De Gouden Kooi (Mechelen, Belgium): The Secret of Saint-Rumoldus

I’ve heard The Secret of Saint-Rumoldus described as a hidden gem and certainly enough to warrant a detour into Belgium during our “Netherlands” trip. Perhaps, though, with it having now twice been voted into the top 30 rooms in the world by enthusiasts,  I shouldn’t really call it hidden. De Gouden Kooi actually has two venues in Mechelen, with one containing more traditional escape rooms and the other containing their premium “escape experience” – the first of apparently four games they’ll have at this site.

Inside, it’s a pretty venue with lots of seating and space (presumably for when they grow!), which gave me the impression that they’re not looking to rush you through their rooms. That’s backed up by their experiences being slightly longer than your typical game, at seventy minutes. After your pre-game GM chat, you’re led into a separate space for the briefing video which, as well as giving us the background to the Saint Rumoldus story, emphasised how high their production values are. This felt more like a film trailer than an escape room intro.

From there, it’s straight into the game. And what a first impression! You’re immediately presented with an intriguing space that gives you a simple, restricted introduction while also teasing you with what lies ahead. It’s a beautifully constructed set with plenty of striking details both at first sight and as you continue through the game. I was particularly impressed with how they’ve taken advantage of the height in their venue in virtually every part of the experience. At times that gives you a sense of freedom, at other times it allows them to create a set with a sense of space and grandeur and, in other parts of the game, they’ve used it to make the exploration more interesting. It’s hard to express how much they’ve managed to cram into what was already a big space to start with. This game feels huge.

As the video introduction hints, story certainly plays a part in this game, but it’s nicely balanced. You can broadly ignore it if you want, or you can choose to focus on it, particularly at key moments across the room. More than anything, they’ve made use of the story to allow them to create a very strong theme across the experience. The set design consistently delivers that theme across the whole game while still managing to give a different vibe to each space. Almost every time I transitioned to a new area, I felt a sense of excitement. They managed to create moments where I was drawn into the new spaces I was discovering but also where I was surprised at what greeted me. It’s worth mentioning that there are a couple of parts to this game where mobility is important. Most people will be fine but, if you have any concerns, I’d recommend checking with them in advance.

Of course, you can have the prettiest game in the world, but it’s nothing if you don’t have good gameplay. Fortunately, they delivered there too. There’s plenty of interesting puzzling on offer with some clever challenges along the way. From our point of view, all the puzzles made perfect sense – our team escaped without taking clues, which always bodes well.  The puzzles are parallelised in a way that managed to keep our team of five occupied throughout; the only place where we found ourselves squeezed into one puzzle was in the finale.

I enjoyed the way they’d structured the challenges. They’d grouped sets of puzzles together with a common goal that gave a real sense of purpose and progress to parts of the game. There’s lots to love about the specific puzzles – some that required players to work together, a couple that were (a little) dexterity-based, as well as some moments that added a little humour to proceedings. While there’s searching to be done, as you’d expect for a set this big, it’s directed and, unusually for me, I still enjoyed those challenges, especially the way they played with the size of the set to elevate the small amount of searching we did.

The finale was the one part of this game where I had mixed feelings. I found the challenges were a little bit too simple at this point and, given they’d necessarily forced the team together, didn’t involve people as much as I’d have liked. As a result, it felt like it was over far quicker than I’d have liked – the rest of the ending was so good that I’d have loved to spend another five minutes really soaking up the atmosphere. The set was big and bold, there was an interesting addition to the story and that final stage felt theatrical. More than anything else, this game has a very memorable ending on which to finish the experience.

Verdict –

For me, the Secret of Saint-Rumoldus represents the future of escape rooms: it’s got an intriguing story, great puzzles, an amazing set and a sense of flow that meant we were always looking forward and never getting bogged down. From the moment we got our first glimpse of what was ahead of us, throughout our exploration, to the final showdown, it was unadulterated fun. I’m genuinely excited to see what their next game delivers!

There’s a lot of ground to cover here so, while you can book with just two players, I think you’ll probably want to have a group of three or four to get maximum enjoyment, even with the seventy minutes they’ve set aside for your game.

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