DASH 008? More like DASH GR8!

Mötley Clüe at the end of DASH 008If you couldn’t be at DASH 8, you missed a total treat. The picture above tells a thousand words by showing the reaction of the team I played with at the end of the hunt. The most specific compliment that the hunt deserves was that it was really smooth; the administration in London was spot on, the puzzles were very cleverly designed and the playtesting proved effective, so the overall effect for our middling-performing Expert-track team was that we didn’t encounter any glitches and enjoyed the ride… albeit at more of a trot than at a canter, let alone a gallop. It was clear that a lot of lessons were learned from last year.

Congratulations to Misremembered Apple for being clear winners of the Expert track in London, and to Team Reckless of Escape Review and friends for being clear winners of the Normal track in London. After the hunt finished, it was fun to watch the live ClueKeeper scoreboard, as if it were a Gillette DASH Saturday and Matt le Tissier were shouting “Oh! Soooolve!” as incremental results came in. While not all the results are in yet, provisional returns point to The Judean GNUs and LXP of Palo Alto being the world’s top two; congratulations to them, too. Early leader in the “best team name” contest might just be Quantum of Solvers.

Thank you to all the staff, volunteers and people behind the scenes worldwide; you’ve made a lot of people very, very happy. The event proceeds apace not just as a puzzle championship but also as an increasingly social event, with so many teams familiar from the flourishing Puzzled Pint. The event was so spectacular that the post-event buzz fading left a void; here’s looking forward to the next one!

DASH 8 is set to shake (but not stir?) on Saturday

DASH 8 logoIt’s been a busy old week here, oddly enough, with the reward at the end being the DASH 8 puzzle hunt in London and 16 cities across the US. While this site won’t be putting together a predictions post like the one last year, the weather forecasts point to a hope that the afternoon’s puzzles can be situated in locations with shelter. For at least two of the last three years, the forecast on DASH day has been for a risk of rain which has manifested as a few stray spots at worst, so perhaps the world shouldn’t have much cause for complaint if luck is not on our side.

This site hazards a guess that this year’s codes sheet will look like the image on the tote bag and plumps for the NATO alphabet to make an appearance this year as being vaguely thematic, with a second guess being that it’s time for a hex code to make an appearance. Similarly, the logo on the T-shirts (and the other tote bag) hides analogues to morse and braille at the very least. Iiiinteresting. Much as last year’s DASH had a location at King’s Cross station, to take advantage of the thematic link to the actual fictional Platform 9¾, it’s tempting to note that this year’s London start location is just on the other side of the Vauxhall Bridge and barely a couple of hundred metres from what is known to the public as the MI6 building. Might the hunt’s route take us closer still?

My team this year will contain three-quarters of our DASH 6 line-up (not the chap in the middle) – sadly, we will not be as impeccably dressed as the most famous fictional secret agent of them all. Do please say “Hi!”; it’ll be lovely to see you! The continued growth of Puzzled Pint should surely mean that the community gets ever stronger and more teams will know (or, at least, recognise!) each other. Assuming that the logistics permit, why not stay around for a drink and a chat with your fellow solvers at the end, if you can? (Especially you brilliantly quick front-running teams, though I know you’re busy people who might not be able to hang around to let us catch up!)

Many thanks to all the people who have put together the hunt: the global co-ordinators, all those who helped playtest and test-solve and the London volunteers on the day. It’s going to be a great day!

Who cracked The Crystal Maze?

It’s been a good couple of days. After the unconference on Monday, another plan came together after a long, long time. Last June, this site proposed a get-together for the exit game industry at the then-planned live The Crystal Maze attraction. A thousand pounds was duly plunked down and all 32 places were resold to exit game owners, staff and enthusiasts. Many months later, all 32 people turned up and formed four teams of eight to travel the four zones. (Special apologies to Escape Hour who had to cancel due to flu, but at least their tickets were resold and nobody missed out.)

Tuesday saw some unexpected weather in the morning – at least one thunderclap, some sleet and possibly some hail – but this didn’t stop people getting to the venue in good time. Each team of eight has its own mazemaster that marshals them; the teams circulate about the zones so that each zone is played by each team in turn, the four teams coming together for the Crystal Dome finale. The mazemasters do not attempt to be authentic replications of Richard O’Brien or Ed Tudor-Pole, but they’re very much in a spirit that fits the tone of the enterprise.

