Pop Up Playground: Room Service [Review]


puplogLocation:
Room Service, upper floor Preston Markets, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Date completed:  November 2016 (3 players). Succeeded surviving!

Creativity: 8; Difficulty: 8.5; Atmosphere: 7.5; Fun: 7.

Requirements:

  • 2-6 players
  • Fluent English
  • 30 minute game

We found ourselves working a Room Service shift in a 1970s hotel. After getting a somewhat frantic welcome by our new employer, we were led into the kitchen of the hotel, where we soon found out that we were on the menu and we had 30 minutes to keep the guests out of the kitchen! After that, we were free to leave. If we didn’t keep them out though, the guests (in creepy masks) would turn us into their fillet mignon. Or casseroles. Who knows about rich cannibals?

Like Pop Up Playground‘s other offering, Small Time CriminalsRoom Service isn’t an escape room. Rather, it is more a resource management team survival game. During the recent PAX Australia 2016 panel on the live-action escape industry, Robert from Pop Up Playground remarked that one of the inspirations for Room Service was the computer game Five Night’s at Freddy’sin which players have to survive their pizza restaurant night shift against killer robots by tracking their movements with security cameras.

In Room Service, however, players are immediately thrust into a hotel kitchen and must adapt to a scenario which requires a massive amount of teamwork and good delegation skills. Without much time to understand our predicament or the manner by which we might achieve survival, the amount of information that we had to process in a short span of time mounted up extremely quickly. We soon deduced that solving the numerous puzzles merely gave us resources to use and that our path to survival would ultimately be dependent on our ability to use those resources in a wise fashion via the hotel access panel in the kitchen, briefly shown in the game’s trailer:

The hungry guests weren’t passive either. Controlled by an AI, they would frequently test our defenses and managing our efforts to keep them out became an intense affair.

Essentially, Rooms Service tested three key elements of teamwork:

Resource management: Everything is a resource. The limited time that you have. How to use the members in your team. Even deciding which puzzles to solve based on the reward you will get versus the time/people spent solving them.

Given this situation, decisions have to be made quickly and resources must be considered before they are spent. Even the resources that you earn from solving puzzles. If they are not carefully employed, you could end up wasting them. To further complicate matters for players, Room Service actually has more puzzles than you could possibly solve in 30 minutes. It’s up to players to decide which puzzles offer the best ‘bang for buck’ in the time they have. From what we saw, there were at least 70 puzzles. We tackled 15-16 and actually solved 12 of them. Nevertheless we still survived, by using them well.

The pressure on all this mounted as the hotel guests began moving towards the kitchen.

Information processing: This game is relentless with the amount of information to be digested. Firstly, we had to make the mental adjustment that there was no ‘escape’ in this room (made simpler from having played Small Time Criminals just before). Secondly, we had to understand how the solving of puzzles would enable the main point of the game: restricting the mobility of guests so that they can’t eat us. Between the instructional material for the access panel, the background on the guests and the puzzles, there was a lot of frenzied reading.

Team work: By mid game, we divided up the effort between the three of us pretty well. Pa solved puzzles, I managed the movement of guests on the hotel access control board and one of our friends searched the kitchen for clues / easy wins / more resources. The strengths of each person had to be used and decided very quickly. All of our tasks required alot of mental effort and it was equally challenging to communicate everything we were all learning with each other. Groups who can’t / won’t communicate will get eaten in short order.

This all leads to the concept which the military calls the ‘OODA Loop‘. In short, this game will test the ability of groups to Observe, Orient, Decide and Act against problems. The longer the OODA loop is for a group, the more time is spent making decisions. The more time is consumed to enable sound decisions, the less time the group will have to do what is required. Conversely, if groups rush the decision making process, they could carelessly waste resources and end up costing more time, leading to pressured decision cycles later in the game. And so it goes.

room-service-maskAlthough we eventually came to like this pressure cooker game, there are several factors which increase the difficulty level but detract from the overall enjoyment of Room Service. To begin with, there isn’t much of a briefing or explanation at the start of the game about all the elements in the kitchen. The hotel access control board was also very non-intuitive and the (deliberate) absence of gamemastering really threw us in the deep end. It was sink or swim time and very hard to determine if we had done something correctly early game. We also found the story narration from the sound system too verbose and distracting when there was already so much to absorb. Lastly, the numerous puzzles were rather bland and could be described as being ‘magazine/newspaper’ in style. They weren’t hard.

This is a hard to judge all up. My opinion is that Room Service could end up being rather frustrating, particularly if you are going in with a fresh team you’ve never played with before. On the other hand, it is quite challenging so if you are into that (as we were), you could have a good time.

Out of the room

Service and communication: Room Service doesn’t have gamemastering and there was no real way for us communicate with the gamemaster, who did control the game from an AI opponent aspect. We suppose that this is by design to heighten the isolation players feel.

Surroundings: Room Service is located in Preston Markets, so there is plenty of food options available at very affordable prices. The pizza places had an excellent price/quantity ratio! The train to Preston stops around 100 meters from the game’s venue, located in a side building to the main market area.

The folks from The Plus Ones gave their views on their experience in Room Service here.

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