Looking ahead to 2017: predictions for the year

Peering into a Crystal Ball

This site ran prediction features over the last three years, albeit penned (so to speak) by a different author, with varying levels of success. Time for this new author to put a stake in the ground so that in a year’s time we can look back and laugh at his naivety. It’s always hard to predict the future and even harder to put some level of certainty on those predictions but the following predictions are based on things that fall somewhere in the 50-75% likelihood range.

Prediction: Escape rooms will appear in more than half of the following locations:

  • In Scotland: Falkirk, Stirling.
  • In England: Basingstoke, Bolton, Carlisle, Cheltenham, Colchester, Luton, Northampton, Shrewsbury, Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • In Wales: Bridgend.
  • In NI: Derry.
  • In Ireland: Limerick

At this stage, there are very, very few obvious gaps in the UK market. This site is aware of possible companies starting up in three of the above locations, but the rest have no activity.

Prediction: Escape rooms will appear on a UK made soap opera or equivalent.

We’ve seen them appear on The Big Bang Theory, The Middle and various other US shows but it feels like they’ve become mainstream enough in the UK that they’ll appear in some context on a nationally-aired soap.

Prediction: Escape rooms will appear on a UK made nationally broadcast reality TV show.

There are plenty of UK escape room companies looking to expand rapidly and what better way than to get themselves into the limelight via reality TV? There are any numbers of ways that could happen but a few that spring to mind:

  • The Apprentice: Creating their own pop up escape room would be a great set of property/production/marketing challenges with the opportunity to laugh at contestants for coming up with outlandish ideas or not understanding the solution to simple puzzles.
  • Dragon’s Den: Plenty of companies are looking to expand rapidly so perhaps one of the smaller players in the market will look for seed funding and a fair amount of exposure?
  • TOWIE or similar: Want to see human interactions at their worst? Then throw people who don’t get on well into an escape room.

Prediction: A new escape-room-like venue will be announced in the UK similar to Boda Borg, the Crystal Maze or GoQuest.

Boda Borg’s recent expansion to Boston is proving popular while the Crystal Maze has shot to success in London and has a new location opening in Manchester. It seems almost inevitable that a company such as Boda Borg will attempt to expand into the UK.

Prediction: At least four overseas franchises not currently in the UK and Ireland will open a room.

It’s hard to predict which companies might find these shores attractive, but it feels like that at least a couple of the Russian franchises will choose to target the UK and Escape Hunt making a reappearance seems almost inevitable given its recent acquisition by a UK-based holding company. Perhaps SCRAP will see fit to bring one of their games across from the US or one of the other major US players will put some feelers out on this side of the Atlantic (where Escapology from Florida seems like a good bet).

Prediction: At least one theme park operator will open a permanent escape room

We’ve had a couple of Hallowe’en escape rooms open in the past in Alton Towers and Thorpe Park but this year feels like the one where they’ll go mainstream enough to open a permanent attraction.

Prediction: At least one company will have 50 rooms running across the UK and Ireland by the end of the year

Escape currently have 30, Clue HQ are on 28, Locked in a Room have 21 and The Escape Room have 19. It seems just possible that one of those (or maybe as a long shot, Escape Reality?) will open enough venues to pull themselves across the line.

Prediction: At least 50 venues will close in 2016

It can’t all be happy news, not that all closures are necessarily unhappy. We’ve seen around 20 venues shut their doors in 2016 but as the market hots up and the big players start throwing their weight around, this site expects to see a few companies decide to close the doors. Some will be sudden closures but I expect a fair number to just see out the end of their leases and then call it a day.

Prediction: At least ten new play-at-home escape rooms will launch and be available in the UK

With ThinkFun’s offerings proving reasonably successful and various other companies getting in on the act in 2016, it feels likely that the trend will expand in 2017 with new versions from the existing companies but also brand new companies piggy backing off the existing success.

Prediction: At least 100 people will gather for an escape game industry related event

Specifically, not an escape room experience but some sort of event that is aimed at owners and enthusiasts – a conference or unconference or just some sort of fun meet up. The UK unconference in London in July of last year saw around 50 people gather and next week’s looks likely to have around 70 so, assuming expansion continues and a suitable venue can be found, it seems reasonable to assume the industry can bring together 100 people.

