Coming soon to London: street game “Shadow over Shoreditch”

Shadow over Shoreditch graphicThis site has touched upon the work of the Fire Hazard street games company in the past. Their stock in trade is energetic outdoor gameplay, often evoking movies’ chase sequences. City Dash is their breakout hit, popular wherever it has been tried. However, the basic principle of a chase game is easy to replicate; customised software to keep people precisely in touch with the state of play during the race is a lot harder and there are other variations on an intuitive and simple theme that can be tried to keep people coming back for more.

October’s game will be Shadow over Shoreditch. “The ladies and gentlemen of the Lumos Society race to seal the portal as sinister shapes slither from the shadows. Can your team of heroes crack the clues, escape the shambling horrors, and still have time for tea?” This iteration of the general principle aims to be a lot more theatrical than its predecessors.

The briefing will be in character, players are invited to dress for atmosphere as well as for practicality (“Encouraged (but not mandatory). Think ‘vintage adventurer’, perhaps with a dash of Steampunk ((…)) perhaps a collared shirt and a waistcoat?“), teams will be chased by squiddling Tentacled Horrors From Beyond and the afterparty will take place at the very cool Ziferblat, featuring custom-designed cocktails for the event. If the inhabitants of Shoreditch can go all-in for the likes of Secret Cinema, there’s no reason why other games couldn’t affect some similar sense of occasion. (A tip of the hat to the likes of Time Run and Trapped in a Room with a Zombie, possibly the state of the art for theming in exit games.)

As for the game itself: 50 players meet at our HQ, and our crew help you get into teams, pick up your map, and get the game running on your phone. Then we’ll brief you and send you all off into Shoreditch at once. Now you’ve got an hour to score as many points as you can. Find checkpoints in any order by looking at your phone to see the latest cryptic clues, get there, and look for the hidden code. Type that into your phone to update the scoreboard. But at the same time, watch out for our patrolling monsters. They don’t need to catch you – they only need to see you, so you’d better hope that someone on your team is keeping a lookout!

That hints at the other major step forward for this game compared to its forebears. No longer are you being chased by agents who wish to take their own photo of you in order to penalise you, but by monsters who need no such obvious tools and will cause collateral damage through their mere proximity. How can that be made to happen in real life? Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law reads “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic“; let’s leave it at that!

Shadow Over Shoreditch will take place at 8pm on each of the last four Thursdays and last four Saturdays of October. Tickets start at £8 per player for the preview event on Thursday 8th October, early bird tickets are £15 per player, with the Hallowe’en special wrap party being £25 per head. If you love craftsmanship at the cutting edge, don’t let this one fall into darkness past you.

Coming soon to Edinburgh: Noughts and Coffees

Noughts and Coffees logoThis might look a little off-topic at first, but stick with it.

STV report that there has been an application for planning permission for a board game café in Edinburgh. The article suggests that the applicant is Daniel Hill, who was behind Escape, Edinburgh’s first exit game and which has grown to Glasgow, Newcastle and Dublin, with licensed games and joint ventures around the world. STV say “Now, the self-confessed gamer wants to create an ultimate destination for puzzle fans and have a board game café and live escape game under one roof.

Board game cafés are nothing new. The most famous UK ones are, arguably, Thirsty Meeples of Oxford and Draughts of London, but this site wouldn’t swear that they were the first. A thread at the Board Games Geek forums asks the question; this site might suggest that the National Chess Centre in London, sadly bombed in the Blitz, would be worth consideration for the UK crown.

However, there are cafés where you can play board games and there are board game cafés, as they are largely thought of these days. Distinguishing features of the latter would include a very wide selection of games, with strong representation from those published within the last twenty years – and the more up-to-date, the better – and staff who will both suggest appropriate games for groups customers and teach the customers how to play them.

The model of combining a board game café with an exit game is new to the UK, but popular in Asia and in the greater Toronto area. Escape Rooms in Toronto maintains a master list of sites in the area and Escape Games Review‘s top spots list highlight four exit game sites which use the model already.

