Warsaw Escape Review: Escape Room Bank

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

A little out from the centre, Escape Room Bank is a six-venue company located in an old bank that currently houses a museum for miniatures. As well as playing their games, they’ll take you on a couple of tours of the location – one to the bank vault in the basement, which is an impressive space with a huge vault door, and the other to the miniature museum up above. The primary member of staff and the owner were very friendly and welcoming. The other members of staff were a little less engaging, although it wasn’t clear if that was partly a language barrier. It’s worth mentioning that a couple of their games are on the fourth floor, so expect a climb if you book General or Taken.

Sometimes, you hit a bit of a dud when picking escape rooms. Escape Room Bank was that venue in Warsaw. Unfortunately, I’d also booked us in to play six back-to-back games. In the end, we decided to ditch the last two games having suffered through four, but I wouldn’t recommend any of these – maybe General if you go in having read the review below and don’t make the mistakes we made, as our teammates who played Grand Robbery said it was reasonable. The other games we played had serious flaws that ruined them for us.

General (3 stars)

A big, communist era room with lots of red herrings and a string of wardrobes/cupboards down the side wasn’t the best introduction to the escape room. It’s not something that wows you, and the number of props to look through was somewhat overwhelming. We took a long time to make any progress at all, and even then it was stilted – only a couple of steps forward before we stalled entirely.

It was at this point that we asked for a clue and realised that they were ignoring us. We’d noticed that the countdown timer said 00:00, but it wasn’t until this point that we’d really thought about whether that meant they couldn’t communicate with us either. A few repeated requests for help later and they realised that the computer wasn’t plugged into their main system. Back on track and the clue came but, sadly, it only told us to do what we’d already done.

A few minutes later and we were told something that totally changed the flow – keys could be used more than once. That’s not really their fault, but our assumption is that, at best, a key may be used in the same piece of furniture multiple times. Here, it unlocked half the game. Unfortunately, the space we’d accessed gave us enough to work on that it felt like it was reasonable that it wouldn’t open anything else.

From there, the game progressed fairly smoothly except for a couple more hints that were partly related to us being non-locals: specific mechanisms in this game that are commonplace in Poland but were new to us. That said, we should have been able to work them out and they were, in effect, search fails. There was some interesting use of technology, a tense finale and a couple of good puzzles.

In the end, though, they’d left us utterly frustrated on not reusing the key for far too long, which meant we were frustrated with the room as a whole. I might still have recommended it, but the drab decoration, relatively small number of puzzles and lack of direction left me feeling that, at best, it was an OK room for beginners.

Taken (2 stars)

Taken is a story about investigating the disappearance of a friend which sees you enter into their apartment to find out what happened. It’s a strange little room, especially in contrast to the huge space of General, the game we’d just left. I think it attempted (reasonably successfully) to depict a small chalet, packed with props that couldn’t possibly all be relevant to the game.

So, yes, there are a large number of red herrings in the room, but there are also a lot of puzzles on offer. As well as about ten four-digit padlocks… As the game progresses, you’ll start to see a method to how they match up with the different puzzles, but it’s not always clear, and even if it were, when you find a code that you think *may* be right, you’re going to try it in the other locks just in case. That way lies frustration…

Obviously, it wasn’t putting me in an amazingly excited mood, but then things went horribly, horribly wrong. We’d worked our way through all but one of the puzzles. We thought we’d found an answer that seemed to work and a second answer that worked almost as well. We thought we knew which padlock it corresponded to and had had that confirmed as the others slowly found their way to the floor. We just couldn’t make progress. Eventually, it was obvious we were stuck and decided to brute-force the padlock using some numbers that we were pretty sure were relevant. Twice. In the end, we tried entering codes for this one puzzle on at least 100 occasions but without success.

We admitted defeat and called for a clue only to be told we were doing the right thing and eventually convincing them to come into the room, at which point they realised what was wrong.

That would have been pretty bad on its own, but then they had no way of removing the padlock… We suggested removing the hasp entirely (there were exposed screws), but they couldn’t find any suitable tools. Eventually we gave up and moved on to the next room. According to our sister team, that was probably more fun than continuing with the game…

Mysteries of Warsaw (1.5 stars)

The game of a thousand keys… I kid you not: as you’ll find out within a couple of minutes of entering the space, this room is packed with keys and, yes, one of them is important (or at least should have been). That should give you the hint that this room is destructible, by which I mean that, if you move things around, you can make it (to all intents and purposes) unsolvable.

Destructible rooms aren’t the end of the world if you’re told about them in advance – and we were – but that means you have to play the game without rearranging things and, critically, you don’t know precisely what it is that you can’t rearrange. The keys were pretty obviously a no-go, but there were other things in the room that you had to investigate in some detail. Doing so without rearranging them was next to impossible, and we ended up accepting that there would be a small amount of disordering but assuming we would probably get away with it. I don’t approve of destructible puzzles, but this was so much worse than anything I’d seen before.

The room itself was very pretty – beautiful old wood panelling with huge card file drawers and pretty pictures round the walls. It would have been a pleasant space to spend time in were it not for the puzzles. Sadly, they let it down again and again. In one case, the clue was downright misleading as to what you were meant to do, pointing us at multiple different parts of the room. That was exacerbated by a mis-set that, even when we found the right part, caused us to assume it was wrong because it didn’t yield anything useful. Two puzzles were poor quality visually, which made one difficult to get right and made us ignore the other as not being something we should be able to see at that point in the game. Another puzzle was a bit temperamental (although conceptually a genuinely clever idea).

By the time we got to the finale, we just wanted to leave. By then, the fact that it wasn’t at all noteworthy didn’t matter to us, and I’d guess that, after reading this review, it won’t matter to you either…

Prison (3 stars)

I have to confess to having a penchant for proper prisons. There’s nothing quite like being locked up in a real jail cell to aid immersion. This was most definitely the real thing. Underground and grubby with solid bars, you really got the feeling that this was a tough place to escape from. You’re split up into two teams for this game and, while it’s easy enough to communicate, unsurprisingly you’re reliant on each other to make progress.

The flip side of it being a realistic jail cell is that it really wasn’t a nice place to search. There were holes between bricks where mortar had crumbled, there was dust all over the floor. It was cold and it was just a little bit grim. I didn’t particularly want to investigate my surroundings and, as with all escape rooms, that makes it difficult to move forward.

In some sense, realism dominated this room in good and bad ways. The décor brought immersion but made it unpleasant. On the puzzle front, they’d gone for a very physical approach to escaping that didn’t involve abstract puzzles and unnecessary combination locks. For some of the puzzles, there wasn’t even just one way to solve them but a series of options, and I later enjoyed hearing from the GM how different teams had chosen to get past the challenges. There’s no right way to solve this escape room, and for that I loved it. The downside to that realism was that there are at least four different ways in which you could break this game. If you tried something and got it wrong, it was game over – there was no way out. We managed to miss the obvious ones, but there was one not at all obvious option that we fell foul of. You’re obviously not entirely dead in the water – the GM will come in and help – but it broke the immersion and put a dampener on the whole experience.

I can see people loving this game. If you don’t mind the grubbiness of the cells, then you’ll revel in the immersion. If you don’t make a mistake while playing, then you’ll never have that immersion broken and you’ll instead love every minute of MacGuyvering your way out of prison. Go in with your eyes open, be prepared that you could require the GM to come into the room, and there’s every chance you’ll enjoy it.

That’s all on Escape Room Bank – want to read more about Warsaw games? Click here to head back to the main Warsaw page.

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