Published on July 12th, 2016 | by Dean Love0
Escapism, Nuneaton – Escape the Curlew Study
I’ve always been of the opinion that escape rooms are experiences – win or lose they’re essentially about having fun for an hour or so with friends. And that experience starts from the moment you enter the venue to the second you leave. Great hosts that can read a team well and establish a sense of adventure and excitement can paper over the gaps in an otherwise mediocre room, while at the same time a relatively minor event at the wrong time can sour the entire experience.
Our experience at Escapism was brilliant for around 75 minutes. We’d got there early, but one of our team were running late, but the organisers, including host, creator and illusionist Caspian, were great and happy to wait as late as possible to start. Once we got going we were given a briefing, shown a video intro from the study’s housekeeper Godfrey, and also told a bit about some of the future games they were planning, including one with real cash prizes!
We were also clued into the fact that the room is mostly linear, and while it branches in some places, there should never be a need to search without direction, which was something new to us, though quite welcome. We’re blindfolded and led into a room, positioned on a rug and given one instruction: solve your first puzzle before leaving the rug. After which we remove the blindfold and begin. The first puzzle was one of the most beautiful, if simplistic, ones I’d ever seen, and after that we were off. As the name implies it’s a room done out as old study, and you work your way through solving puzzles and also completing some interesting tasks along the way. They were all top-notch, though we stumbled for a bit by following the “don’t randomly search” rule a bit too literally.
The hint system was interesting – Godfrey could verbally voice over clues but they also used a positive/negative hot/cold style system with sounds. It was a nice idea – go near the thing you need you get a chime, go near something you don’t need you get a discordant noise. But it only really works if the entire group is moving around together – which went entirely against our instincts of “when stuck, split up”, so instead we ended up going “who was chime for?” more than a few times.
There was a really neat puzzle towards the end that involved assembling and using a device – although the device clearly wasn’t real, it required you to step through the actions as if it was, and even pay attention to the sound effects to see what was and wasn’t working. Though it did stump us briefly: we were clearly missing one piece of the puzzle, but in the ‘fiction’ that piece should have been non-functional/purely aesthetic, which I thought was a clever bit of puzzle design when in fact we just hadn’t found the last piece.
There are quite a lot of custom designed props – the game owner being an illusionist is quite evident, as it’s one of the few other professions where you need to create custom, functional and attractive props!
The tension ramps up a bit towards the end and there’s a big moment at the end as you make your escape, and then you breathe deeply and smile happily at a game well done. Then one of your team-mates asks about a piece of a puzzle we didn’t find, the staff notice and go “oh, we thought you did and activated the next bit – it wasn’t a real escape then.” Cue an actual discussion about whether, with the time we had left, we’d have been able to find the last piece. And I don’t mean a light-hearted chat either – it was a genuine debate about whether it should count as a ‘clean’ escape or not, a discussion about how we must have taken a piece out then put it back in again, as if we should have known they were judging puzzle completion by listening to how many pieces clicked in place. We came to the conclusion that we had escaped, and while it was never an unpleasant conversation, it was just a really weird interaction to have, and utterly stepped on that moment of victorious celebration, and made some of the team feel quite uncomfortable. We were also told we had one of the best starts to a game they’d ever seen, to the point that they thought we’d had friends who played it before and were getting ready to come in and end the game as until we got stuck, they thought we might be cheating. Technically a compliment I guess although if they weren’t joking and that had happened… well it would be an interesting review to write I guess!
So that leaves this review in a weird place. If you go play this, I doubt anything like that will happen, so you’ll have a great time, the puzzles are great and varied, it’s up there with some of the best, this is clearly a four-star room. But we ended up having a three-star experience.
Lastly, I wanted to take a moment to point out some of the interesting stuff Escapism are doing or have done, because they’ve got some truly brilliant ideas that no-one else on the market is doing. They’ve just launched their second game, Return to the Curlew Study – unique in that it’s played in the same room, and designed specifically for those who have played the previous game. It’s a whole new set of puzzles, and part of the challenge is remember what you used last time so don’t need! They’re planning a bank vault game with a real cash prize for the fastest teams (which may explain a little the focus on what counts as a legitimate escape). They also award pocket watches as prizes for anyone that beats the record (we were nowhere near doing that though). Finally way back when they first launched their site had a waiver to be signed before playing the game, which indicated the presence of a ‘forfeit’ for losing teams “I acknowledge that I may fail the game resulting in unpleasant consequences which may cause me to become fearful, uncomfortable or wet” – they seemed to have dropped that by the time we played, and it’s understandable as it could put a lot of people off, but it’s a great idea if you can make it work, adding genuine tension and consequences to the result of an escape. Though some of our team play co-op board games with forfeits for if we lose (mostly drinking) so maybe we’re an oddity…
So despite this being a somewhat negative sounding review, I’m very excited to see what this team does next.
Result – We got out with about three minutes to spare, sort of.
Date played: 7 November 2015
Team: Dean, Katherine, Jess, Andy, Jim
Summary: A great room that we had a strange and unrepresentative experience in.