Starting the biggest fans of them all

The Crystal Maze logoAt 9pm tonight on Channel 4, The Crystal Maze returns for the first episode in its new series. It will be a Stand Up 2 Cancer celebrity special, notwithstanding that (most of?) the rest of Channel 4’s programming for the strand will be happening, as usual, in October. Alternatively, if you don’t want to wait for 9pm, you can watch it on All 4, formerly known as 4oD, until the show starts – and if you’re an O2 customer, then you’ll be able to see the show two days early all series long through O2 Priority. (Apparently there’ll be a code, granting access to the impending episode, released every Wednesday at 9pm.)

Accordingly, I’m far from alone in having seen the episode already, but I’m not going to spoil anything before it airs, and will be keeping my thoughts on it to the comments to this post for spoiler-prevention reasons. Whatever you think, I remain convinced the escape room industry in this country as a whole owes a debt of gratitude to the show; while escape rooms have boomed in countries which never had the show or anything like it, it’s a convenient, widely-known point of reference that surely sped the process of public acceptance along. Will the show’s return help the industry further? Remains to be seen – but, at the very least, I don’t see how it can hurt.

In other news, the UK Puzzle Championship opens to solvers at noon today; if you want to start your clock for two and a half hours of puzzles, you can find the details at the official contest page!

News round-up for early June 2017

News round-upThe news goes round and round and round and eventually up, so here are some things you may have seen or may have missed, with links varying from the artistic to the competitive but making interesting steps in between. Many, but far from all, of them come from the not-so-secret secret Escape Room Slack, which has recently reached 300 members. Slack is a real-time chat forum; if you’re old like me, think IRC – or if you’re very old like me, think of a talker. For a 300-member online group, it remains surprisingly overwhelmingly well-mannered and friendly, and highly knowledgeable and often very funny. The volume can be high, but the #uk-general channel is more focused.

1) Here’s a step towards something really exciting… though, perhaps, only a baby step. The Crowne Plaza hotel in Melbourne is now offering a hotel suite complete with its own in-room escape game within, available now and until the end of August. You’re looking to pay more than AU$100 supplement over the cost of a suite without the escape, and the supplement gets you a 45-minute game to play. I’d be prepared to pay a hefty premium for the privilege of staying somewhere with a mystery to spend, say, a long evening diving deeply into, and it’s also true that people will pay considerable convenience fees for goods and services to be delivered to their hotel room rather than going out to a destination – so if there can be room service food, and room service movies, then why not room service escape games?

2) Towards the higher end of what the genre might be, Broadway World covers the recent launch of immersive experience The Path Of Beatrice, developing upon the themes of Paradiso: Chapter 1 which launched last year. Investigating further, I get the impression that it’s not a direct sequel so much as a wraparound that can be played before or after the central escape room itself. The ticket price is… not just more in line with that of interactive theatre than that of escape rooms but half an order of magnitude higher again, but perhaps the prospect of a multi-day experience is commensurately ambitious.

Ticket buyers for The Path of Beatrice will embark on a journey comprised of multiple short, location-based episodes that explore the complex backstory of the Virgil Corporation and the mysterious narrative of Paradiso: Chapter 1. Each experience will feature a series of unexpected and suspenseful events and missions that reference David Fincher’s early masterpiece “The Game” and the cult classic “The Institute.” The experience will unfold with the exchange of packages, virtual correspondences, and interactions with performers and other players delivering clues in unlikely, site-specific locations around the city.” There are plenty of reviews of Paradiso: Chapter 1; the one from Room Escape Artist may be the most relevant.

3) I covered DASH 9 fairly extensively, but somehow failed to discover that there was a survey held afterwards about the event. Around 160 teams replied, but reply rates varied heavily from location to location – for instance, most of the Fremont teams replied, but very few of the San Francisco ones did. (And none of the London ones, for that matter.) Broadly highly positive, encouraging stuff, but the nuance is worthwhile. The set-piece big physical puzzle was the most popular in its two appearances; the transparency jigsaw, the cryptic crossword variant and the final AR puzzle were the least popular, though still far from widely panned. It’s not immediately clear whether the puzzle styles were inherently unpopular or just the way they were executed. In other news, there’s convincing evidence that lots of teams had silly names, and quite a few teams had rude names, for some of the glyphs we encountered along the way.