If you’re nosy, the STV article has a link to the planning application so that you might look at the proposed layout of the place. Exit Games UK thinks it looks hugely cool and that the board games café model may well prove to be another part of the future of exit games in this country as well as elsewhere.

Two up, two down?

by Eric Jones [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsA two-up, two-down former quarryman’s cottage by Eric Jones [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Some good news, some bad news. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

A contact observes that if you go to the web site for Escape Land of London and click through the “Bookings” link, the actual bookings page currently says “Sorry, this business is currently not taking any bookings. Please contact the business directly for more information“. While the site’s Facebook hasn’t been updated since early August, the most recent TripAdvisor review dates from last August. It’s the booking page that’s really worrying, though. found lots to like and it was also something of a Thinking Bob favourite.

Likewise, consider iLocked, look at its bookings page and observe that every day has every game marked “not available”. No recent progress on its Facebook page or recent reviews, either.

Now these aren’t actually the worst signs. It could be something as responsible as the site owners taking an indefinite break and trying to set expectations appropriately. It might reflect the rooms being renovated. It might reflect the businesses moving location. Or it might reflect the worst and it’s not immediately obvious which of these fates is the case. This site will be following the case.

Now that’s out of the way, in much happier news, a very popular site has suggested that they will be opening two new locations. The identity of the site and its locations must surely remain under embargo for now but it is safe to comment that they have recently openly hinted on social media at a major announcement coming soon, and also that the site has set up some social media for those new locations. Exit Games UK imagines that the metaphorical cat will, happily, officially be out of the bag in a matter of days at latest – in fact, a business which is co-located with one of the future locations has already announced it – but there’s enough to chew on here without repeating anything that might still be off the record. (Please don’t post details in the comments until they’re officially released by the site itself.)

Definite good news against possible bad news? Not such a bad day after all!

Now open in Preston: The Escape Room

Preston planning application excerptThe above diagram contains part of the planning application for the site under discussion today – though, obviously, it’s been clipped so any parts with potential spoilers are kept way out of view!

The Escape Room in Manchester has been open since mid-December and has become so popular that you often need to book ahead to play any of its five rooms. It has attracted several celebrity players; this site has referred to Manchester United’s number 17, Daley Blind, as its official footballer because he’s a regular there. Anyone can make a single appearance; to go back for a fourth game shows that he must be a big fan. (Wonder if he’s played any exit games anywhere else?)

This site recalls, but cannot immediately find, a Facebook post suggesting that The Escape Room plan to expand to six locations within the UK. The site’s Facebook offers a hint that the third will be in Birmingham, to be confirmed; however, the second site to open will definitely be in Preston. The first couple of team photos have already been posted, suggesting that a soft opening took place yesterday; excitingly, a launch party has been announced for Thursday evening. The Preston location sells food and drink and has a large communal area to enjoy, though doesn’t feature a licensed bar in the same style as the Manchester location.

Escape Room scareIn Preston, you can play five games in the business’s distinctive style that led to photos like the one above, one of this site’s favourite team photos of all time. Preston has the same The Mummy and Prison Break games as Manchester, but Manchester veterans have excellent reason to come back and enjoy three new games.

Gallery is a heist story. “A challenge has been sent out to international art thieves by the self-proclaimed ‘thief-proof’ gallery. You are a Master Art-Thief, and you have assembled a crew of criminal specialists with years of experience to aid you in breaking into this gallery, and your aim is for their most prized possession; the priceless painting being exhibited there for a one-day event. Security in the gallery has been set to its maximum level for this particular event, and you have chosen the very same day to execute your plans. You and your team only have 60 minutes to infiltrate the gallery, bypass the high-tech security system, steal the priceless painting, and escape before you are caught within the act.

