Vienna Escape Review: Masters of Escape (Prison Break and Case 187)

This is part of a series of articles on games in Vienna – click here for the introduction and links to all the other articles.

Masters of Escape is a venue that sits far enough outside the centre of Vienna to be easy to overlook for tourists but is actually quite quick to reach if you’re willing to make use of the public transport system. It’s certainly not a venue that will get passing visitors dropping by, which suggests they’re pretty confident that their games will speak for themselves and drag in players by word of mouth alone.

We played Prison Break and Case 187, both of which deal with crime but have very different themes. If you’re looking for something more traditional, then Prison Break will do the job well. Aside from some tough searching, I don’t think there’s much that’s going to put you off playing, but neither is it a game that’s going to surprise you hugely. Case 187, on the other hand, is quite different from the average experience, with its police-procedural style of play that sees you solving a bunch of cases before getting to a more traditional game format.

I’d happily recommend both games, although I think that, for enthusiasts, Case 187 is a little better because of its originality. It’s worth mentioning we also got to play a fantastic mini-escape game in a 30 cm x 60 cm x 60 cm box, which was a lot of fun. It’s clear they have both the technological and puzzle design know-how!

Prison Break (4 stars)

Prison break games don’t really need an introduction. One of the reasons I think they’re so popular is that players instinctively know what they have to do and so are naturally more immersed in the story. This game very much takes advantage of that, throwing you straight into the experience with almost no background. Unsurprisingly given the theme, it’s a bare-looking space but, as the game progresses, you see a little more visual variety as it diverges from other similarly named rooms and hints at a bit more story than you may have anticipated.

I found one particular aspect of that decoration interesting in that it was more a caricature than a realistic depiction. I think that will come across as immersion-breaking for some people, but I still saw it as a positive part of the experience. Manda Whitney recently posted an article on Visual Shorthand, and I think this was a great example of that: it provided a way of conveying to the players that this was an oppressive and unpleasant place with minimal narrative required.

If you’re the sort of player who loves searching a room, then you’ll be happy in Prison Break. There are lots of difficult hides, which is perhaps fitting for a prison game, but for me it ended up being a little frustrating, especially since it wasn’t always obvious which prop we’d missed, which meant that we had to have a whole conversation with the GM rather than just a quick clue. To put that in context, I thought we were having a really good room from a search perspective, finding some well hidden items, but then found we were still missing several things.

The strength of this game is that they’ve aimed to create challenges that fit within the theme as much as possible, rather than just layering them on top. One in particular stood out because it pulled together multiple stages into a single final solution. I particularly appreciated that because there was a deservingly significant reward for the solve. Harder puzzles should give you a better return.

Not that everything hung together so well. A tough puzzle in the middle felt more thematic than fun, with us eventually solving it by random luck. It’s absolutely solvable by skill, but most teams will just work away till they happen upon the correct solution, and that’s not very satisfying. And sadly, the finale felt similar – a bit too mathsy to end the game and missing the excitement to get you rushing out the door. That said, this was a fun game for our group of three, with only the searches proving frustrating – if that’s not appealing, then I recommend asking for help earlier than we did!

Case 187 (4 stars)

Where Prison Break had felt like a very traditional escape room, Case 187 is at the opposite end of the spectrum, with something approaching a police procedural game. By that I mean that, rather than solving puzzles and escaping from the space, it is more geared towards solving crimes as if you were a police officer. That gives it a very different vibe, although I think it will be very much down to personal taste whether that makes it better or worse.

Walking into the room, there’s a fairly standard office feeling but with a couple of nice touches in the way it’s laid out that make it more intriguing. In particular, they’ve created a sense of anticipation which gives yet more impetus to solving the puzzles.

There are plenty of stories in this game, but I felt they missed a trick by not interweaving them more. Absorbing stories in escape rooms is difficult, and the more you embed them into individual puzzles, the better they come across. Here there were several seemingly separate stories which were sometimes irrelevant beyond the individual puzzle. That said, I liked the overall narrative, which made the experience more interesting than many solve-the-murder escape rooms.

As for puzzles, we were mainly solving crimes, so it’s quite different from most experiences. If that puts you off (and I don’t think it should), then it’s worth mentioning that about half the room was more traditional puzzles, and that became especially true during the game’s end sequence. In spite of how that may sound, there’s actually more variety in puzzle styles during the game. My biggest complaint was that the policework got a a little tedious at times (perhaps authentically so!). I’m not generally very excited by technology in the room, but it felt like some of these interactions could have been made more fun by adding in some automation to give it the feel of modern policing.

User feedback was an interesting aspect of the experience in that we didn’t always know when we’d solved a puzzle correctly – the GM chose whether or not to give us that feedback based on whether we looked like we needed it. The result was this niggling doubt, even on confident solves, that meant that, when we didn’t know how to proceed, we went back to already solved puzzles just in case we’d missed something.

We played as a four and found that splitting up into pairs worked really well, with the puzzles rewarding discussion and teamwork. The whole set-up of the game is effectively a whodunnit, with the finale seeing you make your final accusation. It’s not a fast-paced adrenaline finish, but it’s a satisfying way to end the experience.

Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.

That’s all on Masters of Escape – want to read more about Vienna’s games? Click here to head back to the main Vienna page.

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