Published on December 6th, 2017 | by Dean Love0
Escape Plan, London – The Battle For Britain
I have to admit, I’m a sucker for huge, game-long meta puzzles. A big task that’s obvious from the start that you’re building towards for the entire game. The Battle For Britain delivers this in spades, and it truly is a “huge” puzzle.
Though it’s not quite visible from the start. Indeed, the start of The Battle For Britain is extremely low-key. You’re given a briefing where you’re told you have to shoot down as many German planes as possible at the end of the hour, and then dumped in to a pretty generic escape room which seems to have nothing to do with this. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad escape room, it’s just a collection of short puzzles that are fine but not especially exciting, with the end goal of getting a certain door open. I’m mentioning this bit up top, as it took us about ten minutes and served as a decent warm-up, to be frank, but barely felt like part of the game at all, and we’re going to ignore it for much of the rest of the review.
Once that door is open though, well it’s a whole new wargame. It’s at this point the briefing starts to make sense, as you’re drawn immediately to the large battle map at one end of the room. Your task for the rest of the game is to pair up numbered fighter squadrons with named towns and cities in the UK, thus developing a battle plan for the Battle of Britain. As you can tell from the action shot in this review, this is a hugely impressive centrepiece, and effectively breaks the room down into around twenty smaller puzzles. It’s not entirely non-linear: sometimes the process of solving one puzzle unlocks items necessary for solving other puzzles, but it always felt like there were two or three different things to be working on at any given point in time.
With that many puzzles, not all of them are brilliant, but some of them are, and the vast majority have something interesting about them, and require some level of thought or lateral thinking. They tend to err more on the mental side of things, with not much in the way of physical tasks or skill challenges. I’d almost expect a bit more variety in a room designed so non-linearly – allowing larger groups to assign people to different things based on their skills – though for a team like ours that enjoys the more cerebral puzzles it wasn’t an issue. We ran into issues with one mechanical device which was just too fiddly to operate, though I’ve since seen photos showing it’s been modified quite a bit. We also struggled on one puzzle that felt like it needed a bit too much of a logical leap. It’s worth saying here that although there are around 20 puzzles, making up 20 fighter squadrons to assign locations to, there are more than 20 locations. So even if you only have a single puzzle left, you won’t automatically know the answer. That’s clearly not an accident, but a design choice and it certainly make sense: you want your teams to have to solve everything legitimately. But part of me finds the process of narrowing down an answer space until you don’t even need to solve the final puzzle has its own appeal – you get to feel a bit like you’ve cheated the system by being “smart enough” to realise that, even though it’s something that pretty much everyone will realise anyway.
Visually, the game is fantastic. Beyond the large centrepiece the aesthetic gets the World War 2 theme spot on, with good use of imagery and props from the period. There’s also a strong effort made to tie in the puzzles with the theme. It’s still puzzle-logic – you’re not really working out where to send these fighters – but it’s obfuscated quite well with on-theme explanations about why you’re solving certain things.
It all comes down to an exciting conclusion that uses audio to great effect. All the game is really doing is marking your exam paper, but it manages to do so in a very entertaining fashion. That’s also where the game differs from most other games I’ve played: it’s perfectly possible to solve all the puzzles incorrectly, and only find out when you trigger the final sequence. At that point it’s then too late to change anything and you’re scored based on how much you got right. Obviously with a good host (and we were fed clues and nudges at a sensible and helpful pace) you’re not going to end up with everything wrong but it does require a somewhat different mindset from the players. That said, the puzzles are designed in such a way that, in most cases, once you have the answer, you’re fairly sure about it. A room like this could be totally ruined by just having a couple of puzzles with ambiguous answers. Because if you think it might be one of two different answers, unlike most rooms you can’t try both. But only once during the game did we end up with an answer we weren’t sure on. We just made a note of that and when that location was used elsewhere we went back and tried that puzzle again.
The only slightly strange thing on this game is the structure, and that ten minute warm-up room at the start. I totally get it: dumping players right in to the main room with no idea where to start, especially if they’re new to escape rooms, would be a bit much. But not doing that also causes more issues – the instructions on how to approach the second room and trigger the ending are just laid out on a laminated piece of paper which is both boring and gives no indication that that sheet of paper is more significant than any of the others puzzles around the room. For newer players, the game would benefit a lot from a more active explanation of how that second room works: via video, live actor or some other method. All of which are harder to do when that room isn’t even visible to players at the start.
Small niggles though, in what’s otherwise a terrific room – it nails the theme and has an innovative structure that, in lesser hands, could have resulted in horrible defeat, rather than the proud victory this game manages.
Result – we downed 71 aircraft in 59 minutes
Date played: 18 October 2017
Team: Dean, Katherine
Summary: A terrific room, with great theming an an innovative structure.