Each team member can expect to play two games over the trip around the Maze, but a fast team can fit more than four games per zone in. Some games are original, some are faithful to the show… possibly to a fault, but in any case there has been considerable thought put in to ensure that the whole team are engaged and feel like they’re getting their money’s worth even when they aren’t the ones who have the chance to get their hands on a crystal… or to get locked in. The winning team managed to play a total 19 games over the course of their trip around the Maze, winning a total of 15 of them. The record is apparently bringing 18 crystals to the Dome, so 15 is probably very good.

I took photos of the four teams at the start. I took ten photos in all and not one of them was good enough to use here. Fortunately there are official photos taken at the end and posted to Facebook (hence the day’s delay in making the post…) so here goes:

Team Breakout at The Crystal Maze Team Breakout: 192 tokens (15 crystals)
Breakout Manchester
Breakout Liverpool
Agent November
James Curtis
Jason Cook
Nick Gates
Green Dreams at The Crystal Maze Green Dreams: 170 tokens (13 crystals)
Escape (Edinburgh/Glasgow/Newcastle)
Dan Egnor
Wei-Hwa Huang
Gareth Moore
Orange Team at The Crystal Maze Orange Team: 163 tokens (11 crystals)
Escape Live (Birmingham/Essex)
The Escape Room
Blue Team at The Crystal Maze Blue Team: 124 tokens (11 crystals)
Escape Quest
Enigma Quests
Archimedes Inspiration
Larger versions available in the official site’s album
(Presumably their copyright)

The faces during and after the Crystal Dome were covered in smiles, which is a fine recommendation from a picky audience. I didn’t play; my own game is in six weeks’ time and I’m looking forward to it more than ever. If you want to know more – ideally, if you’ve already played, or if you just don’t mind spoilers – then take a look at Nick Gates’ detailed write-up of his experience. Recommended!

It was fun (and somewhat like a certain part of Back to Reality from Red Dwarf) to stay and chat long enough to see the next set of four teams go through. Some of the mazemasters there sang and danced along to the music while the teams grabbed tokens in the Dome, which was cute, though surely rather more practiced and less improvised than they’d have liked it to appear. Top score in the next game was 150, which wouldn’t have got even third place in this game, which reinforces how well you all did.

Maybe I didn’t get to play myself, but while the teams were travelling the zones, my time was far from wasted. More of that soon, perhaps!

“The Great Escape UK” unconference in London today

"The Great Escape" unconference in LondonIn London today, the second The Great Escape UK unconference for exit game owners and enthusiasts took place at the Pavilion End pub. Though I do say so myself, I reckon it went pretty well.

The schedule started with an icebreaker and a panel where six attendees at the recent Up the Game conference in Amsterdam shared their highlights; the main body of the day had four rounds of discussions, each featuring four parallel discussions on topics devised by the audience. The photo above was taken between the third and fourth round of topics. There are just over forty faces on the picture above, and there were other people out of shot (getting drinks, using the facilities and so on) which feels about right.

The topics were as follows:

CROSS PROMOTION: collaboration, referral, team-ups, sharing resources and suppliers NARRATIVE AND WORLD BUILDING: making hints part of the narrative HIGH-LEVEL GAMES DESIGN: picking a number of players, linear and multilinear designs STAFF PLANNING AND RECRUITMENT
CORPORATE SALES: can small sites make them? Can big (20+ player) games work in the UK? MAKING ESCAPE GAMES A “SHOW” TECHNOLOGY IN ESCAPE GAMES: platforms, electricals, mechanics WHAT CAN THE COUNCILS DO FOR US?: planning and set-up challenges
MARKETING: when? Where? How? Social media, local ads and voucher sites MAKING LOSING FUN: what’s a good success rate? How do you balance a game? LIVE ACTORS IN ROOMS GAMES DESIGNED FOR TEAMS OF KIDS
LEGAL ISSUES FOR UK ESCAPE GAMES: health, safety and risk management TRANSITIONS: closing, selling, moving or expanding your escape room.
Also: Animal Facts.
HI-TECH VS. NO-TECH: rooms and puzzles without padlocks and combination locks GAME THEMES

Thank you very much to James, Ken, Jackie and Mark, to Liz Cable who ran the first such unconference in the UK, to the staff of the Pavilion End pub and to all the guests who came up and supplied their expertise. More details of the talks will be made available as soon as possible.

