Published on September 6th, 2018 | by Dean Love1
The MacGuffin Project, Bournemouth – The MacGuffin
The MacGuffin project currently features three games, but neatly they all share the same universe: that of a spooky, abandoned carnival. This is emphasised by having the dramatic, in character briefing being done in a large group with others playing different games. It works well as lets those more inclined towards interacting with the actors take on that role, and for quieter teams to step back and watch.
You can probably guess from this explanation that theme is pretty important for MacGuffin, and from the reception onwards they really go out their way to immerse you in this strange world they’ve created. The MacGuffin game itself actually takes a small thematic turn though. We were expecting something more carnival based but in reality it’s more steampunk, dealing with recreating an old invention from the carnival, and discovering its true purpose.
As you investigate the room you find a series of mostly linear puzzles, involving manipulating various devices. One puzzle in particular stood out for requiring both dexterity and an ear for music, a combination I’ve not seen before! We were wrong-footed slightly as the parts of the room seemed to be numbered, and we had been told to start at number one, so had assumed it was purely linear, whereas in fact we got stumped as we needed to start on one of the later puzzles to get something needed for one of the earlier ones.
The hint system was… frustrating. You had to ask for a hint, none were offered voluntarily, and it was done by the host entering the room in character and giving advice. It’s rarely an ideal system but in this case was made worse by there being no clock in the room, so it was really hard to know when to ask for a hint: we had no idea how much of hour we had used up, or how far we were through the game. Should we spend another five minutes on this or ask for a hint? And if we do, how will we even know how long five minutes is? The one saving grace is that there was old diary that acted as a sort of hint guide for the game – with various diagrams and notes suggesting what you needed to do at various parts. It gave you something else to look at when you got stumped. Though the actual light levels in the room were low enough that reading it wasn’t exactly an easy task!
The game ended with an attempt at drama that should have been effective but instead just left us a bit confused – we had figured out the final puzzle but needed a hint on how to correctly enter the solution, then there’s a prop that’s explained to you earlier on, that you’ll need at some point in the game, but when it came to it, the logic seemed slightly off: it was obvious we needed it at point as it was clearly the end and we’d not yet used it, but we didn’t quite get the story explanation as to why. It’s a shame that a game with such strong set design and theming fell short a little on the clarity of the story beats.
They also didn’t do team photos at the end, which again, is a real shame for a game with such cool props available.
Overall The MacGuffin is a good game, with a strong theme sitting upon a base of solid puzzling, it just doesn’t quite pull everything together in exactly the right way to make something truly superlative.
Result – we escaped in around 50 minutes
Date played: 24 March 2018
Team: Dean, Katherine, Jess
Summary: Strong theme, but when you go that heavily into a plot-driven game you really need to nail the story and communicate it clearly, and this game didn't quite manage that.