Around the World: the leading global exit game brands

"Brand Identity" graphicMight the red carpet one day be rolled out for your brand around the world?

One of the most exciting consequences of the Escape Room Directory, and quite possibly a natural extension of the global popularity of the exit game phenomenon, is that it’s easy to identify brands whose reach extends beyond a single country. At this point it’s probably not yet possible to definitively identify the world’s leading exit game brands; if your brand deserves to be in this list and isn’t, please do get in touch with appropriately good-natured abuse. It’s probably worth coming back to this topic every few months to see how the various brands are doing.

This can only ever be a snapshot of how brands are doing at one point in time in October; the industry is so fast-moving that likely many of the brands we feature below will have made considerable progress since then, and your own research as to how each of them has moved on will likely inform your opinion about the true sustained strength and progress of each company, rather than just using a sample size of data from a single point in time.

Real Escape Game are accepted as the progenitors of the genre. The run both Real Escape Game events, which have multiple teams in the same location but still the same time limit, as well as Real Escape Rooms which fit the conventional definition of an exit game. A translation of their Wikipedia page suggests they have activity all over Japan, but also in South Korea, China, Taiwan and Singapore. In the English language, they have two locations in the US, as well as having run games in five cities, and two in Canada. It is unclear whether Real Escape Game NZ is one of theirs or not.

The rapidly-expanding Real-Life Room Escape page on Wikipedia (ugh, what a clunky title) suggests that ParaPark was the first fixed location game to open in Hungary in 2011; they advertise as “the first room escape game in the galaxy”. Continent, quite possibly; galaxy… perhaps “first” makes more sense if it’s translated as “first place”. Anyway, the ParaPark (“Fear Park”) brand has branches in Hungary, Spain, Romania and Austria (the latter in an apparent tie-up with a laser game brand – smart idea) and may be coming to Italy, the Netherlands and Australia.

The Mazebase brand is a little disparate. They are best known for the HintHunt brand represented in London, Paris, Cape Town, Dubai and Moscow, but grew out of a centre in Debrecen, Hungary also originally known as HintHunt. However, they have also contributed some rooms to Breakout Manchester (two Mazebase, two original), Puzzlair, one Polish site, two Greek sites with others in progress.

To UK audiences, Escape Hunt is possibly the most avowedly international brand of them all, with branches already open in the Netherlands, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia as well as the UK. They have recently revised up their global growth target by about 50% to “75 locations signed by end of 2014 and 500 by end of 2015”, which has to be an excellent sign, though there’s a difference between locations signed and locations opened. Paul Bart is going to be kept extremely busy!

The Adventure Rooms brand is also well known for the success of its franchising around the world. Having started in Bern, Switzerland, they have grown not only around their original country but also into the US, Canada, Germany, Greece, Italy, Estonia and Russia, with Australia coming soon. No sign of any UK deal yet, but it would seem plausible that someone wanting to extend an established, tried-and-tested brand could sign one at some point down the line.

The Freeing brand is known for very large centres in Hong Kong and Singapore, with one of the two Singapore locations (at Bugis+) featuring ten rooms, all different. Gulp! Ten may tie Escape Hunt London for largest and ten different is quite possibly unprecedented, at least among the English language. They also have one Indian site and one Canadian site. It’s not immediately clear whether Freeing Room in Kuala Lumpur is connected with the brand or not.

Escape Room currently only have operations in two countries, with six sites in Malaysia and one in Australia. However, they get points for “coming soon” in five more, including the UK, with a suggestion that their first branch will be in Manchester. In Australia, be sure not to confuse Escape Room Australia, in Melbourne, with Escape Room Melbourne or the barely-opened Escape Room Oz in Queensland; it may well be that none of them have any connections with each other. This site understands that the appropriate national slang for the nomenclature confusion is a bingle.

The LosT brand has two very large centres in Hong Kong and one large one in Singapore, Room Escape Adventures will trap you in a room with a Zombie in 14 US cities as well as Toronto, and the Escap3d brand fully deserves consideration here for sites in both the UK and Ireland.

Among national brands that could conceivably grow overseas some day, Team Escape are spreading across Germany, Escape have two locations in Scotland with another coming soon to Newcastle, Escape The Room has two locations in NYC and one in Philadelphia and there are two Puzzle Break locations on the West coast in San Francisco and Seattle.

