As we head into 2018, it’s time to take one last look at the year gone by. An obsession turned into an addiction, and I ended the year having played 396 games across the UK and into Europe – Poland, Spain, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany. 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: several 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 the ones that make me smile the most:
Escapologic – Nottingham, UK
Escapologic have a strong reputation among enthusiasts, but none of their games is spoken about in quite the same tone as Curio. For me, it stands head and shoulders above the rest. Playing this game is like joining Fight Club – the first rule of having played Curio is that you don’t talk about Curio.
It’s got a beautiful set, good puzzles, a strong finale and that something extra to make it a fantastic game.
AI Escape – London, UK
Mental illness crops up in many of the escape rooms I’ve played, but Kill M.A.D. is the only one that treats it in a truly sensitive way. As you wander through Sally Star King Hospital you may not always be comfortable, but you’ll always be impressed. Most escape rooms encourage you to rush from puzzle to puzzle, but here they’ve specifically extended the game time to allow you to relax and take in everything along the route. As I said in the original review, this was a game that, in some sense, you could neither win nor lose, merely experience. If you get the chance, go and experience it!
Time Run – London, UK
Sequels are never as good as the originals but, for me, Time Run’s second offering just had the edge over its older sibling, Lance of Longinus. It deserves to sit in this list in its own right for being a fantastically fun and challenging game, but I also appreciate that they took a risk creating an experience that was very different to everything else I’d come across before. Many people will say that the risk didn’t pay off but, for me, even if it hadn’t, they should still be applauded for doing something unusual.
Locked in Edinburgh – Edinburgh, UK
I’ve never played a game that challenged me anything like as much as this one did. Yes, playing as a three in a minimum four-player game was a factor, but this room is just packed full of puzzles to a level that few others can match. By the time we’d finished, I was pretty much unable to talk – my brain had melted down and I was still trying to work out what my team mates had been up to. It’s not just about the number of puzzles though: they’re on theme, they’re fun, fair and logical, and they use tech to produce impressive results.
I believe they’ve since updated this game with additional clues and directions, so I can’t comment on whether that level of challenge is still as high.
Real Escape Room Wien – Vienna, Austria
Locking yourself in a coffin has no right to be this much fun. Real Escape Rooms create quirky experiences that show the owner isn’t just a businessman but a true enthusiast. What he’d created was an incredibly original and fun experience with one moment in particular that made me laugh out loud.
Enigma – Budapest, UK
An escape room across an entire house packed full of puzzles. This was basically an enthusiast’s play park, which is more than enough to get it into this list.
The Chamber – Prague, the Czech Republic
I’m not really into scary rooms, so for one to impress me takes something really special. And this was really very special. They started messing with our psychology from before we even started, with a host of small things to intensify that sense of insecurity throughout the experience. On top of that, there’s a moment in this game that is just utterly stunning.
The Padlock – Prague, the Czech Republic
A 99-minute game is every enthusiast’s dream, but this one will long live on in my memory for the opening scene, where I was utterly convinced we’d stepped outdoors because there was no way they could create that sense of immersion just by decorating.
My Escape Club – Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Few games have a sense of mission like Judgement Day. If you ever want to feel like you’re John Connor from Terminator, then I’d highly recommend this game.
Boom Chicago – Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Although this is now closed, Escape through Time was a theatrical escape room from a comedy company. That sense of comedy ran through the game – no other game has reduced the team to laughter in quite the same way.
Sherlocked – Amsterdam, the Netherlands
A game that has so many things going for it that it’s hard to pick out just one or two reasons for it to be in this list. Perhaps the best way to sum it up is to explain that, when I remember the experience, I often do so in third person – as if I was watching a film – and that’s because at times it truly felt as if we were in a film rather than just playing a game.
Clockwork Dog – London, UK
Another pop-up game, another hit. Clockwork Dog seem to be able to create games that people just adore. So much so this time that the game was taken on by the Panic Room and can now be played in Gravesend. The premise was great, especially the immersion towards the end and the panic which it led to.
The Panic Room – Gravesend, UK
The Panic Room managed to create a real-life fairy tale in Old Father Time. It’s hard to express how utterly amazing the start of this game is: it was almost as if I’d walked into a Disney attraction. One that I’ll definitely be returning to with midi-Logic and mini-Logic.
Escape in the Towers – Canterbury, UK
Creating a good game is hard enough, but doing so in a building that you can’t modify must be almost impossible. Definitely not impossible, though, because Escape in the Towers absolutely nailed it with their experience. It took something special to do the medieval towers justice, but they absolutely managed it.
The Escapement – Margate, UK
Anyone that takes an entire ship to pieces in order to create an authentic experience deserves a mention here. The Escapement managed to do that and fill it with fun puzzles to create a game that was a joy to be in.
Zagadkownia – Warsaw, Poland
I remember being impressed by a particular room we played a while back but having this nagging feeling that they’d left a lot on the table. Changing Reality took a similar concept and delivered it pretty much perfectly. It was beautiful, clever, eerie and serene, all wrapped up in one experience.
The Game – Paris, France
You know what would be a great idea? Creating a game that feels like you’re inside a plane. Any sensible company would have tried to scale it down to be just enough seats for the maximum number of players. But not here: they went the whole hog and created a game that might leave you nervous about your next holiday…
Masters of Time
Hidden in Hamburg – Hamburg, Germany
Linear games can be fun but are often frustrating for enthusiasts because it’s hard to get involved. Master of Time fixed that problem by making a string of puzzles that the whole team could help with. Factor in a truly impressive opening physical puzzle that engaged the whole team and you’ve got a game that absolutely deserves to be here.
Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Crying Lady
Skurrilum – Hamburg, Germany
Trust me. You should play this game. Watch this space for the full review but nothing I say will do this experience justice.
Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death
Skurrilum – Hamburg, Germany
Two games with the same general theme from the same company? Surely they can’t be *that* good? Yes. Yes, they can. These were the most complete games I’ve played: theatre, audio, set, puzzles, finale, transitions, sense of exploration. They had everything. And yes, they both firmly deserve to be here.
Co-decode – Swindon, UK
No game in the UK seems to have the same attention to detail as Co-decode in terms of creating engaging puzzles and amazing props. In fact, the props were so good that I couldn’t help but re-enter the game to play a bit more with some of the mechanisms. This was craftsmanship at its finest.
Trapped In – Bury, UK
Interstellar was a solid game that delivered a brilliant final sequence that really made me feel like I was on the Starship Enterprise during a crisis. If you’ve ever longed to be Picard (or Sisko or Janeway) then this is the game for you.
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for several of these games (Curio, The Celestial Chain, Secret Lab, both Skurrilum games, Co-decode’s game and Interstellar). That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.