The Vampire Chronicles is a supernatural tale without a sparkle in sight. “You hold the key to breaking the deadlock and potentially ending the 1000-year war between humans and vampires, and you have been marked for death by Ambrogio; the Vampire King. His vampire subordinates have killed your family and caught you and your comrades, whilst simultaneously holding you captive in his castle. You are given 60 minutes to navigate your way through his cursed lair to escape and bring an end the war and finally bring peace upon the land.

As for Taken, well, any excuse to link to this QMSM joke is not to be missed. “The boss’s daughter has been abducted and taken for ransom by a mob, consisting of internationally wanted criminals. The authorities have gathered the information needed to pinpoint the place where she is held captive, and you have been entrusted with her safe and immediate return. Now, with time running out, you find yourself in a life and death race against the clock as the abduction begins to spiral towards a terrifying and deadly conclusion. You have 60 minutes to utilize the tools and skills within your disposal to rescue the boss’s daughter and getaway before the kidnappers return.

All five games have 60-minute time limits; the pricing structure is similar to that of Manchester but a little more severe; teams of two and three will pay a shade more in Preston than in Manchester (£22/person and £20/person respectively), the price for teams of four is the same at £18/person and teams of five and six will pay a shade less in Preston (£16/person and £15/person respectively). There’s a 10% discount for booking online as well, at least for now.

Exit Games UK hopes that Preston proves to enjoy its facility just as much as the inhabitants of Manchester have done!

Hunting for news

"Puzzle Hunt" and a basket of plastic eggsTime for a round-up of puzzle hunts and related events, both in-person and online:

  • Which to start with, in-person or online? How about both! Breakout Manchester recently posted on their Twitter account that they will be giving away free games at some point in the next day or two to locals who can follow the clues that they post and, presumably, hot-foot it to the clued location. The hashtag #BreakoutBounty may also tell more. Exciting times, especially if you’re in town!
  • Firmly in person, London sees An Appetite for Murder by A Door In A Wall run through October and its shoulders. Several of the sessions are sold out already, particularly at weekends, and many of the others cannot have far to go. This site had the good fortune to get to meet the company’s founder Tom Williams at Now Play This recently and talk hunts and now is even more excited about ADIAW‘s work. If you get the chance to get to play their The Long and the Short of it trading game, it’s highly recommended.
  • Elsewhere in London, Treasure Hunts in London have games coming up as usual, with the next game on the roster being a Trick or Treat hunt around the British Museum. This happens on Hallowe’en weekend, as the name suggests; there are two runs of a version suitable for teenagers on Friday 30th October and the main event on the afternoon of Saturday 31st.
  • Over in France, points to a “giant live escape” in Paris, a free event being run eight times between Wednesday 23rd October and Saturday 26th October. It’s being run by Team Break, which has rooms in Paris, Lille and Lyon where your team is sent by an agency to combat supervillains. Cool!
  • Online, thanks to for pointing out that while the CiSRA puzzle hunt is sadly no more, some of the people behind will be continuing to run online hunts in the first half of the year, starting from 2016, associated with the mezzacotta web comics. Looking forward to it in the fullness of time.
  • If you can’t wait that long for an online puzzle hunt, online quiz site Sporcle have just started running the Sporcle Intelligence Agency puzzle hunt, running over the next fortnight or so. This isn’t the first they’ve run; their first one was a couple of years ago.

Phew… and those are just the ones that the site can definitely talk about, too!

Now open in Leeds: House of Enigma

House of EnigmaThis brand new exit game popped up through Ken’s algorithm a few weeks ago and has remained on this site’s radar for a while; there’s finally convincing evidence to suggest that it opened yesterday, as well as confirmation by e-mail from the site proprietor, so it’s a pleasure to be able to welcome the location to business.

The location is based on a wide terraced road, very close to the fast A64 route from Leeds to York. For now, it hosts one 60-minute game for two, three or four players, priced at £40, £45 or £56 respectively. The first game is entitled The Lost City of Atlantis and tells a tale of adventure. Unusually, your goal is to protect secrets that need not to be revealed.

