Welcome to a new feature of the Brisbane Geek Social Club blog where we will examine unique and interesting spaces around Brisbane that might be of interest to members. Escape rooms, of course, are a phenomenon that developed in South-East Asia based on the popular Flash room escape video game genre. Their popularity has seen them explode across the Brisbane (and international) leisure scene, but how do you know which rooms will best suit you? I’ve been trying out some of the rooms nearby in different contexts, and am going to share my experiences. If you’ve done an escape room, feel free to share and discuss your experiences on the forums with others who have taken part – but remember to mark spoilers carefully, as we don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone!
This review is spoiler-free, but it does talk generally about some of the experiences and puzzles you can expect. Though I have been careful to ensure no information is provided that could ruin the experience, if you would like to enter the room with no preconceptions whatsoever, I do not recommend reading this. But, then again, if you want to know nothing at all, why bother coming to read a review in the first place?
“Bomb at Government House”
Escape Hunt, 77 Russell St, West End
60 minutes provided
2-5 players allowed
Listed difficulty: Hard
How We Played
Hints: 3 or 4
Approx 59 minutes
Escape Hunt is a well-established purveyor of escape-based entertainments, so it should come as no surprise that the experience runs like a well-oiled machine. The waiting area was well-stocked with small puzzles and games to mess with while you wait, and there were even complimentary candies for those with a sweet tooth. A staff member introduces each group to the basics of the escape room format, and then takes you down a short corridor to a series of doors, each of which leads to a different room. Your mobiles are collected and stored in a container beneath the desk (which is manned while the rooms are occupied, so valuables should be safe despite the lack of a locker). Once you enter the room, the door closes behind you and a large display begins to count down the seconds remaining.
“Bomb at Government House” takes a fairly straightforward approach to the theming and story, but this actually counts in its favour. The room’s layout feels natural, and all of the props are realistic and make sense in the context of searching an office in Government House. Even the obligatory surprising environmental features fit the theme and context of the room. By keeping the theme and plot simple and avoiding unnecessary theatrics, “Bomb at Government House” is able to ensure immersion is never broken. Despite its simplicity, the environment still manages to house a number of surprises that really add to the experience (this being my first escape room, I may have audibly gasped at the result of one removing one particular padlock).
Unfortunately the success of the environment does not translate quite so well to the integration of the room’s story. Rather than allowing the story to progress organically through the puzzles, it is instead offered almost as an aside. You are supposedly seeking clues to the perpetrator’s identity as well as seeking the bomb itself, but the folders of information containing character descriptions turn out to be unnecessary flavouring, as that side of the story takes a backseat to the search for the bomb, and the villain’s identity is eventually revealed anyway, requiring no deduction on the part of the players. It would have been fantastic to see the plot integrated in a more developed manner to allow concurrent investigations into both the location of the bomb and the identity of the bomber. Failing this, however, I feel like the whole “find the identity of the bomber” side of the room was unnecessary, and only served to make me wistfully imagine what could have been had the narratives been integrated.
The puzzles themselves fall mostly into the categories of searching the room for small clues, which you then piece together to find codes to unlock various padlocks, safes etc. There is a mixture of spatial reasoning, logic, and math puzzles. It does take some time at the start to figure out what puzzles the various clues are associated with, particularly as it is never quite clear what order some of the puzzles need to be solved in, which occasionally left us scratching our heads over a puzzle that we didn’t realise we still lacked information for. This becomes less of a problem towards the end once many of the clues have been used and the puzzle progression becomes more linear.
One thing to note about the puzzles here (and I suspect this is generally true of Escape Hunt’s puzzle design generally, though only based on hearsay) is that they are for the most part the kinds of puzzles that could be found in a book of logic puzzles or similar. They are certainly clever, and searching the room makes good use of the environment, but once you have the clues you are basically doing a pen-and-paper puzzle. This isn’t really a complaint as such, as they are still very enjoyable – it is just worth noting that you will mostly be completing brain teasers. There are two notable exceptions that make use of either a prop or the use of a prop within the environment, but these are very simple and most of the time is spent scribbling clues onto the provided whiteboard. And there is one particular object that is very cleverly hidden (which we needed to get a hint for – my fault for failing at basic observation).
The trickiest part is finding all the clues you need and associating them with their respective puzzles. Once this is done, finding the actual solutions is fairly workmanlike and straightforward. This is actually a good thing, as it mitigates the potential problems with mostly having these kinds of pen-and-paper puzzles, and ensures you spend the majority of your time exploring the well-constructed environment, which is where the challenge truly lies.
The Bottom Line
Escape Hunt is not wrong to include the word “hunt” in its name. “Bomb at Government House” encourages players to turn its immaculately designed layout upside down searching for clues to be used on the various puzzles scattered around the space. As these puzzles are similar to what you might see in a book of brain teasers, this is a great room to introduce people to the concept of escape rooms without overwhelming them with new concepts. In fact, the focus on searching for clues makes this room almost identical to what one would experience playing an escape the room game on the computer. It is immersive, head-scratching fun that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend. This is identified as Escape Hunt’s most challenging room, but it is definitely manageable as long as you keep your wits about you and observation skills high. I’d recommend this room to anyone, though it works particularly well as a challenging introduction to the world of escape rooms, as it works with familiar puzzle concepts but is not insultingly easy like some “introductory” rooms can be.