Speaking of Puzzle Break, their co-founder Nate Martin made a cracking Reddit post about his thoughts and reflections after a year of running his business, answering public questions as well. Well worth reading, and thanks towards Toronto for sharing the link!

Around the World: round, all around the world

Stylised globe encircled by a bolt of lightKudos to you if you recognise the reference; it doesn’t start at the beginning of a line, for a little additional special difficulty.

There are already a few attempts to try to create a global list of exit games; EscapeFan is one with a lot of style, though not so many listings, and Intervirals was the first try. It’s always been particularly strong on the Asia Pacific region. Another new attempt is Escape Room Directory, by Dan Egnor. Dan is a long-time veteran of the puzzle scene, has long run the invaluable Puzzle Hunt Calendar, did a corking write-up of his team’s crawl around six exit games in a single day and is generally known to have a brain the size of a planet. Keeping a list of one country’s sites is exciting and challenging enough; trying to keep a global list is a work of dedication and bravery!

One of the exciting things about Dan’s directory is that he has found a variety of other national exit game sites. The English-language ones are really well-written and it’s a joy to add them to the blogroll on the right. (More about them soon.) As much as there are sites in countries all around the world, there are non-English-language blogs as well, about which this site is insufficiently talented to comment. Nevertheless, it’s exciting to note that there are exit games in at least three dozen countries; every continent is represented except Antarctica. (It would be so delightful to be wrong on this last point!) This makes the exit game, truly, a global phenomenon – almost an Olympics-class global phenomenon. That’s really exciting.

One of the most exciting links is to EGA China. Running this through a machine translator, it looks very much like a Chinese exit game directory, and more. There’s a remarkable horizontal bar chart at the bottom, with exciting numbers like 91 and 155; machine translation suggests that this represents the number of exit games in different cities – and, looking at the map, while this cannot be confirmed, this may actually be the number of sites, rather than the number of games, let alone the number of rooms. This implies that there are 155 exit games in Beijing alone. That’s remarkable.

This site’s first ever post linked to an article in the Wall Street Journal, which suggested last December that Beijing had 120 exit games. Truthfully, as much as the WSJ is reputable, this seemed a remarkable claim that required some degree of substantiation. This is exactly that substantiation… and evidence to suggest that the genre may still be growing. It was always hugely impressive to see exitgames.hu list dozens of sites in Budapest (44 in March, 59 now…) – it’s slightly mind-blowing to think that China has at least seven Budapests and at least five more Torontos as well.

Has the exit game industry in the UK and Ireland come even close to hinting at what it might be possible to achieve over time? Nowhere near!

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

Green and black "SAVE" star logoIt might be wise to think of Dealwatch as officially no longer a “once per month” event, but more when there are sufficiently many and/or interesting deals to justify there being a post. This month, there are a couple of competitions worth mentioning as well with free games as prizes. The usual rules are in operation:

  • 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;
  • Many of these deals only permit a limited number of vouchers to be purchased and then the deal will expire. It’s quite possible that deals may expire between being published below and your attempt to use them;
  • This site does not attract any commission, whether you click through and purchase the deals or not.

Puzzlair of Bristol have a LivingSocial voucher operational right now. Choose between a £30 voucher for three, a £36 voucher for four and a £40 voucher for five. A cancellation/re-scheduling policy of 72 hours applies and the voucher is subject to forfeiture. Any vouchers must be enjoyed by Sunday 18th January, 2015.

Bath Escape of Bath have an eBay deal operational right now. This is selling ten vouchers to play its Haunted House escape room for £50 instead of the usual £78. However, these vouchers are only valid between 11am and 9pm on Tuesday to Friday; weekend games are excluded and the site closes on Mondays. You must arrive 15 minutes before the booked game time, and Bath Escape’s usual bonus birthday cake if someone is celebrating on the day does not apply.

The Great Escape Game of Sheffield is a site not previously mentioned and has not yet opened; bookings are not yet available, but the site may open in the middle of the month. Promotional ticket prices are 5 players for £70, 4 players for £60 and 3 players for £48, but sign up on their site for 10% off your first booking. Bear in mind that games are run to a 45 minute time limit rather than the frequent hour deadline.

Can You Escape? of Edinburgh are also not yet open, but their social media are ramping back up once more. Cleverly, they have tweeted that they will be “giving away #freetickets for our VIP week to the first person who guesses our location”. If you like an exit game, you’ll likely like a treasure hunt as well, so this promotion may well hit the spot, and further clues are eagerly awaited.

