Xscape – Bomb Squad: It’s All Wired! (Second Look Review)

Location: Hudson, NC

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $20 per person Tuesday-Thursday, $25 per person Friday-Saturday

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It’s still the bomb!

Theme:

The terrorist known as Omega has rigged up a nuclear bomb in his dingy, hidden apartment, and your bombsquad team has been tasked with making sure it doesn’t go off! Navigate his traps and puzzles to find the nuke, and disarm it carefully so that you can be the heroes of the day, rather than bits of ash at ground zero!

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First Impressions:

This review might seem to be a bit of deja-vu, and if so, it’s because we’ve played Bomb Squad once before, about a year ago. During that game we experienced a major game mastering error that prevented us from escaping, and after speaking with the owner, they wanted to have us back to try again on the house so that we could have the full experience. It took us a good while, but we finally made the trek back so that we can more fully review this room! This is the first time we’ve ever replayed a room, but luckily, we were able to bring some newbies along, and we had forgotten most of the details of the previous experience.

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High Points:

I am extremely pleased to report that many of the issues we experienced during our last outing to Xscape have been remedied. Our game master was excellent, and provided a fantastic briefing and supportive clues when needed, all within the game flow. Gating issues we came across previously have all been eradicated, as puzzles we were able to previously solve out of order to no effect have been corrected to ensure this is no longer possible, and the aimless seek and find that featured heavily before was eliminated in favor of much more elegant, but still challenging, interactions.

The set design of Bomb Squad is still top notch, even a year later, and though I’m sure hundreds of teams have puzzled their way through Omega’s lair in the interim, the room still looks fantastic, with zero wear and tear in sight. The sense of immersion we felt within the room is spectacular, and the soundtrack, storyline, and lighting effects all heighten the feeling throughout. The story is fantastic, and new tidbits are delivered through humorous cut scenes peppered throughout the experience, providing a bit of comic relief during the intense adventure. Some unexpected twists fake out even the most hardened escape veteran, and the game is all the more exciting for it.

The game flow is spectacular and promotes teamwork throughout, focusing on good communication and tight puzzling, and although it is generally linear, no one was left standing around to wait for other puzzles to solve. There are several points in which the room became non-linear, and the interactions during those sections were well suited to dividing and conquering. The game also provides a very challenging experience, which demands keen observation skills and some really out of the box thinking, but does not stoop to obtuse puzzles or unfair interactions to artificially heighten the challenge. A mostly lockless experience, the tech that makes up the bulk of the room is well hidden, producing an escape that is continually full of surprises throughout. Even basic puzzles are presented in clever ways, spicing up what would be simpler interactions with a touch of cool tech and fantastically remastered gameplay. Overall, this version of Bomb Squad is superb, clearing up old issues and providing one of the best escape experiences in North Carolina!

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Low Points:

The only thing I think we had a problem with during this adventure was the video scenes. The dialogue is great, but sometimes difficult to hear during the game, especially when running from another room in order to see what’s happening. Even when in the same room, however, it can be difficult to decipher what’s being said. A small adjustment to the ambient noise or a louder dialogue track might help, but barring that, it might be helpful to include subtitles for those having trouble hearing.

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Verdict:

Our second run through Bomb Squad was even more amazing than the first, delivering an experience that is tactile, surprising, and most importantly, purely fun. It was great to see the improvements made, and I’m happy to be able to highly recommend this beautifully crafted experience. As I said before, Bomb Squad is absolutely worth the time and money, and is densely packed with clever puzzles to solve! Book your time in Omega’s lair here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full disclosure: Xscape provided comped tickets for our team.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Body Farm (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

What Lies Beneath

Theme:

The Body Farm is the spookiest urban legend in Valley Falls, telling the tale of The Gravedigger, presumed to be Jackson Montgomery, who snapped one day and buried his entire family alive, then vanished into the ether. Some folks say he still haunts the woods near his family farm, The Hall, waiting for new victims foolish enough to wander too close to the area. All this mystery is ripe for the members of S.T.A.L.K., a local group of paranormal investigators and the local Museum Nocturnus, who’ve decided to investigate the farm for their new exhibit. The entire staff of the Museum have suddenly gone missing, so it is up to you and S.T.A.L.K. to figure out what happened, and determine if The Gravedigger has truly resurfaced after ninety years!

