Outside the room
Another day, another room – this time we’d chosen to visit El Cubo de los Secretos in Málaga, which we’d been recommended by the owner of the previous day’s game. In contrast to the other rooms we’ve played in Spain, this one is well outside the city centre and very much targeted at locals. Indeed, there was no English GM available that day, so the briefing and the game were all in Spanish. Gulp! Fortunately, Señora Logic, Midi Logic and Mini Logic are all fluent in Spanish and mine’s just about passable. Good enough to understand most of the introduction at least…
There are two unusual aspects to this experience. First, before you go in, you need to choose between a 69-minute game with no clues, a 63-minute game with two clues or a 60-minute game with three clues. To my mind, there’s only one sensible choice – if you don’t think you’ll need help to complete this game, then you definitely won’t need 60 minutes to escape, so you might as well take the three-clue option. Second, there’s a score system. Each second remaining at the end of the game is worth a point. For each clue or extra three-minute block you have available but don’t use you get 1500 points; and finally, there’s an extra 1500 points if you manage to retrieve a cube somewhere in the game.
Os veréis envueltos en la magia, ciencias y artes oscuras. Conoceréis a Orión y formaréis parte de su compleja historia. Utilizad todos los sentidos.
You will be surrounded by magic, science and the dark arts. You will meet Orion and become part of his complex story. Use all your senses!
Inside the room
As you walk into La Piedra Carmesi, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little bit disappointed with the size of the room. This isn’t a spacious game, but the good news is that they’ve put enough into what space they do have to keep you occupied for the full hour. It’s reasonably well decorated, giving the impression of some slightly occult habitation with an early 20th-century vibe. Mostly, it meshed well with the story, although there were a couple of items in the room that felt slightly incongruous with the antique science/vampire/occult theme.
That story was reinforced throughout the game as you were thrown snippets here and there that, while not telling you much about what had happened, did build up the sense that you were dabbling in the dark arts just by being there. The puzzles themselves pushed that still further by re-enacting the steps you required to re-animate the lost lover of the story.
So far, so good, but what about the puzzles? Well, they had been described as open, but the sense we got was of a generally quite linear game. Perhaps they were open in the sense that we had access to parts of them right from the start, but we could only rarely solve more than one or two at any given time. This was backed up by us being told pretty much every time that we asked for a clue on a puzzle that it wasn’t time to progress that element of the room.
For me, that clue mechanism ruined the experience. Firstly, we didn’t know the extent of the room, so we had no idea whether we were running behind or ahead of schedule, whether we were 10% of the way through or 90%. That made it difficult to know when to take a clue. Secondly, as hinted at above, we had to ask for help on a specific puzzle, not just generic help. Every time we did this, we got told that we couldn’t solve the puzzle we were asking about. Rather than subtly nudging us along towards our goals, the rule system required us to break the immersion and talk to the GM, who then usually further broke the immersion by giving us a “wrong puzzle” response. It frustrated me immensely.
That wasn’t all that frustrated me: there was a massive red herring in the game that we spent probably ten minutes trying to understand. They had an argument for why it was acceptable, but to me it was a straight time drain and this room deserved better. As if that wasn’t enough, on two of the occasions that we got stuck, the clue we got told us to do something that you just shouldn’t do in escape rooms. Both were things I’d specifically avoided doing because they seemed wrong and I was worried about breaking the game. Granted, they had said that, if there wasn’t a sticker, we were allowed to investigate as we saw fit, but this seemed to set a precedent that other venues will find infuriating and which enthusiasts are always going to struggle with.
By the time we got to the endgame, I was pretty disillusioned with the room. That’s a shame because they’d created a genuinely strong finish to the experience that merged puzzle and theatre and should have been a dramatic ending.
We escaped with under a minute left, having collected the Cube. According to their scoring system, I think that equated to ~1537 points.
We used all three of our official clues and may have been given one extra – it’s not clear to me what counted as being helped and what was just them clarifying what we were allowed to do. Two of those clues were for steps which we didn’t take because they usually wouldn’t be allowed in an escape room.
At its heart, this was a genuinely good game, but it was utterly ruined for me by the cluing system and some breaks to standard escape room conventions that really hurt us. I came out of the game incredibly frustrated with the experience, feeling that you could improve the game immensely by making just three or four small changes that don’t really affect the fundamentals of the game. Given the TripAdvisor reviews, players are clearly going away happy, but I wonder whether they could be doing so much better. They certainly could for me.
We played with two adults and two young children, which didn’t feel like quite enough brainpower. I think this game would work well with three or maybe four enthusiasts. That’s enough to mastermind your escape, and I suspect beyond that it would get a little crowded.
Detailed Room Ratings