Outside the room
After playing the first of our back-to-back rooms, we returned to the bar and games area while our hosts reset the room. It certainly seemed like a nice idea to be able to have a half-time drink (complimentary soft drink available!) and a game of pool, table football or air hockey, although we struggled a bit with technical issues and had to get them to resolve problems with the latter two. Still, a couple of games of pool worked wonders to clear our minds ready for the task ahead (and add even more competition to an already competitive evening).
Soon enough they were back down to introduce us to our second challenge: the Witch House.
The game is billed as a tense supernatural thriller filled with intriguing puzzles, surprises and a compelling narrative. The mystery begins with a student who rents a room inside an old house with a long and dark history. His dreams are haunted by those of a Witch from the town’s legend. During the witch trials of 1692 she disappeared never to be seen again. It’s 11pm and your team has been sent to help the poor student uncover the mystery that lies within the room. What happened to the witch? Can you break the curse before the clock strikes midnight?
Inside the room
Where the previous room had looked somewhat bare and utilitarian, this looked like it had been carefully crafted to try to convey the sense of the room we were entering. Pleasingly, they’d managed to strike the right balance with lighting. This game wouldn’t work with bright lighting because of the theme but I never felt that the light levels affected us. One particularly nice touch was that they dimmed the lights while we were being briefed beforehand but then brought them back up when the game started. I don’t know how deliberate this was but it meant that we had maximum adjustment for our eyes and minimal temptation to start looking early. In addition, psychologically, it made the room seem bright when we started.
The space was relatively compact (I certainly wouldn’t want to play this game with eight people) but it had plenty of things to investigate. Unfortunately, one fairly showpiece puzzle had been broken by earlier teams. Although it didn’t affect the game play significantly (they seamlessly replaced/removed it from the game flow), it sat there like the elephant in the room taunting us. The one saving grace was that I could see how the puzzle would have worked. which meant that I got to appreciate how it would have added to the room. On the face of it, it wasn’t an obviously fragile puzzle, so I can’t really hold it much against the company – I’m guessing they just had a particularly rowdy group before us. Hopefully, it’s long since been fixed.
The props in the room added to the theme nicely without overstepping the mark and feeling like red herrings. Indeed, there’s little in this room which doesn’t play a part in the game. On the subject of props, there were a couple of annoyances. Firstly, one of the props required batteries and, while it just about did the job, it made the game more difficult than it should have been in a way that was frustrating rather than fun; if you’re going to require batteries, then make sure they’re powerful enough.
The puzzles really took advantage of the theme and were nicely balanced across a range of styles – visual, riddle, observational. There was, however, one puzzle that I really didn’t like. The room makes use of ‘do not touch’ stickers to tell players to steer clear of certain items. That’s fine – sometimes you want a prop in the room that you know is fragile and the stickers make that possible. I always think that stickers are effectively shortcuts saying “if you were to interact with this item, you wouldn’t find anything useful”. The problem here was that, had we interacted with it, we would have found a clue. Strictly, you didn’t need to touch the part with the sticker but you did have to touch something that was adjacent to it and which you couldn’t be sure wasn’t part of the prop. It wasn’t outright unfair but it was close.
There are three problems with that. Firstly, there’s a risk of leaving players feeling annoyed because they were being nice by not touching the prop and it ended up adversely affecting their game. Secondly, the next time players play at your rooms, they may not pay so much attention to your stickers and still interact with fragile elements. Finally, you’re teaching them not to respect the rules of the game and they’ll potentially ignore other rules you give them or go to other companies and ignore their rules.
There’s a clear sense of progress in the room but it takes you a while to work that out. Indeed, we didn’t really work it out till we’d almost completed the whole room. There’s also an underlying connection to the puzzles you’re solving but, again, we didn’t spot that until near the end. Had we spotted it (and, frankly, it was only because we took a long time to solve a puzzle that was available to us from the start), I think it would have really added to the game play.
As the briefing makes clear, this room isn’t about escaping. The goal is to find the witch’s skull and, while unlocking it isn’t really fundamentally different from unlocking a padlock on the exit to the room, I found that engaging in a quest rather than simply escaping added to the experience.
We escaped in around 42 minutes, about three minutes behind our fellow team mates and having taken one clue to their none. It might as well have been a failure…
Don’t read too much into that time; we spent well over fifteen minutes trying to solve one puzzle before we finally resorted to getting that clue.
This was another solid room. Immediately after playing I felt like this and the Panic Room were about the same in terms of quality. Although this one was more compact and had fewer puzzles, it made up for it by being better themed and having a better structure. As time has gone by, this is the one I remember more fondly – I think it’s technically a better room, and the owners’ greater experience when they created it shows.
New players will love playing this room, and enthusiasts will enjoy it. I’d particularly recommend it to players who are particularly keen on the look of a room and less interested in the number of puzzles.
We headed back to Five Guys for a celebratory milkshake and dinner for one of us. It hadn’t changed much in the intervening three hours…
Detailed Room Ratings