Professor Christopher Nansen is a world-famous explorer, archaeologist and oceanographer known for his fascination with the City of Atlantis, a legend to which he has dedicated his entire career. He has recently been kidnapped due to rumours of his success in finding the long lost, technologically advanced civilization. Aware of such a possibility, he’s left clues in his office that only a genius of his own callibre could understand.

As an organization uniting the world’s brightest minds, the House of Enigma has a mission to solve and protect mankind’s greatest mystery. The enemy is already on its way. Report to Headquarters immediately, there’s no time to lose…

A second game is under construction and may well spring from the neat overarching plot device of the House of Enigma being an almost International Rescue-like organisation. The location’s web site looks upbeat, smart and classy; Exit Games UK looks forward to seeing reviews of the game before long!

A year in the life of Agent November, puzzle detective

Agent November playersA (slightly belated!) guest post by Agent November‘s Nathan Glover, looking back on the highs and lows of the first year of running an escape game business.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to run my own business. Growing up, I was never very creative musically, theatrically, or artistically. But I had a burning passion for creating a business, and I was always on the lookout for a way to start a successful enterprise.

About 18 months ago I was tentatively trying to start up a tour guiding business in London. To bring in some cash, I started working for an escape room, running some of their games and their e-mail system. So although I encountered the idea of escape games accidentally, I quickly realised that if I made my own version then I could use my passion for entertainment to create something amazing.

The first problem I hit was a lack of funding; there was no way I could afford to rent or fit out a room. But what I’ve discovered in the last year and a half of this project is that my biggest problems can often lead to my greatest opportunities. Instead of using a room, I decided to set my first game up in a park. But how could this be an “escape” game if the players are already outside? My answer: use the narrative of having one hour to defuse a nuclear device! It’s something that players can instantly understand, and it really puts them in a situation which is both unusual, yet in some ways familiar; after all, who hasn’t watched James Bond or Jack Bauer doing something similar? Thankfully a wonderful organisation called Go Make It Happen funded the start up of the company, allowing me to get the materials needed to make my nuclear puzzle device. The outdoor nature of my “Major X Plow-Shun” challenge has become a major selling point, as many players love the idea of doing an outdoor escape game, especially in the summer.

But it certainly wasn’t easy to begin with; in the first 10 weeks, I ran just 15 games! I was stuck in a catch 22; with no reviews on Trip Advisor, no one would book my games – and with no games being run, there was no one to write reviews! This did give me some time to call up newspapers and bloggers and try to promote the business. Thankfully I was mentioned in the Metro and on Exit Games UK, and the bookings started to come in. I’ve also started doing deals with Stag and Hen companies, and I’ve found that my second game “The Rainbow Syndicate” is a great way of getting stag/hen weekends off to a fun start.

I’ve always wanted to add something to my experience that isn’t offered by the other games running in London, while keeping the core elements that make them so much fun. I see so many opportunities to bring in elements of entertainment from different fields, and right from the start I wanted a strong narrative thread running through my products. To add to the customer experience, I advertised for actors to run my games (or “missions” as I prefer to call them), and made sure I paid them well, in order to keep the best people on board, interacting with the players and creating a fictional world for them. Working with such creative individuals has been great, and they have added a lot to the final product.

As the summer approached I was asked to create a new game, and after several sleepless nights I had created my third mission, simply called “Murder Mystery”. I decided to make the murder investigation a major part of the game, and blur the line between “escape games” and murder mystery events. It’s been great watching people take on a puzzle game with a unique blend of flavours. The game itself is designed to be run in some fantastic rooms I found, where I could finally run an escape “room”, rather than purely outdoor games. The venue in Euston that provides these rooms for me also let me keep my game materials on site overnight. This might not sound like a big deal, but it means I no longer have to cycle to work every day with up to 35kg on my back!

