Exit Strategy South – Queen City Bank Heist (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-8)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Den of Thieves

Theme:

Your crack team of thieves has found a weakness in the security of the Queen City Bank, one of the most secure banks in the United States. Housed inside is an enormous diamond, worth millions! If you can get your hands on it without getting caught, you’ll be set for life, but your infiltration will only buy you an hour, so get in and get out with the prize before the cops put you away for life!

First Impressions:

Our team was the group posing as janitors in order to gain entry to the bank, and once we were ushered into the room, I was actually fairly underwhelmed for the first time in an Exit Strategy room. The opener was very sparse, but as I’ve enjoyed most of their other rooms, I was willing to give it a shot!

High Points:

Puzzles, for the most part, made good sense and flowed well into each other in a puzzle room type sense. There were a few surprises that kept us on our toes, and a usual standby was implemented in a fun way that encouraged teamwork. This was one of the larger rooms at Exit Strategy, and it felt like the recommended players for the room was reasonable. The climax was a great capstone to the room and kept our hearts pumping while we captured our treasure and booked it out of there!

Low Points:

Some weird points during the game felt very off theme. Random blood splatters and references to vampires felt very out of left field and made little sense, story-wise. The splitting of the teams had the same issue as most split team games, namely that one room had way more to do than the other, and the communication method between teams felt unnecessarily awkward.  A few points of the early game were a slog because we had to wait for the other team to work through or find something while we were generally spinning our wheels waiting for something to do. One bummer was that we also had a downer GM for this game, which is very out of the ordinary for Exit Strategy. After 10 previous games at this company with great customer service, regardless of our opinions on the room, this was quite the shock. The set design of the room was also very strange, as it didn’t feel as much like a proper bank, however this is an older room, and Exit Strategy has made great strides in that department.

Verdict:

Another of Exit Strategy’s older rooms, it hasn’t aged poorly, but it definitely shows in comparison to their newer rooms. It’s a reasonably challenging and fun room, however, but I definitely recommend doing it before any newer offerings, as it definitely comes from a different generation of escape rooms. Gather your team and plan your heist here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

Exit Strategy South – Lost In Space (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Danger! Danger!

Theme:

Your team of astronauts is testing out one of the older ships when suddenly, mid-flight, your orbit starts to decay fairly rapidly due to a systems malfunction! The intern runs off with the only escape pod, so it’s up to you to fix it as soon as possible before the ship, (and you!), burn up upon reentry!

First Impressions:

We were looking forward to our time in Lost in Space after a fun, if slightly flawed, romp through Gone. The experiences we’ve had at Exit Strategy have been mostly positive, and this was one of the last two games we needed to play in order to finish up the 10 (10!) rooms they currently have on offer.

High Points:

A lot of hands on puzzling and scavenging made for a very interactive an immersive game for most of us, (more on why I say most of us below,) and the set, while simpler, had the feel of a mechanical rocket ship down pat. One puzzle involved a certain technical part of the ship that looked and reacted interestingly throughout it’s solving, and was a lot of fun for two of us to work through. The way we activated the latter part of the game was enjoyable and felt appropriate for the theme, and most puzzles tied in well to the “fixing a broken spaceship” concept.

Low Points:

The problem with this room was that an 8 person maximum was way too much for the game. Whereas I and others had a good bit of fun, a few players didn’t really get to do  much because there just wasn’t enough for our group of 7 to engage with! Had it just been our group of 5, it still would’ve been a little crowded, which stinks, because the game itself was a fairly good time for those of us that got to play. One of the main set pieces looked like a set up for a fun climactic puzzle, but ended up being just for show, which was a huge let down. The actual climax wasn’t all that interesting, and at the point the game ended, we were all saying, “oh, it’s done? That’s it?” One puzzle was non-responsive and needed a more than usual amount of pressure to get it to work, as well as being fairly obtuse in it’s solving.

Verdict:

Lost in Space is one of Exit Strategy’s older games, so we can definitely see where they have improved majorly since the early days, but it is still a fun game, with a caveat. Very rarely would I say it’s crucial to book the room privately and go with a small group if possible, but for this room, it is an absolute must in order for everyone to have fun. It’s definitely a hard room to recommend otherwise, however, since our group had such wildly disparate experiences due to the linear nature of the room. You can book your trip to space here!

6/10 (Alright)

 

Exit Strategy South – Gone. (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Taking an Uber to a Haunted House is a very, very bad idea.