Apologies to people who wanted to go and couldn’t attend; despite a reasonably high no-show rate, the room was pretty cosy as it was. Keep your eyes peeled for the next event, likely to be back towards the north of England, probably in another three months or so; the UK Escape Room Owners will be one source of information and the blogs will surely be another.

A report from “Up The Game”

"Up The Game" adTim Horwood, co-proprietor of forthcoming Derby exit game Make Your Escape was one of several UK exit game owners to visit the Up The Game conference in Amsterdam in the Netherlands last Monday. He kindly wrote about his experience for Exit Games UK.

The first International Escape Room and Real Life Gaming Conference in Europe, Up The Game, was held last Monday in an impressive venue in Amsterdam, attracting operators and enthusiasts from over 30 countries. Ahead of the opening of their own escape room in Derby this Summer, the Make Your Escape team travelled to the Netherlands to review the conference and chat to some of the speakers.

Taking advantage of the influx of enthusiasts were several local operators keen to advertise their wares and services. We took the 40-minute train to pretty Maasland near The Hague to try out the “Escape Bus“. Its proprietors, Dennis Hunink and Peter de Vette, ardent followers of all things Arduino, kindly met us at the station, offered us a couple of free drinks before the game, and then locked us on their bus, parked in the middle of the beautiful setting of a farm/campsite. The lights went out, and 60 minutes ensued of what might be best described as a Speed movie with flashing LEDs. The Escape Bus was, truly, inventive and exciting… despite our failure at escaping although, in our defence there were two of us and was aimed at four as a minimum. Then, when it was all over, the guys showed us how it all worked – a nice touch from operators clearly loving the industry and proud of their work.

So, onto the conference and, I must admit, prior to attending we did think the price might be a little expensive for a one-day event. However, greeted by mobile escape room, Fenomena Logica, a freaky circus caravan nestled unconventionally at the foot of the steps to a modern building, we ascended into a bustling hive of what felt like the cream of the world’s escape room industry. There were not as many vendors as we expected, and it was very much about the speakers giving advice, and talking about their experiences. That said, it took a few brave souls to try out the “Famous Deaths” real-life art/research project, where the aim was not to escape from the confined, un-lit coffin-like space but, rather, experience the sense of smell surrounding famous deaths. We were told JFK’s was particularly popular.

Derby’s escape rooms will have particularly strong narratives, as well as incorporating technology into their games, and so two of the talks we were most looking forward to were “Storytelling in Escape Rooms” and “Talking Tech”. These were two of, quite possibly, the most inspirational talks I’ve witnessed. Elles Van Asseldonk’s bubbly persona and passion was hard not to like, and she kept her audience gripped in the very same way she expressed that an escape room should. A co-designer behind local company “Logic Locks“, Elles gave away a series of spoilers from one of her games to give us an insight into how to ensure the story flows through an escaper’s experience. Gloeidraad are a technical puzzle company, based in the Netherlands, but working with customers worldwide, and Raymond Reints expressed how player experience can be enhanced with a little Arduino here and there, the emphasis being firmly on stability, reliability and durability. Of course, we’d experienced Hunink and de Vette’s Escape Bus the night before where everything, tech or otherwise, had been reliable other than our own success in escaping!

The UK was represented in the speaking department too. Alastair Hebson, a designer for video games such as Grand Theft Auto, talked about “Game Flow and Pace” in games, likening the experience of a game to a movie, where players need to be hooked and then entertained throughout the game. Again, this was an inspiring talk fitting nicely on from Elles’ storytelling earlier in our itinerary.

The main stage featured some of the most influential names in the industry, and one thing which was clearly evident was the welcome and gratitude they received from the audience, both in awe of them and thankful of their playing a part in an industry we love. There was perhaps no-one quite as influential as Attila Gyurkovics, the founder of “Parapark” and the inventor of the Escape Room that we see across the world today. Due to timings and clashes between talks, we missed Attila, but the applause for him might well have been heard in the tulip fields around Amsterdam.

