Published on September 14th, 2016 | by Dean Love1
An Escape Game Fan’s Guide to… Budapest (2016)
Note: there are over 100 escape games within in the city limits of Budapest. We played 13 of them, based on a mixture of recommendations from friends, the internet and Trip Advisor, along with taking a few punts on things that just looked interesting. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and of course the scene is constantly changing with new rooms opening all the time: we got an e-mail from a site within a week of leaving advertising a new room! This is a snapshot as of September 2016.
Budapest has a lot of escape rooms, but handily most are located in Budapest’s District VII, the old Jewish District on the Pest side of the Danube. Abandoned for a long time post-World War II, over the past few decades it’s seen a huge amount of gentrification, with every street dotted with ruin bars, restaurants and such. It’s very much hipster-central and full of young people, but it means that there are plenty of hostels and Airbnb options around making it easy to find somewhere to stay, and you won’t be short of things to see.
In terms of language, most people speak a bit of English, and you can generally get by. For the games themselves, the simple rule we followed was that if they had an English website, they’d be English-speaker friendly, which worked out for us (and 95% of the games we investigated have an English site). The one snag will be with clues – your host may be anything from slightly familiar to fluent in English, and as most sites will employ multiple people our experiences won’t necessarily be representative. Just be prepared to ask questions as simply as possible, and remember the host can generally see you, so physical gestures can still work on your end. The especially nerdy amongst us can have some fun watching for the clever ways certain puzzles have been made language independent, and indeed, if you get a clue sheet with English on one side and Hungarian on the other, you may be able to infer something about the solution!
Budapest has a fairly comprehensive public transport system, with a metro, busses and trams available. Handily for escape game teams, you can get a 24-hour group travel pass for 3300HUF, which covers up to five people. If you buy single travel tickets, be aware that you need to buy one for each leg of a journey, and validate them on the platform (metro, tram) or bus itself.
Nearly every game requires booking online in advance, and payment in cash, generally after the game, so be sure to take enough HUF. You can expect to spend an average of 10000-12000HUF per game (for a team of three) which is around 27-33GBP or 36-44USD.
Budapest gets very hot in the summer (mid-June to mid-September) and very cold after that. But, most of the rooms we played were quite temperate, many being down in basements, insulating them from the worst of it. Also note most of the rooms tended to be on the dirty/dusty side, so I’d recommend against wearing your going-out clothes and maybe take some hand sanitiser with you for after the game!
Handily, plenty of the games in District VII are located in or next to ruin bars (bars built in and around the ruins of old abandoned buildings) so if you fancied a different sort of pub crawl, you could do as we did and start at Gozsdu Üdvar with Gozsdu Mission, head to Mindquest in Fuge Üdvar, then finish up in Exit Point at Fogashàz!
The best – our top three Budapest games
One of the few games outside of District VII, but only a ten minute ride on the M2 Metro line, the Pirate Cave sees you trying to break an ancient pirate curse. It starts with a great teamwork and dexterity challenge, and has some great puzzles. There’s not a huge amount of searching, and you’re pointed in the right direction for anything that needs more than a cursory look.
There’s a great physical element in the middle of it, and well placed music and sound effects. The clue system is great fun (and actually leads to a few extra puzzles and bits of story) and we didn’t find anything too easy or too difficult. What really stands out is the sense of atmosphere. The set dressing is fantastic (coming complete with a water feature), and it genuinely feels like an old pirate cave. It’s very well maintained, and everything worked perfectly. The story is strong throughout and comes to a nice climax, where you each have to break your own personal curse. The best game we played in Budapest, and one of the best we’ve ever played full stop. We made our final escape in 43 minutes.
Interestingly, I’d seen this recommended on an escape room Facebook group, and had to direct the host to the group, as he was quite confused as to why he’d been getting an influx of foreign tourists over the summer!
1106. Budapest (Hungary), Fehér út 10.
12000HUF-19200HUF (based on number of players)
E-exit Escape Games – Heaven and Hell
E-exit have three games at their site in the middle of District VII, with Heaven and Hell being the most recent, opening in the last few months. The story is that you’ve temporarily killed yourself in order to have a look at heaven and hell, before you resurrect yourself with a defibrillator which will only work for an hour…
It’s crazy, and the game lives up to this description. You really do start in a morgue and “kill” yourself, ending up in purgatory, where you need to open the gates to heaven and hell. The rooms all look great, and the puzzles are all solid. The one complaint might be that a couple of the puzzles become busy-work that goes on a bit too long: you figure it out but then have to spend a good few more minutes just implementing the solution. But it’s a minor gripe. The other ‘negative’ worth noting: you can’t play this game if you have claustrophobia. There’s nothing particularly awful or scary, there’s just a bit that all team members have to do that we found immeasurably cool but could definitely be a trigger for some people.
