Outside the room
I get excited about almost any game in London but, with a magician at the helm and a puzzle designer who can include the Crystal Maze on his resumé, things looked particularly good for Clue Adventures. Like several other escape rooms around the country, Clue Adventures is hidden in the arches underneath a railway line although, pleasingly, it’s a much higher ceiling than I’ve experienced elsewhere, which means there’s plenty of room for the game.
After being greeted by our host (and owner), we were given the briefing, donned our hard hats (the game is set in a demolition site) and then headed into the game. I briefly marvelled at the unbelievable immersion before realising that the rumbling wasn’t the start of the demolition but in fact a train passing overhead.
On New Year’s Eve 1999 Master Magician Alistair Wilson literally disappeared never to be seen again. His former London flat is due to be demolished in one hour. Can you solve the mystery discover how and why he vanished and find his book?
Inside the room
As we crossed the threshold into the room, the first impression was indeed that of being in someone’s flat. It was great that they’d created a realistic space but that did leave me a bit worried – how was I going to tell which parts were clues and which ones were red herrings? I needn’t have worried about that – virtually everything in this game was a clue. What I should have been worrying about was the fact that virtually everything in this game was a clue and there were a lot of things in this game.
Fortunately, we’d heard from a couple of friends who’d played it that this was going to be a difficult room, so we’d agreed in advance that there wouldn’t be an in-depth discussion whenever someone solved a puzzle. Instead, we’d wait for a visit to the pub afterwards to piece everything together. I worry about what first-timers will make of this room – there’s no hand-holding at the beginning of the game as you try to find your feet. To make matters worse, while there are no red herrings, there are plenty of clues that are given in multiple places (sadly not always in a way that fitted in with the immersion), so it’s perfectly possible you’ll find a clue that you can’t use because your teammate has already solved the puzzle. Communication is essential.
On the flip side, the puzzles all felt logical so, for the more experienced player, there’s a decent chance you’ll get into a flow and grab plenty of wins to help get your momentum up. For me, that sense of flow contrasted with a game where the style changed abruptly throughout. At times, it was a very open game with unrelated puzzles that required a huge amount of information processing. At others, the game was very structured, with self-contained more-or-less parallelisable puzzles that formed part of an overarching meta-puzzle. On other occasions, the game felt incredibly linear, jumping from puzzle to puzzle as a team – particularly, as you might expect, towards the end of the game.
Although the sudden changes threw me a bit, overall I think they worked: the linear journey towards the end of the game in particular is great for bringing a team together so that, as the game reaches its climax, everyone really knows what’s happening. This is particularly important in a game like this where you need to use a divide and conquer strategy.
There were lots of physical puzzles in this room and for me, as per usual, they were the highlight. Two in particular stood out as being some of the most memorable that I’ve ever played. The first was a new variation on a classic escape room puzzle. They’d taken that basic idea but encouraged a two-player approach, set it within the theme of the game in a very endearing way and made it much more expansive than usual.
The second puzzle blew me away by getting me to perform a magic trick that I just could not get my head around. With a magician in charge, I’d expected the use of misdirection at various points in the game but it hadn’t occurred to me that there would be a genuine trick, let alone one that I felt I’d performed myself.
That was where the real strength of this game lay. Puzzle after puzzle was absolutely on theme. References to magic abounded, and puzzles were themed around specific, real, magic tricks and magicians. At times, those were the sort of magic trick you might have performed as a child, while at others, like the one mentioned above, they were showing you how real magic was performed. In fact, it’s well worth getting a quick walk-through after the game to have some of the references highlighted, because there are so many that you’ll almost certainly miss a bunch.
While the theming was absolutely spot on, the story left me a little underwhelmed. Once you understood it all, it helped put some of the background to the game into context, but it felt like it was a bit too easy to overlook the “how” and the “why” of the magician’s disappearance during the game and need to have it explained afterwards. I think they either need to downplay this aspect of the game or emphasise the information a little more while you’re playing. Or maybe just get better players…
I hinted above that this game is packed full of puzzles, so you should expect to need plenty of clues. I’d heard a complaint levelled at Time Run a few times that players felt rushed through the game, being given clues before they’d really had a chance to think about a new puzzle. I wouldn’t quite characterise my experience here in the same way, but it certainly felt a little too rapid fire for my taste, and I worry that average teams, particularly those with just two or three players, will feel bombarded. Clues came via a screen and always made sense while still being subtle – as proof of that, we required follow-on clues a couple of times to give us a bit more direction.
We escaped from the room in about 45 minutes but with a bunch of clues along the way. Certainly more than ten, possibly as many as fifteen. There’s a conflict here between treating all teams fairly so that you can compare finishing times and giving people every opportunity to solve the puzzles themselves regardless. For me, this erred too much towards the former.
This was a game packed to the gunnels with puzzles, many of which were innovative and fun. It varied styles in different parts of the game to achieve very different experiences and pulled in the theming throughout in ways that impressed and, at times, astounded me.
When it comes down to it, though, while you come to escape rooms partly for the immersive experience, you also come to solve puzzles, and anything that reduces the buzz from solving should be avoided if possible. It feels harsh to be negative about something that was only problematic because they’d put so many puzzles in the game, but I don’t think you should be escaping with fifteen minutes remaining when you’ve had that many clues. People pay for an hour’s entertainment and, while one or two clues to avoid frustration is a good thing, clues in the double digits should be reserved to allow struggling teams to experience the full game.
I would highly recommend this for experienced players with teams of four or even five – it really is one of the most impressive games I’ve played. New players should think carefully before signing up, and you’ll certainly want to take a larger team.
There’s really very little in the way of restaurants near the escape room, but walk fifteen minutes and you’ll get to Stepney Green, which has much better options. We decided to visit the Horn of Plenty, a pub fifteen minutes’ walk away which served excellent burgers and had a nice atmosphere (in spite of the football being somewhat loud).
Detailed Room Ratings
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. The company behind the game also paid me to write a report on the London escape room scene about six months ago – I gave the fee to charity. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.