“Fuck me, there’s a dead rabbit with pins stuck in its face.” I’m in a darkened room above a pub and I’ve just crawled through a bookcase on my hands and knees. I quite like rabbits, so I don’t stick around. Outside some of my friends are fingering a collection of rodent skulls swinging from the wall. Someone else is playing an 80s pop ballad on a glockenspiel.
I’m not having a flashback, this is Lady Chastity’s Reserve – an immersive team game that’s something like a cross between a treasure hunt and a murder mystery party. Inspired by the ‘escape the room’ games that have swept the US, Handmade Mysteries have devised their own with a very English twist. It’s been running for a while in various London venues, but the game is the first of its kind to come to Brighton.
We meet our host Gabriel in the Black Lion pub amidst a heaving Saturday night crowd. We know nothing of what the game entails other than the fact it’s been described as “Crystal Maze on crystal meth”, which admittedly is enough to tempt us. Gabriel takes us upstairs, past the kitchen, past some bemused staff gulping down their dinner, into a kind of garret which has been transformed into a period parlour. We’re given torches and a fanciful background story about the titular character and her famous vintage. We’re told Lady Chastity went mad after losing her love and perished when her vineyard burned down during a blow out party. We’re to find the last bottle of wine, which, apparently, is pretty good stuff.
We’re taken into another room, given an initial clue and left to our own devices. We find an old locked box on a dressing table adorned with antiques and overgrown with vines. This is the first in a series of puzzles that our team must solve in order to bag the booze. We have an hour to do it.
The attention to detail is impressive. The room is full of cobwebs, sinister paintings and the kind of curios you might have seen in the Hendrick’s Gin caravan that used to sit outside the library during Brighton Festival. It’s pure Victoriana, with a macabre and occasionally comic touch. Many of the items are red herrings which adds to the sense of immersion and urgency. The puzzles themselves are well pitched – some are straight-up logic games, others take a bit of lateral thinking. It’s nice to be tested without being stumped.
Anyone who spent time playing PC adventure games in the 90s will be familiar with the kind of thinking required here, but even if you’ve never heard of Myst or Monkey Island you’ll rarely find yourself entirely stuck, especially when you’ve got teammates to help. However, just as living with friends can reveal sides of their character you might not have noticed before, so too does being stuck in a dark room when the clock is ticking. The experience brings an unexpected revelation about group dynamics: who is best under pressure? Who is a team player? Will you collaborate and discuss a solution – or will you go off alone to explore a secret chamber where a stuffed animal is being tortured?
Though thoroughly entertaining, there were some technical hitches on the night we visited the room. Having added some extra elements after the move to Brighton, the game’s inventors had yet to iron out some of the logistics. The sound effects, which do so much for immersion, were intermittent which meant certain puzzles didn’t work as planned. If it weren’t for this added hindrance the SOURCE team would have won for sure, honest.
At £15-20 a head, the game isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s certainly worth a punt for a special occasion like a surprise birthday or an office party. It runs Wednesday to Sunday, and packs in six sessions a day, for teams of 2-6 players. Although the nature of the game means you can’t really do it more than once, the experience of being physically immersed in a spooky and challenging environment is novel enough to leave you immediately wanting another chance to test your wits. Being trapped in the dark for an hour has never been so much fun.
Lady Chastity’s Reserve, Black Lion, Wed-Sun every week
Book tickets here