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!

Now open in Kettering: Kettering Escape Rooms

Kettering Escape Rooms photoWhat do you think of when you hear the name Kettering? Here, it brings back memories of Len Martin – the original Final Score results reader from the fifties to the early nineties – saying the name Kettering Town as only he could, for it was always one of the most euphonious team names in the non-league. As for where Kettering actually was… er… East Midlands. Draw a pentagon between Leicester, Peterborough, Cambridge, Northampton and Coventry, and place it so that you can exactly balance it on the point of a pencil and you’ve got Kettering. You probably also have a very strong pencil.

Kettering has a bowling alley rather aggressively called the New York Thunderbowl, with rather aggressive discounts to match. Since February 12th, it also hosts Kettering Escape Rooms. Not long ago, this site discussed exit games within laser game centres; this is the first UK example of an exit game within a bowling alley, which is another step along the way towards exit games being examples of further activities that you might find among more generic family entertainment centres. Many thanks to Ken for pointing this one out.

Kettering Escape Rooms has opened with two one-hour games, each of which caters for rooms of two to six players. In the Diamond Heist room, “You find yourself in a room belonging to a member of a crew involved in a local diamond heist. Can you find his stash of gems and escape before he returns in an hour with his crew?” The Mad Medic room suggests that “A new doctor is in town but a visit to his surgery results in a race against the clock as you realize his methods are more than a little mad! Solve the riddles and escape before you become part of his next experiment!

Games are available starting between 11am and 9pm daily, or as late as 10:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Pairs pay £40, trios £57, fourballs £70, fivesomes £75 and teams of six pay £90. Looking forward to seeing the reviews for this one; there’s no reason why a room within another facility might not have been created, implemented and maintained with as much love, care and attention as a room that stands alone.

Now open in Birmingham: Clue HQ

Clue HQ logoThe Clue HQ chain today opened their fifth branch, this one in Birmingham. It is situated underneath a railway arch, barely a Virgin West Coast Pendolino’s length from Birmingham Snow Hill station. (A station which, of course, Virgin West Coast does not serve, but saying a London Midland Desiro would be neither poetic nor accurate.) It’s effectively a couple of streets away from Escape Live, in an area that absolutely nobody apart from this site refers to as Birmingham’s Exit Game Quarter.

Clue HQ has already picked up coverage in the Birmingham Mail. Owner Stuart Rowlands is quoted as saying “Although we’ll open with 2 games, we’ll soon have nine different scenarios available all inside one unit. This means that not only will it be Clue HQ’s biggest location, but it’ll also be the biggest escape game centre in the UK.” The two games that the site is opening with are identical copies of the popular Bunker 38 seen in other Clue HQ locations, for head-to-head play right from the start; a nose through the planning application suggests that early plans for the other rooms included some other games from the Clue HQ range (with the implication that at least one of them will be reinterpreted in a very interesting and unusual way…) and some game titles that were completely unfamiliar and thus particularly exciting. It may well be the case that due to fire regulations, it may not be possible to fill all nine games completely to the brim at the same time.

Bunker 38 is a one-hour game for a team of 2-6. “You’ve been living in an underground bunker for years due to a radiation leak. Now you’ve been given the all clear, but you’re locked in and oxygen levels are running low! With only 60 minutes of breathable air left, will you be able to escape in time?” The tariff is the same as at other Clue HQ branches, starting at £44 for a team of two and going up to £90 for a team of six, though if you get in quick you might be able to take advantage of a Groupon for an opening discount, taking the price (regardless of team size) down to £39 on Mondays to Thursdays. The three-day opening weekend has already sold out completely, so time is of the essence… and would you really want it any other way?

Definitely pots of potential here; Exit Games UK looks forward to revisiting this site as it adds room after room after room!

New rooms from the newsroom

The NewsroomSeveral sites have refreshed their line-ups recently; others have just plan expanded. Here are details of the new rooms at existing sites that Exit Games UK has found recently. If your new room is missing, please let Exit Games UK know and the list shall grow longer.