There are some other really neat physical tasks, including a bit in heaven that induced pure childish glee in some of the team! The story itself is pretty simple: go have a look at heaven and hell then come back, but the game commits to it well and it all comes full circle in the end.
Hints are delivered by screen and were given at just the right time, and it’s also interesting that this was probably the most tech-heavy game we played in the city, with by far the fewest padlocks (possibly none). Again, this was one of the best games we’ve ever played and is highly recommended. We finally woke up after about 56 minutes.
1072 Budapest, Nyár u. 27. sz. alatt.
10000-12000HUF (based on number of players)
Verem – Hanger 18
Verem is another game that requires a bit of travel to get to. Over on the Buda side of the river, it features two 80-minute games, Hanger 18 and The Dictator. We’ll talk more about the latter later, but Hanger 18 was definitely our favourite, with a much more interesting theme. One thing worth noting is that you book a two hour block for the games, but they’re only 80 minutes (90 with briefing) and as no-one else was booked, they were happy for us to do one immediately after the other, so we were only there around three hours rather than four. Also worth noting that they’re ten minutes’ walk (albeit up a lot of steps!) from Fisherman’s Bastion, where you can get some amazing views over the Danube of Pest, especially at night.
The game itself was the last of our trip, and had a genuinely epic feel. It’s hard to say why: at 80 minutes it’s longer than a normal game but far from the longest we’ve played. Perhaps it’s also that it was spread over a large space: most of the rooms over in District VII tend to have a lot crammed in but are relatively smaller. BunkerGame aside, this was the largest environment we played in, and most of it was a single large space. There was a definite feeling of slowly uncovering the secrets of the room, picking away at it with the fairly obvious final goal sitting there, taunting you. There’s a couple of neat challenges to even get to that room, of course, with a nice physical test included.
The plot involves Area 51, and discovering the secrets behind the aliens that may have landed there, but while the hanger itself is well dressed, the story is pretty light. This room is all about the puzzles, and there are some great ones that require you to pull together different aspects of the room. It also had nearly as much tech as Heaven and Hell, which made sense: a secret government lab examining aliens wouldn’t use padlocks, it would use RFIDs! We found the exit after around 68 minutes.
Most of all, Hanger 18 just felt a bit different from most other games. It’s probably a failure of my own critical faculties that I can’t quite place my finger on just what was different, but it really worked for me and is well worth trying out!
1013 Budapest, Pauler u. 18.
8000-12000HUF (based on number of players)
Bubbling under – best of the rest
TRAP – Medieval
One quick thing to note about TRAP: they have five games over two locations in the city. Along with Armageddon, Medieval seems to be regarded as their second best game. The best seems to be their Egyptian game, which we didn’t play purely because a version of that room (and their Tomb game) has opened at Escape Room Centre in Blackpool here in the UK.
The Medieval room stands out with its sheer number of mechanical, skill-based puzzles. The plot is nearly non-existent, but the medieval decor is great and the setting comes across well. There’s a great physicality to solving these mechanical puzzles, the room is commendably non-linear, and you’ll need to have different people working on different puzzles to get out in time. Knowing who is best at what sort of thing is pretty crucial to do well in this game.
The puzzles flow really well, and the way you access the final chamber is pretty cool. All in all it’s a very strong room, just not quite as interesting as the top three.
Clues are delivered by walkie-talkie, which could have been annoying but we only needed the one hint, and finally escaped with around 8 minutes to spare.
1061 Budapest Paulay Ede Street 20.
ExitPoint – Rabbit Hole
ExitPoint is based in Fogashàz, one of the district’s most popular ruin bars, and I think maybe it suffers for it. It has an Alice in Wonderland theme and while it starts in a fairly normal kitchen, you eventually find your way down the rabbit hole and into a dusty, run-down “wonderland”. Which kinda doesn’t work. For that setting you need bright, clear, primary colours, not faded, scratched ones. Being in a drinking establishment, it’s likely had more wear-and-tear than your average room, and there’s not much that can really be done about that. It’s just a shame as this would probably be in the top tier of games had we played it when it first opened.
Because the game itself is really good, there’s some very strong puzzles, with some really fun bits and some mechanical challenges of skill. One puzzle needed a basic knowledge of the rules of chess – something I’ve never seen assumed in a room in the UK. The whole game came together quite well, and a series of panels let see your progress once you reach the second room, although one of the puzzles was broken/missing, so we never unlocked one of them.