Then the summer hit, and I was suddenly busy all the time, which was a huge relief, as the sacrifices and hard work of the previous 8 months finally paid off. Last week I finally got rid of my credit card, which was a great feeling! The next day my 51st Trip Advisor review came in at 5/5, but that’s just what I’ve come to expect; as in everything I’ve done, I’ve tried my hardest to do it right. I can now accommodate 35–40 players at a time, and I’ve put on several corporate events of this size, which is always hectic but loads of fun. As the summer winds down I’m looking forward to running even more of my fiendishly difficult Murder Mystery missions.

I’m a perfectionist at heart, so I’ll never be completely happy with how the business is doing, but overall, I’m proud of what’s been accomplished. And now a moment is fast approaching that I’ve been really looking forward to; August 19th will mark 365 days since the first customer came through my doors! (This isn’t technically true, as I didn’t have any doors. But they did come through my hypothetical doors, even if they didn’t realise it at the time.) The reason that I’m so excited is that most businesses don’t last a year. Therefore the fact that Agent November has been running for over a year puts it in the top 50% of businesses of all time!

The future looks bright, as I’m really happy with the missions I am running. My biggest weakness remains marketing, but I am hopeful that something big will come along soon – possibly a partnership with one of the larger escape game companies in London. I’m also looking to find a manager soon, to take care of the daily running of the business, so I can get back to what I do best – to quote my mission statement, creating “outstanding quality puzzle experiences, which immerse participants in an amazing fictional world”!

P.S. This popped up on my Facebook feed today: “I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing” – Stan Lee

Early September news round-up

News round-upLet’s dive right in to the latest assortment of links:

  • Episode six of Race to Escape was broadcast on Saturday night and has made its way to illicit video-sharing sites already. This was the final episode of the first series, which this site broadly considers to have been a triumph, with every episode bursting with new ideas – though, unfortunately, sometimes setting a bad example for real life play by literally bursting the rooms that they established. No idea what the ratings have been like and whether there’ll be a second series; there are plenty of things that could be done in later series, but even if it’s one-and-done, it’ll have been a glorious one-hit wonder rather than a flop out of sight. (It’s also the sort of timeless show that will surely be repeated, on and off, over the next twenty years at least.) If you don’t want to risk the illicit video-sharing sites, the episode is available at YouTube at about 110% speed, so it sounds a little bit funny but may not be caught automatically as a copyright violation. The same channel has all six episodes, similarly in Pinky-and-Perky-o-vision.
  • This site is looking out for content from the first Escape Games Convention last Friday. So far there is an overview video that is slickly produced, conveys the sense of excitement and hints at another event next year, if light on detail; you can also see Dr. Scott Nicholson’s talk, which is well worth quarter of an hour of your time.
  • Breakout Manchester are teaming up with the Christie charity, a local hospital charity that provides “enhanced services over and above what the NHS funds“, not least cancer research, between 6pm and 9pm on Tuesday 13th October. Teams of 2-5 can book a room for a special price of £75, regardless of team size, all of which goes to the charity. Great work!
  • Lost and Escape of Newcastle have a Groupon deal available at the moment, though availability is limited and it’s not clear when the deal might deal itself out. Up for grabs is a ticket for up to three players for £29, or for up to five players for £49. The tickets are only valid for games on Tuesday to Friday, starting at 11am, 1pm, 3pm, 5pm or 9pm (so not the 7pm prime time slot!) by 30th November. So there are a few caveats, but that’s a nice price.
  • Code to Exit of Altrincham near Manchester got in touch to say that “((…))we have a 50% sale on at the moment on The Blue Print Room. Also 10% Student Discount available on the top of that. ((…)) We are also opening our second room this month, I will keep you updated on the exact date.The Logic Escapes Me were well impressed by the site and they know their onions, so it’s well worth considering.
  • And finally, but what a finale: Handmade Mysteries, of Lady Chastity’s Reserve fame, point to a Mashable article about Midnight Madness 2015, the latest annual incarnation of the huge-budget all-night puzzle hunt sponsored by Goldman Sachs. 21 teams raised over US$3,000,000 for charity between them, so that gives you an indication of just how high you have to roll if you want to play!

