There is always more to a Grand Prix than the main event. This weekend, participants had an opportunity to immerse themselves into a unique experience set on the plane of Innistrad. Each Grand Prix location had its own Innistrad landmark: Melbourne featured the Stitcher's Lab, Detroit had the Thraben Cathedral, and here in Bologna we visited Markov Manor.
Willing groups of five to nine people could sign up to be locked inside Markov Manor for a 15-minute "Escape Room" experience, in which the participants had to use elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles, obtain the key, and escape in time. Your text coverage reporters, along with a group of other Magic fans, bravely entered as well.
Outside, we were asked to leave all of our possessions in a well-guarded chest. Mobile phones were not allowed in Sorin's ancestral home. We were then directed into a narrow corridor, dimly lit by candles, one of which was carried by a man in gothic attire. He greeted us and introduced himself as the butler of this place. Speaking of his master, he asked us, "Do you know who Markov is?"
"A vampire, isn't he?" one of our group ventured.
"Of course. We're all vampires here," the butler said with an unsettling glimmer in his eyes, his smiling face illuminated by candlelight from below.
Inside the even darker main hall, we marveled at the paintings, all set in elaborately ornamented frames, at the ancient furnishings of the place, at the sheer stone walls. And at the horrors: body parts protruding from the walls, arms and legs embedded within the masonry, a head forever frozen in the moment of a bloodcurdling scream.
While we took in our surroundings the clock was ticking, and we had some puzzles to solve! To give you an idea, here are some of the shouts that could be heard from team members:
"What is a five-letter word connected to Innistrad? Can we spell that with these candles?"
"Hey guys look, we unlocked some lanterns!"
"It looks like this involves some encryption with numbers. Who is good at that?"
"Can we move these stones?"
Among other things, we found a key, hidden messages in the paintings, and a secret latch which opened to reveal a brand-new Magic card. It was in Italian, but we fortunately had four-time Grand Prix champion (12) Fabrizio Anteri with us to translate.
Every five minutes, a harrowing gong went off to indicate the passage of time. Five minutes. Ten minutes. The fifteen minute mark was fast approaching as we kept on making small mistakes, and we weren't going to beat the time of the best team so far. But then, just in the nick of time, we escaped before the clock sealed our fate. One can only wonder what would have happened to us if we hadn't.
Players responded enthusiastically to the experience. "This was awesome! Really fun to do," said Anteri. Others praised the set design and the production values. "I had never done one of these escape rooms before, but I heard there are a few of them in London. I might explore those as well," Anteri said. "But their setting probably won't be as cool as Innistrad," he laughed.
There are many places where one can solve puzzles. But stepping into a vampire's home on the world of Innistrad? That's Magic.