The Gr8 Escape of Belfast also have a competition on social media. Much as they are running a Hallowe’en-themed room this month, they will be running a Christmas-themed room in December, and they have made a Facebook post calling for suggestions for a name for it. The suggestion with most “Like”s by the end of the month wins. Surely a cunning way to attract attention!

Lock and LOL of London posted to this site’s Facebook page (!! – but it’s a good way of doing it, and certainly welcome) that if you use the code “SHERLOCKED” you can book their Moriarty’s Laboratory game for £49.75 instead of £199 for a group of up to 5 people. It’s not clear how long this discount code will be valid for, but it’s worth a try.

As usual, if you know of other coupons, deals, vouchers or competitions, please send them through. If your site has a offer not listed above, please don’t assume the worst; get in touch and this site will happily spread the good news. (Alternatively, if you would prefer that this site does not list your coupon, or if the details of the offer are mangled, that’s fine too; again, please get in touch.)

Some more games coming up in London

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After yesterday’s post about the blurring of the line between exit games and interactive theatre, here are details of some more games and events that are pretty identifiably on the interactive theatre side of the line. They look to have enough to them to be likely to be of interest to readers – at least, to readers in London.

iAm is a show organised by the Bush theatre but performed daily at the Kensal House community rooms until Saturday 25th October. Tuesday and Wednesday have 1:30pm matinee shows, Thursday to Saturday 7:30pm shows and Sunday and Monday are days off.

Welcome to an intimate focus group – only a select few have been allowed in. The product is cutting edge: it could be the next big thing. But as the guinea pigs sign up eagerly to secrecy, someone throws a spanner in the works. The company’s latest recruit has ethical concerns. Surely the iAms have certain rights…

Technology is about to take on a life of its own.

iAm is a fast-paced, interactive show about our attachment to technology. It gives audiences the chance to experiment and compete. Mixing immersive theatre, interactive games and a futuristic scenario, the play addresses big subjects like morality and community in a digital age.

The SPID theatre company‘s web site describes the show by saying “iAm explores our attachment to technology by giving audiences the chance to experiment and compete. Mixing immersive theatre, interactive games and a futuristic scenario, the play addresses big subjects like morality and community in a digital age.” That’s easily playable enough for this site.

This site normally skews away from running games – obstacle races are right out – but there are a couple of games of Citydash coming up, which has a bit of thought and brain to it.

Run for checkpoints, replan on the fly as the map changes, and duck for cover as our patrolling guards close in. Or take it more strategically, rack your brains to solve our cryptic clues, and keep your eyes open for bonus points.

However you play, you can watch the live scoreboard for updates and battle it out with nearby teams. With a huge range of strategies, approaches, and levels, you can take this as casually or competitively as you want.

This site likes cryptic clues, this site likes strategy and this site likes that there is a charity benefit event, in aid of the Street Child charity, in Central London on the afternoon of Saturday 15th November. Before then, there’s a Hallowe’en version at 7pm on Friday 31st October, wherein all the guards are replaced by things that go bump in the night. Bear in mind that the latter game is taking place after dark in Shoreditch, so there’ll be a lot of ’em about.

If these are all a little too near-topic for you, Puzzle Hunt Calendar points to a much more orthodox treasure hunt happening from 2pm to 5pm this Saturday, 11th October, organised by Treasure Hunts in London. This weekend’s game takes place at the Tate Britain art gallery, though is not organised by them. “This one involves searching for animals. There is a mixture of straight and cryptic clues to solve as you take your time exploring the gallery. It’s not a race, so you have time to look at the paintings and possibly stop for a coffee.” £10 per player, teams of up to five, and a debriefing at a pub afterwards.

Speaking of pubs, next week is Puzzled Pint week as well!

Now open in Belfast: Escap3d @ the MAC, popping up at the MADE festival

MADE festival logo complete with emergency exit signHere’s another exciting and logical way for the exit game to develop: the UK’s first pop-up exit game. (Surely not the world’s first, though; compare with, for instance, the The Purge: Breakout attraction, as discussed back in May.)

