Crowdfunding round-up

Savings jar graphicThis site has long had a policy, among many others, of prioritising efforts not to play favourites. While the policy continues as ever, the biggest challenge to it yet has arisen; for the first time, it happens that people who I already knew and liked are starting their first UK exit game. Impartiality (as far as consciously possible, and making efforts to consider subconsious effects) remains critical – but, by way of full disclosure, there’s more of a reason for me to have a rooting interest in this one particular case.

This site has given a few mentions to Mink Ette, one of the team behind the Spark of Resistance game in Portland, near the Pacific coast of the US, and also mentioned Gareth Briggs of last year’s MOLE game and more. The two of them, and others, are teaming to start an exit game in Brixton, with an associated Adventure Society situating its headquarters in the site’s retail presence; the crowdfunding campaign has started like gangbusters.

It would be fair to say that the UK has not previously seen an exit game crowdfunding campaign with such a hot start, this side of a more inclusive decision of exit game that might permit comparison to Hyde or The Crystal Maze. It would also be fair to point out that other sites have reached their targets even after a less conspicuous beginning – and that other sites again that didn’t reach their targets at all have still come to fruition, flourished and made a great many people happy.

It’s worth asking what has made the difference in this case; at a guess, informed by other articles on successful crowdfunding such as this one by beloved band the Doubleclicks, getting your name out there and being a known quantity makes a big difference, and one way to do that is to work on many other people’s projects. It also helps that other reputable people have been willing to lend their credibility by volunteering on the project, on the crowdfunding rewards or simply by being vocal about it. The whole “having run the game before in another country” issue may also make it a somewhat more plausible proposition, too.

This is far from the only game in town, though. There’s another Kickstarter project for Code Rooms, a putative exit game in Cardiff looking to open in 2016. Kickstarter is not the only crowdfunding route; on Indiegogo, the campaign for Escape Rooms Cardiff is offering early bird tickets ahead of the launch, planned for December, at a very attractive rate. This site has also mentioned Mystery HQ Wigan, though the crowdfunding campaign seems no longer available.

More about all these games, as and when news becomes available!

Unconferences and other fun conferences, then onwards to an International Escape Game challenge

Abstract conference graphicAfter the Escape Games Convention in Stuttgart last month, yesterday saw the Ontario Escape Room Unconference 2015 in Toronto. Hopefully the Facebook group will get better-populated; Exit Games UK very much looks forward to reports of the event from those members of the extremely popular local exit game blogging scene who could attend, and the #oeru15 Twitter hashtag has exciting-looking titbits.

So if meetings can happen in Germany and Canada, why can’t they happen here? That was part of the thinking behind the industry-wide meetup at the forthcoming The Crystal Maze attraction, though the attraction’s delay in opening until 2016 is putting that on hold. Before then, an unconference in Leeds between 2pm and 7pm on Wednesday 13th January has been announced on Facebook, or at the very least, suggested. Hurrah! Exciting times; hopefully the Canadian model (and reports of how much its attendees got from being there) will drive lots of people to such a UK event, for its effectiveness will strongly depend on how many people turn up to take part.

The suggestion was made by Liz Cable of Time Games, a university lecturer in social media and digital narratives. Time Games have fine form, having organised pop-up exit games at speculative fiction conventions in the UK and in the Netherlands and combination exit game / scavenger hunts for universities as well – and who have such a varied background in other types of games that they can bring plenty of other experiences to the table as well. Most excitingly, as Essa at Intervirals pointed out, they’re responsible for this very exciting tweet: “We’re planning an International #EscapeGame Challenge for 2016“. Definitely one to follow!

Liz has a number of other provocative thoughts as well, for instanceThis lunchtime I am mostly thinking about how to combine laser-tagging and escape games“. A small part of the solution could be the rather cool-sounding Survive The Night large-scale outdoor archery tag (which uses proper bows and heavily foam-tipped boffer arrows) game recently discussed at Escape Rooms in Toronto; a bigger part might go along the lines of “who knows, but it certainly sounds amazing“!

Late October news round-up: the Foreign Office

Stylised globe encircled by a bolt of lightCloser each day… Home and Away. Following on from yesterday’s home news, here’s the remaining news from around the world.