And finally the big one:

Prediction: At some point during 2017, 1000 escape rooms will be open across the UK and Ireland.

1000 escape rooms across the UK and Ireland. Yes, One thousand. Last year saw the market more than double. I think we’ll see a similar level of new rooms opening but I think we’ll also see a huge number of rooms closing with the result that we’ll just scrape over the line in the last quarter. I don’t think the market will quite have peaked and I certainly don’t expect the bubble to burst. Sadly, for enthusiasts, I suspect a significant proportion of those games will be franchises expanding across the countries so there won’t be anything like as many as 1000 experiences. Perhaps “just” 700?

Looking back on 2016: predictions for the year

Peering into a Crystal Ball

In early January of 2016, this site posted an article predicting what would happen in 2016. It didn’t attempt to predict the results of the referendum or the US presidential election but it did talk about puzzling and escape rooms. Since then, Chris, who ran the site at the time has moved on to exexitgames.co.uk but that doesn’t stop us taking a look at how those predictions panned out. Since the site has taken a fairly firm focus on escape games since his departure, this article looks at the escape side of those predictions.

Prediction: “This site will become aware of more than 51 exit game openings in the UK and Ireland in 2016.”

Actual: In case you were in any doubt, this prediction came true. In much the same way as “Leicester City won’t be relegated from the Premiership” came true last season. On 1 January 2015 there were, to this site’s knowledge, 103 venues across the UK and Ireland. As 2016 draws to a close there are now 238 venues open. All in all, there were 152 venue openings in 2016 – almost exactly three times the prediction. Wow!

Prediction: “This site will become aware of more than 13 exit game closures in the UK and Ireland.”

Actual:  A total of 16 escape rooms closed in 2016, although (as the prediction made clear) it’s not always lack of business that prompts the shutters to come down. In fact, since this site is often asked why escape room closure occur, it’s worth going into a bit more detail.

  • 1 owner emigrated (Fathom Escape)
  • 1 lease expired (Enter the Oubliette)
  • 4 temporary hiatus – expected to re-open (Clockwork DogClue CrackerEnd GameTime Trap Escape)
  • 4 planned closures – game was temporary (A Curious Escape, Hide and Shriek, Code-X, Milestones Museum)
  • 6 permanent closures – reason unclear (Hidden Rooms London, The Lock and Key, Dr. Knox’s Enigma, EVAC, Sherlock Unlock, A Great Escape)

Prediction:  “At least one brand will have at least nine locations open in the UK and Ireland in 2016.

Actual: Achieved. In fact, two separate brands made it to nine locations:

  • Clue HQ with nine locations in: Warrington, Brentwood, Blackpool, Sunderland, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leicester and Coventry
  • Escape with eleven locations in: Glasgow, Edinburgh (two), Blackpool, Hull, Doncaster, London, Chester (Escapism), Livingston, Newcastle and Dublin. Even if you argue that Escapism is branded separately and Edinburgh is just a single location that’s still a healthy nine.

For the record, no other company made it past five locations.

Prediction: “Crowdfunding will get harder; no reasonably traditional exit game based in the UK or Ireland will attract more than £5,000 in funding in 2016 unless the people behind it have an established track record in this or another closely related industry.

Actual: Several companies launched crowdfunding campaigns this year with varying degrees of success but this site couldn’t have seen Hugo Myatt on the horizon which helped catapult Bewilder Box’s campaign to £5216, just breaking the prediction.

Prediction: “At least one exit game will open in 2016 within eight miles of the main train station in at least four of the seven following locations: Reading, Portsmouth, Milton Keynes, Hull, Middlesbrough, Coventry and Peterborough.”

Actual: Well, given that the prediction for the number of new escape rooms opening was beaten by a factor of three, it’s perhaps not surprising that this prediction was also beaten, and some! In fact, of the seven locations suggested only one of them failed to open two venues and, even there addresses have been confirmed for a couple more that would fall inside the eight mile radius specified in the predictions.

Prediction:  “The exit game industry will continue to grow sufficiently quickly that this site’s estimate for the number of unique players in the UK or Ireland by the end of December 2015 reaches or exceeds 750,000.”

Actual: This site has stopped making predictions but it’s safe to say that this has been beaten unless the slots at all these additional venues are being filled by experienced players!

Prediction: “There will be a meeting in the UK or Ireland in 2016 with exit games as its focus which attracts more than 50 attendees.”

