Breakin’ Escape (London): The Flying Dutchman

Outside the room

A short break after playing our first game at Breakin’ Escape and we were ready to enter the Flying Dutchman. It’s a nicely constructed venue with a waiting area at the front and an atrium at the back, with six doors leading from the atrium to the rooms and each doorway customised to match the corresponding story. In the case of the Flying Dutchman (which obviously has no link at all to Pirates of the Caribbean), there’s the prow of a ship jutting out above the door. That’s probably one of the most impressive of the entrances, but each was customised in some way.

The first time you walk into the atrium, it’s like you’re being teased with all these great games. I can well imagine people coming out of a room and immediately signing up to one of the others just on the basis of the cool doors. I mean, any company that goes to that much trouble to make the outside of a game look good must surely have gone to town on the inside!

Background

From the depths of the sea a ship rises with a skeletal figure spearheading its bow, striking fear into the hearts of the bravest of sailors. The dreaded ship, The Flying Dutchman makes sail once again, led by its fierce captain.

Davy Jones once was a man, but he was cursed by the woman he loved to roam the seas and ferry the souls of the damned to the other side for eternity. A most precious artifact has been stolen from his ship, and now he wants it back.

You were one of the pirates that stole from Jones’ locker, but you were left behind when the Dutchman’s crew discovered you. Now you must find your way within the ship and manage to escape before the time runs out and you become part of Davy Jones’ undead crew… forever!

Inside the room

Wow. You don’t often get rooms with this quality of set design. It was a stunning rendition of a ghostly pirate ship: beautiful wooden walls, skulls, the obligatory ship wheel and a bunch of other props and decoration to immerse you in the theme. A huge amount of work has obviously gone into producing a game that really transports you to another place, and it’s paid off. On top of that, they’ve eschewed locks and instead opted for lots of automation in the room – puzzles are generally solved by putting items in specific locations rather than getting codes – which added to the magic. The story was a little bit lighter than the decoration but there were still elements within the game to give the sense of the journey you were on and add a little bit of colour to your adventure.

The puzzles on offer were logical with sensible solutions (in spite of what the three clues we took might suggest…). There was plenty of variety – word play, physical interactions, riddles and observational elements were on show – and some puzzles required multiple people to get involved. There wasn’t much searching to be done but, annoyingly, when there was, it was pretty detailed. It’s a style of room that I find hard to deal with because, if I don’t get rewarded for a moderate level of searching, then I’m unlikely to go to the trouble of going over every square inch of the room.

The game is targeted at beginners and so they’ve made it entirely linear. That led to two problems for us. Firstly, when we did get stuck, we rapidly got frustrated – there was no opportunity to take a break while we solved other puzzles. Secondly, when we got to a particularly tricky physical puzzle, there was only room for two people to meaningfully take part, with the remainder of the team watching on somewhat bored.

Ah, that puzzle. It was equal measures fantastic and frustrating. It was big and it was striking. As mentioned above, the blocking nature of it is likely to leave some players feeling left out. The solution to it is also ambiguous, so you may do everything just right and then find that the arbitrary choice you’ve made was the wrong one and have to start again. Finally, the mechanism is a little bit stiff, so it’s hard to be accurate. You could argue that’s part of the skill of the game, but I’d disagree – make the mechanism smoother and the game harder.

As with all the Breakin’ games, they have a slightly odd cluing system. You’re given a walkie-talkie on entering the room. When you want a clue, you ask the GM who radios back a code. You then enter that code in a tablet on the wall, which provides you with a standard clue. I could argue that having a tablet in a pirate ship broke the immersion but, in truth, the real immersion breaker was the double interaction. Fortunately, they didn’t always stick to just giving you a code, and sometimes they gave you the clue directly instead. If they want to go down that route, I think a far better option would be to put a TV in the room and have the clues appear directly by the press of a GM’s button. Talking of the GM, it’s probably worth mentioning that there was a minor mis-set in this game. While it didn’t affect us at all, it was one of several reset issues during the day – I’m not sure if that was down to initial teething issues (we played relatively early on in their launch) or a general lack of training.

Result

We escaped the room after 44 minutes having taken three clues. Some days you just have a bad game, and this was that day. That’s not the room’s fault, we just weren’t on form.

Verdict –
 

The Flying Dutchman is a gorgeous game that will wow first-timers. As an experienced player, I really appreciated the beautiful set but I felt a bit let down by the gameplay. When we got stuck, it felt like we were bashing our heads against a brick wall because the linear nature gave you nothing else to do. Add to that leaving one of our players as an onlooker for an extended portion of the game and I feel that the frustration levels from this room knock it down a peg from some of the other Breakin’ Escape offerings in spite of the décor.

Detailed Room Ratings

Venue
Host
Wow! factor
Immersiveness
Difficulty

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