From limited-time event to daily game

After holding several sessions on June 6 and 13, is now offering their online escape event Virtual Agents on a daily basis, as a regular virtual escape game. Bookings can be made via their website.

I played their first session on June 6 and reviewed it over on my event blog instead. Interesting to see how the distinction between “rooms” and “events” blurs when things go online, I suppose! Regardless, Virtual Agents is more of a virtual escape game rather than an escape room, in terms of structure and puzzle types.

I’d say this game is RECOMMENDED if you’re used to Lockdown’s logical style and care more about puzzles than narrative (and if you want to support local companies), but I don’t know how it compares to what’s available out there, because I haven’t been playing many international virtual escape experiences. I will say that it’s a good game for people who hate videoconferencing (like me) because it doesn’t rely on that.

Puzzle book review: Nomis Piy: Missing

Their description: If you crave for good puzzles, this book will not disappoint you – a 24-page fully-coloured novel, packed full of aha moments. In this book, you played the role of a detective, searching for a missing friend in a dark mansion. Would you be able to unravel all the mysteries and escape the mansion unscathed?

The Nomis Piy team is probably my favourite creator of escape events in Singapore, and I was excited to see what their first puzzle book would be like. Long story short: I wasn’t disappointed.

I admit, I was initially sceptical when I saw their estimate that the book will take an average of 24 hours (!) for a single player to complete. Several hours later, I understood why.* This book is jam-packed with interesting, creative, non-trivial puzzles, many of which are multilayered.

If you’ve attended Nomis Piy’s events before, you’ll recognise their general style here (which takes some inspiration from puzzle kits that SCRAP (and other companies) offer in Japan). Yet most puzzles in this book are more complex than what you’ll find in escape events, while remaining logical and elegant.

It’s hard to say more without giving spoilers, so I’ll just add that the book makes very good use of its theme, as well as the physical nature of, well, being a book. There are also surprising discoveries in store.

While many puzzles are integrated into the setting but not the narrative per se, the narrative does shine nearer the end of the book. The production values are worth mentioning: this is a glossy, well-made** book, with nice clear illustrations that contribute to the sense of setting while facilitating puzzle-solving.

Don’t let the S$25 price tag put you off — that price is more than justified by the amount of puzzling packed into this story. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for anyone who enjoys puzzles. (During these days of social distancing, you could even consider buying separate copies, and then getting onto a video call to solve together — the book is helpfully divided into chapters, allowing for several sessions of gameplay.)

Puzzle difficulty: 4/5
Puzzle logic: 5/5

Use of multimedia: 4/5
Storyline integration: 3.5/5

Their suggested number of players: n/a
My suggested number of players: 1 to 4

*Admittedly, I took significantly less than 24 hours to complete this book alone. However, I’m pretty experienced (in escape rooms/games as well as the much tougher genre of puzzle hunts) and my team is usually among the top few for competitive escape game events, so.

**Full disclosure: There is a single minor mistake in the book, which doesn’t affect your ability to get the right answer for that puzzle. At the risk of being a bit spoilery: Some other parts may look like mistakes at first glance, but they’re not…

Room-in-a-box review: Bearscape

Their description: You woke up from your deep slumber and stare ahead, but all you see are walls of grey and silver stretching to no end.

As you hear small distant explosions, you realise that your space station has been hit by meteors!

I’ve played quite a few escape-room-in-a-box games, both commercially-produced and indie ones — but haven’t reviewed any, since I figured there’d be multiple reviews available online. Clearly I had to make an exception for Bearscape, since it’s by a local escape room company.

Bearscape is pitched as an educational escape game, which seems about right. Each puzzle requires some math or science knowledge — my sense is that the content is suitable for PSLE or lower secondary students. Players who have long forgotten their school-era syllabus will probably still be fine, since the information required isn’t obscure. (Full disclosure: I did google once during the game.)

In general, content-focused puzzles run the risk of being little more than glorified trivia quizzes. Happily, that isn’t the case here. There’s a good mix of puzzle mechanisms, some of which are quite creative. As usual for Lockdown, the puzzles are faultlessly logical — though there’s also a helpful deck of hint and solution cards, if needed.

I tend to find that play-at-home games have a negligible storyline, but Bearscape does decently in maintaining one, aided by the fact that the narrative flavourtext for each puzzle contains clues.

Finally, the game’s production values are a delight, both in terms of the cute and polished illustrations, as well as the physical materials and print quality. The sturdy components mean that the game should stand up to multiple replays by different groups.

With its educational focus and polished production values, I’d say this is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for an enrichment class or a post-exam classroom chill-out setting.

For general escape room fans, the game is still solidly WORTH PLAYING. You might hesitate at the S$49.90 price (not least since the game can be played alone, as I did), but I considered it worth paying 1) to support a reliable local escape room company, and 2) because you can pass the game on to others after you finish. A good chance to introduce escape games to friends and family, perhaps?

