What is an escape room? Who am I? Why should you read this review? All good questions, thank you for asking.
Essentially an escape room is where someone shuts you (and usually a team) in a room. You then need to find items, solve a series of puzzles and achieve a goal – usually it’s finding a key to get out or save the world, y’know – something small.
These puzzles can be padlocks, touch panels, working out colour orders, cryptology – it’s honestly such an open concept that you could have anything. The rooms can be set up in a linear way (one puzzle leads to another puzzle etc) or non-linear, in which all the puzzles culminate together at the end or a mix of both. There are franchises, small independents, venues using cutting edge technology, VR, and there are even official Doctor Who, Sherlock and Assassins Creed rooms – as well as a plethora of fake Harry Potter ones.
Myself, I have done 50 rooms worldwide, escaped them all, and encountered rooms at every part of the spectrum in terms of padlocks, enjoyability and theme. I’ve also done countless escape room adjacent things like the crystal maze, scavenger hunts, cocktail puzzle parties and of course, escape room board games. I love introducing new people to the craze and I have been giving hints, tips and recommendations to my friends and family for a while now due to the sheet amount of rooms I have done. Whilst the general concept of an escape room is the same, each room interprets it differently so it’s often hard to really predict an experience based on a website blurb, and whilst it’s easy enough to write a list of my favourite rooms I believe it’s just as important to know what you’re going to get from each room in terms of themes, puzzles, difficulty level, venue quirks,etc. So, escape from the confusion of what room to do and join me as I delve into the good, the bad and the padlocky of the UK escape room scene.
Located in North London, Cluequest is in fact the secret base of a Mouse-led spy agency who are trying to stop the machinations of a conveniently named evil sheep. It’s an odd story, and certainly takes you by surprise when the staff (agents?) let you know. In the Operation Blacksheep room there is a mind control satellite which you have to destroy before we all become mindless sheep.
The thing that really sticks out with this room is the theming, it really immerses you into the atmosphere and I suspect nothing is in there by accident. If you wanted to film a short spy film, you certainly wouldn’t turn your nose up at the set (though I suspect they would rather you not film in the room) and the puzzles are a nice blend of differing types and not just ‘get code for padlock’
Teamwork is the name of the game in Operation Blacksheep, as almost no puzzle can be solved alone. You need people simultaneously reading out codes, pressing buttons or twisting things whilst other people direct traffic or run around the room finding more numbers. I loved this as it keeps everyone involved and contributing and it means even if you aren’t a numbers genius you can still contribute significantly to the escape (and satellite destruction) effort. There are also numerous cool moments spread through your time escaping which really add to the whole atmosphere and team spirit.
Cluequest position this as their medium difficulty room, and it shows. It’s challenging but not too much but some of the puzzles are a little contrived, seemingly only there to take up your time but accidentally slowing the flow of the room. There are also some significant red herrings and things hidden in weird places which I imagine cause a lot of people to fail.
If you are brand new to the escape craze I would probably suggest an easier room, but Cluequest / Operation Blacksheep should definitely be near the top of your list when planning an escape as it’s a very enjoyable experience.