A week and a half until the World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships

World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships logoOne of the highlights of August will be the World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships, taking place in the UK for the first time – specifically, in Croydon between the 10th and 17th. These will include the ninth World Sudoku Championships, held on Monday 11th and Tuesday 12th, and the 23rd World Puzzle Championships, held between Thursday 14th and Sunday 16th.

The registration lists have been published for both the sudoku and puzzle championships; this site hopes to be able to treat the championships as the sporting events that they are and provide a preview, paying respect to the competitors’ past achievements. Both individual and team contests should be interesting for each discipline. You can also look at the sudoku and puzzle competition Instruction Booklets and admire the invention that has gone into the design of the puzzles to be solved.

There are both individual and team rounds to be solved, with the puzzle championship in particular remarkably thematic in its partition of puzzles to rounds. One particularly interesting collection is the “Afternoon Tea” round, where the puzzles are “T Sets”, “T Rooms”, “T for Tapa”, “T for Trees” and “T for Times Tables”, the last of which look interesting and original here. Also noteworthily smart is the “Table for Four” team round, which sees a different coloured pen given to each member of the four-person teams – then each player is restricted to marketing in 20 of the cells in their colour in each 81-cell puzzle, according to the puzzle’s rules. Great teamwork and co-operation required!

Many thanks to all the puzzle suppliers for the contest – the puzzle design has been a global effort with well over a dozen suppliers for each competition – and, of course, to the organisers. It’s not too late to join in if you’re interested as the event is still looking for further volunteers. If you’re sufficiently interested in puzzles to be reading this site, it’s likely you’d enjoy helping out behind the scenes, and it’s also unlikely that you’ll get this chance again for quite a while. The volunteering opportunities page describes what positions are on offer to choose from and also what’s in it for you in return. If it sounds fun, it’s too good an opportunity to turn down!

Treasure Hunts in London

Treasure Hunts in London logoThe most observant readers might have spotted a new addition to the site’s links page. This site was recently contacted by the proprietor of Treasure Hunts in London, whose treasure hunts sound exciting. There is also a blog with invitations to upcoming hunts that instantly leapt onto this site’s blogroll, with some events jumping straight onto this site’s events calendar.

Coming up as soon as 2pm this Wednesday, i.e. 30th July, Treasure Hunts in London are organising a Southwark Treasure Hunt, starting at (but not associated with!) Southwark Cathedral. By happy accident, this is the same starting-point as DASH 6 three months ago, but the event seems to offer a complementary sort of challenge to the London leg of the global hunt.

Quoting the organisers: “This is an outdoor Treasure Hunt with a literary theme, covering the area from Borough High Street to the Millennium Bridge. Unravel cryptic clues and photograph funny assignments while exploring this interesting and historic part of London. The meeting point (…) is the Refectory at Southwark Cathedral, near London Bridge, London SE1 9DA. You will need a smartphone/digital camera to complete the photo challenges. The hunt takes around 2 hours and will end at a nearby pub for a drink, a chance to announce the scores and award prizes.Tickets are £10 each and must be purchased in advance. Everyone gets a clue pack and pen. Prizes are awarded to winning team.

Sadly the news came just too late, but there was a counterpart hunt in Chingford on Saturday; this site hopes to feature more information about that hunt, and other past events to give you a flavour for the event, before much longer. Additional events are expected to be announced soon; looking much further ahead, there will be a Trick or Treat 2014 Halloween Treasure Hunt starting at the British Museum on the Saturday before Halloween, which will be October 25th.

The proprietor has a hard-earned and enviable academic record in the field of event management, plus a demonstrated flair for the dramatic, all of which points to the organisers knowing both the theory and practice of how to put on a show. Definitely one to watch and this site looks forward to bringing you more information about treasure hunts in London… and beyond!

Behind the scenes of the Manorcon Treasure Hunt

Manorcon board games convention logoTen days ago, this site previewed the Manorcon board games convention in Leicester, with a focus on the event’s puzzle-based Treasure Hunt. This site is fortunate enough to be able to feature a retrospective of the finished event, very kindly supplied by hunt organiser Annie Percik.

