Playing online escape rooms

We’re all missing playing escape rooms with our friends and family. Luckily though, there are a number of escape room companies who have taken the escape experience and put them online for us all to play over Zoom! In this article I’ll let you know what game’s we have played during lockdown.

A previous team who came to play Spectre emailed us recently to ask our opinion on games we have played after seeing our photo posts on Facebook. My reply turned into an essay, so I decided to use it as a blog post. I’ll add to the list as we play more. Feel free to comment and add your own recommendations.

Here goes:

Panic Rooms – CSI grounded.

This is an online murder mystery with some elements to print out. You don’t have to print them out (like some of the other games out there), but we did so we weren’t looking at the screen the entire time. We’ve found that a lot of the print and play ones just take far too long to finish in one sitting. This one is the only one so far where you could finish it in just over an hour.

It costs £20.

Since playing this one Panic Rooms have released a few more, and are even bundling some together to buy in bulk for a lesser cost. Good news if you end up enjoying this one.

Deadlocked Reading – The Insiders.

These guys have a three-part print and play game called The Insiders that involves some cutting out and some looking at fictional Facebook pages, websites and an infuriating type of  ‘Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes’ element!

The game focuses on the WEXEL corporation and sees you having to work out passwords to enter online to move the next stage. This one took the two of us aaagggees to complete…and that was just part one. In all honesty, after not getting all the way through part two, we gave up!

Deadlocked were pretty much the first to come up with an online game. To do all three parts will probably take around five or six hours in total. It is value for money though…only costing a tenner.

Code Decode Swindon – Oldervik Online.

This game is again a print and play, but with some unique elements that make it stand out from all the other print and play types (I don’t want to give anything away). The first part took us three hours to complete as two people and there were some cutting out, sticking and colouring in elements that younger players might enjoy.

Like Co-Decode’s real life games, this is tricky, but has a sense of style about it. Part 2 was better than part 1 but took us four hours to complete.
The online hint system is good. Overall probably the best print and play game we have done so far. The first part is £9.99. The second is £12.99. We’re awaiting part 3.

Better and better

NEW: Since including part 2, we’ve had the pleasure of playing part 3 and most recently (January 2021), part 4. The third part, On Course for Kantawe, sees you puzzling onboard an Ocean Liner, set sail for the mysterious Kantawe, where you hope to uncover the mysterious artefact, but you have to glean all you can from those all at sea with you. It took us many, many hours to complete this one, and we’ve decided perhaps it’s just that we’re not that bright? Like with all the other parts, my advice would be to split the challenge over a couple of days.

The magic of an inventory

Personally, I enjoyed part 4 the best, perhaps because I managed to solve more of it myself at a slightly quicker pace. Called Digging in Disguise, this part also has a very clever inventory system, so rather than having a million tabs open and frantically trying to figure out where you are in the game, there is now a list of puzzles/pages that appear which you have yet to solve. Once you have, they disappear. The same goes for useful items, once used, you no longer have access to them.

There are lots of clever interactive elements in this one, ones that don’t involve any cutting and sticking of bits of paper…but the paper hasn’t disappeared from the gameplay entirely. This part took us 8 hours to complete. I wish I could fib and tell you otherwise. As we were play testing for Co-decode, there are set to be some changes made, which could potentially cut the time down by almost an hour (at least, it would have for us).

In terms of value for money, you won’t get better than the Oldervik games. Clever, and a thing of beauty, by two super talented escape room owners.

Obviously there are LOTS of print and play games available now. If you are on Facebook, take a look at the UK escape room enthusiasts page.

What we’re finding the most fun, are the remote avatar games. Where you control a real person in a real room with real padlocks, things to find, puzzles to solve and only 60 minutes on the clock.  

Escape Rooms Southend – The Virus & The Right Key.

The Virus was the first avatar game we played as three different households. The room itself wasn’t that convincing stage set wise, but it doesn’t really matter that much as you are watching it via Zoom through a camera.

There was some searching and finding of things, some not-to-tricky puzzles and that satisfying glow when you watch the avatar try a padlock and you’ve got the correct answer. Even opening the boxes and looking inside is pretty exciting! We finished this one within an hour and really enjoyed it. The Virus finished on May 24th. They’ve since announced a new horror game.

The Right Key was ok too, but not as good as The Virus puzzle wise. There was a lot of reading things on screen through the camera which took lots of time and wasn’t as fun. But the escape room feelings were there again. They also have another two avatar games we haven’t tried called Once Upon A Time and CSI Southend. We will probably get round to those at some point. They’re all £30 and need to be booked online.

ClueCrypted – The Crime of the Century.

This is by far the best avatar game we have played. This had a lot to do with the games master being really entertaining throughout. It’s their portable game, but tweaked a little. There were a few things to print out in advance (or to open ready on screen to look at)… but these were on theme and didn’t take away from the game play.

