A summary link will be posted here when all parts of the guide are published.
Early last year, just before lockdown kicked in across much of Europe, I took a four-day trip to the Netherlands and Belgium to play some of the best games that region has to offer. The standard is ridiculously high and, despite already having made three escape room trips to the area, we still managed to visit 10+ games that were world-class (and another ten that were merely very, very good!). This is part of a series of posts that rounds up the set of games I’ve played across those countries – this time focusing on Rotterdam, The Hague and nearby areas.
I’ll link the high-level summary here when I’ve posted the full set. If you’re planning a trip across the whole of the Netherlands (rather than just this area), I recommend you start there.
Escape Room Katwijk
If you like La Casa de Papel (Money Heist – the Spanish bank robbery series on Netflix), you should visit Escape Room Katwijk and play this game. If you haven’t seen it, then be warned: I enjoyed this game so much that I felt compelled to watch the series (which turned out to be a good decision). The best way of describing this experience is like a love letter to the show. They’ve captured the essence of the story in the room and delivered the adrenaline-fuelled feeling of being on a heist along the way. So well did they capture that feeling that at one point we forgot to keep solving puzzles and instead just did what came naturally to us in the heist storyline. A beautiful room, fun, varied puzzles and a feeling of adventure to the whole thing – what more could you ask for? Lovely hosts and a bit of theatre alongside the game? OK, you can have that too. This really is a joy to play and a game that I would recommend adding to your itinerary.
As a bonus, they’re about to launch their second game, so keep your eyes peeled for Here I am, inspired by the TV series Vis a Vis.
DarkPark has a formidable reputation for producing immersive games with phenomenal sets. On previous visits, we’d played Honeymoon Hotel and the End (full reviews here). This time around we were completing the set by trying the Orphanage. All three are incredible rooms that you should try to squeeze into your itinerary if at all possible.
The Orphanage is a big, scary game. They rattle you early on to ensure you’re in a nervous mood right from the start and then play with you constantly through the game – spells of normality will be broken by sudden jump scares or extended periods of creepiness. There’s a real sense of exploration to the experience as you discover different parts of the Orphanage and get a sense of what went on there. The one part of the game that I felt let it down a little were the puzzles. A couple of those frustrations were related to a recent refurbishment and I’m sure will have long since been fixed, while another was a physical challenge that outstayed its welcome – I’m sure some teams will love it, but it became a bit tedious for me. Those were relatively minor aspects to a game that was otherwise excellent and, to cap it all, they closed off the experience cleverly with a visually stunning end sequence.
Honeymoon Hotel is my favourite of the DarkPark games, with the beautiful set, clever scares, good puzzles and a constant sense of moving forward in the game. If you can cope with a scary vibe and the occasional jump, I’d strongly encourage you to play.
The End is packed full of clever elements and memorable moments. At times it can feel like a conventional (if exquisitely decorated) escape game, while at others it’s all about the adventure. It’s made up of memorable moments. Every room sticks in my mind. Every transition is cleverly structured. The finale is extraordinary. Again, the puzzles are the weak link here, but only because they aren’t as numerous as I would like. The End is all about the adventure and feeling like you’re part of a story, and on that front it delivers beautifully.
Escape Room Rijswijk
With four games to choose from, you could spend a fair amount of time at Escape Room Rijswijk, but we were on a fly-by trip and so opted for their two best-regarded games, Jason’s Curse and the Execution.
Jason’s Curse has a creepy theme and, while I wouldn’t particularly describe it as super scary, expect to have some jumps and moments in the dark thrown your way and to be slightly uncomfortable on a few occasions. It was clearly a very good game, but for me it wasn’t quite up there with the best that Holland has to offer. My favourite aspect was definitely the sense of exploration it delivered. On its own that was impressive but, in the context of a scary experience, it truly became engaging, because each transition to a new space ramped up the tension. There’s a real reticence to you creeping through doorways or even just opening up cupboards. The puzzles were logical but didn’t grab my attention until almost the end, where there’s one that’s set up in a particularly clever way that gets the whole team involved and really forces you to focus – something that’s particularly tough in a scary room!
The Execution is a phenomenal game from start to finish. It’s big and it’s bold, combining enjoyable puzzles, fantastic theatre and a beautiful set. There’s a slightly intimidating start with a little bit of theatre, so you’ll need at least one person who’s willing to take that on but, after that introduction, it moves towards being an adrenaline-fuelled adventure. As with all the greatest games, it’s not just one aspect that they excel in but many – the opening theatre is superb, the sense of rushing around what feels like a prison gives you a real sense of immersion, and then there’s an amazing ending to wrap up the experience. This should definitely be on your playlist.
