This review of Contagion is based on a visit from July 2016.
It can’t really be 2.5 months since my last ‘proper’ review can it? Although it would explain why I’ve got 16(!!!) rooms listed on this backlog here. I better crack on.
Speaking of surprises, when’s the last time you were genuinely shocked in a room? I’ve played a lot of games, and I’m regularly impressed with some of the stuff that I see, not to mention appreciative of the better efforts, but it’s not often that I’m surprised any more. Yet this game managed it on three occasions, and at least two of those were deliberate! But first let’s set the scene.
We’d just played the Taken room before this one, and without wishing to preempt my own review (because apparently I don’t use logical ordering in my reviews any more) my expectations for this game were pretty low. Escape Blackpool is on a busy road, but not the sea-front which I’d assumed from glancing at a map, amongst pubs, takeaways and a taxi rank. Parking is a lot more difficult than you initially anticipate as most of the nearby streets are ‘resident permit holders only’. And the waiting area felt a little sterile despite the addition of the above scoreboards. We’d established that we were experienced players so didn’t need much of an explanation, which is exactly what we got, “you’ve got 60 minutes to find the antidote and get out”. The actual brief for Contagion is:
You and your team of fellow scientists have been working tirelessly to create a vaccine for the fatal CYE disease. However your work has taken a turn for the worse and you have all managed to contract the virus.
Either sit around and let it take you or redouble your efforts and create a vaccine.
This is not your only problem. After creating the vaccine you must find a way to beat the lock down on the laboratory. The timer is set to 60 minutes, after which the room and all traces of your work, will be incinerated. Create the vaccine and escape the room if the rest of humanity is to benefit from your work!
You’re led to the room down some winding white corridors, and then you enter a white room. I was beginning to wonder if there was any flair, of any kind, in this building. It’s not every day you discover an impressive looking laboratory, and I didn’t find one this day either. But we did find some puzzles so got to work solving them. A short while later we got access to an unusual object that brought a collective “what do we do with this?” This was swiftly followed by a collective “oh, this is so cool*” for our first shock of the day. Shortly after that we ground to a halt. We were close to the answer of a puzzle but missing the final step. When I say “missing”, I mean we’d ruled out the final step as we thought it surely couldn’t be that. But a gentle nudge from the GM suggested we try it anyway, and BANG surprise #2.
We carried on for a while and approached the end of the game, it was then we encountered the biggest surprise of all. If that’s brought you to the edge of your seat please lean back, as while it was mind-blowing, it’s probably not in the way you expect. It’s difficult to explain what happened next, but let’s just say we solved a puzzle other than the way it was intended. So far ‘other than it was intended’ that it seemed impossible that it was correct. I literally went back to it three times to check it was as appeared and tried to come up with a rational explanation, but failed miserably. I think I spent the next couple of minutes in shock, my mind filled with the most wild-flung theories you can imagine. Luckily the rest of the team carried on solving, and then made a breakthrough that explained all what had gone before (or should have), and I was back in the room. But not for long, as we were soon physically out of the room, using the intended exit, in 41:45.
Suffice to say my expectations were blown out of the water by this room. The decoration and story is pretty mundane, but the puzzles are anything but. I’ve commented before that seeing something for the first time in a room can give you an artificially high rating of it, and that very well may be the case in time, but for now this scores very highly. I’d recommend it to both novices and veterans alike, and is a real rival to Detonation at Clue HQ as the best room in Blackpool.
*Your definition of ‘cool’ may vary. Please use responsibly.