First Impressions:

I always enjoy the Deadbolt mysteries that involve Valley Fall’s premier ghost hunting team, S.T.A.L.K., and this time instead of working with the Will Street Detective Agency, we were pleased to find we would be working directly with S.T.A.L.K.! Supernatural mysteries are always a personal favorite, so The Body Farm promised to be right up my alley, theme-wise!

High Points:

My favorite thing about The Body Farm is the presentation of the mystery as something that is happening around you as you solve. Much like The Cabin, The Seaside Strangler, and Infected, this adventure takes place right in the middle of the mystery, instead of during the aftermath, which ratchets up the excitement of the solve and ups the stakes greatly. There is a definite sense of urgency to this particular mystery, as players eliminate suspects in a way that is certainly unexpected. With two separate mysteries to solve, one a cold case from 1930 and one rapidly evolving around you, there is certainly quite a bit to uncover. The presentation and game flow of this adventure is completely open ended, and encourages players to delve into every bit of evidence, providing moments of revelation naturally as puzzles organically appear throughout the investigation. This is definitely one of Deadbolt’s most smoothly flowing mysteries, but it isn’t without a great challenge. Making connections comes intuitively, but sleuths will have to ensure they pay extra attention to each clue if they are to be successful. Deviously clever clues and wording are important, and it is completely satisfying when each conundrum is solved.

The story of The Body Farm is particularly fantastic. An urban legend that feels like it comes from the much beloved book series of my childhood, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Gravedigger and his method of dispatching his victims hovers as a specter over this mystery and the town of Valley Falls. It is a great bit of world building for the Deadbolt Mystery Society’s overall universe, and I’d love to find out more about the area’s folklore. I’d also like to find out more about the Museum Nocturnus, which seems to be filled with artifacts not unlike those found by Ed and Lorraine Warren. This box was highly immersive, and kept me guessing and hungry to know more even after it’s exciting conclusion!

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Enter the Body Farm, and hope you stay above the ground during your stay!

Low Points:

While the method of eliminating suspects was an excellent deviation from the usual formula, we didn’t get the chance to connect with their personalities like we do in other Deadbolt boxes. We also would’ve loved to find out more about our compatriots in S.T.A.L.K. who seem to remain in the background of the mystery.

Verdict:

The Body Farm is another immersive entry into The Deadbolt Mystery Society’s case files. Delivering excellent pacing, a spooky story, and a lot of great puzzles to solve, I absolutely recommend checking it out. With a focus on intuitive and organic enigmas, this is a great jumping off point for beginners, but delivers a fair challenge for long time members of the Society. If you’re not a subscriber already, you should be! Join the Deadbolt Mystery Society here! Right now, you can get 30% off your first box with the Promo Code ESCAPE30! You can also see the rest of our Deadbolt Mystery Society reviews here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Deadbolt Mystery Society provided a complementary box.

6th Se6se Escapes – Willy Wonka (Review)

Location: Clayton, NC

Players:  2-6 (We recommend 2)

Price: $27.75 plus a $.69 booking fee per person (With the option to make the experience private for a flat $150 added on.)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Oompa loompa doopity doo, I’ve got a horrible escape room for you.

Theme:

Bill of Bill’s Candy Shop has been entrusted with one of Willy Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstoppers. You’ll need to find your way to Wonka’s Factory to find it, for some reason, so that Wonka can award you his factory! In a move that makes just as much sense, he’ll lock you in his factory if you can’t find it! Who is Bill and why is he even involved in this? I don’t know!

First Impressions:

After powering through Asylum and Point Break, we held out little hope for Willy Wonka, which much to our woe, ended up being a miserable finale to the three game run we subjected ourselves to at 6th Se6se Escapes. Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.

High Points:

The room smells like candy, at least.

