Breakin’ Escape (London): Sherlock’s Despair

Outside the room

I’ve said for a very long time that London deserves a great Sherlock room, so I was excited to see whether Breakin’ Escape would provide one. Given that it’s the home of 221B Baker Street and that Sherlock stories fit well with the concept of an escape room, you’d have thought it would have happened already, but I’ve always found them disappointing. How would Breakin’ fare?


21st of October 1891, London. Newspapers announce the death of one of the greatest detectives that has ever lived… Sherlock was working for the past months on the most important case in his career. He had become isolated and he had lost touch with the outside world.

He was last seen on a dark alley in Westminster…the next day, a body was brought in to the King’s Hill Hospital morgue matching his description. It is your duty now, as Sherlock’s faithful assistant, to go into his office and unravel the mystery surrounding his death by solving his last case, but be careful, the one behind Sherlock’s murder may now be after you…

Inside the room

Some games crash and burn. Sometimes that’s because of poor design, sometimes it’s lack of a story and setting, sometimes it’s because of problems with the GMing and sometimes it’s down to the players. Sometimes it’s a mixture of all of them. For me, Sherlock’s Despair was that game.

The room itself is pretty enough but nothing compared to some of the other games in the Breakin’ stable. In some sense, it’s a reasonably well decorated old-school escape room full of furniture and combination locks. It’s hard to see how you could do anything more than that but, equally, it didn’t overwhelm me. It was a pleasant environment to be in, nothing more, and it didn’t feel as well constructed (or possibly maintained). For example, we had to use a fair amount of force to open drawers – never a good thing in a room when you’re told not to use force elsewhere.

The puzzles were varied, with a couple of physical elements and some pretty cerebral items on offer. The more involved puzzles might use a level of maths that some people find off-putting, and another difficult puzzle could be argued to be outside-the-room knowledge (although I wouldn’t expect it to be an issue for teams that play escape rooms). I usually love cerebral puzzles, but these just seemed a bit tedious rather than challenging.

Maybe not amazing, but that sounds OK, doesn’t it. Where did it go wrong? Well, there was a fairly major mis-set in this room that resulted in us getting access to several of the puzzles out of order. It’s already a room where you have access to many puzzle parts from the start, so having even more partial puzzle information made it pretty confusing.

That would probably still have been OK but for the fact that we produced two very clear four-digit codes that didn’t work in any of the locks. Everyone in the team tried them both. On every lock. Twice. It was a frustrating experience and, combined with the mis-set, we lost our faith in the room. In my opinion, the GM should have spotted that frustration and offered to guide us to the solution. That’s a risk in any game where you provide people with several repeated locks and/or with a plausible four-digit code that doesn’t fit in any of them.

My other big criticism is that it felt like they’d just added random puzzles and not thought much about how they interacted with the theme. A friend who knows a bit about the Romanian scene said that (the parent company) have a reputation for recycling puzzles into different rooms without worrying too much about whether they’re suitable – that definitely fitted with my feelings about this room.

And what about the finale? Well, it kind of summed up our game. Firstly, we solved it incorrectly but were still able to proceed; then, after we’d finished the puzzle, we had to check whether the clock had stopped to decide whether we’d actually finished or not…


We escaped in 44 minutes with 3 clues.

Verdict –

This was a disaster of a room from my point of view. The mis-set totally disrupted the flow of the game. Having a Sherlock Holmes-themed room which didn’t involve any sort of mystery to investigate seemed like a hugely missed opportunity. The confusing puzzles that left us trying four-digit combinations in several padlocks for much of the game lost our faith in the room. While that was our own fault to some extent, a good GM would have picked up on our frustration and resolved the issue.

All my reviews are written about my experience, which is both specific to that game and personal to me, so it’s worth drawing out that I’ve heard other people rate this as their favourite Breakin’ game. I’d strongly encourage you to read other blogs about the room, which I’ve linked below.

I guess my quest for a good Sherlock room goes on…

Detailed Room Ratings

Wow! factor

Don’t take my word for it!

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