søndag den 27. august 2017

The Alchemist's Chamber (Mindmaze, Prague)

Rudolf II was a real-life monarch, who reigned over a handful of Central-European countries back in the 16th century. He died in Prague, 59 years old, largely unsuccessful politically, but very colourful in his private life. He loved the arts and occult sciences like astrology and alchemy, and spent most of his life searching for the legendary Philosopher’s Stone – a substance which among other things could turn metals into gold and bestow immortality to man. 

Actually, Rudolf II invited a bunch of alchemists to court to conduct private experiments in the royal laboratory just to find the Philosopher’s Stone. And so, this is where you find yourself at the start of “The Alchemist’s Chamber” escape room. You, yourself, are an alchemist and have to help Rudolf and hopefully find the occult material. But don’t worry: It’s not really as dangerous or horrifying as it sounds. “The Alchemist’s Chamber” is a very family-friendly escape game, with atmosphere and puzzles for even the youngest Harry Potter fans. And as such, it works just fine.

Set decoration: 6,0 points
Entering “The Alchemist’s Chamber” is a little like stepping onto the stage of “Harry Potter the sitcom”. The lights are maxed out, no shadows, but there’s lots of space because there are no tables or chairs to speak of. Plenty of space to move around for the actors, but also a little too unreal to be more than just a stage set. The brick walls are constructed from wallpaper designed to look like a brick wall. The floorboards are too perfect and shiny. There are no cobwebs or candlelight here. You never feel that you are back in the 16th century, let alone an alchemist helping Rudolf II. You can pretend, but that’s about it.

Still, it’s not that the room is hopelessly decorated at all. There are knickknacks placed on shelves around the walls, there are even stuffed animals and some old pieces of furniture. Some of the items that have to be used in the puzzles are also lined up nicely – an old cauldron, a collection of test tubes to mention just the two obvious ones. From the loudspeakers you can even hear a dramatic film score. And during the game the room changes and opens itself up to your investigations in new ways. Yet, it doesn’t feel authentic or immersive in that 16th-century dungeons-and-dragons style you might expect. It’s a little too “perfect” or staged – and very family-friendly, first and foremost. 

And then we haven’t even mentioned the power cords that are clearly visible around some of the puzzles. Preferably they should have been hidden inside the decorations. They are not as family-friendly.

Puzzles: Could it be magic?
If the set design is a little bland, the puzzles are definitely more fun and varied. Overall, there’s a nice flow in the gameplay. It’s not 100% linear because you find objects along the way that you have to use later in the game. Still, the game feels linear because it’s divided into four sections, each based on you uncovering a stone that have to be put into a diagram. Solve the puzzles – get the stone. Get the four stones – complete the game. In this way, “The Alchemist’s Chamber” is a game designed for escape-room beginners, because it’s always pretty clear where you are and how far you are in the game.

And that’s not a bad thing, when the puzzles themselves are as diverse as they are here. Even though there are a number of padlocks – and also padlocks within padlocks! – the gameplay never feels boring or like a chore.  You get to play around with the water in the test tubes, with a magic cauldron and with some spices, as well.

Some of the puzzles seem to have been designed with young and older children in mind – sorting through a number of animals, fishing for keys with a magnet, recognising the zodiac signs, and so on. Actually, the electric devices and contraptions you come across are very family-friendly, as well: Whenever you fiddle around with a mechanism, you always know when you’ve activated it, and what other thing it opened up or turned on. The childish glee at opening a secret compartment in another corner of the room will seep into even the most grownup of us – and that’s just great! Indeed, the straightforward nature of the gameplay will leave you with a great sense of accomplishment. Which just underlines that “The Alchemist’s Chamber” is a fun escape room to play.

Game Master: Over and out!
Our game master/hostess was very kind, forthcoming and excellent at English. She welcomed us with a smile and showed us around. However, she also followed us all the way into the room itself as a sort of standard procedure – and as always it makes the gameplay less immersive.

And then there’s the hint system: As in most other escape games in Prague, you are equipped with walkie-talkies and communicate with your game master in this way. And as in many other escape games in Prague, it fits the overall theme of the game very poorly. In “The Alchemist’s Chamber” you’re supposed to be 16th-century alchemists at Rudolf II’s court. So, therefore there should be no walkie-talkies – the hint system should be integrated into the game in a different and more creative, more immersive way. Maybe you could have a magic mirror that could give you hints in writing or pictures instead. Or maybe you could conjure up a spirit that could speak to you from beyond. Other solutions are available, but walkie-talkies should be a no go in this game setting.

Interestingly, the countdown timer was actually integrated into the game in a very elegant way. Mounted on one of the walls is an hourglass, and then each 15 minutes played is marked with a sound effect mixed into the dramatic music: A hooting owl, church bells and so on. That was an excellent idea.

All in all, “The Alchemist’s Chamber” is a nice and family-friendly room designed so that even 6-7 year olds can participate. That’s another way of saying that the room lacks atmosphere and thereby also a sense of realism and immersion. But then it’s a good thing that the puzzles are fun, coherent and down-to-earth. There’s a little something for everyone here, so it’s very hard not to like this escape room.

Room: The Alchemist’s Chamber
Company: Mindmaze, Tyršova 9, 120 00 Nové Město
Languages available: Czech and English
Game time: 60 minutes
Price: CZK 1200,- for 2 players, CZK 1400,- for 3-5 players

This review:
Game date: 12 July 2017
Number of players: 2 (Mindmaze suggests that you are 2-5 players, but we wouldn’t recommend more than 3 grownup players due to the size of the room. A family including 2-3 children should be fine.)
Hints: 1

We survived, 41:52 minutes played

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