I’ve been on a lot of ridiculous adventures this year. I should really write them up at some point. In fact, that’s what I’m doing right now. For quite a while now Athens has been top of our to visit pile. And while the trip ended up being much more than that, it seems like a good place to start (also because it happened first. And Athens comes first alphabetically. There are lots of good reasons).
We played 39 rooms in Athens, across 16 sites. So now I’ve got to decide how to list them. I think I’m going to sort alphabetically by site, as it seems the easiest to look up one you’re interested in, then put some summaries at the end. And I promise that no more of this article will be justifying why things are arranged the way they are. To the rooms!
I’ve written something about each of the sites apart from this one. And now I’ve done this one too.
The Prison – 7/10
This game starts off like so many other prison games with you trapped in cells looking for something written on the walls. But after a little while it catches you off guard with a surprisingly good puzzle. And then it gets better from there, in even more surprising ways. Very solid.
On arrival at The Box you are given free popcorn. If you eat it all you will be given more. If you are playing multiple games there you may end up eating too much popcorn. You have been warned.
The Haunted Box – 6/10
Some nice effects and surprises, but the only memorable bit is when we said “can you imagine having to reset that?!”
The Temple Box – 7/10
It’s a game with
an instruction manual a diary to follow, and that’s a shame as it really doesn’t need to be; there’s enough signposting in the room for nearly every task. Fun but could have been more.
The Mine Box – 7/10
This game should have been great but wasn’t quite. It subverted expectations in a weird way, where what you were sure was the next step wasn’t, and stuff that definitely wasn’t relevant was. Usually that would be quite a good thing, but felt somewhat dissonant here. Though even having said all that, it was still a fun time.
The Museum Box – 5/10
The idea of a Lego museum is a lot of fun, and I bet kids love it. The execution was a little lacking though, and I didn’t.
Do you want games with high production values and live actors, but that are a bit lacking in puzzles? Then are you in for a treat!
Down the Rabbit Hole – 4/10
This is a horror game for people who don’t like horror themes, I guess? You’re in a maze-like structure, being pursued by The Mad Hatter (played with great energy by the actor). And I do mean pursued. If he catches you he will haul you off to Wonderprison until your teammates can find one of the buttons that ‘changes his mood’, and while he’s happy he’ll let everyone go. As with most horror games, there isn’t much content, as you’re supposed to spend most of your time running around. It’s not for me, regardless of theme.
Looking Glass – 7/10
This time we’re back to Wonderland but for a more traditional escape room; puzzles and everything! And we’ve swapped The Mad Hatter for Alice, who you’ll have to interact with along the way, especially given as how tough some of those puzzles are. It’s a nice looking room with some satisfying solves to come out of it.
Dark Seas – 7/10
We leave the works of Lewis Carroll behind now to visit the land of Tim Schafer. If you don’t know that that means this is Secret of Monkey Island themed then don’t worry, because it isn’t really. But it is a fun pirate theme with yet more actor interaction. Unfortunately the game ends just as it’s hitting its stride; a little longer and it could have been something special. It’s a fun short time though.
Clock Escape were not on our radar at all before we got to Greece. But some of the people we met early in the trip told us we had to try and squeeze them in. They were right to do it.
Rebellion – 8/10
Jumping ahead to my general pointers/wrap up, Athens rooms really love having actors in them. This is another, and to be honest, there’s absolutely no need for him to be there. This game holds up just fine without it. A beautiful set, with some lovely mechanisms and really satisfying puzzles. This is Clock Escape’s first room, and it’s a belter. Will be interesting to see what they do in the future.
One of the big hitters in Athens, with a number of highly regarded games. Sadly their most-loved, Zygote, has been retired as it was too big, stopping them making more games. But they still have some good ones.
The Other Side – 8/10
I don’t know anything about Stranger Things, never seen it. But I still really enjoyed this room. If I’d been familiar with all the references I’m sure it would have been even better. Some great special effects, neat puzzles, and a story that I was bought into without any prior knowledge.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – 8/10
You know when I said Athens rooms like actors? Well you get two of them here! You must decide whether to trust the dashing Captain Nemo, or the well-informed Professor Aronax. This could have been annoying, but that wasn’t the case here. The interaction with either actor is very well structured so that it advances the story while still feeling like a ‘normal’ escape room. And hopefully when you play you won’t have Sera making you do push ups for no reason.
Dead Diva’s Secrets – 4/10
We got to play this room as we finished the others early and had to wait for the final room to be ready. They warned us it was their first room so not quite up to the standards of their more recent offerings. They were right.
