Outside the room
Our weekend was rapidly coming to an end, but before heading home I had one last escape game to bring the total to five in 24 hours. After a brief breath of fresh air, it was back indoors with a new group to play Exit Madrid‘s “Cold War – Double Agent”. Having just broken their record on “the Laboratory” I obviously had high expectations, but it turned out so did they – I don’t think it was by chance that our host for this game was the owner.
He congratulated us again on the previous performance and explained that, while he expected good things of us, this room was very, very tough, with only 19 escapes out of 400 attempts. Having skimmed through their Facebook page, that 19 looks absolutely genuine, with the number gradually increasing over the last six months, so escaping this room is definitely an achievement. Would we be number 20?
You’re a 1970s spy whose organisation has just discovered that they have a double agent. They believe the agent has hacked into the NATO computer system and raised a false nuclear weapon alarm. If the alarm isn’t deactivated soon, nuclear weapons will be launched, the other side will retaliate and the third World War will begin. Humanity’s existence is at stake…
Again, we would have 66 minutes to complete the room, but they weren’t content with just having that to differentiate the game. In Cold War, you might not run out of time, but still lose the game. That was all that we were told…
Inside the room
Imagine walking into a room where you know that the wrong move could end the game. Imagine walking into a room where only 5% of teams have walked out with their heads held high. This didn’t feel like a room where we could afford to warm up. Indeed, before coming in, the owner had warned us that it was a very open room, where we’d struggle to get into a rhythm and we’d likely get frequently blocked, unsure of what to do next.
He was right – we found a lot of interesting things in the room, clearly pointing towards clues, but it wasn’t clear how to use them. We found things in the first few minutes that couldn’t be used till almost the end of the game. In fact, one of the very last things you have to use, could be found immediately on entering the room. To say this room wasn’t linear was an understatement.
But I get ahead of myself. As well as feeling stressed when we walked into the room, I also got a feeling of walking into Eastern Europe in the ’70s. Before you ask, I’m not old enough to have done that, but this is definitely what I would imagine it would look like. Old fashioned TV, dark wooden furniture, a big leather sofa. It was dark, it was dreary and it was perfect. Only one thing stood out as being slightly wrong – the computer (and this isn’t really a spoiler) which would be our entry to the NATO system was probably from the late 80s, but to most players it will look ancient enough to pass muster.
This isn’t a room where you’ll be wowed by the puzzles. They are neither plentiful, nor mechanically complex, but they are sufficient and they are hard. You’ll start to get a feel for where the puzzles are heading, but you invariably have to find two separate pieces of information to combine to solve each clue. Only half of the clues actually move you forward, but the other half do at least give you a sense of progress, and that becomes your rhythm in this game.
We stalled many, many times. Each time, we gathered in the middle of the room and discussed what we had, itemised the remaining locks and unused clues and hypothesised over what we’d have to do next. Everyone searched everything, and little by little we moved slowly towards our goal. Slowly being the operative word – there’s some sense of progress in this game as you unlock various items, but you’re acutely aware that you really don’t know how many steps there will be.
Random aside: before we’d come into this room, as part of the mission briefing, the host had launched into some Russian. As fortune would have it, I happen to speak a bit of Russian, or rather, I learned Russian at school and can still just about manage to say a few words. His face showed genuine shock, and he told us that the record time had been set by a team with someone who spoke Russian, and that it might prove to be useful. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the upshot was that, while you can escape the room without any Russian or Spanish knowledge, there was a puzzle where the fact that I spoke both Russian and Spanish made it easier. What can I say – I have all the key skills required to escape a room!
All through this time, we knew that at some point we’d come across a puzzle that would be make or break. A puzzle where making the wrong choice would mean World War 3. We had a couple of ideas of what that might be, but when the time came I was still surprised (in a good way) at the way it was handled. When we realised how it was going to work, there were a few swear words and the stress levels rocketed We’re a pretty confident lot, used to working under pressure, but one of us pretty much froze in the stress and two of us solved the puzzle independently before we were willing to take the risk. This was the most stressed I’ve been in a room, including rooms where I’ve escaped with seconds to spare, failed completely or had to navigate a laser maze. They played it perfectly – building up the tension before you even entered the room, letting you stew all the way through, slowly leading you to where the make or break moment would come, surprising you in exactly how it worked and then leaving you to pile the pressure on yourselves to the point where simple things became difficult.
Well played Exit Madrid – the finale in this room was simple, but it was devastating. I’m not at all surprised so many teams have failed.
We escaped with about ten minutes remaining, but in some sense, still by the skin of our teeth. We didn’t quite gain the record, but I’ll happily take second place on a puzzle this intense – just twenty seconds behind the leaders.
This was a clear five star game. If you’d told me the puzzles beforehand without any context, I’d have dismissed it as mediocre, but this is clearly a room where the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts. Even for experienced escapers, I think this would prove a challenge. You need plenty of different skills (most notably, some harder than average searching and general observation), patience and plenty of communication. More than anything else though, you need to be able to work well as a team under intense pressure.
If you’re ever in Madrid, play this game.
Detailed Room Ratings