  • Today sees the sold-out Ontario Escape Room Unconference 2015 at Ryerson University in Toronto. It is being chaired by the irrepressible Dr. Scott Nicholson, the foremost academic in the field – but, being an unconference, all fifty ticketholders are expected to actively participate. While unconferences don’t stream well, there’s a Facebook group, the Twitter hashtag #oeru15 and hopefully documentation to follow. If the unconference model proves to work well, perhaps it might be the first of many.
  • Carrying on from yesterday’s discussion of bespoke amateur games (and that’s no insult at all; the word amateur essentially derives from the Latin verb amare and refers to someone who does something for the love of it), while MIT has been famous for its annual global-cutting-edge Mystery Hunt for decades, it was delightful to see that the Next House dorm at the university have their own two-storey pop-up exit game, within a basement, over Hallowe’en for a second year. It could well be fiendish!
  • Speaking of student puzzle hunts, hadn’t previously seen mention that registration is now open for the 2015 SUMS Puzzle Hunt for teams of up to five, run in the traditional five-daily-rounds-of-increasingly-difficult puzzles Australian style with the first round being released on 2nd November.
  • Sanford, FL is a part of the Greater Orlando area possibly best known for its airport. However, they also have an exit game on a cycle limousine. Say what, now? Up to fifteen people bring their own beer and wine (in plastic containers) or soft drinks onto the human-powered vehicle and must pedal with their feet, as if on a bicycle, to propel it along. (A pilot steers the contraption.) While they’re doing that, and drinking, they have two hours to solve the pirate-themed puzzles – and get the clues from the locations to which they will pedal along the way – which will lead them to save their kidnapped captain. Can’t say it’s not original…
  • Finally, many belated congratulations to Lisa Radding and David Spira of the excellent Room Escape Artist blog on their engagement! Mission Escape Games of New York City helped by hiding a custom box made for Lisa as they (and their team!) played the location’s brand new Nemesis game (see their review) – but the fun only started there. Happily, the second half of the story has been impeccably caught in a series of photos. The very best of joy and health to you both!

Late October news round-up: the Home Office

News round-upAfter the recent round-up of sites adding new games, there are plenty of other stories that couldn’t fit in there but are far too interesting not to print. There are so many stories, in fact, that there’s got to be a home-and-away basis, so here’s the domestic news.

  • Breakout Manchester had a charity night on October 13th in association with The Big Do for The Christie cancer centre. It looks like there were two or three rounds of play, each with multiple teams taking on the rooms, and all the proceeds going to charity; in the end, the @ideasbymusic team were declared the night’s winners. Congratulations all round!
  • Exit Games UK really loved this Facebook update by Clue HQ‘s original Warrington branch. By way of backstory, in The Vault, their third game, “Your heist appears to be going smoothly until the security system comes back on! You’ve got 60 minutes to grab as much cash (in casino chips) as you can and escape!” Teams were scored by how many chips they were able to grab. Several teams were able to grab all the chips in the game except for one particular high-value jackpot; it appears that one team was so enchanted by the challenge fo trying to find all the chips that they came back again and again and were the first team to perfectly clear the room… on their fourth attempt. Kudos to them – and to the site for a game that perfectionists want to come back and play again and again.
  • Geeks in Wales have a fine article that addresses the long-standing anomaly of the principality being an exit game-free zone; Escape Rooms Cardiff have their web site up and suggest they’ll be opening in December, with early-bird discounts available by booking through their crowdfunding campaign; Breakout Live Swansea haven’t announced an opening date but may not be far off either. The Escape Rooms Cardiff has a really sensible and appropriate question that was new to this site: “What language is used? It’s kind of an international game really, as most of the puzzles and codes work without using any language.” No reason why English has to prevail, after all.
  • Also on fire is the stunning The Logic Escapes Me blog, having all sorts of fun. (Find your previews here and your reviews there… works for both of us!) Drawing attention to just two articles, you’d have had to have a heart of stone not to fall for the story about creating a tiny little game so that some kids might break open their pocket money (though, admittedly, if my folks had done that when I was six, there would probably have been tears) and the puzzle hunt created for work also sounds like a beautiful pieve of craftsmanship. Super cool!

Building extensions

Building extensionsOctober has been a very fruitful month for existing sites adding new rooms. Here’s a round-up of at least some of the sites that have added, or are about to add, new rooms to their line-up.

