Outside the room
Escape Plan have been on the scene for quite a while now and, considering how successful their first game was, it’s surprising that they haven’t expanded further. That’s not for want of trying, though… As with many potential London-based games, planning permission has seen their expansion attempts stymied. When they announced they’d be closing down their previous game to make way for something new, I was surprised but excited that I’d get the chance to see what two and a bit years in the business had taught them. (Even better news has appeared recently on their website: they’ve finally found a second venue, so you can expect The Adventure Begins to be reopening in the not too distant future.)
Their original location, and home to the Battle for Britain, is part of a charming little yard of workshops near Elephant & Castle station. It’s not the largest space, but it’s just about big enough for a full-sized team, with plenty of space for a smaller team like ours. You definitely wouldn’t want to turn up early, but fortunately there’s plenty of buffer between games, so you’re unlikely to hit any issues.
We got a friendly greeting from our GM, who then proceeded to give us our briefing in character. I don’t believe that’s always the case (we found out later that she was a member of the 40s Harmony Trio, The Belladonna Brigade, and therefore comfortable with that charade), but it’s a great addition to the experience. The earlier you can start chipping away at the connections with the real world, the better.
The day is 18th August 1940 and the Luftwaffe have launched a resurgent attack on Britain, where your air base has been hit by the first wave of heavy bombing. As the only survivors, you must access the strategic ops room and mobilise the full force of the RAF to save Britain. But with a second attack imminent, can you also save yourselves?
Inside the room
The game begins in the officers’ mess with – as you’re told in the briefing – the goal of breaking into the operations centre. Those spaces are relatively simple, taking advantage of the building itself to carry a large part of the theme, and then making embellishments on top of that. The big exception is the centrepiece of the game, which is a bold use of space and one that I was pretty dubious about at first. By the end of the game, though, I was utterly sold – it was bold but it paid off by providing the glue that held the experience together. The decor is backed up by good use of audio from before the experience has even started right through to the finale, both enhancing the theme and providing tension when appropriate.
This is very much a mission-based game as opposed to a narrative-led story. Your goal is to mobilise the RAF and bring down the 71 enemy aircraft that are heading your way. It’s a mechanic that appeals to me – beginners only need to bring down around half of the aircraft to be successful, but enthusiasts can aim for the full complement. It’s pitched at that level which will keep enthusiasts on their toes – many people do get a perfect score, but this requires you to complete all the puzzles in time while being careful not to make any mistakes. And yes: this game allows you to make mistakes with puzzles and still carry on. While in some cases you’ll have to unlock padlocks, sometimes you’ll only find out whether you were right at the end, when the enemy planes are downed.
As you might expect given the above, this game has plenty of puzzles to keep you occupied. They’re nicely structured, with a relatively linear start that expands to have a few puzzles in parallel before throwing the game wide open. This seems a good compromise between making a game beginner-friendly and catering for the more experienced players.
In terms of variety, there was plenty, with puzzles making good use of different aspects of the theme for both content and presentation. All of them felt logical, although there were some places where we took a little iteration to home in on the right answer. One big complaint I had was that there was an over-reliance on pieces of paper or card to present puzzles. Although that fitted with the theme, it was noticeable that those were usually the last puzzles we turned to. A couple of them also felt like they were just giving us the solutions directly. It wasn’t clear to me whether that was a deliberate decision from the original design or something they’d simplified after testing. Either way, I suspect it’s trying to cater towards beginner players by providing them with some quick wins and helping them understand how the room works.
As the game goes on, you get a real sense of progress towards your end goal, but the one thing you’re lacking throughout is verification of how you’re doing. Yes, it may be obvious that you’re 50% finished but, as I hinted at above, you won’t be certain whether that 50% is right or wrong till the very end. When the time comes to find out, it’s a fun bit of theatre that provided real tension to even us hardest of enthusiasts. Usually, as you reach the end of the game, you’re either comfortably ahead of the clock and pretty relaxed or running out of time and getting quite stressed. The nature of this experience is that you’ll almost certainly be somewhere in between – which seems the perfect place to me.
The Battle for Britain started after around 47 minutes and ended with us downing all the enemy planes. We took a couple of minor clues during the game on both occasions to prompt us to look at props we’d discarded because we felt we’d already got something out of them.
Escape Plan have created another game that I thoroughly enjoyed playing. It may lack some of the high-end decoration of some London venues, but it more than makes up for that with consistent theming, a striking centrepiece, plentiful puzzles and a tension-filled finale that will keep even the most experienced team stressed till the very end.
We played with three people, which felt manageable, but I’d probably recommend four players for a typical team, moving up to five or even six for beginners. That’s especially true given their pricing model.
We ate at the Old Red Lion, a quiet pub near Kennington station with good food and quirky seating – I had their “3-starter meal” and enjoyed the chicken, hash and croquettes. Note that they have events on fairly regularly, so it’s worth checking that before heading over.
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.