Room Escape Warsaw
You might be slightly confused by the presence of Room Escape Warsaw and Escape Room Warsaw, especially since they’re actually a single company with two different venues. I guess it’s one way to distinguish two sites (there are several other companies in the city with multiple sites and, when sites are 30 minutes apart, it’s a recipe for disaster). It still confused me horribly when I started investigating the escape room scene in the city and even now I never remember which is which.
Room Escape Warsaw has Indiana, Laboratory and Basement and is located just south of the old town in the city centre, while Escape Room Warsaw is located in the Praha district and hosts Medieval, Museum and Time Machine. The standard of puzzles, decoration, waiting area and GMing was far higher at the second location, so treating the two venues as separate companies isn’t a bad call.
This venue had a smallish waiting area – big enough for our group of ten, but I wouldn’t want to have three full teams there at the same time. Of the three games, I wouldn’t particularly recommend any. Basement was a solid experience but lacked anything exciting. Indiana was fun and pretty but had one puzzle that was so painful that it ruined the rest of the experience for us. The Laboratory was broken for us in a way that really hurt the experience but otherwise would probably have been the best of the rooms.
Basement (3.5 stars)
As games go, this was a pretty standard experience, not really putting a foot wrong but not doing anything to blow us away. The decoration was pretty minimalist, with a little more effort going towards conveying the horror of a serial killer’s apartment. That’s not to say it’s a scary room: there was nothing in this that would make you jump and not really much that was even gory.
Most of the puzzles were observational, with a small amount of connecting pieces of information together. There was some physical interaction with the room but nothing that stood out. As with many Warsaw games, there’s a surprising amount of maths to be done in the room so, if that’s not your thing, I’d steer clear. Indeed, the final puzzle in the game involves a fair bit of reasonably simple maths to keep you occupied. Most of the challenges were single-player experiences, but the final couple of steps in the game did reward or require teamwork to some extent.
There’s almost no story in the game (indeed, a few days later I can’t even remember what it was other than being a killer’s home) and no development within it beyond the exploration mentioned above. They did recover from the mathsy final puzzle to produce a noteworthy finale – not entirely in keeping with the storyline but at least making things memorable.
Our team of three escaped in around 30 minutes without taking a clue.
Laboratory (3 stars)
Laboratory would have been a step up from the Basement had it not been overshadowed by a failure in the room and one of the most shocking GMing experiences I’ve had the misfortune to encounter. More of that later though…
While the room was science-laboratory themed, it really didn’t carry that vibe. Aside from a few token props and a couple of puzzles, this room could have been almost any theme. Again, it was mainly observational puzzles, although there were a couple of intriguing physical puzzles thrown in too. One was a fairly common trope that we instantly recognised, but the other was quite a fun game for the team to play. It was one of those semi-skilled puzzles that I’m pretty sure everyone will eventually finish but where some teams will take one minute while others can take five or even ten. For me they’re positive additions, but you’ll know if they are the sort of thing that causes you frustration.
A couple of the puzzles had some disappointing weaknesses. One was a decoding puzzle where you had to make some assumptions that I felt uncomfortable with. The puzzle worked but there was no need to make those assumptions necessary, and that made the puzzle less crisp. Another puzzle that required maths had an ambiguity between the multiplication symbol and x, while a physical puzzle had the very small possibility of leaving the game in an unsolvable state if you were particularly hopeless at the challenge. Nothing terrible but enough to grate. Add in a fairly large number of red herrings and, even if it hadn’t been for the GMing disaster, I don’t think I’d have been a big fan.
Sometimes, it’s all about the GMing, though… We hit a problem with one of the physical puzzles in the room that meant it wasn’t doing the right thing but in a way that we assumed meant it wasn’t time for it to work yet. As the game progressed, we kept retrying that puzzle thinking that its time might have come but to no avail. Eventually we got totally stuck on a puzzle and asked for a clue, only to be told something we’d already done. Grrr. We got another clue (after a while) that told us something obvious. Grrr. We got another clue that we later found out to be misleading because it pointed us at entirely the wrong thing to do next. Grrr. Grrr. At this point, several minutes after we’d got fatally stuck and a long time after we’d taken the correct action, we finally got instructions to do the thing that was broken. To anyone who knew the game, it should have been obvious that there was a breakage, because we were doing what we were told and weren’t reacting in the obvious way. It’s almost impossible to fathom how they didn’t realise that. Eventually they gave us the output that we needed from that puzzle, but by then it was too late to finish the game within the time limit. To add insult to injury, the host came into the room at the end clapping us at our “success” and took some convincing that the game was broken.
Having been unable to solve that key puzzle for virtually the entire game because of a breakage, we were left with not enough time to finish the room. We eventually escaped about a minute late, having taken one proper clue on top of the stream of clues for the breakage.
Indiana (3.5 stars)
After a couple of rooms which didn’t have the most exciting decoration in the world, it was refreshing to enter a prettier room. In Indiana you’ve fallen into an abandoned temple in the jungle and, while I wouldn’t go as far as to describe it as immersive, it was a significant improvement on the other two games here. That’s as far as the story goes, though: escape from the temple within the hour.
The standout feature of this game, for me, was a central prop that allowed you to track your progress during the game in a particularly satisfying and tactile way. I’m a big fan of games which give you a sense of progress, and that was abundant here. It genuinely made a difference in this game, because it gave us confidence to continue to work on the finale of the game when we might otherwise have asked for a clue.
The puzzles, with one exception, made sense and were enjoyable. There was a little too much reliance on decoding (particularly because we used the same code several times), but it’s a minor criticism, especially since you could share that taskwork out among the team members. They covered the usual bases for puzzle types, including a decent physical puzzle that, while not really fitting the theme, required a reasonable amount of communication.
However, there was one exception to that “enjoyable puzzles” statement… Three teams played this game. All three got stuck at the same place. All three teams needed several hints to get through it. Call me arrogant but, with over 2500 games of experience between us, and probably averaging under two clues per game over our trip, I’m going to suggest that, if all three teams get stuck in the same place and need several clues to understand the puzzle, then you need to make a change.
This was a terrible puzzle that introduced way too much ambiguity. I came up with at least four different solutions that would work and, while the correct one was a nice concept, by the time you get to it you’re likely to have reached a point of frustration. To compound that, the first two or three clues that each team got told them to do what they were already doing. It really felt like they weren’t paying attention because, when we asked for a clue, they told us to look at the prop that we’d been looking at (along with the puzzle) for the previous five minutes.
They capped the experience off with a fun finale. It was a little lacking in direction to my mind, but you had a chance of solving it, and they did eventually come to our rescue with a clue as the minutes were running out. The three of us escaped in about 58 minutes with one clue on top of the flurry of clues mentioned above. In truth, though, we held on as long as we could to get past that final puzzle without help, so I wouldn’t describe this as a difficult room.