The Crystal Maze Manchester (team of 1!)

I’ve been starting to get good-natured mocking from friends and colleagues over my general obsession with the Crystal Maze Live Experience. I crowdfunded them back before they opened their first London venue, played four times in Angel with different sets of people, and was starting to know the games better than the staff. I couldn’t go to Manchester and not try that maze out, could I?

Of course I couldn’t. But not satisfied with just playing, I went for one better. I looked at the bookings to try to find a completely empty slot where I wouldn’t be joined by other players, and booked a day or two out. My luck held and when I arrived at the Maze I was informed I was the only player in the team. They offered me the choice of combining up with the team of four in the adjacent slot, but that was never happening.

The beautiful, wonderful, and Irish Meryl was my maze master, taking a solo traveller in her stride and setting me up to succeed as much as she could. She knew when to drop hints and when to hang back, and was prepared to give me every opportunity throughout the game.

As with every good Crystal Maze experience, it’s best enjoyed at great pace, and worry afterwards about what you missed out. This was no exception. In a normal team of 8, though, you play 2 or maximum 3 games each. Here, well, the next game is a mystery game, who’s going to play it… oh hahaha it’s you again Thomas!

The games vary nicely in difficulty and the traditional categories of physical, mental, mystery and skill still haven’t grown old. Meryl was brilliant at watching and filling time, and was prepared to let me have a go at extra games when there was extra time. She also had spare riddles to mop up odd seconds before having to go on to the transition. She was an absolute treasure and always on my side.

If there was one highlight for me, it was in the Futuristic zone where I played the “laser” maze. This is a much-feared game involving getting from one end of the room to the other – maybe about 7 or 8 metre – with “lasers” criss-crossing the path, and then making the same trip back. This game is an automatic lock-in: each “laser” broken lights a light. Two lights you can get by with, three is one too many. For a large chap like myself, this is a pretty major challenge. For someone who had used up two of his lives by the time of reaching the opposite side, this is a huge challenge. I’m still not sure how I avoided lighting that third light, but when I banged on the door from a prone position I was celebrating massively.

Operationally, Manchester is a tad different to how the Angel maze worked in that rather than having several teams enter at once and then compete against one another in the Crystal Dome, teams enter one at a time, slightly apart, and circulate through the maze in the same direction. As with the other location, maze crew hang out to reset and tidy up games after you and make them ready for the next players, as well as having a steady supply of crystals to restock games after they’ve been won.

Excitement level was through the roof throughout but I was half-dead by the Dome… 25 games with no let-up does that to you!

I played 23 games plus had two random riddles to win bonus crystals where time didn’t quite permit another full game. Of these, I won fifteen, lost eight, and got locked-in twice (both by way of automatic lock-in, once in a steady-hand game and the other when I came off a climbing wall). For both lock-ins I solved the redemption puzzle and avoided forfeiting a crystal, thereby taking 15 crystals to the Crystal Dome.

Since I kept track of everything, I will also analyse the games by:

  • Zone:
    • Medieval: 4 win, 3 lose
    • Industrial: 3 win, 1 lose, 1 lock-in
    • Aztec: 3 win, 2 lose, 1 lock-in
    • Futuristic: 5 win, 2 lose
  • Game type:
    • Mental: 6 win, 1 lose
    • Physical: 1 win, 1 lose, 1 lock-in
    • Skill: 4 win, 3 lose, 1 lock-in
    • Mystery: 4 win, 3 lose

My Dome token count was 148, which was very passable for a solo player if I say so myself, and I do.

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

This is most definitely a Generally Awesome game.

Other details
Accessibility: Wheelchair users are going to have to give this one a miss. Same if you’re pregnant. Anything else they’ll try and accommodate as best as possible.

Alerts: Smoke effects, lots of running, and for pity’s sake hold your hands up and forward on the giant slide.

Capacity: Teams of 8 and you can be filled out with strangers. Up to 9 teams can be playing at one time, following each other around the maze, though when it’s quieter they will reduce this down to four or five.

Cost: I paid £32 for the deal of the decade playing on my own. Prices are straight per person and range up to £50 depending on demand/how busy it is. You can buy a full team as well which guarantees you play together.

Photo: Two photos taken, one in the Aztec zone and one at the Crystal Dome. Good lighting and proper cameras. However, you need to pay for them if you want them afterwards, £7.50 for one or £10 for both, which will be given to you on a little USB stick.

Emergency exit: Not applicable. Individual rooms are not, for the most part, actually locked.

Getting there: Nearest station is Deansgate (National Rail/Metrolink)


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