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.

Trapped on an Island

Treasure Map

Being trapped on an island has a long and storied history, so it seems fertile ground for generating escape room themes. Six months ago you’d have been out of luck if you’d wanted to actually play a game on an island, but whether you fancy going as a pair like Robinson Crusoe or a larger group like the Swiss Family Robinson, the local scene has recently expanded. The political geography of the UK and Ireland can be a bit tricky at times, so while this site bills itself as a resource for exit games from the UK and the Republic of Ireland, there are some games which, while technically falling outside that definition, are included here nonetheless.

Shetland

When two sites opened almost next to each other in Inverness, it seemed like it might be tricky to definitively state the location of the most northerly escape room in the UK.  Fortunately, Locked Shetland has now come to our rescue as the undisputed record holder. For an island with a population of about 22,000 and around 65,000 visitors a year, it’s definitely on the smaller side of audiences. It’s probably also the most remote escape room facility in the UK. Indeed, it’s not clear whether its nearest escape room neighbour is even in the UK, with Bergen, Norway being about the same distance as Inverness.

Their opening room is entitled “The Study” and comes with the following description: The professor has spent years of his life looking for the ‘Eye of Egypt’ a magnificent diamond. Finally, after all that time he has found it. You and your team on the other hand have spent ten minutes to get yourselves locked in his study. Now what took him years to find, you’re going to attempt to find in an hour! You and your team have an hour to solve the clues and puzzles to find the jewel and escape the study.

Beta testing took place earlier this month according to their Facebook page and booking is now open.  The game costs £44-72 and can accommodate 2-6 players.

The Isle of Man

At the very end of last year, Exit Strategy quietly arrived on the scene and kept well below the radar for a while. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Exit Strategy on the Isle of Man is, to the best of this site’s knowledge, unrelated to its relatively near neighbour in Liverpool. Unsurprisingly, the Isle of Man venue is located in the capital Douglas, just outside the town centre. On an island that is no stranger to speed, it’s also not surprising to see that they keep a leaderboard of the fastest times in each room, although they’ve deemed number of hints more important than pure speed. There are currently three games available, priced at £16-20pp:

In Prison Break, you’re aiming to rescue your friends from jail: Framed and captured, two of your team mates may never see the light of day again. Can you free them and escape the call before the guard returns. The game requires 3-6 players.

In Police Academy, it’s the end of your training academy. Do you have all the skills required to become part of our crime investigation team. This is your graduation challenge. You have 60 minutes to prove yourself, hone your skills and plan your EXIT STRATEGY. The game accommodates 2-8 players.

In Jewels: Museum Heist you play criminals out to capture a priceless gemstone. The Kelia Dynasty Diamond is on display in our museum. This prized jewel is too tempting to miss. A heist is in order. Can you beat the museum’s security, solve the puzzles, and escape with the gem? The game accommodates 2-8 players.

Portsea Island

If you’re reading this with a blank face, fear not. While you may not have heard of the island itself, you almost certainly know of the city that sits on it: Portsmouth. Yes, if you look carefully on the map, you’ll see there’s a thin stretch of water splitting the centre off from the mainland. Situated on the island, and therefore qualified for mention here, Real Escape UK opened a month or so ago.

Taking advantage of the city’s maritime history, their first room has a nautical theme. Deep within a shipwrecked flagship lies the Captain’s Cabin. The door swings shuts behind you and it’s just you and your team-mates under the deck.

According to interviews, they intend to open up other rooms at the venue in the not too distant future. Price for the current room is £18-21 per person for 3-6 people.

The Isle of Wight

Again, this is slightly old news, but it hasn’t previously been covered on this site. Random Rooms opened in March of this year and offers the inhabitants of and visitors to the Isle of Wight two rooms, both costing £60 for up to six people

In Prisoners’ Room you have been wrongly imprisoned in a far away country; your task is to send an encoded message to Rescue Forces so they locate you and help you escape from “Mountain Prison” while in the Goddess Anuket’s Curse Puzzle Room your task is to find a mysterious gemstone hidden in your great uncle’s study, and prevent it from releasing the Curse of the Egyptian Goddess Anuket at the exact moment of a planetary alignment.

The website points at plans for three more rooms, two of which already have concrete themes: a bank heist and a motel room.