The Metropolitan Arts Centre is an arts venue (think combination gallery, theatre and so on) that opened in Belfast two years ago. This has a dedicated space called The Den where young creatives meet weekly; the Den collective put on the MADE Festival, “Belfast’s only arts festival produced by and for 14-18 year olds“, MADE standing for Music, Art, Dance and Everything. Pretty cool. Even cooler, and more relevant to this site, is one of the events that the collective have featured as part of this year’s event: Escap3d @ the Mac. However, as it’s only running from Monday 6th October (er, yesterday) through to Sunday 12th October, you’ll need to move quickly to get to take part. There are five slots per day from Tuesday to Sunday, two in the afternoon and three in the evening.

You are in a room. The door is locked. You have 60 minutes to get out.

Think you can make it out?

Can you bring your A-Game and assemble a team who can solve puzzles and think outside of the box? No more point’n’click pixel hunting at home as you sit in front of your monitor in a superhero onesie. Things just got real!

£4 per person and maximum of 6 per team.

So it’s an exit game, with a name revealed on Facebook to be “The Revenge Of The Alchemist”, at a theatre as part of an arts festival. Escap3d, quoted in the title of the event and presumably responsible for the content, is one of the oldest exit games going – second in the UK only to HintHunt, this site believes – so there’s a fine pedigree.

The price and context are about as neat as it gets. The island of Ireland, on both sides of the border, is very much punching above its weight in terms of having exciting (if sometimes short-lived) games going on. Kudos to the Den collective for having the creativity to schedule the event. It should deliver great results all round: good for the festival, good for Escap3d and certainly good for everyone who gets the chance to play.

This site loves exit games, but it also loves interesting public games, particularly if they strongly have the puzzle nature. This initiative brings exit games and interactive theatre closer together than ever before, and this site hopes that it will be the first example of many.

Around the World: The Genius

"The Genius" garnet and logoThis site contends that the most interesting new TV show of the last couple of years or so comes from South Korea, is broadcast on the Total Variety Network, tvN and is generally referred to in English as the Genius. Summarising it in one short sentence, it’s “like Big Brother except with properly interesting, puzzly games”. To substantiate the claims of its brilliance, this site would point to the results of the global category of the 2013 Poll of the Year voted upon by ukgameshows.com readers, who ought to know a thing or two.

Each season, thirteen contestants start the first of twelve shows. Each show has a Main Match, which generates at least one winner and exactly two elimination candidates who play in the Death Match. (Usually, this will be the loser of the Main Match plus an opponent of their choice, though the winner or winners of the Main Match are immune from selection.) The loser of the Death Match is eliminated, and all the contestants but that eliminee survive to play the next week’s show. The final show starts with only two contestants, so just consists of a single match, playing best-of-three different games, to find an overall winner of the series.

Each contestant starts with one garnet, the main scoring mechanism of the show, and may earn additional garnets through winning, or performing well in, the Main Matches along the way. In the first two seasons, the survivor of the Death Match also inherits the eliminee’s garnets. The overall winner is paid a million won (currently nearly £600) per garnet, which will add up to enough to buy, say, a low-end but brand new sports car.

The true star of the show is the variety, quality and originality of games that are played. Not every single game sings, but at their best, they redefine how accomplished and sophisticated game-playing on television can ever become. Some of the games are principally social, sometimes with groupthink and group dynamics being key. Others have the puzzle nature even more directly, with hidden depths and even solutions, or tricks, that the best players might find. (The best players sometimes do, and it’s glorious when it happens. It’s as satisfying as seeing someone work out how to perform a magic trick, or as glorious an Aha! as you get from solving a particularly ingenious puzzle.)

There are many other reasons why the show is spectacular, too. The presentation is world class: the sets atmospheric, the graphics exceptional, the soundtrack (particularly in the first season) frequently superb. The soundtrack heavily features electronica, both Western and K-pop. (The band Idiotape is heavily represented and work splendidly in context.) The contestants are entertaining, usually very likeable and often genuinely talented at solving the games – though in a “choose who to eliminate” game, standing out from the crowd can be a bad tactic. When the show is good, it’s as good as puzzle TV ever gets, and even the relatively weak episodes are entertaining.

The one downside is that it’s a Korean show, almost entirely in the Korean language. A fan has ensured their place in legend by producing subtitled translations that are extremely easy to follow; with immense thanks to Bumdidlyumptious, you can covertly download the shows, with translations, from links provided at their Tumblr. It’s worth starting with season one; it starts a little slowly, but when it hits the ground running, it really hits the heights. This site is posting about the show now because a translation has just been posted for the first show of the third series, and it’s the best start to a series yet.

