YES! YES! YES!
The year is 1945 and your country needs you!
You have been called upon by the allied forces to become Monuments Men and venture deep into the salt mines of Aultaussee in Austria. Your task is to locate and retrieve the priceless artworks, precious gems and gold bullion that have been stolen by the Nazi’s. Can your team solve the puzzles, diffuse the bomb and crack the codes to save the artefacts before the mine is blown to smithereens? There’s only one way to find out…
On our first visit to Nottingham in 2019 we visited two venues: Escapologic, and Cave Escape. And despite the fact that we nearly crashed and burned in Carfax, escaping with mountains of assistance and only one minute to spare, I have been desperate to return to Cave Escape from the moment they announced their second game – Monuments.
We had initially planned to play Monuments in May 2020, but due to ongoing global events, this was postponed. However, the credit voucher that we received from Cave Escape that would enable us to reschedule at a later date is the reason I insisted that the eventual Epic Escape Room Roadtrip of 2021 should revolve around a return to Nottingham. This return fit into the schedule perfectly on Day Seven, a leisurely day of only five games, and we were set to tackle Monuments as the final game of the day.
We actually finished Immaterium at Escapologic well ahead of schedule and found ourselves at a loss for what to do as we now found ourselves with several hours to kill between the two, rather than the one hour we had initially planned that would give us time for a snack and the walk to Cave Escape. But, as the slot prior to our game had not been booked, Nick, the owner of Cave Escape, very kindly agreed to allow us to move our booking forward, and after the original planned snack and a walk, we arrived at the door.
If you’ve not yet visited Cave Escape, you are in for a treat. Nick opened the door to the venue, and we entered the beautiful reception area that reminds me of a cosy library in one of the many grand houses scattered around the UK, with comfortable seating, warm lighting, and a certain je ne sais quoi. I could happily spend hours in reception, but then we would miss out on the games, and since that’s what we were there to do, eventually we had to pull ourselves away from the sofas, and prepare to save some artwork.
Prior to our last visit to Nottingham, I had been blissfully unaware that parts of Nottingham sit over a network of limestone caves. Cave Escape have used this to their advantage, planning games where the surroundings fit in the narrative, and building directly into the caves that form the basement of the venue. On a practical note, this does mean that there are some low ceilings and uneven floors due to the nature of the natural stone. Having been fully briefed on this point and warned to watch our heads (well, Gord more so than me. He’s quite a bit taller), we descended down the stairs and entered the caves.
Covid-19 Procedures: At the time of our visit in May 2021, Cave Escape were taking Covid-19 Precautions very seriously. Masks were mandatory, with no exceptions, for the duration of our visit, and this policy was adhered to by staff as well. NHS Track and Trace was in use, and a sink has been installed in reception, in addition to plentiful hand sanitiser throughout reception and the game space. Games have also been spaced out to allow for enhanced cleaning between games and to ensure that teams playing different games will not cross over in the public spaces, where lockers are also currently out of use to reduce high touch point areas. There’s more too, but it’s probably best to just check the website if you’re curious.
Fans of history may recognise the description of the game and draw the (correct) conclusion that Monuments is based on the real history of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Programme formed by the Allies during World War II to recover and preserve artwork and other treasures looted by the Nazis; a programme largely unheard of until the film The Monuments Men was made in 2014. (I’ll admit, I only know of the story thanks to the film.)
Whenever a game is based on historical events, I like to do a little reading on my own to learn about these before I type up my review. Cave Escape have obviously done extensive research into the history here, as not only were the artworks that we recovered some of the same ones that were originally uncovered in the salt mines, but Monuments also used actual events in the saga of the Monuments Men to add a few dramatic moments to the game, with some creative liberties of course. But I digress.
The caves are a perfect setting for Monuments, and as we stepped through the door, we found ourselves transported to the Altaussee Salt Mines. As we took in our surroundings, a vintage projector began rolling with our mission: Find and recover the artwork before the Nazis destroy it to keep it from falling into enemy hands. From there we found ourselves on a frantic mission, full of drama, uncovering periodic film reels that both delivered additional information and furthered the narrative.
Everything about Monuments felt perfect, and it was very easy to become totally immersed in the tasks and the story, as we raced through to find and save the art. I say raced, but despite the fast pace of the game, and the vast amount to do, we never felt rushed or panicked, but there was always an underlying sense of urgency, that was punctuated by the dramatic moments I mentioned before.
I’m just going to start this section by saying that the puzzles were an absolute delight. They were well thought out, fit the story perfectly and served to further the narrative, while also being totally fair, incredibly well sign posted, and full of wonderful “Ah-Ha!” moments.. Plus, there was no shortage of them, and while there were some linear moments that were crucial to the narrative, the game had plenty of more open points with multiple puzzle paths to keep the pace from slowing, and the entire team busy. (Which is part of the reason Cave Escape recommend teams of 3+)
The puzzles incorporated a wide variety of elements, from some sneaky searching, to communication and teamwork, with a hefty dose of logic thrown in for good measure. Aside from incorporating thematic components, like codes and cyphers, into the puzzles, what made the puzzles particularly delightful was how organically everything seemed to flow. Cave Escape have an eye for detail, and thus, any padlocks were keyed or or vintage (one in particular was exceptionally cool), and only located on things that would logically be locked. These locks were blended with other, more physical and tactile tasks that kept everything fresh and interesting, and allowed the game to become even more immersive.
Nick was our GM two years ago when we played Carfax, and was back again to host us in Monuments. Thankfully, we’ve improved since our last adventure in the caves, so Nick didn’t have to work quite as hard to get us through this time around. Or rather, I should say, our “Commanding Officer” didn’t have to work as hard.
Clues were delivered through a vintage WWII phone from our Commanding Officer, in the guise of delivering additional intel. We very nearly needed to ask for additional intel due to a search fail, but ended up successfully winging it, and managed to avoid both asking for a clue, and catastrophe. But the real surprise and delight came from an additional secondary clue system that made itself known midway through the game. I hate that I am being so cryptic, because I loved this element so much, but I don’t want to spoil anything. (Just know that I loved it.) This secondary system provided an element of humour as well as useful, and subtle, nudges.
But, whether clues came from our Commanding Officer, or from “someone” else, they were perfectly timed, helpful enough to get us back on track, but also sufficiently cryptic to ensure that we never felt as though we were being spoon fed an answer.
I loved Cave Escape from the moment I stepped into the reception area two years ago to play Carfax, but Monuments has completely blown me away. Not only was this game one of the highlights on our nearly 60 game road trip, but it ranks among my favourite Top Ten games I have played to date (or it will, once this list is updated).
A word of warning: Monuments is typically recommended for teams of three or more. It is achievable for experienced teams of two, but there is quite a bit to sort through and get on with, making it an incredibly fast paced and challenging game for smaller teams. I understand that our time was the quickest team of two, so don’t let that fool you.
Team: 2 players – escaped in 43:32 minutes
Address: 63 Mansfield Rd, Nottingham NG1 3FN