4) Iain, who was lead GC for the excellent DASH 7 in London and who has kindly posted a few articles at this very site, points to a description of how someone staged a pop-up escape game at an adult retreat. There are a few very cute ideas in there which might set your mind in motion if ever you have interest in staging the poppiest-up of amateur pop-ups for your own entertainment. The title of the piece will set the theme, as well as clue you in to where the retreat took place: Escape Room: Lesbian Relationship Edition!

5) Heading from the more artistic to the more competitive, there’s a very interesting-looking attempt at a Polish Escape Game Championship taking place now. Teams must be made up of members of the lockme.pl industry-wide site (bookings facility, news site and social network of sorts) and start by an online qualifier of a NotPron-style decode-the-images-into-passwords puzzle trail. In each of five regions, 12 teams will make it from the online qualifier to a live regional final, and the best two of those twelve will go forward to a national grand final. The national final will be played by those ten teams at the WroEscape conference at the end of October in Wrocław. What an exciting initiative!

6) The Crystal Maze will return to Channel 4 on Friday 23rd June and they’re starting with another Stand Up 2 Cancer celebrity special; TellyMix reveals the line-up of five, and the official trailer looks pleasingly authentic. (It has been suggested that there will be 41 different games played over the 20 episodes, which is respectably varied.) As ever, the maze itself is the star, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing the games. Less seriously, NewsBiscuit wraps up the last piece of outstanding business from the original series decades ago.

A highly-regarded and reasonably well-known UK escape room posted today that Jonathan Ross, Jane Goldman and at least some of their family came and played at their site, and apparently did rather well! It’s not the first site at which they are known to have played, and I have a suspicion that it’s not their second site either – they’re famously a family of gamers of many different styles. Accordingly, it’s very tempting to imagine that they’re begging – begging – their agents to get to play one of the celebrity episodes of The Crystal Maze. (It’s possible that Ross has a TV deal which restricts him to ITV which might rule it out, but he’s certainly done comedy for Stand Up 2 Cancer on the channel in the past.) They’re certainly more famous than most of the members of the celebrity team listed above!

7) Finally, Escape The Review have recently committed a truly heroic piece of blogging: a guide to escape rooms in Europe. “Europe has a thriving, complex escape scene, and the games I’ve played myself around various European cities are only a tiny fraction of the games available. So the information here is based on recommendations from other enthusiasts, reviewers and owners, in many cases taken from the Escape Room Enthusiasts group on Facebook, plus links to relevant review and directory sites. Where an area is well covered by local blogs and directory sites, I’ve linked straight through to those; where suggestions come from other sources I’ve attempted to combine them into a brief summary.” At the very least, it’s an amazing starting-point for more specific investigations. What a spectacular piece of work!

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…

The Crystal Maze is coming to Manchester

The Crystal Maze logoThe one-off revival of The Crystal Maze is being broadcast on Channel 4 at 9pm this Sunday – perhaps this might be a slightly updated logo, perhaps not – and is apparently set to feature a cheeky cameo or two. It’s been filmed at London’s The Crystal Maze live experience and it’ll be a challenge for a set that is designed to see a couple of hundred players per day match up to the demands of a TV set. It also remains to be seen how the games come across on TV.

Whether it’s a hit or a miss, the live experience has proved such a hit in London that, as previously hinted, a second maze will be opening in Manchester. The Manchester Evening News suggests the location will be the “old Granada studios”, as predicted by a detective on the Bother’s Bar forum. Sales opened today; currently, tickets are available for April 2017; the opening date of April 1st is possibly a tad inauspicious.

There are many similarities to the London site, but a few exceedingly curious differences. It’s still a game for teams of eight, and it’s still closed on Mondays (except Bank Holidays). However, instead of four teams starting at the same time, the starts seem to be staggered at five- and ten- minute intervals, so eight teams start every hour. This has me wondering how this will work. (Is it possible that they plan to build two copies of each zone, just to double throughput? Could they even build two different mazes, with different games for replay value, in parallel?) One interpretation is the possibility that all the teams will play the zones in the same order – or, if the “two copies” hypothesis is correct, conceivably there might be different, but fixed, starting points in the two mazes. Another difference is that the experience is suggested to take two hours, which is longer than the London equivalent. There will be differences and it’ll be a treat to find out what they are.