Actual: The biggest meeting, to this site’s knowledge, was in London with just under 50 participants. Within a couple of weeks of the new year, this site is confident that the 50 will be achieved with the unconference in London.

Prediction: “This site will become aware of someone that it does not already know at the time of making this prediction running an exit game for friends and family on an amateur basis within the UK and Ireland in 2016 using something more elaborate than, say, a Breakout EDU kit or similar.”

Actual: No one that this site is aware of but it would be great to hear otherwise.

Prediction: “This site loves stories of marriage proposals taking place at exit games and there have been at least ten customer proposals on record. A more interesting prediction is that by the end of 2016, this site will become aware of at least one proposal between a couple who got to know each other by both working at the same exit game.”

Actual: Escape game staff couples definitely exist – this site isn’t aware of any proposals but would love to be contradicted!

Prediction: “Some company may bring larger-scale live escape events to the UK, with relatively many teams playing the same game at once. (This is inspired by SCRAP’s Real Escape Game events playing in France and Spain as well as other continents, and is surely slightly more likely than last year.)”

Actual: Sort of. Locked in a Room opened up in London with up to 8 teams playing the same game in parallel. That isn’t quite like SCRAP but, under the letter of the law, it probably meets the above prediction.

Prediction: “An exit game brand in the UK and Ireland may take over at least one other existing game, or maybe even another exit game brand altogether.”

Actual: This looked like a possibility with both A Great Escape in Milton Keynes and Enter the Oubliette in London closing their doors but neither appear to have sold on their game to another company (STOP PRESS: There’s a strong hint on A Great Escape’s site that a sale may have taken place!). When Escape Land in London shut up shop, Hidden Rooms took on some of their IP but since then the roles have reversed with Escape Land re-opening and Hidden Rooms closing their doors for good.

Prediction: “There may be some interactive transmedia storytelling (or an Alternate Reality Game, as people called them a decade and a bit ago) to promote a new exit game or a new room at an exit game.”

Actual: Sadly no, as far as this site is aware.

Prediction: “This site may become aware of an Irish exit game community.”

Actual: Still none that this site is aware of.

Prediction: “Someone might start an overtly humorous blog about the genre in the UK and Ireland: two-thirds serious content, one-third shtick.”

Actual: Not that this site is aware of.

Prediction: “Someone might start an attraction just north of Heathrow called The Crystal Hayes or in South Essex called The Crystal Grays.”

Actual: Again, sadly not. We’ll have to make do with the Bristol Maze.

Can there ever be such a thing as “too many”?

Overloaded brainThis post is far from a claim that there are “too many” exit games in the UK. It is, however, a call to consider whether there can be a meaningful concept of “too many” games, and – if so – what “too many” might look like.

One follow-up question is whose perspective is being used to ask the question. As a player, can there be too many games? If the lack of replay value drives you to seek out more and more games to play, the bar for “too many” would surely be set very high, if it existed at all. If someone were to want to play every game that existed, or play a game at every site that existed, then a quest to keep up with every new opening might exceed the time and resources you have available. However, such a quest without limiting yourself to a relatively small area strikes this site as an inherently pretty extreme task. While it’s a delight that new sites and games continue to advance the state of the art, surely there comes a point where additional games, except the latest and greatest, have relatively little to offer. This may or may not be before your resources run out.

From the perspective of someone trying to make a living either as staff or owner of a game, “too many” may look quite different. Our society is capitalist; no business has an inherent right to survive. (It’s amusing to consider the existence of an exit game in a planned economy; surely a meritorious citizen would have to apply to play and then wait months or years for a space to play.) On the other hand, the extent to which a game thrives or even survives may not reflect the quality of the game in question, so much as other matters like the effectiveness of the way in which it is marketed. It seems sadly likely that there will be some brilliant games which fall by the wayside even when lesser – or merely good – games continue for longer; for those businesses, the raised bar for continued survival might be said to have arisen from too many games.

Another way to look at it might be that “too many” simply reflects more than “the right number” – and presupposes that there could be such a thing as a right number. Someone at last week’s unconference seriously looked forward to the thought of there being 300 or 400 sites in the UK; no names, no pack drill, but it was someone who knew a lot about brand expansion. It’s certainly true that the UK has fewer sites than some other countries – even some other smaller countries – and that, say, London has fewer sites than other major conurbations. Do the UK and London have to be at the top of these charts, though? Is the demand really there? The signs have looked good so far, but there surely has to come a point where things find a natural limit.