Up until 2013, I had never entered the Manorcon Treasure Hunt, so of course the first year I did, my team won. The prize was the responsibility of running it the following year.

Sunday 20 July 2014 – a full year of preparation (largely on my own, but with several hugely important contributions from others) found me rather looking forward to the experience, and confident of its success.

Usually, I operate via an attitude of positive pessimism – if I assume something is going to go badly, I’m nearly always pleasantly surprised. So, even though the event was mostly fine, and I got some great feedback afterwards, it still felt a bit of a let-down because it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.

Basic structure:

  • Teams move from A to B on a map with multiple routes.
  • Solving a puzzle allows the team to move one space.
  • They each start with some pieces and some time for the final puzzle.
  • Leaving yellow spaces allows them to pick either more pieces or more time to add to their loot.
  • Landing on red spaces or spaces where there is already another team causes them to sacrifice some of their loot.
  • The first team to reach point B gets some additional loot, and then the final puzzle begins.
  • The final puzzle is a jigsaw, and the winner of the overall Treasure Hunt is the team that manages to put together the most pieces in the shortest time.

The playtest a couple of weeks before went really well, which gave me confidence – but we only had one team testing, so we had no experience of dealing with multiple teams and how they interacted on the map.

It was all a bit chaotic and demanding, especially at the beginning, and the teams solved puzzles faster than we expected, which put pressure on all of us – moving markers on the map, handing out new puzzles and keeping an accurate record of the various amounts of loot.

We panicked a bit on the timings and changed the rules half way through (probably unnecessarily), which annoyed some teams who had strategised based on the time available. We should have stuck to our original schedule and forced the teams who were steaming ahead to take a break (which was what the schedule was designed to do in the first place), rather than making a snap decision under pressure to try and fix something that wasn’t really broken.

Anyway, everyone seemed to enjoy it, it certainly didn’t over-run, and overall it went reasonably well. Plus, it was amusing that the team who had never played before, and joined in at the last minute to support my endeavours, was the team that won – and so they have to run the event next year!

While setting high standards for yourself before taking pride in the success of your own work may be the greatest motivator of them all, it’s extremely easy to be very negative about an event that you have run. For instance, the second year I (co-)ran the event, when the plans were for a 1½-3 hour event, it was something of a surprise to see the fastest teams crack the metapuzzle after about 57 minutes. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop the hunt from being fun on its own terms, and this site firmly believes in the maxim that “Nothing would be done at all if a man waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault with it.” The important thing in practice is, as Annie says, that people seemed to enjoy it. Many thanks to Annie both for running the event and for writing it up for this site.

Manorcon XXXIII is set for 17th to 20th July 2015 and looks extremely likely to contain a highly puzzle-based Treasure Hunt for a fifteenth consecutive year. Some of this year’s winners come from a team who did very well at this year’s DASH in London, so the omens are extremely promising. More news as it becomes available!

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!

Coming to London: A Tail of Two Cities

"YOU have found CONEY" logoExciting and unusual news! The storied interactive theatre company Coney have started a Kickstarter project entitled A Tail of Two Cities: Adventure 1. Quoting the description:

A Tail Of Two Cities is a series of surprising performances which take the audience on a journey through the financial district of a city, exploring our beliefs, roles and relationship to the economic crisis. We’re gathering stories from those working at the heart of the financial system, and from those living on its margins, to craft a world into which the audience will step.

Adventure 1 begins with a phone call that might feel like magic, and a parcel that arrives for you in the post. From there, you’ll find your way to a secret location on the edge of the City of London, where the adventure really begins. […]

We already have the core resource to make a basic experience for audiences to play, with a little telephone magic. But we would love to turn Adventure 1 into a truly magical adventure for the audience, with performers hidden in plain sight for players to encounter, background stories researched comprehensively, and a rich sound design for… well, that would be telling – just trust that it will be worth it.

