Outside the room
The Isle of Wight always seemed like it would be too much hassle to visit for an escape room trip but, when I was plotting a trip along the South Coast and realised that the ferry takes well under an hour, I thought “why not?”. With Random Rooms having four games, the extra journey time per room was only about half an hour per game, much less than plenty of games we’ve played in the past, so we signed up.
On arrival, you may well think you’ve come to the wrong place, as the address seems to be a library. Fortunately for us, however, a friendly face appeared before long and we were taken upstairs to the waiting area. For a venue with four games, there’s not a huge amount of space, but I guess they rarely have to deal with a full set of bookings, so it’s not a big issue. Certainly, there was more than enough room for our team to lounge around in between games.
The four games we played were all reasonable experiences, and I wouldn’t try to dissuade you from booking any of them. They were of a remarkably consistent quality – none are stellar but they didn’t really put a foot wrong and had plenty of fun puzzles. Searching is slightly harder than usual, decoration is a bit weaker, and there’s rarely any story development in the game. If you were just going to play one, I’d opt for the Random Room if you’re an experienced player, because it’s so different to your average experience. If you’re a relative beginner (or are bringing beginners along), I’d probably point you to the Goddess Curse Room, or maybe The Prisoners Room if you like searching and a bit of technology.
The Goddess Curse Room (3.5 stars)
With a name like this, you might be expecting something tomb-like in its appearance but, be warned, this game is set in a collector’s study and, while there are plenty of Egyptian props and curios on show, it is, at its heart, just another office. There’s no attempt to expand on the story during the game – you’re in the room, looking for the priceless artefact, and that’s pretty much it. Perhaps a little more about the main character’s travels but really not much.
From a puzzle point of view, this was the highlight room for me. There were plenty of puzzles which, with one exception, flowed fairly naturally from start to finish. That one exception was where we got stuck for quite a while because it turned out we were working on a multi-step endeavour. By the time we’d finished, all four of our team members were gathered round the physical prop and each had contributed a part of the solution. It wasn’t like this was four separate challenges either – it was genuinely several steps to solving a single puzzle. For four players to all have a hand in the solution is pretty rare in my experience and suggests a well-constructed challenge. More generally, the room had a nice variety of puzzles, including a couple of good physical elements that, while easy to solve, were a satisfying addition to the game.
The small but enjoyable finale, part puzzle and part ritual, felt like a fitting end to an Egyptian-themed room.
The Prisoners Room (3.5 stars)
Controversially, this is a prisoner room without handcuffs or cells. I guess the family-friendly demographic of Isle of Wight visitors might make such inclusions less popular than elsewhere. Instead, you’re spies being held in a mountain prison where you’ve broken into a central office of the jail and need to somehow signal your location back to your handlers. That’s a strong mission for a game and, much to my surprise, that position-finding and transmission was way more interesting than just finding a code to send back home.
It’s a pretty lacklustre room from a decoration point of view. There’s been little attempt to change the theme from the original office space where it’s located to something with a mountain prison (although, truth be told, I don’t know what I’d expect of a mountain prison!). In fact, there would have been a real danger of it feeling like a pure puzzle room were it not for the content of the puzzles themselves. More than any of their other games, they’d managed to make the puzzles fit the theme. While there was certainly some escape room logic, most of the code-cracking and puzzle-solving had some basis in reality or was at least a metaphor for some part of the mission. It felt like a very open game, with plenty of things to investigate right from the start and enough challenges to go around.
The highlight was most definitely in the finale, which involved technology and physical interactions of a level that you really wouldn’t expect given what you’d seen up to that point. They even managed to weave what you had to do into the story of the game in a fairly natural way. A great way to end an enjoyable room.
Random aside: They offer the ability to have an A3 poster with a photo of one of your players made for this room. Perfect for a birthday or celebration. We took advantage of this and I was impressed by the quality of the result.
The Random Room (3.5 stars)
Why should escape rooms have themes? In the end, most of us start off by being attracted to them as challenges. As time has passed, the immersive side of things has become more important to me, but I still occasionally enjoy venturing into pure puzzle rooms. This is most definitely one of those.
The beauty of a room with no theme is that there’s no need to shoehorn anything in, so you can concentrate on making good puzzles and arranging them with a decent flow – precisely what they’d done here.
For all that there was no real theme, it was probably the nicest of their rooms from a decoration point of view. I guess that the lack of a concrete theme allowed them to decorate the room how they saw fit and not worry about whether it was an accurate representation of something. It was genuinely an enjoyable space to spend some time in.
So, enough about the ancillary stuff. What about the puzzles? There were plenty, they were reasonably enjoyable and they were logical. There was a fun physical construction that formed the centrepiece of the room and worked well in engaging two people to overcome the challenge. One puzzle felt like a huge leap to me, although it later transpired that we’d missed a clue that would have spelt it out a bit more clearly (a clue, I should add, that was added specifically to avoid requiring that huge leap!). Another felt fairly ambiguous, with us debating how to interpret things for quite a while before eventually understanding the logic well enough to get a solution. Overall, though, they were solid puzzles.
Of course, the downside to there being no theme is that there’s no real mission and no way of measuring progress towards your end goal of escaping beyond itemising the locks and props in the room and working out whether you’ve used them all. Indeed, until very, very close to the end, you don’t really know what you have to do to escape the room. It’s a slightly surreal experience, but there was something fitting about not knowing what you had to do to escape a random room until it was pretty much finished. Yes, this was most definitely a random room, but in a good way.
The Motel Room (3 stars)
Of the four games at the venue, this was probably my least favourite, mainly because of the decoration. I’m not a huge fan of escape games set in bedrooms, primarily because they rarely have anything interesting in the set and the bed dominates the room. This was no different, and the “squat” nature of the space, while perhaps realistic, made it a less enjoyable place to spend an hour than most.
It’s a very different game from their other three because, in addition to having to escape, you have to achieve some evidence-collection objectives along the way. While you’re told what these objectives are before entering the room, it isn’t quite a comprehensive checklist and, even when we found them all, we weren’t 100% certain that we were done. In some ways I like that – it’s a more realistic sort of murder investigation – but it takes away some of that certainty that I like in an escape room. Is the mission truly over or isn’t it? Might there be one more thing to find? You’ll probably know whether that’s an issue for you or not.
The challenges were on the weaker side, causing us to spend a lot of time banging our heads against the proverbial brick wall and eventually solving puzzles that felt like they were more of a stretch than the previous rooms. Nothing terrible – just puzzles where the logic felt a little more tenuous and one puzzle in particular that was conceptually fairly simple but quite long and easy to make a mistake on.
They turned things round with the endgame which was bang on theme. In fact, for me it was probably the highlight of the experience, with them managing to really immerse the players in the game and generate some tension for the finale.