  • Cryptology of Nottingham opened their new room, The Crypt, on October 10th. “Pharaoh Rameses has sent you and your peers to The Crypt where you will starve. Some of his minions are sympathisers and have given you the means to escape. Can you and your team unshackle and free yourselves before the guard comes to make their first inspection?” This adds to their already popular Cypherdyne room, both of which take 2-5 players, and their Group Detective tour of the city.
  • Exit Newcastle, of -on-Tyne rather than -under-Lyme, were a day later with their new Volatile Laboratories game for two to six. “You find yourselves trapped and infected in a top secret laboratory that’s been sent into lockdown. Will you be able to find the antidote and release the Exit? (Please note that Volatile Labs begins in a confined space. It is also not suitable for those with epilepsy.)
  • A day later still, Salisbury Escape Room reopened with a brand new game, Murder at the Museum, replacing their prior Magna Carta Challenge. There’s no written description available, but have an online video instead, showing how it takes advantage of the founders’ legal backgrounds.
  • Not just a new game at Puzzlair of Bristol, but a whole new location. The original location, Puzzlair 1 remains open with its two games; the new location, Puzzlair 2, opens on Monday 26th with two new games and a third to follow soon, as discussed at 365bristol. The new games are The Warehouse of Jack Travis, in which you search through said storage facility for clues to a hidden rare diamond, found during African explorations and set to be donated to the Crown Jewels until Travis’ untimely disappearance, and the Secret Agent room, wherein a double agent has stolen the complete list of MI6 agents and you are required to identify the double-dealing counterspy and return the agent list to its proper owners. The Poltergeist Room will be the third game at the new location, set to open in November for players aged 18+.
  • Code to Exit of Altrincham are set to open their second room on 14th November. In The Test, the story goes that “An alien life force has been experimenting with the human DNA. They tempered with few of us and mixed their genes with ours. You are being abducted to complete the tests and find out if it was successful. Are you intelligent enough to represent our species? If you pass you will be set free.” Maybe best not to find out what happens if you don’t pass.
  • Looking further ahead still, Lost and Escape of Newcastle have announced on Twitter that their Time Travel to the 1900s game must close at the end of Earth Year 2015 – but, in happier news, new games are under construction and will hopefully be available in Feburary 2016.
  • Ex(c)iting Game of Oxford have added not so much a new room as a whole new outdoor game on October 8th, The Time Machine. Apparently bus 8, regardless of whether it is being operated by Stagecoach or by the Oxford Bus Company, acts as a time machine when you take it towards the city centre. “You are members of a secret society who suspect the existence of the time machine and impending danger, but you cannot specify it. Now you will be engaged in a secret mission in which you need to get the information necessary to find out what will jeopardize Oxford and in what year! Your task is to detect the precise details, so you’ll have time to prepare for the impending danger and prevent it.” This game, for groups of 2-5 (but maybe up to a dozen or so such groups, each starting 15 minutes apart?) is only available before 2pm because it relies on the opening times of some of the other buildings that you may have to visit in the city, which do change from time to time. The short version costs £45 and takes 2-3 hours; the long version costs £55 and takes 4-5 hours, possibly split over two days.
  • While in an Oxford frame of mind, the Jailbreak! game at Oxford Castle has undergone a complete makeover. It’s now only available after 7pm and has been revamped so that it now caters for parties of 10-15; the price has likewise been revamped to £250 for the team, though this includes a glass of house wine. (Subject to confirmation: per player, not per team.)

And finally, in bigger news still, congratulations to Enigma Quests of London on their opening day today! Their first such Quest sees you “brew some potions and defeat dark arts” as you explore a magical academy.

The University of Bath Cryptographic Challenge

"University of Bath Crypto Maths Challenge 2015"It’s hard to properly describe an event as “fun for all the family” when the family in question includes both a precocious pre-teen and a prominent postgraduate. However, part of the joy of the world of puzzles is that you can immerse yourself to as shallow or as complex a depth as you like; if some days you’re in the mood for one sort of fun, and on other days you’re in the mood for another, that’s perfectly fine. (This site is glad that challenges at the level of the World Puzzle Championship exist, but does not value difficulty above all other properties.) Having a single event cater for both ends of the spectrum is a remarkable requirement, but the University of Bath, in conjunction with the Further Maths Support Programme, are having as good a go as anyone with their Crytographic Challenge, for a bit of half-term fun.

The site poses three different cryptographic challenges at various levels of weight, each with four increasingly difficult enciphered messages to decode, plus a metapuzzle referred to as a finisher. The first level is genuinely accessible to primary-age kids and families, the second level seems to use techniques that you might find in the sundry secondary school cryptography challenges, and the gloves really come off for the third level. As far as this site can tell, the third level challenges use the principles of the more advanced techniques that you might find in somewhere like Simon Singh’s Code Book – though simpler examples of those techniques, for the codes are designed to be cracked by dedicated solo participants within a few days, rather than being a massively multiplayer (semi?-)co-operative game in the style of an ARG. The messages have titles that often hint at solution techniques; bonus points for all the duck references embedded throughout.

