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Around the world: Getting together

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

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

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

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

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

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

Around the World: what’s going on in North America

Room Escape Artist's map of North American exit gamesThe above map is a snapshot of Room Escape Artist’s North American exit game map. (Hi! Thank you!)

Speaking of exit game maps, Live Escape Games‘ Shaun points Exit Games UK to the Puzzalarium newsletter, from the site of the same name of San Diego. This site has quickly made a name for itself from some of its unique approaches, as detailed in Toronto Room Escapes‘ brilliant, must-read interview. Puzzalarium have announced an approach which is brilliant, simple, lucrative, zero-cost and worthy of recognition as instant global best practice.

Simply, they offer the chance to play their room in “Zen mode”. You book, and pay for, one room for two adjacent time slots. You then get to play the room in no rush whatsoever over the duration of both timeslots… and the time in between them, normally filled in by the room being reset. (So if a game takes an hour, and there’s an hour reset time between games, this would give you up to three hours in total in the room.) This means that people can take the room as slowly as they like, possibly even taking no hints in a room where hints might usually be liberally supplied, and come out feeling that they can be pretty sure that they haven’t missed a single thing. At a guess, only a few percent of groups would feel that this is the right approach for them, and probably only for rooms known to be relatively difficult – but those who do, and who are willing to pay double money, would really appreciate the option. Puzzalarium also offer teams who have played their game the chance to watch other teams playing the game from behind the scenes.

Escape Room Directory‘s Dan Egnor points to Dr. Bryan Clair‘s amazing, detailed account of an intricate-looking exit game he set up and ran for 36 teams at St. Louis University. (He’s also volunteering to run DASH 7 in St. Louis, where it’ll be making a return after being present for DASHes 4 and 5, and absent for number 6. What a guy!) Amateur exit rooms like this are definitely part of the future of the genre and might be right for some people who love the idea of devising and running their own exit game but don’t feel well-suited to the business aspect of things. (Plus who have the resources to sink into such a project, without getting an obvious financial return from it.) Dr. Clair, this site salutes you!

Talking of interviews and taking looks behind the scenes, the latest (and last, at least for the year… and maybe longer?) episode of the consistently beloved and heroic Snoutcast podcast features an interview with Lindsay Morse and Nate Martin of Puzzle Break of Seattle and San Francisco. Nate also previously wrote this Reddit post with his reflections on his first year in business.

Lastly, this site just loves the theme behind Omescape of Markham, Ontario’s new room: the Kingdom of Cats. It opened yesterday; obviously, on a Caturday!

All the news from the world’s exit games

Newspaper iconThe previous post contained a collection of links with exit game news from Europe; today’s news collection looks a little further afield.

Yesterday, this site linked to this German live escape games blog, with a map linking to known sites around Europe. With a tip of the hat to Scott, a site about online escape games is attempting to collate a global live escape game map. Ambitious, but brilliant! There’s only one post to the site’s blog so far, but this site looks forward to others. A rising tide lifts all boats. (Spoiler: something very cool in this regard very soon.)

One of the most interesting exit game developments in the US is Trapped In A Room With A Zombie, remarkable for already having a dozen locations across the country, East to West, North to South. The creator, Marty Parker, is prominent and fascinating in mainstream publication interviews; his take on his own segment of the industry in Art Attack Philly is well worth a read to give you a sense of his perspective on his own cottage industry, which you can put into context by reading other interviews from newspapers in Columbus from February and Boston from July.

Lastly, across the border to Canada – specifically, the province of Ontario. Scott, to whom we referred above, curates an amazing Ontario exit games catalogue, and the wide availability of games also attracts local press interest. (Why has Toronto evidently become a hub in the same way as Budapest and Beijing? Professional enigmatologist Stacy Costa, a SCS Instructor at the University of Toronto, had this to say.) It’s the location for the Canadian operation of the original Real Escape Game, as discussed at Motherboard, with The Star taking a wider look at the popularity of the genre across their area.

With so much interest in exit games, it would appear logical that there could be the demand for other sorts of puzzle events in the Greater Toronto area. Perhaps this might be another conurbation in which the likes of DASH and/or Puzzled Pint might take root. There aren’t yet puzzle hunts in quite the way they are known elsewhere, as far as this site can tell, but a spy-themed game seemed to have quite a few similarities (though, sadly, the domain discussing the event appears to be no more) and the FISH Scavenger Hunts annually held in Toronto, and Vancouver, also sound spectacular and relevant.

