Outside the room
I sometimes wonder whether you should really call these games I play “escape rooms” when you don’t actually need to escape to win. It’s even more questionable when you play a game that isn’t even in a room… Whatever you want to call it, we were off to play the Rainbow Syndicate, a game by Agent November. We’d played one of their other games earlier in the year and hit some problems, but hopefully this time everything would go to plan because we had the eponymous head of the agency running the show.
As before, we met in the Somerstown Coffee House, which was just as crowded as you’d expect on a Wednesday evening. We managed to bag a table, then introduced ourselves at the bar where we were given a package and told Agent November would be with us soon. I liked that slightly clandestine start – setting the theme of the evening before we’d even met our host. We ripped open the packet, pulled out our starter clues and, with that, we were off. Well, actually not, because almost as soon as we’d opened it, our host was there and introducing us to the game.
You’re secret agents on the trail of the Infamous Rainbow syndicate. You need to identify who they are, track them down and then send in the SWAT team to take them down.
Inside the roomOutside the pub
We soon got through the first puzzles and were out of the pub tracking down the syndicate. The game’s nicely constructed, taking you from location to location with a puzzle in each. There’s also a set of side challenges which you can use to give you extra time. That, combined with an opening and closing puzzle, gives a nice bit of variety to what could otherwise have felt like a stop-start series of puzzles.
With the whole of London available, I felt Euston was an interesting choice. Surely there are plenty of other prettier places to run this game? It worked, though. The traffic was heavier than ideal, but they made good use of the local amenities to construct some interesting parts to the game, one of which was particularly cool (in spite of having experienced something similar as part of geocaching a few years ago).
The puzzles varied in difficulty from easy to a little obtuse. In particular, there were times when you had to spot locations in pictures which relied on you either knowing the area or happening to walk past them. While in theory they knew which way you would walk, any less-than-efficient route you took (say, because you were being stupid and went in the wrong direction…) meant that you could miss out on seeing the relevant space. That was painful because, by the time you realised you’d gone off the wrong way, you might be quite far from the intended destination.
Which brings me neatly along to walkie talkies. For once, they both fitted in with the theme and were pretty much necessary. Short of using phones, I can’t think of a better way of achieving this goal, but they still drove me mad. For some reason I became the de facto comms person, which was fine when asking for a hint. Agent November seemed to hear us fine and respond well. When we were given spontaneous hints, though, or they were checking in, we’d typically pick up after three or four seconds and miss the opening instruction. I lost count of the number of times we had to ask for some advice to be repeated. And yes, we got plenty of clues, so we got to experience it a fair bit!
As well as the main story to solve, there is a set of side challenges that allow you to gain extra time so, while this game is nominally an hour long, there’s a theoretical maximum of 81 minutes on offer. That aspect also meant that there was no truly “dead” time. Even when you were walking between locations there was a chance you’d be able to bag one of the side challenges.
The finale was OK, although a little bit of an anticlimax if you weren’t the one who “solved” it. It was always going to be a tough game to end given the lack of a dedicated room and, frankly, this was a decent ending, but perhaps we should have had stronger instructions to stick together for that last little part – as we still thought there would be various bits to solve, we spread out.
I can’t remember how long we took to “escape”. We didn’t cover ourselves with glory and certainly ate into our eighteen minutes of extra time.
This didn’t really feel like an escape game to me. It definitely had escape room elements, but the critical difference was that we had to walk between locations. In an escape room, it’s sixty minutes of action, but here we had relatively significant periods where we were wandering around (albeit longer than necessary because we were incompetent at solving some clues…). The weather was passable, we’d got ample bonus time and we were pretty confident, so most of our walking was very laid back and that put paid to any pressure I felt in the game, which in turn gave it a very different dynamic to an escape room.
Was it fun? Yes, although it fell somewhere between Fire Hazard’s games and an escape room and, being brutally honest, it didn’t quite manage to capture the same level of fun that I’ve felt at either end of that line. A nice way to spend an evening, but it didn’t catch my attention the way escape rooms have.
We headed down to Mai Sushi, which is still providing the same great food as when we went here eighteen months ago after my second ever escape room…
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