Outside the room
A combination of holidays and other activities had delayed our visit to Escape Plan Ltd till well after it opened. That meant that we’d seen plenty of positive reviews appear on Trip Advisor, and so had good expectations. It’s a little bit of a trek for us, but after reaching Elephant & Castle it was only a few minutes’ walk to Iliffe Yard, where the game is based.
This is another one of those venues that takes an escape room mentality to enter. First of all passing beyond the huge iron gate (in fact, we walked past it entirely the first time…), and then choosing the correct door from the plethora of options. Iliffe Yard is a fantastically atmospheric venue, and I was a little disappointed to hear that they’ll likely be moving to a new place when they extend their run post-January (but pleased to hear that they will be extending it!).
The room itself is upstairs, with a small waiting area, which helps to keep it nice and cosy during the briefing. Brendan, the host/owner/designer, was clearly enthusiastic about the game, and injected plenty of humour into what is often a pretty tedious part of affairs before you get going with the fun stuff.
You’re a prisoner of war looking to escape from your camp. One man went before you, Bob Hails, and he’s left clues that if you follow them will help you to escape. One particularly nice touch in this escape game is that they give you Bob Hails’ journal before you go in, which (and I don’t think this is in any way a spoiler) has useful information for you once you enter the room. It’s strange having a look through a clue without the omnipresent countdown to rush you through it. Bonus marks for doing something different!
Inside the room
The first things that grabs you as walk in is its great theming. They’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get period food packaging (although I’m not convinced you’d see much of it in a PoW camp!), clothes and other objects to throw you back to the ’40s. That continued throughout the room, with everything feeling like it was chosen from the right era.
Indeed, the theme was present in the puzzles themselves with a reliance on mechanical puzzles instead of anything more technology based. Some of these mechanical puzzles were hand made (if I recall correctly, with a little help from the designer’s Dad!) and were really ingenious. Our physical puzzle enthusiast was in his element, and was hovering around the puzzle throughout. I’m more of a voyeur when it comes to physical puzzles, so was happy to watch on and marvel in how the mechanics worked.
The big letdown in this room was that there were a lot of combination locks which didn’t really fit with the 1940s theme. I’m always a little disappointed when I see a room full of combination locks, because it means that I’m going to have to spend several, not very fun, minutes of my time in the room trying out various codes on various locks until I hit a winner. They’d counteracted that issue though, by putting hints next to each lock (or at least most of them) as to which puzzle would help you solve them. In the context of this being a PoW escape, where Bob Hails had left hints, that seemed perfectly natural. In the end, it’s hard to come up with a lot of puzzles and not at some point use combination or padlocks, so kudos to them for providing lots of non-padlock puzzles and a good variety of puzzles to lead you to those padlocks.
Another subtlety in this room is a sense of progress. Reasonably early on in the room, you’re told all the equipment you need for your escape, so your progress is reasonably well measured, as you accumulate your kit. I’m often let down by a room because it suddenly ends when I feel like there are going to be more puzzles, so this kind of cue is great to set expectations. Equally, it makes you realise if you’re well short of success which probably isn’t a bad thing either…
There was one puzzle we just couldn’t solve. Five minutes into the game we found a key which we couldn’t find a use for. We looked and looked, and there was nothing that it fitted. Eventually the host came over the walkie talkie to say that we shouldn’t have a key at this point in the game. We assumed that he’d made a mistake setting up the room, but we later found out that the previous group had been a stag party, and the stag had been handcuffed. Apparently they’d lost the key…
We got out in around 51 minutes without using any of our three clues. We missed out on making the leaderboard unfortunately, but did gain solace in finding out that only around ten teams have made it out without a clue, and being only a couple of minutes off of second place. First place was a ridiculously quick time, but they did use three clues, which is a valid strategy, but not one I’m ever likely to take when posting a quick time. Kudos to Thinking Bob for their “best without clues” placing.
The owner wrapped up by talking us through some of the puzzles that we’d cracked (and places where we’d brute forced codes because we couldn’t find a missing piece of the puzzle). He was clearly enthusiastic about his work and keen to congratulate us on where we’d make particularly good progress, or point out where we’d missed hints that would have moved us along quicker.
Finally, we got dressed up in the uniforms from the room and had our photo taken.
This is a well themed escape room with some interesting mechanical puzzles and a fantastic host. I agonised over whether this would make the five star grade, but decided it just missed out – definitely close though. It was a good room with good puzzles, but didn’t have quite enough stuff that made me go wow.
I’d recommend for groups of six, people who like mechanical puzzles over technology and players who like their rooms to be highly themed, particularly if they’ve interest in the 1940s.
We went to Mamuska, just outside Elephant & Castle tube station. Excellent Polish food in a canteen style restaurant, perfect if you don’t want to share the bill, because you order at the counter, and come across when your number is called. I had the Crowned Schabowy, which was very good. Desserts were nothing to write home about in my opinion, so go for a starter instead.
Detailed Room Ratings