Published on September 26th, 2018 | by Dean Love0
The Panic Room, Gravesend – Revolución Olé
It’s tempting when writing about Revolución Olé to focus on how different it is to your average escape room. And we will: this is a game structured in a very different way. But perhaps the most surprising thing about Revolución Olé is that given how differently it presents, it’s very much a traditional escape room at heart.
The setup for Revolución Olé sees you having stormed el Presidente’s palace, and have just an hour to sway his five advisers to your side. Unlike most games, you don’t do this by finding a single item, or even, for example, finding one item for each adviser. Instead, well, it’s a bit more complicated:
- There are number of policies that you need to take a position on, listed on a sheet you get on entry. After two minutes have elapsed, the first policy appears on the screen, for example “we will introduce free parking” – you then have five minutes to decide your position on that policy.
- Each of the President’s advisors also has a position on that policy, and if you choose the option that they agree with, they’ll increase in favour to you. If you disagree then they’ll reduce in favour. Their positions on each policy can be found or inferred from various items in the room.
- So what you’re trying to do is pick the policy option that most advisers favour – so if two are against free parking and three are for it, you vote for.
That alone is different enough, but there’s something else to factor in, that there are 12 policies, but you have to wait two minutes after voting to see the next one, after which you have five minutes to vote. But it’s a 60 minute game. So if you don’t vote until the last second you won’t even see all the policies.
It’s a lot of information to convey, in a briefing, and that’s the first reason that this game, more than any other I’ve played, is hugely dependent on having a good host. We got the idea quite quickly but there was still a moment of realisation when it clicked a few minutes in. Notably, having experience in escape rooms won’t really help you “get” the game – indeed, I’d say this is probably more easily understandable by those who have played a lot of tabletop board games or video games. The game wears its inspiration from the Tropico series of games, to the point that it flat out pumps in the theme from Tropico 4 while you’re playing (which did give me the occasional flashback to a nightmare of gridlocked roads…)
So, you have a game system and an element of time management, it all seems quite different. But you’re still in an escape room. The first puzzle is still “how to turn on the lights” – a puzzle we’ve failed in many Panic Room games, even when the solution is “use the light switch”. You’ll quickly realise the policies will appear in a specific order, and the game is essentially linear. You need to explore the President’s office and slowly pick away and unlock things, each giving you a little bit of information about a policy. It’s not entirely linear: it splits in places and there are plenty of opportunities for larger team to work on different things concurrently, and you may occasionally get bits of information to write down for later policies, but you can’t outright go off on another track, end up finding the answers for the final polices and not have gotten most of the rest on the way.
This also causes an interesting wrinkle from the other direction though: if you get behind, you’re screwed. In a traditional game, it’s fine to struggle early on then make up the time later, and the host can always let you struggle a bit if you’re still enjoying yourself, and nudge you a bit more later on to make up the time if needs be. This really isn’t the case in Revolucion: if you fall behind, you’ll constantly be discovering information five minutes after you needed it, and it’s now pointless. This is where we come back to this game really needing a good host. Some people use the term “games master” or “GM” to describe the role of a host in a game. In don’t like it as the term is a bit inside baseball, but in this case it’s totally accurate – this is very much a game and the timings need very delicate balancing on the part of the GM. Given players also have agency over when they input a response, different groups will also engage with the time management element of the game differently: does a team wait until the end of the five minutes to give them a headstart on later policies, or do they put in the answer immediately? How much do you let players screw up because of bad time management on their part? Luckily, The Panic Room have some of the best hosts in the business, and I feel confident they’re up to the task, but this is one of those games where, if I saw it licensed out and run by another company, I’d be a lot more wary about recommending.
There’s one more oddity to the structure, and that’s that each vote is a 50/50 guess. We played a “perfect” game, winning on an early vote after getting every one correct! We’re not that good though. We actually guessed the first and last ones and got lucky. It’s not a huge problem, but it did make things slightly anti-climactic – “shall we just guess this one?” “yeah, nearly out of time” “oh, we won”. The game is now available in a hard mode, which allows even less margin for error, which might mitigate that somewhat. Though in hard mode you then face the opposite problem: a few wrong guesses early on and you’ve essentially lost in the first ten minutes, even if you don’t realise it.
So having explained the structure, I should probably talk about the game itself! It’s really good. The set is very well designed: yes, it’s “just” an office, but it contains some terrific props and some really neat hiding places. The banana republic-style setting adds a neat twist and avoids the pitfalls of referencing any particular real-world country. There’s some really clever (and difficult) puzzles in there and the fact that you’re trying to deduce pieces of information, rather than codes for locks, allows for more variety.
But ultimately it’s that structure I come back to. What it does is provide little peaks of excitement every 2-7 minutes, this is a game where you constantly feel stressed and under the clock. And that’s how best to work out if this is the game for you: do you enjoy that last five minutes of a game, or do you hate that bit and find it a bit too stressful? If the latter, this probably isn’t the game for you, but for any one else, especially those who want something a bit different, this is a must play.
Result – we escaped in fifty-two minutes (though arguably the escape time for a game like this is meaningless…)
Date played: 24 March 2018
Team: Dean, Katherine, Jess