Grim Reaper – 6/10
“Who would have guessed that Death is a dick?” was definitely the highlight here. Now that I mention it, any sort of light would have been welcome, as this is a game played in near complete darkness. It’s rare to find a game like this with personality, which this definitely had, but fumbling in the dark is still just that.
No, it’s not Escape-opolis, it’s Escape-police. Another one of the more famous operators in Greece, typified by their soon-to-be-open, second location in the city.
Avissos (Abyss) – 6/10
Really thematic room with some nice effects. But even with a couple of stumbles, and a final puzzle I still contest made no sense, we were out in 25 minutes. One to check out if you like the theme but don’t expect a long game.
Cosmos 05 – 8/10
Ooh, one of the most talked about games on our trip, primarily as it’s so difficult to rate. Visually, this was one of the most impressive rooms I’ve ever visited. It starts off strong and then gets better from there. And some of the puzzles were really chunky and lovely. But (did you guess that was coming?) some of the puzzles are clunky and loathe-ly. Including one which has been simplified because it was taking teams too long, but you can still see how it used to work, so it taunts you with what could have been. You should definitely still check it out, but you may find it frustratingly short of greatness.
Roswell 1947 – 6/10
If Avissos was a tasty starter that left you wanting more, and Cosmos was the satisfying main course, this was a slightly stodgy but not unappetising dessert. It had a couple of nice bits. A couple of weak bits. It was fine.
Tyranny – 3/10
To continue the meal metaphor, this was the cheese board and coffee, except the crackers were limp and the cream had gone off. The theme is Stephen King’s Misery, which is quite the novel-ty (thank you, I’ll be here all week). And the Wintery conditions of the book/film are conveyed by an extremely loud wind-whistling that is played throughout the game, which we asked to be turned down/off but told it couldn’t be. I’m struggling to remember anything else apart from how annoying it was. My ankles are fine though.
One thing you won’t get at Great Escape is consistency…
Guantanamo – 4/10
…has nothing to do with Guantanamo Bay. It’s just a fancy name for a distinctly unfancy prison break game.
The Perfect Crime – 2/10
…is pretty far from perfect. A very “traditional” escape room, where the biggest crime is how boring it is.
Release the Kraken – 6/10
After two very standard (nee old fashioned) rooms, this was something a bit different. It’s another live actor room, but the interactions here are quite different. And it’s important you know this before you start: you MUST give the GM stuff to progress through the game. We wasted a lot of time being coy about what we’d found, thinking he was trying to trick us. Maybe the acting was just too good.
The Survivor – 8/10
And then we have The Survivor, which isn’t even consistent within itself. To start with you have a very nice desert island based escape room, where you meet a lone survivor (who conveyed a Secret of Monkey Island theme much better than the game that was supposed to) who guides you through to…
…I guess this could be a spoiler so please skip the next paragraph if you’d rather not know…
…his underground playground? Thematically, I’m not sure what was happening. In reality, we were faced with a physically demanding assault course, that you have to navigate your way around to turn off a series of lights. It was quite fun, but I don’t really know why it’s there, and I can see it being pretty impossible for some teams. Bizarre. We survived, just about.
Lockhill go all in on the horror theme. Their lobby is even a scary place to be.
Sanatorium – 9/10
You can play Sanatorium in one of three modes. ‘Day mode’ has harder puzzles and less scares (no live actors). ‘Night mode’ has scares but easier puzzles to compensate for your distraction. ‘Nightmare mode’ has the harder puzzles plus the scares, which just seems ludicrous. Especially ludicrous as we played day mode, and I still found it bone-chillingly creepy. It is the atmosphere that really set this game apart for me. Very reminiscent, I don’t think accidentally, of Silent Hill; every corner was nerve-tingling to turn around, even though it shouldn’t be. This is accompanied by some very solid and satisfying puzzles which it would be a shame to miss out on in night mode. Definitely one to check out rather a scare fan or not.
Lockhill Manor – 4/10
Voodoo – 3/10
Before there was Sanatorium, Lockhill had two other games. But they’re not in the same ball park in terms of, well, anything.
Master Clue let us in on a secret; some of the Athens owners are in a WhatsApp group, and others had ‘warned’ them that we were travelling about smashing records. We told them not to worry, and then smashed their record.
Defcon 2 – 7/10
Defcon 2 has two of the most ‘difficult yet fair’ multi-part puzzles that I’ve come across outside of Paris (the home of difficult escape rooms), and that’s always a good way to pique my interest. And it was maintained well enough throughout the rest of the room, with decent set design and fun interactions.
