Outside the room
It seems like everyone in the North West raves about Escape Quest and, in particular, I could only take listening to Mark from ReallyFun extolling their virtues so many times before I decided enough was enough and I had to sort out a visit. People were pretty adamant, though – this was not a game to try with two people, so I needed to find someone who was willing to join Mrs Logic and me on a trip up to Macclesfield.
Fortunately, I managed to convince one of my London team mates whose family lives up North to join me along with her sister and her girlfriend, neither of whom had played before. Those of you in the know are probably thinking that Bad Clown was a bit of a baptism of fire for them, and you’d be right. But we weren’t content with that: given how difficult it had been to organise logistics, we’d decided to play three games back to back (minus a break for lunch). Yes, their first encounter with escape rooms would be three games, the first of which was on the scary side and would last ninety minutes and have a live actor… Yes, Mark, this had better be good…
We arrived outside the venue, easily found a parking space ten metres from the front door and were quickly inside meeting the owners and finding out about our first game. For once, we actually had to listen as Bad Clown isn’t a straight escape room. It’s one of those “non-binary win condition” games that I go on and on about, where it’s not just a pass/fail but you get a score. In this case, you collect golden tickets and, judging by the scores I’d seen which ranged from 50-100+ it isn’t just one or two extra puzzles but a whole slew of optional things to get your teeth into. There are also some bonus hides which get you extra tickets and, of course, a clown to deal with…
Would you like to play a game? Mr Chuckles has got one that he’s made specially for you! It’s no ordinary game; Mr Chuckles doesn’t like ordinary games. His are designed to trick, torment and terrify you. Once you enter his horrific fun house, you’ll be at his mercy and only the bravest contestants will survive. You have 90 minutes to open the exit door and leave after collecting as many golden tickets as you can find or win.
When you solve the final puzzle, will you escape with your lives or stay longer to find more golden tickets? Is that a gamble you’re willing to take?
Inside the room
The final introduction takes place inside the room, which is good for two reasons. Firstly, it gives your eyes a few moments to get accustomed to the darkness and, secondly, it gives you plenty of time to start worrying about where exactly the Bad Clown of the title is hiding. He’ll pop up soon enough to let you know, so worry not…
OK, since we’re talking about the bad clown, I should point out that this isn’t truly a scary room, at least not in my opinion. It’s creepy at times and you might jump, but it’s never unpleasant. I shrieked like a baby once but no one else did and, actually, I really enjoyed interacting with the clown. Indeed, I’d have been very happy with more clown involvement and I’m not someone who’d watch a horror movie or go to a scare attraction. There’s more I could say here, but it would spoil the experience – all you need to know is that you shouldn’t let the “scare” nature of the game stop you playing unless you’ve got a clown phobia, in which case you should probably stay away!
Once the intro had completed, it was time to start exploring the space and solving the puzzles. I have to confess to being pretty reticent after a few minutes because we weren’t making much progress with the puzzles and I was worried that our newbie players would get frustrated. Things started to pick up, though, and soon we’d seen off the first batch of puzzles, were starting to get into a flow and had unlocked some new puzzles to work on.
Without wishing to give too much away, they’d put together a good set that gave the feel of an abandoned old-fashioned funfair. The soundtrack, the props and the puzzles meshed together as, of course, did the concept of collecting the golden tickets. The clown played the part well, both helping and hindering you in your escape and adding a little extra to the game.
It wasn’t all perfect. There were certainly a couple of puzzles in there that got me a bit frustrated. You’re told during the briefing that you’ll encounter a directional lock and inevitably I ended up being the poor idiot not solving that puzzle, but fortunately one of my team mates stepped in and solved it first time (I maintain it was blind luck). Another puzzle, which seemed almost impossible, was worked on by the two novices for a few minutes after just about everyone had failed at it, until it yielded up a solution. The other thing that I wasn’t a big fan of, and this is a general theme in Escape Quest’s games, is that there are a lot of locks. They’re reasonably varied types, so you won’t generally have to input the same code into several locks, but I’d still like to see a bit more variety in the way the game unfolds and, in particular, not having two locks guarding the same new space.
The place where this game really stood out for me, though, was the golden ticket mechanism. I’ve heard of a couple of games which use some sort of scoring mechanism but, from what I’ve heard, there are only a handful of extra puzzles to solve, so the differences between teams’ scores are relatively small. Here there were well over a hundred tickets’ worth of things to collect, and they were generally in small batches of no more than three. If you wanted to get the full set, you had to be observant, search well, solve plenty of puzzles and, of course, enter the bonus room.
What, I didn’t mention the bonus room? How remiss of me. Well, as you’ll find out in the briefing, the bonus room is, as the name suggests, not required to get you to the exit. If you’re struggling to make it through the game, then forget all about the bonus room – you won’t be making a visit. If you’re doing well, though, you can risk trying to solve the bonus puzzles rather than just leaving the room. In that case, extra treasure awaits but, if you find out you don’t have time to escape afterwards, then it’s all been in vain: you go home empty handed. That is, if you go home at all.
A winning start. We escaped in just under 89 minutes with 107 golden tickets. Along the way we got a couple of small clues, plus we traded five golden tickets for a clue on the bonus room puzzle. I thought we’d done pretty well but was surprised to find we’d taken the record. Make no mistake – the right team could come in here and grab another 20 tickets. I doubt we’ll be at the top of that leaderboard for very long.
The game started a little slowly and I have to confess I was worried that our team mates might not enjoy the experience, but soon enough the speed picked up and the experience was what I’d hoped for. It was creepy but not scary, and no one ever felt uncomfortable. The couple of frustrating puzzles and the over-reliance on padlocks might have brought this game down a little, but the 90-minute scenario, the live actor and the golden-ticket scoring mechanism more than made up for it in my opinion. All in all, one of my favourite games.
Detailed Room Ratings
We ate in Chilli Banana, a Thai restaurant about five minutes’ walk from Escape Quest. It’s technically a chain, but it didn’t feel that way and the food was very good. If you’re looking for huge portions then you may be a little disappointed (except on Sunday lunchtimes, I suspect, when they have a buffet) but otherwise I think you’ll thoroughly enjoy it.