There wasn’t a room to explore as such, so no search and find element and no real room dressing, but it didn’t really matter because the puzzles were good and the host was good. Highly recommend this one. It costs £32.

NEW: Improbable Escapes -Seven Dwarves Mining Mission

This avatar room is in Ontario, Canada, and one we wanted to play because we had heard some very good things. The US, Canada and Europe are ahead of the curve when it comes to real life escape rooms. Some of the best we have ever played have been abroad in Prague, Barcelona, Budapest and Florence, but of course you have to travel to get there. 

You could say one of the good things that’s come from the pandemic is that escape rooms have gone online, and those games you would have had to have travelled thousands of miles to play, are now just a few feet away from you on a screen. Yes yes, it’s not exactly the same, but it’s afforded us the opportunity to take a sneak peak at some of the best.

We’d never played a Canadian (or American) room before, and expectations were high, especially considering the equally high price point of just over $25 plus tax per person…yep, you heard me, per person! That’s £80 for four players! Pretty much the same price as being there in the flesh! Sorry, that’s a lot of exclamation marks.

Once upon a time…

The story goes that one year has passed since the evil queen was defeated, so the seven dwarves have happily retired to their cosy cabin in the fairytale woods. But evil still lurks about, with the poisoned apple the focus of a new plan to bring darkness to the world. Your job is to find the apple and throw it into the earth’s depths so it can never be used again.

There’s a lovely video that explains the story at the start, and then it’s onto the live action over Zoom. The room is stunning. On a par with some of the best we have played abroad. You are in the dwarves’ cabin – and it’s utterly convincing. There is a very good inventory system, with views of the room you are in and high quality close ups of the puzzles/items you have found. This means it’s possible to play non-linear, but we didn’t play it that way. We were playing with those clever folk at Co-Decode Swindon Alex and Ann-Sofie.

Reading other reviews of Mining Mission, most say to wait until you can go in person. I would agree with that… but if you’re not nipping over to Ontario any time soon, play this one. Actually, play this one, but only if you don’t mind the high cost.

NEW: The Escape Game Remote Adventures – Gold Rush

Gold Rush The Escape Game Remote Adventure

Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Orlando, San Francisco…no I’m not testing my knowledge of the American states, I’m counting the number of locations The Escape Game has. It’s nine and still rising. It’s hard for a ‘cottage escape room’ businesses like ours to comprehend what it must be like to manage that many, and when our game host Zach mentioned they can cater for up to 500 people at once on a corporate day, my brain nearly exploded.

Choices.. choices

In the same way we had high hopes for The Seven Dwarves Mining Mission at Improbable Escapes, we were looking forward to taking on Gold Rush. It was a tough decision to choose which of their remote rooms to play. We love a Prison Break, so could have opted for that one…but I prefer to be locked up in real life. There was also The Heist – again, we’re slightly obsessed with heist movies and would love to open our own heist room, but selfishly we were more interested in Gold Rush because of its wooden cabin stage setting (we’re using a lot of wood in our new room in Salisbury).

We’d already played a game called Gold Rush before, at Escape Rooms Scotland Dundee, which was probably one of the best games we have played in the UK. So, another chance to blow up a mine and grab some gold was appealing.

Take the tour

The price point for this game is higher than those games in the UK, at $30 (plus tax) per person, plus don’t forget the booking times are in US Central Time. It was super slick though. You not only have a ‘prospector’ in the room itself being your hands, eyes and feet, you also have an additional game host (Zach in our case) who sits in on the Zoom call to give you any pointers, should you need them.

It seemed a bit weird at first, having someone watch us, watching someone else in an escape room, a bit like Gogglebox, but he was there for an important purpose – to keep track of our inventory and 360-degree virtual tour each time we entered a new room.

But I’ve skipped the story… For nearly two centuries, the hope of gold has lured people to the hills of Northern California. No one was captivated more than Clyde Hamilton, a greedy gold prospector who loved to gamble. Clyde made too many bets with the wrong crowd and now he is missing. You’ve been tipped off to where he stashed his gold…but so has the mob. Find it first!

Down to the woods

Not too complicated (unlike Spectre some might say). The mission is clear. After a brief chat with Zach we watched a video telling the story before meeting our prospector (AKA, hands and feet guy). The 60 minutes started counting down and he began a tour of the set. It was impressive.. you start off outside the cabin, in the woods. There are life-like trees, plants, rocks, lighting, pretty convincing. 

Not wanting to give too much away, of course, because you should definitely play this game if you can. The puzzles came thick and fast, and there was a good mixture. Some used audio, some word puzzles, a few number puzzles but also some physical elements, which looked great over video, but being able to do them yourself would, of course, be much more satisfying. 