There are further hints about the meaning of the title, and the nature of covert play in general, discussed on their Who Has Got The Tea Bag? page. (Up Jenkins!)

A Kickstarter pledge of £10 gets you an experience with the telephone magic. Double that and you’ll also get “a tiny artefact that unfolds to reveal the secret behind Coney’s practice”. However, the big one, for £150: “You’ll be led on a little adventure that happens wherever you are, at a mutually convenient time. It will start with a phone call, and continue on a journey to somewhere nearby.”

The project needs £3,000 to fund, and it’s reached just past half-way with nine days to go. On the balance of probabilities, with the way Kickstarter works, particularly with the reputation that Coney have worked so hard to build up, it’s very likely to make it, possibly in October. Also coming up from Coney, look out for a possible further outing for Early Days (of a better nation) during Parliament Week in November.

July 2014 Dealwatch: coupons and discounts to play exit games for less

"Sale" graphicSome exit games offer opening discounts, to help fill their rooms early before the word gets far and wide. Some offer opening discounts organically; others offer discounts through social buying schemes. Here’s a quick run-through of the deals that this site could find that are still valid. (Ground rules: terms and conditions doubtless apply and this site takes no responsibility for deals that fall through for whatever reason. These are not exclusive in any shape or form.) This month, there’s one new, one change and a couple of deletions.

  • Keyhunter of Birmingham have a Groupon deal active. £15 for two players, £19 for three, £24 for four or £29 for six. Codes are activated 48 hours after purchase and are valid for 90 days after purchase.
  • NEW! Escape of Edinburgh have a Groupon deal active. £24 for a team of up to five, restricted to new customers only. Codes are valid for 60 days after purchase.
  • Tick Tock Unlock of Leeds have a Groupon deal active. £22.50 for three players, £30 for four or £35 for five, restricted to new customers only. You must book by e-mail, including a contact phone number. Codes expire 90 days after purchase.
  • Cipher Entertainment of Leicester remain closed in preparation for their second season, but they have a Groupon deal active all the same. Deals are only available for the one-hour version of the game. £19 for four players, £24 for six or £29 for eight. You must book by phone and arrive 10 minutes early. Codes expire 90 days after purchase and exclude public holidays.
  • Ex(c)iting Game of Oxford have a Groupon deal active. £24 for five people or £47 for six to nine people, restricted to new customers only. You must book by phone. Coupons listed as valid until 8pm, so presumably are not valid for the 8pm-10pm game available daily, and expire 90 days after purchase.
  • Clue HQ of Warrington officially open a week today, but already have a Groupon deal active already. £29 for three or four people, £32.50 for five or £36 for six. You must book online. Coupons are valid from 28 June-28 September 2014. There’s also a similar deal at Wowcher, though this charges £29 for up to four, £39 for up to six, is valid until 15 October, and terms and conditions are presumably slightly different.

Those are all the active deals, discounts and coupons this site could find; if you know of others, please send them through – and if your site has a offer not listed above, please don’t take it as a deliberate attempt to disrespect and this site will happily spread the good news. (Alternatively, if you would prefer that this site does not list your coupon, that’s fine too and please get in touch.)

In other news, thanks to everyone who filled in our survey a fortnight ago. There weren’t loads of responses, but the ones supplied were appreciated, especially when people left comments as well. Posts on exit games were most popular, then posts on puzzle hunts, then general-interest articles, then ones on puzzle competitions least popular. Good to know!

Remember that there are some good ways to follow articles posted to the blog: subscribing to the syndicated feed in the reader of your choice is probably easiest, but we also post links to new articles to our Twitter account and our Facebook account.

Predictions for the second half of 2014

Crystal ball iconWe’re into the second half of 2014, this article has taken far longer to write than was planned, but by way of looking forward to the second half of the year, this site estimates that, at some point during the second half of 2014:

There is practically a 0% chance that the whole exit game industry proves a fad that goes as quickly in 2014 as quickly as it came in 2013. Nothing lasts forever, but there’s no reason why the industry – or, at least, its best sites – shouldn’t be in it for the long haul.