Hints are given by post cards arriving through the door, often with pictures suggesting where to look, or which pair of things go together. We weren’t sure on our final time but we had around 22 minutes left and were told that was a new record, though given this was the last stop on our pub crawl I’m not sure that can be true!
1073 Bp, Akácfa u. 49. (Fogas garden)
7500-13500HUF (depending on number of players)
At the risk of repeating myself, this is another game I wish we could have played when it was new. But rather than being a really good game marred by some minor issues, like Rabbit Hole, this was a brilliant game marred by some huge problems. We should have probably got suspicious when the host returned from resetting the room with a screwdriver in his hands, but one of the puzzles was broken, requiring the host to enter the room, stop the game, and fix it for us – utterly ruining any sense of immersion. There were other puzzles where we had to try to the solution a few times to get it to register, and another that required more force than expected.
Which is all an awful shame because what does work is brilliant. You’re trying to lift the curse of the Mayan sun god and return the world from the inevitable fate of permanent darkness. There’s not a huge amount of padlocks, with a lot of solving puzzles to ‘mystically’ activate the next bit, which is always fun. The puzzles themselves are good, with a few new ideas we hadn’t seen before. The hints were given by walkie-talkie, but there was (another) issue with the microphones in the room, so the host couldn’t hear us, so was offering clues based only on what he could see. So on two occasions he gave us a clue explaining something that I was literally just suggesting to another team member!
Oh and if you’re going to have stickers that mark certain things in the room as “not part of the game”, don’t start the game in total darkness and expect players to somehow guess what has a sticker on and what is actually a light-switch!
We really wanted to love this one, but it really needs a bit of love and care to bring it back up to being one of the city’s best games.
Wesselényi street 78. – 1077 Budapest
7700-11000HUF (lower price if at least one team member is a student)
Goszdu Mission – White Mission
The concept of White Mission is fantastic: you enter an entirely white room, with just a single key hanging from the ceiling. How will you get out? Pretty cool, but after a few minutes the reality hits: it’s just an escape room without a theme or decoration. Which means it has to live and die purely on its puzzles. Luckily those puzzles are pretty good. Both Goszdu Mission rooms we played had very logical, mathematical puzzles, which were a good fit for my brain, but as you may expect from a minimalist room, there was significant use of a blacklight, although those clues were generally in positions you’d expect.
To unlock the final key you need to input six different numeric codes, each of a different length (2 to 7), into a terminal. You can verify each as you go along, so there’s a good sense of progression, and many opportunities for people to split up and work on different parts of the room.
The final puzzle stumped us for a good while as we made an incorrect assumption about the level of mathematical literacy we were expected to apply, but it was a nice moment when it finally came together and we got out with around three minutes to spare.
There’s no music in the room, but while we were playing, we could hear the music being listened to by the host outside, which appeared to be the same song. On repeat. For a good 80 minutes. We’d like to say that her ex is a bastard and she can do better!
16. Dob street 1075 Budapest (Gozsdu Udvar F” yard)
9000-16500HUF (depending on number of players)
Gozsdu Mission – Prison Mission
Another Gozsdu game, but this one is a far more traditional sixty minute experience. And it’s a fine game, just a little slight. We escaped in 37 minutes, although the record is about half of that! It’s a single room and there are essentially four strands of puzzles to follow. We were instructed by the host to complete it in a linear fashion, moving from one strand to the next as we finished each one, but realistically it seemed like there would have been plenty of opportunities to work on bits in parallel.
One nice touch is that each puzzle-relevant element is marked so you know what clues go together, and the puzzles are all fairly logical. The final puzzle actually requires a nice bit of real-world deduction, and is the sort of puzzle I’ve not seen in an escape room before, so made a nice change.
But it is essentially entirely as advertised, you’re in a prison cell, you need to get out. There’s no hidden room or additional spaces to explore. It’s just that. And a prison cell isn’t the most interesting of environments to start with! A solid, enjoyable game, certainly worth trying if you enjoy the style of puzzles Gozsdu use, but nothing special.
16. Dob street 1075 Budapest (Gozsdu Udvar F” yard)
9000-16500HUF (depending on number of players)
MindQuest- Mission Matrix
One of the more contradictory games we played – themed around the 90s sci-fi film, your first task is to hack a nearby phone to activate The Matrix. When you do so you pass into another world… a world full of dismantled 90s computer hardware! The aesthetic is certainly less sci-fi and more retro-PC, though it works, in its own way- the light and sound design definitely making a statement, just maybe not one of super-advanced technology!
