Now open in Bradford: Guess House

Guess House logoOpening back in mid-May, Guess House is a location in Bradford with some rather unusual features. The site currently features two 45-minute games, but notably they are designed to be played by teams of one to four. People have sometimes asked about the possibility of playing exit games solo and there is at least one recorded case of a single player cracking a game designed to be solved by a much larger group. There’s a game in Paris designed to cater for teams of one or two, as well. However, this may well be the first facility in the UK that welcomes solo players as well as larger groups.

There’s not much to go on by way of descriptions of the two rooms, the Globetrotter‘s room and Granddad Ed‘s room, but the photos look charming. A third room is promised soon; upon the site’s opening, it had a third room, the sixty-minute Family room, but sadly that has had to go back into the box for now; Exit Games UK looks forward to seeing what comes in its place. (The site is taking a break altogether from 28th July to 10th August – perhaps to install a third room, perhaps not.)

The site opens every day of the week, being open during late afternoons and early evenings on weekdays and longer hours still at weekends. The prices are very reasonable, with single-player games just £12 and games for parties of four as low as £35. It’s also possible to play the game in Polish, as well as English.

Small but perfectly formed? Guess there’s only one way to find out!

Coming up this weekend: the 2015 Manorcon board games convention

Manorcon board games convention logoThis weekend sees the thirty-third annual Manorcon board games convention at the John Foster Hall in the University of Leicester, near Oadby. (The event gets its name from its original home, the Northfield Manor House at the University of Birmingham.) From 2pm on Friday 17th to 2pm on Monday 20th, probably a couple of hundred attendees or so will be there. The majority of games played will be from the last 20 years or so, but there will be plenty of classics as well – most notably, the late-’50s negotiation classic Diplomacy, though no one game comes close to dominating the event.

It’s a little strange that the event has stayed about the same size over time while the the board games played there have moved further and further into what might be considered orthodox geek culture, if that’s not a horrible contradiction in terms. Likely more people have played Carcassonne in the last year in the UK than Canasta, and maybe more have played Settlers of Catan than Cribbage – but twenty years or so ago you had to come to a convention to play games like these, whereas now you can find at least one board game club in virtually any large UK town and board game cafés are practically mainstream. That said, this year’s event is expected to be a little larger than usual, as it also hosts this year’s European Diplomacy Championship.

It’s reliably a great event; registration will still be available at the door. (Thirty single rooms should still be available too if you want to stay on-site.) However, Manorcon is of most interest to this site because it now has a proud fourteen-year annual history of hosting a puzzle-based Treasure Hunt on the Sunday afternoon, which is what puzzle hunts were once called before the concise term came into use. This year’s event will run from 2pm to 5pm, and this year’s theme is inspired by the recent discovery of Richard III’s skeleton in a Leicester car park. To wit:

530 years ago, England’s last true and rightful ruler was betrayed and brutally slain by Welsh invaders and their treacherous lickspittles. His followers slaughtered, his reputation besmirched, his life of valour and achievement obliterated, only a few true souls preserve the memory of the divine majesty of Richard of Gloucester, ultimate son of York. A tiny cadre of the faithful remain – direct descendants through countless generations of Richard’s most honourable followers – committed from birth to guard the royal legacy through time. Meeting each year on the site of his last great feast, now more than ever their mission is endangered by the discovery of Richard’s bones, so cunningly hidden, in a Leicester car park. These last, loyal few guard an artefact of awesome power behind sigils and riddles, waiting, ever waiting until the One True King, the New Plantagenet comes again to claim from their tender care the embodiment of English power – the Great Crown, long thought lost – and thus ascend the throne to annihilate the usurpers and restore England to righteous might!

So, at least, are the beliefs of the Ricardians, a sect who disguise their secret meetings by attaching themselves to other, low profile gatherings where unusual characters are unlikely to be noticed. Your object is to locate, and steal the Crown. There is a source in the Ricardians who will slip you most of the info you need, a source who is also prepared to steal the Crown, but is frustrated by not knowing who the top Ricardians are and is unable to break the Ricardian riddles. Also, this source has tipped off some of your Treasure Hunting rivals, hoping to play you off against one another. Good luck, folks. Only you can make King Richard rise again. And then nick his stuff. Note that teams will need at least some sort of functioning smartphone.