There is a 10% chance that the UK mass media will catch on to just how cool exit games are and base a series around them with properly integrated puzzle solving, rather than the merely disguised quiz of, say, the US Exit show.

There is a 20% chance that one of the big players in the leisure industry – perhaps a chain of bowling alleys, or cinemas, or maybe even gyms or similar – will get on board and bring a corporate, commodified approach to the exit game business to compete with all the plucky independents this site loves so much.

There is a 30% chance that there will someone will hide a treasure in the UK with a hunt that really catches the public attention. Perhaps Masquerade must be a one-off in its impact, but there have been plenty of worthy successors. Maybe the clues will be shared in a book, maybe it’ll follow the tradition of Alternate Reality Games promoting mass media works, maybe it’ll be something new.

There is a 40% chance that existing exit game sites continue to grow and grow – as just one example, clueQuest is set to open its second Operation BlackSheep room on August 1st! – and that there is a single site which manages to serve forty teams on the same day. Thirty a day seems like a very unambitious target, forty a day pushes it to the “40% chance” category.

There is a 50% chance that the next World Puzzle Championship will be won by Ulrich Voigt of Germany – after all, he’s won two of the last four! (Maybe this is underselling him; the full story is that he’s won 9 of the last 14, but surely the opposition is getting stronger as well.)

There is a 60% chance that the monthly party that is Puzzled Pint will keep growing and growing in London, exposing more and more people to the puzzle hobby… at least, once autumn comes around and the nights start to draw back in.

There is a 70% chance that at least one existing exit game covered by this site will officially call it a day, in addition to those which just might fade from sight. (And, still, the exit game industry would compare favourably with so many others when you think about startups failing quickly.)

There is a 80% chance that there will be a day where this site can list at least twenty sites open for business in the UK and Ireland, with at least five in the London area.

There is a 90% chance that the 23rd World Puzzle Championship and 9th World Sudoku Championship, scheduled for Croydon here in the UK on the 10th to 17th of August, will go with a bang and be a success to be proud of for years.

There is practically a 100% chance that something incredibly cool, of which this site was not previously aware, will make itself known. Maybe it’ll be… not just any exit game, but the exit game of all exit games; maybe it’ll be a puzzle game like of which nobody has seen before; maybe it’ll be the hottest new puzzle trend since sudoku. Be sure that this site will really, really enjoy telling you about it.

Looking a long way ahead to more exit games

Enigma Escape bannerNormally this site can announce concrete details of an exit game reasonably shortly before, or reasonably soon after, it opens. This time, this site doesn’t have so much to go on, or knows that this is a longer-range preview. Nevertheless, these titbits are far too interesting not to share.

As previously hinted at, this site recently learned of another exit game planned for London, but whose operators have made it clear that they’re not in a rush to hit a deadline and will work long and hard rather than push out something before it’s ready. Nevertheless, with early social media campaigns under way and some gorgeous graphic design, here’s the story behind the team behind Enigma Escape.

We are two young cousins with a passion for video games, and in particular room escape games.
After playing some live room escape games in Hong Kong, Budapest and London, we felt that we could do a better job in creating the ultimate live room escape experiences.
It didn’t take too long to decide that we would quit our jobs and set up Enigma Escape.
Our mission statement is to be the best in room escape entertainment, by introducing well designed and innovative escape rooms, backed up with our outstanding attentive customer service values.
The perfect room escape experience is a blend of an intriguing storyline, innovative theme, challenging team-building oriented puzzles, and attentive customer service.
We have analysed many room escape businesses and far too many lack in at least one of these areas.
Our first location will be in London. We are in negotiations in securing a lease on a premises and hope to open by the end of the year.

This site applauds their lofty ambition and looks forward to the long haul of following their progress.

Three months ago, this site touched upon the crowdfunding campaign for QuestRoom, also planning to launch in London. While the crowdfunding was not a complete success, the campaign announced “Our goal is to reach £15,000 which would cover the start up the game and the first couple of months’ essential costs. The plan is flexible; we’ll find a bank loan for the missing amount if we need to.” The continued development of their web site suggests that they are making good on that part of the plan and this site also looks forward to seeing their plans come to fruition. More news as it becomes available.

