Outside the room
Note that, according to the manager, this game has been updated since I played it to deal with some of the issues I highlight below. They also told me that they change which puzzles are present, in order to deal with the variation in player numbers, which can range from 2 to 10.
Back in October, Escape Entertainment appeared on the London scene, taking over the venue that used to house Escape Hunt. Usually the passing of an escape room would be a sad story, but, in my opinion, Escape Hunt had the worst rooms in London, so I was excited to see them replaced by a new operation.
We opted to play Prohibition Pandemonium first, because we had enough people to get exclusive access. This is one of those rooms where you can book small numbers of tickets and then you get thrown together with random other players. Not my cup of tea, but to each their own.
Booking was painless and finding the place was straightforward given my three previous visits to the site. It was interesting to see that almost nothing had changed outside of the room. I’d expected some sort of rebrand, but other than the logos being replaced, this was basically the same venue as our last visit to Escape Hunt. That’s a good thing though – the non-room parts of Escape Hunt were by far the strongest.
Prohibition Pandemonium is set, unsurprisingly, in twenties America. You’re in a thriving speakeasy and the cops have just arrived at the front door. You’ve got an hour to find the secret rear exit and escape.
For a multi-team game, I think this is a great story – it’s plausible for you not to know the other people in the speakeasy and yet to be working towards this common goal, so well done to Escape Entertainment for getting off on the right foot.
Inside the room
Unsurprisingly, this is physically a bigger room than the average 5-6 player games, and they’d laid it out nicely so that the ten of you could spread out and work on different puzzles. That’s critical, because the last thing you want is ten people crowding round one area trying to do the same thing. Indeed, it rarely felt like there were nine of us in there – typically I could only see two or three of the other players. At the same time, they’d laid the puzzles out so that you would have to move around through the room to find the clues, and input the codes, so it wasn’t like you were entirely separated from your team mates, and there was certainly plenty of opportunity for communication.
The decor was OK, but nothing exciting. They’d put in a couple of props to back up the speakeasy theme, but this was clearly designed to be an inexpensive room to create. That brings me on to the first of the problems – there was nothing about this room that really stood out. Well, maybe one thing, but since I’d already seen it in Escape Hunt, it didn’t impress. There was no technology or magic (fair enough in a ’20s theme), but where other companies had balanced that out by using clever mechanical puzzles, here we just had a series of combination locks.
The combination locks themselves were a bit of an issue – some of them had to be aligned really precisely. Four different people tried the letter based combination locks with the correct codes and failed to open them. That would have been forgivable if the combinations were clear cut, but the puzzles rarely gave answers that left you confident. In my opinion when you get the answer to a good puzzle it should be absolutely clear you’ve got it (and ideally, you should kick yourself for having taken so long to work it out!), but here several of the puzzles left us inputting codes more in hope than with certainty, and with the requirement that they be precisely aligned that meant it was easy to try the correct code and not get the padlock opened.
I’ve often complained that companies have too many padlocks in rooms, which leaves me feeling like I’m just trying out random combinations in random locks. They’d done a good job to avoid this (more on that in a moment), but one reason they got away with it was that there were so few puzzles. Would one puzzle per person be too much to ask? Yes, seriously, this hour long escape room, with up to ten people, had fewer than ten puzzles. In total I solved one puzzle and inputted one code – and that’s as much as anyone can reasonably expect to do in this room. Even if you count joint solving, you’re not going to have more than four or five individual triumphs during the hour. In my opinion that’s just not enough for a ten player game.
One place where they did well was allowing you to judge your progress. It becomes apparent very early on that you have a number of puzzles to solve, and they’ve done a great job of parallelising them. As you knocked each of those off your list you could plot your progress to escaping, so when we got stuck on a puzzle 25 minutes into the game, we were confident we could wait a while before asking for a clue. In a game where they say you need to ask for clues rather than them being offered, that sense of progress is critical. Even better, given the use of combination locks, they’d made an effort to help you link the puzzles with specific locks, so it was usually pretty clear where each solution would be used.
We got out with 23 minutes remaining and a single clue (to get a code that we’d already worked out but had failed to input in the combination lock properly).
There’s no doubt that this room is better than those it replaced, and I’d expect most novices to enjoy it. I was particularly impressed that they’d done some good things to make it work with ten people. Ultimately though, it has too few puzzles given the number of players, the puzzles it does have aren’t novel or impressive, and too many of them had weak solutions.
If you’ve got a group of 9-10 people and want to play in a single room or you’re based in the City and don’t want to travel too far away, then I think you’ll have an acceptable time here, but it’d be well down my list otherwise.
It was almost Christmas and the parties have piled up, so we opted for somewhere that we could grab a quick bite to eat before heading our separate ways. Wagamama fitted the bill nicely.