Escape room games in education and training is, we know, a growing trend. Mark Hammons presented his concept of an open source project for educational purposes, “Breakout EDU” in one of the most enlightening talks. Rather than placing a group of children in a locked room, something which would certainly be frowned upon in the British Education System, children are invited to work together, logically, to unlock a series of locks and open a box – an ingenious idea no doubt coming to a school near you soon. Lisette Hendrikse’s “Legal Issues in Escape Rooms” advice Q and A session was popular and insightful, and Anna-Maria Giannattasio’s “Marketing for Escape Rooms”, incorporating her views on social media, certainly gave us at Make Your Escape food for thought.

So, back to the UK’s representatives, and we welcomed Tom Lionetti-Maguire, and the team behind the The Crystal Maze tourist attraction in London. After a humorous false-start of a video intro, and blank faces from an audience largely made up of people who’d never heard of the Maze’s retro TV show, Tom won the crowd over with his charismatic charm, and the best presentation of the day. From an idea conceived in a pub, to finding premises, to getting the money together, to launching the business with no idea as to how successful it will be, Tom’s story was met by a wave of nods of recognition from the auditorium. It was when we caught up with the Crystal Maze guys in the bar afterwards that they revealed even more tales of changing Building Use issues, handling the media, and legal issues. Down-to-earth and incredibly helpful, the Crystal Maze team are clearly proud of what they have achieved; whilst many of us won’t be selling out for the next year as they have, or seeing the footfall of thousands of customers per month, they were inspirational and their presence in the UK can only help the escape room industry at a local level.

There was so much packed into one day that, ultimately, the event proved great value. The Make Your Escape team brought a lot away with them, and have certainly discovered new technology that can be used in the Derby rooms, marketing techniques, and legal advice. The sheer sense of community, escape rooms working together, was very clear, and is a principle we hold strongly to grow this industry in the UK.

One final word is for the organisers, who were courteous, helpful, and worked hard to make the event run smoothly, and the free bar at the end of the day was welcome! My only criticism, if there are any, was that some of the breakout rooms were a bit on the small size, but we’d love to see the event grow to a two-day one. Host Alexander Gierholz, an affable and keen presenter who welcomed and thanked the audience, but was also interacting with as many guest as he could, including us. His passion for the industry was clear, and he smiled optimistically when I asked if he’d put the event on again next year. We left him as he headed to try out the JFK experience, and after a long but fascinating day, we decided it was time to make our escape.

Make Your Escape is the brainchild of Shelly Burton and Tim Horwood, perceived following a trip to Budapest in 2014. Since then, escape rooms have grown across the UK. The two experienced escape room enthusiasts, working alongside experts from the escape room and the movie production sector, are about to open their unique escape room game in Derby. Set to open in May, there will be a strong emphasis on storytelling, traditional puzzles mixed with technology. Two original games are penned, “The Signal” and “Spellbound”, with games aimed at 2-6 players in a former Derby College building in the city centre.

The Signal at Make Your EscapeFollowing reports of strange lights in the skies over Derbyshire, your team intercepts a distress signal, which leads you to an abandoned military bunker.
Once the door closes behind you, you quickly realise the signal was not all that it seemed, the bunker was not abandoned and you are not alone.
Work together as a team to solve the puzzles and escape. The truth is in there….

A little mid-April news

Rolled-up newspaperVery little, but more than none.

After yesterday’s post and a few nudges, the remaining tickets for the exit game unconference in London in a week and a half’s time have all gone. A waiting list has been opened and that’s already filling up quickly as well. If you have a ticket and end up not being able to attend, please cancel so that it’s possible to invite someone on the waiting list who really can make it. Thank you!

Further down the line, the eighth nearly-annual edition of Gamecamp on Saturday May 21st in London has started selling tickets. This too has an unconference, themed around games of all sorts and in all media, but “As well as talks and workshops, GameCamp has a lot else going on. The ‘Run What You Brung’ playtest/demo area is open for anyone with a prototype game to show off. There will be live games of all sorts kicking off around the venue throughout the day, and a library of board-games for anyone to use. Plus lots more to be announced before the event. Keep checking the website!