Do you suppose there could be a million players in one year? How about three million? (There aren’t many hobbies who get three million players in a year; an estimate sufficiently credible for the BBC suggested that there were only four or five million people who played tennis at least once in a year, with maybe a tenth of that playing once a week.) Even allowing for people playing multiple games, and enthusiasts bringing the average up, considering real-world typical team sizes, a million players in a year might look like 300,000 games in a year. (Maybe 250,000; maybe 400,000.) That’s 5,000-8,000 teams per week, keeping the numbers simple. When looking at it last year, the figures pointed to a room (not a site) being more successful and popular than most if it was played twenty times a week, with more than half of these at weekends. So a million plays a year might look like roughly 300 rooms, all being pretty busy at weekends. There were more than 230 rooms in the UK and Ireland at the end of 2015, and quite possibly close to 300 rooms in the UK alone by now.

There’s an awful lot of supply out there already. Whether there’s “too much”, and hence “too many” sites, remains to be seen; fingers crossed that demand remains strong and has further to grow.

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

Good news for March 2016

"Good News for a change!" - adapted from Rick Warden, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence

Here are a selection of stories that will hopefully put a smile on your face. Just think about the people involved and the smiles that must have been on their faces!

  • First to Puzzlair of Bristol, who are celebrating John’s proposal to Claire. May all their escapes be great ones!
  • It seems almost disrespectful to focus on more than a single couple’s big day, but more and more sites are hosting these happy occasions, and also sharing the good news is Escape of Glasgow. This time it was Annie who proposed, and thanked Nick and Kim at Escape on Twitter for their help. The Escape team went on to post further details of the happy event.
  • Not a proposal, but something that might happen somewhere down the line for some happy couples. To say more would be to spoil the surprise, so let The Great Escape Game of Sheffield tell the story. Perhaps there will be a nearer miss than two days being talked about by an exit game before long. (Lovely name, too!)
  • So this story is almost telling a story of the progression of a relationship. One happy step further down the line for some relationships is a fifth birthday party; for one here, we have to go to Locked In Edinburgh. The event they describe sounds wonderful here, whether celebrating a fifth birthday or a fifty-fifty birthday.
  • Perhaps your five-year-old will grow up and start their own business. Perhaps their business will win an award, as in this happy story as Can You Escape? of Edinburgh celebrate their victory in the Best-Performing Business (1-10) category at the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce awards. Congratulations and here’s to many more!

Coming soon to your own home: Escape Room in a Box

The titular box in which an escape room can be found

A phrase that I once heard and has got stuck in my mind runs “say it best, say it first, say it last or say it worst”. By cute coincidence, the only citation for it that I can quickly find comes from Professor Scott Nicholson of white paper and Escape Enthusiasts fame. Today’s article is about Escape Room in a Box, the Kickstarter campaign for which closes in less than two days’ time with glorious success; under $20,000 required to fund it, easily over $100,000 raised. Saying it best or first seem impossible now; at least this can be the last place where it gets mentioned… until the next place becomes the new last place.

If you’re reading this, the concept hardly needs explaining. Escape Room in a Box “…is a 60-90 minute cooperative game where 2-6 players solve puzzles, crack codes, and find hidden clues in order to find an antidote to thwart a mad scientist’s plot to turn them into werewolves.” How good could such a game be – or, more to the point, how much could you enjoy such a game? It depends perhaps what aspects of traditional location-specific exit games you most enjoy. Some aspects, like the puzzles, can reasonably be replicated in your own home. Other aspects, like the theming of the environment and ambitious physical props, are much harder. (If a big part of the attraction for you is getting to play with toys that you wouldn’t have the chance to play with elsewhere, it’s less attractive.)

The Logic Escapes Me thought hard about the potential opportunities and limitations of the format and expressed them in their tremendous preview. Perhaps it might best be read in conjunction with Room Escape Artist‘s review of a preview copy of the game, which validates Ken’s concerns and suggests that they have largely been dealt with in a fashion close to reaching the immediate potential of the format. On the other hand, to give full context, perhaps you should compare that review with Esc Room Addict of Canada’s counterpart review of a preview copy, which was rather less enthusiastic.

