Handmade Mysteries: Poppa Plock

Outside the room

I once wrote a review of Handmade Mysteries‘ other game that began “Lady Chastity’s Reserve is not something to be taken lightly”. It’s taken almost two years for them to bring out a new game, but you most definitely can take this one lightly. Like its older sisters, Poppa Plock is located in a lively pub (the Depot) and GMed by an in-game character, this time a toy soldier by the name of Wynne. Where Gabriel had grandeur and presence, Wynne is very much the fool – expect silliness to replace seriousness right from the moment he finds you in the pub with his feathered hat…

After signing you in and treating you to a little innuendo, he’ll take you up to the game itself just across the courtyard. From when you meet him right through to the fond farewells, he’ll stay in character, even to the point of jumping in puddles like a small child on the way over to the experience.

This is one of those few ticketed escape rooms in London and, as a consequence, we played with the maximum capacity of six. If you book with fewer than five, you’ll most likely be joined by random strangers.

Background

Your host, Wynne, holds the key to Poppa Plock’s workshop, filled with twisted toys and crazy contraptions, rigged for your pleasure. Your team will be tasked to build ‘Roy’, the finest toy to ever walk the earth. Discover the mysterious disappearance of the toy maker and choose the path of right, or the path of oh so very wrong.

Inside the room

I have to confess to not being very used to playing in rooms at maximum occupancy. Aside from worrying about getting in your teammates’ way, it also means that the knowledge of the room is much more subdivided. It may be that, by the time you find a puzzle, someone else has already encountered the clue to solve it. The result of that was me feeling a bit lost for a while as I wandered aimlessly round the room looking at what jumped out as interesting but in a very unsystematic way. It also meant that I missed out on more of the game than usual and so, while I tried to piece it all together afterwards, this review is very much based on my experience of the game. Fortunately, the room is large enough that there’s at least no sense of overcrowding. On the other hand, there are plenty of other objects in the room, so there’s a real danger of getting caught up in sifting through red herrings.

If you follow their guidance, though, you should stay on the right track and away from too many diversions with what is a well directed series of puzzles – enough to move you in the right direction but not so much that you feel like you’re just being walked through puzzle after puzzle.

As I searched round the room, I found the decoration to be very hit and miss. In some places, it was top notch, with fantastic animatronics to bring Oki Cokio, the ventriloquist’s dummy, to life. In other places, the walls were scrawled on – this was presumably an attempt to evoke some sense of the toy maker losing his mind but, for me, it was just another example of the game straying a bit too far into red herring territory (or possibly not – I’ll leave you to decide what, if any, of the writing is relevant).

Throughout the game, you’ll get nudged along by a combination of Wynne and Oki Cokio. At times, the combination of background audio and a stylised voice made it really hard to hear the latter, with pretty much every member of our team commenting on the difficulties even when standing very close and concentrating. Admittedly, it’s a difficult balance – removing the background audio and/or making the puppet’s voice less stylised would likely have taken away from the experience but, for me, the frustration of not being able to hear outweighed the extra immersion, and it was clear that feeling was prevalent.

There was a reasonable selection of puzzles through the game that took advantage of the toy shop theme. From what I could tell, the experience was almost entirely linear, which meant that we often had four or five of us watching on while someone tried a padlock or progressed a particular part of the game. That became particularly frustrating when we encountered a puzzle that took some skill to complete. Four of us stood watching on for what seemed like an eternity with pretty much nothing we could do. Linear games aren’t always problematic, but the puzzles need to be designed so that either you can work on them together as a team or, once you’ve worked out what you need to do, the puzzle’s over and you can move onwards. When you fail to do that, you get left with people getting bored and frustrated.

Given the experience at Lady Chastity, I was fully expecting an obvious goal to the game and a good finale when we got there.  The good news is that they delivered on that front. It was clear right from the start what we had to do and how we should do it. When we got to the end, there was a fitting finale to the experience, and the only negative was a minor technical hitch that left us feeling a little unsure about whether we’d fully finished.

Result

We escaped with around 43 minutes having been given a couple of clues.

Verdict –
 

This was another fun experience from Handmade Mysteries but one that I find very hard to rate. Six enthusiasts in this room felt like far too many and, while I’ve played plenty of games where that would be true, here, because of the ticketing system, you’re pretty much forced to have five or six people. In such a linear room that reduced our fun and, in particular, on the puzzle where only two people could take part, it meant that two thirds of the party were left watching on with little to do.

For those of you who’ve played Lady Chastity, you’ll be pleased to hear that I think they’ve massively improved the puzzle side of their game – they were far more interesting and involved than in the predecessor. They’d retained the theatre but, while good in its own right, it disappointed me in comparison to the first outing.

Overall, it was a fun experience and perfect for a night out with friends, but there were just a few too many areas that left me feeling a bit frustrated for me to be raving about this game.

Eating

The Depot looked like it had a decent selection of food – pizzas, steaks, burgers and more but, for various reasons, we headed over to Wahaca in Islington which was, as ever, excellent.

Detailed Room Ratings

Venue
Host
Wow! factor
Immersiveness
Difficulty

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