Low Points:

This room starts out poorly, and never excites or becomes interesting in any way throughout the entire run time. The first huge problem is that this is denoted as a “family focused” room, but this is not made clear on the website. No problem, though, one of our favorite rooms of all time was a room designed for kids. It doesn’t have to be really difficult to be a great game, but this room is pretty much the polar opposite of that room. If I were a child brought to this game, I’d feel insulted. Puzzles aren’t easier, they’re actively dumbed down, simplistic busy work that any reasonable child is going to find tedious at best. The best rooms, family focused or not, engage the players with thought provoking challenges and creative puzzles. There is absolutely nothing creative, engaging or thought provoking about this room. Props are dollar store junk at best, interactions feel like a chore to muddle through, mostly consisting of laminated paper to present clues, and there isn’t even much of a story to speak of, leaving players to put a solution to a lock over and over until they can finally leave.

6th Se6se’s Willy Wonka room is the very definition of arbitrary. There’s no real rhyme or reason to what you’re doing, you just have to do it because. Count up this stuff, because you gotta. Of course, which ones do you count? Just certain ones, because the others don’t count. Why? No reason given. And don’t worry, if you didn’t like that counting puzzle, there are more on the way. We were also presented with no less than two dollar store jigsaws during the course of the game, and at an almost thirty dollar ticket price, that’s actively insulting. On top of that, there are random riddles strewn about, requiring outside knowledge, and loads of lockbox inception, wherein opening a lock just leads to more locked boxes, ensuring that at no time will you be granted with the simple joy of marked progression. There is not one puzzle within this room that is worthy of note, as every single one of them have been done better in much more entertaining rooms. Rounding off this wretched experience is yet another failure to reset a lock, ensuring a clean sweep of improperly reset rooms here.

Verdict:

I cannot stress enough that this room is easily one of the top five worst rooms I have ever had the displeasure of working through. 6th Se6se’s most colorful room is somehow the most joyless experience they have on offer. There is no redeeming value here. I do not recommend this room, and can say unequivocally that you should never book a room here.

1/10 (Rubbish)

Ready Set Escape – Monopoly Mania (Review)

Location: Smithfield, NC

Players:  1-8 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $23 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Can the world’s worst board game become a great escape room?

Theme:

Your boss is an enormous fan of board games, but he likes none more than Monopoly! You’ve been tasked with breaking into his most recent Monopoly night, and escaping with whatever cash you can find! Just hope it isn’t Monopoly money.

First Impressions:

Monopoly is my mortal enemy, a blight upon the world which is banned from my game table, but escape rooms are the purest form of entertainment, a light in the darkness. It’s not that dramatic, but you get my point. How would these two opposing forces meet? Pretty fantastically, actually.

High Points:

Funnily enough, despite my disdain for Monopoly, this was my personal favorite room at Ready Set Escape! There were a lot of cool ideas overall in this first generation escape room that incorporated many different types of board games, some of which were very original! The game flow wove non-linearly around, giving us all a good amount to puzzle through and keeping us all engaged for the whole adventure. The items for the meta-puzzle were fun finds, tying into the Monopoly theme well, and providing a enjoyable climax to the room. Scavenging was present, but was presented in an intuitive way, keeping certain things well hidden, but not in such a way as to become frustrating to discover. A few favorite puzzles were hand crafted well, and created some great tactile interactions to enjoy. The whole flow of the game tied back into the theme, and nothing felt out of place at any point. Overall, Monopoly Mania was an excellently challenging room as well, but never felt unfair to work through. All puzzles remained intuitive and the moments of revelation were highly satisfying.

Low Points:

For the fun of Monopoly Mania’s game flow, the set is rather basic. It does fit the theme of your boss’s office, but it isn’t too stunning to behold overall. The scenery does pick up in the second half, but the puzzles are definitely the star here, which I don’t mind. There are a couple of points of lockception, in which locked boxes are all to be discovered when solving a puzzle, which is disappointing due to the sense of stunted progression, but it isn’t especially egregious like other examples we’ve seen. Story wise, it seemed like we were robbing the boss, but I wasn’t sure of the impetus behind our heist. I would’ve liked to see a little more about the why, but I’m happy to assume it is because as enormous fans of cooperative gaming, a Monopoly lover is our mortal enemy.

