When I’m not escaping, working or spending time with my family, you’ll most likely find me running. Unlike with escaping, it’s been a slow burning romance, where I started off hating it, started to like it, then love it, and eventually became addicted to it. I’m a bit of a loner though and most of my runs are early morning affairs with only myself for company. That’s not to say I don’t like company, so when I first heard about City Dash I was definitely interested. After skimming through the website though, I came to the conclusion (probably wrongly – see below) that it felt too running-y for my non-running friends and not running-y enough for my running friends.
Which is a shame, because I’ve always enjoyed silly running related stuff. For example, a few years ago I got utterly hooked on a two week “game” called “Nike Grid” where I ended up shuttling between phone boxes in various postcodes around London accumulating points (and 250 miles of running…). In some ways, City Dash seemed to be a fairly natural evolution of that game (albeit with slightly shorter timescales…).
When I heard about Code Red, a new puzzlier version of City Dash, I knew I had to get my escape room friends on board. It basically seemed to be a pseudo-orienteering event, where the points were defined by cryptic clues. It promised to even the field up by giving non-runners more of a chance. Secretly, of course, I was hoping that it would give me a massive advantage, with my love of both puzzles and running. Oh, how naive…
I have to confess though, that I was still surprised when I got eight positive responses to my email. I duly entered three teams which presented me with a bit of a dilemma – were we “Up for a Challenge” or “In for a laugh”? Again, I was a bit surprised that everyone went for the challenge option. Even I was nervous about being part of a running challenge, but I bit my tongue and signed us up accordingly.
I thought that would be it until we arrived at the bar for the briefing, but no, from around 24 hours before the event, we started getting clues. The first set were a list of cryptic clues with corresponding grid references. We didn’t pay a huge amount of attention to them, which in retrospect was probably a mistake, but we took a look at a couple and realised that they would lead us to particular areas around Covent Garden, and that we would probably get a map which made it clear where the grid references corresponded to.
Then, a couple of hours before we were due to leave for the game, we got another email through, this time with some coded messages. It was an interesting set of codes, with two of them crackable almost instantly, one taking a minute and another taking us a few minutes. It was a nice idea though – it’s hard to fit in solving difficult puzzles during an hour racing round central London, so by sending us various clues in advance, they gave us a chance to look at them with a bit more breathing room, and in the process extended the experience and built up the excitement. Well played City Dash!
And so it was at around 8pm we turned up at the Maple Leaf Bar. We picked up our pretty looking mission folders (which those of you who were paying attention might have noticed I reused in last week’s treasure hunt) and started studying the map while pinning on our numbers. Pinning on the numbers was a particular joy, since we had to put one on the front and one of the back, while in a crowded bar, and using the tiniest safety pins known to man.
This was our first chance to check out the opposition, and I was pleased to see that they looked, well, normal. If they hadn’t been dressed in slightly too sporty clothes, they were just the typical sort of people you’d see in a London bar. Granted, there were a couple of serious runners there, but the vast majority looked like they were just out to have fun. Fantastic!
Before we knew it, the game was due to start and Gwyn (the main organiser), took us all outside for the last minute briefing. He explained the rules, when we had to get back and urged us to play safe. Apparently being run over by a bus not only meant you would lose all your points, but it might kill you too. Damn it – I didn’t want to get zero points, so I’d best play it safe.
As soon as the briefing was over, teams sprinted off into the distance. As well as getting points for each checkpoint you discovered, you got bonus points for any checkpoint that you discovered first, which explains why everyone was so keen to get started. It was noticeable later on in the game that very few people were running hard. Or, in many cases, running at all.
We headed for a clue on a bike rack to start with, because it seemed a little obscure, and we thought we might have a chance at first hit. We eventually found the rack, but couldn’t understand the clue properly, until eventually a local pointed out the sticker we were looking for. That kind of random interaction was one of the fun aspects of playing a game of this type in the centre of London. After thanking him, we typed the code into the webpage, and, kaboom, we had scored our first points.
Immediately we headed off for a second checkpoint, which was when we found our first guard. MALICE guards are the bad guys in the game, tasked with stopping the runners from tracking down the codes. If they spot you successfully, not only do you lose points, but all the current clues in that quadrant are frozen, so you have to move on to a new location. We dashed off in the opposite direction, furtively glancing over our shoulder every ten steps to make sure he wasn’t following us. And this, this was what I loved. Wandering round the centre of London, shiftily ducking behind cars, peeking round corners and sprinting down side streets. God knows what the locals thought. Actually, I know exactly what they though because one of them said we should grow up when we explained what we were doing. Grow up? Never! This was way too much fun.
Having successfully evaded detection, we headed on to find more clues. Truth be told, I was a hopeless navigator and quickly left my team mate to sort that side of things out. My job was to run fast and search for codes. I wasn’t great at the code searching either. And since we were in a team, running fast didn’t help. Yes, it turned out I was pretty useless, but I had lots of fun nonetheless :-).
During the game various additional clues appeared to guide us to new codes, or help us find some of the ones that had already been advertised. We never took advantage of it, but one other scoring method is to spot the guards and enter their codes on the web page – next time, I definitely want to give that a go!
If I had to give one piece of criticism, some of the clues seemed a little bit obscure and some of the hiding places were pretty tricky, but given that every one of them was found by at least one team I can’t complain too much – they probably got the level right.
As the hour came to an end, we had one last challenge given to us – a bonus of 100 points was on offer for signing in at the bar before the game ended. That was a neat way of encouraging people back without having too stringent a cut off (plus it boosted everyone’s point score by 100, which helped the feelgood factor!).
There was one team there that looked super serious and sprinted off at an amazing pace. Apart from that, our three teams were the only other ones in the “Up for a Challenge” category, so it’s not entirely surprising that we finished in second, third and fourth places. That was enough to bag us two prizes, so we went home happy, and since my specific team came in second, I was doubly happy.
Afterwards, we headed back to the bar for food and sat around chatting with some of the other teams (notably one from Thinking Bob who were very friendly, especially after we shared our chocolate prize). It’s a shame more people didn’t hang around afterwards, but with us all going outside for the final presentation, I guess it felt like a good time to head off.
This was a great event put on by a fun organisation. An hour really isn’t very long to be going on a search/run/chase/hide event, but they managed to make it work well, and the relative shortness of the event probably made it significantly more accessible to non-runners. I can give it no greater praise than to tell you that by the time I got home, my team was already busy organising our next outing, and within a day or two we’d booked two more of their events…
Don’t go along to this thinking it’s a deadly serious event. Go along expecting to be a bit silly and have a lot of fun, and you won’t be disappointed.