Published on April 27th, 2017 | by Dean Love0
Clue Adventures, London – The Book of Secrets
The Book of Secrets is a masterclass in escape room design. Quite literally, it takes you on a whistle-stop tour of three different ways to design an escape room, yet rather than feel disjointed, somehow it all fits together like magic…
Which is of course the theme for Clue Adventures: magic. Not your Harry Potter / Dungeons and Dragons stuff, but good old fashioned magic tricks like Derren Brown pretends not to do. Back in 1999, a magician disappeared. Of course he did, that’s what magicians do. But this one never came back. What happened to him? That’s for you to find out. But quickly because they’re demolishing his flat in an hour. So it’s your last chance. Also presumably you’d die in the resulting collapse but that bit is brushed over in the briefing.
It’s a quick ten-minute walk from Mile End tube station through a nice park to a venue near a skate park, karting track and football pitch – not the most out-of-the-way location in London but not the most central either. The reception area is small but sufficient given there’s just a single game on site, and a video sets the scene before you enter.
And it’s the first part of the game that offers the most interesting thing about The Book of Secrets. The room is packed full of stuff, and large amounts of it are entirely non-linear: multiple threads can be worked on at once. Now one of the issues with non-linear rooms is you tend to start plowing through stuff quickly, solving loads of puzzles, before being left with just the bits you’re stuck on. At which point it can become a little soul-destroying. Unlike a linear room, where being stuck means getting a hint (or making the right connection in your brain) which solves the puzzle and gets you going again, instead it’s: be stuck, get a hint to solve one of the puzzles, solve it and… be right back where you started with no further idea how to solve the other bits. The Book of Secrets solves this by having each puzzle provide a hint to another when solved. Not a puzzle piece, not something that’s required to solve it, but just something to give you a nudge in the right direction or make it a bit easier. It’s a pretty elegant system and keeps the game moving, even if it can cause a bit of confusion as you try to figure out if you’ve found a clue to something you’ve already solved or something else. And as there’s so much going on in this game, it’s likely to be something a teammate may have solved without you noticing, so good communication is essential.
On top of the clues you get from solving puzzles, nearly every item in the entire room is also some sort of clue. There are few, if any, red herrings. Each item relates to a puzzle somehow, if only very obtusely. It works wonderfully because these more obscure clues can subtly nudge your mind onto the right track and get you through something you would otherwise have got stuck on. And if they don’t, you’ll always have the moment of going “oh that’s what that meant” afterwards.
I’ve not seen a game structured in quite this way before: generally rooms are either sparse, suggesting that everything in them is important, or full of stuff, suggesting that half of the challenge will be figuring out what’s important. This is the first game I’ve seen that’s packed full of relevant items, and it takes quite an adjustment in mindset. (As a side-note, it must be hellishly tough to balance the difficulty on something like this – every puzzle needs three different clues, none of which make it too obvious and all of which can be understood without the other clues.)
Much like how you might collect multiple clues in The Book Of Secrets without figuring out the solution, I’ve gone on about the puzzle design for three paragraphs now without actually referencing how good they are. They are really good. There’s a decent amount of variety, plenty of physical bits and some nice toys to play with. The magic theme is well used throughout, often seeing you replicating magic tricks in some way or another.
After the first half of the game the structure changes into a more directed format: the sense of discovery and exploration goes away a little as you’re instead presented with a bunch of obvious puzzles and left with the task of solving them, after which it collapses into a fairly linear finale which helps bring the team together for the final moments, though at no point does any of this feel forced.
Hints are provided, should you need them, via screens in the rooms, and we were fed them at the appropriate times. There were only three of us, and we needed a fair few hints to get through the room. There’s a lot of stuff to do, and it’s one of the few rooms that I think even experienced players could take a larger team to and not expect to finish too quickly.
It’s a great game, one very much worth playing, and far far better than its website, which seems to live at the intersection of 90s Geocities Road and Web 2.0 Boulevard, suggests. It’s the only time I’ve seen a website have photos of the room that make it look worse than it does in real life!
Result – we solved the mystery with a few minutes left on the clock
Date played: 8 January 2017
Team: Dean, Katherine, Jess
Summary: A great room with an original theme that's well respected and interesting approach to structure