1992, Location: West Virginia
A conflict between two rival redneck clans dominates the Southern states. Dwayne’s redneck crew is known for 2 things: bikes and booze. They say that Dwayne’s moonshine is the best in the South. Your gang however… ain’t got that much going for it to be honest. If only there was a way of getting your hands on some of that fabled hooch for yourself. You thinking what I’m thinking? It’s time for a good old fashioned break in! Lets just hope it doesn’t turn into a break out…
One year ago, mere hours before the UK went into Lockdown v. 2.0, we made the short trip over to Hounds Escape in Crawley to get in one last game to sustain us through what would turn out to be over six months of not being able to play a physical escape game. Fortunately, that game was Questionable Ethics and did just the trick. I feel like we’re easily pleased, but Questionable Ethics was pretty close to perfect, so our only disappointment was that we only had one game to play at Hounds Escape.
But the team had big, big plans, and when we visited in October 2020 we were given a sneaky peek at the next game in the works, Southern Discomfort. Needless to say, we have been desperate to get over to play since it was opened. Of course, quite a bit has changed for Team Review the Room in the last year, not least of which was relocating to an area well outside the M25. Sadly, this means that trips to Hounds Escape are a bit more of a logistical challenge. But when it was decided that we would be teaming up with Amy and Ian from Brit of an Escape Habit for our 300th (and their 500th!) game at Tulleys, there was absolutely no way we would be leaving the area without stopping by Hounds Escape. And fortunately, Amy and Ian joined us for this game too!
The reception at Hounds Escape was just as warm and welcoming as it was a year ago, and, thanks to getting our times mixed up and arriving a bit too early, our team took the opportunity to enjoy the cosy bar area to get a drink and to once again have a chat with Julie and Brian while we awaited the arrival of our host. And arrive he did, as “Cassidy” [we think that was his name, so that’s what we’ll call him for now] stepped in front of us, in full redneck glory, complete with a flawless Southern accent. (No really, it was better than mine, and I grew up in the (Northern) States.)
Covid-19 Precautions: The Hounds Escape team still have NHS Track and Trace in place, additional time between teams for cleaning, and plenty of hand sanitiser around the place. Masks are now optional, and there were other teams in the venue at the time of our booking, but there was plenty of space for social distancing.
At its heart, Southern Discomfort is a heist; I mean, we’re breaking in to steal the hooch and then escape before Dwayne catches us, so if that’s not a heist, then I don’t know what is. Now, I’ll be the first one to say I am not the biggest fan of a heist game. But I think I’m actually just not the biggest fan of a bank heist or an art theft (with about two notable exceptions). Take a heist theme and dress it up as anything else, say perhaps a temple raid or, in this case, a redneck break in that was so much fun one might even go so far as to call it a hootenanny, and I am totally up for it.
With our introduction to Cassidy complete, our team was escorted up the stairs to the entrance to Southern Discomfort. The theming spilt out into the hallway, and once we deposited our things in the lockers provided, we settled in to enjoy the hilarious antics/endure the mild abuse hurled at us by Cassidy as he detailed exactly what we were there to do. With our mission firmly in mind we were escorted to our doors, and the adventure began (FYI – this game has a split-team start).
The set for Southern Discomfort is top-notch, simply beautifully designed with plenty of things to grab your attention, but surprisingly, not a single red herring. The team have used everything from sound and lighting to special effects to make the game as immersive as possible. A combination of chunky padlocks and magical tech meant that Dwayne’s little shack kept us guessing, and thoroughly engaged throughout. The pace of the game was perfect, quick enough that it felt as though we had a good flow, but never frantic or stressful as we approached the climax of the game, only to have everything turn on its head as we found ourselves racing towards the eventual, and highly satisfying/dramatic conclusion.
Ah, the puzzles. Not only do Hounds Escape excel at creating a game that is both immersive and beautiful to look at, but they also design games that are beautiful to play. The puzzles throughout Southern Discomfort were very much intrinsic to the game and seemed to evolve from our surroundings in a natural manner. Familiar puzzle types were scattered throughout the game (observation, logic, pattern recognition, communication, a bit of searching), but these were coupled with some wonderfully tactile tasks that just made for a totally fantastic experience.
The signposting throughout Southern Discomfort was on point, allowing everyone on the team at least one fantastic moment of realisation as the pieces clicked together. Even the puzzles that had us stumped for a minute or two eventually revealed themselves to be perfectly fair and really rather clever in their execution. The non-linear puzzle structure also meant that our experienced team of four was rarely falling over each other as we solved our way through hillbilly paradise.
Cassidy, played by the incredibly talented Joel, was a total delight from the moment he appeared. Cassidy had us laughing constantly throughout our game briefing, developing a rapport with the team that is more common in interactive theatre events, or even avatar-led online games, than it is with GM’s at traditional bricks and mortar escape rooms. But player immersion feels like it is one of the highest priorities at Hounds Escape, and part of what makes this goal attainable is their GMs that appear in character and remain in character from start to finish, and Joel never once broke character – even our final thank you note and game report was written by Cassidy.
It wasn’t just his acting work that made Cassidy/Joel such a great GM though. He was clearly paying close attention to our team, ready to give prompts if/when needed. We clicked with the game, so we did make his job easier, but if we had needed help, this would have been delivered using audio clues, that were still in character.
Hounds Escape impressed us with their debut game, and their second may be even better (I can’t decide – it would be like choosing a favourite child if I had any). If you’re looking for an hour filled with amazing scenery, fantastic puzzles, and a whole lot of laughs, you won’t go wrong getting yourself over to Hounds Escape for a little Southern Discomfort.
Team: 4 players – escaped in 29:00
Address: 12 – 13 Queens Square, Crawley, West Sussex, RH10 1DY