Jersey

We started well north of the mainland, so let’s finish well south. The Escape Tunnel is a new escape game that opened last month on the island of Jersey as part of the Jersey War Tunnels centre. If you’re not familiar with Jersey’s story during the war there’s plenty on the parent site, but it’s clear that the theme for this escape game has been created very much inside the history of that time.

It is 1943 and Chief of Combined Operations, Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, has conceived operation Constellation, an offensive against the Channel Islands. A team of commandos are to land on Jersey and break into Ho8 (Jersey War Tunnels). Your mission, which you will have one hour to execute, will be to find the locations of the newly constructed Fortifications once you have accessed the German Commandant’s Office. You will have to search, identify clues and decipher puzzles to find the locations and uncover the code to unlock the door.

The room costs £15 per person and has space for 4-8 players.

STOP PRESS: Apparently one escape room isn’t enough for Jersey. This site has just learned through Scare Tour UK that Secrets Beneath, a scare attraction on the island, have opened Outbreak, a live actor, multi-room zombie escape game. Do you have what it takes to help save the world from a lethal Zombie virus? The Black Fox Military Corps require help to retrieve the anti virus that will stop the virus from spreading. To complete your mission you and your friends will have to complete mental, physical and psychological tasks to escape each room, and retrieve the hidden elements of the vaccine. The game is already open and costs £18pp for non-exclusive tickets.

Where else?

That, as far as this site is aware, is the full list of exit games currently open on the local islands (other than the British and Irish mainlands themselves, of course). It’s interesting to speculate which would be next though: If this site had to hazard a guess, Anglesey seems the next most likely with a population of nearly 70,000 and high tourist traffic. If Shetland can get one…

Now open in Brixton… but not for long: Oubliette

Oubliette logoThis site has always been rather… reticent to post about Oubliette, which opened in Brixon, south London, in January. The road to Hell is always paved with good intentions; as hinted at, Exit Games UK knew Oubliette’s proprietors, at least a little, before it opened and even volunteered to sand down some of the floors and walls in the building, which it hasn’t done for any other game. (Yet!) Exit Games UK even has a cracking interview with the proprietors while they were getting started which was, at one point, intended to be the “before” part of a “before and after” piece.

When you begin to play our room escape game, you walk through a door and find yourself plunged into New Pelagia, an Orwellian dystopia full of suspense and suspicion. The people here are watched over by the love and grace of JCN, a huge pervasive computer and CCTV network. The government rations and controls everything to keep things tidy – there are rumours that sometimes people get tidied away too.

You are members of the underground resistance movement who are being sent to infiltrate the ((propaganda office at the)) Ministry of Perception and find out what happened to a double agent who has mysteriously disappeared.

It’s a sixty-minute game for teams of up to eight; teams of six are recommended, but a team of three escaped, once. The price is higher than most at £30/player, but you get more for your money than from most rooms. In its months open, the site has received considerable praise from unusual sources, notably in the (mostly computer) game design and review community. Emily Short‘s review discussed the game in a way that this site doesn’t recall an exit game being discussed before:

…when, as a result of puzzle-solving, a new bit of story occurred — and again I’m being intentionally vague here — it generally ramped up the anxiety and threat level. I’m used to story-as-reward in video games, but here there was story-as-punishment. Solve the puzzle quickly? STORY GETS MORE WORRYING. This felt like a pretty natural and pleasurable extension of the existing principles. And it wasn’t as though we were going to stop trying to escape the room in order to avoid having more story bits happen to us!

If you’ve played and enjoyed exit games before, but never had that sort of experience, and if those sorts of descriptions sound like your cup of tea, then there can be few higher recommendations for the originality, intrigue and interest of this game. (On the other hand, if you know you’re lousy with dystopian stories – *raises hand* – then it might set your expectations as a game that might not be for you, and that’s cool too.) Closer to home, the game was reviewed at The Logic Escapes Me, rushing straight to very near the top of the recommendations; it was discussed in the first episode of the Escape from Reality podcast as well.

So why discuss this site now? The latest news is not good: the site is set to close, in its current form, at the end of Saturday 18th June. The Adventure Society shop, used as a framing device for the staging of the game, may also have to go on its next great adventure.