Mastermind has an intriguing swing in their reception area. Unfortunately that was the highlight.
Follow the White Rabbit – 4/10
At another place and time this game might have been fun, but on this day I’d had enough of Wonderland and of actors in rooms. I remember a couple of nice little touches at the end but mainly I was bored.
The Thomas Crown Affair – 5/10
Excellent idea, shame about the execution. Before this game begins you’re given a thief’s kit, complete with all kinds of exciting toys, and told you’ll have to work out how to use them in order to pull off a daring heist. But rather than ‘real world’ problem solving, what you walk into is just a normal escape room where you already have all the fun bits. And Windmills of Your Mind didn’t play once.
The Museum – 7/10
I’m not splitting between the site and the game here because it’s one and the same. And what a beautiful mess of a same it is. However to explain more I need to touch on spoiler territory. So the short version: the immersion is absolutely top notch, so much so that at one point I had to ask if this was actually a game or were we really in a museum. But this game also has a couple of big problems that really hampered our enjoyment. So approach with caution if you don’t want to know more, or if you do, join me in the next paragraph.
Early on in the game, without any warning or consultation, your group will be split up and placed on separate tracks for most of the rest of the game. And when I say separate I mean completely different experiences. Now that’s not a bad thing, just unusual. The bad part is that the two tracks are dependant on each other at various times. And while one group will take exactly as long as intended, as it’s strictly controlled, the others are just given stuff to do that they assume will take roughly the same time. And what does “assume” do? It finishes all its bit in five minutes and then has literally nothing to do for 20 minutes. Frustrating. After a brief snooze we were reunited for the last part of the game, and what we hoped would be a rousing finale. And then the tech didn’t work. Repeatedly. I really wanted to like this game but I only came out of it wondering what could have been.
Mystery Lab is home to one of the most well-regarded scary rooms in the world, Requiem. We played one of their others.
Enigma – 4/10
The very first thing I touched in this room destroyed a destructible puzzle. Later, I encountered the single most stupid puzzle I came across in the whole trip. There were some other fun bits, but I cannot overlook these crimes.
In a city that refuses to comply with convention, Paradox Project takes the cake on deliberately being as different as possible. Both their games are huge spaces. The first one has a 180 minutes time limit. The second is 200 minutes long. So long that they “have to” provide you with refreshments and a bathroom break half way through. This is no way to run a business. But it is a way to have great fun.
The Mansion – 9/10
The giddiness I felt when I wandered into the second space of this game and realised we weren’t in an escape room – we were in an escape house – has only been matched a few times. Although one of those times was a little later when I thought “well they didn’t say I couldn’t do this”, just before making an incredible discovery, which is probably the best type of discovery. Yes, some of the puzzles are a little old-fashioned now, but this is still an incredibly fun sprawling adventure.
The Bookstore – 10/10
After loving The Mansion expectations could not have been higher. The good news is that it doesn’t disappoint. However it goes about its business very differently. The space is still huge, but this time the focus is much more on conveying story rather than an open sandbox, which gives it a very different feel.
There’s much debate on what separates the great games from the good. Often I say it’s the “wow moments”. And while this game certainly has multiple good bits, the real wow is how the quality level is maintained for around three hours. An incredible experience.
Room 54 have a unique take on the concept of escape rooms. In each of their games you can choose (or be randomly assigned) a character, similar to a tabletop role-playing game, which will then affect your experience in various ways. I think it’s a cool concept with a lot of potential.
Ring of Protection – 7/10
Ring of Protection was the first of their role-playing escape games. It’s a kind of weird horror/occult/time travel mash up. The puzzles aren’t particularly strong, and you spend more time hiding from enemies than I’d like. But it does cool things like having different tasks for each character, and adds in restrictions like the ‘scaredy cat’ not being able to confront monsters and the like. It was fun if a little exhausting.
Swamp of Sorrows – 9/10
This role-playing is a lot more like Dungeons & Dragons (or your fantasy reference of choice) as you choose from the familiar roles of warrior, wizard, thief etc. And the set is more fantastical too. Not in a beautiful way, in fact the lack of aesthetics was perhaps my main criticism, but in what they wanted you to imagine. “Clearing the mountain pass” involved neither mountains nor anything that would usually block a pass, but it was sufficient for me to know what it meant and bring a smile to my face.
This time the different characters had even more things that were just for them, including items that only one could wield. And then, like all good Power Rangers, became stronger when they combined later. The game also used a number of actors, all in different roles, interacting you in different ways as the story unfolded. It was a really quite impressive production, bordering on interactive theatre at times, but with both the puzzle depth and individual agency you sometimes lose in something like that.