Now open in Bristol: Locked in a Room

Locked in a Room logoWhile trials have been going on for a few weeks, Locked in a Room only opened in Bristol a few days ago. It correctly bills itself as “The UK’s Newest Live Escape Experience”, but this is a self-destructing title that has a lifespan that might be expected to be another seven days or so.

The site is launching with a single game, with a 60-minute time limit, called Timelock. In it, teams of 2-5 of You are respected scientists individually working on secret government funded projects in laboratories located in an abandoned warehouse around the Docklands of Bristol. One of the scientists, Professor Samuel Pottenger, has just been dragged kicking and screaming along the corridor by unknown armed assailants. Pottenger is known to you as a very level headed man of immense intelligence and absolutely not one prone to an emotional outburst… Discover his secret. It’s not clear from the graphic whether the mood is sci-fi or fantasy, or what the pictured character has in his mouth; photos of the site look rather steampunk, and impressively, unusually tall. A second game, Invisibility Gene, is under construction.

The site has been distributing keys around the city; a cunning plan, as people are loathe to throw away found keys. If you encounter one (and they’re often not too far from the venue itself, between College Green – next to the Cathedral – and the O2 Academy) then you can pay for three players and bring a team of four. The charge is £20 per player so it’s a saving worth making if you can!

((Edited to add, 8/9/15:)) This description missed one of the site’s key features; it has four exact copies of the Timelock room, to enable head-to-head-to-head-to-head competition on a level playing field. This isn’t quite unique, but it’s certainly unusual and distinctive; getting together with a big group like that would certainly make for intense competition with no room for excuses!

(Edited to add, 5/7/17:) A member of staff got in touch to ask that I mention they now offer an additional game, Invisibility Gene, of which they have four copies.

One door closes, many more open

Closed blue doorimage credit: Closed Door via free images (license)

Today is not the worst day in the world to have woken up unexpectedly early, for live entertainment includes following the #egc15 hashtag on Twitter for discussion of the Escape Games Convention in progress. Apparently there are around a hundred attendees, which is impressive. Fingers firmly crossed for more to come!

Some sad news: a single-line announcement points to the closure of Guess-House of Bradford. It’s not immediately clear whether the shuttering will be temporary or permanent, but signs point to fearing the worst. The site’s Facebook posted nine team photos over its summer run; how many other teams there were who went unpictured cannot be known. This site will remember the location for offering players the ability to play solo, an innovation in this country that does crop up as a player request from time to time, though it’s not clear if that option was taken up in practice.

One piece of sad news, but many more pieces of happy news. The best palate-cleanser of all is that Breakout Games of north-east Scotland posted that this weekend they will be donating all the profits that their Aberdeen and Inverness locations generate to Medecins Sans Frontieres, whose Doctors Without Borders provide medical aid where it is needed most around the world. Kudos to them, and yet another good reason to go and play there. Breakout Games aren’t the first exit game to run such charity days and hopefully won’t be the last!

This site has long thought that Wales is one of the larger gaps in the market for exit games and is following the progress of the pre-launch Escape Rooms Cardiff with interest, even before it gets its web site going. However, it’s certainly not the only such project in Wales; Breakout Live Swansea has a venue in mind, a planning application under way and coverage from the local press (twice!) already. Very promising, especially with the news of the founder’s electronics background.

This site has also touched on the work of Fire Hazard, the energetic games company best known for City Dash, a running-sneaking-and-finding-checkpoints urban turbo-orienteering game. On balance this site considered City Dash to be a little too running-y to be quite its taste, though it was delighted to see that the game had been transported to Edinburgh for the Festival and praised by Can You Escape?. However, the latest flavour of City Dash is called Code Red, and there’s a clue in the title. Conversation in person at the Wellcome Collection’s recent Play Spectacular, followed up on Twitter (with thanks to Ken!) suggests that “We added a few extra hard checkpoints to the new series, so puzzlers have another way to get an edge on runners“. That’s the sort of thing to get this site interested!