• Georgiana Hunter-Cozens

ESCAPE ROOMS CARDIFF - Cardiff Castle

Escape Rooms Cardiff has quickly established themselves as one of the most reliable rooms in Cardiff, and they put lockdown into good use by completely redesigning one of their oldest rooms (Heist) into a brand new room. The theme for this, breaking INTO Cardiff Castle, is complete unique, and it's clear to see the redesign was time well spent.


TL;DR

Pros: Set design, concept, surprises

Cons: Signposting, customer service, hints, accessibility

Two women stand in front of a neon blue sign reading "Escape Rooms Cardiff"
Relieved at escaping, although our eyes needed a break!

The Set

The premise of the room is that you are aiding Owain Glyndwr's revolution, around 1400. You therefore need to break into Cardiff Castle (the real one is actually only 10 minutes walk up the road), find the plans and get back out.

When we first entered the room, we were transported back to the 1400s, complete with stocks and straw floor (which was a nice touch). Throughout the entire room, the props and set were really great quality and very immersive. There were a number of "ooh!" moments, and the room definitely took us through a journey.


The Game

The game was very linear - as a pair this was no issue, but I wouldn't want to play with with a team larger than this. It was very much a case of discover item(s) - locate puzzle - solve puzzle - get items for next puzzle. There were a few situations where searching was required, but generally there was nothing we could do except locate items until they contributed towards the puzzle. Unfortunately, this meant there were quite a few times where we ground to a halt as we couldn't locate that final piece.

The "signposting" also posed an issue - on multiple occasions, if not the majority, there was little to no signposting linking a puzzle to the items/clues. We'd find a clue, perhaps even solve the puzzle, but have no clue what it was leading us to. This is probably the thing that wasted the most time for us - with clearer signposting we would've linked things far quicker, rather than via seemingly vague leaps of logic. For example, the very first puzzle we solved because we had limited things available at that point so naturally we just put them together and came up with an answer but...there was no reason to do this, not even the vaguest attempt at some sort of narrative explanation. Later on in the game, a piece of decor is meant to indicate the placement of some objects, except the two are in no way related (by shape, size, location, logo...anything), and we only realised what we were meant to do thanks to process of elimination and...why not? I think the most telling sign of poor signposting was the moment we solved one thing, got another clue and....nothing. I was staring at that new clue for a good 5 minutes solid, trying to work out what the heck it was and what I was meant to do with it. I didn't even have any idea what it could possibly relate to!

In such a situation I might assume we were just being a bit silly (it was their earliest booking slot, after all), but the hints we received also left something to be desired. Clues (and time) were delivered via a monitor, which is my preferred method of delivery. As a nod to the theme, the screen background emulated a scroll, and the hints were written in "Ye Olde English" type riddles (thoust hast not considered...). The few we received were also fairly vague, and unhelpful. Their timing was also frustrating - most of time I want to give the GMs the benefit of the doubt - their safety (briefing) video even asks you to do this, and trust they know when to give the clues. However, in our case I fear the GMs may have fallen asleep - we tipped from 'challenged' to 'frustrated' a number of times. I may even have forgiven this, but when one of the clues sent us in the wrong direction, they took their time to correct us.

Forgetting all of this, the puzzles themselves were very classic escape room puzzles - solve riddles, count things, follow instructions (where they exist). The puzzles were a little boring, padded out with all the frustrations.


Accessibility

This room is a bit of a nightmare when it comes to accessibility. The location has a step in, and it takes a number of steep stairs to reach the room (3 flights). We were all out of breath by the time we got there! The room itself has lots of fairly small spaces - comfortable for 2, but any more would've been uncomfortable and not fun. The small spaces also lead to raised temperatures (in more ways than one).

The lights were also a real issue in this room. The location is themed with neon blue lights (which are equally an eye sore), but you are then plunged into a fairly dim room, with lantern in hand to help out when you need to focus. However, there are also lots of flickering lights within the room, which cause some irritation. Coming back out to neon lights was another shock!

There is a soundtrack to the room, which was a little distracting at times but not too bad. However, there is a crucial puzzle that relies on this (which then lead to the annoying feature of having to wait for it to reloop).

Finally, there are quite a few moment that might make you jump - mainly in a good way, but one towards the start was very unnecessary and a little mean.


Outside the room

The building is conveniently located close to a car park and the high street, so transportation and refreshments are easy! The rooms have made some changes in line with Covid - rather than the lockers they used to provide in the reception, they are now placing a bucket inside the room for belongings. This breaks the illusion a little, but I appreciate the need for it.

Rather than an individual briefing, you are instead sat on school benches and shown a video, covering all the general points. This is pretty representative of the service we received in general - impersonal and basic.

When we were arrived we were checked in - asked my name, and if I'd played before - all with minimal eye contact. We were directed to the "cinema room" (school benches), where we sat by ourselves for a while, before someone else peeked his head in, told us to pay attention to the screen, and that they'd take us to the room afterwards. After this briefing we were lead to the room, again with minimal chit chat or enthusiasm. We were given quite a lacklustre overview of the room and shown in. Upon escaping, there was yet another GM waiting, who did at least give us a "well done!" and attempt at small talk, but the energy and enthusiasm were missing. A quick pic and out we were shown. Customer service is clearly not the name of the game here.


Was it worth the money?

We paid £28pp for a team of 2. It was definitely not worth this - I probably would've paid £20.

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