When the van’s unlockin’, don’t come a knockin’
Outside the room
How big a space do you really need for an escape room? In the end, it’s not hard to shrink puzzles down to quite a small size, and most games hardly make use of their floor space. And rent’s high in London, innit? So perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that someone came up with an escape room in the back of a van, but that’s not to say it isn’t one hell of a challenge.
But EscapeMobile didn’t stop there. Oh, no. They decided to up the stakes by making it a twenty-five minute game. Bearing in mind that the majority of players would be brand new to escape rooms, this meant that in under half an hour they’d have to teach beginners how escape games worked while not making the game so ridiculously easy that enthusiasts would waltz out in a matter of moments. Good luck with that!
We headed down to Waterloo past the graffiti artists and along the dark tunnel that leads to the Vaults. There, in all the splendour you’d expect of a Ford Transit, sat our escape room on wheels. A short briefing later and we were handcuffed up and ready to be serious escape artists.
Escape a challenge designed by the Great Harry Houdini himself. Expect magic, illusions, locks, chains and handcuffs.
Handcuffs in a game are usually a device to keep you from accessing the whole space until you’ve solved a certain set of puzzles. They trap you and your teammates together for a portion of the game more than likely unable to reach all the props while still being able to see a fair chunk of the game.
In a van, things are entirely different. Firstly, we weren’t handcuffed to anything other than each other. Secondly, the van was tiny, so any one of us could reach the whole space with ease. The point of handcuffs here is to get you into the Houdini mindset and to make moving around awkward. As if that’s wasn’t awkward enough, add in a relatively low roof; if you’re unlucky enough to be the one in the middle, you’ll find that both your hands are attached to your teammates and you have relatively little ability to explore. That’s not a criticism – I suspect it’s a very deliberate choice because that awkwardness made the experience funnier.
As you’d expect from a transit van, there wasn’t much in the way of decoration. They’d done enough to make it a pleasant place to spend twenty minutes, but don’t expect to be raving about the décor. The puzzles are definitely the more interesting side of things. They’re not amazingly innovative (although they have their moments), but they do provide sufficient puzzles that you’d expect everyone on the team to have a chance of solving one as well as using them to build up the players’ confidence by having similar but not identical puzzles in a chain. There’s the obligatory searching (at which we were obligatorily useless) and even a somewhat physical puzzle. Nothing spectacular by conventional games’ styles but enough to keep you intrigued.
Throughout the game, the GM is on hand in the driving seat to give you help if needed. I’m not exactly sure how that was managed, but I suspect there was a flap that opened between the cab and the main lorry through which she could deliver hints.
There’s a fair sense of progression during the game (I know this because we had a fair sense of not progressing fast enough!) but the finale was a little bit of an anticlimax. I’m not sure quite what we expected, but I didn’t have the usual sense of triumph that I experience when I rush out the exit. Perhaps if I was better at opening Transit doors, that might have been a little different…
We escaped in under twenty minutes without taking a clue.
How do you rate an escape room in a van that is meant to last a mere twenty-five minutes? This is so far outside the norms of what we usually play that it feels almost unfair to classify it alongside the rest. Compared to a normal escape room, this was disappointing. The puzzles were fairly simple, there was only a token amount of theming and there were no amazing mechanisms or reveals during the game.
That’s missing the point, though. This game is intended to give beginners an introduction to escape rooms, to be able to get large numbers of people through and to be highly portable. On those fronts it achieved its goal with ease. New players will have a great time in a very approachable game that they can play even if they’ve had one or two drinks. If you’re thinking of hiring this for a festival, work do or a wedding, I think you’ll find it’s an unusual and popular addition to your day. Definitely the best 20 minutes of fun I’ve ever had in the back of a Ford Transit.
Detailed Room Ratings
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.