Puzzle difficulty: 3.5/5
Puzzle logic: 5/5

Use of physical components: 3/5
Storyline integration: 3/5

Their suggested number of players: 1 to 5
My suggested number of players: 1 to 3

Escaping via Zoom

It seems I spoke too soon in my previous post! will be the first Singapore escape room company to hold a Zoom-enabled escape event with its Virtual Agents game on June 6, a 90-minute event for teams of up to five people. Tickets are now on sale. (edit: They’ve now added sessions for June 13.)

I’d love to take part, despite my dislike of videoconferencing, but that also happens to be the first day of the REDDOThunt 2020, of which I’m one of the organisers. We’ll see… I’ve bought my June 6 tickets and will write a review ahead of June 13.

Escaping… online?

Amid the pandemic, escape room companies around the world are going online. Some offer remote playthroughs of their actual, physical room, via videoconferencing: you give instructions to a gamemaster who is in the room and acts as your eyes/ears/hands. Others have created print-and-play kits, or digital escape games. (Escape The Review has quite an extensive list that you can filter by format.)

I don’t know of any escape room companies in Singapore or Malaysia which have launched such digital offerings. (edit, May 28: As it turns out — is holding a virtual escape event on June 6! | edit, June 16: …and is now offering it on a daily basis, with bookings via its website!) does have their existing escape-game-in-a-box, Bearscape (available on Amazon with free delivery in Singapore), and Nomis Piy seems to be launching an escape puzzle book soon. (edit: Here’s my review.)

As for previously-played games which are now available online, SCRAP has a remote version of Escape from the Werewolf Village, which I played many years ago when it was staged in Singapore. 60Out has a remote version of their Miss Jezebel game, which I played in LA last year (and thoroughly enjoyed).

Recently, I received an invitation to play the digital not-quite-an-escape-room Pentargo Quarantine, and have written a review on my other blog. I’ve also ordered Bearscape, and will review that on this blog once it arrives.

Room review: Xcape: Shutter Island

Note: Bugis Village (which houses Xcape’s entire empire of rooms) is slated for redevelopment, with existing tenants able to stay until March 2021. It’s not clear how or when this might affect Xcape — I’d suggest playing their rooms ASAP!

Their description: Waking up not knowing who you are in an unknown place is a scary thought. What if it couples with a patrolling mad doctor (or whoever he is!) Will you be able to rise to the challenges of finding your identity, differentiating friends from foes, and getting out from that facility?

Shutter Island is a frustrating room: full of ambition and potential, and therefore all the more disappointing in failing to live up to this.

The first impression is a strong one, with an atmospheric and extensive set. The occasional appearance of a live actor (from whom players have to hide) spices up the experience — I’m glad to see that such actors (known as NPCs in some countries) are now in Singapore too.

Unfortunately, the rest of the experience is less satisfying. A lot of effort has clearly been put into the narrative, with revelations and plot twists even in the finale video. Yet all this is mostly unrelated to puzzle-solving, and it’s thus easy to end up ignoring the story altogether — which is a shame. Incorporating plot elements into puzzles would have given players a reason to care about their own personal backstories and therefore improved the gameplay.

And there’s certainly a lot of room for adding more puzzles. Because Shutter Island breaks a major rule of escape rooms: it uses the same code more than once. I’m breaking my no-spoiler policy here, because I think that teams can easily and unfairly get stuck simply because they don’t expect to have to use the same code more than once.

The endgame stretch of puzzle-solving, at least, is quite complex and rigorous. But because of the four-way (!) split start, there aren’t actually that many puzzles for each player to try.

If you don’t mind the relatively small amount of puzzle-solving, Shutter Island is still WORTH A TRY for its sense of adventure. I just wish this had been a room that I could confidently recommend, instead.

Puzzle difficulty: 2.5/5
Puzzle logic: 3.5/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 2/5

Atmosphere and setting: 4/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 4/5
Storyline integration: 2.5/5

Their suggested number of players: 6 to 8
My suggested number of players: 4 to 6. Note that there’s a four-way split-start.

Room review: Xcape: Busan Express

Note: Bugis Village (which houses Xcape’s entire empire of rooms) is slated for redevelopment, with existing tenants able to stay until March 2021. It’s not clear how or when this might affect Xcape — I’d suggest playing their rooms ASAP!

Their description: In 2040, a mysterious virus spread across the world. Everyone infected by the virus turned into bloodthirsty zombies. You are one of the selected groups of lucky citizens to be transported to the Busan quarantine zone. Welcome aboard the Busan Express. Will your life be saved?

My favourite part of this train ride was its emphasis on setting and narrative, from the compartment where the journey begins, all the way through to the dramatic finale. Narrative is conveyed in some refreshing ways (rather than the usual pages of text), and good use is made of the train’s layout. It would be spoiler-y to even hint at some of the aspects I enjoyed the most, but suffice it to say that as an adventuresome experience alone, Busan Express is well worth playing.

The puzzles themselves aren’t particularly integrated into the narrative, but that’s true of most rooms in Singapore. There’s still a good mix of puzzle types and tasks that should keep most teams satisfied.