Theme:

Back on Christmas Eve of 1986, Abigail Harper went missing, along with her entire family. Ever since then, her home has sat abandoned due to the rumors of a haunting inside. Could Abigail’s spirit still be lingering inside, waiting to be released, or perhaps she’s up to something more sinister? Break into the dilapidated old home and perhaps you’ll have the misfortune of finding out where everyone has Gone.

First Impressions:

Our favorite room of all time, The Final Sacrifice, was retired in September of last year, but when we heard what was coming to take it’s place, we were instantly excited! Gone. promised a spooky haunted house with all the theatricality of it’s predecessor, and we were so on board for that! We were greeted by our Uber driver, Hannah, who promised to take us to the old house on the condition she didn’t have to go in with us, and were set loose on the room!

High Points:

A special shout out to Hannah, our Uber driver, who was an excellent GM and host! Set design was really great, starting us off with a startling and unique puzzle and leading into a realistically sized haunted house. The first 75% of the game was extremely exciting and went from spot to spot excellently. Gameflow worked very well, and was full of spooky surprises and scares! Sound effects helped lead us along though the many different rooms excellently, and added to the immersion. The atmosphere and well hidden and utilized technology really created the sense of dread promised by the theme.

Low Points:

The latter quarter of the game really fell apart hard. The final puzzle was a bit of a mess, and while the rest of the game felt really on theme, this one was out of left field. Unfortunately, this also led to an anticlimactic ending, leaving a couple of mysteries unexplored, wasting a good bit of potential we were hoping for. The house was decked out for Christmas Eve as well as being themed to the 80s, but this didn’t really add anything, I would’ve liked to have seen this tied into the theme and game more, but alas, it just felt out of place. One spooky effect was cut short after the prop came to an unfortunate stop on my shins.

Verdict:

After a strong start, Gone. petered out by the end, which was a let down after such amazing buildup. There’s definitely a lot of potential here, and even with the present issues, I think it’s worth a look for the set design and great first 3/4ths of the game. With some adjustment to the finale, I think this could be the scariest and most enjoyable adventure yet. Book your time investigating the haunting here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

 

Masterpiece Escapes – The Deadwood Saloon (Review)

Location: Indian Trail, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

There’s gold in them thar hills!

Theme:

A developer is getting ready to knock down an old west saloon in order to build some high rises, but they’ve found a vault inside that they haven’t been able to get open. Rumors abound about what could be inside, but the most prevalent of them is that it is full of gold due to the original owner’s status as a prospector! Your team has been called on to crack the safe, but the developer is getting tired of waiting around, so get it done within the hour, or they’re going to blow the saloon and the vault to smithereens!

First Impressions:

Masterpiece does a great job with their sets, building really immersive, high-quality rooms that draw you into the adventure, and The Deadwood Saloon is no exception. Small touches here and there really sell the saloon, as well as entertain you with humorous and subtle jokes. As always with their rooms, we were excited as we stepped in and were ready to puzzle, even though it was our 5th room on the day!

High Points:

Along with the amazing set, there were fun connections to Masterpiece’s other rooms, which was fun as veteran players of their rooms! Props were all very high quality, and were excellent fun to play with. The inclusion of an optional puzzle that provides a fun treat is present here, as in all Masterpiece’s rooms, and is just as rewarding the fourth time as it was the first. Puzzle flow is great, and a non-linear approach allows players to jump between puzzle types and find what they enjoy solving. Our entire team of five were fully engaged throughout this, Masterpiece’s most challenging, but in no way unfair, room. Masterpiece really knows how to surprise veteran players as well, subverting our expectations and opening up new spots without our having the slightest idea that it was going to happen. The climax to the room was excellent and provided a great payoff! Also, special thanks to Uriah and his team for helping us say farewell to our teammate Cathy by hiding a special escape gift in the room for us! We will miss you Cathy!

Low Points:

Some puzzles were a little sticky, taking a bit more finagling than usual and making the solving more frustrating at times. A puzzle nearer to the end was a bit difficult to make out at times and felt a little out of place due to it’s interior location.

Verdict:

The Deadwood Saloon is another great effort from the folks at Masterpiece Escapes, continuing their tradition of extremely creative puzzles and rooms! They’ve once again blown our minds with their cleverly hidden surprises and I recommend anyone near Indian Trail look them up! You can book your time in The Deadwood Saloon here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Masterpiece Escapes provided media discounted tickets for our team.

Exit Strategy North – The Ruins (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

It belongs in a museum!

