Brisbane Escapes: “Puzzle Tech Murder” @ Puzzled Room Escape

ID cards in hand, we stand against a bloodstained wall. We are all suspects, we are told, in the Puzzle Tech Murder. But who was responsible for Head of Finance, Benjamin Pierce’s death? We have only 60 minutes to solve the mystery and escape from our captivity.

General Details

“Puzzle Tech Murder”
Puzzled Room Escape, 1177 Logan Rd., Holland Park West
60 minutes
2-6 players allowed
Listed difficulty: 3/5
Website

How We Played

9 May 2016
6 players
Escaped
Hints: 0
21 minutes 58 seconds (a record time)

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The Experience

Puzzled Room Escape is located in a small office complex on Logan Road, about 10 minutes drive from the CBD. Fortunately it is only metres from a bus stop serviced regularly, and has plenty of on-site parking. If you are visiting after hours and arrive more than 30 minutes early, don’t be put off if the lights in the complex are all off. If there are not too many games occurring on a particular day, it seems staff arrive half an hour before a session, and the building can seem locked up before they get there to turn the lights on.

Inside, the foyer is plastered with photos of previous participants, including a listing of the top 3 teams for each room. There are also some small puzzles for you to play with while you are waiting. My favourite part of the foyer, however, was the enthusiastic staff member, who we found to be eager to chat about our experiences with escape rooms and very open to feedback. This is a great sign, and bodes well for the company’s upcoming expansion into new themes.

When you get your photo taken after completing the room, rather than giving you how long it took to escape like most venues, they tell you how long you had remaining. I guess it doesn’t make a huge difference, but Puzzled Room Escape are the only guys I know who do it this way around, so it’s an interesting quirk worth mentioning.

Another thing Puzzled Room Escape does slightly differently is providing hints. Rather than give an unlimited number like most venues, or apply a penalty for each hint like Exitus, you are provided with three tokens. You must spend one of these in order to get a hint, which is provided in person by the gamemaster, who enters the room when you press a provided pager button. While it would be great to see some more thematically-appropriate or immersive method of providing hints, I do like the fact that you need to spend tokens for hints. I did wonder whether these tokens could be hidden around the room rather than provided at the start to integrate them into the challenge a little more, but I suppose that given they are meant for struggling teams, hiding them wouldn’t be very helpful.

The pre-room briefing is perhaps a little long for those who are well-versed in other escape rooms, but it would be perfect for players new to the concept. “Puzzle Tech Murder” is Puzzled Room Escape’s beginner room, so it makes sense to provide clear instructions for how the locks function. The company also has a particular pattern to their puzzles that is explained in the briefing, which I will describe in more detail when I come to puzzle design. The briefing is important even for experienced escapers, though, as some of the locks work in a particular way that is slightly unintuitive, particularly the final lock.

One aspect that does break immersion slightly is tied into the method of revealing puzzles. Puzzles are represented by ornate locked wooden boxes, and it is a little bit strange to have these boxes spread across the room. I think they would fit nicely into the “Haunted Academy” theme (I hope to confirm this soon!) but the murder-in-an-office theme seems a little less appropriate. It seems to me that simply having a locked cabinet or drawer would be more thematically appropriate. Having said that, the boxes are beautiful, and are a unique characteristic of Puzzled Room Escape. It has very little impact on gameplay, so it won’t be an issue unless you are deeply opposed to any kind of abstraction in an escape room.

“Puzzle Tech Murder” is nicely dressed, with simple props giving the space the feel of an office space (as well as another space that is similarly appropriately dressed, though I don’t want to give too much away). The room is compact, and is probably a little cramped with six, though it does mean that the space feels filled with interesting elements to examine.

The narrative to “Puzzle Tech Murder” is one of its strongest elements. As you solve puzzles, you discover little cards containing narrative elements and themes, which lead you to other clues and direct your attention. It would have been nice to see these narrative beats expressed in a slightly more emergent fashion through the use of props or similar, but the cards did the job. I think the pay off is quite fun when you do reach the end, however, encouraging roleplaying from participants in a very enjoyable manner.

Though there is a narrative here, it typically relates only in a tangential fashion to the puzzles themselves. The investigation side of things is not integrated into the gameplay to quite the extent that it is in “Forensic” at Exitus (review here), but there it is clear an immense amount of effort has gone into creating various materials that support the central narrative, and some of these do relate to the puzzles. “Puzzle Tech Murder” does a good job of expressing its narrative and creating an immersive, interesting space without relying on flashy gimmicks, instead utilising strong theming and narrative materials.

Puzzle Design

It is difficult to provide much critique of the puzzle design without giving anything away. Suffice it to say that there is a nice variety, though with a caveat. “Puzzle Tech Murder” uses a system, explained before you begin the game, in which puzzles are clearly identified by boxes locked by combination locks. The puzzles are therefore mostly code-driven, including pattern recognition and logic puzzles.

The key clues for each puzzle are located near the particular boxes they help unlock, which was something I was a little concerned by when I first heard it – wouldn’t that make things too easy? – but I ended up seeing the benefit of it. After all, not knowing what puzzles particular locks belong to is a false kind of difficulty, whereas here there was always a very clear sense of flow.

That flow makes “Puzzle Tech Murder” a fantastic room for first-timers. It provides a simple introduction to the concepts of an escape room and provides very clear direction through the narrative. This makes it quite linear, which would normally be problematic with a large group like ours (6 people). However, most of the puzzles were actually designed in a way that allows multiple people to work on the same puzzle at once, which gives a sense of camaraderie that you don’t get when everyone is spread out across numerous puzzles. It also means that this room is likely the most scalable room I have done, with a group of three just as efficient as one of six.

All in all, the puzzles are quite simple for anyone who has a decent amount of experience with escape rooms. This is fine, though, since “Puzzle Tech Murder” is really an introductory room, and the other room Puzzled Room Escape currently offers is apparently much more difficult. I should also mention that the Brisbane Geek Social Club teams have been on point recently, running like a well-oiled machine, and the fact that we escaped in record time suggests that not all groups will have the same level of success.

Where puzzles do offer some difficulty, that difficulty is fair rather than frustrating. One puzzle in particular is an absolutely cracking piece of cheeky misdirection that I suspect would stump a number of participants. Plenty of guidance is provided to find well-hidden items, so you aren’t expected to search blindly (which is a bit of a pet peeve of mine – perhaps because I suck at searching!)

All in all, the puzzles are well suited to anyone who is at the start of their escape room journey.

The Bottom Line

“Tech Puzzle Murder” replaces Exitus’ “The Garden” (review here) as my first recommendation for an introductory escape room in Brisbane. The main strengths of both rooms are their clarity of purpose and immersive setting, with straightforward puzzles that should not prove frustrating for new players and have exceptional flow. However, I think “Tech Puzzle Murder” has a clearer structure to the narrative, allowing all players to be involved at each stage instead of spreading out and missing the majority of the room. On top of this, the puzzles in “Puzzle Tech Murder” are slightly more difficult, varied and interesting than those in “The Garden”.

“Puzzle Tech Murder” therefore comes highly recommended, particularly if it is your first time in an escape room. Experienced players might find it lacking in challenge, but it is still worth doing for the fun roleplaying experience it offers and the way it expresses its narrative through props.

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