If you’re disappointed about not getting tickets to the exit game unconference this month then, honestly, this is likely to be better; on the other hand, (a) they’re bigger, (b) they’ve been doing this rather longer and (c) they aren’t specifically about exit games. (That said, Adrian Hon gave a talk about exit games at GameCamp two years ago, back in the days when there were only a double handful of them around.) Take a look at the Gamecamp site for details of the crazy stunts they’ve been able to pull in the past. They’re very good at this. Tickets are limited, but two more batches will go on sale at a higher price in coming weeks.

Lastly, Mark at Really Fun has started a podcast about exit games called Escape From Reality; the first episode was posted a few hours back. Guest starring Ken from The Logic Escapes Me, they provide a highly enjoyable half-hour-plus of listening. Hurrah!

Upcoming Unconferences

The Great Escape UK topic board

There will be an unconference about exit games and related topics happening in London on the afternoon of Monday 25th April. It’s a sequel to the one in Leeds in January, with further quarterly-ish editions around the country (and maybe beyond, some day?) to follow.

You might have seen the announcement already. This site hasn’t talked about it because only now have the details been absolutely finalised. Some people have registered already only knowing that it’s in central London on Monday 25th April. Those haven’t changed. Other changes have been forced.

The venue has had to be changed. The event now has a basement bar to itself in a lovely pub. (It’s a past Puzzled Pint pub, so it’s easy to vouch for the pub, its staff and its food.)

The time has had to be changed. The event will be happening from 1:30pm to 6:30pm, because the room is only available for certain hours.

The number of places has had to be changed. There is a limit, but it’s rather higher than the limit was in Leeds. (Again, because it’s a past Puzzled Pint pub, it’s clear how many people can fit in in practice, as well as in theory.)

The organisers have had to be changed. The event volunteer team is, well, most of the UK exit game blogging community: Jackie from Exit Games Scotland, Ken from The Logic Escapes Me, Mark from Really Fun and me.

The price has had to be changed…. downwards. A hat will still be passed, and there’ll be a request for a voluntary contribution to pay for the venue and associated costs. What this will be will depend on how many people turn up (if people buy food and/or drinks from our private downstairs bar then this will help considerably) but it’s now possible to put an upper limit of £14 per person on it.

Considering the number of tickets that have gone already, the limited number of tickets may well be reached, in which case there’ll have to be a waiting list. If this sounds like your cup of tea, please register as soon as you can. Site operators and staff are very welcome. People who want to get into the industry are very welcome; there will be few better opportunities to get the chance to pick the brains of many different site operators at the same time. Players who just want the chance to talk all afternoon in good company about these games of ours are also very, very welcome!

The event is on a Monday, mostly because it’s traditionally the quietest day of the week for the industry. Whether you can make it or not, the more general Gamecamp has said that it’ll be running on Saturday 21st May this year, after a year off. That should be spectacular, too!

Charitable Connections

Breakout Manchester Charity Day detailsBreakout Liverpool Charity Day detailsThis industry-wide call to arms has kindly been written by Del from Breakout Manchester and Liverpool, to whom questions should be directed (see below for details!) but everybody is welcome to join in. Exit Games UK finds the idea of a focused, cross-site, charity initiative extremely promising and exciting, even if it might take a good chunk of planning ahead to execute to its full potential.

The exit games industry is such an exciting place to be for all involved. Customers love doing something different with their day, they like being challenged, they like feeling accomplished. As the company bringing them that, it is genuinely heart warming to be part of that experience and get to share that buzz with them.

Because of all this excitement around what we do with our various companies, it gives us the opportunity to help people outside of providing them an hour (or hour and a half, as is the case with some of your games out there) of entertainment. I don’t know about other companies, but at Breakout Manchester and Liverpool we are always receiving emails from local charities and fundraisers asking if we can donate a game for a raffle or auction as it’s something different to offer people and drive the interest up. There are obvious parameters we have to set, but on the whole we can agree to these requests and help the people these charities are supporting with their time and often limited resources.

In 2015, Breakout decided that we could do more than provide free games and having donation pots in our reception area. We contacted some local charities and game them our rooms for a day. This altered nothing from our end of the arrangement as these would be running anyway, we just took them off the booking system, told the charities our prices and let them book the slots themselves and take the money we would have received as a direct donation. The sales from any games we sold ourselves got donated to the charities. It wasn’t without its problems, as no first time event ever is, so we addressed these and addressed these and created a charity evening 6 months later, working with only one charity this time in Manchester and several in Liverpool. We’ll continue this biannual charity event, because it’s great to give something back to the communities that support us in whatever way we can.

