I’ve got a secret. While I really, really love escape rooms (you’ve noticed, right?), the thing that I get most excited about each year is A Door in a Wall. Every spring and autumn they bring out an experience that sees you rushing around some new corner of London solving puzzles, being silly and, ultimately, trying to work out whodunnit. This time round, I’d dragged 20 friends down to Camden to play Horses for Corpses.
In an attempt, I assume, to ease the overcrowding that was a problem with some of their most recent outings, they’ve switched over to a new format – every twenty minutes from 6pm till 7:40pm they have a slot for up to ten people to play. In effect, that means they have a few more players each evening but spread over a significantly longer period.
In the starting gate
At our start time, we crowded into Dylan O’Dill’s office (yes, it’s a terrible pun. If that offends you, then A Door in a Wall is most definitely not for you), where we were greeted by Dylan’s secretary, who explained the story and how the game would work. From there, we were shown into the crime scene itself: a little nosey around, an introduction from one of the characters and some basic puzzle-solving to warm us up. Perfect.
In previous events, with fifty people starting at the same time, there’s always been a very professional on-theme introduction followed by a multi-character theatrical performance to set the scene. The nature of this event meant that was no longer possible, and it felt significantly weaker for it. The secretary was nowhere near the calibre of the typical event actors and, while he tried his best and ad-libbed reasonably well, he strayed in and out of character at times and left me very much with the feeling that he was introducing a game rather than showing some detectives into the crime scene.
The crime scene was better, but still felt quite weak – the more personal introduction by a single actress and some directed puzzle-hunting was a nice idea but, for me, it felt a bit flat. There was too much spoon-feeding of puzzles – each team was sent to a specific place and told what to look at – and with only twenty minutes for the whole introduction and puzzle-solving, it was clear that we needed to get to the answer quickly to move off on time.
And they’re off
With the opening scene complete, we headed out into the twilight to investigate Dylan O’Dill’s death. The new format of ten players per slot meant that we quickly agreed to head towards different trails, thus avoiding rushing off headlong to get to the first trail and getting stuck in a queue. This definitely worked better than previous outings, as we generally steered clear of rival teams. Disappointingly, they’d cut the number of trails down to five, of which only three had character interactions. A Door in a Wall is at its absolute best when it’s getting you to make a fool of yourself in some (nice!) way or making you spout forth absolute rubbish on a topic you know nothing about. With only three real opportunities to do that, you may feel a little shortchanged compared to previous years. The good news is that the best of the interactions is probably one of my all-time favourites, and the other two are still good fun.
Puzzle-wise, if you’ve played some of the previous games, you’ll recognise the style of a fair few of the steps along the trails. However, there’s definitely some entirely new material to challenge you, and fans of this site will be pleased to hear that at least one puzzle felt like it had been influenced by escape rooms. As usual, they’ve got some of the local businesses on board with helping out and, while that shouldn’t really make much difference, it always brings a smile to my face.
Unusually, the highlight for me this year wasn’t one of the interactions. Not because they weren’t good but because one of the clues was just brilliantly produced, taking a very recognisable item and customising it to fit with the horse theme in a way that I found hilarious. It’s little touches like this that impress me so much with A Door in a Wall – I always remember the first game of theirs that I played, coming home with a pile of leaflets, newspaper articles and adverts that held a variety of clues.
The Home Straight
With the trails completed, we headed back to Stables Market to sit down and discuss what we thought had happened. A word of warning: all the eateries close relatively early and there’s nowhere to buy drinks, so I’d recommend either heading to a local pub or grabbing something when you pass Sainsbury’s or Morrisons.
Sifting through the pieces of paper that we’d picked up, the clues we’d been told and the things we’d photographed (you’re encouraged to take pictures on your way round), we slowly pieced together our story and worked out who we thought had done it and why.
And so it was back to the start for our wrap-up piece of theatre. Unlike in previous games, where you hand in your answers and wait around while they mark them, this time round it’s a much more personal experience. We had an experienced actor performing the finale, and he was great at teasing the players, helping people out went hey were struggling and generally making sure that everyone understood who the murderer was and why. And, for the avoidance of doubt, it made logical sense.
Did we win? Well, yes and no. We found every last jot of evidence (which is no mean feat at these events) and we chose the correct murderer. But we didn’t get all our logic right, having ruled out one of the three people for entirely the wrong reason… Still, a win is a win, right?
I’m torn. On the one hand, this was a fun evening, with some interesting individual puzzles, a clever and complex overarching mystery, good use of technology, character interactions that were fun and wandering around the perfect location for the game. On the other hand, of the five A Door in a Wall events I’ve taken part in, this felt by far the weakest. There weren’t as many new ideas, there were fewer character interactions and the intro seemed of poorer quality.
Should you play? Yes but, if you’ve played their games before, my advice would be to go in with your eyes open. I applaud their experimentation with this event – if they didn’t try out new stuff, then the performances would become stale. It definitely hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm. I’m still massively looking forward to their autumn show and keeping my fingers crossed that they may create a new monthly outing to follow on from A Veiled Threat.
A Door in a Wall are still in a class of their own when it comes to puzzly immersive experiences.