Late July news

Mystery HQ Wigan imageThree quick news stories:

1) The warmest of welcomes to London-focused new exit games weblog The Logic Escapes Me. It’s full of well-written reviews, noting that that is a route that this site has never gone down. It’s not completely clear who the site author is, but this site has a pretty good guess. (Actually, one pretty good guess and two moderately good guesses, with hopes that the two moderately good guesses do start their own weblogs before long.) Highly recommended and a very welcome addition to the blogroll; there are already plenty of cracking exit game (and related topics – in fact, especially when weblogs go on to related topics) around the world, but there’ll always be room for one more.

2) Wigan has no exit games yet, but there’s a crowdfunding campaign under way to launch Mystery HQ Wigan, which would be the town’s first. The campaign also hints at an exciting-looking hunt on the day before the site launches, which strikes this site as an excellent publicity stunt.

It would be fair to say that this site hasn’t yet got too far with its crowdfunding campaign, but it would also be fair to point out the history of UK exit games crowdfunded on Indiegogo; Can You Escape? of Edinburgh are excelling after a moderate crowdfunding campaign, and it’s also a joy to see progress described at the Quest Room Facebook page after their own Indiegogo campaign didn’t really catch traction. Yet if we’re talking about crowdfunded UK exit games, a round of applause to Engima Escape, a winner on Kickstarter, which launched last week, is attracting favourable early comment and still has a 25% discount offer available!

3) It’s not just UK exit games that crowdfund, though; this site is unusually uplifted by this Canadian Kickstarter campaign for In Depth: a Traveling Mental Health Escape Game. What a distinctive and progressive concept! The plan is to build a game that goes on a two-week tour across Canada, and to film a documentary about the experience. Exit Games UK is really excited that people are trying to use exit games as an educational medium in this way, noting Prof. Nicholson’s historical work in this regard, and feels strongly positive about the topic chosen.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five people face the reality of living with mental illness, but less than half will ever seek treatment for it. We seek to craft an escape room that not only challenges and entertains guests, but carries a positive message in a portable package that can be easily assembled and disassembled in a matter of hours. We want the experience of the room to be clear and concise, but not preachy. We seek to create an experience that immerses people in a game that encourages communication, cooperation, and fun.

The people behind the project also run Ye Olde Dandy’s in Toronto. The area is not short of exit games, so it takes a remarkable additional attraction to make a site stand out, and Ye Olde Dandy’s has one that’s one of a kind: table flipping. Board game fans know that in Soviet Russia, table flips you, but this is literal stress-relief through table-flipping, and it looks rather spectacular and simultaneously very violent without being violent at anyone. Think of it like a punchbag, perhaps. Heck, the fee covers the labour costs of the person setting things up and tidying things up afterwards…

Starting tomorrow: an online puzzle hunt from exit game bloggers

Puzzle Hunt logoThis is cool. It’s a sign of how successful exit games have been in the Toronto area, and how popular their blogs have proven, that two of them – Escape Games Review and Escape Room Addict have been able to attract sponsorship from seven exit games in their area to offer a total of nine prizes for an online puzzle hunt that starts tomorrow. The prizes are all credit for the games themselves and so less likely to be of use to people from outside the area, but a cool puzzle is fun by itself and the hunt is open globally even if you’re not going to turn up and take use of the prizes in practice.

The rules set expectations clearly. Any size team can participate, but the prizes dictate what sorts of team sizes are sensible, and the puzzle hunt’s front page suggests what sorts of skills are likely to be tested by the variety of difficult puzzles over the course of the hunt: steganography, involving manipulating both images and audio files to extract messages, cryptography and research (with Board Game Geek a likely frequent starting-point).

Puzzles will be posted daily; teams are required to comment on the first puzzle to register within ten days of starting and then to comment on every puzzle thereafter. The first team to complete all fourteen puzzles gets first choice of the prizes; the remaining prizes will be split by random draw among teams who have completed all fourteen puzzles by the end of the fourteenth day. The difficulty level is likely to be reasonably high, but hints will be posted on Twitter on a schedule, and additional hints are available on request after 24 hours. The whole thing will be wrapped up by the end of the month, no fooling around.

Extremely exciting; good for those hunts who have sponsored – hopefully they will enjoy the extra attention they receive and perhaps this might be a model that could be repeated elsewhere. However it turns out, it’s one to enjoy wherever in the world you are!

Exit Games UK is one year old today!

Birthday cake with one candleHappy Birthday to this site! Please help the celebrations by spending 45 seconds or so to open this page and fill in a very quick survey. Just mark as many or as few of the boxes as are appropriate, and the results will be summarised in the last week of March 2015.

