Outside the room
Cryptology opened in Nottingham back in mid-2015, so they’ve been around a while and I’d heard good things. I was curious to see how the rooms stacked up – the escape scene has changed a lot in the past 18 months and rooms that were ground-breaking back then may be run-of-the-mill now. Unusually, it’s located right in the heart of the city on a second floor above one of the main shopping thoroughfares. Not that any of the games in Nottingham are far from the centre, but it’s nice to have one bang in the middle of the action.
Upstairs, it’s nicely laid out with two separate waiting areas so that teams can be briefed separately. After a quick briefing from our host, we headed inside.
Pharaoh Rameses has sent you and your peers to The Crypt where you will starve. Some of his minions are sympathisers and have given you the means to escape. Can you and your team unshackle and free yourselves before the guard comes to make their first inspection?
Inside the room
OK. So that wasn’t the start to an Egyptian-themed game that I’d have expected. I mean, they do give you a hint in the game description but, for me, it didn’t fit very well with the theming. Handcuffs are all well and good in a typical prison-break room but, even then, I think they should always be clearly flagged in the game description. That said, while we weren’t in them for very long, they made clever use of the puzzle to both free us from our shackles and offer a great reveal in the room. Unfortunately, I was facing the wrong way and so pretty much missed it, but I approve of a little bit of simple theatre to start the game.
Once inside, there’s plenty to engage your attention and you shouldn’t expect to be stepping on each other’s toes for a while. The room makes a decent job of conveying the theme but it’s nothing that will blow you away. There’s one exception to that, which I really liked: a big, obvious, centrepiece puzzle. While it wasn’t clear if it would be the last element to the game, it was definitely going to be close to the end. Before we could solve it, we’d need to find some additional props, though. I love puzzles like that because they give you something a little more tangible than escaping a room: when you’ve got to get past a series of padlocks you don’t really have a sense of progress, but when you collect a series of physical items it changes things entirely and ramps up the excitement as you can see yourselves getting closer to the target.
The rest of the puzzles were a little more traditional, making use of observation, decoding and simple puzzles. They were individually OK but it felt like there was a fair amount of repetition that didn’t add to the game. In an ideal world, I want an escape room full of “Aha” moments where you’re constantly having the excitement of realising how to solve a puzzle. In the normal world, I accept that’s nigh on impossible and that I need to get through some boring (but ultimately rewarding) taskwork for each puzzle to balance things out. I really don’t want to have to go through that taskwork more than once, and in this game there were two separate pieces of taskwork which were repeated. Don’t get me wrong – they’re not terrible and, if you share them out around the team, then you won’t get too frustrated. But how much better would it have been if we’d had entirely new ideas to work on?
Aside from the puzzles, there was also a fair amount of searching to be done. Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of some of the hides, but then I’m an experienced player and our laziness means most of us aren’t big fans of searching rooms. The team that played in parallel didn’t see that as a negative.
But let’s get back to the centrepiece of the game: that target we were aiming for. That’s where everything came crashing down (metaphorically and almost literally) as we hit a series of issues with it. First off, there was a minor mis-set. That resulted in us getting everything we needed too early. Secondly, there’s an “obvious” solution to the puzzle which isn’t meant to work (I can’t explain why without spoiling it) but unfortunately worked for us. Well, it worked long enough to make us think we were doing the right thing. Thirdly, the games master didn’t spot the mis-set and so didn’t jump in early to stop us from doing the “wrong” thing. Finally, when he did spot it, we couldn’t hear the clue bell he rang to tell us. Afterwards we were told that he rang the bell four times. I’ve no reason to doubt he did but I’m *certain* I didn’t hear it and three of us in different parts of the room happening to miss the bell four times sounds like a major flaw.
The upshot of all that is that we didn’t complete all the puzzles in the game and that centrepiece puzzle became a damp squib rather than the fun finale it should have been.
We escaped in about twenty minutes without having taken a clue but, as you’ll have seen in the review, that was because we sort of subverted the game so there’s not much you can read into the result. Our sister team who played after us finished in about 30 minutes.
Were we just unlucky? Was it just a sequence of unfortunate events? Was the games master not paying enough attention? I’ll never really know. What I do know is that we walked out of the game bemused and disappointed.
Even ignoring that, though, this left a lot to be desired. Aside from that central physical puzzle, there wasn’t a huge amount to get excited about. A few uninspiring puzzles and a lot of taskwork that involved us doing the same stuff repeatedly. Beginners will enjoy this game but I feel more experienced players will get frustrated if they go in as a large team because there’s not enough to do and equally frustrated if they go in as a small team because they’ll be repeating tasks.
Detailed Room Ratings
Don’t take my word for it
If you want a different perspective, you can take a look at Brit of an Escape Habit’s review.