We’d long been meaning to visit Newcastle, having heard some good things about the north east of England. Whitley Bay was only a stone’s throw away and, with a pirate-themed venue, I couldn’t resist heading across. There’s something special about pirate games – the combination of rope and wood, the opportunity for a good quest to find treasure and lots of strong imagery like the skull and crossbones!
As you might expect from a venue that’s not in a major town, there was a warm welcome at Pirate Escape and, as a bonus, it was clear that the GMs knew a bit about escape rooms. Between rooms they were comfortable chatting about local games they’d played, and they did an admirable job offering clues at the right time across the three experiences.
For me, the Brig was the most accessible of the three games. It had by far the clearest puzzle structure and a nice mechanic to start the game, although the end faded a little. Jungle was packed full of puzzles but felt a little more chaotic. Mutiny had more multi-stage puzzles than I think I’ve ever seen anywhere, which was both rewarding and frustrating. All three are fun and hit similar quality levels but, if I had to order them, it would be the Brig, Mutiny and then Forbidden Jungle at the end.
Forbidden Jungle (3.5 stars)
First impressions were disappointing. It was clear that this was really just an office space with some foliage to cover the walls. Nothing about the space really said “pirate-y”. As the game progressed, however, the pirate side of the experience became much more noticeable, and there was a definite feeling of a secret pirate hideout. While the decoration started to become a little more prevalent through the game, for me it went a little too far and started to feel like there were red herrings.
This isn’t a game where you should expect much story. As with all their experiences, you need to find the treasure and escape the room, but they don’t tell you a story beyond that. The game did take us to different locations to help with the narrative, but they felt more like new puzzle spaces than like an attempt to take us on a journey.
The overarching sense I got from this room was of there being a lot of puzzles but it not being clear which ones to solve. We’d sometimes find ourselves trying to solve puzzles where we didn’t have all the clues while, at other points in the game, we’d be ignoring puzzles that we required in order to move forward.
We really struggled with the opening although, ironically, I think it was actually a good introduction to escape games, giving people ideas of what they’d need to do. Searching, riddles, observation and other standard challenges were all included in that early section before we were let loose on the escape room proper. The puzzles beyond that were reasonable but still fairly standard escape room fare. There was no real attempt to fit them within a story and, while most of them made use of natural props for the theme, one or two felt tenuous even there.
There’s a clear moment in this quest where you should find something that will allow you to escape. Fail to spot that, though, and you will end up in a slightly confusing “am I finished or not?” phase. I’d have far preferred an additional series of puzzles to solve at the end or for them to combine the last two stages into one to make things clearer and ensure that we got the maximum adrenaline as we escaped the room.
We escaped in 54:29 with 3 clues that came at request via a screen. There’s plenty of investigating to be done in this game, so I’d recommend a team of three or four.
Mutiny (3.5 stars)
There was something about Mutiny that felt a little more pirate-like than our first game. Granted, not being set in a jungle probably helped, but I felt they’d gone to a lot of trouble to make an interesting use of the space. I was particularly impressed by what they’d done with the height of the room to create an unusual effect that helped to reinforce the feeling of being on a ship. Once again, it’s a game where you’re aiming to steal the pirate treasure. While there are references to mutiny scattered through the game, and the odd tidbit of story, I don’t think the theme really played that much in either the puzzles or the narrative.
The thing that most stands out about Mutiny is the sheer number of multi-stage puzzles available. I was impressed by what they’d done with one that had four distinct steps before we got to the final path and that saw us exploring most of the space before we were done. Even better, there was confirmation that we were on the right track at each stage so that we didn’t have to take too much of a leap of faith. A couple of the other multi-stage puzzles were a little more problematic due to them using similar symbology that made us feel they were related and caused us to head down a few rabbit holes before we found the correct solution.
The biggest problem, though, was knowing if we’d reached the end of a solution. On more than one occasion we tried intermediate information as codes in padlocks. That was made worse by there being multiple padlocks in which we could input answers. This is definitely a game where you’ll want to use the paper offered to note down all the information and what you’ve worked out so far.
Another area where this game did well was with a couple of fun challenges that included multiple team members. One skill-based offering looked really tough but turned out to be fairly accessible, while another one required two players and could meaningfully have used three.
We escaped in 43:17 without taking a clue. The early stages of this game are a little cosy, but I’d be tempted to take a team of three or four – there are plenty of puzzles to go around, and I think sharing this room in a bigger team would be fun.
The Brig (3.5 stars)
The Brig introduced a new mechanic to split-start experiences. One of our players was allowed to ask for clues, but it was the other player who received them. I’m sure that was more for tech reasons than anything else, but there was something appealing about both sides of the split having to be in agreement to get a clue.
It’s a surprisingly long split and could, in fact, have been very long: there’s a risk that one player could literally finish the game without the other getting free. We missed a key observation and ended up taking a clue purely so that one of us didn’t get sidelined. For me, games should block against that possibility, although I’d hope the GM would have intervened if we hadn’t made that call ourselves.
Decoration-wise, it’s a fairly dull start but, as the game progresses, the space becomes much more impressive with well decorated sets. They aren’t going to convince you that you’re in a pirate ship, but at the very least there’s an enjoyable “period office” feel.
Once again, the highlights for me were a couple of good teamwork puzzles, but I also appreciated a fun search-based challenge where you could afford to miss one or two of the finds. Searching for every last item in a room is often a dull activity, and not requiring a full complement of items is a great way of improving the user experience.
The puzzles here weren’t as complex, difficult or engaging as in their other two rooms, but they were the most logical and accessible. The end sequence was the one place where it fell down a little. It was quick for us, but there’s a real risk that you will end up having to do a detailed search of the entire space at the end of the game. In my opinion, a smaller, more direct challenge would have been a better end to the experience.
One lasting frustration I have with this game was a search fail. They’d chosen to hide a clue in a place where looking would break immersion. We’d both consciously decided not to search the area and instead opted to brute-force the final number in a combination lock. I’m glad we did, because receiving that clue during the game would have been even more frustrating.
We escaped in 36:51 having taken a single clue because we didn’t want to continue the game with one person still locked up. This game would be fine for a couple, although there’s some parallelisation, so I wouldn’t worry if you took a slightly larger group.