The show gets this site’s highest recommendation. If you’re not yet convinced, you can see what the tremendous, if sporadic, Clavis Cryptica had to say about the first series, posted just before the second series started, and a preview of the third season. Another excellent place to discuss the show is Bother’s Bar, probably the de facto hangout of choice; see old discussions of the first and second seasons, then the brand new third season; comments for each episode start after the subtitled version of each episode is released.

It would be lovely for there to be an English-language version of this some day, but the subtitled show is easily enough to enjoy as it is.

For Schools: the 2014 National Cipher Challenge

An old logo for the University of Southampton's National Cipher ChallengeThe “Why wasn’t there something like this back in the day?” department is delighted to learn that this year sees the thirteenth annual running of a competition by the University of Southampton’s mathematics department, entitled the National Cipher Challenge. It is aimed at – and prizes may only be won by – those aged 18 or under in school-level education within the UK and associated Crown Dependencies. Doubtless competition alumni sometimes participate hors concours, ineligible for the goodies.

This year’s competition has the following setting:

A ship taken by pirates off the port of Salalah is found drifting with a cabin full of communications equipment and attack hardened computers.

Encrypted Files on the servers reveal that the ship was used as the HQ of the Flag Day Associates, a world-wide hacking group responsible for chaos in the international community.

Could this be the break you need to bring them to justice?

It’s designed to be played by either individuals or teams; a motivated solver could participate alone as there is a fairly comprehensive background presented about cipher decryption, but another approach is for a teacher to co-ordinate a team from their school, with optional lesson plans presented. It’s suggested that these lesson plans could be used as an extension activity, or as an activity for a mathematics society. (Or a puzzle society. Why don’t more schools have puzzle societies?)

The competition is held over eight rounds from October to December. The pace is largely one round per week, though it slows down midway as different schools take half-term at different points. In each round, a new encryption technique is introduced. They start off very familiar – just a simple Caesar shift in this year’s first round – but get to some pretty meaty stuff by round eight. After the introduction, along with a considerable quantity of plaintext to advance the story, two challenges are presented using that challenge’s technique.

The first (“A”) challenge is meant to be the easier of the two, may be heavily clued by the developing story, and is marked on accuracy only; the second (“B”) challenge – this year, representing files on the servers – may be a little more difficult, or require a little additional lateral thinking, and is marked not only on accuracy but also on speed. Sensibly, the granularity of the scoring means that you don’t have to be able to start the second that the puzzles are released and solve it within minutes and seconds in order to stand a chance. The puzzle release might clash with double chemistry, after all.

As well as spot prizes along the way, the main prizes are awarded on results from the “B” challenges – and, even then, the first two rounds are used as unscored warm-ups, so it’s still not too late to register and be able to compete to win. The scores from the final six “B” challenges are combined to determine the overall winners. The top individual solver wins a grand in the hand; the top team similarly share a thou between them. (Second prize in each contest is £750, also well worth winning.) Many thanks to Trinity College Cambridge, GCHQ, IBM and Winton Capital Management for their sponsorship of the event.

Now if you’re already a National Cipher Challenge participant and love it, you might have found your way here and be thinking “That was cool. What else might I enjoy?” The answer: more than you might think. There are a number of online puzzle hunts where decryption is often a key technique, and no better place to start than the free Order of the Octothorpe. No prizes, just for fun; if you can make a decent fist of the NCC then # will probably not detain you for more than, say, a day or two during the holidays, but you’ll have some laughs (and learn some new things) along the way.

There are events in person as well – though, at time of publishing, sadly not yet really flourishing outside London – of which the annual springtime highlight is probably the global DASH event. While you have to be old enough to visit a pub in order to attend the monthly Puzzled Pint event (and some of the puzzles contain, shall we say, cultural references that skew towards those of drinking age, as well as occasional Americana where it helps to have spent decades watching classic TV shows from across the pond) there’s nothing stopping the enthusiastic but young from getting a Pint habit early.

Lastly, if you enjoy the NCC but also enjoy other sorts of puzzles – think sudoku, then think of kakuro and the other types of logic puzzles that tend to be printed near the sudoku within the better newspapers – then there are hundreds of different sorts of other puzzles that you may enjoy, where you may find example puzzles online to solve at your leisure. One good place to start is janko.at, and enjoy picking through the German language as part of the puzzle.

