Register soon for The Hunt for Justice!

Hunt for Justice logoPuzzle hunts come and go. This year, new additions include the Cambridge Puzzle Hunt and Galactic Puzzleball, though the MUMS hunt has had a year off. I long enjoyed reading about the epic weekend-long van-based hunts in the United States, and it doesn’t seem like the people who have made them over the years feel the same need to create them any more. However, the desire to create puzzle events is still there; it’s just that the focus these days seems to be to place them on the Internet where the whole world can play, not just people who happen to be in the right place at the right time. Sounds like a very practical step to me!

The Hunt for Justice is an upcoming online puzzle hunt that will take part on Saturday 21st October. The hunt will nominally take place between 1pm and 9pm Eastern, which works out at 6pm UK time Saturday 21st to 2am UK time Sunday 22nd time. (Both countries will still be celebrating daylight savings time, though not for long afterwards.) In truth, the puzzles will be available afterwards, but live support and puzzle answer nudges will be available during those hours. Experienced teams may well be able to complete the hunt in five hours or so.

The most distinguishing feature of the hunt is that teams participate online from the location of their choice, but they will be sent a box of props and physical artifacts in advance of the hunt starting which may be used during some of the puzzles. Accordingly, there is a charge to take part, which covers the cost of producing and sending out the box of props, but also covers a donation to the Innocence Project charity. The charge is US$80 for teams in the US and US$90 for teams requiring international postage. Team size is unlimited, but teams of 2-4 are recommended. Theoretically you could have a team spread over more than one location, by registering two smaller teams who each receive their own box of props and have these smaller teams work together.

The line-up of people responsible for putting the hunt together is impressive. They have extensive organising and writing credits for Puzzled Pint and local in-person hunts as well. The team compare their hunt to DASH in terms of style and difficulty – or, more precisely, a relatively tricky year’s DASH, for there has been plenty of volatility from year to year. You’ll get nine puzzles and a metapuzzle for your money.

I’m really excited about The Hunt for Justice in a way that I haven’t been for the other hunts because it has been designed to take place in a single long session – a good night’s entertainment for a team – rather than being something that hangs over a period of several days and invites you to spend an indefinite period of time over the course of a week or so. That sort of format will suit some teams better; I’m particularly attracted to this format. Registration closes August 1st, so you have only just over a week to register. Less than three months to wait!

Coming up next week: the Cambridge Puzzle Hunt

cambridge-puzzle-hunt

I’ve posted about the CUCaTS in-person puzzle hunt organised by the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society annually, at the end of the academic year, for the last five years. Happily, this isn’t the only puzzle hunt interest at Cambridge University, for members of Trinity College’s Mathematical and Science societies are working together to put on the first (and, hopefully, not the only) Cambridge Puzzle Hunt. Hurrah!

The hunt takes a very similar format to the MUMS, SUMS and mezzacotta hunts of Australia: there will be puzzles released on each of five four days; after each set of releases, each of the successive three days sees hints released to the that day’s puzzles. It’s not immediately clear from the rules if there is a scoring system, a metapuzzle and/or a physical object within Cambridge; if anything, signs point to no. Teams can have up to five members; unusually, there is the option to register as a solo solver.

It’s not clear what the level of difficulty can be expected to be, but first hunts often tend to be pretty hard, and Trinity College has a fearsome academic reputation. For mathematics, at least, the saying goes – or used to go? – “there are other universities, there is Cambridge, and there is Trinity College, Cambridge”. I went to another university!

Registration does not appear to be open yet, but ((Edited a second time:)) registration is now open and a registration deadline of the end (UK time) of Saturday 28th January has been announced, with the rules and Facebook pages now agreeing that there will be four sets of puzzles released from Wednesday 25th January onwards. Accordingly, if this is of interest, better not hesitate in starting to follow the hunt’s progress. There’s a mailing list and a Facebook page, so keep looking out for more information really soon.

What an exciting start to the year!

A world championship for escape game teams? Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock Enoch

Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock Enoch, copyright Red Bull GmbH

image copyright Red Bull GmbH

Just over 18 months ago, I reported on a Escape Room Game Jam held at MIT in association with Red Bull and their associated feature film division. Things went quiet and it seemed that the trail had gone cold on this one. The trail has heated back up; it looks like it heated back up a little while ago, but I haven’t seen anyone talking about it, so here goes.

