Outside the room
The penultimate game in our Panic Room itinerary was Million Dollar Date Night. It was a strange experience because, in some ways, I knew exactly what to expect but, in others, I was totally oblivious. We knew it was a room packed to the gunnels with puzzles, but we didn’t know how they’d be presented in the room or whether we’d be able to access them all from the start or we’d have to unlock them step by step.
It’s an unusual (currently unique) game in the UK in that it’s for two players only, so we’d split up into four teams to tackle it and, probably more than any other game we played, reputations were at stake – there’s no suggestion of enjoying the ambiance or taking in the theme here. It’s all about solving puzzles as fast as is humanly possible.
Escape room meets game show, this two-player only experience is one of the most ridiculous yet. Against the clock, can you win big or walk away empty handed? Find out on your episode of Million Dollar Date Night!
Inside the room
What can you say about a game like this? I guess I need to concentrate on the puzzles and the flow. Let’s start with the flow: this is a game where it’s all about knowing when to persevere and when it’s time to move on, so the concept of flow is somewhat distorted. It’s all about keeping that puzzle-solving rate up and, unlike with normal games, “bad” puzzles don’t interfere with the flow because you can just choose to bypass them.
Indeed, they’ve taken the opportunity to include puzzles that I would normally be frustrated to encounter in an escape room. In a normal escape room, a puzzle that only 50% of teams would ever be able to get is probably a bad idea, but here that’s acceptable – those teams can just move on to a new challenge. While none of those puzzles really worked for me, I found it liberating to see them in a room and not get frustrated. In particular, I liked that some parts of the experience relied not on conventional puzzle-solving skills but other abilities.
While it should have been fairly clear, it wasn’t always obvious whether or not you’d gained access to a new space after solving a puzzle. At least once we thought we’d completed a challenge correctly and so ignored it for the rest of the game only to find that we hadn’t. I’d like to see the more electronics-based puzzles have some clear and consistent feedback to the players about whether they’re completed or not, particularly given the pressure in the room.
One big surprise for me was the lack of skill-based challenges. I had imagined that they would have had a whole series of puzzles where skill was a factor – marble mazes, buzzwire and the like – but there were only a couple of things along those lines. Hopefully they’ll include a few more challenges of that sort if they have a second outing. The other common escape room aspect that doesn’t appear much is search. It turns out to hardly be a factor in this room although, during the briefing, you are told that there’s a white token hidden somewhere in the space that’s worth 100k. Whether you think it’s worth the gamble to take your time searching for it is another matter.
Being presented with forty puzzles to solve would be overwhelming for most players so they’ve – rightly in my opinion – chosen to hide some puzzles away until you’ve solved some others. That worked well but it did on occasion mean we had partial puzzles that distracted from the task in hand. Obviously that’s the bread and butter of escaping, but I found it a little frustrating when the game finished and we had puzzles that we knew *how* to solve but didn’t have all the information to actually use.
In fitting game-show style, there’s a big buzzer that you have to hit when you’re finished and, if you go over that sixty-minute mark, even by a second, all your good work will have been in vain – you’ll be leaving empty-handed and the only thing you’ll be able to have in your photo is a blankety blank cheque…
We escaped with $795,000, a reasonable haul but fourth in our group of four teams, one of which scored $905,000.
It’s hard not to come out of this game frustrated. However well you do, you’ll almost certainly be leaving puzzles in the room that you haven’t been able to solve. It’s likely that there are other puzzles that you never got to see because you never unlocked those spaces (because you failed to solve separate puzzles). There’s a decent chance you’ll come across a puzzle that you know how to solve but don’t have all the pieces of information for. It’s almost certain that you’ll come across a puzzle that your team would never be able to solve even given several hours.
The trick with this game is to get over that. It’s hard, particularly for enthusiasts, but think of it as a challenge. Just how far can I push myself? Just how many of these puzzles can I best in an hour? If you manage that, then I think this is a fantastic game. Is it an escape room? Well, that depends on your definition. Is it fun? I certainly think so.
Detailed Room Ratings