Cryptography abstract imageYou can try the challenges anytime online, but once decrypted they will generally give physical instructions about something on campus. You’ll need to report to Crypto HQ to officially validate your answers and be able to enter the competitions, but you can check answers online on the relevant Challenge page. We’ll have a Crypto HQ set up, and able to help out, in the 4 West building at the university, on Thursday 22 October, Friday 23 October, Monday 26 October, and Tuesday 27 October, 2015. Drop in between 10am and 4pm on these days. Our very own Professor Chris Budd OBE will share some of his encyclopaedic knowledge of cryptography and its background on Monday 26 October 2015, at 3pm in the Wolfson Lecture Theatre – 4 West.

In a perfect world this post would have gone out at least one day earlier as one of the four check-in days has already gone and you’ve missed a lecture on Enigma and the Secret World of Code Breaking already. That said, it’s delightful to see outreach projects like this and this site wishes the University of Bath all the best of luck in this endeavour. It’s a completely different sort of attraction to that discussed yesterday, but the south-west has a lot going for it!

Now open in Bristol: Hell in a Cell

Hell in a Cell logoTWENTY FEET HIGH AND FIVE TONS OF STEE… …wait, not that; this is about a different sort of cage altogether. Thanks very much to Ken for pointing out the highly positive review on ScareTOUR for Hell in a Cell, a brand new exit game in Bristol that only took its first paying customers last Thursday, which is set “underground into the dark, eerie depths of the Old Crown Court Prison Cells“. Indeed, the review suggests that the titular hell is not restricted to a single cell, but uses much of the “abandoned underground Victorian prison“.

Other highlights from the review include “((…)) we explored some of the darkest and most frightening tunnels we have ever experienced. Throughout the show, we had some genuinely terrifying jump scares and some real moments of tension as we struggled to get out of certain locations. The puzzles were pretty difficult ((…)) We have experienced a lot of room escape adventures in the past but Hell in a Cell is categorically the scariest one we have ever done. ((…)) Add in the puzzles and games, the scare elements, and actors etc, then it all adds up to one of the most exhilarating, terrifying things we have ever experienced!

That’s probably sufficient for you to know whether the game’s going to tickle your toes or not; the video on the web site is quite enough for Exit Games UK. It’s a one-hour game, though allow 90 minutes for the overall experience; it’s to be played by teams of three to eight and is open to the public on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. This is far from a Hallowe’en pop-up; it’s currently booking until the end of January 2016. As is typical, expect to pay something of a surcharge for games involving actors, but particularly when you consider the size of the environment that you get to play in (and when you consider that you’ll be the only team playing, even though you won’t be there alone…) then the price is far from the top of the market for scare attractions at £30 per head. Er, per player.

Now open in Manchester: Tick Tock Unlock

"Tick Tock Unlock" logoIt seems to be a law that when a new exit game opens in central Manchester, it must be almost exactly half a mile from another exit game that exists. Not half a mile from every other exit game in central Manchester, as that would first have required central Manchester to be tetrahedral, then this new one would require it to be… ((sound effect: searches)) pentatopal, apparently. Such existence in higher dimensions sounds like one of the plotlines from Exit Strategy, but that’s not important right now.

Just to the west of Salford Central railway station, about half a mile or so away from two other games, Tick Tock Unlock opened in (technically, Greater) Manchester on October 15th. In fact, the site is located within an arch of a railway viaduct leading to the station; it is the fourth site within the Tick Tock Unlock brand, and the second to be set in just such a railway arch. The site currently hosts a single room, which has a 60-minute time limit and is designed for teams of three (£16/player, £48 total) to six (£14/player, £84 total). The game itself is a new one for the brand, entitled Project Pandora. Sounds hopeful – but maybe wisest not to open any boxes while you’re in there. No, wait, that’s probably not how it works.

You have come far, you and your team of survivors. Now here you are, where it all started, where it could have ended. Where it will end – if only you are brave enough, if only you are clever enough to put the pieces together of Doctor Maria’s final work.

Yet nothing is ever easy, as you have no doubt discovered on your journey to this almost forgotten laboratory, and the lab itself will be no different – for there with you will be the final test-subject, its chains weakened by the unrelenting strength of the living dead.

Early team photos have the teams posting while carrying prop knives, cleavers and the like. Fingers crossed that you don’t end up needing to use them on the final test subject!

