More ‘workshop’ than ‘Steampunk’
As I don’t have a handy blurb from the website to lay out the story for you, I’ll just do my best to give you a brief summary:
We’ve been sent to the workshop of an alchemist (I think), in search of his golden nut (like nuts and bolts, get your mind out of the gutter.) To ensure that we’re worthy of retrieving said nut, the workshop is filled with poisonous gas and if we take longer than an hour, and if we take longer than 60 minutes to decipher the alchemist’s riddles, we will succumb to the effects… Or something like that; I’ll be honest, I didn’t write it down.
We’re often in Somerset to visit family, but sadly the options for escape rooms to escape the familial love have always been rather limited. So, of course, we’re always excited to learn about a new company opening their doors in the area. Strangely, Escape Rooms Middlemoor is not actually located in Middlemoor, but rather just outside of Highbridge on the grounds of The Laburnum House Hotel. The name is actually a holdover from when the company was located in Middlemoor, but as the games are all housed in static caravans, it was relatively simple to relocate them.
It’s incredibly difficult to actually find any information about the games, as apart from a Facebook page and a listing on Escape The Review, their only presence online (at the time of writing) is one small page on the website for Laburnham House, which doesn’t give much detail at all; really only the names of the games – Steampunk, Peaky Blinders, and soon Sweeney Todd. But once you know they exist, it’s relatively straightforward to book, just contact the company through their Facebook page or give them a ring.
With the day of our games chosen, we arrived on the grounds of the Laburnham House Hotel, and it was immediately obvious where we needed to go, and we parked just in front of the static caravans that house Escape Rooms Middlemoor, where we were greeted by the owner, and our GM, Reece. After a quick health and safety briefing, and a bit of back story, we stepped through the door and into the Steampunk workshop.
Covid Procedures: Escape Rooms Middlemoor sanitise their games between bookings using a fog. Hand sanitiser was available in reception, and masks were required in reception by players. We were told we could remove our masks once in the game, but opted to leave them on. We did not see another team on site during our visit.
As our eyes adjusted to the dim lighting (torches are provided for those of us with poor low light vision), the first thing that struck me was that although the set was in excellent condition and decoration was well thought out, Steampunk didn’t really have a steampunk vibe. Instead, it was more like a Victorian Era workshop. There were no macabre statues wearing bizarre top hats covered in gears or strange goggles like I have come to expect from the one steampunk-themed wedding I attended, but rather period style tools scattered throughout. There were a few pieces of art that were sort of Steampunk, as well as a few funky industrial pieces, to try to give the right feeling and with the dim lighting and an ambient soundtrack, it gave the vague impression that we were back in an alternate reality at the dawn of electricity.
Of course, all of the period tools could potentially be a health and safety nightmare, but small pairs of googly eyes on certain parts of the set were there to indicate “look, but don’t touch,” which were helpful in letting us know exactly what would be useful and what was just there for the aesthetic. Another handy little bit of signposting was the paper tags that were affixed to some of the important pieces, letting us know exactly what they were.
Steam Punk felt as though it had a very linear flow after the initial search of the space, and although the game wasn’t overly story-driven, there were moments of exposition to reveal a bit more. The climax of the game came with a massive plot twist, and a race towards the finish, which unfortunately is where we fell down, and despite the theatrics that were kinda cool, our frustrations at being unable to find what we needed meant that despite the best efforts of Escape Rooms Middlemoor, the ending just felt a bit anticlimactic, as we shouted out the final code due to a warped door making it impossible to use the locking mechanism as intended.
As much as I hate to say it, since difficulty is always subjective, the puzzles in Steampunk felt as though they were on the easier side. But in all honesty, this is likely a byproduct of our experience, as the puzzle styles were the sorts of standard escape room fare we’ve come to expect after having played a number of games, with searching, observation, logic, and one or two more physical tasks, generally resulting in padlock codes, but mixed with a bit of tech and some old escape room favourites to keep things interesting.
Steampunk felt like a very search heavy game, with a number of things hidden throughout the game, but it is one task in particular that makes me say this. In fact, we were well on our way to demolishing the room record when a sneaky bit of searching combined with an underpowered tool and an error on our part left us scratching our heads for about 15 minutes to 20 minutes. As I said, part of this was an error on our part, and other teams may not have this issue. It also says a lot about a game when the only thing that stumps you is the inability to spot something. We probably should have admitted defeat and asked for a clue, but as it was, this delay at the climax of the game just led to frustrations, and the finale became a bit of an anticlimax for us.
Reece was our GM for Steampunk, delivering clues through the same screen in the room that displayed the timer. In his briefing, Reece indicated that he would only be offering clues if and when they were asked for, and he may or may not respond. It’s not my favourite method, mostly because I hate asking for a clue as it both breaks the immersion and makes me feel slightly inadequate. Not only that, as a player I have no way of knowing how far along in the game I am and if I really should just stop being stubborn and ask, but I appreciate that many players hate being clued, so this is a balancing act.
Reece did break his rule a little and chimed in from time to time, but the issue with this came from the fact that the screen was also utilised to occasionally deliver bits of exposition, story, and drama, and it was hard to tell if Reece’s nudges were just story, or if they were in fact, nudges, particularly as we really only needed help due to the aforementioned search fail. But we got there in the end, with 19 minutes to spare, so it’s all good.
What started out as a good game, quickly became a bit frustrating, as we spent 15 minutes searching for the final escape code. But aside from a search element that felt slightly unfair (but could be improved with a better tool), Steampunk is a decent game – good for escape room newbies, and worth a visit for enthusiasts if you’re in the area anyway.
Team: 2 players (escaped in 41:00 minutes)
Address: Laburnum House Hotel, Sloway Ln, Highbridge TA9 3RJ