Another delightful theme; this year’s setters are a mix of DASH veterans and Manorcon Treasure Hunt veterans, and apparently they have pledged that the Treasure Hunt has “become too easy in recent years”, so expect a stiff challenge. If you’re not far from Leicester, you might well enjoy turning up between 2pm and 5pm on the Sunday for the Treasure Hunt – and, if you like board games, it’s very likely you’ll enjoy the whole weekend. (One other particularly interesting event is the Pop Quiz at 10pm on Saturday in the bar, run by site co-writer Phil. His last two events have been delightfully off-beat, imaginative and yet very accessible; it’ll be interesting to learn what he has this year…)

Mid-July news

Rolled-up newspaperA jumble of short news stories this time:

  • After recently moving to Caledonian Road, clueQuest have opened two more “Plan 52” rooms between Thursdays and Sundays, to go with their first two open daily. Additionally, they have released plans to expand further with a new game, Revenge of the Sheep; a trailer video reveals a little more. There’s still one free trial spot left for 3:30pm on Wednesday; apply via their Facebook page.
  • Tomorrow is the second Tuesday of the month, which makes it Puzzled Pint day around the world, notably in London. This month represents the fifth anniversary of the event starting and the theme reflects its Portland origin. Solve the latest location puzzle to find out where the London East and London West groups will be meeting. London East has a few spaces left (tickets are free, but run out to limit numbers) – London West has no limits other than those imposed by the space of the bar.
  • As previously discussed, there are still a few hours left to take part in the UK Puzzle Association‘s annual online UK sudoku championship. Start by 11:59pm tonight and you have two hours to solve as many of the sudoku and variants as you can, with the top two qualifying for the UK team for the World Sudoku Championship later in the year.
  • The Exeter Express and Echo had a news story a little while ago about an upcoming exit game there. If you’re in town, you might be interested in this Kickstarter campaign; the town had a pop-up board games café for three months in a temporary location and are now crowdfunding to set up for good. An exit game and a board game café would make for a very fun town.
  • Also as previously discussed, the Kickstarter campaign for Hyde only has three days to go, and the impressive £12,000 of pledges raised is sadly only about a quarter of what the campaign needs to fund. The creators have plans for a dark maze that they could make in practice with current technology this year; while it’s not the same thing, perhaps success there may help sell people on the concept for a second attempt to crowdfund while there isn’t a 500-pound gorilla being funded at the same time.

Puzzle TV update

"The Genius" garnet and logoIt’s a joy to have a good excuse to use the above logo again; the fourth series of Korean sensation The Genius is now under way. At time of writing, the first two episodes have been broadcast, translated and covertly reposted with English-language subtitles. The subtitle of this series is GRAND FINAL, and it’s an all-star series; the thirteen contestants have all played one or two of the first three series – and, furthermore, they include the top two finishers from each of the first three series. (Sadly, some of the most entertaining and biggest mouths of the first two series aren’t back.)

This site previously discussed the show; in summary, imagine Big Brother with really smart contestants playing proper clever, puzzly games. You can jump in at the start of the fourth series which stands alone, but you may also get more from being familiar with the personalities if you’ve watched the first three series (highly recommended; the games broadly get more interesting and better-played over time, but the first series has the single most brilliantly-played game to date and the second series has the single most brilliant piece of gameplay, which is not quite the same thing). Links to shows plus translations are at the usual place.

While the UK isn’t cool enough to have The Genius, it does have dear old Only Connect, brilliant in its own right and its own fashion – though this site maintains that the show has, metaphorically, put on a jazzy bow tie ever since it moved to BBC 2, just for a giggle. The new series starts on Monday 13th July. Get in early if you can, because you stand much more chance – though still not much of a chance, unless you’re good! – at being able to play along with the episodes at the start of the series. BBC FOUR starts its brand new show, Hive Minds, on Tuesday 14th July, hiding its tricky quiz answers in word search puzzles with hexagonal grids. The clips suggest that there may well be some play-along-at-home value to it.

Later in the month, with most direct relevance to exit games, the Science Channel in the US is launching Race To Escape, as previously discussed. Some more videos have been posted, one featuring the rules to the game. (Two teams compete to escape identical rooms; the first team to escape within 60 minutes wins a cash prize. Escape within 20 minutes and win $25,000; take longer than that and the money starts to tick away at $500 per minute. Optional clues reduce the potential prize by $5,000 each.) One video suggests that they’re going to use some techniques for the show’s clues which this site would consider a little exotic because real-life exit games cannot have a TV budget; this is good to see, and probably essential because many of the show’s viewers are likely to have played games and seen the relatively simple stuff first-hand. Fingers crossed!

Coming soon to London: Adventure Race

Adventure Race logoLisa Long, so prominent within early DASH, early Puzzled Pint, Girls and Boys Come Out to Play and all manner of other exciting London puzzle events, points to an exciting-looking treasure hunt taking place in London on Saturday 18th July, AdventureRace.London.