The pricing has been announced, and games on Tuesdays to Thursdays are £45 per player (plus 5% booking fee). That’s pretty tempting. Earlier this year, I organised for 32 people, mostly site owners and staff but also enthusiasts, to take over The Crystal Maze for an hour, the day after the London edition of the unconference. Should we do it all again in Manchester next year?

Unconferences past and future

unconferenceJust quickly:

The second “The Great Escape UK” unconference took place in London on April 25th. People took notes from many of the sessions at the time. A few sessions remain unscribed and attempts to chase the sessions’ scribes have proved fruitless. However, as something is much better than nothing, please enjoy the notes that have survived from most of the sessions; if you are in a position to add to them, please do so.

The third “The Great Escape UK” conference will take place in Leeds on September 6th, also known as next Tuesday; specifically, it will take place at Dock 29 between 11am and 7pm. Take a look at previous unconference coverage on this site to see whether it sounds like your cup of tea; if so, book your ticket now. You’ll need to pay for your ticket at the time of booking because (a) booking includes lunch and (b) there were many people who booked free tickets and didn’t turn up last time, so there were plenty of other people on the waiting list who wanted to go but couldn’t.

This third meet-up for the UK Escape Room Industry welcomes anyone involved in running, designing, or creating Escape Room Games in the UK, or associated industries. We also welcome keen players, as long as they promise not to rip out the fixtures and fittings in search of clues. We also allow suppliers to attend in the spirit of sharing not selling. ((…))

Our quarterly Unconference returns to Leeds. Everyone can propose a session on the day, on anything they like, people signup for whatever tickles their fancy, then the agenda is decided as we go along. ((…))

Some offerings include a report back from the first Chicago Escape Room Conference, and an offering (from me) on Curiosity and Player Motivation and how it impacts Room Design – a summary of a week-long symposium on Game Design at Utrecht University (actually more fun than it sounds).

Unrelatedly, but still excitingly, on the day after the London unconference, 32 escape room owners, staff and players visited the The Crystal Maze attraction in London. Yesterday The Sun suggested (and, today, reports have reached as far as the BBC) that there will be a one-off revival of the show on Channel 4 for their Stand Up To Cancer night on October 21st. There won’t be a full-scale maze made for a single show; Buzzfeed report that the event will be filmed at the attraction in London. This is an extremely spectacular setting for an event you’ve paid tens of pounds to play in person and a somewhat unspectacular setting for a TV show featuring a team of celebrities. We shall see, and hope that it proves a prelude to a full-scale, big-budget soup-to-nuts revival of the series at a later date.

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!

Who cracked The Crystal Maze?

It’s been a good couple of days. After the unconference on Monday, another plan came together after a long, long time. Last June, this site proposed a get-together for the exit game industry at the then-planned live The Crystal Maze attraction. A thousand pounds was duly plunked down and all 32 places were resold to exit game owners, staff and enthusiasts. Many months later, all 32 people turned up and formed four teams of eight to travel the four zones. (Special apologies to Escape Hour who had to cancel due to flu, but at least their tickets were resold and nobody missed out.)

Tuesday saw some unexpected weather in the morning – at least one thunderclap, some sleet and possibly some hail – but this didn’t stop people getting to the venue in good time. Each team of eight has its own mazemaster that marshals them; the teams circulate about the zones so that each zone is played by each team in turn, the four teams coming together for the Crystal Dome finale. The mazemasters do not attempt to be authentic replications of Richard O’Brien or Ed Tudor-Pole, but they’re very much in a spirit that fits the tone of the enterprise.

Each team member can expect to play two games over the trip around the Maze, but a fast team can fit more than four games per zone in. Some games are original, some are faithful to the show… possibly to a fault, but in any case there has been considerable thought put in to ensure that the whole team are engaged and feel like they’re getting their money’s worth even when they aren’t the ones who have the chance to get their hands on a crystal… or to get locked in. The winning team managed to play a total 19 games over the course of their trip around the Maze, winning a total of 15 of them. The record is apparently bringing 18 crystals to the Dome, so 15 is probably very good.

