Perhaps this should be entitled “How I got into escape rooms”, because, back in 2013, this was what started me on the path. I’d been tasked with organising a trip to Brussels for 120 people, and I needed to put together various activities to entertain them on the Saturday. Go karting, beer brewing and chocolate making all seemed reasonably safe options. I understood what was involved, could imagine how it would work, and was reasonably confident people would have a good time.
I needed one more activity though. One that was a little more outdoorsy, for those who wanted to use up some energy. Truth be told there wasn’t much choice in Brussels for activities that I could argue were team building, but I came across the Perfect Plus website. They seemed to run a whole host of team building activities, such as cooking, treasure hunts and tours, but the one that attracted me was a detective game called “Brussels is Burning”. It seemed to be some sort of souped-up treasure hunt meets murder mystery event. I’d never seen anything like it, but it sounded like the sort of thing that my colleagues might enjoy. Or absolutely hate, if it turned out to be too corporate…
Forty or so of us gathered in an upstairs room of a bar in central Brussels and were given the background story. A mafia boss has stolen a whole load of explosives and planted them somewhere in the city. Unfortunately, before he can extract a ransom, he’s murdered. In teams of six to eight people you need to roam Brussels’ streets talking to the protaganists, finding clues and solving the mystery to save Brussels from being blown up. There was a slide show (with video I think) as well as a presentation from the game host. Split into several teams, we were sent out to the city to solve the mystery.
The action is all set in the heart of Brussels, in very much the same style as the a Door in a Wall game we played recently. The key experiences were interactions with various protagonists which were interspersed with bits of treasure hunting.
The interactions were varied and the actors played them to perfection. First up we had to interview the widow in a cafe. We’d been given a picture and a general vicinity, so we wandered the area till we found her, and then two of our number went and sat down in the adjoining table. They struck up a conversation, and moved it slowly on to a variety of subjects that allowed us to answer the questions we’d been given. The rest of us watched on surreptitiously, wondering if our team mates would manage to extract the right tidbits.
Next up we had to find the deceased’s son and tail him for a while before striking up a conversation with him too. There was something fun about looking for a random person in a crowd, using a slightly grainy photo, and tailing him while wondering whether or not he was the right person.
That action was repeated when we met up with a member of the Russian Mafia. This was a lot of fun, with us tailing him for about fifteen minutes, swapping between different members so that he wouldn’t get suspicious until we got the opportunity to pick pocket him. In truth, that was slightly disturbing, because at no point did he say he was definitely an actor, so there was some concern that we’d end up with the wrong person. Indeed one of the other teams started off by tailing entirely the wrong target…
At the end of that, I was the one who drew the short straw and had to distract the mafioso while my colleagues attempted the pick pocket. I acted out the part of a tourist (convenient…) and asked him to take my photo. He claimed not to speak English, only Russian, which was an unfortunate decision on his part, because I *do* speak a little bit of Russian, and launched into my best GCSE phrases. He was somewhat flummoxed, but I relented and switched back to English, at which point he gratefully agreed to take the photo.
All was going really well, until he said he couldn’t work out how to use the camera because he was expecting to see a picture on the screen. I explained that it worked just like a normal camera and pressed the “play” button to show that the camera was indeed on. Of course, the first thing that came up was a photo I’d taken while we’d been tailing him. A photo that was very clearly of him… Oops – guess I wouldn’t make a very good spy either.
The rest of the event was much more traditional treasure hunt – wandering the town getting clues from the buildings, shops and monuments, until eventually we had enough information to decypher the riddle and head for the bomb’s location…
Our team won, with one of our team members running into a hotel lobby and semi-shouting at the receptionist “Is there a bomb in the building?”. Fortunately there was (at least a fake one!) or we might still be locked up in a dungeon somewhere in the Belgian capital.
This wasn’t the most polished game in the world, with fairly rubbish puzzles, hard to guess cryptic clues, and nothing like the lavish set up you get at an a Door in a Wall experience, but it was fun nonetheless, and eventually it got me hooked on escape games, so I can’t complain!