There are plenty of time-limited online contests that you may enjoy from time to time – see the calendar – leading up to the annual UK Puzzle Championship. (Similarly, if you’re a sudoku specialist, the UK has a championship for that too.) If you’re really good, the height to aspire to after years of practice is your national team for the World Puzzle Championship. Sweet dreams!

Making room for Hallowe’en

A puzzled-looking Hallowe'en pumpkinOf all the Hallowe’en pumpkin images in the world, that one apparently depicts a puzzled pumpkin. Perhaps pumpkins get to enjoy exit games too!

It’s certainly the time of year when site operators consider adding new rooms to their exit games, or refreshing their line-up. Hallowe’en haunted houses and other horror-themed attractions are becoming increasingly frequent in the UK and it’s a motif that, arguably, meshes well with the exit game format. Some new games are, therefore, deliberately horrible, or at least horrific; some are not. Time for a run-down of them both.

The Gr8 Escape of Belfast have deliberately gone down the thematic route, having replaced their two previous rooms with an October-only Hallowe’en House of Horror. A single game spans both rooms and a draped area; “an aura of spookiness, a hint of creepiness and a dash of horror” are promised and it’s advised that anyone with health problems that are affected by sudden noises and flashing lights should give it a miss.

Unusually, the single game is scheduled for 90 minutes, rather than the usual hour, and is designed to be played by teams of as many as ten. A booking of six or more will ensure exclusive access for your session; book with fewer and you may be merged into a team with other parties, to ensure you have a chance. Looks like you’ll get an awful lot of game for just £10 per person. (Dealwatch also wishes to note that there is a limited availability Groupon permitting an entire team – even a team of ten – to play for just £49. Best move quickly on this one if it sounds tempting. Favourite fine print line: “Fancy dress encouraged”.)

Clue HQ of Warrington have been doing great business with their first game, Bunker 38, and have announced that their second game will be The Dungeon of Doom. Test games have been organised for the middle of the month and the web site hints that regular play might start from October 20th, though booking is not yet open. The Facebook page hints delightedly at the props they have installed; Bunker 38 is known to be a relatively difficult game, with fewer than 10% of teams victorious, and The Dungeon of Doom apparently requires even more steps within the hour to gain victory. Gulp. Many very good teams will doubtless end up doomed.

Breakout Manchester of the big M opened their fourth room, Sabotage, on October 3rd. “Can you go deep behind enemy territory and stop a missile strike which endangers the safety of the entire world? There is 60 minutes before launch, you need to break into the control centre and stop the launch or the consequence will be catastrophic.” Not intended to be as difficult as their Madchester room, if this proves as popular then one of the busiest centres in the country will surely become only more successful still. In passing, a tweet hints that their Virus room might receive a little temporary Hallowe’en-ing as well.

On top of that, word arrives that Cyantist of Bournemouth – still very new – are already planning a brief hiatus in order to install a second room, which has to be an excellent sign of having made a hot start. Check the web site and social media for updates. If those aren’t enough new rooms for you, don’t forget that Escape Hunt of London has three new rooms all by itself!

Now open in Oxford: Jailbreak! at Oxford Castle Unlocked

"Oxford Castle Unlocked" logoEven though exit games have only existed in this country at all for two and a half years, and only flourished over the last one and a half, it’s really exciting to see the slight variations that some locations are putting in place on the traditional exit game format. Having a game played outdoors like Agent November was one twist on things; having a game played as part of a historical attraction is another.

Oxford Castle has changed a great deal over the past (almost) millennium, being required to be used in very different ways over time. The Wikipedia article on the Castle’s history tells the story in full. However, this site is most concerned with its use as a prison from 1785 onwards for just over two centuries; over the last eighteen years or so, it has been a prison no more and is partially used as a hotel. Enough of the historic parts of the castle remain that costumed guided tours are available around the site under the Oxford Castle Unlocked brand.

So far, so familiar. What’s really interesting for this site is that one page in the “Private Hire” section of the web site details Jailbreak!, which uses the exit game format in a real – though decommissioned! – prison cell. The game is set in 1952; a prisoner has broken out of the jail, leaving puzzles and clues behind. Follow the trail to solve the jailbreak within an hour in order to unlock the top of the tower to permit you to make your escape.