In any case, the concept appears to have been in the right place at the right time and caught people’s attention more widely; the campaign has been discussed at the Huffington Post and also by those alpha YouTubers at Geek and Sundry. Also excited was Adrian Hon of Six to Start (probably best known for the Zombies, Run! fitness app), also who mentioned it on Twitter. Subsequent discussion started with his opinion “Last escape room I played was $45 *per person*. Surely they could have a higher price/tier, and make the game better or longer?” Perhaps the success of the campaign points to there being the demand for the genre after all – and, from there, it’s tempting to wonder how other members of the family might differ.

Could a later iteration be a partly digital game, requiring its players to supply their own mobile device on which to run an app? Plenty of potential there, starting with being just another medium through which to deliver different sorts of clue, going through being a unique input device and going as far as in any other mixed media game. Certainly the prediction that there may be competitors was proved quickly correct, with ThinkFun introducing Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor this month (at a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of US$21.99, so set your expectations to low-tech), set to be distributed in the UK by Paul Lamond from June. That promises to have an online hint system at the very least.

Exit Games UK would be very interested if existing exit game brands were to consider this technique as a brand extension. Suppose someone has come and played your game, had a tremendous time and have left the room in high spirits. Might this be an excellent time to try to sell them a game so they might have related fun at home? It would take a certain sort of set of strengths for the combination to make sense; home games can convey puzzles very well, so this would work particularly well for a site which prided itself not just on its puzzles but also on certain sorts of puzzles which would translate to a home environment. It would also be a good way to advance the story of a persistent game universe, to keep them keen on playing within your universe when it takes so long and so much to introduce another physical game set there.

The League Table: end of February 2016

Abstract graphic suggesting growth

This is the twenty-third instalment of a (just about) monthly feature which acts as a status report on the exit games in the UK and Ireland, hopefully acting as part of the basis of a survey of growth over time. It reflects a snapshot of the market as it was, to the best of this site’s knowledge, at the end of 29th February 2016.

The Census

Category Number in the UK Number in Ireland
Exit game locations known to have opened 122 8
Exit game locations known to be open 109 5
Exit game locations in various states of temporary closure 5 2
Exit game locations known to have closed permanently 8 1
Exit game locations showing convincing evidence of being under construction 9 0
Exit game locations showing unconvincing evidence of being under construction 12 0
Exit game projects abandoned before opening 2 0

The term opened should be understood to include “sold tickets”, even when it is unclear whether any of those tickets may have been redeemed for played games; the definition of location should be understood to include outdoor locations, pop-up/mobile locations with open-ended time limits and component parts of larger attractions that are played in the same way as conventional exit games. Pop-ups with deliberately very short runs (e.g. Hallowe’en specials, or games run at conventions or festivals) are not counted in this list; games with deliberately finite but longer runs (e.g. Panic!, which awarded a prize to its champion at the end of its sixteen week run) are counted.

This month… well, the numbers get a little bit funky. The number of open games in the UK goes up by nine, but the number of games known to have opened only goes up by eight, because the number of games known to have closed permanently drops by one. The accurate reaction to this would be derision at this site’s concept of “know”, which has proved rather less accurate than suggested; welcome back, Escape Land! Take the distinction between temporary and permanent with an appropriately large dose of salt.

The Report Card does not appear this month because of external time pressures; you may note that there are seven sites which need to be added onto the lists of open games and the timeline, which should hopefully happen within the next week… maybe even before more games start opening, maybe not.

This site supports all the exit games that exist and will not make claims that any particular one is superior to any other particular one. You’ve probably noticed that this table has removed the review summaries; this site has pages with the review summaries for every site in the United Kingdom and, separately, for every site in Ireland.

This site takes the view that if you’re interested in review summaries, you probably care (at least to some extent) about the question of which site probably has the best popular reviews. Accordingly, you might be interested in the TripAdvisor’s escape game rankings lists in (picking only cities with multiple exit games listed) Belfast, Blackpool, Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Bristol again, Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Inverness, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham or Sheffield.

Additionally, TripAdvisor now has pages entitled Top Escape Games in United Kingdom and Top Escape Games in Ireland. No obvious changes to the ranking algorithm from the previous month. The top two sites remain constant; congratulations to the site which remains top of the UK national list for a sixth consecutive month.

