“It Belongs In A Museum!”
1946, Location: Peru
You’ve heard the stories of Sir Benjamin Diggit, famous archaeologist and collector of rare and magical finds. You may also of heard of the disappearance of him and his stash. Armed with just a single page of his ruined diary, maybe you can find his hidden treasures. Pack your bags and get ready for an adventure! You don’t have long though, you’re not the only ones on the trail…”
Our first visit to Hounds Escape occurred just hours before the UK went back into Lockdown in October 2020, and Questionable Ethics kept our escape dreams alive for many months, or at least until we could return for Southern Discomfort nearly a year later.
When we played Southern Discomfort we were privileged to have a sneak peek at the in-progress build of Explorer’s Diary, and I tell you, just that peek had me buzzing. Gordon’s favourite theme for an escape room might be pirates, but mine is hands down something that can only be classed as “Adventure.” Thankfully, this time I only had to wait about eight months until we were able to play Hound’s Escape’s newest baby when we found ourselves staying only about 45 minutes from Crawley for a wedding.
Explorer’s Diary was the final game on our list after a full day of escaping, beginning with Loot the Lanes and Modrophenia at Pier Pressure in Brighton, and Smuggler’s Ruin at MindWorks down the road in Worthing. (Actually, I suppose for us, four games in a day is actually a rather sedate day.) When we arrived at Hounds, we discovered a beautifully upgraded bar area, with lovely and intimate booths, and a range of moonshines behind the bar (a perfect complement to Southern Discomfort, with the added bonus of being really rather tasty.) Next time we visit, we’ll definitely have to make time to just sit and have a drink.
As always, we were warmly greeted as we walked through the doors, this time by David and Brian, two of the geniuses behind Hounds Escape. As we were chatting, however, we were joined by Beatrice (of the Home Office), and led away and up the stairs for a very important mission – to discover what happened to Sir Benjamin Diggit and recover a very important artifact. Finally, with our belongings safely stashed in a locked chest, Beatrice led us through to Sir Benjamin Diggit’s tent, where we were given the full details our mission. With a parting quip, Beatrice left us, the lights dimmed, and once the health and safety video finished, our adventure truly began.
As the lights came up in the tent, it was clear that Explorer’s Diary was just as lovingly crafted as the other two games at Hounds Escape. Stepping into the space we were immediately transported to an explorer’s camp circa 1940 something, with everything feeling just right, from the walls of the tent to the cot, and even the sounds surrounding us.
Immersion is one of those things that is often talked about, but hard to define; it can mean something different for everyone. When I talk about immersion, I define it more as a feeling that comes from being so involved with what I am doing that the real world melts away and I almost forget I am playing a game. This can come from a beautiful and realistic feeling set, a strong underlying narrative that reveals itself as you progress, the presence of a palpable atmosphere, or even just thoroughly engaging puzzles. However, the truly immersive games to do all of these things, and Explorer’s Diary was one such game.
Explorer’s Diary had a theatrical quality to it that I’ve come to expect from the games at Hounds, but it also had such a strong sense of adventure and clear journey that we were immediately sucked in. As we explored, we uncovered twists, turns, and amazing new spaces. Each and every new thing we uncovered was a thrill to behold, and just like a great book or movie, the game built in intensity, working its way to the climax, and then finally the dramatic conclusion.
Not only do Hounds Escape build beautiful looking games, but their puzzle design is equally beautiful. Intuitive, logical, with great flow, and excellent pacing, the puzzles fit into their surroundings so well that they almost don’t feel like puzzles at all. The signposting was subtle, but clear, and even though the game had multiple points with parallel puzzle paths, there was a flow.
The puzzles were widely varied, and there was literally something to please everyone. Tasks incorporated many common escape room tropes, but still managed to be totally unique and a joy to solve. There were plenty of totally logical puzzles, but also tasks that required a bit more lateral thinking. Of course there was a little bit of searching/exploring to be done, and translation was a recurring theme, but was by no means excessive. There were padlocks in logical places, but also more physical tasks to challenge one’s manual dexterity. Teamwork and communication were essential at key moments, and I’m only touching on some of the things we encountered. Explorer’s Diary is simply packed full of content.
Our guide, Beatrice was played by the lovely Amy, and she was absolutely enchanting. Our mission briefing was hilarious and informative, and never once did she break character. Beatrice was very invested in our success, so she was always available to lend a helping hand through the speaker system should we find ourselves stuck.
But truth be told, the puzzles were so intuitive that we didn’t really need much help, and when we did, a simple nudge in the right direction was all that we required when we were having a little trouble putting things together. Beatrice chimed in at exactly the right times when we were struggling (usually due to totally ignoring something important – as per usual with us), so it was clear she was very much following our progress and knew exactly what we were struggling with and when.
This attention to detail was made even more abundantly clear with our final score sheet containing the details of the achievements we had unlocked (we missed three! Can you do any better?), as well as a list of Amy’s favourite moments from our game.
I’ll admit, I am somewhat biased, being totally and automatically in love with almost any game that gives me an opportunity to live out my Indiana Jones fantasies, but Explorer’s Diary is about as close to perfect as a game could get. Beautifully designed, both aesthetically and in terms of game play, this game was a joy to play, and my new favourite at Hounds Escape. Not only is it not to be missed if you’re in the area, but it’s worth making a special trip for.
Team: 2 players – escaped in 40:00
Address: 12 – 13 Queens Square, Crawley, West Sussex, RH10 1DY