Theme:

Your team of explorers has lost their leader somewhere in the jungle! You were seeking a ruin fabled to be the ancient Temple of Arciris erected to appease the God of Wrath. Legend has it that anyone who steps in will be stricken down unless they can prove they wield the powers of a god! Try to find your mentor inside, and ensure you don’t meet a terrible end!

First Impressions:

This was our fourth trip to Exit Strategy North, and they were 2-1 so far with their rooms, with The Mansion being a favorite from our last trip, so we were excited to try out their most recent addition, The Ruins! By now, we knew the drill, and after showing off our new team shirts, we entered the briefing room to watch what we thought would be the same briefing video as always, but we were surprised to see that it’d been updated to be way more entertaining than usual! I normally don’t notice a stand out rules briefing after doing it over a hundred times, so it was cool to see an innovation in this way!

High Points:

To begin our game, the gamemaster popped in in character and gave us the story as she led us to the ruin. She gave a fun and engaging performance that started us off well. The set, as we have come to expect from Exit Strategy, was breathtakingly beautiful and immersed us into the adventurous theme even more than our last trip out! Puzzles were linear to start, but as we made our way through the Temple, we came across some bits that were non-linear, allowing us to divide and conquer. Puzzles here also were the most intuitive of any Exit Strategy room I’ve done thus far, and game flow was close to perfect. A immensely satisfying climax also comes with a fun surprise exit at the end. Also, 2-6 is a great range for the amount of players in the room. Exit Strategy North could easily stuff more players in, but it would damage the experience, so I commend them for capping it as they did.

Low Points:

Only a couple of points were small blemishes on an otherwise excellent experience. We found that the audio was a bit too low from time to time, which can be an issue in following the story properly or hearing clues. There was also one puzzle that was very original, but went on way to long for the activity that we had to perform.

Verdict:

This is definitely our favorite room at Exit Strategy North and I absolutely recommend that you try it out! Set design, story, puzzles, and theme all work together for an amazing adventure you won’t soon forget! Book your time in the Temple of Arcisis here!

9/10 (Excellent)

 

Time’s Up Escape Rooms – The Bank Vault (Review)

Location: Cary, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-5, details below)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Time’s Up’s most difficult room delivers a polarizing first generation challenge.

Theme:

You and your team are new employees at the bank, but your first day is ruined when you are robbed and thrown into the bank vault by your assailants. You’ve got 60 minutes to get out before the airtight vault runs out of air, but you haven’t been trained on how to unlock the vault from inside! Luckily, your manager, (who fortunately must’ve been playing golf that day,) has left a series of clues inside to help you escape.

First Impressions:

Walking into the vault didn’t really impress, as it seemed like a sterile bank lobby, coupled with an employee locker room, obviously, theming was not the strong suit of this room. Luckily, there were clues to find and many many locks to solve, (which could be good or bad, depending,) along with what looked like a massive metapuzzle on the wall, which, though low budget, struck me as a pretty cool, and lovingly crafted, design. It was a fairly small room, and with 5 players, it was cozy. Any more than that would’ve been claustrophobic.

High Points:

I wasn’t wrong about the metapuzzle. It easily brought together many parts of the room, and was a satisfying conclusion to the escape, though groups that didn’t pay enough attention would be out of luck. The puzzles were enjoyable to solve, and were all properly clued, allowing just enough of a hint to solve as a team. Most all of the props were fun to manipulate and play with, and led to some interesting perspective puzzles at times.

Low Points:

I enjoyed the puzzling for the most part, however some puzzles required a bit of outside of the box thinking that may not come naturally to those that are used to playing other rooms under the standard rules. The overall decor of the room was banal, so the main draw here were the puzzles, which I found to be interesting, but was nothing too mind blowing. There were a couple instances of solving the lock instead of solving the puzzle, which was a frustrating experience, and there was one lock we bypassed altogether, as we were totally unsure as to whether it had a solution or not.

Verdict:

Overall, I think newer groups will enjoy this room much more than enthusiasts, but I also don’t think it would be a great room to begin your escaping career with. Having spoken with other fans, it seems that you’ll either love this one or hate it, and though I had fun with the room, I can definitely see where others won’t be impressed. If you want a deep story or an immersive theme, you won’t find it here, but for an hour of puzzle solving, it might fit the bill. Time’s Up’s owners, however, really do put a lot of effort in, and care about their product, which shows in their interactions with players and upbeat customer service. Book your escape from the Bank Vault here!

