Visit number three to Crackit Bolton saw us booking Boot Camp having played Haunted Mansion and Pirate Cove on previous trips. The three experiences have a huge amount in common so, rather than recounting that here, I’d encourage you to read those reviews, which explain how the general concept works. In summary, though, it’s a Crystal Maze-like experience where you get to take two people into each space rather than just one and you can see the challenges before playing and choose the ones that appeal.
Boot Camp has always seemed an odd choice of theme for me. There are plenty of haunted house and pirate-themed escape rooms in the industry, but there are very few military challenges, and I think there’s a good reason for that. Going in, I was a lot less excited about how things would look than on previous occasions and, in spite of those lower expectations, I still didn’t find it amazingly engaging once I was inside. There were a couple of games that looked impressive – a prison cell game and a giant battlefield map both stood out – but, in general, I was more aware that these were primarily puzzle spaces than on my other visits.
As ever, there’s plenty of variety to the experience – whether you like logic, decoding, language, communication, visual thinking or skill challenges, there will be something here for you. One area did stand out significantly, though: if you’re not good at things that involve spatial awareness, then you’re going to be at a disadvantage with almost half of challenges. This aspect felt more balanced in their other games, but I wonder if they’ve made a deliberate decision to go in that direction because of the theme.
The puzzles were mostly very fair. Of the twelve challenges, I’d say only one of them felt like it required too much of a leap of logic to be solvable without clues. Of course, the GM is standing by to help you if you do get stuck, so taking clues isn’t a problem at all. A couple more involved failure modes where the game ended if you made an error or didn’t do well enough. I’m not a big fan of that: I want to be able to make a silly mistake with a puzzle and get a second chance. In one case that was a practical choice (to avoid you brute-forcing the solution quickly) while, in another, it felt like they could have come up with better solutions.
Having said all that, the biggest difference over previous experiences was definitely the complexity of the puzzles. In some cases, they required two or three connections to be made before you could get the final answer, while in others it was just that there was a particular thing you had to do that would take a long time to complete. That left me with significant frustration on both occasions. This experience is designed not to be finished, but this time I never felt I had a chance to get near the end. Instead, we opted to quit on three challenges once we’d worked out how to solve them because it was more fun to try to solve a new room than to complete the taskwork on a previous one. That’s a design choice rather than a flaw, but I suspect it will be an issue for a significant proportion of players.
As ever, it was on to the Crunch at the end and, once again, we thoroughly enjoyed the silliness of the finish. I love how they’ve managed to capture the fun of the Crystal Dome with an entirely different mechanism.
There’s no doubt that Boot Camp is fun but, of the three experiences I’ve been to at Crackit, this was the one I felt was weakest. The theme wasn’t as much to my taste, and the puzzles didn’t fit the theme quite as well but, most importantly, I didn’t enjoy them as much. They were good challenges at their heart, but they took a little too long and, in a place where you’re likely not to see every room, that was frustrating.
We played as a pair and got 10200 points, I believe. I’d recommend playing all their games as a pair if possible, but that’s particularly true for this one. If we’d had a team bigger than two players, I think whoever had been watching on for each room would have been particularly disappointed.
We ate in Cafe Italia again, which is a ten-minute drive away from the venue. The fact that we’ve been there every time we’ve played Crackit probably tells you how much we like it!