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Escape rooms offer puzzling alternative to a Friday night out

By Clara Sadler, October 20 2015 —

Though escape rooms originated in Japan, the puzzle-based games have swept across North America and a number of Calgary companies now offer them.

During a game, you and your friends are locked inside a room and must solve a series of puzzles to escape. The puzzles range from finding hidden keys to solving complex word puzzles and anagrams.

Maxim’s Dinner Party, run by Escape Capers and located in the middle of an Ogden industrial park, is one of these rooms. While other themed rooms in the city force players to struggle through a zombie apocalypse or escape from a retro video game, Maxim’s Dinner Party embraces classic murder mystery tropes.

A glimpse inside Escape Capers’ mildly spooky room. // Eric Boudreau

A glimpse inside Escape Capers’ mildly spooky room. // Eric Boudreau

Before the game starts, you’re briefed with the backstory — an invitation to a dinner party hosted by Maxim Buckerson, who has poisoned all of you. You have an hour to find the antidote and key to escape the room.

You’re then brought to a posh drawing room full of antique furniture while classical music plays in the background. The scene creates an ominous feeling in the room without being needlessly spooky.

But atmosphere and storyline are secondary to the puzzles needed to escape the room. Maxim’s Dinner Party features a solid blend of logic riddles, hidden clues and mechanical puzzles. This diversity in puzzles prevents players from getting stuck because everyone in the room plays to their strengths. Some can scour the area looking for hints and keys while others solve riddles and attempt to crack codes.

Maxim’s house lends itself exceptionally well to this strategy, as puzzles are presented in a non-linear sequence. However, clues add up quickly, and trying to figure out how to put everyone’s information together without strangling your teammates becomes a puzzle in itself.

Fortunately, if you’re really stuck, Maxim’s butler is an omnipresent entity in the room and offers cryptic clues from time to time. It’s a helpful and well-implemented mechanic that never feels patronizing. Notepads and pencils are provided to keep track of clues, something that’s missing in many of the city’s escape rooms.

Overall, Maxim’s Dinner Party is an excellent escape room, though the surplus of puzzles can feel a little overwhelming. While it may be a little much for first time escape artists, those who have cleared a room or two should find this room a satisfying challenge.

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