The next story is from further afield. Very little to go on at the moment, but there’s a very early web site up for Logiclock, which intends to establish itself in Nottingham. Sounds wise; the East Midlands may well have a gap in the market, especially with the continued hiatus of Cipher Entertainment of Leicester. One noteworthy piece of cunning from Logiclock is that there also seems to be a realescapegame.co.uk web site pointing to their work, arguably an allusion to realescapegame.com, the web site of the US subsidiary of SCRAP Entertainment, who started things off.

In late-breaking news, the proprietor of the very successful Escape of Edinburgh has announced on Facebook that they plan to establish a second venue in Glasgow, with a target opening date of August 15th. This site has been looking for someone to open within Glasgow for a while; it’s surely fertile territory and the proprietor’s track record is well-established, so the prospects are about as strong as they come.

These have all been added to the “Announced but not yet open” list; when there are definite addresses and web presences, this site will very much enjoy adding more dots to the map!

Sherlock unlocked?

Victorian detective silhouetteOne of the most familiar tropes in fiction is that of the Victorian London detective – and that’s a euphemism for one of them in particular, Sherlock Holmes, of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original tales. He’s been in the news recently in terms of recent US court rulings over copyright; the Washington Post report is possibly the clearest, though the BBC one is worth reading as well.

Excerpting the Post: “For decades, the Doyle ((literary estate)) have jealously guarded all ‘literary, merchandising, and advertising rights’ for Doyle’s works. Anyone wanting to use Sherlock or his friend Dr. Watson has typically paid the estate a license fee.” However, an author has successfully argued in a US Appeals court that the characters are now in the public domain, and the Supreme Court has since rejected an appeal from the Doyle estate so the ruling stands.

The BBC make the distinction that “the character of Sherlock, along with 46 stories and four novels in which he has appeared, was in the public domain” though ten stories published between 1923 and 1927 do remain under copyright. Might this provide carte blanche to refer to Sherlock Holmes and other related characters within the context of an exit game, or a puzzle hunt, or some other puzzling endeavour? It’s known that some exit games around the world already do. It would be fascinating to hear whether the U.S. ruling might have implications on use of the characters elsewhere around the world.

The real-world story over who has the right to the address 221B Baker Street is rather fun; go to Baker Street and look between number 237 and number 241 for number 221B and you’ll find it leads to the Sherlock Holmes Museum – to whom, incidentally, the copyright of the graphic at the top of this post belongs. Perhaps some day it might lead to surely the most authentic of Sherlock-themed exit games, whether instead or as well. It would be likely to be about as expensive as an address would get, though.

Perhaps it’s marginally less unrealistic to hope for an exit game situated above Speedy’s Cafe on North Gower Street, famous for standing in for the location in the BBC’s latest version of the Sherlock tales. That would be fun, too!

Interview with Ed Roberts, proprietor of Breakout Manchester

Breakout Manchester description graphicThis site has previously discussed the Breakout Manchester exit game business, around two months old but already doing excellent business. It’s a joy to be able to feature an interview with Ed Roberts, the man behind the site. The questions asked by Exit Games are tagged with EG and Ed’s responses with ER below. The opinions are a little feisty in places; no bad thing at all, but be clear that they belong to Ed.