BUT, for this April, we’re proposing something different. We’ve decided to go NATIONAL.

We want to see if you other exit games in the country want to join us, on Thursday 21st April, in giving some or all of your games to charity with us… We’re working with The Christie (a cancer specialist hospital charity) and Joining Jack (Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy) in Manchester and Imagine If Trust (fighting poverty through education), Barnardo’s (helping vulnerable children and young people) and Parkinson’s UK (supporting and funding better treatments for Parkinson’s), but ultimately this event could benefit any charity of your choosing. The groups we’ve worked with have been so happy about being involved in the event and being able to offer a distinctive product in exchange for donations. They’ve sent us buckets, balloons, T-shirts, stickers for the day and they’ve even come along to be part of the greeting team for customers and give a big thank you to them. The customers are happy as well, as they get all the benefits of playing a game whilst also knowing their money is going somewhere worthwhile.

If you’d like to join us, give us a shout on hello@breakoutmanchester.com, let us know who you’re supporting and definitely let us know of any interesting plans you have and how you get on. Feel free to contact us with any questions as well!

Can’t wait to hear from you and build our community further.
Breakout Team

DASH 8 is now booking

((No, this site is not really back yet, and there isn’t any April Fool’s Day whimsy this year. Despite the attribution line above, this piece was very kindly written by Iain who ran DASH 7 in London and has written one of the DASH 8 puzzles.))

The eighth DASH puzzle hunt will happen in London from 10am on Saturday 30th April. DASH stands for “Different Areas, Same Hunt”; part of the attraction is that the same event will also be run in 16 cities across the United States on the same day, so competition is global. Registration is open, but is limited to 25 slots. While booking in the US has closed, it is nominally available in the UK until April 16th – though, in practice, with only 11 of the 25 slots remaining, you probably only really have a few days left.

In DASH, teams of 3-5 players solve 8-10 puzzles as quickly as possible over the course of, probably, 5-8 hours. You walk (or take the tube) from puzzle location to location, enjoying the journey and hopefully the weather. The travel is not timed, so you can take whatever comfort breaks, meals and other pauses you like between puzzles. Thanks to the pound buying fewer dollars (thanks, Brexit referendum) the cost in London has gone up to £29.99 per team, plus a 7% booking fee.

Each team is required to bring a smartphone running iOS or a recent version of Android; much of the administration will be performed by an app called ClueKeeper. Bring your own pencils, scissors, tape, clipboards, lemonade, magic wands, and so on. (Tape and scissors are listed as essential this year.)

DASH has historically tended to concentrate on word and picture puzzles, rather than logic puzzles, with a focus on pattern recognition and some codebreaking here and there along the way. There’ll be a riot if there isn’t a metapuzzle to tie everything together at the end. The DASH style is to have an overarching story running through the event, and we know this year’s has something to do with spies, espionage, and secret agents. Take a look at past years’ puzzles from DASHes 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 to get a feel for the form and difficulty level.

DASH tries very hard to be accessible and family-friendly:

  • It’s possible to register for the more difficult Expert Puzzles at the very start of the hunt, though clear guidance is given as to which level of difficulty will suit you best;
  • It’s always possible to take hints on each puzzle if they’re required (indeed, the software keeps rolling hints along on a timed schedule even if you don’t ask for them) and there’s never a worse punishment than a missed scoring opportunity for not solving a puzzle;
  • The puzzles are often designed so that everybody in the team should be able to contribute to each puzzle, because feeling “we solved this together between us” is fun;
  • In practice, there really is an ethos of offering as many hints as are required in order to get people through as many puzzles as possible and making sure people are having fun at all times.

More information will be posted at the London Twitter feed, or send questions to the London organisers. (If you’re less interested in playing and more interested in helping out, or if all the teams’ places have been filled, you can also volunteer to help, and maybe even playtest the puzzles if you’re really quick – so if the 30th April date doesn’t work for you, this might be your chance.)

If you’re looking to find teammates, you might enjoy turning up at Puzzled Pint on Tuesday 12th and looking for teammates in person. (Assuming there are spaces still left by then, which is a considerable assumption.) If you have teammates, then consider this thread a roll call. Looking forward to seeing lots of you there!