Down the Hatch
Down the Hatch had two games when we visited, The Cooper Case and Flight 815. The Cooper Case offers a beautiful set with a creepy theme, where you’re investigating the disappearance of a real-life criminal to determine what became of him. I’d describe it as a traditional escape room with an amazing set. It’s an old game, and you can tell that from the style of puzzles, with lots of tropes (albeit logical ones), but the decoration was updated when the room was rebuilt and looks stunning. If you’re visiting the venue, it’s definitely worth playing.
Flight 815 is based on the TV series Lost and really feels like it takes you on an adventure (and, at times, has the surreal feeling of the original show!). It’s a step up in terms of decoration, with a distinct feel to every space that gives a sense of both journey and adventure to proceedings. There’s also a step up in the quality of puzzles, although there were a couple of points that risked frustrating players and getting in the way of the flow of the game. From the surprising start to the visually impressive ending, this is a game that stands out because of the scenes it creates.
Full reviews here, and it’s worth mentioning that they’ve opened a third game since then, Molly’s Curse, which has been getting rave reviews.
Escape Room the Cube
One of the lesser-known games in this list, I didn’t expect much when I walked into Escape Room the Cube. Located in a shopping mall and with a relatively plain waiting space, I thought it would be a fairly traditional game, but the Triplicate Institute most definitely isn’t that, and it turned out to be a hidden gem. The start is simple but elegant, making it clear that this is a company that knows what it’s doing without giving you any sense of what’s to come. The answer was good quality sets, some innovative puzzles and one particularly outstanding concept that doesn’t just tell the players the story but helps them live it. This is a game that should be on far more enthusiasts’ radars.
Escape from Wonderland
If you’re looking for a high-quality, light-hearted game, then Escape From Wonderland in Leiden is the perfect fit. It’s whimsical from the moment you walk through the door, where you’ll likely be enchanted both by the fantastically fun and friendly GM-owner and the copious references to Alice in Wonderland that adorn virtually every surface. That sense of fun continues throughout the whole game but, pleasingly, each space still manages to have a very different vibe. Alice in Wonderland is a perfect source of bold imagery, and they use that to great effect to create something that melds cartoon and reality into a beautiful set.
It’s not just pretty, though. It’s also packed full of content with plenty of puzzles to keep you occupied, even for our team of five people. At times, those are easy and parallelised, while at others they deliver harder puzzles that encourage the whole team to get involved. I particularly appreciated one that felt like they’d pretty much created an entire room for a single puzzle with a delightfully chunky solution.
This is a game that I’d encourage you to play and, if you do (and COVID rules don’t prevent it), set extra time aside so you can chat with the owner.
DarkPark is well known for its amazing games, so I was keen to head back to the early rooms and see how they’d progressed on their journey. DarkPark games don’t stand still, though, and that showed with an experience that felt as modern as any of the games on the trip. It’s a circus-themed game filled with theatrical and memorable moments. As DarkPark games go, it’s not very scary, but they still deliver a few moments – including the opening sequence – that keep you on your toes. In fact, that opening was one of the best I’ve seen – throwing you off guard, creating a real break between the outside world and the game world and also allowing you to scare yourself way more than the game ever could.
There’s a satisfying structure to the puzzles, with linearity at some points and parallelisation at others. I particularly liked how they played with that alongside the physical spaces we were in, which resulted in a very different feel to each part of the experience. The set isn’t as amazing as their games over in Zoetermeer, but it still has two or three standout moments, and it’s well presented throughout.
This is a game I played purely out of curiosity, but it absolutely deserves to be on the itineraries of travelling enthusiasts.
MindEscape offers a couple of contrasting games – Anna’s Dollhouse and the Expedition. The owners are enthusiasts, and that shines through in the games they’ve created (as well as their knowledge of other escape rooms!). Both games are high quality although, for me, the Expedition had the edge.
Anna’s Dollhouse is a creepy but not quite scary experience that does a great job of transitioning you to Anna’s world via the video intro. Inside, there’s a good set not just in terms of decoration but particularly with the sense of discovery and exploration it gives you. The puzzles are solid, although we found ourselves getting stuck more often than usual, which led to the game feeling a little stuttery. I don’t think it’s that the puzzles were illogical or even unfair so much as it not always being clear in which direction we should be heading.
The Expedition is a jungle-themed game that has much to offer. Again, there’s a great start that manages to neatly transition you into the game world. From there, you’re immediately thrown into a space that I think will particularly suit enthusiasts with its relatively open puzzle structure. There are plenty of twists and turns as the game continues, a sense of exploration and a bit of theatre but, for me, the real strength came at either end of the experience: just as the game got off to a great start, it brings itself to a cool conclusion that really stood out to me.
I played Escape Experience‘s The Artifact on a previous trip. It’s nothing to look at from the outside, but it delivers lots of good quality, fun puzzles and a pretty set. For me, it’s one of the overlooked games in the Netherlands and, while it won’t blow you away, it’s a good addition to any enthusiast’s itinerary.