  • EG: What’s your background, leading up to the opening of Breakout Manchester?
  • ER: I’m a director in two other business, Awaken Ibiza and Funk Events, so up until opening Breakout I was running those companies. A lot of the skills developed in running these two businesses have been hugely beneficial in launching Breakout Manchester.
  • EG: It’s exciting to see your Tweets from time to time suggesting that Breakout Manchester is selling out days in advance. Can you say more about how well things are going for you?
  • ER: Yeah, things are going remarkably well. Another company opened in Manchester about 2 months before we did and I think it’s struggled. So for us to be selling out a few days in advance and weekends a few weeks in advance I’m really happy.
  • EG: Your excellent progress is all the more remarkable given that the site has only been open for about two months. What techniques have worked well for you at getting the word out around Manchester?
  • ER: My background is in advertising, marketing and promotion has been hugely beneficial. We use some fairly advanced social media techniques to promote the venue and I have done promotion in Manchester for the past 7 years I know a lot of people and organisation in the city which have been a big help. In addition to that, word of mouth is one of our strongest attribute, and that comes from people having an excellent experience with us and then those people spreading the word.
  • EG: Which puzzles, games and other artworks have influenced you most over the years in your designs?
  • ER: I really enjoy action computer games. Games such as Zelda, Dishonoured, The Room and The Room Two. Also TV programmes such as The Cube and The Crystal Maze. I’ve always been a huge fan of puzzles my whole life.
  • EG: What lessons has your background in event promotion taught you about offering good customer service?
  • ER: In terms of customers service probably not a huge amount, this is one thing I have learnt a lot of from doing Breakout. Where it has hugely helped is the promotion, marketing and advertising of the rooms and the venue.
  • EG: It was fun to read that representatives from first the Daily Sport and later the Bolton News have visited your site. Do you have any other star guests lined up?
  • ER: Not really guest stars but quite a lot of press will be coming through in the next few weeks.
  • EG: What does a typical day for you look like?
  • ER: I normally get to the venue around 7am and do around 3 hours on Awaken Ibiza or Funk Events. I then organise the staff for the day and spread my time between running the games, tweaking the games, promoting and advertising the venue. The venue is also incomplete so various DIY and decoration is still in place. To be honest for the past week it’s been non-stop running of games. I normally finish around 9pm.
  • EG: What are the most memorable reactions from players that you have witnessed?
  • ER: The other week we had 4 teenagers with behavioural issues in from Manchester Young Lives. They were accompanied by 3 teachers from the centre. They had all previously been expelled from numerous schools. The 4 of them absolutely loved it and were captivated from start to finish. Their teachers said their concentration spans were normally that of minutes and had never seen them working as a team before. Turning four disinterested teenagers into a team of happy, energetic and proud young adults was a very memorable moment. To see them rave about it afterwards really impacted me. A good escape room game is fantastic for all ages and in all situations. This particular example is a great example of this, and is testament to the quality of the room.
  • EG: How are your preparations going for adding a third room at your current location?
  • ER: Extremely slow 🙂 It’s the first room I’ve ever created completely by myself so I want to assure it’s as good as possible. It’s called Madchester so revolves around Manchester, its history and culture. Think the Hacienda, Stone Roses, Oasis, Coronation Street and so on. It will be open at the end of July if it kills me! 🙂 I’ve been to a few other sites around the country and with the exception of all the London sites, Leeds and one of the Bristol ones, some of them are very poor and I want to assure that my centre is as good as it possibly can be. If someone has a bad experience of an escape game it will put them off for life which would be such a shame.
  • EG: Can you reveal anything about your longer-term plans after that?
  • ER: We have the capacity to open another one maybe two rooms in Manchester so my focus is on that and to create some games which push the boundaries of the industry. I’ve got a lot of ideas of how escape rooms can break out of their current mould and I want to explore that. Why do they have to be an hour long for example? Could a escape room be more story driven? It’s exciting times for the industry as a whole.
  • EG: If you could give the readers, escape game players and puzzle fans reading this one piece of advice, what would it be?
  • ER: Play The Room and The Room Two on a tablet. Then come to Breakout 🙂

Thanks so much for that, Ed! Note also that last week, Breakout Manchester posted to their Facebook feed that:

Breakout Manchester is recruiting. We need game organisers, makers and technicians. Part time flexible hours available. Must have good customer service skills. If interested please send your CV to hello@breakoutmanchester.com and the days and hours that you are available to work.

Full-time and part-time roles are available, so as well as there being a good opportunity to play the site’s games, perhaps there’s a good opportunity for the right people to be involved from the other side as well!