Enigma Quests: The School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

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Outside the room

I’ve been following Enigma Quests‘ progress since they first launched on Facebook just over six months ago, through their successful crowdfunding campaigns and their trials and tribulations in getting their venue up and running, so I was excited to see how it had turned out.

Everything in advance looked good – they’d been giving us updates about their progress, their website was pretty and easy to use, and they even had some fairly clear plans for their next quests.

The building they’re housed in isn’t the most inspiring – you head down into the basement, through poorly decorated, grubby, industrial surrounds, but they’ve only just opened and they’re clearly still finishing off their decoration, so you’ve got to cut them a bit of slack. The waiting area is coming together nicely though, with a table football, magnetic blackwall (intrigued to find out what they do with it) and sofas and beanbags. Plenty of space for two or three groups to be briefed simultaneously, which, given their expansion plans is a good thing.

The owners, Nargiza and Dmitri, were very welcoming and clearly enthusiastic and proud of their room. That’s one of the things I really enjoy about going along just after a venue has opened – you’re likely to be hosted by the owners and get to experience their excitement.

Background

In keeping with their name, their rooms are framed as quests and not escapes. The door to this room never locked, and instead of escaping, the goal was to pass six exams on your way to becoming a wizard, including Runes, Potions, Charms and, of course, Defence Against the Dark Arts.

Inside the room

First impressions were good. While the other parts of the venue are still being decorated, as far as I’m concerned, this looked fully completed. It felt very much like an old fashioned common room, channeling the Hogwarts’ magical school theme.

One thing that might upset people is that, in keeping with the theme, they don’t have an electronic clock in the room, and instead use a (very pretty!) sand timer. As the time ticks down towards sixty minutes, you’ve got to wonder just how accurate those grains of sand are…

Once the timer had flipped though, we were down to business, with the usual searching and shouting that marks the first few minutes in a room. This is definitely a room with an above average search requirement, so our resident search aficionado was in her element. For all that finding though, we weren’t making great progress. We started to see the shape of some of the puzzles, but things were still sufficiently fuzzy that we couldn’t make the final leap.

Then I had a moment of genius. Admittedly, not one that I actually noticed, but fortunately I’ve got observant friends, and with that, things clicked. We soon passed our first exam and were rewarded with our token. That’s something I really liked about this room; each time you pass an exam you get a token which you place on special plinths. I love rooms that give you a clear sense of your progress, and if that’s something very visual, so much the better.

Throughout the game, the way you solved puzzles got top marks. In a shock turn of events for an escape room there was not one single padlock from start to finish. In fact, in keeping with a magic themed rooms, the solution to each puzzle was some form of magic (at least by the definition of Clarke’s third law). Which brings me on to what made this room particularly special – it was entirely coherent. There was a clear story, and that story pervaded the whole experience. The puzzles were themed on wizardry/learning your craft and were backed up by an equally well matched room design. Few companies have achieved that in the thirty rooms I’ve played.

While there were lots of good points, there were still a couple of negatives. Overall, I felt there was an imbalance between the early puzzles and later ones in terms of difficulty/duration, with the result that we went through the second half much faster than the first. The second thing was that the finale wasn’t as good as it could have been. When you haven’t got a door to escape out of, you have to have an alternative finish moment that’s equally satisfying, and I don’t think they quite managed it. The endgame was fun, but just that moment when you’ve finished left me wondering whether there was still something else to do.

Result

In spite of what felt like a slow start, we accelerated all the way through the game, and finished just after the 31 minute mark. In fairness, I’d come along with my most experienced escape room friends, so it was always likely that we’d get out relatively early, but this was the fastest I’ve got out of any room ever. While it’s obviously always difficult to get a room suitable for newcomers and experienced players alike, I think it’s critical that you appeal to the full range, so I feel they probably need to do some fine tuning here.

Note: I’ve since had an email from them telling me that typical escapes are 55+ minutes and the best time apart from ours is ~47 minutes (!). If you go along, please comment below on your perception of the difficulty! 

Verdict –

For a room that took little over half an hour to escape from, I was surprised to feel I’d had my money’s worth. Some days you look back on an escape room and you feel like you took too long to solve specific parts, but in this case, it was very much the opposite – I felt like we’d been lucky on several occasions.

Regardless of whether they add in a couple of extra twists to make it a little tougher, I think this is a genuinely good game, that’s fantastic for beginners, and good for more experienced players, although in the latter case, I’d probably recommend going in with three players.

The puzzles are fun, beautifully aligned with the theme and the room itself is enjoyable to spend time in. Add to that some good hosts and you’ve got a winning combination. I’d definitely recommend playing this escape room, but even more, I’m going to be following their future plans with interest, because it feels like they’re creating experiences and not just stringing some puzzles together.

Eating

We went to L’abat jour, an Italian restaurant (yes, in spite of the name), halfway between Old Street and Moorgate. The starter of garlic bread with mozarella was excellent, but I thought the pizzas let it down – far too much crust, and not the nice stone oven baked style I’d expect from a traditional Italian. That said, one of us went for fish, and by all accounts it was good, so perhaps still worth a try.

Detailed Room Ratings

Venue
Host
Wow! factor
Immersiveness
Difficulty

5 Comments


  1. // Reply

    Love the idea of an on-theme sand timer! Appreciate that it might be difficult to tell exactly how long is left (more on that in one of my upcoming reviews) but I’d be prepared to put up with it.

    On the tokens things, Curious Encounters in Macclesfield (another overdue review, sigh) has a plinth for the collection of crystals, which is a nice measure of progress. But I’d like to see a step further; where the placing of tokens (or the selection of answers, or anything really) unlocks the exit. You get that great feeling of opening the final door, while avoiding the need for an arbitrary “and then escape” story point.


  2. // Reply

    If the sand timer genuinely measured the end of the game, I wouldn’t mind, but if there’s a separate timer outside then I don’t like it as much. I quite like the idea of a game where you don’t have an exact time actually, to add to the tension.

    Re: sensing tokens. Lock’d do that in their rooms. It occurs to me that you could have some sort of theatrics built in – fanfare music plays, smoke appears round exit etc. That said – I like rooms where they don’t shoehorn a locked door in where it’s not necessary.


  3. // Reply

    I have been there today (by your advice) I really loved their reception! Bean bags and various games makes cozy atmosphere. As for general impression, I also thought that they should have some sound effects, but the game itself is very interesting and the location is convinient (liverpool street station)


  4. // Reply

    Just did this last night and had a great experience! Great hosts and can see the love and effort they put into the room, love the handwritten details and atmosphere. Very cool props, especially in the potions room. We went in with 5 people so might have been 1 too many but we all had a great time (we had complete beginners and beginners). Bravo for the bean bags, free choc & tea/coffee and party games while we wait. Also, +1 for super convenient location as well. Hope their second room (opening in a couple months and bank robbery themed with the objective to collect as money as possible) will be great too!


    1. // Reply

      Thanks for commenting – it’s great to get second opinions, especially after a few months have gone by, so some of the improvements will have been completed but they’ve also had a chance to get complacent. Sounds like it’s going well!

      I’m excited by their second room – the first showed some real flair, so I think lots of thinking time plus the experience they’ve had from watching all the teams go by will pay dividends.

      Definitely a good room for beginners – I send so many people that way when they’re a little nervous about escape rooms.

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