Now open in London: QuestRoom

Quest Room logoGood things come to those who wait. This site has had reason to mention QuestRoom of London a couple of times, most notably in this piece discussing their crowdfunding campaign. That Indiegogo campaign didn’t get so far, but that hasn’t stopped the site from coming to fruition… even if months later than might have been expected. For comparison, this site can think of one other business that had a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo which didn’t get too far and yet seems to be doing just fine.

Having opened on 5th October on the Willesden High Road in north-west London, the facility currently features a single 60-minute game for teams of two to five. “You will be locked into a jail where many arrested people spent their times before. They all have left clues about their escape for the next inmates. But if you aren’t familiar in those circles you may haven’t heard about the ((route)), You have to find it for yourself to get out in time. The rules are simple: once you’re inside you have 60 minutes to get out. But to do that you’ll need to thoroughly examine every inch of the chambers of the vault and – most importantly – you’ll have to work as a team! During the escape, different skills are needed to be put into play at the same time; you cannot be successful alone!

The site will open on weekday evenings and at weekends. Teams of two and three play for £70, teams of four for £75 and teams of five for £80. Go to it, and see if the many months of work on the site have paid dividends!

Licence to Escape

"Licence to Escape" poster logoFriday night saw the very exciting Licence to Escape pop-up event in the centre of London, as previewed a week and a half ago. The event was a huge success and people generally had tonnes of fun.

The event took place in the Supernatural Fitness event space, beneath the Supernatural juice bar very near one of the Paddington tube stations; this was remarkably well-suited for the event, featuring half a dozen alcoves, each perhaps ten feet square, which was a good size and shape for a tiny little one-room, five-minute exit game.

The event was organised by thinking bob and Yelp! UK, with extremely tasty cakes by Royal Rosey Cakes (both the red velvet and chocolate mint cakes come well and truly recommended) and half a dozen suppliers of alcoholic drinks and custom mixers. The event was played in teams of six; if your party had fewer than six members, you would be teamed up with other parties to make a full half-dozen.

The concept was based around an attempt to identify a traitor from a list of 24 in the training manual; each potential traitor had a selection of characteristics. There were six five-minute exit games to play, and a custom web page (with associated score-tracking system) that was used for scoring purposes – an impressive piece of tech for a one-night activity, unless the Thinking Bob team have plans to reuse the tech for some other such collection of mini-games down the line, or have adapted it from some previous event of theirs.

For each team in turn, the gamesmasters behind each room would start the countdown timer for their room for that team; hopefully the team would solve the puzzle in time and find the word associated with that room, with stopping the clock earning points from that room. Stopping the clock in a room would also give you a clue to some of the characteristics that did, or didn’t, apply to the traitor, so you could eliminate possibilities, Guess Who-style.

After the sixth room, you had another five minutes to enter the name of the traitor. If you’d solved enough rooms, only one candidate for the traitor would remain; with incomplete information, there would be several possibilities who you would have to try one at a time, being locked out for twenty seconds between attempts. (Additionally, there was an additional live action outdoor game, courtesy of Fire Hazard, where further points could be earnt by solving cryptic clues to find physical checkpoint stickers, within a few hundred yards, without being sighted by agents.)

In alphabetical order:

  • clueQuest‘s room was a precise but robustly constructed multi-stage physical puzzle, beautifully timed to provide close finishes when fitting into a five-minute slot.
  • Enigma Escape‘s room attractively but abstractly depicted a murder scene and hid a sequence puzzle to identify the next victim.
  • Enigma Quests‘s room may have been the most evocative, with beautiful props concealing a riddle and a classic physical puzzle concealing its answer.
  • Escape Rooms‘s room had a remarkable and delightful piece of kit to play with featuring a single very tough logic puzzle, which only a small number of teams were able to get the better of.
  • Lock’d‘s room offered a lot to enjoy: four mini-puzzles to identify agents’ identities and locations then place them on the map.
  • Mystery Cube‘s room had many different boxes to unlock, with a wide assortment of techniques used and considerable to-ing and fro-ing, in an intricate way that required excellent co-operation.

The juxtaposition of complex puzzles and potent potables gave people two radically different sorts of things to enjoy, though it will be interesting to see whether teams who had been enjoying the free bar for longer had the same degree of success at the puzzles as those who played at the start of the night! To tell the whole of the story, while it’s impossible to generalise, introverts may have enjoyed the evening less. In general, exit games can be environments in which introverts shine, and Thinking Bob do run events which are introvert-friendly; the combination on offer on the night was rather more loud and lairy than most exit game environments.

A tremendous night with a great deal of love and thought going into it. Many thanks to everyone involved.