The Hunt For The Smoking Caterpillar – review

Escape Rooms are all the rage now. Formerly the preserve of ardent (and maybe a bit nerdy) gamers or interactive theatre nits, their appeal has now broadened to the extent you’ll even get them on the radar of the more adventurous hen-parties out there. That said, the format is broadly remained quite traditional. A series of progressive puzzles, with a loose narrative arc and strong common sense of purpose. The Hunt For The Smoking Caterpillar kicks against all of this with a more free-wheeling and chaotic affair. The rule book has been rewritten, and it’s a better experience for it.

Using the rich world of Alice In Wonderland as a jumping off point, Buckbuck Games have masterfully created a rich environment and unique experience. Supposedly shipped in from the realm of Alice Land, up to 24 players each receive a fruity complimentary drink while the evening’s loose framework gets explained.

Essentially, some characters from Lewis Carroll’s much-loved classic are looking for the titular Smoking Caterpillar. This lost little larval antagonist has purloined everyone’s gold then hidden himself away, so they need your help to store balance to their domain. It all seems deceptively simple, but soon you’re questioning what that free drink might have been spiked with, as proceedings take a distinctly surreal turn.

Armed with a small bag of coins, a newspaper with some possibly useful information and a can-do attitude, participants split into pairs and bluff, bribe and blackmail their way to success. They go through the metaphorical rabbit hole and things get strange… really strange. Extracting information from each character dotted around the venue is no easy matter.

From the eccentric Beadle Dum to a brilliant alchemist, each has their own agenda and won’t be dropping clues without getting something in return. Some are seeking information themselves or have lost a cherished item. You’ll need to satisfy their needs before getting even the most minor or infuriatingly abstract of hints.

It can seem overwhelming at first. There is a distinct feeling of chaos. In addition to New Wonderland’s oddball occupants and their intentionally befuddling interactions, the ever-present Baron strides about – issuing edicts and inspiring fear amongst his minions. Often, he’ll interrupt the action, with an impromptu beauty show or a call for everyone to drop to the ground.  He’s good for the occasional clue himself, but don’t expect him to be on your side. It takes cunning, and possibly a previously unrealised flair for corporate psychopathy, to beat this one. As a social game, it’s loaded with fun. Especially if you go as part of a large group. As an interactive theatrical it works especially well. It’s entirely possible each pair’s narrative experience will be markedly different, given the non-linear nature of the plot. It’s an enjoyable and very odd hour of mayhem, but one you won’t forget in a hurry.

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