Rapid Reviews – Bury (and Trafford) edition

Bury photo

This ridiculously cheesy team name has since been replaced (by a cheesier one)

I went to Bury to play the ‘unbeatable’ Vault 17 at Time Race. While I was there I played some others too. Here are some reviews that are only as long as they need to be:

The Invitation – Time Race

Let’s start this review of Bury by talking about London, obviously. The Flying Dutchman at Breakin’ is a game I didn’t rate favourably. It is a beautiful room with some reasonable puzzles (if aimed a a little at beginners) but features a task near the end which is so brain-breakingly, unnecessarily, painful and stupid that it ruined the whole experience. Now, back to Bury, where The Invitation is of a similar ilk. Except the game leading up to the drop point isn’t as beautiful, and the nadir is somehow even more stupid.

In its completely undeserved defence, while maybe not beautiful, the early game does have a fairly novel conceit and some challenging puzzles (in fact I’d say probably too challenging for an inexperienced team). And without that ending would have scored squarely in the mid-range. But in it’s current state it’s by any measure ‘worse’ than The Flying Dutchman, so will have to join the ignominious 1/10 club.

Vault 17 – Time Race

After an awful appetiser, expectations were lowered for the main course. However this is a completely different cuisine.

Vault 17 is a big, interesting, beautiful (or as close to beautiful as a grimy nuclear bunker can be) space. I really enjoyed the look and feel of the place, and the way the story was presented and structured. However, that structure also forces you down a very linear route, which for a big team means there’s not always something (or even somewhere) for everyone to be involved. However however, in this case that might not have been a bad thing.

I regularly found myself in the role of auxiliary support; conversing with Lex, the AI game host, or backtracking to find/check something from earlier. Against all common sense and my own expectations, I actually enjoyed this role, and perhaps had chance to soak up more of the story line and ambience. At the coal front (or should that be gas front?) it was a different story.

The game involves a number of ‘long puzzles’. The type that may require five minutes or more of effort, progressing across multiple stages. In isolation that isn’t a bad thing. It can be nice to focus your attention for a while and jump through numerous hoops. But the problems come when you aren’t completely sure on the size and shape of those hoops, and missing one takes you back to the start. At least three of these puzzles were so vague in their signposting that the only way to follow them was trial, error and Lex (GM feedback). Those looking for a more logical or satisfying conclusion will be left sorely disappointed.

The final question then is what does this room want to be? So far in its brief existence (opened in September) it has championed itself as a ‘big challenge’, even so far as offering a prize for the first people to successfully escape. Did I mention we escaped? Well we did, so sorry, the prize has gone. But the reason it is so difficult are the things that are ‘wrong’ with the room. If those elements are changed this could be a really good game. For now I can only rate it as interesting but frustrating spectacle, 6/10.

CSI – Trapped In

Next up we have the other half of the Bury escape room saga, CSI at Trapped In. By all definitions, I don’t have much to say. This was a perfectly enjoyable but immediately forgettable game, 6/10.

Interstellar – Trapped In

From an instantly dismissable game before, to an absolutely unmissable one after! Unlike spaceships I’ve travelled in before, this one was a delight. Both visually and gameplay-wise, everything hit its mark, with an emphasis on fun, fast puzzles that tied together beautifully. A definite contender for the best game in Greater Manchester, 8/10.

Escape the Cantina – MoviEscape, Trafford

After escaping from Bury, it was finally time to play the escape room closest to my home, Escape the Cantina at MoviEscape, Trafford.

There’s just a couple of things wrong with that sentence:

  1. There is no MoviEscape in Trafford. This is just a space at the Bowler’s Exhibition Centre.
  2. Much more importantly, this isn’t an escape room.

The Cantina is a Star Wars sci-fi-themed bar. Like a real bar that sells alcohol to people attending whatever exhibition. Then when they’re not selling alcohol they call it an escape room. You don’t need to be a jedi to notice this forces a couple of issues:

  1. The space is massive. Definitely the biggest ‘room’ I’ve ever tried to escape from.
  2. The game is limited to components you can remove when the bar is open, so is very basic.

In fairness they do address this reasonably well. Your GM is the Cantina’s bartender, in costume and character, giving you hints in return for payment. And the puzzles attempt to make some use of the more permanent features. But there’s only so far (far away) you can go with this, and I spent a lot more time thinking about the whole thing as a high level concept than I did on any of the challenges. This is a curiosity and nothing more, 3/10.

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