The survey arises because this site doesn’t really trust its hit counter and statistics package. The number of visitors that this site attracts fell by about half a few weeks ago. It seems a little unlikely that the number of humans visiting this site has actually fallen hard; every WordPress blog attracts masses of spammers trying to leave comments advertising their products – at a guess, maybe 90% or 95% of the traffic to this site – and almost every blog puts a number of anti-spam measures in place. This site is counting on the (probably fairly small) number of humans visiting not having changed much, but the number of spammers having halved, for whatever reason.

Too much blogging about blogging can make those who don’t blog go “bleurgh” – better write about the topic itself. However, on the birthday itself, it’s probably reasonable to take stock. It’s been far more successful and exciting than even wildest expectations; many thanks go to those who have contributed to the blog, to those who have spent their time, effort and so-o-o-o many resources putting the games of so many types in place for us all to play, and very much to readers like you for taking the time, trouble and interest to read and follow what’s going on. Updating this blog has got much easier over time, simply because the rate of developments is so rapid that there’s so much to talk about – the posts often, more or less, write themselves.

The biggest highlight has been the people; it’s been a thrill to get to know some delightful and singular people through the blog over the past year. It’s really exciting to see all the blogs that have sprung up both in the UK and around the world, and people helping the industry by writing more enthusiastic and insightful reviews than this site ever could. The interviews have been great fun, particularly when they’ve given me the chance to meet amazing people in real life. If there’s been a lowlight, it’s that the site’s busiest day came on the only day with bad news so far.

It’s a thrill that there are so many games out there, but more importantly, it’s a delight how many ideas there are out there and the exciting variety of ways in which people are developing the exit game concept. Last July, a prediction of reaching 20 games by the end of the year seemed a little ambitious; just a few months later, the truth way has way outstripped that. This site cares slightly less about how many games there are out there than it does about how many games can thrive; it would rather see 40-80 games flourish for the long term than a bubble of 100-200 games that oversaturate the market.

So to the future. The frequency of posts may well decrease slightly over time; contributions are always welcome. The layout may well change again, as there are some significant ways in which it is sub-optimal, though it may require some outside expertise and additional WordPress-wrangling skills; if you have the knowledge and willingness to assist, please pipe up. (For instance: this layout seems to eat tick-boxes whenever you try to embed a poll in a post, which is why this site has had to use an external polling service. Grrrrr.) The map at Play Exit Games is amazing in the way that it clusters nearby sites together; if anyone can explain, as if to a five-year-old, precisely how to produce a stunning clustering map like that, please get in touch at once.

Future emphases for the year to come include:

1) A change in focus from “helping people to find a game to play” to “helping people to find the right game for them“. With sites from Aberdeen to Plymouth, it’s a reasonably safe assumption, to an acceptable degree of approximation, that people will be able to find a game to play. The fact that so many people will have a choice, and wildly different preferences determining how they would make that choice, is the next step to deal with.

2) Help people find all sorts of different puzzle adventures to play. Perhaps people will want to go to the near-freezing Czech Republic in autumn and be part of a thousand people running around looking for clues; perhaps people will want to pull up a cosy chair in the comfort of their own home and let the puzzles take them to all sorts of different places in their minds. If you like one sort of puzzle adventure, you may well like all sorts of others – but only if you know they exist, and if you know how to get into them.

3) Keep the bureaucracy going. Maybe the statistics that this site collects will turn out to be valuable and useful in the long term; maybe they won’t. If it turns out that they are of use, or if people can find some statistics that would be useful to collect, then stopping keeping track won’t help anybody.

Tomorrow won’t be a Mechanics Monday post, as more exciting site openings push the less time-critical posts into the slightly longer grass. Plenty of time for them to come over the next year… and beyond!

English language exit game blogging is one year old today

rsz_first-birthday-309189_640After celebrating yesterday’s twenty-fifty anniversary for The Crystal Maze, today this sites the first anniversary of the inception of exit game blogging – at least, among English-language bloggers – for Intervirals had its first post a year ago today. Congratulations, Essa! The site started through an attempt to compose continental exit game lists for Europe, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region and has grown through a set of forums to a full, frequently-updated, weblog.

Blog author Essa comes from the Alternate Reality Game tradition; the site’s hundredth post was made at the start of February, the beginning of Blog February, a series emphasising the breadth of topics that there are to be covered. Intervirals has long been really strong at covering new site openings, but also media stories and discounts. Many other blogs have followed – and surely there was coverage in other languages beforehand, though this site will leave it up to your discretion as to whether to count, the long-established Hungarian-language site about the ~66 games in Budapest and others all around Hungary, as a blog or not.