This pushes the “local flavour” button, the “historical story” button and the “not Victoriana” button – and is it possible to get a more authentic setting? The narrative is based on the true accounts of recent prisoners, with some written clues and tools of the trade including a telephone and a musical soundtrack. All this authenticity comes at a price of accessibility: despite the windows and open plan of the cell, the setting may be a little much for the most troubled hearts. Additionally, being set on the top floor of a listed building, the sole method of access being 50 stone steps with an iron banister means that this isn’t a game for the less mobile.

The ticket price of £54 covers an entire team of 3-5. While it doesn’t permit you to take advantage of the standard guided tour, the Jailbreak! experience begins with a walk through the nine hundred year old subterranean crypt, up through the Georgian prison wing, and all the way to the top of the Debtor’s Tower, only open to those taking part in the game, and permitting a great view of the best of the prison.

Jailbreak! isn’t the future of exit games. However, it’s definitely part of their future, and bound to leave those who experience it with much stronger and more visceral experiences and memories of the castle’s prison phase than those who just experience it through a guided tour. A huge compliment to Heritage Projects for having the creativity and resources to try something as distinctive and different as this; this site hopes it works really well for them, to the point where other historical sites, where it’s appropriate, consider this to be a route worth exploring.

Escape Hunt preview

The exterior of Escape Hunt at George YardThis site had a thrilling opportunity today to speak with Daniela Streng, proprietor of the London branch of Escape Hunt, one day before the site’s opening! Daniela kindly gave up 20 minutes of her time, on a day when she had been putting a 36-hour shift in at the site, on an extremely busy day for an interview… and the recording equipment in use completely blew it. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, so with great apologies, there can be no preview interview to share. However, there is an impression piece instead, delivered in the spirit of excitement that tomorrow’s launch deserves.

The photo above is of the exterior of the Escape Hunt site at one corner of George Yard. (Nobody gets photos of the interior before opening.) The sturdy door has two locks; within, there is a lift or two sets of stairs down to the basement where all the action takes place. A great deal of work was still happening, right down to the wire, though much had been finished already and looked great; it’s clear that it’s going to be a fantastic site, once it’s finished. You might think of looking around an exit game site as being like looking behind the scenes of The Crystal Maze; with one day to go, it felt much more like Challenge Anneka. But, hey, Anneka Rice always got a great job done!

The site will indeed have ten rooms: four identical Murder in the Bedroom games, four identical Kidnapping in the Living Room games and two identical Theft from the Laboratory games. A quick look in – without revealing any spoilers – suggests that they will have the hidden depths that you would hope to find in an exit game, and a remarkable density of challenge. These games will be different from all the others found at other Escape Hunt branches from around the world, so if you’ve played any of the games in the Asia Pacific region, or even in the Netherlands (Amsterdam already open, Groningen opening soon!) then you can enjoy these as well. However, the London branch will have the same high standards as the others in the chain; the training was provided, last week, by chain founder Paul Bart himself.

However, only the London branch can have the local advantage of authenticity when it comes to evoking the spirit of the most famous Victorian detective; the site is set to recreate Holmes’ living room. After playing the game, as with other branches in the chain, there is a photo booth (a selfie pod!) in which to enjoy a costuming activity. The site is also set to rotate games relatively frequently, so that once you have enjoyed the first three games there will be good reason to visit again before long. Daniela Streng recommended that people try the Murder in the Bedroom and Kidnapping in the Living Room rooms first, for the Theft from the Laboratory room requires slightly more advanced skills.

Most intriguing of all was the suggestion that Paul Bart’s experience in psychometric test design and much more may well be used for the benefit of corporate parties booking the London branch. One specific suggestion is that exit games have yet-untold value in a recruitment process; roleplaying scenarios where assessors take notes are artificial, but seeing someone at play may reveal their true, unguarded self. Under the pressure of an exit game, who completely reveals themselves to be an extrovert, an introvert, a creative thinker, a calm head, a team worker, a follower, a leader? All that, and whether it’s part of a recruitment process or not, it’s just plain great fun!

Many thanks to Daniela for her time. This site has the highest of hopes for Escape Hunt, set to practically double the size of the London exit game market at a stroke; bookings are coming in rapidly, with several days sold out already. It may even be the site with the single largest number of rooms in the world. (Unless you know otherwise!) Tomorrow’s launch should be spectacular; more news as it becomes available.