5/10 (Mediocre)

Port City Escape – Motel 813 (Preview)

Location: Wilmington, NC

Players:  2-5 (We recommend 2-3)

Price: $26 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

No Vacancy

Theme:

After a long day of driving, you’ve decided you need to stop for sleep. Spying a motel on your way that doesn’t look too sketchy, you pull in and get a room. Number 813 to be exact. When you enter, the 70s vibe strikes you as odd, as do the weird decorations and creepy dolls. To add to the uneasy feeling, the lights suddenly shut off and you can’t get the door open! Figure out the mystery of the room and find a phone to call for help before whatever is in this room tires of playing with you!

First Impressions:

The aesthetic of the room is really great, and stepping in and closing the door really does transport you into a disused motel room from the 70s. Horror rooms are always exciting for me, doubly so when the room involves a supernatural theme rather than the usual fare of serial killers and mad doctors, I was definitely looking forward to this one!

High Points:

Along with the immersive set, a mysterious story regarding a family that stayed here in the past began to evolve as we solved the room’s linear puzzles. I’m always glad to see when a room evolves beyond a puzzle room and becomes a full escape experience, so exploring these story elements was a lot of fun. The space is well used and contains many hidden secrets, encouraging groups to explore every nook and cranny to piece together the enigmas. Props stay well integrated into the theme and one in particular is extremely fun and hilarious to use due to it’s unwieldly and now obsolete nature.

Low Points:

To preface, most low points were a result of the nature of the room being tested for full release. Some parts of the room felt incomplete, and a couple hidden objects felt much too well hidden for the setup. We also noticed that the story was appropriately mysterious and spooky, but unfortunately stayed that way when all was said and done. However, in our discussions with the owners, we were assured that these issues were being addressed, and were also informed of some new features that we think will really tie to room together well!

Verdict:

As this was a beta test and this is more of a preview, I will refrain from giving a concrete score to the room, as it was not 100% finalized during our visit. However, there is a lot of potential throughout and we did enjoy our time in Room 813. While parts were rough around the edges, this is to be expected for a beta test and after our discussion with the owners afterwards, we are confident that this room will be a great spooky experience! Motel 813 is now open and you can book your haunting here!

Full Disclosure: We beta tested this room at no charge. Elements may have changed since our visit.

Port City Escape – Nuclear Countdown (Review)

Port City Escape – Nuclear Countdown (Review)

Location: Wilmington, NC

Players:  2-10 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $26 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

We work together this time, comrade!

Theme:

It’s the middle of the Cold War and tensions are high on both sides. Luckily, however, mutually assured destruction is keeping anyone from making any rash decisions, and a razor thin détente is holding on. The posturing and fear, however, has sparked one man to take control of the nuclear launch codes and he has threatened to let them fire in one hour unless the warring nations work together to stop them!

First Impressions:

After Blackbeard’s Escape, we were excited to see what Port City would do with another historically ripe theme. The Cold War is definitely an interesting point to explore, and escape rooms are a great way to add a little historical education while having fun, as seen in rooms like Ripper – Solve the Mystery!

High Points:

Some historical props and pieces to puzzles were interesting to see and examine, even if they were not 100% able to be interacted with. There were a few puzzles were fairly interactive and supplied multiple step conundrums to solve, which led to an enjoyable puzzle thread near the end. Cluing was direct, allowing us to generally know what we needed to do next.

Low Points:

The story was a little convoluted, and as it evolved within the room, it made less and less sense to us, as the motivations of our bad guy became weirdly conflicting. The room was quite a bit sparser and felt, on the whole, a lot emptier than others we did at Port City. Puzzle props were not as high quality as in the other two rooms, and felt overall like a step down from their Blackbeard room. Puzzles came fast and furious in a non-linear fashion, but weren’t extremely exciting to us, mostly feeling banal at best, and frustratingly obtuse at worst. Set design did little to catch the eye, which was a huge departure from Port City’s other rooms, which were very immersive. Though many props were theme appropriate, the way many were presented felt sterile and non-interactive. Afterwards multiple teammates lamented that they did not feel very engaged throughout.

Verdict:

Nuclear Countdown was surprisingly average compared to Port City’s other escape experiences. The theme itself is full of potential, but overall, the game doesn’t rise to it. I definitely recommend trying out the other rooms here, but this one will need some work to become an adventure that truly stands out from the crowd. You can book your time in the bunker here.