You might also be interested in listings at Play Exit Games, a few of which contain ratings and from which rankings might be derived, or ranking lists from other bloggers. Looking at London sites, The Logic Escapes Me has provided recommendations, top five and detailed comparisons, as well as a brilliant brand new comparative ratings table from a handful of critics; see also this piece at Bravofly and thinking bob‘s comparisons. In the North-West, there are the Really Fun room comparisons, the recently-updated Escape Game Addicts rankings and Geek Girl Up North site comparisons as well. If you have your own UK ranking list, please speak up and it shall be included in future months.

Now open in Blackpool: Escape

Escape Blackpool logoThe Escape chain has been expanding steadily southwards, Edinburgh and Glasgow to Newcastle and now Blackpool. (They have good business in other countries too, notably the Dublin site in Ireland, among others.) The site will be opening on Leap Year’s Day; by tradition, of course, this is the single day every four years on which the site gets to escape the players, rather than the other way around. Exit Games UK has always thought that Blackpool was a market with excellent potential and Clue HQ seem to have done well already. The Escape location is central to the town, very close to Blackpool South train station and opposite a branch of KFC.

Escape Blackpool is launching with three games, each of which takes two to five players and has a 60-minute time limit. Exit Games Scotland point out that the games represent the best of both the Edinburgh and Glasgow branches of the Escape chain.

The Da Vinci Room sees you “take on the role of thief, but for the greater good. Dr John Albright has studied the workings of Da Vinci in great detail. He has amassed a huge collection over the years, including what many believe to be the Holy Grail. Having gained his trust by helping him “acquire” items over the years, you have access to areas of his home and knowledge of his security that no-one else does. You’ve been paid well for your services over the years, but you’ve always felt that an item of the importance of the Holy Grail should be on display for all to see. The professor is away and now is your chance. Get in the room, grab the grail and get out. It should be easy! “The Da Vinci Room” is a live escape game with a twist, you need to get an item out of the room as well as you! The setting is a beautiful old study with artwork, certificates and various vintage items ranging from typewriters to violin cases! Primarily focusing on code-breaking, symbolism and association problems The Da Vinci Room offers an exciting challenge for players young and old.

In Contagion, “You and your team of fellow scientists have been working tirelessly to create a vaccine for the fatal CYE disease. Unfortunately you have all managed to contract the virus. Either sit around and let it take you or you redouble your efforts and create a vaccine. This is not your only problem. After creating the vaccine you must find a way to beat the lock down on the laboratory. The timer is set to 60 minutes, after which the room and all traces of your work, will be incinerated. Create the vaccine and escape the room if the rest of humanity is to benefit from your work!

There’s also the Taken room, which (aside from being a good excuse to link to this post by Really Fun) tells the tale of “A rogue policeman, Brian Miller, has been obsessed for some time with finding the killer of John Doe and in his eyes the evidence points to you and your friends. Part of your group will be Taken and locked away, meaning you will have two tasks to complete: rescue your friend(s) and escape the room. Although separated, the full group will still be able to work together to complete the game. Officer Miller has been cunning in the way he has hidden clues around his somewhat dilapidated room with some impressive gadgetry used along the way. You will need to do some searching and finding in the room as well as the puzzles if you want to Escape. This room is no normal room – let’s just say it’s lacking in some of the comforts of our other rooms – but it’s just as much fun!

Games start on the half-hour between 9:30am and 10:30pm seven days a week: nine games of Taken, nine of Contagion and eight of The Da Vinci Room. (There’s probably wiggle room in the schedule, by arrangement, if two teams want to race against each other and start at the same time.) The tariff matches the Escape UK standard: £66 for a team of 3-5, though couples can apply a code to play for just £48. The site’s Twitter account has posted a code for a 25% discount for a limited time and a quick search reveals no social buying deals yet, so this might be the best time to get involved.

Now open in Wigan: Atherton Escape Rooms

Atherton Escape Rooms graphicMore specifically, now open in the borough of Wigan; Atherton is a town of its own, about half-way between the town of Wigan and the M60 ring road around Manchester. (You can take a local train out from Manchester in the direction of Southport or Kirkby to get there; don’t go a station too far otherwise you’ll end up in Hag Fold, which sounds like a good name for a witch’s dance move.) Atherton is one of a number of towns in the area whose names have been adopted as surnames over the centuries where the surname has gone on to be nationally famous; when you think of Atherton, you might think of Mike Atherton. Similarly, the next town along to the south-east might make you think of Clive Tyldesley. The next town along to the south-east from there might make you think of someone else.

