Month: November 2015

Another brief look at Japan

Hat-tip to Exit Games UK for finding the Nazotomo site, which seems to be an aggregator for user-contributed reviews of live puzzle events or “real games” across Japan.

(The site has listings for events by other companies, including the genre giants SCRAP, but it’s actually run by Nazotomo Cafe — part of Namco, as in Japanese entertainment giant Bandai Namco. Nazotomo Cafe operates, well, cafes: you show up, “order” a room from their selection, and have 765 seconds in which to clear it, as their handy intro video shows.)

Some observations:

– The genre does seem to be event-heavy: the listings are of events, and the About page talks about the genre as comprising events rather than rooms. Also interesting is the framing of these “real games” as “puzzle-solving events” — a clear indication of the extent to which the genre has evolved beyond escaping.

– Their tagging system gives a little insight into how players might think about such games. Practically all events are classified as “puzzle-solving”, but some also have “logic” or “treasure-finding” aspects. Then there’s the “booking-type” versus “anytime” (or “walk-in”, perhaps) distinction.

– There are a few free events, which seem like a nice way to get beginners interested in the genre. One was held at an IT festival, another was run by a university lab, and one by an airport!

Personally, I find the existence of an industry-wide aggregator run by a specific company interesting in its own right! I can’t see the same being done in the Singapore market, say.

If you like escape rooms, you might like…

Through meeting more escape room enthusiasts, I’ve discovered that there’s a web of vaguely related interests which might appeal to the sort of people who enjoy escape rooms. So here goes:

Puzzle hunts

If you enjoy the puzzle-solving aspect of escape rooms, why not go a step further and try pure puzzle hunts? These complex, multilayered puzzles really operate on a different level, but the key components of a eureka moment (known in the puzzle hunt tradition as the ‘aha’) and rigorous logic are there.

Singapore Puzzle Hunt
I was one of the organisers of this annual live puzzle hunt in 2015 (its first year) and 2016, but left in 2017. Many puzzles were meant to be beginner-friendly (particularly in the 2015 edition), although the 2018 hunt experience suggests that that has changed… Check out the latest edition’s puzzles (and solutions) here!

[Note: The 2018 edition seemed miscalibrated, with no teams managing to reach the entire third round of puzzles. I don’t know if that will change in 2019, but beginners should be prepared to not make it very far in the hunt.]

I’m one of the organisers of this online hunt, which was held for the first time in 2017, running for 48 hours and attracting more than 100 active teams. The 2018 edition ran for 72 hours and saw higher participation. The next edition is likely to happen in early 2020, schedules permitting…

Australian hunts
The Melbourne University Mathematics Society and Sydney University Mathematics Society both (used to?) hold annual high-level hunts that run for a week. The new mezzacotta puzzle competition looks to be in a similar vein.

MIT Mystery Hunt
This massive annual event is held over just two days with hundreds of puzzles. A very intense experience. A large Singaporean team tackled the 2016 MIT MH together, and since then we’ve gathered solvers each year — get in touch over on the SG Puzzlers Facebook group if you’d like to join us!

Murder mystery events

Local escape room organisers have already branched out into this related genre, holding events such as I Know Who Killed You This Halloween and The Mystery Mansion, while new player Changi Revisted brought us the best example of the genre so far in The Hendon Horrors.

Murder mysteries require a somewhat different sort of puzzle-solving, but the combination of intellectual thrill and interactive fun makes them a good fit for escape room fans. If you don’t want to wait around for the next event to be held, you can try Xcape’s extremely fun murder mystery roleplaying game, Shanghai 1943.

At this point I have to mention the fantastic Korean gameshow Crime Scene, which Shanghai 1943 is directly modelled after. Clever celebrity players essentially play a murder mystery game each week, investigating elaborate sets, finding clues, interrogating each other, and piecing together the case. One of them is secretly the murderer, and has to take part in the investigation without being caught.

There are three Korean seasons so far, and the first two are available with English subtitles thanks to an amazing fansubber. The show also has a Chinese adaptation with completely different cases. There are official English subtitles available for both the first season (called Crime Scene) and the second season (called Who’s the Murderer), with a third season starting in September 2017. I’d recommend both the Korean and Chinese versions to everyone.

Board games

This overlap is a little more tenuous, but I think both escape rooms and boardgames count as “fun intellectual challenges”. If you like logic and rigour, there’s a wealth of strategic or tactical games in various genres. If you prefer vague roleplaying aspects, there are many hidden role/hidden objective games, from those that last just fifteen minutes to others that run for three hours, say. If you don’t have boardgame-playing friends, the local Meetup group is a good way to get started and discover new games.

The Genius

For me, this is the pinnacle of puzzle-related television. In this elimination-based reality show, contestants play games of logic, strategy, and manoeuvring. Sometimes there are clever hidden twists or sure-win solutions that a good strategist will spot; sometimes there’s just excellent alliance play, bluffing, and/or backstabbing — often all in the same episode.

If you like the manga series Liar Game or its jdrama/kdrama adaptations, this is basically a real-life Liar Game — and even better, in my opinion. Boardgamers will find a lot to appreciate here as well, with some episodes involving variations on well-known boardgames such as Resistance: Avalon.

The show ran for four brilliant seasons and is available with English subtitles. I’d recommend just giving the first season’s first episode a try to see if you like it: that episode showcases clever game mechanics, social strategy, and nail-biting twists, i.e. everything that makes The Genius a great show. And that’s just an average episode of The Genius. There are some truly brilliant, highlight episodes spread out across the four seasons.