As for the question of how scary the room is… I’d say that it’s definitely a thrilling experience (with some quite clever scares!), but you’d be missing out if you stay away just because you don’t like horror. Conversely, if you’re a horror fan, do note that the horror elements aren’t relentless — there’s in fact quite a bit of time for calm puzzle-solving. In short, whether or not you enjoy horror, this train ride is RECOMMENDED for an all-round experience with solid production values.

Puzzle difficulty: 3.5/5
Puzzle logic: 4.5/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 3/5

Atmosphere and setting: 4/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 4/5
Storyline integration: 4/5

Their suggested number of players: 4 to 5
My suggested number of players: 3 to 5

What’s going on with Freeing SG?

Near the end of 2019, Freeing SG said on Facebook that their last day of operations would be Jan 1, 2020. I passed by on Jan 3 and saw that part of their Poseidon room appeared to have been dismantled. On Jan 5, however, Freeing SG announced (again, on Facebook) that they were “here to stay”. I have no idea what condition the rooms are currently in. If you’ve played their rooms recently, please get in touch!

Room review: Amazing Chambers: Princess Radin Mas Ayu

Full disclosure: After I emailed some unsolicited feedback on the two games I played during their soft launch, Amazing Chambers offered me 50 per cent off this room and/or 1603 Changi Naval Battle. After playing a third room (undisclosed to them), where I saw that one of my general feedback points from a previous room might indeed have been taken up, I accepted the discount for this room.

Their description: Princess Radin Mas Ayu is a tale of a beautiful Javanese princess with the plots of love, deceit and betrayal.

You secretly amassed the villagers to search Tengku Bagus’ home after receiving a tip-off about the possible kidnapping of the Princess’ father.

Discover what happens next as the plot thickens.

Amazing Chambers rate this as their second-hardest room, and I was glad to discover that this was for the right reasons. Its main strength is simply its lack of obvious flaws, allowing for unmarred satisfaction.

Unlike their Badang and Sang Nila Utama rooms, Princess Radin Mas Ayu did not have any red herrings or misleading aspects. It included multiple clever and rigorous puzzles (whereas other rooms tended to have a single standout one). Of the rooms I’ve played so far, this also required by far the closest engagement with the storyline (and I did learn a lot, having not known anything about the Radin Mas story beforehand).

I don’t want to oversell the room, mind. It still suffers from obviously anachronistic tech — though at least one instance is used to cool effect — and immersion-breaking moments. The exposition remains wall-of-text-y, although there’s more of an effort made than usual to integrate it into the setting. And despite the need for storyline engagement, most puzzles are not part of the narrative per se.

Nonetheless, out of the four rooms I’ve played so far, this is the one room at Amazing Chambers that I can say is RECOMMENDED for experienced teams, with some rewarding puzzles in store. Beginners should try one of their other rooms instead.

Puzzle difficulty: 4/5
Puzzle logic: 4/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 2/5

Atmosphere and setting: 2.5/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 3/5
Storyline integration: 3/5

Their suggested number of players: Up to 10
My suggested number of players: 3 to 5. For logistical reasons, it helps (but is not strictly necessary) to have more than 2 players.

Room review: Amazing Chambers: Badang the Magnificent

Their description: If you ever had the chance to have a superpower, what would it be?

Well, step into this vortex and travel back in time to meet Badang who was blessed with superhuman strength. It was said that he gained his immense strength after he devoured something from a mystical creature. He soon gained popularity as he began to defeat many strong men in competitions and was summoned to the court of the King of Singapura, Sri Rama Wira Kerma.

In one of these competitions, Badang was said to have picked up a large smooth rock from on top of a hill and flung it so far away that it landed at the mouth of the Singapore River. The rock came to be known as the Singapura stone.

Your quest? Enter the portal and time travel to the court where Badang had been invited to stay in and you only have an hour to uncover the truth before the portal closes.

Badang the Magnificent is an interesting exercise in integrating a traditional folktale into a sci-fi time travel adventure. I did learn quite a bit about the Badang legend, having previously known little more than what’s in the description above. To this room’s credit, this information is conveyed in a more entertaining form than the walls of text that, unfortunately, at least one other Amazing Chambers room has.

The rigour of one early puzzle is compromised by a detail that felt, to me, like a deliberate red herring. There are more red herrings later on, in the form of locks that remain locked for the whole game. (I don’t consider this a spoiler, since I think the presence of unused locks — with nothing to indicate that you don’t need to unlock them — is unfair game design.)

Those are the main flaws in an otherwise decent experience that has a couple of magical moments and a cute finale. Although there’s an attempt at maintaining a storyline, you shouldn’t expect close integration of puzzles and narrative. Keep your expectations in check, and you might find this room WORTH A TRY.

Puzzle difficulty: 3/5
Puzzle logic: 3/5
Multimedia aspect of puzzles: 2/5

Atmosphere and setting: 2/5
Exciting flourishes, use of technology or physical aspects: 3/5
Storyline integration: 2.5/5

Their suggested number of players: Up to 12
My suggested number of players: 2 to 4