  • Let’s go very roughly north to south, so that this way the list can start with a site with two new rooms. Breakout Games Aberdeen of the Granite City have overhauled their offering to introduce a pair of new treats for 2016. The Amazon has opened with a bang to become the most challenging game on site and is not recommended for beginners. “Plunged into the depths of the Amazon your team are charged with finding a priceless ancient artifact in an escape room filled with twists, turns and surprises. Will you be lost in the jungle for all eternity?” The two Lock and Key rooms have been replaced with two Deadlock rooms, enabling teams to race against each other: “DEADLOCK is the perfect escape game to introduce new groups to escape games in a race against the clock! With two identical escape rooms of DEADLOCK teams of 12 can race to escape completing exactly the same puzzles. With riddles, codes to crack and some twists and turns along this way this new puzzle is fantastic fun with a three star difficulty rating!” The site is also installing two identical copies of Black and White in March, which will make it one of the biggest sites in the land.
     
  • Down to Newcastle where Lost and Escape were feeling excited on Facebook about their new room, The Dungeon. Follow that link for the pictures; the story for the room suggests that “You accidentally went into an ancient house. The door of the house is a time machine, which brought you back to the 1900s. You found strange symbols everywhere. The only way to go back is to get the key in 60 minutes. The person who runs out of time will be locked in the past. Can you travel back successfully?
     
  • Next to Manchester where Breakout Manchester have added their ninth room, this one in their High Street offshoot. In Most Wanted, Ray Cokes chats with production and viewers while introducing… oh, not that Most Wanted. “It’s another race to escape although this time the bigger reward you collect, the higher up on the leaderboard you will go! ((…)) Think of yourselves as Bounty Hunters of the Wild West breaking in to a Saloon in search of loot! Make sure you’re out by the time the Sheriff returns, even if it means leaving some of your riches behind, or you’ll end up spending the night in a cell as Breakout Manchester’s Most Wanted!” There have been rooms which award scores in the past; sometimes scores can be analogues for solving time, as the longer you spend cracking the pre-scoring puzzles, the less time you have to work on the additional challenges which determine your score. Here, it’s clear; “Time is important to your game… but the reward means more to your team!
     
  • At the south end of Greater Manchester, Code to Exit of Altrincham have now opened their second room full-time. In The Test, which they describe on Facebook as being without keys, padlocks or furniture, “An alien life force has been experimenting with the human DNA. They tempered with few of us and mixed their genes with ours. You are being abducted to complete the tests and find out if it was successful. Are you intelligent enough to represent our species? If you pass you will be set free.” The site have also suggested that their third game is only two or three months away and will feature quite an unusual theme that this site is looking forward to. Code to Exit now offer discounts to people booking off-peak, to students and to birthday parties; they also offer team-building days during office hours as well.
     
  • Bristol is apparently further north than Gravesend by scant seconds of latitude, so Puzzlair have announced that they are taking bookings for their fifth room, The Poltergeist Room, which opens next week in their Puzzlair 2 location. “A widow lived in this room with her daughter, and suddenly they disappeared. Every once in a while people seen the silhouette of a woman walking around in the rooms. The players have to find out the reason behind the disappearance and also produce a successful ghost exorcism in order to escape the room in 60 minutes.
     
  • The Panic Room of Gravesend are running their current room for another week and a half, then will be taking a few days off to change it over to The Witch House, running in March and April. “Our next mystery begins with a student who rents a room inside an old house with a long and dark history. His dreams are haunted by those of a Witch from the town’s legend. During the witch trials of 1692 she disappeared never to be seen again. It’s 11pm and your team has been sent to help the poor student uncover the mystery that lies within the room. What happened to the witch? Can you break the curse before the clock strikes midnight?” Eek!
     
  • Salisbury Escape Rooms write to say “Since initially opening at Easter 2015 with the Magna Carta challenge, in October 2015 we changed the theme to Murder in the Museum. Players are met and briefed by a detective then led to the reception of the Salisbury Smithsonian Museum. A body has been found and a suspect is in custody. Police have one hour left to either charge him or release him. The team are required to find the missing evidence and get out within the hour. The new game, again designed, built and run by retired detectives is proving to be very popular. Tripadvisor reviews have been excellent and several teams who have completed many escape rooms have said that this is the best they have done!
     