I took photos of the four teams at the start. I took ten photos in all and not one of them was good enough to use here. Fortunately there are official photos taken at the end and posted to Facebook (hence the day’s delay in making the post…) so here goes:

Team Breakout at The Crystal Maze Team Breakout: 192 tokens (15 crystals)
Breakout Manchester
Breakout Liverpool
Agent November
James Curtis
Jason Cook
Nick Gates
Green Dreams at The Crystal Maze Green Dreams: 170 tokens (13 crystals)
Escape (Edinburgh/Glasgow/Newcastle)
Dan Egnor
Wei-Hwa Huang
Gareth Moore
Orange Team at The Crystal Maze Orange Team: 163 tokens (11 crystals)
Escape Live (Birmingham/Essex)
The Escape Room
Blue Team at The Crystal Maze Blue Team: 124 tokens (11 crystals)
Escape Quest
Enigma Quests
Archimedes Inspiration
Larger versions available in the official site’s album
(Presumably their copyright)

The faces during and after the Crystal Dome were covered in smiles, which is a fine recommendation from a picky audience. I didn’t play; my own game is in six weeks’ time and I’m looking forward to it more than ever. If you want to know more – ideally, if you’ve already played, or if you just don’t mind spoilers – then take a look at Nick Gates’ detailed write-up of his experience. Recommended!

It was fun (and somewhat like a certain part of Back to Reality from Red Dwarf) to stay and chat long enough to see the next set of four teams go through. Some of the mazemasters there sang and danced along to the music while the teams grabbed tokens in the Dome, which was cute, though surely rather more practiced and less improvised than they’d have liked it to appear. Top score in the next game was 150, which wouldn’t have got even third place in this game, which reinforces how well you all did.

Maybe I didn’t get to play myself, but while the teams were travelling the zones, my time was far from wasted. More of that soon, perhaps!

Mechanics Monday: if you had to invent The Crystal Maze, would you?

A pentakis dodecahedron

A few days ago, this site was delighted to see job adverts for the exciting-looking position of Maze Master at the forthcoming The Crystal Maze live attraction opening in London in a double handful of weeks’ time. It might seem a shade strange at first to see them go down the acting recruitment route to fill the positions, but any customer-facing position in either an exit game or any other live entertainment game is definitely a show business position, playing to the audience of (usually) a single team at a time. Don’t forget, Richard O’Brien was (among many other things) an actor before he became so familiar to audiences in this particular role.

The hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of Kickstarter campaign pre-orders are an excellent indication that people are very, very excited about getting the chance to play the game – and, from there, it doesn’t seem too implausible to suggest that there may be many other people who would like to get the chance to do so but might not, for geographic reasons or many other possible causes. The number of other games that have made either explicit reference or implicit allusion to The Crystal Maze when trying to explain their appeal, or just as a familiar point of reference, also goes to reference the strength of the show as a cultural touchpoint at the very least.

It’s public knowledge that one of the distinguishing advantages of the live The Crystal Maze attraction is its authenticity, not least from the work they have done with the rights holders and the people who made the show in the first place. It’s also true that some part of the appeal of the show, to a (presumably reasonably large) part of the audience, was the wonderful and elaborate environment that the show worked so hard to create. It would seem unlikely to implausible that any other site might ever be able to match this; if people want to play the show they loved, they have no other alternative – and are delighted that the live attraction exists as a possibility at all. In case it’s unclear at all, getting to play the live attraction is one of the things that this site is most looking forward to in 2016.

However, it could be possible for a game to describe itself as “like The Crystal Maze but better” and then provide a number of reasons why it makes that remarkable claim. It’s certainly true that The Crystal Maze was designed to be watched rather than to be played by a mass audience. Some of the distinguishing properties of The Crystal Maze are not necessarily conducive to being an ideal experience when played live; the live experience has hinted at some concessions to authenticity for a better live experience and it will be fascinating to see, in time, whether further such concessions will have been made.