It’s exciting to see how many exit game blogs there are that have arisen from the tremendously well-developed Toronto area, and also that QMSM and Escape Game Addicts have both got off to such a strong start here in the UK. Around the world, Room Escape Artist covers the US and Escape Rooms in Sydney covers, well, where it says. Singapore is covered by and S-capegoats, Malaysia and more by Escman League and Enigmatic Escape. And that’s just English-language blogging! Any more for any more? Unless you know otherwise, history will record Essa as having been first up onto the dancefloor; we all follow the trail that she blazed.

One excitement development is the establishment of an Escape Enthusiasts Google Group (so it can be accessed as either a web forum or a mailing list) by Scott Nicholson, Associate Professor at Syracuse University and director of Because Play Matters. Scott has been discussed here previously in the context of the survey of the exit game genre that he launched at the very end of 2014; he discussed the survey’s purpose in an accompanying video, and noted at the start of February that he received responses from 188 different escape room facilities from around the world. Exciting times!

Here’s to many more discussions, and many more years to come!

You blogging bloggers, you

Blogs and bloggingThe blogroll to the left has had a major upgrade with the section about exit games more or less tripling in size. It’s almost as difficult to keep up with as following the new locations that launch, though neither challenge is anything less than delightful, and it’s definitely a case of “the more, the merrier”. In conclusion, people seem to be reasonably evenly split between referring to the genre as escape games and escape rooms, so exit game used here is, at least, distinctive. Please forgive these descriptions being short, out of practicality rather than dismissiveness.

Starting close to home, Escape Rooms London has a single page about the titular subject that goes into rather more detail than this site’s list of locations and the new UK-wide Escape Game Addicts is so exciting that it’s bound to get many more mentions on this site over time. Definitely room for more and more UK blogs, though.

That final sentiment is borne by the experience in the Greater Toronto area, which is approaching Budapest-like levels in its magnitude. The first site to cover the field was Toronto Room Escapes, with Escape Games Review the second. New additions are Escape Reviewer, which takes an entirely welcome South East Asian approach by rating individual rooms at a facility separately and providing a variety of categorised marks for each room as well as an overall single figure, and Escape Room Addict, which writes up its reasoning for its individual scores in considerable detail. One of the Escape Room Addict reviewers has serious form; he used to do a really, really good series of Flash videos about his board gaming group, a decade or so ago, back when Flash videos were a thing. (What you say !!) I cannot read what he has to say without one of the videos and its tune (from Guitar Freaks) coming into my head, and I don’t mind a bit. With four perspectives on each room, or more, there’s much more of a chance that the best rooms will shine through and overall opinions can be less clouded by particularly good or bad experiences when either the reviewers or the site were having an unusually good or bad day.

On another site of the world, Scott of Escape Rooms in Sydney reviews his local games, with detailed and persuasive analyses of each game’s high and low points. The Escape Room Directory lists exit games in over fifty countries, so it should come as no surprise that there are sites in other languages as well; Hemos Salido have been covering Spain (in Spanish) with a highlight being a preview and review of when Real Escape Game came to Barcelona for its first European event. Escape Game France details France (in French) with interviews as well as reviews, Escape Game Authority surveys Germany (in German) and has an excellent collection of German language links to media stories about exit games, All Escape Rooms discusses the Netherlands (in Dutch) with a map that clusters multiple exit games in a location brilliantly and makes this site jealous and Gerçek Kaçış Oyunları overlooks Turkey (in Turkish) with a Wiki format that should be extremely easy to keep very much up to the minute.

Likewise, there are ever more lists of exit games, many with maps. The Escapist Society has an elegant design and a single (though very interesting!) blog post so far; it focuses on Dutch exit games, but is also starting to cover ones in England, having reached some as far north as Macclesfield, and is all in the English language. Escape Room Hub has a global focus, accepts public reviews and features another one of those brilliant clustering maps, Escape Game Guide seems a little like a work in progress but might turn into something spectacular if it can fulfil its considerable potential and Find a Room Escape has a US focus and is the only site so far to make the obvious and logical step towards helping you (at least, a US reader!) find their nearest location.

So many different people doing so many different things, generally to such a high standard. It’s an exciting time… and it’s only going to get bigger and better from here!

