Outside the room
Crack It Bolton is an unusual venue. I’m not really sure whether it should even be called an escape room. In fact, I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t be, but it shares so much in terms of appeal that I feel not listing it with other escape rooms would do enthusiasts a disservice. Like with the Crystal Maze, which is the nearest comparison, I think there’s a huge overlap with escape rooms.
We rocked up one Saturday afternoon and, after taking a very unusual lift to the upper floor, the first thing that hit us was how big a space we were in. For a place with three six-player games, there’s oodles of space in the waiting room. We were greeted by our GM, who was also the puzzle designer, before heading into the game space.
It’s worth briefly covering the format of the experience: you play as teams of two to six players in a themed zone with twelve games, and you have an hour to complete as many of those as possible. Each game allows two players to head inside the room, with the other teammates watching on through a large window, offering helpful – or possibly not so helpful – advice. Once that’s done, it’s on to the Crunch, a final short challenge to boost your overall score.
Inside the rooms
It’s not just the waiting room that’s spacious – the zones themselves are around three times as big as a typical escape game, even excluding the Crunch. In fact, I’ve been in many escape rooms that are no bigger than a couple of these mini-games put together. That feeling of spaciousness is great. Even if we’d had a full team in here, I don’t think we’d have felt too crowded.
Before your time begins, you get to explore the corridor between the rooms, deciding which ones look interesting. That was nice for us, because it meant we avoided rooms that we thought wouldn’t appeal to our tastes and ensured we took on the ones that were right up our street, and doing that under pressure might have led us to make the wrong decisions. Having said that, there’s no “failing” rooms here, so you can just walk away from one if you do decide you’ve chosen poorly.
The rooms themselves make use of the haunted house theme, but only to a small extent. Expect a few skulls, tarot cards and pentagrams, but you’re not going to get the feeling that you’re in an actual haunted house. I wonder how much of a mistake that is – I was slightly put off by the theme but needn’t have been, while other friends who’d be racing for it would probably be disappointed by what they found.
There are plenty of puzzles in here, with a huge amount of variety. A couple were really solid two-player physical dexterity puzzles which I thoroughly enjoyed, particularly because they lasted a little longer than in a normal escape room. A couple more relied on wordplay. One felt like a (simplish) logic puzzle. Another was a mini-escape room. A couple focused on maths-like skills. One was an evil logic-y puzzle that would have pushed us to our limits had we not decided to simply skip it entirely! In short, there’s something for everyone and, since it’s unlikely that teams will complete all twelve puzzles, you really are able to customise the game to what suits (although, with good large teams, I can see people winning around 10 of the 12 coins).
The biggest negative with these mini-games was the amount of input required from the host. In some games we needed to be told what the goal was, in others there were rules about what we could and couldn’t do, many required the host to press a button to unlock the gold coin, and some required the host to give us extra information during the game. In part that was because they’re still finding their feet and so don’t want to commit to permanent clues on the walls or automatic unlocks on the cupboards, but what starts as temporary workarounds has a habit of becoming permanent, and I found that it really affected the experience.
If you’re playing as a two, you may be pretty mentally tired by the end, but there’s one more challenge: The Crunch. It’s common between the three games, so don’t expect it to be Haunted House-themed. I won’t say much about it because I think the surprise is nice, but it’s three minutes of bonus time for the whole team to complete one final challenge. I don’t think it’s something which our team was particularly suited to, but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves – three minutes being just about the perfect amount of time for what lay ahead. Expect to have a silly finish to the game that echoes the frolics of the Crystal Dome without plagiarising.
Our team of two completed 8 out of 12 of the mini-games and finished with a total score of about 12000 (I think).
If you’re going for immersion, then this certainly isn’t the game for you. Although they make use of the theme for the puzzles, there isn’t really a story here, and the Crunch is an entirely separate piece of fun at the end. The production values are reasonable, but you definitely aren’t going to feel like you’re in a haunted house. For now at least, expect there to be a fair amount of GM interaction to start the mini-games and to stop you going off-track during the game.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for puzzles, then this should be right up your street. It’s like the Crystal Maze but with better, longer puzzles and a far better approach to managing teams. There’s also a lot less pressure on individuals which, at least for me, makes it a better experience. It’s like they’ve taken away the parts of the game which made watching it on TV exciting but didn’t transfer as well to the live experience.
At the end of the day, this is incredible value. We played as a pair and got our full hour of intense puzzles. I even came away slightly tired, which never happens with escape rooms, even after playing several in a day. If you want sixty minutes of fun, then this is a fantastic option.
We ate in Cafe Italia, which is a short drive away from the venue and great value. The tomato garlic bread starter was excellent, the calzone was pretty good and the seafood pasta had large portions. We’ll be heading back when we return to Crack It!
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.