Yesterday was finally the day of our Tulleys marathon. We played Mutiny, Spellcraft, Dodge City and Nethercott Manor in that order (unfortunately we haven’t played Outfitters). I will focus mostly on Spellcraft, since it was the one that has blown our minds the most, but I will use this review as an excuse to talk a bit about each game. For those that want some tldr version – Tulleys is the place to go in UK and Spellcraft is the room to play in my opinion.
My UK experience is not very broad yet, before our Tulleys trip I visited only 11 rooms here, but I tried to choose the top ones (7 TERPECA finalists among them), so I think I got some reasonable outlook on how the UK market looks like. What I noted about it is that even the top rooms seem to be humbler in the execution than you would expect from enthusiastic recommendations. Their stronger sides tend to be excelling in puzzles, being well thought out experiences and being equipped with love of their owners rather than taking you onto breathtaking sets enclosing huge areas that require a tank of money to be pumped into building them. Even though I played some very good rooms in the UK, in that particular aspect I felt a bit underwhelmed so far and I have to admit that it’s probably the most important aspect for me personally. But that completely changed after visiting Tulleys. They really go all out with their games. Countless rooms, beautiful decor and very high production value is what you should expect here.
All the games that we played were very good. Mutiny, Dodge City and Nethercott Manor were all TERPECA finalists in 2020. The only missing one here out of the ones we’ve visited is Spellcraft, which obviously couldn’t be there given it is roughly one month old only. But we didn’t have doubts that Spellcraft was the best one for us. By the looks of things, you can probably expect it to have a magical theme (which personally is not the one I am particularly fond of) and I think it is true to some extent, but not completely. I think it is hard to assign one particular theme to this game, you can expect many contrasting themes to be encountered during your journey, but you can definitely count it as a fantasy room.
I guarantee this game provides a solid wow factor. And not just once. My mind was blown at least two times. Throughout the whole game you are surrounded by beautiful decor and very cool tech.
The game flows very well. I don’t think there were any particularly hard puzzles, but there are a lot of them to be solved. And there was quite a variety of them too. And I finally encountered a puzzle that required the use of … ah, I won’t spoil it for you, but I can assure you there are some quite original ones :D. All puzzles were well themed too.
And it provides quite fun and original finale :D.
Regarding the level of difficulty, I would say it is on the easier side of Tulleys … which still puts it on the harder side in general. There is a lot to do, but it is still pretty manageable to do for a group of 4 capable escapers who are willing to get some help along the way.
I would certainly love to see Spellcraft make some splash and get some love in this year’s TERPECA, however given it is very young I am afraid not enough people may visit it on time. Personally I would rate it around my TOP6 out of 260 ERs I’ve done.
Let’s talk a bit about other games too. One thing you should definitely be aware of before visiting Tulleys is that Dodge City and Nethercott Manor are huge games that definitely require more than 60 minutes that they are currently alotted. In my opinion even if you are a group of experienced enthusiasts and even if you take some hints along the way in addition, you should just expect to fail them if played in 60 minute versions. Some people say that they should be 90 minutes, but I would say that even for 90 minutes they would still be very challenging to complete without any hints, I think even 1:45 may actually be more appropriate for them. Some people will say it is doable, but from the definition – even record times in escape rooms are doable as well (because, well – someone did them :D), yet you don’t get them often and the same could be said here – completing Dodge and Nethercott in 60 minut is probably possible, but I think it is not the expectation or the norm even for experienced players. That may be quite a bummer for players that are not local and don’t expect to come back anytime soon, so you should take some measures to prevent likely disappointment that comes with not seeing 30% of a game. The good news is that Nethercott Manor becomes a 90 minutes game from September! But there are no such plans for Dodge City that I am aware of and I think it is comparably hard. A few shenanigans that you could try to pull off to remedy this probably include 1) booking the last slot in the day when there is no group after you, so that you are more likely to get some extra time 2) booking your game during weekdays when the schedule is much less packed, so it is more likely that there will be no group after you (or maybe no group before you in which case you can try requesting coming earlier?), 3) booking 2 consecutive slots (maybe you can get some discount in such case? I don’t know), 4) if none of the above works then tell your GM that you would really like to complete the game even if it means being flooded with hints (which is what I should have probably done in Dodge, but haven’t, and now I really regret it). Moreover, maybe from some other companies you could expect that if a team doesn’t make it within allotted time then GMs are likely to give them additional time to complete the game, but you should not expect it here. Since Tulleys are one of the most visited ER companies in UK, if not the most, they arranged their schedule with not much time between groups to maximize their throughput (what of course makes sense, nothing wrong with striving to let more players play your game), but that comes with the fact that you are likely to see GM enter the room when the timer hits zero, which is unfortunate when connected with the fact that some rooms are extremely hard. I will put these difficulties into some context – we escaped from Mutiny with 20 minutes left missing the leaderboard by 1 minute, from Spellcraft with 7:30 left, but after a full hour we completed only around 70% of Dodge and we were lucky enough to have some additional time in Nethercott, which took us 83 minutes (and in all of these games we got a fair amount of hints that I am usually not fond of). All in all, in terms of difficulty I would say that Mutiny < Spellcraft << Dodge City ~= Nethercott Manor.