AdventureRace.London is a treasure hunt in Central London in aid of charity. ((…)) Led by an adventurer from the Inspired50, discover secret London whilst completing fun, challenging tasks that test your intelligence, endurance and team working skills. ((…)) Teams are made up of five members. Each team will receive a printed clueboard which contains clues to challenges to complete during the race, some more cryptic than others. It is up to each team to unravel the clues on the clueboard and pinpoint the location of each challenge. All locations can be found in the Bank, St Paul’s, London Bridge, Borough and Bermondsey areas. Challenges can be completed in any order, with the exception of the first, although you may choose to strategise and plan your route thereafter.” Tickets are £30 plus a booking fee – or, for £40, you can be on a team with a named captain, whose life history may make them worth meeting.

There are a couple of other distinctive features. As well as challenging participants to raise funds over and above the ticket price, participants are challenged to make a positive difference and brighten another person’s day during the course of the race itself. If all goes to plan with both fundraising and deed-doing, the event has a goal of using its 100 participants to raise £10,000 and a hundred good deeds. There’s also a planned attempt on the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest word search, set to be about a 25% expansion on the 250×204, 5500+-clue monster presented at a college in Utah two and a half years ago that possibly still holds the record.

There have been events a little bit like this in the past, and there’s a continuum between a puzzle hunt and… well, orienteering. (Don’t get this site wrong; this site thinks orienteering is cool, just a different sort of cool, with plenty of other web sites that talk about it already.) At one end of the spectrum, speed of travel is all and the time taken on the challenges is almost incidental; at the other end, speed of travel may be disregarded, or all but disregarded, and the time spent on the challenges is key. Where does this event fit in? It’s not quite clear, but the event’s background sounds promising. The fact that it’s using technology from Fire Hazard also pushes it in this general direction.

Possibly vaguely comparable games might include the (past) Great Urban Race and The Go Game, both of which have had events in the past in the UK, though not in recent years. Possibly the most successful member of the genre was Intelligent Sport; this was a property of sports rights company IMG Media, famous for Trans World Sport and more, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they managed to get a show with some of the races on Channel 4 in the middle of the night, a couple of hours after the poker. (There are some episodes on YouTube.) The results site details the problems that were thrown up as parts of the race, which still exists under the name the UK Challenge.

If you’re thinking of playing, you might particularly enjoy this episode of Snoutcast which interviews two standouts of the Great Urban Race, also members of the puzzle hunt family, which might put you in mind for what to expect from a footrace-heavy treasure hunt.

Coming soon to Norwich: Cryptic Escape

Cryptic Escape logoEast Anglia’s first stationary exit game arrives imminently; Cryptic Escape, of Norwich, is now open for bookings from tomorrow, Friday 10th July. This site has been in touch with the man behind the new game for some time and really looking forward to its launch. The location is tremendous: go to Norwich Cathedral’s main entrance, turn around and you’ll see a white building with an external wooden frame, thought to be almost half a millennium old. (Jailbreak! at Oxford Castle sputters at the newcomer.) Augustine Steward House, where a Tudor merchant who was the city’s mayor three times once lived, hosts Cryptic Escape, along with a number of other businesses.

The site is launching with one game, though two more are promised to be added soon. The first game is a very popular Mazebase classic, The Laboratory of Dr. Lev Pasted; it’s also available at Puzzlair in Bristol, but that’s a good couple of hundred miles away. This is the secret hideout and laboratory of the mysterious Romanian geneticist and biologist Dr. Lev Pasted. In his late years he focused his experiments on some kind of blood elixir. The formula is gone, so has the doctor. Some say, that the secret blood serum is still inside the lab hidden somewhere. It’s a 60-minute game for teams of two to five.

In the near future, the site will shortly add The Treasure of Green Beard, in which The players have 60 minutes to find the hidden treasures of the famous pirate Captain Green Beard. The treasure is well hidden in his old hideaway, where he lived while he wasn’t sailing and robbing around the Caribbean seas. A little further down the line, you may be able to get to know The Steampunk Explorer, the tale of The famous explorer Thelonius Winter, who travelled from Victorian time, into the future to retrieve a mystical and powerful relic, then returned back to the past. More news when they become available.

The site charges £40 for a team of two and £10 for each extra player, so teams of five are charged just £70. The site’s promotional video is rather fun, too!

Early July exit game news

Newspaper graphicExit game news from three parts of the UK today.

1) In London, Time Run have extended their, er, run from 2nd August until at least 30th September – excluding Mondays, as ever. That said, from 3rd August onwards, the off-peak (weekdays before 5pm) price rises from £24 plus VAT per player to £29 plus VAT per player, and the peak price rises from £29 plus VAT per player to £35 plus VAT per player.

