clueQuest – Operation Black Sheep

Summary:
A step up in difficulty from Plan52, with plenty to do in parallel. Technology used well. Variety of locks and easy to progress quickly for a skilled team. Possible for new players but preferably with some more experienced folks in the same room.

Review
Operation Black Sheep was the first outing of Team Amaze, and nine of us split into two teams. I was joined by four colleagues including the inestimable Vicky and Mig to make for one room of five, with the remaining four in the other. A few of us had played one or two rooms before, mostly Plan52 at the same venue, but the majority were new to the format.

We were a bit early arriving but our two hosts welcomed us warmly. There’s a nice collection of chairs of different shapes and sizes as well as a water cooler (really good idea when the venue is a bit of a walk from the station). We got a quick tutorial on the padlocks that the room uses, as well as an explanation of the (very good) back story. Acting as secret agents, we were to foil Professor BlackSheep’s mission to take over the world.

We got off to a prompt start dividing up the necessary tasks and rattled through the first stage of the game. In the second stage, a really clever puzzle wowed us and made us think laterally, though we ended up ignoring an instruction we’d been given and solving the puzzle a different way. Then we stalled really badly, ignoring a combination that was under our nose and ending up getting given a hint to drag us back on track.

I was impressed particularly by the variety of puzzles. There were plenty of padlocks but they weren’t dominant and some decent technology had been engaged, as well as some intelligent mechanical puzzles. The room was pleasingly non-linear and there was a variety of clues not to be used straight away.

The mood and background became increasingly frantic as we got through the last few phases of the puzzle and the final exit code was particularly tricky to get, requiring in addition some items that we had unveiled but missed in the confusion with only a few minutes left on the clock. We got the sense the host both wanted us to succeed and was paying very keen attention to detail to give us the necessary push to get there.

We got to do several things for the first time, such as deconstructing a wooden fence!

A couple of mostly self-inflicted technical hitches threw us and ate up a bit of time, firstly when we switched off a thing instead of switching it on, and secondly when we blocked with our bags a door which should have opened easily. In each case our alert gamemaster got on the radio promptly to tell us what to do to fix things.

Outcome
Team Amaze 1 escaped with just 41 seconds left on the clock, marking my first ever win. Team Amaze 2 unfortunately didn’t make it out in time. The tension was palpable as we hurried through the final puzzle, making a hash of it first time but hitting the right answer to see the door click open and our host outside to congratulate us. I was on a real high coming out!

In numbers:
Overall: 8/10
Difficulty: 7/10
Theming: 9/10
Host: 6/10
Wow: 7/10

Other details
Accessibility: Several steps to and from the entrance to the room. We are not aware of an alternative to the steps.

Alerts: None

Capacity: Standard capacity is 3-5 players. They will accept two players but will charge for a group of three. They will also accept a sixth player – book for five and email them to pay an additional £19.80/£21.80 off-peak/peak. In my opinion, two players could win this room but it would be tricky. Six players would end up getting in one another’s ways all the time. There are three copies of this room which can be played at once.

Cost: We paid £188 for a room of 4 and a room of 5, which I think was £89 and £99. Fridge magnets can be added onto your booking for a few quid. They print one photo of your team to paste into the guestbook, and any that are left over after making the magnets (they print pages of four 2×3 inch photos) you get given to take away. There are three copies of this room available for simultaneous play.

Photo: As mentioned above. Electronic copy of the photo was not received and we could not find it.

Getting there
10-15 minutes walk from Kings Cross and St. Pancras International (National Rail), Kings Cross St. Pancras and Caledonian Road (London Underground), and Caledonian Road & Barnsbury (London Overground). Buses 17, 91, 259, and 271 stop nearby.

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