Mutiny is the easiest of these games. I think I’ve seen more recommendations for the other rooms we played, so I had my expectations higher for the other ones, but even despite that, it was still an excellent game. Because of that I knew I am set for an excellent ER day after playing this one. It’s a pirate themed game and I have to admit I love such wooden decors and pirate rooms, but this should be a very strong choice even if you are not fond of them as much as me.
The third game we played was Dodge City. This is a western room which is set out in the future. However there are not that many futuristic aspects, I think that setting it in the future was mainly an excuse to justify the presence of some tech that you encounter at some moments :D. I am sure this is a fun room, but it is hard for me to judge that one properly as we completed only ~70% of it. I requested our GM to show us what we missed out on and she quickly guided us through the rest of the room, but that is far from experiencing it by ourselves. And yeah, we missed a lot to say the least… Especially since I think this is a game where the last parts seem to be particularly exciting. We definitely had fun throughout, but being far from completion was definitely a big bummer. As I mentioned earlier, I think I should have told our GM to keep us on track in time even if it means flooding us with hints. I think teams are mainly expected to fail, so it is not the norm that GM will aggressively flood you with hints to make you escape on time, so it’s good to keep that in mind.
The last game we played was Nethercott Manor. This is a haunted house themed room. There are no live actors in it and I think it would be totally unreasonable to skip that one, because of its a bit scary atmosphere, but there are some moments where more sensitive people could be spooked a bit. Similarly as Dodge City, this is quite a monster game. Most of what I’ve written about difficulty of Dodge can be pasted here as well, but I didn’t perceive that so negatively as we were lucky to get additional time and moreover that game is going to become 90 mins one in near future (unlike Dodge). As in all of the other ones – production value is great, cool tech, well themed puzzles etc. etc. etc. 😛
All in all, Tulleys is definitely an outstanding company. All rooms that we played here were very good, they definitely stand out in terms of production value, especially in the UK market. I have yet to visit many good UK games, but the bar was set so high it’s hard for me to imagine that there could exist some UK company I would rate higher overally and that there could exist a UK room I would rate higher than Spellcraft.
One additional caveat is that there are leaderboards for each room, but they are full of BS :P. The best times for Nethercott and Dodge are better than for Mutiny, which is like a half of them in length (30, 32, 34 mins taken respectively). The reason for this is that because of the high fail rate, there are many teams doing them for the second time and even though such teams are usually not allowed in the leaderboards, they sometimes slip through and it is understandable that even a small percentage of such teams can completely spoil the leaderboards. This is confirmed by the fact that names of some teams on the leaderboard definitely suggest that they are repeaters, e.g. “Second time lucky”, “Power of Attempt #2”, “Return of (…)”, “(…) Part 2”. Moreover, leaderboards are measured in terms of “time remaining” instead of “time taken”, which doesn’t hold up given that some lucky teams are sometimes able to arrange 90 minutes versions. Additionally GMs tend to be pretty generous with hints and you can take million hints and still be eligible for the leaderboard. Being generous with hints actually makes a ton of sense given how packed with content Tulleys rooms are, but in general they completely destroy competitive integrity and I am a firm believer only teams that don’t take any hints should be allowed onto any leaderboards. Having said all of that – just ignore completely the leaderboards, don’t try to go for records and don’t shy away from hints, because this is the place where you should appreciate your experience in the full form and you may not be able to if you don’t take them as soon as possible.
One fun fact is that Tulleys are in love with colored padlocks. I think I got used to seeing one per maybe 10 or 20 rooms, but here I recall 11 of them in 4 rooms :D.
Some additional tips for the trip include the fact that I have literally never seen an ER company with so quickly selling out slots. In order to get what we want we needed to plan our trip 3 weeks in advance, so plan your trip well ahead. Especially Spellcraft seems to be selling out very quickly. Take into account the fact that Tulleys is a bit away from Crawley, so if you are not going there by your own car, you should plan your transportation from and to Crawley in advance. We thought we would easily call some taxi after our last game, but that turned out to be very hard as we called around 10 taxi companies and all of them claimed to be fully booked, except the last one fortunately. If not for it, we would probably be forced to walk to the city center (an ~hour walk, doable but definitely not preferred after 11pm).
During our trip we met quite a number of very friendly GMs, which made our games (and the long late time when we were struggling to get a taxi) very enjoyable. Thanks to Bea, Josh, Lucy, Tyler, Jamie and Ed.