Restored our faith in ClueHQ
You’ve been framed for a crime you didn’t commit, and you’re about to be sentenced to a lifetime in prison. You know that notorious criminal Danny Badd is responsible, but with only 60 minutes before you face the jury, you don’t have the resources to prove your innocence. Can you escape the top security Cell Block C and buy yourself some time or will you be locked away forever?
An industrial estate in Somerton, Somerset feels like a bit of an odd location for an Escape Room, given the size of the town. But it’s easily within walking distance of the town centre, and there’s plenty of parking for those travelling from further afield. We arrived a little bit early and walked into a dimly lit, but comfortable holding area, where Gord proceeded to admire the UV lights on his yellow shoes while we waited for the briefing of another team to finish.
We had played The Experiments at Clue HQ’s Kingston franchise and hadn’t been overly impressed with either the game or the corporate feel of the company, and as such, had avoided the Somerton location, expecting more of the same. But, in an effort to fight the post-Christmas blues, we decided to make the trip down the road from Gord’s parents’ and give them a try. The experience at Clue HQ Somerton couldn’t be further from the experience in Kingston. It felt more like a family-run business than the sterile cookie-cutter copy of the Kingston venue I expected. I suppose that’s because that’s what it is. As a franchise, it’s only the basic components of the games and the branding that could be the same from venue to venue, and as we learned from the guys at Escape Peterborough, there may even be some liberties taken with the game designs across various franchises.
The first indication that this would be an entirely different experience was the briefing. Clue HQ locations have a general Health and Safety video that can be used, but the team in Somerton prefer a more personal touch with an individual and personal H&S briefing for each team. After our briefing, we were led to our cells, and after a room-specific briefing video, it was time to make a break for freedom before we could be convicted for a crime we didn’t commit.
Locked into separate cells, it’s not surprising that the first part of the room is based heavily on communication. One of the very first tasks was quite fun, and really set the tone for the entire game. It could quite easily go wrong, presenting a new and unique set of challenges, but it is signposted well enough that if teams follow the guidance, no one should run into problems.
There were a great many padlocks with codes derived from the standard sorts of observational or logical reasoning puzzles that are typical of escape rooms, but these were pretty thematic. But it wasn’t all padlocks and codes. There were a number of more physical challenges or those using a bit of sneaky tech that kept things interesting and fun; up until the rather lengthy maths puzzle that is.
It turns out that I mostly struggled with this puzzle due to my inability to do simple addition/multiplication under pressure, and also forgetting a key part of how the world works. A calculator was provided, so most teams shouldn’t struggle too much once the correct method is worked out. But it does seem to be a hallmark of a Clue HQ room to involve maths in some way (in fairness, we have only played three, but we’re three for three) and in general, it feels as these puzzles are arduous and only there to slow teams down.
Is Cell Block C the most realistic prison cell I’ve been locked in throughout my escaping career? Probably not, given the toilet was located in what would have been a prison corridor and guard station wasn’t hidden from view while we were in our cells. But, it was a fun game. That fun became more apparent as we reached the climax of the game and the tone completely changed, really ramping up the pressure. It did make us feel a bit rushed, but it gave a great feeling to the finale as we finally managed to open our door to freedom.
One of the most frustrating things I encounter in Escape Rooms is darkness without a purpose other than to make putting codes into padlocks more difficult. Occasionally, even atmospheric lighting can be problematic for those of us with poor low-light vision. Pleasantly, while the lighting in Cell Block C was a bit dramatic, I didn’t have an issue with it. Even if I had, we were told that should we need it, it was fine to use a torch on a phone if additional light was needed. I would have preferred to have had torches provided, as I try to forget I even have a phone, but it was nice that the option was available.
Clues and the timer were displayed on an integrated screen within the room as part of the prison CCTV system. We never actually met our GM, as she had a case of laryngitis, and had self quarantined herself to the control room. Our Health and Safety briefing was instead delivered by one of the owners, Geri.
However, our GM was quick to notice that something wasn’t quite right when we were unable to open a padlock quite early on in the game. As it turns out, two padlocks had been swapped, but she recognised swiftly, and Geri came in to fix it. I have no issues when something goes wrong within a game, be it a power outage, incorrectly placed padlock, or any other of the myriad things that could go wrong – things happen. To me, what matters is how it is dealt with, and this was dealt with quickly and with minimal disruption; i.e. perfectly. As we were still locked in our cells, we were stuck until this issue was resolved.
Once the padlocks were swapped, we were out of the cells in moments, and the game flowed well from there. Based on the quick resolution, I can only say that had we needed more help, I’ve no doubt it would have been delivered without delay.
After an only average experience at Clue HQ Kingston, we had stayed away from other Clue HQ locations. Based on our experience in Somerton, I’ve changed my mind and certainly won’t avoid Clue HQ locations in the future. Perhaps I’ll even seek them out, as I’ve heard some good things about other games from the franchise.
Team: 3 players – escaped with 20:20 remaining
Address: Unit 5, Canvin Court, Somerton Business Park, Bancombe Rd, Somerton TA11 6SB