  • Lastly to Exeter where Mission Escape have added a third room, with more promised to launch this year. This one is deliberately designed to cater for teams of no more than four players. In the Pharaoh’s Anger room, you must “Make your way through the tomb of the Kings… be careful not to disturb the dead. Align the Celestial bodies to release you from the Pharaoh’s wrath or be entombed forever“. Nobody wants that!

Now open in Chester: Rooms Quest

Rooms Quest bannerSocial media photos suggest that Rooms Quest opened on Monday 8th February; the city is within a mile and a half of the north end of the Welsh border, and parts of it are absolutely gorgeous. The site uses some of the East Wing of the same building as the town’s railway station, though it has its own entrance, through a green door opposite the Best Western Hotel. The site is opening with three games, each of which takes teams of three, four or five. Bookings are available daily, starting at 90-minute intervals from the somewhat syncopated starting times of 10:40am to 9:10pm.

The Platform 7 3/8 game makes thematic use of the surroundings. “Having entered the door to Platform 7 3/8 you find yourselves trapped in the depths of Chester Station. With walls over a foot thick you will have to have your wits about you as you find the clues, solve the puzzles and meet the physical challenges (no heavy lifting) to make good your escape to freedom and with only one hour before the Transport Police change shifts – the clock is ticking!

The Jailbreak room isn’t set in the conventionally-defined prison that you might expect from the title. “It’s another lively night out in Chester for you and a group of your friends when it slowly dawns on you that one of your party is missing! Walking the rows calling their name you find them trapped in the cloakroom of the club you just left – caught napping as the last security guard vacated the building! You now have one hour to aid in their escape before the time delay alarm is set off and all hell breaks loose.

Lastly, the Safe Haven game completely inverts the traditional escape paradigm; you’re trying to break in, not out, with allusion to the Panic Room movie. “You are together with a group of friends when you hear the alarm sound for an impending gas attack. Terrorists are about to release the deadly nerve agent Sarin onto the general population of Chester. To survive you all seek refuge in the “Safe Room” and similar to Ms Altman Panic room, there are a few holes to plug before you can safely breathe and just one hour before the gas fills the room.

A varied and relatively original offering. Prices are £60 for teams of three, £72 for foursomes and £80 for full teams of five. Another new hosting town in the busy north-west; this site looks forwards to reading reviews!

Laser games and exit games: part one of possibly many

Clue HQ Sunderland lobby photoSome exit game owners in the UK remember the laser game bubble of the early 1990s; perhaps a couple of hundred or so laser game centres opened up and down the country, with the vast majority closing within a matter of perhaps two or three years. (Maybe longer, maybe shorter.) Some wonder – and some fear – whether exit games might do the same thing.

Exit Games UK notes major differences between the two in the number of games played per day per centre and the contribution made to a centre’s daily turnover by people who play one game and never play again. (The replayability of the two types of game is rather different, too.) The laser game industry is probably doing better now than even at the height of the bubble then, with many more game equipment manufacturers and with the barrier to entry to getting into the business being much lower now than once it was. While marginal centres come and go, the best laser game centres existed for five, ten or fifteen years, and the best exit game centres should last at least as long as well. Exit games have greater potential for reinventing themselves over time, too, which should only add to their longevity.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see some degree of convergence between the two game types. This started in this country when Clue HQ opened a branch at the (itself relatively new) Laser Quest in Sunderland, pictured above; its second game is due to launch soon. A second step is that there is another branch of Laser Quest due to open in Glasgow in March and its own web site suggests that Clue HQ Glasgow is coming soon, too. (This is no secret; it’s acknowledged on, for instance, the Clue HQ Facebook page.) It’s interesting also to note that it doesn’t necessarily have to work this way around; Laser Quest Preston opened very recently, practically sharing space with – and certainly co-promoting with – the branch of The Escape Room in Preston. It’ll be interesting to follow the trend as it develops.. and to see whether the other laser game manufacturers get involved.

