Dreamcatcher: A Science Fiction Puzzlehunt

I was very kindly offered free tickets to take part in the experience around Kentish Town (London). Marketed as a Sci-Fi who-dunnit mixed with treasure hunting and escape room logic (with a bit of immersive theatre to boot) I was very excited for this day to role around. With 3 other Escape Room Enthusiasts we set off towards Kentish Town to begin our adventure…

Before the day

The team behind ‘Dreamcatcher’ sent me a rather lovely email, and the online sign up process was extremely smooth. I received a reminder email a few days before the event (which I always find useful), and another email the day prior creating the backstory. This email was structured to appear as if I had emailed first, volunteering for the “experiment”, and the “Professor’s” reply. I thought this was very clever, and a nice way to introduce the story!

The story

I admit we all found the story line a little convoluted, and we didn’t follow it that well. Even the briefing was a little confusing – changing the story line part way through (asking us if we were there to take part in the ‘experiment’, then later explaining that actually the project was shut down and there was no experiment…).

Throughout the experience, I think we definitely missed bits. We were required to use our phone to fill in the answer to puzzles, and this ‘portal’ also included a section for hints, and an ‘inbox’. We missed this until over half way through the day, at which point we realised there were quite a few emails waiting for us, obviously providing some story as we went along. It’s a shame we missed this, but by the time we did see it we weren’t too interested in reading everything.

The story was a bit of a who-dunnit, but it was also a little confusing at parts, and even towards the end it wasn’t completely clear what we were expected to do (or not do). All in all, adding a narrative element (and actors) was a fun touch, but I think added an unnecessary layer that would’ve worked a little better with real actors, and the story elements tied to puzzles rather than on the phone.

The puzzles

I love puzzles. I love escape rooms, so I was very much looking forward to a few hours of puzzles (rather than the standard 1 hour escape room). I loved the variety of puzzles this experience brought, as well as the girth of hints, but found they were often very laborious, even for me. The first puzzle alone took over half an hour, with us eventually moving to a new location and in the end guessing with the aid of a hint. This was in part due to technical difficulties, but it wasn’t the best way to start the day.

Even with the others, we often found ourselves guessing or brute forcing to some extent. Others we took with us on our way, as we didn’t want to sit down and spend the time working them out in a single location. Ultimately, I enjoyed the effort that went into these puzzles, and just how different they all were, but anything that relies on technology can be risky, and even I was getting a little fed up towards the end.

If I had some advice for the makers, it would be to simplify the puzzles slightly and remove any reliance on technology, bar the answer/hint system. I also think that for the ones which required pen and paper, it would’ve been good to time box these a little, or else ensure they were intermingled with quicker puzzles.

Logistics

As already mentioned, we found the day began to drag a little. The difficulty/laboriousness of the puzzles mixed with very little narrative elements did mean we were losing interest. After a couple of hours we decided to take a break in a pub as we wanted to have a bit of a break from the whole thing (and it gave me a chance to work on a couple of the puzzles we had picked up). From other puzzle hunts I’ve done, this was something definitely lacking here – a fixed opportunity for teams to have a break.

We often saw similar teams along the way, which was fun, but towards the end we ended up bunched up waiting for our turn with a puzzle. On the plus side, this was in a pub so we could sit and drink (and work on a previous puzzle), but it also meant waiting for other teams to complete one of only two copies of what turned out to be a fairly complex puzzle.

Once we had completed all the puzzles, we headed back to the starting point to finish the final puzzle (which was one of my favourites). The instructions we received after this was a little confusing, and we inadvertently slipped up and got the ‘bad’ ending. Even talking to the actor afterwards he admitted he wasn’t sure how to react when people did this, and that we weren’t the first.

Never-the-less, we headed off the finale…only to discover a half hour wait. At this point we had been going for around 4 hours, and I could tell my team were less than enthused so I decided to cut my losses there. Apparently, it would be worth going to see, but having been less than blown away by the rest of the day, it seems either unlikely or a shame that this final part would be the bit to excite us.

Conclusion

It’s a shame that the logistics weren’t the best, but given this is the first time they’ve run this event for the public I think it was a valiant effort. It was clear just how much effort had gone into this, from the online portal to physical clues taped all around Kentish Town. I honestly really like the guys behind this (shout-out to Michael and Sarah!), and I really enjoyed quite a few of the puzzles (although perhaps would’ve preferred them a little less fiddly). If they decided to run this event again, I would definitely take part, although I’m not sure I’d be able to convince my team to join me…

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