The Cipher Room: Espionage [Review]

TheCipherRoom_LogoLocation: The Cipher Room, Newtown, Sydney , NSW, Australia

Date completed:  July 2017 (3 players). Succeeded escaping!

Creativity: 8.5; Difficulty: 7; Atmosphere: 9; Fun: 9.

Requirements:

  • Intermediate English
  • 2-8 players

In Cipher Room’s Espionage, it’s late-war in 1945. Players are rookies tasked with conducting a rendezvous with an Agent M, but something is amiss. She sends an urgent message to shift the RV to a safe house where she had been conducting surveillance. Not a good sign. Once you get to the safe house, it doesn’t help that Agent M is missing. However, like any good spy, she had backup plans and hid her communication to the team through a number of puzzles.

Espionage is a room with historical references hidden in every corner. But mission first. Time to get to work. Those enemies aren’t going to defeat themselves.

Although there is a proliferation of escape rooms world wide which deal with the theme of espionage and secret agents, we had not seen many set during World War 2 or with this level of detail to the setting. We recently had the opportunity to have a chat with Marise, one of the owners/designers of Cipher Room (who did not know we had played her rooms), and it was evident she puts a lot of effort, passion and time into researching the elements of the games she develops.

During WWII, Churchill tasked the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) with setting Axis occupied Europe ablaze. While the story of Espionage doesn’t specify that players are working for the S.O.E, references to their operatives and the operations they conducted are spread out within the room. Indeed, indications of Agent M found within the props and puzzles simulating her modus operandi referred to the very heroic and deadly women of this legendary organisation. For Australian players, see if you can identify the reference to Nancy Wake.  If you don’t know who she is, you should.

cipherroom-espionageWith a commitment to the atmosphere and setting of the time, Espionage tries to be faithful to the period through its decor, narrative and puzzles. The safe house opened with a 1940s office with furniture that was on point and carefully sourced. Later, in Agent M’s room, we could find items of fashion from the time.  Another environmental aspect which Cipher Room does very well with is the soundscape – the music creating the right ambiance. Without spoilers, there is a part of the game involving the purpose of this safe house which feels so authentic. It was also a cool way to make a puzzle standout by getting players into the mission, so to speak.

The puzzles, which involved search, mechanical intelligence, cryptic instructions mixed with physical interaction as well as clever association, fit the theme really well. Those who have even a passing knowledge of spy tradecraft of that era will be pleasantly surprised. One of the aspects I really liked about the puzzles and tasks in this room was that they were well disguised into the backdrop and nothing stands out as a ‘part of a game’ type of object. Or they are cleverly hidden in plain sight, as a good spy would do.

Gameplay wise, the puzzle path within Espionage was linear, however, the pacing of the game was very smooth and greatly assisted by an attentive gamemaster, who offered useful non-spoilery hints. There were different types of challenges that required attention from the three of us in different manners. The total amount of puzzles within Espionage was higher than average but they were not too difficult. We managed to escape in a little over 35 minutes. Our team consisted of  2 experienced players plus 1 who had played few rooms but had excellent mechanical, spatial and analytical aptitude. We reckon that the optimum size for the room would be 4 players.

Although tending to the ‘difficult’ side, this room is suitable for families with younger ones as it does not include anything scary. It is a beautiful room that ticks all boxes and we would have no doubt about recommending it.

We figured out Agent M’s plans against the Axis forces and performed an exciting escape. Ready for more adventures, we adopted the role of FBI investigators on the hunt for a serial killer in The Cabin, Cipher Room’s second challenge.

For those of you World War 2 / special operations history buffs who enjoy this type of story and would like to have a crack at the cryptological mindset, also check out the puzzle book released by Britain’s signals intelligence agency, the Government Communications Headquarters.

Out of the room

Service: The staff at The Cipher Room were excellent and the briefings were very well conducted. The gamemastering was not intrusive at all and the hints provided the necessary guidance for us to progress through the game.

The toilet area in this venue was ‘quite cute’, according to Pá.

Communication: At the time we played, a walkie-talkie system was in use. Thankfully, the Cipher Room has since switched to a ‘voice of God’ system where players just talk to the walls and the GM replies to them through the sound system.

Surroundings: Being where they are in Newtown, it’s probably easiest to travel to The Cipher Room by car. During our break between Espionage and The Cabin, we had a wonderful lunch and coffee at the South End Cafe pretty much next door. That area is full of other good restaurants and cafes as well so food is not an issue.

Espionage has also been reviewed by Timeout, Masters of Escape, and Escape Rooms in Sydney.

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