Months ago, Ken pointed to this story from Newcastle-under-Lyme, which is very strongly linked with (and practically part of, de facto if not de jure) neighbouring Stoke-on-Trent. The regenerated Lymelight Boulevard shopping centre launched Laser Quest Stoke (told you!) last year, and the aforementioned newspaper article suggested “The laser light gaming centre is due to open next month with Key Quest, an escape room game, expected to follow later in the year.” Accordingly, this site has been looking out for further developments in the area, the Escape Artist Stoke-on-Trent initiative notwithstanding.

The name Key Quest reveals something very interesting, though. The Key Quest Escape Room in North America is an interesting chain where a common thread of the locations’ addresses runs located within Laser Quest. From the web site, “Key Quest is a live action escape room, presented by Laser Quest. Players must use observation and critical thinking skills to find clues, solve a series of puzzles, and ultimately, discover the “key” to escape the room within a set time limit.” Could the branch of Laser Quest at Lymelight Boulevard eventually host the first branch of Key Quest in the UK, analogous to branches of Laser Quest in North America? Might it be that the journalist, or the communication between site owner and journalist, simply misconstrued or misinterpreted the link?

This site doesn’t yet know, but will be keeping an eye on this fascinating development. Watch this space!

(*creeps behind you and zaps you in the back while you're watching that space*)

Now open in Lisburn: BreakFreeNI

BreakfreeNI logoThis site has a frankly lamentable grasp of the geography of Northern Ireland. It has been looking for games in Belfast for a long time, noting that ESCAP3D there may be older than every single game in Great Britain except HintHunt. It has been looking for games in Derry/Londonderry for almost as long. After that, it’s stopped looking. One set of demographics suggests Lisburn is the third largest town in the province; it’s just to the south-west of Belfast, to the point that another categorisation suggests it’s part of the Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area. Whatever it is, as of today, it’s a place with its own exit game. Hurrah!

The site is opening in the east of Lisburn, with Hilden as its local railway station, in a row of shops next to a branch of the Jeffers bakery (where the sign above the door, Google Street View suggests, may be missing a couple of letters) almost within sight of the river Lagan. The site is opening with two games, each of which has a sixty-minute time limit and is recommended for a team of two to six.

Colonel Wilber Brown Disappeared in 1920 while searching for a Secret Entrance to an Undiscovered Pharaohs Tomb in the Valley Of The Kings. Can you Solve the Colonels Mysterious Disappearance and Escape the Curse of the Pharaohs Tomb?” runs the story behind the Curse of the Pharaoh escape. By contrast, the Dark House escape aims to spook; “For Over 200 years the Dark Creepy Victorian House has held many Dark Secrets, Tales of Ghostly Apparitions and Mysterious Disappearances. Can You & Your Team Mates Survive and Escape from the Dark House?

The booking is slightly ad hoc at the moment (and 24 hours’ notice must be given) but the site opens from midday to 10pm daily and as early as 10am on Fridays and Saturdays. The fee is a very reasonable £45, inclulding free tee and coffee, but the first week sees an opening discount to just £35. Lots of exciting games all over the island of Ireland; has there ever been a better time to visit?

Early February 2016 news round-up

News round-upTime for an assortment of links and news stories.

