As we head into 2017, it’s time to take one last look back at 2016. A hobby turned into an obsession and I ended the year having played 110 games across London, the South East, the North West, Budapest and Spain. From those games, I’ve picked out the ones that I look back on with particular fondness and awarded them a golden key. That’s not just a case of taking the top ranked rooms – some five star rooms didn’t make the cut while other lower rated rooms did.
To paraphrase the Room Escape Artist from whom this idea is shamelessly stolen – there’s no such thing as a perfect room but some rooms make you smile long after you’ve escaped. Here are those rooms:
Extremescape – Disley, near Manchester
A theme park quality set where I genuinely had to remind myself that I was meant to be playing a game and shouldn’t just stare around in wonder.
Enter the Oubliette – London
A game that brought an Orwellian dystopia to life that was as close to a theatrical performance as any escape room I’ve played.
clueQuest – London
Most of the games in this list are what I’d refer to as “independents” but Revenge of the Sheep showed that big companies can still create amazing games. Considering the small footprint of the game, they’d packed in so many revelations and the centrepiece to the game was a joy to interact with.
AI Escape – London
I described this as “a connoisseur’s game, one that I think will grow on you over time and leave you with some fond memories“. I was right – seven months later I most definitely have fond memories of this beautiful game and the combination of melancholy and calmness that it managed to evoke. Even better, they’ve continued to evolve it in the intervening period and all recent enthusiasts’ visits have been very positive.
Clockwork Dog – London
Popup games simply have no right to be this good. It was an absolute travesty that it only ran for three weeks. From the moment we arrived and were greeted by the executors of Langstroth’s will to the finale of the game, which would have blown me away even in a permanent escape room, it was clear that the pair behind Clockwork Dog meant business. Look out for their next popup which is due out early this year.
Escape Quest – Macclesfield
The combination of creepiness, a variety of sub-themes within the funhouse, the golden ticket format, the sheer fun and a ninety minute game added up to an amazing experience. Sadly, you’ve missed the chance to play this game but you can play its little brother, Mr Chuckles’ Funhouse.
The White Mission
Gozsdu Mission – Budapest, Hungary
No story and no real theme beyond the colour. I’d heard interesting things about this room and while I can see why it might not be to everyone’s taste, I adored the sense of discovery – of slowly uncovering puzzles in a seemingly empty room.
Heaven & Hell
E-Exit – Budapest, Hungary
Good games tell a story, great games take you through that story. Heaven & Hell did that and more. It’s hard to believe they packed so much into an hour without feeling like we were being rushed. The more I reflected on the game, the more respect I had for what they’d come up with. If you’re ever in Budapest then you should definitely visit.
Legacy of Noo’zaca (the Aztec game)
MindQuest – Budapest, Hungary
Sometimes games come along at just the right time. When you’re playing your eighth escape game of the day, you should come out shattered but I came out of this one bouncing. The game had a beautiful set, fun tactile puzzles and was just pure fun from start to finish. Considering what I’ve seen and heard about other games from this stable, it’s a real surprise just how good this Aztec themed game was.
Bewilder Box – Brighton
I summed it up pretty well in the review: The introduction is excellent, the games masters are fun, the puzzles are logical, enjoyable, and plentiful, the theming is attractive, charming and pervasive, the story is engaging and the game flowed from start to finish. What’s not to like?
The Book of Secrets
Clue Adventures – London
Make no mistake, the Book of Secrets was a fun room, but it was one moment in the game that really blew me away and made me include it here. Any game that gets you to perform a magic trick and where you cannot fathom how that magic trick worked is surely worthy of an accolade?
Extremescape – Disley near Manchester
The only venue with two entries in this list, I went into their second game with pretty high expectations and they still exceeded them. Jaw-dropping moments in a beautiful room with two different themes made this game a real highlight of the year. The review’s yet to be published but this extract might give you a clue as to just how impressed I was: “Move over Time Run, I’ve got a new favourite game.“
ClueCapers – Winchester
If you were only going to play a single escape room in your life then I don’t think I’d include Winchokey on my shortlist. It’s certainly a good game but it’s not right up at the top. But, let’s be honest, you’ve probably already played quite a few and when you’ve played a lot, Winchokey stands out from the crowd. I struggle to think of another game which is so packed full of inventive and original puzzles.
Escape Room Bournemouth – Bournemouth
The very last game I played in 2016 and what a way to end the year. You could tell from well before you entered the room that this was something special. A beautiful waiting area, an even more impressive briefing space and yet another step up for the game itself. It didn’t just look beautiful though – the puzzles were well designed and there was more than a hint of theatre to the experience. Definitely a great way to say goodbye to 2016.
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for several of these games (the Pirate Ship, Revenge of the Sheep, The Book of Secrets and Winchokey). That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.