I have crossed the Rubicon, and there truly is no return.
Exam – 2/10 (or maybe 8/10 if you ‘like’ that sort of thing?)
Rubicon’s flag ship game is Exam, based on the film of the same name. Having seen the film (that’s not a recommendation) I knew we were in for some bizarre shenanigans, though nothing could really have prepared me for what I was about to receive.
At the core of the game you have a very clever premise. You’re sat in a room to take an exam. You’re given some instructions on what you can and can’t do. And then the timer starts, with no clear indication of what the exam actually entails, and you have to work it out. If that’s all this game was then I think I’d have loved it. The puzzles were certainly solid, and the room was an intriguing place to explore. But the ‘other part’ of the room, which I will prefix with a spoiler warning, along with a health warning, changes things.
The ‘other part’ of the room is The Invigilator, a role played by the GM, sat outside and communicating through loud speaker. And they’re there to ‘examine’ how much annoyance you can listen to without quitting. Sometimes they’re talking about the game, sometimes about your performance, sometimes about something else entirely. It is completely relentless. You will not have a moment’s peace. It very much becomes like a horror game where you can’t concentrate on the puzzles because you’re scared, except the fear is that you might explode in a rage of expletives.
I believe some people really liked this game. It is certainly, thankfully, a unique experience. But all I will remember is how a potentially good game was ruined.
Sector B52 – 1/10
After surviving Exam I was looking forward to getting back to a good old-fashioned, traditional room. The room was old-fashioned alright but certainly not traditional, as the issues of their other room carried over, and this time without reason. At least a potentially good game wasn’t ruined, I guess?
The first place we visited and the last place on the list. Coincidence? Yes.
Cube 2 – 3/10
This game has nothing to do with the film of the same name, which is a good thing, or the film series at all, which is an odd thing? Part of your team will be locked in a cube in the centre of the room. The others will have to get them out. I was in the cube for a long time and I did not have a lot to do. I don’t think I need to say any more.
The Cursed Willy – 7/10
After spending much of the last game locked up I was thrilled to start this room in shackles. Thankfully my restriction didn’t last as long this time and I was able to enjoy this quirky pirate adventure. It had some nice, novel little touches, and would have scored even higher if it wasn’t so dark.
Sherlocked Maze – 4/10
I think it was okay? I remember almost nothing about it, which says enough.
The Hangover – 6/10
Games about hangovers, parties or drinking tend to fill me with dread (ironically, because I love hangovers). But this game kinda swerves that by not having you wake up in a messy hotel room. No, this particular binge has landed you in a mental hospital, and now you must get out. Bizarre and potentially problematic theming aside, this was pretty good. Not a typical asylum game either, it trod its own path and it was fine.
Without doubt those are the 39 most Greek games I’ve played. Before I wrap up with my top picks, some general observations about games in Athens:
- If you ever feel like you’re “bored of the same old thing” then Athens is a good way to shake things up. More than anywhere else I’ve been, they want to do things their own way. Some of those things work and some don’t, but they’re certainly not afraid to take chances.
- One big example of this is game length. Even ignoring the three hour odysseys of Paradox Project, there are lots of 75, 90 and 120 minutes games. Don’t assume it’s 60 minutes when booking.
- Another one is scary games, which Athens seems to love. There are some highly regarded games which we didn’t visit, as its not our thing, such as The Exorcist at No Exit, Requiem at Mystery Lab and Mrs. Rose’s House at Darkwood Village. Plus you can do Sanatorium in Night or Nightmare mode, plus a scary version of Swamps of Sorrows as well. If that’s your bag I’m sure you’re in for a good time.
- More often than not scary games use live actors, which is why I think a lot of the non-scary games there use them too; it’s part of their culture/expectation of what an escape room is. As I’ve mentioned on multiple occasions, my experience with them is very variable, but you will find plenty of examples to make up your own mind.
Okay, for those of you who don’t like reading, do like lists, or anything in between, here are my Top 10 Rooms for Athens:
- The Bookstore – Paradox Project
- Sanatorium – Lockhill
- Swamp of Sorrows – Room 54
- The Mansion – Paradox Project
- The Other Side – Escaped
- Cosmos 05 – Escapepolis
- Rebellion – Clock Escape
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Escaped
- The Survivor – Great Escape
- The Mine Box – The Box
And with that our seven days were up, and we were off to the next stage of our adventure. But that’ll have to wait for another post.