You may be thinking: ‘But I thought you were a permanent Escape Room?’ and yes, so did we. We were all set to sign paperwork to extend our lease by another year, when suddenly the landlord changed his mind. Now we’re staring at a countdown trying to get as much done as possible in the time remaining – which is kinda apt really. (…)

‘Are you going to open up somewhere else?’ We’d like to, but we don’t know, finding a space to move into and installing everything takes time and money, neither of which we have in spades. We may end up just selling off what we can and junking everything else. If you know somewhere we could move to, store things or someone who would buy things, please let us know!

All right. This is very clearly a special game in a busy field, which may very well not be around for long. On the other hand, there may be people for whom a demonstrably, tried-and-tested, game with a unique extent of focus on its story would surely be of interest in a business sense as well as a player sense. The business model for Oubliette is a bit different from that of most other games, and to try to make it fit in a similar box to most other games would be to destroy some of the ways in which it is most attractive. Nevertheless, a game this distinctive and critically acclaimed would be a remarkable addition to any facility, so the countdown is on… in more ways than the usual one.

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.

Some quick comparisons between editions of DASH

DASH logoThere’s no editorial here, and definitely no intent to suggest there is such a thing as an optimal set of values, but this might still be of interest to set some context for comparison purposes. The times refer to puzzles offered in the most popular (i.e. expert/experienced) track from DASH 5 onwards.

Edition Par time Fast* time Usual* time Teams Structure
2 5:00 1:51 4:32 173 8+M
3 6:00 2:57 6:42 298 8+M
4 6:00 1:53 4:48 300 8+M
5 4:30 2:14 5:32 295+N IB+7+M
6 5:50 2:33 5:10 307+N IB+8+M
7 5:45 3:38 6:55 333+N IB+8+M
8 6:40 2:33 4:35 363+N IB+7+M
* median,
top-11
* median,
middle-8/9
N = normal track M = metapuzzle,
IB = icebreaker

Data remains available for DASH 2, DASH 3, DASH 4, DASH 5, DASH 6, DASH 7 and ((edited:)) DASH 8. Note that the usual time was calculated from the median time quoted for either the middle-scoring 8 or 9 teams, depending on whether the overall number of teams was even or odd, and may not represent every puzzle being solved without a hint or even every puzzle being solved at all. The times quoted do not include the par or solving times for the unscored co-operative icebreaker puzzle from DASH 5 onwards.

Who cracked The Crystal Maze?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday is Puzzled Pint day in London and Manchester

Puzzled Pint London logoPuzzled Pint Manchester logoThe second Tuesday of every month is always Puzzled Pint day! The Pint has been growing around the world and this month there are set to be thirty meetings around the planet, from New Zealand to Europe to the west coast of North America. For the first time, this includes two meetings in different UK cities; London is well into its third year of Puzzled Pint and now Manchester is diving in. As you can see, London’s shades of red and blue are roundel-inspired, whereas Manchester takes its hues from football colours. There’s no reason why other UK cities couldn’t host their own versions; it just needs someone to take responsibility for doing so.

The simplest way to think of Puzzled Pint is to imagine a pub quiz that you solve with a team of your friends, but replace the quiz questions with puzzles: all sorts of puzzles – word puzzles, picture puzzles, maybe codes, perhaps maths or logic puzzles – and usually very good ones. The atmosphere is deliberately very accessible and hints are freely available, so everyone, from first-timers onwards, can have the fun of surprising themselves by solving puzzles that they thought they would never be able to solve. It’s probably more fun if you come with a group, but if you come alone then the organisers will help you find a team and hopefully make new friends. There’s no charge for taking part!

Take a look at this month’s location puzzle; you’re more likely to overthink it than underthink it, and the style may give you a very exciting sense of the theme for the month. As ever, hints are available; once you’ve got the answer, the London and Manchester locations are revealed. In London, there’s a single giant location, but it’s a good one; you need to submit a response because places are limited – and if you do submit a RSVP and cannot attend, please submit a cancellation so that someone else might use the place that you won’t be taking up. (The Manchester location has no RSVP requirement yet.)

The nominal timing of the event is 7pm to 10pm, but there’s some flexibility – and your team’s timing only starts when you get the puzzles, no matter what time you turn up. Please bring a pair of scissors if you can.

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.