Props, pelts and puzzles

It doesn’t take too long to enter the cabin itself via a number of padlock codes and a couple of key locks. Inside is still impressive, with pelts on the walls, a log burner, fireplace… all the props are completely in keeping, as are all the puzzles. With the four of us able to look around either via the prospector or the 360 tour we solved our way through at a swift speed without having to take our first clue.

I imagine there are a lot of satisfying moments playing this room in real life, if only I could tell you what they are, but I promised no spoilers. We have played approximately 120 escape rooms now, so it’s not often we see something unique and there were at least two original elements here. 

Digging deep

We escaped in 48 minutes with four of us playing, which Zach insisted was really good (though we have all heard that one before). I really enjoyed this game; the stage set, the audio track, the host, the puzzles weren’t too hard, so we always felt like we were progressing nicely and achieving something. 

If you play one of their remote avatar rooms, you receive a 20 per cent discount to play another, which is a good incentive. As with Seven Dwarves, you have to dig deeper into your pockets to play this one, if only the stash we had uncovered was real gold?…


There are also some more classic point and click games. No printing out required, just a lot of clicking with a mouse on your laptop. The first one of these to tell you about is

Elgin Escapes – Murder Mansion.

We kinda liked this because there was nothing too tricky to solve in there (apart from one audio puzzle that didn’t lend itself very well to multiplayer online because of sound lag and video quality).

It’s another murder mystery, but unlike some of the others we have played which end up with you scratching your head and re-reading print outs over and over pulling your hair out, the culprit in this one is revealed by an actual puzzle in itself.

The graphics were pretty good and we got through it in an hour and a half. There was no big ‘rush’ like when you open an escape door… but it was pretty satisfying.

It only costs £8…I think they could have asked for more.

Bewilder Box Brighton – BRUCE.

If you’re not that fussed about controlling a real person in a room, then this would probably suit younger players more, along with some adults to assist. It is all online and has been produced/programmed from scratch.

A robot guides you from room to room and there is a puzzle to solve in each. He tells jokes that aren’t funny along the way… We finished it in just under an hour. It costs £15.

Escape Rooms Southend – Once Upon A Time

Another of the avatar online rooms we’ve been playing during lockdown. We’ve done all three of Southend’s now, and they are about to replace The Virus with CSI Southend, so no doubt we will be booking to play that one too. Once Upon A Time was based on fairytale characters, with each corner of the room belonging to a different one.

Your avatar was the Magic Mirror and your goal was to free the magic that was being held captive in the well. That’s the thing about fairytales, there’s no limit to the imagination of what an escape room could be.

Fast progress

I think this game was the easiest of the three. It must have been, as we were told we were in the top 10. The puzzles were definitely easier than those in their other games, which meant we feel like we progressed nice and quick.

What’s always funny though, in all of the avatar games we played so far, is seeing that it is just their room in their house. There’s no real attempt to hide the fact, even down to the air conditioner being completely on show. Still, we thought the game was worth the money.

Panic Rooms Gravesend – CSI Stranglehold

I’ve lost count of the number of online games Panic Rooms has now. There are so many of them they are selling them in ‘bundles’… which is a very shrewd business move. It had been a while since we played their first CSI Grounded offering, which we liked, so we thought we would revisit the series and try their latest.

Our thinking was that the latest one would be their best yet, as they would have learned and improved with every new game they produce. This one was better I’m happy to say…a murder mystery with lots of video, audio and relatively doable puzzles.

We stumbled on the very first puzzle, which we had no idea how to solve so we had to take a clue. We managed to complete the game in an hour and fifteen minutes. Pretty good if I do say so myself.

MARVO Mysteries – M.A.R.V.O Archives Phase 1 & 2

Anyone who has played MARVO’s real room in Bournemouth will have high hopes for this one, we certainly did. This game is different to anything we have played so far. You control a robot that is based at MARVO’s real room/building in Bournemouth and you’re given mini missions to undertake. There’s some pointing and clicking to look around, as well as  puzzles which see you disarming trip wires and breaking in to the archives control room among other things (I wouldn’t want to give too much away). There’s also a nifty inventory of tactical gear you can use for different purposes depending on the puzzle. Very clever stuff.

Of course, we did have our own online avatar game called POD. Unfortunately it’s not available for the second lockdown. We’re super busy building for our new games in Salisbury.

The escape revelations

One comment

  1. Sandra

    Thank you for a very useful article. Trapped in the web is nice. We’ve also played the B.R.U.C.E project, which was okay, but the best one we’ve played so far is Unboxing the mind of a Cryptic Killer by Eleven Puzzles! The riddles are great!!! The graphics are amazing!!!! We had so much fun!

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