søndag den 17. september 2017

Christopher Columbus (Runaway Escape Rooms, Prague)

Who should’ve known that immoral games apparently are a real escape-room niche? So far, in Prague, we’ve helped a convicted criminal escape God’s punishment, we’ve adopted the roles of thieves, and now this: In the “Christopher Columbus” escape room you’re not assuming the role of the titular character, Captain Christopher Columbus himself. Instead, you take up the role as spies for the Spanish royal court. You have to sneak aboard Columbus’ ship and report back to the King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella about Columbus’ whereabouts and his discoveries. Why exactly you have to do this, and why you have only 60 minutes to set sail and go across the ocean to America and back again – that’s never revealed? But that’s the somewhat illogical setup to this immoral escape room.

Set decoration: Once Upon a Time in America
“Christopher Columbus” is hosted by Runaway Escape Rooms – the same company that’s also behind the “Gulliver’s Travel” escape game. You might think that it would be perfect to bring children along to these kinds of themes, but you need to think again. Neither “Gulliver’s Travel” nor “Christopher Columbus” are family-friendly rooms.

“Christopher Columbus” is laid out inside three cellar rooms which are damp, mouldy and downright dirty. You could argue that this condition fits the natural settings – after all, you will be presented with a harbour, a cabin on a ship and the American wilderness. But at the end of the day, you won’t feel the windy weather and the salty spindrift from the seven seas – you will feel like you’ve helped clean out and clean up the deserted and derelict estate of your senile aunt Celia. It’s stuffy, mouldy and filthy.

The set decoration itself is poorly devised. The number-one decoration tool seems to have been painting the concrete walls with for instance a view of the sky and the sea when you stand on the harbour. When you move on, however, the wooden panels of the insides of the ship have also just been painted on the walls – and the American vista in the end is just a disgrace!

Still, the worst part about the set design is the safety hazards that you will encounter while playing “Christopher Columbus”. There are several heavy wooden logs that could potentially fall down on your head. In the cabin area, you also have to open up a huge and heavy hatch to a secret storage room beneath deck – however this trapdoor is so heavy that it could easily injure you, and you also have to make sure that you close it again, since the lights inside the room will automatically switch off creating another risk that you might just fall down the hatch and hurt yourself badly.

Puzzles: The sense of not smelling
The puzzles in ”Christopher Columbus” have some variation to them, and some of the better ones involved turning on some special lights and using the zodiac signs. However, in general, the gameplay is tough to a degree where the game ceases to be fun and playful. We had to be guided through almost the entire game – and ended up feeling like pawns controlled by the game master. That we ended up solving all of the puzzles and completing the game in time is certainly his achievement – not ours.

There are both “find the needle in the haystack” puzzles and downright inconsistent puzzles – both of which feel like they are put into the game just to make it more difficult, more of a chore. For instance, you have to put 30 (thirty!) pieces of rope into a certain order to decipher their meaning. There’s another puzzle in connection with a hammock on the prairie that requires especially trained eagle eyes. You also have to search an Indian tipi for clues that have to be used to unlock one out of many modern padlocks.

One of the more creative puzzles involves small bags of different spices that you have to feel and smell – which is always fun! However, the designers clearly have had problems with translating the names of the spices or getting their hands on the right ones: One of the bags should have contained caraway seeds according to the game and the game master, but the actual contents of the bag were clearly star anise. Furthermore, in the damp and mouldy cellar it is nearly impossible to smell any variation in the spices, and we wondered why the disigners haven’t used more distinctly smelling ones – cinnamon and lemon, for instance?

Worse still is one particular puzzle that requires you to have collected a number of small wheels covered with strange signs and numbers. These wheels have to be lined up in a specific order and turned meticulously around so you can decipher them properly. It might be difficult to imagine, but there are literally hundreds of ways to “read” these wheels and we’d like to see the person who can do this on his or her own without interference from the game master in less than 5 minutes. We spent at least 20 minutes on this puzzle, and had to rely on the game master to help us through – and still, it was an almost impossible task.

Game Master: Thanks for all the fish
It’s strange, but actually our game master was the best thing about the “Christopher Columbus” escape room. He was kind and understanding when we spoke to him about our frustrations after the game. During the game, however, the language barrier was evident and his English skills were put to the test. You communicate via walkie talkie which didn’t make it any better, since he clearly hadn’t adjusted the volume or didn’t know how to speak into it in a proper way. “Distortion” is a very mild description of the sound quality – it was nearly impossible to hear or understand what he was saying, which just meant that the clues and hints we we’re given were a puzzle in and of themselves! And then there’s the whole concept of using modern walkie talkies in a “Christopher Columbus” theme room – it just doesn’t add up.

However, as a game master he was alert and kept a firm eye on the time which he reported to us occasionally since there wasn’t any clock or countdown timer in this room.

We were asked to pay up front before playing the game – which is not the regular way of doing business. Neither in the world of escape rooms. Here at Runaway Escape Rooms, it’s required, because you would probably object to any kind of payment whatsoever after playing the room.

So, just to summarise: When the “Christopher Columbus” escape room is best – it’s mediocre. When it’s worst – it’s a biohazard of mould and damp with several safety risks built into the decoration as well. The puzzles are deliberately frustrating and difficult – and once again the English language is a problem… It’s not a room for children, nor families – nor anybody else actually. Instead think about the company name one more time and enjoy the irony: Runaway Escape Rooms!

Room: Christopher Columbus
Company: Runaway Escape Rooms, U Elektrárny 6, 170 00 Prague 7
Languages available: Czech and English
Game time: 70 minutes
Price: CZK 1300,- for 2 players, CZK 1600,- for 3-5 players

This review:
Game date: 12 July 2017
Number of players: 2 (Runaway Escape Rooms suggests that you are 2-5 players, but we would recommend as few players as possible due to the health hazards and the overall poor condition of the room)
Hints: Many!!

We survived, 62 minutes played

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