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Underbelly Festival Southbank 2019: 80 Days – A Real World Adventure by Fire Hazard Games (Review)

Screenshot 2019-06-27 at 8.26.20 PM

Awakening one’s sense of wonder and curiosity with the power and whimsy of games.

LONDON – Londoners have been documented to be some of the fastest walkers in the world. But in constantly rushing from place to place, one often ends up completely forgetting to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, with plenty of details we miss even in our most frequented of places.

That’s where Fire Hazard Games comes in, with their brand new game 80 Days – A Real World Adventure. Taking inspiration from Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, 80 Days sees players teaming up to compete against each other, challenging who can go around the world in the least amount of time. But to do that, one must make the right preparations and pack their suitcases just right for success.

That may not sound like a very challenging task, but with Fire Hazard Games’ deft hand, what may come across as a simple luggage packing exercise evolves into a puzzle-solving, finance handling, cross West End traversing adventure of its own. Players begin their journey by meeting our host – the dapper Baron Pendleton, and his fellow gentlemen  Nightingale, a procurer of curios, and the Botanist, a plant researcher. All three of them spend some time explaining the game’s Victorian steampunk context, along with the game mechanics, before the 80 minute timer begins, and we’re off to prepare for our journey.

Most of the interaction in 80 Days takes place digitally, via a web application accessible via smart devices. Without giving too much away, players are tasked to build their finances by answering various questions, with the answers often derived from observing a real world establishment around the South Bank and Covent Garden. These finances are then used to purchase odd items in the e-shop, used to complete an ambiguously worded shopping list, while also attempting to purchase “premium”, limited supply items that may or may not improve our final results (tip: save a little money for the end).

While some of the answers can technically be “hacked” by sheer guesswork, most of them still require teams to go to the locations themselves to see specific names, dates or other details. Therein lies the true joy of 80 Days – in visiting these shops and monuments, there is the sense that we are engaged in an actual adventure of our own, as we make surprising discoveries, awaken our sleeping curiosity and build our own vault of trivia the more we observe details we never noticed before.

In addition, given the right place and time, players may even run into the characters from earlier roaming around these establishments. If approached, the characters will engage teams in games of luck, chance and smarts that could bring players even more cash…or lose it all. Each of the three actors make these interactions all the more delightful by immersing themselves completely in their characters’ whimsies. Whether they’re taking selfies with us “for the papers”, or reveal carefully designed props, such as a box of plant specimens, each encounter is utterly charming, and certainly, spurs us to carry on valiantly with our mission.

In the case of 80 Days, the old adage that it’s the journey, not the destination rings completely true. Gathering to tally the results and embarking on our round-the-world adventure at last, there’s something incredibly magical about seeing all our hard work pay off (to varying degrees) as the trip throws one obstacle after another to counter with our items. Our team may not have finished first or walked away with the best results, but as we read the final journal account, we were left with the simple delight of having engaged in such joyous play, and a newfound sense of wonder for the places we rush past each day. Open your mind, bring the competition and stay ready to discover, and 80 Days will awaken the intrepid explorer within every player.

Photos courtesy of Sofia Romualdo

Performance attended 23/8/19

80 Days: A Real-World Adventure takes place in a secret location in Covent Garden from 11th July to 29th September 2019 as part of the Underbelly Festival 2019. Tickets available here

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