Antwerp welcomes first escape room game

Summary

Antwerp’s first real-life escape game offers those who don’t mind putting on their detective hats riddles, clues and some good old-fashioned adventure

Cracking the code

Brook Waters was working in marketing when he first encountered an escape room on holiday. It was a game in which players are locked in a room and must find clues, use gadgets, solve puzzles and work as a team to escape. “I thought: Wow! It gives you a buzz, and we don’t have anything like that in Antwerp. That’s when I decided to start one here,” says Waters.

He was as good as his word. Last November, Antwerp Clue opened its doors. There are other real-life escape games in Flanders, but this is a first for Antwerp.

Waters, who moved from England to Belgium as a child, both owns and manages the company and is involved in each game that is played. He communicates to players in the room via text on a screen (which acts as a clock when it isn’t delivering his messages). “I think it’s really important, as game master, to add a little bit of humour and a few tips, but not give too much away,” he says.

The hints help if the group gets stuck, so you don’t have a situation where you’re standing around completely clueless. But the game is also challenging and layered enough that it won’t be completed too easily.

Antwerp Clue offers two themed rooms, which can be tackled by teams of two to six players. The Taken Room is set in a children’s nursery. Teams have 60 minutes to work together on puzzles and clues to find out where the missing children have gone and to escape the nursery.

In The Office of John Monroe, which I tested with three friends, players investigate the murder of the eponymous private investigator. Adventurers again get one hour to search the premises, solve the murder case and find their way out of the locked office.

A dream come true

The Office of John Monroe creates an atmosphere of suspense that is a dream come true for fans of crime fiction and film noir, and a great adventure for those who aren’t. Playing it brought back memories of watching the British game show The Crystal Maze as a child, as we worked as a team to solve puzzles against the clock, tension and adrenaline mounting. 

I think it’s really important, as a game master, to add a little bit of humour

- Antwerp Clue manager Brook Waters

After a short while, you fall into the role of a detective without even realising it. With no phones or other distractions, Antwerp Clue offers an interactive and adventurous way to have fun. “We try to make it as realistic as possible in terms of the storyline,” explains Waters.

There is some debate on the origin of live escape rooms, but many claim that they were inspired by an internet game created 10 years ago by Toshimitsu Takagi called Crimson Room. Real-life escape rooms “started in Japan about six years ago and gradually came through Europe,” says Waters. They have since gained huge popularity, especially, for some reason, in Budapest and throughout Hungary. “There, if you go to the toilet, you have 60 minutes to get out,” jokes Waters.

Waters initially had some difficulty launching in Antwerp because nobody had ever heard of escape rooms. But he says that now that more people understand the concept, the reception has been very positive.

A rush that lasts

It’s clear that Antwerp Clue has become Waters’ passion, and that passion comes through in every aspect of the game. The rooms and puzzles feel like they were crafted with care, to create as immersive an atmosphere as possible, and each room has a very different feel.

The games also come with few language barriers, as the puzzles are based more on codes and numbers than word clues. Where there is text, it is available in both Dutch and English.

Though Antwerp Clue has only been open for a few weeks, it’s already welcomed visitors from Norway, the UK, Australia, Lithuania, the US and Russia, assisted by its stellar location across from the MAS museum on Godefriduskaai.

Two additional themed rooms will open near the end of January, one inspired by the 2003 Antwerp diamond heist and the other designed as the laboratory of a Romanian geneticist. 

Waters’ energy is infectious and, combined with the thrill of the game, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself. The final minutes have the potential to give you an adrenaline rush that can last for hours. It’s the kind of experience you talk about for days with those who enjoyed it with you, and recommend to those who didn’t.

Antwerp’s first real-life escape game offers those who don’t mind putting on their detective hats riddles, clues and some good old-fashioned adventure.

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