There’s a nice little puzzle involving remote controls, a fair bit of maths and other fun bits and pieces. The finale doubles down on the whole retro-cool thing, though younger players might get confused as to why there is a massive version of the “save” icon from MS Office in the room.
The game was handily located in a ruin bar, but this time above it, with the balcony just outside the room looking down on the revellers below. Which did mean you could hear the constant partying happening below from inside the room, which was a little weird!
We go out with ten minutes to spare and enjoyed it a fair bit, but nothing really stood out.
1072 Budapest, Klauzál street 19. (on the first floor of Füge Udvar)
6000-10000HUF (depending on number of players)
Verem – The Dictator
Verem’s first game didn’t quite come together for us in the same way as Hanger 18. This time the theme is dismantling a bomb left by an old dictator who has fled the country, and like the other game, there are a couple of preliminary areas before you get to the large primary game space. But in The Dictator, that large space is just an office, which is a lot less interesting than an alien laboratory. It also took us a lot longer to reach it, with the second room consisting of a puzzle where the instructions are very well hidden, so we spent a long time playing about with bits, in the dark and without a torch, trying to work out what was going on. If you’re going to hide something that well, and require players to complete a puzzle to turn the light on, it probably shouldn’t be the very first thing the puzzle needs!
Once you’re in the primary room the puzzles are of a similar standard, including some neat ideas that we hadn’t seen before, and some technology we’ve not seen used in other escape rooms. Also interesting is that the room’s main puzzle benefits from knowledge of geography and history, but is entirely solvable without either. Although you will need to know where Hungary is on a map! We made it out with just a couple of minutes to spare, although nearly lost through an inability to enter a code into the final lock properly!
If you’re heading over to play Hanger 18 I’d say it’s worth doing this one too, but if you’ve only got time for the one I’d make it the former.
1013 Budapest, Pauler u. 18.
8000-12000HUF (based on number of players)
ParaPark – P2 The Day of The Exam
ParaPark in Budapest claim to be the first room escape site in the world, though they’re not the only ones to make such a claim. Of course, these aren’t the original games, instead this one has a somewhat intriguing theme: you wake up in a parking lot on the day of your driving test and need to escape to get to it on time! The game is set over three floors of the parking lot, and there’s an elevator that goes between the three of them. Unfortunately, it’s not a real elevator, but it is a small room which only three people can enter at a time, and to get to a different ‘floor’ you need to go in, close the door, then press the button for the floor you want, at which point that door opens. It sounds silly, but it’s actually quite cool, and does add a new dynamic to the game. The real difference is that you’re totally out of contact with any part of your team on a different “floor”, so you really have to co-ordinate moving around and meeting up, then sharing information.
As fun as the concept is, the room itself was just average. A lot of searching was involved, and there was a fair amount of randomly assembling codes and hoping they worked on one lock/safe or another. None of it really relates to the story, or if it did we didn’t quite understand it. We made it out with around five minutes to spare.
One last snag is that it’s the only room we played which required payment in advance, which involved registering an account with the ParaPark website, then booking the room, then paying via international money transfer, for which there’s a good chance your bank will level a nice fee (HSBC charged me £2.50 plus the regular foreign currency transaction fee). The only way to avoid this is to book three or fewer days ahead, but at that point you risk not getting the time slot you want. So while it’s a fine room the core conceit of the elevator isn’t quite good enough to recommend it over the many other fantastic and easier to arrange games.
1081 Budapest, Vajdahunyad utca 4.
6990-9990HUF + fees (depending on number of players)
Paniq Room – The Real Saw
A last minute addition to our schedule, as we realised we could fit in a game at 11pm on the night we arrived as Paniq Room offer the latest running rooms in the city, with the last game starting at 11.45pm! The Real Saw is based on the Saw films, specifically the framing scene of the first film, which is replicated very well by the room itself. If you’re a fan of the films it basically makes the room a must-play, just for the cool-factor.
For the rest of us, the experience is a bit odd. There’s a weird hint system. Not the system where you can talk to the host via walkie-talkie, but an additional layer of “hints” where you will find pairs or groups of numbers around the room, which correspond to jigsaw pieces with scrambled words that themselves refer to items in the room. The numbers therefore identify elements of the room that you need to combine to solve a puzzle. Theoretically you can follow an entirely linear path through the room using these pieces, but in reality we didn’t work out how those hints worked for a good fifteen minutes, by which point we’d already jumped ahead to various parts of the puzzle-flow through observation and guesswork, so we ended up not using them much.
