“PUSH THE BUTTON!”
We first came across Russ Builds when Russ introduced himself to us and asked us to play his latest creation. Russ is an amateur game designer, creating play at home escape games, and (currently) offering them for free to players around the world – all you need is a Zoom or Microsoft Teams account. The Cold War-themed, tabletop escape game entitled Endgame is Russ’s second foray into escape games, and I have to say, I was impressed, particularly when one considers that Russ is doing this for fun and for free.. If we ever escape this endless cycle of lockdowns, however, I could quite easily see a market for these sorts of mobile escape games. But for now, if you’re interested, just get in touch with Russ through his Instagram @russbuilds.
With little idea of what to expect, other than the Cold-War theme, we assembled the team at the appointed hour and met Russ. After a short briefing and a bit of backstory, we were given the password to unlock our secret dossier and prepared to avert World War 3…
We’ve classed this game as a live-avatar, simply because of Russ’s involvement as a host, but that isn’t strictly accurate. Unlike a live-avatar game, where you might spend some time with your avatar exploring the set, and investigating their surroundings, Endgame has no “set.” There are a few physical elements present, namely a locked suitcase, a chessboard, and a rather ominous looking “doomsday” button complete with timer for Russ to interact with, but there is nothing to truly explore or search for; everything you need is located in plain sight. Instead of being dotted around a room, the puzzles are either all contained within a dossier of information that we received prior to the beginning of the game, or contained within the physical components. This gave Endgame a feeling of something similar to Escape the Basement from Roobicks, as it was almost more of a digital game with a live host.
The game begins in a relatively linear manner, with two possible starting points, both of which must be solved before you’re able to progress, but with the dossier containing the majority of the information/puzzles, it was possible to jump ahead, in a way. This open structure allows teams to employ a divide and conquer strategy in puzzle solving. However, this was both a help and a hindrance to us, as we found ourselves with correct codes, but nowhere to put them at first.
Without a fancy set to direct Russ to explore, the puzzles very much became the central focus of the game. These were a mix of the standard sort of things I expect to come across in an escape room: logic, observation, decoding, and yes, a little bit of maths, and were generally on theme. Also like a physical escape game, the game incorporated a variety of lock styles, including some bits of tech, to give an interesting variety to the solutions we were on the hunt for. While difficulty is always subjective, the puzzles were generally fair, with several providing delightful ah-ha moments, and the only major stumbling points we found were provided by some confusion on our part with some images, and a bit of sneakiness on Russ’s part…
You see, the game begins with the need to unlock two three-digit padlocks, but with the open design presented in the dossier, one of the biggest puzzles of the game was figuring out where to start. In hindsight, this was actually quite well signposted, but we happened to completely overlook one key bit of information, leading us to stall quite a bit and eventually take a hint. At the time of playing, no-one had actually managed to complete that particular puzzle without a hint, which made it feel a bit unfair, but as The Escape Goats have now played a hint-free game (well done guys), I’ve revised my opinion somewhat, and we were just unobservant.
In my experience with live avatar games, the interaction with your avatar is paramount to success, and their personality factors heavily into the enjoyment of the experience. Due to the style of play for Endgame, this was less of a factor – we didn’t need to ask Russ to show us around a Cold War-era bunker, and go hunting for the missing keys to turn off the nuclear missiles, and keep us entertained with quips, and self-deprecating humour as he moved between set pieces. But despite playing a smaller role in our game than an avatar might, Russ was friendly, personable, always ready to give a hint or two, and still managed to throw in a few jokes, making for an enjoyable experience.
Hints are always available, should you need them, but come with a caveat. Russ runs a leaderboard that factors in not only your time but also the number of hints you take into your final score, and therefore your place on the leaderboard. With the way this works, it may be more beneficial to take a hint on something, rather than struggle through and have less time remaining. (We managed to muddle through with 11 points, after taking two hints and finishing with 19 minutes and 27 seconds remaining.)
Endgame is a passion project for Russ, and it shows. Although the design is basic, the puzzles are solid and the game is good fun. Considering it is currently free to play (although donations are gratefully received and will be used for the next build), it’s well worth a go. But be quick – Endgame is departing mid-October to make way for a new remote escape experience.
GOOD TO KNOW
- Number of connections: 2-4 players*
- Price: Free, with optional donation
- Devices: Desktop or Laptop suggested. Also compatible with handheld devices. Separate device for PDF recommended
- Platform: Zoom or Microsoft Teams (*More than one connection will require someone on your team to have a premium account)
- Inventory: No
- 360º View: No
- Time Zone: United Kingdom (GMT/BST)
|Value for Money|
Team: 4 players
Time Taken: 39:33 mins (two hints)