5/10 (Mediocre)

Full Disclosure: Port City Escape provided Media Discounted tickets for our group.

Port City Escape – Blackbeard’s Escape (Review)

Location: Wilmington, NC

Players:  2-10 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $26 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

A pirate’s life for me!

Theme:

Blackbeard has blockaded the port of Charlestowne, SC, demanding a meeting with the governor. You are a prisoner in the brig of one of his vessels, which has currently made port in order for Blackbeard to deliver his demands, giving you only an hour to escape. You’ll need to sneak out of your cell somehow, and maybe steal some of Blackbeard’s treasure for yourself before breaking out and disappearing into the bustle of Charlestowne before anyone knows you’ve gone missing!

First Impressions:

To preface, I love pirates, or at least the romanticized version of pirates that are the norm in popular fiction, but I’ve never played a pirate themed room that has been amazing, so while I always go into new rooms optimistically, my history led me to make sure I tempered my expectations. The admittedly cheesy intro video didn’t really get my hopes up too much, but I reserved judgment for when we actually entered the room.

High Points:

The room itself was one of the best decorated pirate rooms I’d been in yet, set design was extremely well done, and no small details were glossed over. There were a few fun, but not frustrating dexterity puzzles sprinkled among more standard escape room fare that I very much enjoyed fiddling with. Puzzle flow worked well, and there were subtle hints towards what went together, which helped lead us to conclusions without simply thrusting the answer on us. Everything within the room was a piece of the puzzle, and integrated into the game seamlessly. Though there was no technology present in the room, (appropriate, due to the theme,) the game did not feel low budget or less exciting.

Low Points:

Some of the same puzzles were used to open multiple locks, which was a little redundant. More modern locks were mixed with older, theme appropriate locks, which is understandable, but breaks immersion slightly and makes the room more of a puzzle room than an escape experience.

Verdict:

Blackbeard’s Escape has the best set design and game experience of any of the pirate rooms I had done before, and is the first one of that particular theme to feel like it was much more than simply good. While it has a couple of minor flaws, it would make a great introductory room for new players, and is still a fun and challenging experience for veterans. Book your time in the brig here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Port City Escape provided Media Discounted tickets for our team.

Green Light Escape Room – Alien Escape (Review)

Location: Wilmington, NC

Players:  3-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $26 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Don’t get probed!

Theme:

Waking up to the hum of unfamiliar machinery, you and your friends slowly realize that the room you are standing in is not of this planet! As impossible as it may seem, you’ve been abducted by aliens, and judging from the sterility of the room and the sharpness of the instruments on the tables, it isn’t going to be a pleasant trip! You’re contacted soon after waking by another human survivor, who lets you know that he has found an escape pod and will wait for you to find him, but he’s not going to wait around forever and be recaptured, so you’ve got 60 minutes to get out or get probed!

First Impressions:

While waiting for the previous group to finish up in the Alien room, we heard some… interesting noises emanating into the lobby. Evidently the group was all kids, so some noises could be easily explained that way, but it certainly sounded like they were having a blast!

High Points:

Set design in Alien Escape was the best among the three rooms at Green Light Escape Room, with fantastical props, weird alien dissections, and… something growing on the walls around a strange machine. After a slightly bumpy start (totally our fault, as our brains had begun to numb at this, room #5,) the logical flow of the room ran together very well. The linear nature of the beginning didn’t leave out any in our group of 6, and the branching paths and teamwork puzzles of the second half of the room kept us all busy. Several of the puzzles integrated well with the theme and allowed for spatial puzzle solving involving the whole team. One puzzle we were advised was a new addition was elegant in its simplicity, but was still a challenge to solve, while not being an enormous time sink. The climax of the room was appropriately exciting and well implemented, and disoriented us in the best possible way.

Low Points:

A couple of the props were worn and could stand to be replaced. One beginning puzzle was interesting to start, but dragged after the first half of solving, though its solution triggered a fun interaction. Some basic lock types showed up that, while understandable, don’t quite mesh with the theme as well, due to the alien nature of the room, breaking immersion slightly.

Verdict:

Alien Escape was a definite favorite of mine in Wilmington, and not only was a superb game boasting great puzzle flow and set design, but was challenging to boot. I’d definitely recommend checking it out, and while you’re there, you can try to beat our new record, boasting our brand new team name! (Special thanks to A-Team member Cathy Nanni for devising the new moniker!)

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Book your abduction here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Green Light Escape Room provided Media Discounted tickets for our team.