Red Bull Mind Gamers calls itself a “platform for curious minds, with games and challenges to provoke their thinking“, featuring a selection of online puzzles testing strategy, logic, creativity, visual thinking, abstract musical thought and memory to various extents. The “Brain Food” section features articles and interviews on related contemporary mental game topics.

There has been a countdown to the site’s main event, Mission Unlock Enoch, whose self-description of “global competitive mind gaming tournament” is a gussied-up way of saying “sort-of-escape-room world championship”. Hurrah! This is far more exciting and relevant to interests here than anything else recently done by any other purveyor of caffeinated chilled sugary beverages. (Unless you know otherwise…) It’s all tied up with their MindGamers movie, previously referred to in passing as DxM.

25 teams of four will receive paid travel to Budapest in February 2017 to take on the “ultimate mixed reality Escape Room Tournament”, with the overall champions earning a three-day trip to Boston. Wherever you are in the world, you can attempt to win one of four global wild card spaces by attempting to complete this single-player online game as quickly as possible. (Practising the other games on the site might help.) The other 21 spaces are awarded to national champions to parallel national qualifying competitions held in 21 different countries: Singapore, South Korea, the US, Oman, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Norway, Switzerland, and a dozen current EU nations, happily including the United Kingdom. Lots of important gaps in the list: Australia, Canada, China, Japan, and so on, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Accordingly, there is a national qualifying competition in the UK to determine our representative at the world finals. This will take place at Breakout Manchester on December 5th and at Breakout Cardiff on December 7th. “Within 20 minutes, your team of four players will have to connect their mind skills and solve a multi-player mind game in order to ‘unlock’ and leave the room. The fastest team per country gets to enter the final Escape Room in Budapest in 2017.” Each player only gets one try; you’re not allowed to play on more than one team, or to play in more than one location. It’s not clear how the company are planning to avoid spoilers here; procedurally generated puzzles might be one solution that remains reasonably fair in terms of difficulty.

It’s not quite even that simple! In order to get a place at Manchester or Cardiff, you need to rack up a score towards the top of the local chart for the single-player online game. Top scorers there will be invited to pick their team and their time of choice for the qualification day at Manchester and Cardiff. You miiiight be able to get to play in the qualifiers just by turning up on the day even without scoring well at the online game, but this isn’t guaranteed and I wouldn’t risk it.

The overall pattern looks like this: play the online game alone, do well and earn a spot at Manchester or Cardiff, do very well with your team there and win a trip to Budapest, do extremely well with your team in Budapest and win a trip to Boston. (Maybe, just maybe, the prize will be to go to Boston when the MIT Mystery Hunt is on. That would be a neat circle from the location of the original game jam.)

Not much else is known at the moment, except maybe anecdotally from past players. You can read the rules, the FAQ and the terms of participation as .pdf files, but you may get more of an insight by reading the interview with the designers. One open question: who (or, I suppose, what or where) is Enoch and why should Enoch be unlocked?

Inevitably I’ll be hundreds of miles away from anywhere useful, working the day shift on the Manchester qualification day and the night shift on the Cardiff qualification day, but it would be a joy if whoever the UK representatives eventually turn out to be were part of the community. (Or, the other way around, it would be strange if the UK representatives weren’t part of the community, by choice.) We’ll be cheering the UK team on in Budapest in February!

If you do decide to go for it, the very best of luck to you – and please tell all about it on December 8th!

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!

Interview with the Cyberdrome Crystal Maze team

The Aztec Zone of a branch of the Cyberdrome Crystal Maze in JapanWhat’s your favourite game of all time? Any sort of game: board game, video game, card game, puzzle game, physical game, computer game, role-playing game, exit game, all sorts of other genres of game, whatever you like; compare your favourites from each medium against each other and pick a favourite. Too hard? You can narrow it down to four.

My four, in no order: puzzle hunts at large, the live action RPG campaign I played in at university, obscure mid-’80s hybrid board/computer game Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes and The Cyberdrome Crystal Maze. You can probably have a reasonable guess, among other things, that I was born in 1975.

This site has touched on the Cyberdrome Crystal Maze in the past without going into the detail it deserves. It was a physical attraction, based upon the The Crystal Maze TV game show, where teams raced from game to game about the centre, sending team members to play bespoke physical games or computer games where physical games would have been impossible. These were often as puzzling as the mental games on the TV show, or at least emulated the demands of one of the show’s physical games. It worked heart-breakingly well. The photo above is of the Aztec zone at the branch in Kuwana, near Nagoya in Japan.

