This is part of a series of articles on games in Brussels – click here for the introduction and links to all the other articles.
Heading over to Brussels, Enygma was the company that most excited me. Not only did they have a website that looked more than a little like Time Run’s but, judging by that and the odd photo here and there, they seemed to have a pretty professional set-up.
The venue is just along the road from Quarantine and Escape the Room in 60 Minutes, but the inside couldn’t be more different – it’s a large space with plenty of room for three teams to hang out and not get in each other’s way. Even the corridor to the bathrooms is pretty – when you’re told to “follow the mirrors”, you probably wouldn’t expect quite that many to be showing you the way…
After each game, they do a quick walk-through, which gives you the opportunity to catch up on anything you missed but isn’t so in-depth that it becomes boring. On two of three games, we had GM-ing issues that had a significant impact on our frustration in the room. While I think we were a little unlucky with our experiences, it did make me feel that there was a mismatch between how they GM their rooms and how I feel rooms should be run.
Mayan Temple (3 stars)
As we went down to the basement – sorry, the Amazon – I was relieved to see that the production standards were high. The object of the game is to break into a temple to retrieve a particular artefact before escaping. It’s a small thing, but I’m always impressed by games that not only require you to escape from a space but also require you to break in in the first place.
Sadly, that great start was tarnished by being pointed at a part of the start area and told we weren’t allowed to go into it (presumably, it was the access to the electrics or similar). I appreciate they’re trying to make use of all the space they can, but I felt that being given such a direct instruction really spoilt the immersion. Even an instruction such as “nothing is hidden behind the bamboo fencing” would have worked better. Ideally, though, just make areas that you don’t want players to access actually inaccessible.
Once inside, the prettiness continued, with plenty of stone and ceramic objects that were adorned with what, to my untrained eyes, looked like plausible Mayan etchings. The extensive use of astrological information and Mayan character definitely helped to expand on the theme for me. Don’t expect any expansion on the story, though: no extra detail was given along the way.
The puzzles were laid out in a very clear structure, which meant that we quickly realised what we had to do to progress. I like that idea in principle, but it went horribly, horribly wrong for us. A problem with the GM-ing resulted in us thinking that we’d solved one puzzle which we hadn’t and that we hadn’t solved one which we had. Fifteen minutes of re-checking our working and consistently coming out with the same answer was one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had in a game. If the GM had been looking more carefully or paying attention to our body language, I think she would’ve worked out that something had gone horribly wrong and intervened. Eventually, we were given the correct answer, but that just served to exacerbate our sense of frustration for the rest of the game.
Ignoring that, the room felt close to being very good, but the puzzles were just a little too on the edge of logic. Afterwards, during the walk-through, I could just about see how they worked. The way the game was structured, you couldn’t test individual puzzle solutions and instead had to wait until you had a set of solutions to input together. When you’re in a situation where logic is a bit tenuous, not having any feedback to indicate on which part you’ve gone wrong is a major flaw, and the GM’s mistake massively exposed that issue.
Sherlocked (3.5 stars)
Sherlocked is an “old fashioned office” escape room with some olde worlde curios and plenty of period furniture. The kind of room that I just enjoy wandering round as I piece together what we have to do. While it wasn’t trivial, it soon became clear that the start of the game has an overarching structure to it which gave us a good grasp of what we needed to do and what progress we were making. I particularly appreciated that you could work pretty much entirely in parallel so there was no being blocked by teammates or feeling you had to wait your turn to solve something. That would revert to a more linear state of affairs later in the game, but it was effective in bringing us back together so we could experience the finale as a team.
Most of the puzzles were broadly observational, with relatively simple decoding in places. That said, there were a couple of tougher steps along the way which had us either stumped or at least blocked for a while. The searching was where this room got really tough, though. I can’t remember a game for a very, very long time with such difficult hides. To be honest, I felt that some of them overstepped from hard to unfair, but only just.
The final exit from the room surprised us (in a good way) more than it really should have. That was fortunate, because I felt that, after a strong start, the game ended weakly puzzle-wise, so the surprise helped to pep us up at just the right time.
Once again, we had a frustrating GM experience. This time round, we’d solved a puzzle but hadn’t pushed hard enough on the item it unlocked, which led us to think we’d got the solution wrong and prompted us to undertake some painful re-checking of our working. While I don’t think the GM should necessarily jump straight in, I equally don’t think they should have left us floundering for five minutes when we’d failed to progress because we didn’t want to damage the set. That kind of thing is what makes me want to be a little bit less gentle next time…
Mr Fogg’s Residence (4 stars)
For me, this was the best of the rooms at Enygma. It wasn’t entirely clear what the goal of the room was – I think that, more than anything, it was simply using Phileas Fogg’s great journey as a backdrop for an escape. There were certainly plenty of travel references to carry that theme, although I think they missed an opportunity by not structuring the game better to give the impression of starting in Europe and slowly progressing through other areas. The other theme that came out was the Victorian era (presumably called something else outside the UK…), with it verging on steampunk at times.
In general, the puzzles were good but fairly standard, though there were some moments that made it a little more interesting. One use of tech earlier on was, while perhaps a little out of theme, a fun addition. The finale puzzle was clever but I felt risked significant frustration. We had a perfectly good self-consistent solution but then found we’d missed a clue that totally changed the answer. Personally, I like that kind of cleverness, but you should never get the feeling you “know” the answer to a puzzle and then find it’s incorrect.
Credit where credit’s due: in spite of our frustration, our GM chose not to give us the clue we needed because we were on record-breaking time (and, unbeknownst to us, a bottle of Cava to celebrate). We did eventually solve it to scrape the record, and that gave us far more satisfaction than we’d have had if he’d jumped in early. GM-ing is a tough job sometimes!
And what a finale – it’s a very well created piece of theatre that you uncover as you progress through the game. It’s certainly an interesting way to finish a game and not something I’ve really seen elsewhere (although there is something vaguely similar in one UK game). I suspect some people will love it while others will feel it’s just fluff. You’ll have to play yourself to decide.
That’s all on Enygma – want to read more about Brussels games? Click here to head back to the main Edinburgh page.