Outside the room
Rebellion 1136 hasn’t been open for very long, but TimeTrap Escape Rooms has a much longer history in Reading. They first opened around a year ago with a short pop-up during the Reading Festival and followed it up with another short-term game at a local pub. I was curious to see how their first permanent game would fare with the time they’d had to think through their designs and the experience they’d picked up along the way.
It’s a harder-to-find venue than average – look out for the sandwich board on the main street and then head down the alleyway to the entrance. Although the outside did not look like the most exciting in the world, the inside boded well for the game ahead: pretty and spacious, with a professionally made (albeit slightly tongue in cheek) video to set the scene.
It is the year 1136, a period in history named The Anarchy has just begun, and 12 months have passed since the death of King Henry I who has been laid to rest in Reading Abbey. Before his death he named Matilda, his only living child, as his heir. However, Stephen of Blois, Matilda’s French cousin, has travelled to England and successfully overthrown her, crowning himself King.
You and your team have joined the rebel fighters supporting Matilda on a mission to recover the crown and return it to the rightful monarch. Some of your comrades have gone before you, but they have not made it out. What they have done, though, is discover that the crown lies hidden deep within the castle throne room. You must break in, locate it and escape without being seen if you are to succeed. It may sound simple but the path to the crown is not easy, protected by obstacles you must overcome to get to the ultimate prize.
Inside the room
Setting a game in the 12th century is definitely a bold gambit. Even trying to recreate something that feels a couple of hundred years old is difficult, so heading for close to a millennium is going to be challenging. I’m almost certain the room was a fair bit more modern in its make-up, but it was old enough to feel authentic to my casual view. A pleasing set of props, including a few standout items that felt more like something you might see in a museum than in an escape room, reinforced that theme.
The story is told to you before entering the room – you’re supporters of Matilda, who’s attempting to be crowned queen of England – and that tale isn’t really expanded on during the game. There’s just enough there to remind you of the general storyline, but you could pretty much ignore the theme entirely and not feel like you’d missed out.
The decoration is good, but where this game comes into its own is on the puzzle front. There’s a good variety of puzzles that I think will keep most people interested and, while there is some searching, it is all for relatively chunky props, so it never got frustrating for us. For those who are drawn to that style of challenge, there are a few physical interactions with the room.
Few of the puzzles in the game – if any – are easy, but equally none are incredibly difficult: they managed to walk that line of making all the puzzles sit nicely in the Goldilocks zone so well that I suspect teams get stuck fairly evenly across the full set. One puzzle in particular looked like it would dominate the game but, as we started to solve it, we quickly realised that they’d opted for a much more tractable version than other escape rooms, making it enjoyable rather than tedious.
I liked what they’d done with the puzzle flow by having a very parallelisable start to the game, which should allow larger groups to get fully engaged without stepping on each other’s toes. They started to narrow down the puzzle paths slightly earlier than I’d have expected, with the result that large teams may feel a little constrained towards the end.
It’s a choice that I think works well: you get the joy of independence for the beginning of the game and the chance for some solo solving but, as the game progresses, you get pushed towards working in groups. I can’t say for sure how that would feel in a larger group (given we had just two players), but they’ve kept the ability to have at least two groups working in parallel pretty much up to the final puzzle, so I suspect it will be OK for all but the largest of teams.
There’s a clear mission to the game right from the start: retrieve the crown that will help Matilda capture the throne. The game builds nicely to that point and, once you’ve got your hands on the prize, all that remains is for you to jump back through the portal before your hour is up.
We played as a pair and escaped in 37 minutes without taking any clues. I believe clues are given over a tablet which you carry through the time portal with you when the game starts.
Rebellion 1136 is a thoroughly enjoyable feelgood experience that managed to transport us from the streets of Reading to the Dark Ages. The GMs/owners are friendly, the room is pretty, the puzzles are fun and there’s a subtlety to the puzzle structure that shows experience beyond the time they’ve been in the business. I’d absolutely recommend it to both enthusiasts and novices.
We played as a pair and had a great time. I’d suggest enthusiasts play as a group of two or three, while less experienced players could happily take along four or five as long as they’re happy to work in groups during the final puzzles.
Detailed Room Ratings
Full disclosure: We were given free t-shirts when we visited (we did pay for the room). It didn’t influence this review.