I wrote a longer piece about the game roughly half my lifetime ago, and will probably still have reason to write about it in another twenty years’ time. It’s the one topic that I’ve always wanted to write about on this blog but always shied away from for fear that I could not do it proper justice.

However, failing that, here’s something rather special instead. Some detective work led me to the e-mail address of one Carl Nicholson, one of the founders of the Cyberdrome Crystal Maze – indeed, the technical side of the outfit. Mr. Nicholson extremely kindly agreed to answer some questions by e-mail; even better still, his partner in Cyberdrome, David Owers, whose focus was the business side, contributed some answers as well, and Carl has even got in touch with other members of staff. Huge thanks to all of them for their time, effort and responses, as well as for being the people behind a sensational game; it’s fascinating to hear more of the story behind the scenes. Continue reading

The fourth CUCaTS puzzle hunt: Cambridge, 12th-13th June

CuCATS fourth puzzle hunt logoThat handsome chap – a stylised cycloptic CuCATS cat at the centre of a Koch snowflake with a cheeky pangram about hir – is the logo of the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society’s upcoming fourth annual puzzle hunt, set to run in Cambridge (our Cambridge, not the one with MIT and Harvard!) over a period 24 hours or so from 4pm on Friday 12th June. It’s going to be gloriously, unashamedly hardcore. It’s one of the most exciting things that this site has seen this year.

As a FAQ-like page explains, the puzzle hunt is “a team puzzle-solving and treasure-hunting competition. Your team will navigate its way through a mental and sometimes physical obstacle course of challenging and fun computational, mathematical and linguistic puzzles, seeking to cut its way through to the goal before everyone else. No preparation is necessary, just come along on the day!

One crucial thing to note is that “Teams may be made of up to three members. It is envisaged that most participants will be @cam.ac.uk (affectionately known as Camacuks) and it is encouraged that each team should have at least one Camacuk. However, teams not meeting this criterion may be allowed to compete by prior agreement (drop us an email). If you’re looking for more team members, hit us up and we’ll try to match you up!” It seems very likely that there would be ways for counterpart Oxacuks, Icacuks, Manacuks or even Lifeacuks to play as well, though the hunt will surely have just enough local flavour to keep things interesting.

To get a feel for the flavour of past form, the puzzles from the 2012 edition are online, along with worked solutions. It’s clear that the puzzles are set to challenge their intended audience, with no hesitation about setting the bar quite high. The puzzles from 2013 are also available. It’s striking how both years’ structures point to puzzles that nobody got around to trying, as well as got around to solving.

This site emphasises how accessible Puzzled Pint, DASH and Order of the Octothorpe are; by contrast, this site would only recommend this hunt to the most persistent, capable and (particularly technologically) resourceful – the calibre of which can be found at places including the country’s most celebrated universities. This site does not subscribe to an elitist viewpoint that harder is necessarily better or more interesting; instead, it celebrates a wide puzzle hobby where everybody can find the level of their choice.

However, this site is delighted that there is readier access than once there was to the highest of ceilings, and that those with sufficient skills can get a chance to play at as high a level as this hunt offers; it may be about as challenging as the decades-long tradition of hunts in the US and elsewhere. Those with experience of such games, who have missed having the opportunity to play in them, or those who aspire to reach the highest of global heights, will likely have the time of their lives. Many thanks to everyone at CUCaTS for putting it on and making it available; it’s surely likely to be spectacular!

(Now, does that logo contain some sort of pre-clue around the hexagonal face…?)

Introducing a great UK university puzzle hunt: the CUCaTS hunt

CUCaTS logoAfter discussion of puzzle hunts around the world, it’s long been tempting to wonder whether there might be one in the UK that somehow has gone under the radar. Many different countries have their own puzzling traditions, and perhaps the UK is most relatively strong in the armchair treasure hunt tradition. One of the most interesting US puzzling traditions is that of the in-person puzzle hunt, more specifically epic 24-48-hour non-stop team hunts sometimes referred to as The Game. (It’s very inconvenient that a useful generic title can get overloaded with so many different, incompatible meanings… and you may have just lost The Game.)