Toronto does have its own sort of hunt that may be all its own. Tip of the hat to the German Live Escape Games blog for this one, and it’s the sort of story that makes you check that you’re not reading a satire site by mistake. The Simcoe Reformer suggests that there have been scavenger hunts in Toronto where the prizes to be found are, well, cannabis. A larger event planned for September promises to put the “pot” into “jackpot”, or perhaps the other way round.

This might sound like a plot from a Cheech and Chong movie, and it might be the plot of one. The Canadian stereotype of politeness, legality and good order holds firm, though. Participants are not invited to dig up random leaves and take a chance at smoking whatever they find; instead, the prizes are vouchers. In order to claim your prize, you have to be one of the 11,000 locals with a medical marijuana licence already.

Rob Ford would surely approve!

Around the World: the Mystery Box

The Mystery Box from the outsideA tip of the hat to David J. Bodycombe, of very considerable credentials in the puzzling world, and his contacts for this one.

It might sound like an “In Soviet Russia…” joke, but consider a game of the sort covered by this site – except that you don’t visit a physical location to play the puzzles, the puzzles come to you. That’s the principle behind The Mystery Box, currently in private beta-testing within downtown Toronto, Canada.

The titular box “contains a challenging puzzle with a unique mystery. The box contains seemingly random everyday items such as a pen, notebook, photos, deck of cards, etc. However, if you look closely, you’ll find clues and puzzles which will lead to closely guarded secrets!” Here’s a photo of the first iteration of the box’s contents. Click on either photo to find higher-resolution versions on the official Pinterest account.

Prototype contents of Mystery Box #1

Very cute and extremely interesting. The enterprise’s web site also suggests that We have multiple stories. Each one has different clues, puzzles and levels of difficulty. We’re also planning to introduce series – where one box opens another box – to allow you to experience longer, more exciting stories and puzzles which hints at these boxes doing things that exit games cannot currently do.

It is not yet clear whether the “downtown Toronto” restriction will be lifted (inter?)nationally in time, as it’s tempting to wonder if some physical puzzles could be included within the box that are so intricate that the postal services of the world might not be trusted with them. It’s well-known that some mechanical puzzles include all manner of sensors, which might not play well with a long-distance postal service. Either solution is possible; a strictly local service might feature the most advanced boxes, a more wide-ranging service might spread the fun to people who live outside convenient travel radius of an exit game. (Particularly in Canada, where the distances involved can be vast.)

“Puzzles through the post” games are not completely unprecedented; there have been passing mentions of the Black Letter Game from 2012, which has quite a heritage. People have been playing chess by mail for at least 200 years, quite possibly much longer, and more interesting games since at least 1970 (OK, arguably since at least 1963). As for, more specifically, puzzle games: that’s a topic for another day.

Around the World: two Canadian exit games

Adventure Rooms logoAround The World will be an occasional series in which we release the general restriction that this is a site that focuses upon the UK and Ireland. The aim is to focus on particularly interesting differences in practice from nation to nation; not to say that one site, or even one nation, has everything right and everyone else is wrong, but there might be some interesting lessons to consider. This time, there are two interesting tweaks on the adventure room format, both from sites in the province of Ontario within Canada.

De Code Canada, of Mississauga, is a site with three different exit rooms. (It also has a board game cafe, which is pretty cool!) An unusual gimmick is that you can choose to play any of those adventures at your choice of three levels of difficulty; the “guided” level offers generous hinting, the “challenger” level a single hint and the “insane” level offers no hints at all. The fastest solutions at the “insane” level of difficulty can earn placement on the monthly (wise!) Hall of Fame. Cute!

Adventure Rooms, of Kitchener, is a local version of an originally Swiss operation (also, like MazeBase, offering franchises). The game within their original exit room is a diamond heist, split into four phases, thus giving teams a sense of progression. However, they also offer sufficiently large parties the chance to split into two teams, playing a duel against each other; this splits the story covered in the hour into two half-hour sections. “Team A begins its adventure already at Phase 3, whereas Team B starts at Phase 1. Team A has to search for a hidden diamond and escape before Team B can capture them. After a break, the roles are reversed.” Highly thematic; I can seeing it working well, and competitively, in practice.

I’m not sure that every site would gain from such options or that this necessarily forms global best practice. Nevertheless, fun to think about and interesting to know.