The last time I visited Escape Quest, we’d played Amazon, Bad Clown and the original Curiosity Shoppe. Since then, Amazon has closed, Bad Clown is only available in the shorter 60-minute version and Mr Copplestone’s Curiosity Shoppe has been entirely revamped with new puzzles and layout. Losing good games is always sad, but the silver lining is that some of those changes have made space for two new games: 13th Element and Henry Fortune’s House of Illusion.
It’s worth mentioning that Escape Quest is an unusual venue in that they’ll only run a single game at a time. That’s unfortunate if you want to take along two teams, but it does mean you get the full attention of the owners when you play (and, as far as I’m aware, it’s only ever the owners who GM games). It also means that, if you want to book multiple games with them in sequence, or even if you’re just very keen on playing at a specific time, you should book well in advance.
On this visit, we played all three of the new games, and it’s clear that, in the intervening two and a half years, they’ve made a step up with their experiences from their already high level. The core style is still the same, though: an emphasis on good-looking games with relatively little by way of technology and a focus on packing plenty of puzzles into the space.
Inside the room
Curious Encounters is a sequel to the original room which bore the same name but it’s an entirely different game. That’s not just in terms of the puzzles you encounter but even in the way the game is laid out. Granted, there are a few common elements between the two rooms, but I think of those more as a tip of the hat to the old experience, and they certainly don’t give you any advantage or feel like spoilers.
This time round you jump straight into Mr Copplestone’s shop – a striking scene to start the game. One of the advantages of playing a similarly themed experience is that you really can see how their style has changed. What previously felt like a room that they’d filled with antiquities now feels like an old-fashioned shop. Escape room players expect more from rooms than they did a couple of years ago, and it’s great to see that Escape Quest are staying ahead of expectations.
The game sees you jumping through an unstable portal, which throws you back in time to fix the machine and rescue the absent-minded professor. That story gave a theme and a mission, but I didn’t feel they particularly expanded on it during the game. What they did do, however, was make use of it to create thematic puzzles, including one that’s central to the experience.
Escape Quest continue to create good puzzles, with the highlights for me being a challenge late in the game that weaves multiple threads of the escape room together, and a music-based puzzle that encourages the team to work together in a light-hearted manner.
While this game eschews technology, they’ve managed to keep it up to date with other venues by allowing for GM interventions at various points in the experience. That worked well to make the game a little more dynamic, but it still led to some confusion at one point. It’s not a big deal, but I think the games could be so much stronger if they were willing to add some tech to trigger at least some of the actions.
You should expect variations on traditional escape room puzzles, including some tough searching. These are solid challenges with only a couple of things throwing us off our game – one puzzle where there were two elements that seemed to be connected but turned out to be for entirely different puzzles, and another where we’d noticed a seemingly innocuous detail at one point and found that it had to be used much later with no obvious direction that this was the case.
The game builds towards you repairing the time machine, which is a satisfying conclusion to the experience. I wasn’t keen on the exact mechanism that allowed us to escape the room, but that was only a slight blemish on the adrenaline rush that was the finish to the experience.
Our team of four escaped with fifteen minutes remaining, having received a couple of minor clues – one for a search fail and another when we were barking up entirely the wrong tree on one puzzle.
The new Curious Encounters is a big step up from the previous version – certainly enough to keep up with the more general improvements in the escape room industry. If I had to describe it, I’d call it a well executed old-school game with some extra bells and whistles. We played as a group of four, and that seemed to work well. As usual with Escape Quest rooms, there’s plenty to get on with in the game, and much of it is parallelisable, so you shouldn’t worry about taking a slightly larger team.