game, all trying to escape. Players are encouraged to communicate frequently and divide tasks efficiently in order to solve all the puzzles before time runs out. If you are a person who likes answering riddles, solving complex puzzles, or are just looking for a good mental challenge, this event is for you! This is NOT a maze or traditional escape room! It is a fully hosted, story-based escape event designed for puzzle fans and fans of the Zelda franchise.

The game has been running in North America already, and it is suggested that the game does not particularly vary from location to location, so without wishing to prejudge the game, the reviews seem reasonably likely to be representative. You can find non-specialist perspectives from teams who played from many sources including Engadget and The Verge, or you may prefer more specialist perspectives from Room Escape Artist or Escape Room Tips. SCRAP’s games have tended to really split the audience, critically, but this is about as well-received as I can remember any of them being.

If you’re a fan of Zelda, all indications are for a recommendation to book without delay. If you’re not, don’t be put off, but set your expectations to something that’s somewhere between a room escape game and Puzzled Pint; take a look at the reviews and see whether it’s worth the money to you. Either way, many thanks to SCRAP for taking a chance on the UK and I dearly hope that there are many more events like this in the country in the months and years to come.

Around the world: Getting together

Hands around the worldIt’s definitely possible to draw parallels between the development of the exit game hobbies in different countries around the world. People start exit games, there become enough of them to inspire people to want to talk about them, eventually players and operators think about meeting up. Doubtless there will be other parallels still that develop in different places independently over time as well.

1) “National character” is lazy shorthand for prejudice, but it’s a compliment – and an amusing one – that the first country sufficiently organised to run an Escape Games convention is Germany. The line-up looks exciting, though more likely to be of interest to site owners than anybody else – but when you get enough people interested in the genre in the same place at the same time, magic will happen pretty organically. There’s a reduced price for bloggers; if there’s anyone out there who wants to represent Exit Games UK who isn’t working the night shift on September 4th and either speaks German or just doesn’t mind requiring people to translate for them all day, please get in touch.

2) Talking of bloggers, that’s not quite how it works in Canada. Some of the exit game bloggers of the Greater Toronto area, and their talented theatrical friends, will be putting on three sittings of a one-night 100-player stadium-style exit game. In your Night at the Speakeasy (a Prohibition-era illegal drinking den), explore the rooms, solve puzzles, interact with the actors, don’t get whacked by da wise guys and find the exit on September 19th in the Canadian Caper. This is horribly impressive, they’re going to have such fun, they have such accomplished track records that this site firmly hopes that the event is as huge a hit as it deserves to be.

3) Talking of bloggers and stadium-style games, EscapeGame.Paris announced that The Real Escape Game came, and are coming, to France; three of the four sessions of the SCRAP-derived mass-participation event have happened already, the fourth is set to follow soon. Given that Real Escape Game have brought their games to France and also to Spain, this site is very positive about the chance of it coming to the UK at some point as well.

4) So what does the UK have? Well, the UK will have The Crystal Maze, and this site is organising an industry meetup there. 14 tickets have gone, 18 tickets remain. If you’ve vaguely expressed interest in the past – even if just as a comment to a post – then please convert it into actual interest now; you should have received details by e-mail about how to send money and guarantee your place, but please get in touch if you haven’t.

5) However, all of these rely not just on being in certain countries, but also on being in certain cities within those countries. If you’re not in the right city, you can get together remotely this weekend by taking part in the seventh (“Swiss”) round of the World Puzzle Federation’s Grand Prix puzzle competition; 90 minutes to score points by solving 23 puzzles of seven different types. The download the Instruction Booklet page will let you find if this contest is the right one for you.

Twists in the tale

Mobius strip graphicA little research last night pointed to one of the more interesting and controversial events in English-language exit game history: the ending of Real Escape Game 3: Real Escape Game x Evangelion in San Francisco in September 2012. This was a one-time event held over the course of a weekend. While the company behind it, SCRAP Entertainment Inc., have rerun some of their games in different cities across North America – not just San Francisco, but Los Angeles, New York City and Toronto – there are no signs of this one being repeated, so it’s probably fair game for discussion. (As well as interesting.)

A quick distinction: the same company have run these limited-duration event games several times, usually each lasting a few days or a week, but they also run Real Escape Room games at weekends and on weekday evenings on a long-term basis, which take the usual exit game format. The Real Escape Game can be much looser in scope, with many teams occupying the same physical space at once, working in parallel. In Real Escape Game x Evangelion, as the “Unwinnable” report puts it,

Sunday’s EVA event was “Mystery Hunt Style,” meaning the game’s already cryptic clues had been scattered all over Japantown. As players, we had to split our time between mentally arriving at solutions and physically arriving at solutions, and an hour of that can take a lot out of you.

Reaction to the majority of the game appears to be generally pretty positive, and certainly the company has gone on to run many more, similarly popular, English-language games after it; they’ve run games in so many countries, too, that I hold out hope that they might come to the UK some day, which would likely be a real treat.

Now the big twist came at the end of the game. People have been kind enough not to spoil the specifics, but the report linked to above later goes on to describe it, taking a similar tone to this report on an Evangelion fan site and Tyler Hinman’s no-punches-pulled report. Essentially, while only around 10% of teams solved all the puzzles over the course of the hour, the game had an extra step that was necessary for official victory, knocking the success rate down to around 2%. Some otherwise victorious teams considered this extra step to be unfair, or not properly clued, or otherwise not in the expected spirit. Some have made comparisons to the Japanese video game ethic of games having multiple endings; arguably this is fairer game if it is expected.

So here’s another thought. Suppose you and your team went to play an exit game. You had played a few before – won some, lost others, but were particularly attracted by this one, which happened to be clearly marked as being intended for those who had played other games before, rather than as an introduction to the genre.

You enjoy solving your way through many steps and reach what appears to be the final puzzle… then, at the last minute, there’s one unexpected step, and instead of the team winning or losing as a team, it becomes clear that the game will only permit one person to win, with all the rest of the team losing. Perhaps there is a single competitive puzzle to be completed individually to determine who gets the honour among the team. (Any metaphor is possible – perhaps you’re trying to land a spaceship safely before it runs out of its last hour of fuel, but no matter how close you get to a safe landing, you’re going to have to bail out… and there’s only room for one in the escape pod. Something like that.) You’re requested not to spoil this twist ending to other players, and the player photos don’t give it away.

Would that be fun, or would that leave a sour taste in the mouth?