søndag den 17. september 2017

Va Bank (Questerland, Prague)

The French gambling term “Va Banque” means that you are going all in: You put all your money on ONE bet, which means that you could either win all the money or you could go bankrupt. This high-stakes, risky business strategy is easily transferred to all other areas of life – most notably the expression was used by Adolf Hitler during World War II when discussing his war tactics with Hermann Göring.

In this way, the “Va Bank” escape room makes very good sense. Once more, in Prague, you find yourself on the wrong side of the law: You are bank robbers in the middle of your biggest heist ever. You’ve reached the inner vault, when suddenly the door shuts behind you. It’s locked! So, besides robbing the bank of all its valuables and gold bars, you have to find the secret exit door. Fortunately – since the Czech police force isn’t the quickest one in the world – you have a whole hour to escape!

That background story isn’t deep or detailed in any way. But it doesn’t need to be for the game to be fun. Just get the money, and get out of there. Go!

Set decoration: 9,5
The hands-down best thing about “Va Bank” is the set decoration. It’s not only gorgeous to behold – it’s also immersive. The game starts with you stepping into the bank vault and the round metal door literally locking behind you. You can hear the iron bolts sliding into place, and then you take a look around in what looks like a set from a heist thriller: Rows upon rows of small bank boxes are lined up along the walls and a safe is placed in the furthest part of the room behind solid security grilles. Even though all the lights are on, and the room has been cleansed of every single shadow, it still feels suspenseful – first and foremost because the room is as bare and clinical to look at as a real bank vault. This also creates an immersive sense of isolation. You are really stuck in this place, and you need to get out now!!

To underline this, a monitor screen shows what’s going on right outside the huge vault door. Here a group of police officers are trying to hammer drill their way into the underground safe. However, no sound effects or yelling can be heard – which is perhaps a little disappointing since the rest of the room is so flawlessly designed. The same could be said about the background music: It is a little underwhelming and can’t really keep up with the dynamics of the room. Still, on the other hand, once you get further into the game, there will be sound effects – and loud ones, too. The lighting will also change to accommodate the storyline and your progression in the game. All of which works very well to turn up the stressful atmosphere. And then we haven’t really mentioned the changes in the set decoration: Suffice it to say that when the room opens itself up to the second part of the game, you won’t be disappointed.

Puzzles: 6,3
The puzzles in “Va Bank” are well integrated into the set design, so much so that many of them hinges on finding the needle in the haystack. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that the 250 small bank boxes are there for a reason, and a good dozen of them will come into play during the game. The question is which ones? In this way, “Va Bank” is probably not an escape game for absolute beginners – unless of course you love discipline and attention to detail. Also, if you need hints along the way they will most likely concern a very small feature that you had just plainly missed – making you feel stupid and ignorant. In other words: There’s a risk that you will end up feeling like somewhat a failure even though you actually won the game.

On a more positive note, the puzzle designers clearly have had an idea when it comes to the progression of the puzzles. The starting area is definitely the easy part of the game, whereas the final third is much harder and requires you to think hard about what you’re doing. However, from start to finish the puzzles are about keeping your eyes open in order to find the next code.

What made our gaming experience slightly more frustrating and difficult was the fact that we accidentally skipped a puzzle, which meant that we also missed a key. The game master, unfortunately, did not catch this – we had to ask about a hint ourselves. Likewise frustrating was the loose connection concerning a light switch that you have to use in a puzzle – the light switch didn’t work properly. You also have to interact with some analogue watches at a crucial point in the game – here a couple of the hands on the watches were broken and came right off.

Game Master: 9,5
Our host and game master were both very kind and excellent at English. They welcomed us with a smile and we had a chat both before and after the game. We talked about the company, Questerland, as well as the escape-game scene in Prague in general. There’s a nice lounge area that invites you to stay a little longer and hang out and get a drink in the bar. It’s all very cosy, and you definitely get the feeling that these guys love what they’re doing.

During the game you communicate with the game master through an intercom system mounted on the wall close to the entrance. On the one hand, this solution works well since it creates a stressful sensation when you have to run back and forth between the puzzles and the intercom to get hints. On the other hand, honestly, it’s not all that integrated into the game: Who are you getting help from? Other people inside the bank? However, we didn’t need more than three hints, so it didn’t really bother us.

What did bother us was the lack of a countdown timer. Especially because you have to ask for hints, too, so it’s never really clear how well you’re doing, or how far you are in the game. Also, it doesn’t feel like the game master is monitoring you, since you have to be very specific about your hint requirements. As mentioned previously, we messed up the order of the puzzles somehow, and we had to find that out ourselves. You can of course ask about the time through the intercom (and we did!), but it should be pretty easy to build a visible timer into the set design, and change the story a bit to make it all add up. That would be an improvement.

Conclusion: 8,4
As beautiful and immersive as the “Va Bank” set design is, the puzzles are slightly more mediocre and not all that varied. All of them require you to be massively disciplined and examine every single thing up and close. If this is your kind of puzzle, we wish you happy searching.

Room: Va Bank
Company: Questerland, Manésova 54, Prague 2, 120 00
Languages available: Czech and English
Game time: 60 minutes
Price: CZK 1000,- for 2 players, CZK 1100-1300,- for 3-5 players

This review:
Game date: 13 July 2017
Number of players: 2 (Questerland suggests that you are 2-5 players, but we wouldn’t recommend more than 3 grownup players due to the size of the room. Certainly, it wouldn’t have hurt our game with more eyes to look for all the details.)
Hints: 3

We survived, 58:30 minutes played

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