After playing E.P.I. Centre and signing our team name on the victory wall (warning: there’s not much room left!), there was time for a short break before heading over the road to play Curio, Escapologic‘s latest release and the one that had blown away seemingly everyone who’d played it. I’d heard tell that this room was special but had been warned not to find out too much about it. I caution you to follow that advice!
As with all the games over the weekend, the GMing was superb but I’ll call Alfie out by name: in a venue where the staff are great, she still managed to stand out. Humour, story-telling, knowing how to handle the players – she had it all.
Be careful what you wish for…
An Englishman’s home is his castle. Or his curio if he’s a treasure hunter who’s spent a lifetime collecting trinkets from all four corners of the globe. Alexander Curio was a true eccentric. A legendary explorer who left no stone unturned in his search for gems and gimcracks. To him, life was a gamble, with fate to be decided on a whim or a flip of a coin. A mysterious loner who loved to raise the stakes until they could be raised no higher.
Alexander’s life was one big puzzle. Only a select few ever got beyond his front door. You’re about to join their exclusive ranks. At first glance, Curio looks like the home of an explorer whose passion for chasing treasures has taken him from the Thames to Timbuktu. But the clue lies in the name. Secrets lie within her seemingly innocent walls and trinkets hold the key to untold riches. Fortune favours the brave but riches come at a price.
Who is the man behind the enigma? Was his death the result of some cruel, cosmic irony? And does he really want to share the treasures hidden away within the labyrinth he calls home?
This is no ordinary home. Alexander is anything but an ordinary man. Now he’s inviting you into his world. But once you enter, there’s no going back
Inside the room
Walking into Curio felt a bit like stepping into the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. A beautifully crafted room mixing brasswork and wood to capture something akin to a Steampunk feel. Escapologic make a lot of gritty games where you’re in workshops or somewhere that’s been abandoned, so it was a pleasant change to have a room where beauty is a big part of the environment.
We couldn’t stop and look around for long, though: there was plenty to investigate. Pleasingly, while there was no shortage of things to examine, there was little if anything in the way of red herrings, and there was never any doubt about whether something was a clue or not. That let us get on quickly to the fun part of working out what the puzzles were and how to solve them. This isn’t a game where it’s always obvious what you’re meant to do next, but it never took too long to work out.
The problem with writing this review is that this game is special but in a way that’s almost impossible to write about without spoilers. I’ll say this: Curio has the single most impressive moment I’ve ever experienced in a game. A moment where I experienced total incredulity at what they’d chosen to do. I’d have played this game for that moment alone. Want to know more? Well, you’ll just have to play the game… Don’t, under any circumstances, let people tell you about what’s special in this game. Indeed, if anyone starts talking about it, I’d recommend you just walk away rather than risk a spoiler.
Fortunately, it’s not a one-trick wonder and there’s plenty more depth to the game. It’s a very linear experience but it’s one that works well: you want to stay as a group to share the puzzles, and while at times it was a little crowded with five of us, it rarely got in the way. That linearity allows them to have a clear way of indicating progress in the game and, as you make your way along the puzzle path, there are some satisfyingly physical interactions as you complete each stage.
Indeed, that physicality was present across most of the puzzles in the game and, in contrast with ones in other games I’ve played, these lent themselves to including several players. So often you come across a physical puzzle that blocks all but one or two people from being involved that having ones which at times involved all five of us was great.
As with most of Escapologic’s games, some of the “magic” is triggered by the game host. That can occasionally mean that you get an unsatisfying gap between performing an action and the magic happening. In some ways it doesn’t matter hugely, but it introduces doubt into the little moments of triumph you experience during the game. Rather than getting that rush of endorphins after solving a puzzle, you’re sometimes left with a few moments of uncertainty. Of course, the upside of that is that the technology is cheaper, isn’t temperamental and doesn’t break down.
One word of warning: There was a surprising amount of force required at the very end of the game. One of the downsides of it being such a beautiful set is that we wanted to do everything in our power to remove the risk of breaking it. That included faffing for a couple of minutes, probably longer, because we weren’t sure whether what we were doing was the right action. If you’re worried, tell the room what you’re about to do, wait for a few seconds to give the host a chance to shout, and then go for it.
As with most of the games this weekend, I didn’t keep careful track of the time, but I think we finished in around 40 minutes without taking any clues and, in the process, we broke the record.
You’ve probably guessed from the above that I liked Curio. A lot. Without a doubt, this room contained the single most impressive moment I’ve ever experienced in a game. That alone would be worthy of high marks, but add to it the beautiful design, some great puzzles and the feeling of flow, and you get one of the very best games I’ve ever played.
If you’re ever even vaguely close to Nottingham, head along and play this game.
Detailed Room Ratings
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.