Thanks to Mark from Really Fun for pointing out Atherton Escape Rooms which opened on February 4th. It made a big splash, opening with four one-hour rooms, each designed to be played by a team of two to six. The Room of the Missing Child game is “…simply a child’s room containing all the usual things a child’s room would contain, ordinary objects & toys that a child would possess. There is just one thing missing “THE CHILD”. Using everything to hand contained in room, can you find out what has happened & escape from the room before the time runs out.

In The Log Cabin, the tale goes that “A retired detective leaves a distinguished career blemished with just one unsolved case. A group of campers had disappeared without a trace, despite searching the area & a nearby log cabin the case remained unsolved. The retired detective, unable to let the case rest, still believes the Cabin holds the key to the mystery.” If you’d prefer to play inside The Office, you’ll be investigating a different sort of crime. “The sports promoter is involved in criminal activities. He is using his office as a front for illegal dealings. You have turned up to an arranged meeting, the office is empty. As a journalist, your instinct is to snoop around. Have you got time?” Lastly, if you’re caught in The Train Waiting Room, “You have missed your connecting train in a remote station in the dead of night. The waiting room door becomes mysteriously locked. Using all your skills & with clues to hand, can you escape the room to get your next connection before the final whistle blows. Not all is as it seems!

Games will eventually be available seven days a week, though for the first few weeks the site is in operation from Thursday to Sunday only. The site has already been covered in the Wigan Evening Post, along with hints that more rooms might follow. The location inside an old mill is a little unusual, though Trapped In of Bury also use a mill, and surely there are plenty of other mills in Lancashire that are looking for exciting occupants. Looking forward to the views of the bloggers of the north-west on this one!

Now open in London: Escape Land

Escape Land graphicHere’s a first, and a welcome one! This site previewed Escape Land a year and three quarters ago, then sadly bade it farewell last September, in one of the more surprising closures. It was a very pleasant surprise, and about as unexpected as they get, to see a reopening announcement posted to Facebook last week. According to that announcement, and to the site’s booking page, Escape Land opened for business once again today! By analogy, this would be like learning that Andy Kaufman had faked his death decades ago after all.

Sites have relocated in the past, but this feels different because this site had stuck a fork into Escape Land and considered it done. Indeed, it was tempting to wonder whether this might be a completely unconnected game that happened to use the same name… but there’s enough evidence to suggest that it really is a revival. The new location is probably the best address for an exit game yet: 37-39 Oxford Street, London, very near the Tottenham Court Road station on the forthcoming Elizabeth line. (Indeed, within the length of a Class 345 train of the station.) Sure, there are other businesses on the same premises, but that’s still a heck of a prestigious place to be.

Within two and a half weeks of reopening, the site will have two games. You can already play the Professor Oxford’s Experiments game: “Why is Professor Oxford doing secret experiments on his own home? What is he up to? And why is he inviting test subjects to analyse a medicine that is not strictly speaking legal? Based on Escape Land’s original game: Escape from the Age of Steampunk. There are a lot of similarities between these two games, please only book if none of the players in the team has played that room in the past“. That clearly establishes the lineage between the two games – and the game from which it is a development was popular with The Logic Escapes Me, with What’s On UK and with Thinking Bob, so this is very welcome.

Soon to arrive is the Da Vinci’s Exploration room, which is “Based on Da Vinci’s life. This escape game requires players to work as a team to solve hidden puzzles, look for clues and to try to escape in an hour. The room gives to the players the opportunity to use their knowledge, teamwork skills to accomplish a unique escape game“. Both games have 60-minute time limits and are recommended for teams of 3-5, though teams of 2 and 6 may be possible by prior arrangement. The Oxford Street price is £78 for a team of three, £96 for a team of four or £110 for a team of five, which is broadly in line with central London rates.

A game so well-loved that nobody could keep it down makes a welcome return! If you go to try it, then be aware that by cute coincidence, another business with the same address is the Escape to London recruitment company; don’t get the two businesses confused!