Brisbane Escapes: “Jail Escape” @ Fort Locks

Trapped in our jail cell, we look around. A small desk. Some books. A shelf. And locks. Lots and lots of locks. It looks like it’s time for a jail escape.

General Details

“Jail Escape”
Fort Locks, 887 Ann Street, Fortitude Valley
60 minutes
2-6 players allowed
Listed difficulty: Level 1 (I think – difficulties are not clear from the website)

How We Played

11 April 2016
6 players
Hints: 2
53 minutes

The Experience

“Jail Escape” is, I believe, the base room offered at the Fortitude Valley-based escape room facility Fort Locks. Fort Locks is owned and operated by a Hungarian team, and one of the first unintentional challenges is finding the venue. It is actually slightly around the corner from Ann Street, and only a small sign on the front door indicates you are in the right location. Fort Locks itself is within an apartment hidden at the top of an office block occupied mostly by what appear to be design companies.

We arrived very early for our 7:30pm booking, and were greeted by a friendly staff member who expressed surprise at how early we were. It is worth noting that Fort Locks does not really contain the facilities to accommodate waiting in comfort, with only a couple of chairs available. We kind of lounged around in a cramped hallway for slightly over half an hour until the rest of our group arrived. Fort Locks recommends arriving around fifteen minutes before your scheduled start time, and I certainly don’t think there is any reason to arrive earlier. There is space for two or three people to sit around on seats and play with some of the simple puzzles in a tiny kitchenette, but it isn’t really set up for a wait of longer than ten minutes. This is just a quirk of the venue being in an actual apartment rather than a dedicated space. Another important point is that Fort Locks is upstairs, and did not appear to have disabled access.

The staff member was very friendly and was not fazed by our early arrival. In fact, she arranged the room so that we could start a little bit early. Given that Fort Locks is located in the Valley, near James Street, there is plenty to do in the vicinity if you should arrive early and want something to do in the interim.

“Jail Escape” was a fairly low-budget, low-tech affair. This is a room that focuses on puzzles rather than an immersive experience, though the theming was well done within the budgetary confines. There are plenty of barred gates and the décor generally feels thematic. The room also has a cool progression, starting in a prison cell and progressing through the warden’s office (this is not a spoiler – you can see the office through the bars!)

Clues are provided by knocking on the wall, which calls the host into the room (the walls are thin and they can hear easily). Not an ideal hint system by any means, but it does the job and given the limitations of the apartment venue I don’t know if any more innovative mechanism would have been possible. Our host was quite good with hints, providing just enough guidance to allow us to figure it out ourselves. This, I suppose, is one of the benefits of actually having a host to tailor the hints to the group’s needs.

The room’s design didn’t offer a lot of surprises – for the most part what you see is what you get, and there is no real narrative here beyond the central conceit of a jail escape. Some of the puzzles are tied into the theme, and some are not. The experience that this room offers is more abstract than a lot of the rooms I have tried in the past, meaning the focus is on the quality of the puzzles themselves.

Puzzle Design

Where “Jail Escape” lacked in production values, it more than made up for this in the breadth and depth of puzzles on offer. Individual puzzles tested everything from dexterity to mathematical ability, logic and pattern recognition. Some puzzles made fun and clever use of the props that you would expect to find in a jail cell or warden’s office.

It is worth noting that there are a lot of locks and there are a lot of keys. Some of the locks are quite interesting and unique, and “Jail Escape” actually comes up with some very clever ways to get your hands on the keys you will need. There were a few moments where we face-palmed when we realised an answer had been hanging right in front of us from the beginning!

“Jail Escape” is structured around a couple of path-based meta-puzzles, with a bottleneck in between and right at the end to create an overall sequence to tackling the room. The final puzzle is great fun to complete, and it is good that there is a bottleneck to allow everyone to see its solution. Although there are multiple puzzles to complete simultaneously at almost all times, each of these puzzles really only requires one or two minds working of the solution. Groups of six will find there are times where one or two people have little to contribute, while smaller groups may become overwhelmed. Based on my experience, I would guess the sweet spot to be around 5, though I had a great time with 6 as well. For the most part the room’s flow is good, though sometimes the number of puzzles makes it confusing as to what needs to be done in order to progress (particularly early on when multiple clues become available and it is not clear when they are useful).

One complaint I have regarding the flow of the puzzles is that sometimes clues can be misleading. One case in particular had us stumped for ages (we had to use a hint for it) because a clue in the room suggested we needed to use a particular prop to solve an early puzzle, when in fact we needed that prop for a slightly later puzzle. I don’t think this was intentionally misleading, but it did close us off to some of the simpler possibilities while we tried to figure out the meaning of this prop. One or two puzzles are also a bit like busywork, which require you to simply slog away at a task until it is completed (one of which was actually quite long!) This is not a huge problem – what seems like busywork to me might be a brainburner for another person, and we had members of our team who were quite happy to slog away at a single puzzle piece by piece.

I also want to give kudos to “Jail Escape” for providing tools that were actually required in order to progress. I have completed a couple of rooms now where we skipped parts of the experience by using our fingers where we were supposed to use a particular tool we had not found. The tools here were fun and gave “Jail Escape” the feel of a real jail escape.

The Bottom Line

I recommend “Jail Escape” for any reasonably large group that is enthusiastic about the puzzling side of escape rooms. The puzzles are varied in complexity, length, and challenge, and are so plentiful that I doubt you will see everything the room has to offer. It is not a room for those who want an immersive experience – the set dressing is simple and solely serves the needs of the puzzles – there is very little here that does not relate somehow to the jail escape! Despite this, many of the puzzles still manage to evoke the feel of a jail escape, more than making up for the limited dressing. This is a worthwhile challenge for fans of puzzling.