Verdict:

For a room themed after a highly divisive game, Ready Set Escape has created an experience that encourages teamwork and engaging puzzling. I had a lot of fun with this one, and recommend anyone who enjoys a good game flow try it out. Though it doesn’t offer as much for scenery enthusiasts, this room remains really good fun for those looking to give their little gray cells a workout. Newcomers will still have an enjoyable time as well, as although this room is challenging, it is never obtuse, and the great game masters at Ready Set Escape can always provide a choice hint if needed. Book your time in Monopoly Mania here, and don’t forget to try out the Free Parking!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Ready Set Escape provided our team with comped tickets.

Sleuth Kings – Case 023: Search for the Hidden Treasure (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

The real treasure is the friends you make along the way.

Theme:

It’s a slow day at the Sleuth Kings offices, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a mystery afoot! Asuna Yukimura, president of the Young Detectives Club at Flyer High, recently uncovered a map that promises to lead to hidden treasure somewhere around Dayton! Unfortunately, some of her bullies have stolen the map, and are on the hunt as well. Using Asuna’s notes and copies of the clues, it is up to you to decipher the cryptic treasure map and claim the booty before the bullies!

First Impressions:

Another case starring one of our favorite supporting characters, Asuna, is always welcome! Her previous two adventures have been some of our favorites, so we were excited to get started on this newest caper! The light hearted nature of this new case is a great moment of levity before next month’s much more intense Framed as well.

High Points:

Asuna’s treasure hunt is set up in an engaging way, with vibrant clues, an intriguing mystery, and an impetus to work quickly. Though it certainly is a much lighter theme, don’t expect to get too comfortable, as Asuna’s bullies are no slouches when it comes to solving mysteries as well. Each puzzle has multiple levels to solve through, so even those which look basic on the surface have another layer to peel back, and a couple of them provide truly great moments of revelation. One clue in particular is very clever, and provides a great tactile experience during the solve, providing two different clues, and using an innocuous item in an interesting way. This particular case is much more destructible than others, and while it may not be playable again straight out of the box, it creates a highly interactive, Exit The Game type experience that we greatly enjoy.

The world building of the case is great, as players are introduced to several new and old locations throughout the Sleuth Kings Universe, some of which contain fantastic call backs to previous cases for long time players. This case is definitely a highly original idea, taking the theme of a treasure hunt, and mixing in a compelling addition to the story that heightens the engagement. There are also some really dad-joke level riddles on one of the clues that I enjoyed annoying my wife with. Those little details are always excellent to uncover during all the Sleuth Kings cases. The climax is fantastic, and the epilogue letter adds in a great ending and souvenir for completing the treasure hunt that I thought was a fantastic touch.

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Time to join the hunt for the treasure! You’re sure to be richer by the end!

Low Points:

Asuna is definitely one of our favorite characters, but we didn’t get to interact quite as much with her during this case as earlier cases. Her dialogue is easily the best of the series in our opinion, so we missed the mid case interactions that usually come up. Like Case 022, we emailed Sullivan fewer times as well, so most of the story was loaded into the beginning and end of the mystery. We generally enjoy the interactions peppered in between clues, as it makes it feel more like the case is moving forward in real time as we solve, as well as providing a break from the action. This case is also a bit more simpler than usual for the most part, with a lot of the clues being variations of some of the more prevalent puzzle and code breaking types. Most times, there are good twists that go along with these however, so they don’t feel too basic. A late game clue began to feel a bit tedious due to the process of solving, but didn’t go overlong into frustration. The meta puzzle is a fun idea, but the directions felt somewhat vague to us, and we felt as though the cluing could have been a bit tighter there to keep us from going too off rails.

Verdict:

Asuna’s treasure hunt is a somewhat easier mission for veteran sleuths, but is definitely worth checking out for novel puzzles and another great adventure with one of the best co-detectives Sullivan’s got! For new players, this is certainly a great jumping in point, as the case is exemplar of the sort of enigmas you can expect to find in tougher cases, and is really a lot of fun as a light hearted stand alone mystery. You can purchase it from the Sleuth King’s archives here, and if you’d like to subscribe to upcoming adventures, you can use the promo code ESCAPEADVENTURE to get $5 off your subscription here! You can also read the rest of our Sleuth Kings reviews here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.