Published on October 30th, 2017 | by Dean Love0
The Panic Room, Gravesend – Million Dollar Date Night
I bloody loved this game, but you’ll probably hate it.
Million Dollar Date Night is a room full of puzzles. I’ve used this description somewhat offhandedly to describe another room recently but that room had theme, story and a remarkable set. This one has a wall lined with lockers of different colours, all containing puzzles of escalating difficulty. Broadly the theme is “game show” with a bit of disco lighting and background music to accompany your puzzle solving. Solve a puzzle, get poker chips. Poker chips mean (fake) money, get as much as you can before the hour is up.
Let’s get one thing clear: this is an awful room for a date. It’s exclusively two player, but that’s about as far as it goes, because if you want a shot at getting through even half of what’s on offer you’re going to need to split up. We found literally one puzzle in the entire game which required co-operation. During this trip to The Panic Room we played four games as a pair and talked to each other less in this one than in any of the others. Furthermore, two of those other games had beds in. Not a great room for a date.
Luckily we were there for puzzles, not quality time, and here the game delivers in spades. But it’s so very different to nearly any other game you’ll play. The best comparison I can give is that it felt more like a puzzle hunt or evening at Puzzled Pint than it did an escape room. Or maybe, and this perhaps sounds like an unflattering comparison but I don’t mean it that way, like one of those “escape rooms in a box” you see these days. It’s just puzzles. So obviously the game lives and dies on the strength of those puzzles alone, and they’re mostly pretty good.
There’s good variety, though they certainly tend towards the cerebral end – the room is too small to include many physical or skill-based puzzles – within that space there’s a neat mix of electronic and more traditional lock-and-code mechanisms. There are also a few frustrating puzzles: one involving time-zones left me knowing what I needed to do, but it being slightly too vague in exactly how to implement that. For example, if a country spans two time zones, which one do you use? It just seemed like there were so many possibilities it wasn’t worth persevering with, and so I moved on to something else. And therein lies the flaw in this room: if you’re struggling with something, you can just move on to something else. So you’re robbed of the satisfaction of finally cracking it. And unless you specifically ask, you may never find out what the answer was.
There was one other extremely frustrating puzzle that is going to kick off something of a rant as this is the second time we ran into this issue in the space of around 4 weeks: smell-based puzzles. Specifically, those involving scents you get in little jars that need to be opened and sniffed. So here’s the thing: these scents go off. I’m not sure how long they’re meant to last but after a while they stop smelling of the thing they’re meant to smell like. At which point they get replaced, right? Well, sure. Except between them smelling like what they’re meant to, and smelling like what they’re not, they go through a phase where they smell a bit like the thing they are meant to. Enough like it that if you’re smelling it to check “does this smell like chocolate?” you’ll answer yes. But if I’m smelling it and trying to work out what it is I’ll instead go “it’s a kind of musky coffee-ish smell”. The puzzle doesn’t get impossible, but it gets loads harder than it’s meant to be. If you’re going to use these smells in your game, you need to have them tested every few weeks by someone who doesn’t already know what they’re supposed to smell like.
So that’s two annoying puzzles, and there was another one that we didn’t much like… which leaves 40 or so pretty damn good puzzles. We could easily have spent another half an hour in the room and not got frustrated with our progress: there’s a lot in there to like.
If you like puzzles.
And that’s the big sticking point. I can certainly imagine people going into that room and absolutely hating it. Through either just not enjoying the puzzles or finding them outright too hard. I would certainly say that the puzzles skew towards the hard end of the escape room spectrum too. Sure, some of the difficulty in the room comes from the sheer volume of puzzles, but I have to admit I was surprised by how tough we found it. I wasn’t silly enough to think we could solve the entire room, but call me cocky, we’d consider ourselves good at puzzles. I had assumed we’d knock out a good ten puzzles in the first five minutes because there would have to be a bunch of “gimme” easy ones that we could whip through before getting to the meat of it. But there aren’t. There are very, very few simple puzzles in there. I can actually see some couples being unable to solve a single puzzle in this room without help (from the screen-based hint system). The reality is that that’s the case for a lot of escape rooms, but in those cases with a good hint system you can guide a group through the experience and they’ll probably still have a good time, because they still get to explore, enjoy the setting, see the story and so on. That doesn’t really apply here.
This is an easy one to rate but a hard one to review. I loved it and it’s a solid four-stars and knocking on the door of five. But I’m very much aware that it was tickling the part of me that enjoys puzzle hunts more than the part that likes escape rooms. It’s a room I would recommend outright to friends that were puzzle fans, but not necessarily to those who enjoy escape rooms.
So all that amounts to a warning. A warning to think very hard about if you want to play this game that I really, really liked. I’d recommend it but only if both of you: 1) enjoy solving puzzles, 2) are not afraid to split up and be working on your own, 3) don’t mind seeing the entirety of the room and; 4) are not on a date.
Result – we won $995,000. There’s a lot more than $1,000,000 in there, despite the name, so I do wonder if $1,000,000 is the target and we technically lost…
Date played: 5 September 2017
Team: Dean, Katherine
Summary: A terrific room for puzzle fans that I loved, but can't recommend universally - it needs a certain mindset to really enjoy.