That particular puzzle hunt tradition began at some of the most prestigious universities in the US; over time, many of the participants went to work for, or found, technology companies. Well-placed rumours suggest that such puzzle hunts were also played by members of technology companies in the UK, though activity came to a halt in 2005, possibly to some extent as a result of the 7th July bombings. This site seeks to research this claim.

It was a total delight to recently discover that a group within the UK has been running an in-person treasure hunt, very much in the style of those in the US, for at least three years. True to the backgrounds of technologically focused prestigious academia, the group responsible is CUCaTS, the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society. Their hunts have been 24-30 hours long, featuring heavily technical puzzles, befitting the playing constituency’s background, played between teams of just three.

The 2012 problems are an excellent starting-point, showing not just the structure of the event but the sort of background required to enjoy the puzzles. They tended to be very sparse on flavourtext, and light on clueing, though it’s impossible to know what sort of help the teams received in practice. The results show that in practice they each tended to take many person-hours to solve – and that the hunt may have had depths that no team actually managed to reach. While the event would be considered “conference room style”, several puzzles involved visiting locations around the city.

The 2013 event’s problems follow the form and take it further still, though it may well be that the clues and solution techniques are not yet written up in sufficient detail to judge properly. Certainly these are proper double-black-diamond difficulty puzzles, certainly comparably hard to those in the SUMS hunt in progress this and perhaps bearing comparison to those in the MIT Mystery Hunt.

There was another such event in 2014; the preview makes it clear that there would be an increased degree of focus on relatively accessible puzzles towards the start, working up towards the most difficult ones later. While the puzzles are not available (from context, they may well have been hosted on a private server that is no longer online) the review makes the flavour clear. “The full range of Cambridge inventiveness and ingenuity was exhibited by all the teams, with puzzle topics ranging from dial tones & guitar chords to binary trees & window managers; from discrete cosine transforms & famous engineers to prime numbers & run-length encoding; and from magic bytes & corrupted FAT partitions to postboxes & the Greek alphabet.”

What is known for sure:

  • The hunt has been run for each of the last three years.
  • The review of the 2014 hunt says “Stay tuned for next year!”, despite only four teams participating.
  • One would expect a 2015 event to happen in mid-June and to be announced on the CUCaTS Facebook site, among other locations.
  • The 2014 event suggested that at least one team member required an active cam e-mail address, implying that other team members did not.
  • There is a tradition of feeding the players throughout, which is excellent, sociable practice.

What is not known for sure:

  • It is not clear whether the hunt would welcome players from outside the society, or outside the cam.ac.uk community.
  • It is not clear whether the participants are interested in a closer tie-up with the puzzle community at large and the other hunts and contests that exist, noting other rumours of puzzle cells at Cambridge.
  • It is not clear whether a hunt requiring such effort can be sustained for the long-term.
  • The extremely technical nature of the puzzles mean that even some avowed puzzle hunt fans may consider this not to be the puzzle hunt for them.

Nevertheless, learning of the existence of this hunt is one of the most exciting developments since this site started way back towards the start of the year. Onwards and upwards, and who knows what other surprises there might be waiting to be discovered?

Around the World: Boda Borg

Boda Borg logoA few days ago, this site predicted that “There is practically a 100% chance that something incredibly cool, of which this site was not previously aware, will make itself known.” Nobody was expecting a very strong candidate for the title to arrive quite so soon, and a very grateful tip of the hat to Ed Roberts of Breakout Manchester for pointing it our way.

With roots that can be traced back to Sweden in 1995, Boda Borg is a company operating, directly or by franchise, a series of adventure centres. Currently seven are open in Sweden, one in Ireland and two are apparently under construction in the USA, one on either coast. The adventures are played by teams of 3-5, and are suitable for both adults or children aged, perhaps, 8+. (This brilliant writeup suggests that the Swedish centre clientele may be 80% adult; maybe less different from established exit game demographics than you might think.)

Each centre consists of a collection of Quests, which are independent and can be completed in any order. Each Quest consists of a series of 2-5 (possibly fairly small) rooms that must be completed in order. By way of an example, the Irish location, at the Lough Key Forest and Activity Park, has a total of 15 Quests and 47 rooms. (The Boda Borg web site implies that the Swedish centres are larger, with 20-25 Quests each.) €15 per person will get your team access for two hours (during which time, two fully completed Quests is apparently a par score) or €20 per person will get your team access for the whole day.