  • Congratulations to The Gr8 Escape of Belfast for announcing their recent award from Acquisition International, earning the Best Creative Corporate Activities Company title for Belfast. Escape Live of Birmingham also announced that they are a finalist in the Midlands Business Awards; looks like it’s in the Service Provider of the Year (up to £1m) section. Best of luck for the 26th!
  • That’s not all the Escape Live news, though. Tomorrow night, i.e. the evening of Friday 12th February, sees them host “((…)) a date night with a quirky twist ((…)) hoping to strike the city’s singletons with cupid’s arrow by hosting a mass double date at the venue – inviting them not just on a search for the puzzles’ answers, but for love too. The venue is hoping to attract couples of single friends on Friday, February 12, for a date night which will include meeting other single couples of friends as they work together to escape each room. Manager Jordan Ladley said: ‘Valentine’s Day for couples is one of the most exciting and fun days of the year, but what about those who don’t have someone to share it with? ((…)) Throughout the evening we’re inviting up to eight couples of friends to join us for a mass blind double date as we enter them into each room on a quest to crack the codes and escape. But who knows what – or who – else you might find while on the frantic search for answers!’” Very cute gimmick; Exit Games UK hopes it works out well for them.
  • Breakout Games of Aberdeen and Inverness have suggested that they will be featured in a TV show about a collaborative hiring process. That sounds dry, but the practice is much more fun than the theory. Candidates try out for a regional manager position at hipster craft brewer BrewDog, but are unaware that it’s their potential subordinates – rather than their potential bosses – who’ll be assessing whether they’re a good fit for the company. Will the exit game experience show the candidates at their interview-prepared best or what they’re really like when the pressure’s on? Time will tell!
  • Also in Scotland, Exit Plan Edinburgh got in touch and suggested that they’re offering a 25% discount this month. A little unusually, the site is not too strict about applying their nominal sixty-minute time limit, and have happily posted pictures of teams who have extracted the maximum value from their game by taking several tens of minutes more than that to get out with the Tesla Cube.
  • Lastly, to the cool links. Liz Cable of Time Games, organiser of the recent unconference in Leeds, is leading a workshop on Sunday 6th March at the Courthouse Words festival in Otley on How to create a puzzle room in a box. Given the quick but fun boxes of tricks in play at the unconference, this should be a treat.
  • The Escape Rooms Master directory site are asking site owners to fill in this five-minute questionnaire. The results of the survey should be extremely interesting – and the more responses, the more representative the survey.
  • A review site based on the Eastern Seaboard of the US, Escape Clues, has made a well-regarded post simply entitled Why Some Escape Rooms Rock! – and Others Suck! Indeed so; neat comparisons and contrasts between desirable and undesirable properties in various categories.

Now open in Camberley: Mystery Room UK

Mystery Room UK logoAlong the M3 from London, out to its west-south-west, is the town of Camberley at the very north-west tip of Surrey. On Saturday, the town saw its first exit game open, Mystery Room UK. The site has opened between a Chinese restaurant and a Co-Op with a single game to begin; this has a 60-minute time limit and has been designed for teams of two to five.

The first game, The Suspect, sees you play as “detectives on the hunt for a missing woman, Jennifer Summers. A cryptic letter was recently received but there’s been no ransom. It doesn’t make any sense! The intelligence team have been trying to crack the code and solve the mysterious disappearance but have been unsuccessful. They need your help!! The prime suspect has been identified and is being monitored. You and your team are to enter his office and search the area for clues whilst he is away. You must try to find evidence linking him to the disappearance and ultimately, find where Jennifer is so we can rescue her! We don’t know what you might find so you must be prepared for anything. Time will be short so work quickly to find all the evidence against – The Suspect!

Unusually, once you’ve booked to play, “your team are given a password to the player access area. There you will find a starter clue and a game briefing. This gives you a taster of what to expect from the room when you arrive on the day. ((…)) Although the clue is fun to puzzle over, it won’t stop you from playing if you don’t have time to solve it before your game. When you arrive you will have time to discuss the online clue to see if you were correct, or to be brought up to speed if you haven’t had time to work on it. It does have a bearing on the story so we would suggest that you take a look at it before you play if you are able to. It might just get you off to a better start!” A lovely touch, and one that only adds to the anticipation of the joy of playing.

Games are offered starting between 10am and 6pm on Fridays, Saturdays and alternate Sundays. (There are sporadic weekdays where games are offered as well, suggesting that additional arrangements are possible.) The price is £38 for a team of two up to £65 for a team of five. On top of that, the site has had one of the more remarkable opening offers; the first ten teams to book got to play for free, with the next forty playing at half price. Keep an eye on the list of sites announced but not yet open (towards the bottom of the page) and if anything is local enough to catch your eye, register with it and see if you can catch a deal like that in the future!