Outside the room
Aftermath is an unusual escape room company in that it runs ninety-minute games, caters for teams of up to twenty-five people and runs the experience in any suitably-sized space rather than a dedicated venue. As you may imagine, it’s very much geared towards the corporate market, with them bringing along the cases and props to your conference room and running the game from the comfort of your own building. That said, the website does make it clear that you can hire the game for birthday parties in a pub but, given that even if you play with 25 people, you’ll be paying north of £25 per head on top of your room hire and that the only standard slots are weekdays before 6:30pm, it feels like that’s going to be a rarely used option.
There’s relatively little setting up to be done – the GM, Agent 12, turns up with a couple of cases and some files and is ready to run the game literally a few minutes after their arrival, although I suspect that a little time alone in the room to finalise their set-up is useful.
With that out of the way, you’re ready to start the game, courtesy of an in-character introduction from Agent 12 and a video briefing that sets out why your expertise is needed.
The body of the respected investigative reporter, Emilia Sarnowska, is found murdered after a cryptic and distressing email message is sent to The Ministry. The cause of death is unknown. Across the globe, dark forces prepare to execute the last stage of an insidious plan that will threaten the entire world. For you, it’s a normal day. It’s a party, a get-together, a work meeting.
But that will soon be shattered when The Ministry arrive, bringing you Emilia’s luggage asking you to unlock a dark conspiracy and save the world… This is an acclaimed, immersive, non-linear Escape Game experience which brings the danger to your door. You build the team, we bring the mission to you. If you can hold your nerve, you might just save the world – and avert The Aftermath…
Inside the room
The game starts with a rather uninspiring set of props: a small evidence bag, a suitcase and a handful of files that look like they involve a fair amount of reading. Given that this game is likely to be run in a conference room, it’s always going to be hard to create a visually immersive world, so the focus instead has to be on creating a story that players build up over the course of the game. They’ve done well on that front, getting you to fit together pieces of the jigsaw throughout the experience until you eventually start to see how the various parts of the storyline hang together and interconnect.
And there are a *lot* of things to connect: the difficulty in this game is not in solving the individual puzzles but in trying to find the right pieces of information and props to connect. What started off as a relatively small number of things to look at rapidly grew to fill out the massive table we were working at with a host of interconnected, parallelised puzzles. I must admit I was dubious when they said it was suitable for 5-25 people, but there really was more than enough content for the eight of us to be looking at things independently and, while twenty would have been way too many from my point of view, that would have been in the way communications would have scaled rather than in the raw content.
The real fun in this game comes from the communication side of the experience, as perhaps befits something that will be used for corporate events. Sub-teams formed and reformed throughout the game as people started working on interesting props they’d found, helped by other people handing them potentially interesting pieces of evidence that might help with their part of the investigation.
The puzzles themselves were a mixed bag. At times, it was just a case of finding a piece of information from an email while, at other points in the game, there were real puzzles to be solved. While they were generally logical, they were rarely very exciting; instead, the joy came from getting past the hurdle and finding out what lay behind. As with murder mysteries generally, there were a couple of places where it started to feel that things were a little tenuous, but not so much that it spoiled affairs.
The agent watches on throughout to make sure that you stay on track and point you in the right direction if you’re looking a little lost. We had a pretty good bunch of players, so he rarely intervened. When he did, however, he managed to do so in a way that didn’t break the immersion, instead just gently nudging us to make sure we’d thoroughly investigated specific props.
It’s worth talking about one particular choice they’d made in building their game that I can see significant positives and negatives with. Many of the “solutions” we encountered could be extracted from several different puzzles. In some ways that worked well – it’s something that might happen in the real world, and it meant that the game didn’t break down if one part of the team failed to solve a puzzle. For me, though, it took away that moment of excitement as I finally cracked a puzzle only to find that the info I’d received from it was irrelevant. At best it was demotivating, and at worst it was positively confusing.
The finale did a good job of pulling together the story, giving us some fun interactions with one of the characters and then a closing sequence that helped to fill in some of the details we might have missed. That’s also the point at which you have to hand in your answers – this game gives you a set of around ten questions to determine how well you’ve solved all the mysteries. While I’m a fan of variable-difficulty challenges, the scorecard at the end was a bit of an anticlimax, although we might have felt a little differently if we’d been pressed for time at the end.
We used pretty much the full 90 minutes and managed to get a final score of 14/15 along the way. We received a couple of nudges in the right direction from the agent in the room. And one nudge in entirely the wrong direction because we were going too fast… grrr.
On the Brink was a fun, pleasantly chaotic game with a real sense of investigation and an interesting overarching storyline. I think it would be easy to get lost, but with a good GM on hand to point you back in the right direction, you should get to finish the experience in the ninety minutes. The logic felt a little shaky at times, and the puzzle content could have been better but, for an eight-player game, it was pretty impressive.
It’s hard to know the right number of people for this experience. If you’re the sort of team who can communicate and self-organise well, I think you could quite happily get away with ten or twelve. Beyond that and I think enthusiasts are likely to start getting frustrated with their level of involvement. I wouldn’t drop much lower than eight, though, as there is a lot of material to sift through.