Unrelatedly, Room Escape AdventuresTrapped in a Room with a Zombie has moved within town to Whitechapel; ScareTOUR report that the game’s operation has been taken over by Apocalypse Events, who already run plenty of other zombie-themed experiences in the capital. Charmingly, on Valentine’s Day, they had Zombie couples makovers in the same venue as the old TiaRwaZ site…

2) Further north, Logiclock of Nottingham have announced that their second room will be Made in STEIN: Science Adventure. The STEIN company, standing for Science, Technology, Entertainment, Innovations and Novelty, previously had an employee called Professor E. “You’ll enter Professor E.’s room. Professor E. had to go very quickly and without attracting attention. He had to leave so fast he couldn’t find somebody who could continue his work. There are lots of candidates but he needs the best of the best. The Professor asked Mrs. Taylor, his assistant for help. In order to prove your skills you have one thing to do: escape from Professor E.’s room“.

3) Further north still, Breakout Games Inverness of the Highlands announced that they hosted their first proposal! This isn’t an industry first or even a UK industry first – Breakout Manchester have hosted at least one and this site would bet that it isn’t an industry second either – but this is as happy as news gets, and hiding the engagement ring inside the last puzzle is the classiest possible way to do it.

A persistent urban myth is that some stores’ managers have the discretion to celebrate a customer’s waters breaking in their shop with free vouchers and the like. When will we see the first exit game host an unexpected birth on the premises… let alone a labour lasting less than an hour?

News round-up: convention, DASH 7 video and sudoku championships

News round-upLots going on at the moment. Normally this would be three separate posts, but there’s so much else to write about!

1) This site recently mentioned the Escape Games Convention in Stuttgart, Germany on 4th September. Katharina Wulf of co-hosts ExitVentures (who are apparently putting together a printed German-language magazine) wrote on a forum as follows:

We (as the oragnizing team) are trying to make it valuable to come for English speaking people as well. Here some information in English: One highlight will be the talk of Attila Gyurkovics. He is the first operator of live escape games in Europe with ParaPark (Budapest) and the first one who developed live escape games on the basis of flow theory. Attila Gyurkovics will talk about his experience and his future visions. Prof. Nicholson (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada) will give scientific insights into the field and an overview over the North American market via video message.

((…)) In addition there will be some workshops focusing on following topics: “Live escape games next level” (about innovative new room concepts) and “Live escape games association” (about the creation of common structures for the industry in Germany). ((…)) The video message from Prof. Nicholson and the speech from Attila Gyurkovics will be in English. Beside that we will offer the workshops in English, too. Furthermore we will be able to provide you with information in English for the other agenda items. In the session the participants will elaborate relevant topics in small groups. This can be realized in German or English.

It’s looking ever more tempting, especially for us non-German-speakers!

2) The UK Puzzle Association are running their annual UK Sudoku Championship online this weekend. Start after midday on Thursday, up until the end of Monday, and you have a two-hour window of your choice to score points by solving the 17 sudoku and sudoku variant puzzles. The top two finishers will earn places on the UK team for the World Sudoku Championship. It’s always a great contest for sudoku fans and there are no charges for taking part.

3) Lastly, back at DASH 7, Yasmin Curren took extensive video through the day. She has taken weeks of hard work, for which we’re all surely very grateful, to apply her magic; the results are a spectacular three-minute summary of the fun to be had, though perhaps the puzzles – being less telegenic – have to take second place. Be sure to look out for the Quidditch, Wronski Feint and all:

Now open in Bristol: Fathom Escape

Fathom Escape logoGoing the whole nine yards – or, at least, two yards – is Fathom Escape of Bristol, which opened at the start of the month. The site offers a single game with a one-hour time limit, designed to be played by a team of up to ten. Smaller groups are welcome and will be merged together as far as possible – though do note that Escape Game Addicts recently had a fantastic story about a solo player taking on a game intended for up to ten, and winning with time to spare.

The theme and storyline are not stated explicitly, though the title, graphics and the image of a diving helmet might suggest a nautical flavour, as do references to sinking of swimming. There’s also demonstrated use of rather an old-fashioned lamp and ancient-looking books; all this points to a game coming out of the Ocean Zone. Games are charged at a regular price of £17.99 per player, but the first hundred tickets are being sold at half price: just £8.99 a head. Games are available between 10:30am and 10:30pm, every day except Mondays.

Happy sailing!

Around the world: Getting together

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

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

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

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

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

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