To complete each room in each Quest… well, that’s up to you, and the reason why Boda Borg is so interesting is that the instructions aren’t explicitly given, and you have to figure them out from context yourself. Quoting the web site, “Once you enter only teamwork using countless different skills, ingenuity, trial and error will allow you to survive the Quests.” Some rooms will pose purely physical challenges, others a mixture of physical and mental challenge; a colour-coding scheme on the doors hint at which are which. The official explanation video hints at the variety of challenges on offer, but also implies that one relatively frequent physical challenge theme is “don’t touch the floor” – but dressed up in sufficiently many different ways, and with such a variety of props to aid you in this, as to maintain interest. That’s cool; that’s fun.

From context, sets of sensors will detect any failure by any member of the team (and working out how failure is defined is part of the challenge) and cause the team to need to start the entirety of that Quest over again – or, perhaps, give a different one a try and come back to that one later. Success through every room of a Quest earns access to that Quest’s ink stamp, with which to emboss your low-tech scorecard. (A scoring system that has been good enough for letterboxers for decades.)

More specifically, this video seems to come from the Irish site and dates from 2009. While Quests are changed from time to time, this may give you a more practical sense of feel for what you might find in practice. (Rabid spoilerphobes might conceivably choose to keep away.)

How does this compare to an exit game as this site knows them? It looks, principally, rather less labour-intensive. Teams are left to their own devices, attempting the Quests in the order of their choice – so, by implication, there is an assumption of good faith and good queueing between the various teams running round the site independently. (If there are many more than fifteen teams, and only fifteen Quests, perhaps the waiting might get a little in the way.) It’s also unclear quite how sophisticated the mental aspects of the various Quests are; presumably there are some deliberately very accessible ones and possibly also some rather more obtuse ones. Noting that Quests are independent of each other, it would be unfair to expect the degree of interconnectedness that you might find in (particularly a relatively story-heavy) exit game.

It all sounds extremely promising, though how it might work in practice is another matter. From a distance, the best way to judge is TripAdvisor – and, as usual, better to read the comments than just go by the (generally very favourable) ratings – and to bear in mind that the people making them may have a wide range of sets of expectations going in. It’s worth bearing in mind that most of the comments reflect the entire park; Boda Borg probably comes off better than the park at large.

A telling recent comment reads: “Took us a wee while to find our feet (14,13 yrs old sons & hubby + me) but it was great fun when we completed a few and got the team work nailed! I took many laughing fits as we struggled to get through some and we all had sore knees climbing & crawling and my hubby who is 6ft 2 banged his head quite a few times but that’s all part of the fun. Will definately be back to beat our poor record best afternoons craic in a wee while. Super activity for all the family provided everyone is reasonably mobile and has a sense of humour!” On the other hand, a different (rather older) comment reads: “Inside, it is cheaply constructed, very poorly supervised and dimly lit. The day we were there, many of the ‘challenges’ were broken, others were in poor condition with important items missing and there were young teenage children running amok inside racing up and down narrow corridors. It was like being in a claustrophobic secondary school playground.

The truth will surely be somewhere between the two extremes; it also seems reasonable to suggest that there were rather more complaints over the standard of maintenance in 2013 than there have been in 2014. It would be very interesting to know what the maintenance schedule is and whether there’s a sense that the site might be at its best “early in the season”. (You might also choose to give higher importance to reviews from, perhaps, a game-ier context at BoardGameGeek.)

If you’re the sort of person who is sufficiently game for a certain sort of laugh that you’re willing to make a journey to play an exit game, or to go out of your way to play with toys and environments so impressive as to be impossible at home, the odds are surely extremely promising for Boda Borg. (It reads like being as close as you’ll get, these days, to the sort of fun from the Cyberdrome Crystal Maze of old – except, twenty years later on, lower-tech.) Definitely one to follow as franchises spread around the world. It would be interesting to know whether the economics might make a site in Great Britain work, or whether our land and installation costs are just too expensive. The capital expenditure would surely be much more than that of a basic (almost modular?) exit game, but the potential daily throughput could be tremendous while being much less labour-intensive than that of a one-moderator-per-team exit game.

The island of Ireland already has quite a tradition of exit games, and growing; the prospect of a tour some day to experience just all the games that it offers, let alone its other appeals, becomes more and more promising. Or, further afield, there are seven Bodas Borg to try in Sweden. Road trip!