For instance, this site tends to believe that nobody really wants to be locked in and to have to, at least nominally, wait to be bought out. Playing a game is more fun than not playing a game, which is why player elimination mechanics have fallen out of fashion in modern game designs. With this in mind, the suggestion that “locked in” players in the live attraction will also be able to rescue themselves by solving additional puzzles rather than by waiting to being bought out – or not – by their team seems like a wise one in terms of the gameplay experience. A friend made a suggestion to the effect of “If you pay £60 to go round The Crystal Maze and end up being locked in on game one then it’s your fault for being so rubbish”, which is fair enough on one level and the roughest of justice on another.

So if you were designing a live experience to be played by the self-selecting near-mass audience, rather than to be watched on TV, what differences would you choose to make from The Crystal Maze as we know it? While it makes sense for there to be a penalty for failing at (at least some) games other than opportunity cost, perhaps there could be other ways to express this penalty other than the “miss a turn” aspect of a lock-in. The whole aspect where only one player could play any particular game and everyone else just had to watch them play and (usually) shout suggestions might also be worth reconsidering; while shouting suggestions is one way to play a game, for many it will be more vicarious and less vicious than might make for the most compelling experience. Lastly, why couldn’t players have a free choice of physical, mental, mystery or skill genres and the ability to play more than one of a particular type in a particular zone if that’s what would make the game the most fun for them?

At this point, it’s tempting to imagine a rather freeform game. Imagine that your team might get to spend (e.g.) 15 minutes in each of four themed zones, gaining para-crystal currency units. In each zone, there are perhaps 25 opportunities to gain currency units, with each one designed to be possible to win by a single player, with teams having complete flexibility to deploy players to opportunities as they see fit – so possibly lots of people playing one-player games, or people advising other people how to play their games, or maybe even two people teaming up on a single game, or so on. Budgeting time and assigning players to challenges would be the major challenge; the only time limit could be the 15 minute limit in each zone. The currency won from each zone would then be used in some endgame to generate an overall score, which might or might not involve analogues of flying tokens and/or geodesic domes. This site is unsure what the intellectual property laws of the land would dictate.

Is this a game you would like to play? Is this a landscape that looks commercial to you?

Coming up on Friday: Geekeasy, Pablo’s Hunt and more Handmade Mysteries

Lady Chastity's Reserve comes to East LondonFriday will be busy! This site talks about exit games most of the time and about puzzle hunts frequently. There’s good reason to talk about something different this Friday: a comedy night. Needless to say, not just any comedy night: one themed around The Crystal Maze. That’s interesting.

Project2 curates Geekeasy ((…)) We populate the bill with emerging and award-winning acts. ((…)) Each month we pick a niche theme and throw some acts at it. Expect musical comedy, stand up, improv, sketch and a Powerpoint competition. This month we’re in The Crystal Maze, with guest comedians, improvisers and musicians competing to win a taxi ride home.

Project2’s background is improv comedy with a sci-fi theme; the The Crystal Maze theme was announced three months ago so people will have had considerable preparation time. It would be easy to “punch down” but the genuine fandom and love for the genres that the group have shown, plus good reviews from an improv player that this site trusts, gives this site hope that more acts than not can stay on the right side of the fine line: irreverent good, impudent goo-ooo-oood, insolent bad. The show starts at 8pm at The Miller pub in Southwark, London, between London Bridge and Borough.

Other exciting things happen on Friday, too. Handmade Mysteries open an East London location at The People’s Park Tavern pub in the part of south-east Hackney best served by the 388 bus from Hackney Wick, Cambridge Heath or Bethnal Green. This is a slight remix of their original Lady Chastity’s Reserve game played in South London; the larger location permits teams of up to six, rather than up to five, and some extra gags along the way. This site just likes saying “My! Brother! Knows Karl Marx! He met him in the bushes at The People’s Park!

If you don’t want to leave your house, there’s still fun to be had: as discussed, the 2015 edition of Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt also starts on Friday, though the teaser poster will already get you started. True, there’s a hidden box to be found somewhere in the south of England, but there’s a mighty bundle of research and thinking to be done before you can even start to work out where it is!