The opening of the game is probably the strongest bit: the reveal of the room, and the way you have to work together to progress; and the end once again picks up with some neat and different puzzles. Though weirdly the very end involves getting through a door and ending up in Paniq Room’s Lost room, which you then walk through to finish the game. We were half tempted to start solving it! They do offer the option to do the two rooms back-to-back, so I figured out what was going on, but it could probably have used some more guidance as the initial reaction was “why are we now in a jungle?”
Apparently we escaped in exactly 60 minutes, but there’s actually no timer in the room, just a clock, but if you don’t notice the precise time you start then it’s not that useful! We have a feeling we took slightly longer than an hour but they decided to give us the joy of a victory anyway, which is something I approve of hugely but might bother some enthusiasts!
1085. Budapest, Mária utca 29.
We had a great time at Bunkergame!, and it’s certainly the most different game we played on our trip. But what’s important to understand about our group is that we like history, to the point that one of us is studying for a PhD in it. So if you give us the chance to spend an hour exploring an authentically restored 1950s air-raid shelter, we’re going to take you up on it. Make it a 100-minute escape game and it’s essentially a no-brainer. And the “exploring the bunker” part was indeed fantastic, and the trappings of an escape game also improve that: it’s just your group in there and you can pick up and play with whatever you want. It was awesome. But the game itself kinda sucked. Mostly it was just searching for keys and using them, or in one case, searching for bolt cutters and using them, which at least offered a bit of a transgressive thrill!
There was one neat bit that involved manipulating old radios, and there appeared to be a fairly complex puzzle in the final room, involving telephone exchanges. But after a few minutes of playing around we were given the clue “puzzle broken, just push on door”, leading to a rather unsatisfactory ending! Of course, it’s also forgivable to some extent because they’re using retrofitted old 50s tech to build the puzzles, so making them resilient is going to be trickier.
One nice touch is that while the game is situated well out of the city centre, near the airport, the ticket price includes a shuttle service to and from the site. They were even happy to drop us off at Pirate Cave after the game! This is also the location where we had the most language issues with clues – the hosts knew enough to get by but a few times we had to get clarification.
It’s hard to recommend this to escape game fans, but for history buffs it’s going to be fun. Indeed, after everything I’ve said the one improvement I would make wouldn’t be to have better puzzles, but in fact to have more historical context offered, perhaps some text in every room explaining a bit about the history of the bunker and what each room was used for. Double down on making it more of a historical experience with a game element, rather than the opposite way around.
1183 Gyömröi Út 91, Budapest
6400HUF per player
We had a lovely time – essentially we spent three days in the city, two doing six games a day, with a day off to take in Schzeyni Baths and other touristy bits and pieces in the middle, which worked well. I probably wouldn’t recommend doing that many a day on consecutive days!
On the whole the rooms were quite low-tech – if you’re utterly fed up with padlocks, keys and codes it’s probably not the city for you. Having said that, rooms like TRAP Medieval perhaps offer the best examples of lower-tech games we’ve seen. I don’t know if that’s an educational, cost or cultural thing – it did strike me that in the UK and US, we’re seeing businesses being set up by those who at least played around with programming as kids, and know enough to figure out how to automate things via an Arduino, and perhaps Hungary is still a generation behind in having those skills being quite so common-place. A good half of the rooms were also still using a blacklight to a lesser or greater extent, which always drives us crazy as we’re really bad at searching with one!
There was definitely an emphasis on puzzles over theme; while there were some very different themes, indicative of a developed market, that theming was often quite light, and used more for set dressing than to actually create new concepts for puzzles. Plot, equally, tended to be quite light, though perhaps necessary when designing for a significant tourist industry with no Hungarian and English as a second language.
There are a lot of good rooms in Budapest, with the best ones on-par with the best we’ve played in the UK, but none that we found to be entirely transformative or mind-blowing. It’s very much a city I’d recommend for it’s density of good games, rather than visiting to play a specific one or two exceptional ones. I don’t think we played anything I would call a ‘bad’ game. Arguably Bunkergame but it made itself worthwhile in other aspects. If you’re looking to fit a lot of rooms into a short period of time, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Do comment with your experiences in Budapest, and let us know what city you’d be interested in seeing us tackle next!
A huge thanks to Team Reckless for making this possible: Jess for coming up with the idea of an “Escape Room Tour” in Eastern Europe, and Katherine for going along with the hair-brained idea and making the t-shirts you can see here!