There has been a murder! A jockey has fallen from his horse and died under suspicious circumstances. Police have a suspect in custody, but are they truly responsible? It is up to us to get to the bottom of the Treachery at the Racetrack.
Escape Hunt, West End
How We Played
5 June 2016
3 players (competing against another team of 5)
Around 50 minutes (though we technically finished the room in 40 minutes)
Treachery at the Racetrack is Escape Hunt Brisbane’s latest room, and it represents a welcome shake-up to the formula developed in their other rooms. It offers more surprises, a more interesting space to explore, and a far stronger sense of narrative. In fact, the narrative was so intricate and embedded so well into the setting that my group spent an extra ten minutes after solving the final puzzle simply trying to figure out all the details of the backstory. This isn’t required in order to complete the room, but a surprising amount of detail has gone into this background.
This may be a result of the more interesting setting, but the design of the set also felt like a step above the standard Escape Hunt fare. The space had a solid build quality, everything worked, and the designers have worked in some interesting misdirection to hide some of the surprises the room has to offer. My only complaint in this regard comes from a particular moment where the effect of solving a puzzle is not immediately obvious due to the fact that it opens a secret, but that secret requires manual aid in order to be revealed fully. It should be fairly simple for escape room veterans to figure this one out, but it is a shame that what should be a surprising and exciting moment may for some groups turn into a confusing one because of a mechanical quirk.
Treachery at the Racetrack still favours abstraction over full immersion, but unlike Escape Hunt’s other rooms it offers puzzles and activities that go some way towards making the players feel part of an investigation.
Another area Escape Hunt has attempted to improve in Treachery at the Racetrack is the integration of puzzles into the narrative. Almost every puzzle related to the investigation in some way, using puzzles to gradually peel back layers of the mystery.
Puzzles are also more varied in Treachery at the Racetrack. Where their other rooms rely heavily on simple combination locks, puzzles here require physical manipulation, careful observation, and logic.
I found Treachery at the Racetrack to be quite a difficult room, particularly the first puzzle. One aspect that makes it so difficult is the need to induce how different features of the room fit together to contribute to puzzles. In their other rooms, clues are easily identifiable as most come on laminated cards, and it is therefore easy to see how they relate to one another. The challenge with Treachery at the Racetrack comes from the fact that so many of the clues are embedded within the environment. Fortunately, the room’s flow is excellent even without much explicit guidance, as clues are strategically revealed corresponding to the order in which you need to complete puzzles. The challenge is therefore fair, not overwhelming players with red herrings, but instead hiding pieces of the puzzle in plain sight.
However, should you break the order, the puzzles begin to fall apart. The experience is strictly linear, and is ideal for smaller groups. The other group, with five participants, came across a problem when one of their players managed to solve a puzzle out of order. They managed to do so due to a particular quirk of Escape Hunt when it comes to locks that occasionally makes them quite easy to brute force, though I won’t go into further detail on this. Suffice to say, solving this threw the team’s progress out of balance, and left them quite confused. It also unsettled the narrative flow, meaning they missed out on some of the more exciting moments. Fortunately, they still made it out with seconds to spare!
One final disappointment is that, despite the rich narrative given to Treachery at the Racetrack and communicated through its puzzles, the final answer, so to speak, allows you to ignore all this backstory. I have mixed feelings about this – on the one hand, some groups will appreciate having the answer fed to them and don’t want to trawl through ancillary material for details, while on the other hand some will look for a challenge. If you conform to the latter, however, you can still seek out the backstory as a kind of side quest, though.
The Bottom Line
Treachery at the Racetrack demonstrates that Escape Hunt Brisbane is willing to experiment with the formula they previously developed in their other rooms. It offers a variety of puzzles and solid integration of the narrative into the room’s structure and the design of the puzzles. Despite a few quirks that might confuse larger groups, or those prone to tinkering, it provides an excellent experience for those who think they have the Escape Hunt formula figured out. I recommend it for small groups with some escape room experience behind them.