Five exciting news stories make a post

"Top News" newspaperLittle or no connection between these, but they’re all good news. In no order:

  • Tick Tock Unlock have been rocking Leeds for most of 2014, and after the gentlest of wild goose chases, they have announced that they will be opening a second location, this time in Liverpool. Liverpool has long been one of the biggest gaps in the market waiting to be filled (though certainly partly served by a short train ride to Warrington for Clue HQ) and if Tick Tock Unlock can serve up something that gets as good reviews at the other end of the M62 as they have done in Leeds then Merseyside is in for a treat. More news as soon as it becomes available.
  • One of the “more likely than not” predictions for 2015 has come true already with the tremendous development that Asa and friends have started the Escape Game Addicts weblog, which has got off to an enticing start. One day and two posts old, this looks extremely promising. It’s clear that the team are having great fun and this site looks forward to them putting it into words. They’ll be doing something slightly more hands-on than this blog can do at the moment, by necessity, and are based in a really happening part of the country. See the above post! The site goes straight into the blogroll and further posts are awaited with bated breath.
  • Speaking of blogs, Toronto Room Escapes has been absolutely crushing it for a while. The Year In Review post is an excellent place to start and the Themed Thursday series of really in-depth (and well-thought-out, and showing the benefit of considerable experience, and just plain smart) theoretical game ideas (with, even better still, occasional feedback from others in the industry) is already a highlight of the week. Tomorrow is Thursday; excellent!
  • This weekend’s MIT Mystery Hunt was won in just under 40 hours by team Luck, I Am Your Father, the evolution of the Beginner’s Luck team who won in 2009. (57 teams took part, possibly with as many as 11 getting through the metapuzzles and having the fun of finding the hidden coin.) Initial reports suggest that this year’s event is likely to be remembered favourably even by the MIT Mystery Hunt’s off-the-charts standards. The theme was, loosely, “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”, and some wit noted that the promised 20,000 puzzles were exactly delivered… if you take 20,000 in base 3! Many thanks to the setters, team One Fish Two Fish Random Fish Blue Fish, principally associated with MIT’s small Random Hall dormitory. If you want more familiarity with the MIT Mystery Hunt and its conventions, this presentation is as good as it gets and is far too good to save for another 359 days.
  • Finally, coming up later in 2015, BBC Two will be launching Beat The Brain, where dear old Uncle John Craven will give teams of four contestants “logical problems, visual puzzles and memory challenges, rather than trivia questions“. Some puzzle TV shows in the past have been spectacular; others have relatively missed the mark. Fingers crossed that this one proves another critical and popular hit!

Around the World: blogs from South-East Asia

Public domain map of Malaysia and SingaporeMalaysia is pictured in white above, and Singapore in red. This site is not yet aware of any exit games in Brunei (green, towards the East), though it’s amusing to imagine that the Sultan might have a private one in what is recognised by Guinness as the world’s largest palace.

Another exciting consequence of the new Escape Room Directory is that it lets the world know about some very cool blogs on the topic of which this site was not previously aware. The more people talking about the genre, the merrier. There are two covering Singapore and two covering Malaysia, both of which are heavy hitters in the world of exit games. is a crisply-presented, very well-written review blog about games in Singapore with a laser focus on consumer guidance. Well over thirty games have been reviewed so far, along with overall impression pieces about the sites in which the games can be found. The site is particularly strong in terms of detailing for whom each game is most suitable and how the game might best be enjoyed. Accordingly, this blog has a very valuable role to play in the important job of helping people find the game that is right for them and their team, recognising that not one size fits all.

S-capegoats is the elder of the two Singaporean blogs. Not only does it have neatly rainbow-coded reviews scoring different exit games in each of six categories published weekly, it also has some more discursive pieces focusing on specific aspects of exit games. In part this is to explain the philosophy behind their rating system, and in part this can be taken as a set of tips to help you think about the way you play these games.

Escman League is a site with real escape game reviews from Malaysia and beyond; it’s very interesting to see additional perspectives on some of the Singaporean sites, and also a review of a game in Hong Kong. Some posts also have polls asking people whether they were successful or not at the game in the review, providing a real-time independently-measured difficulty report for each game. The site is written by four friends who clearly have enjoy what they do, and that shines through in their writing.

Enigmatic Escape is a primarily Malaysian site and the longest-running of these blogs, probably making it the original English-language exit game blog, unless you know otherwise. Posts date back to January, but cover reviews of games played both last year and this year. They also review events put on by exit game companies; the particularly interesting Escape Run 2014 event bears similarities to what might be considered a short (and physical!) puzzle hunt elsewhere. Your authors are dPace and Dscry, the latter a mainstay of the Intervirals forums.

This site has chosen not to go down the review route, but there is definitely plenty of room for further UK exit game blogs. Be sure that the exit games themselves would be keen to see them, and that this site would love to link to them!