Dare 2 Escape – The Dig (Review)

Location: Kissimmee, FL

Players:  2-5 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It belongs in a museum!

Theme:

From the Dare 2 Escape website:

Dare to face the sandstorm in the Dig of the century? Your colleague, archaeologist Dr. Eleanor Harding, has uncovered the fossilized remains of a new dinosaur species in her dig site located in the heart of the northern Sahara Desert. She has contacted you and your team of paleontologists from London to help stake claim to this find of the century. Upon arriving at her campsite, your team finds it abandoned because Dr. Harding was forced to evacuate from the path of a massive sandstorm that came through overnight. She is bunkered down in a safe refuge, but the secret location of the dig site was compromised when she radioed for help. Her longtime nemesis, Dr. Arthur Tillman, intercepted the transmission and his team is on the way to unjustly steal this once-in-a-lifetime find! Satellite images of the area show that Dr. Tillman and his team are only one hour away from the dig site. You must now use the clues that Dr. Harding left behind for you, find the dinosaur fossils, and escape from the African desert before you competition arrives and claims the find of the century for himself!

First Impressions:

The Tillman Family saga had been a great adventure so far, so we were thrilled that we were only halfway done exploring this excellent meta-story when the time for The Dig came around. Dare 2 Escape’s smallest room would also veer away from the horror themes I’m rather fond of, but with this business’s track record, I wasn’t worried at all!

High Points:

The Dig was a wholly different adventure than the previous two horror focused rooms we had experienced at Dare 2 Escape in regards to story and theme, but the level of quality we had come to expect stayed consistent. This family friendly experience had more straightforward puzzles, but did not skimp on the challenge overall. The game flow works well, and a few teamwork based puzzles keep everyone involved in the action. The game makes sense the whole way through, and the linear puzzling thread that winds through the whole room always makes sense from point to point. All clues lead nicely into each other, and we were never at a loss for what to do next. There are a lot of incredibly creative puzzles to discover within the Egyptian sands, and some of my favorites within this game were great hand crafted interactions that I had never seen before!

The set is fantastic as is usual for Dare 2 Escape and transitioning between each area of the game is natural and convincing. The tomb itself is immersive and boasts some archeological fun that players young and old will enjoy digging into! The story tied into the game cleverly, and from start to finish we enjoyed facing off against our rival Tillman, who threatened to steal away our prize. The Dig was also a great reprieve from the more intense horror based rooms we had just completed, with its bright lights and more light hearted theme, so its place in the overall chronology makes great sense for marathon players. Dare 2 Escape really knows how to make a room come to life using story, lighting, and sound, and The Dig is certainly no exception.

Low Points:

The Dig is very much a smaller room. It still is comfortable for the maximum group size, but the adventure can feel somewhat more limited due to the size of the room and the linear nature of the game flow. However, there were a lot of props to go through, and things can begin to feel cluttered if you aren’t organized and careful. At one point, there was a lock that needed a lot more finesse due to the environment in which this box was located causing it to jam. One particular puzzle felt just a smidge out of place, but it was not unenjoyable, just a little off when compared to the rest of the room’s challenges.

Verdict:

The Dig is yet another awesome chapter in the epic Tillman Saga, as well as a great room for new players and families! Though it lacked the thrills and chills I’d enjoyed in their previous rooms, this was more than made up for with the great puzzling and immersive set. I wholeheartedly recommend this room, and cannot wait to see what the masterminds at Dare 2 Escape come up with next! Book your archaeological expedition here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Dare 2 Escape provided our team with discounted tickets.

Lockbusters – Cremlocke Manor (Review)

Location: Orlando, FL

Players:  2-7 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $29 per person

Time to Escape: 45 minutes

Mr. Cremlocke is quite the lady-killer.

Theme:

Cremlocke Manor has always been the subject of immense speculation and suspicion. The former owner has long since passed away, and the sordid history of the manor has passed into the status of an urban legend. The master of the mansion’s previous four wives all died under mysterious circumstances, and it’s said they, and their treacherous husband, continue to haunt the halls of this once great manor to this day. As paranormal investigators, it’s up to you to see if you can finally put these spirits to rest. Careful, though, as others have gone in with the same good intentions and have never returned!

First Impressions:

For our last spontaneous room of the day, we were taking on Lockbusters’ forty-five minute haunted manor! I always love a spooky room, and this was definitely one of the rooms I was most looking forward to during our time at Lockbusters, even though it was a shorter experience.

High Points:

Cremlocke Manor is definitely a spooky game, with a fantastic story to go along with it. With new story beats popping up fairly frequently, new tidbits of narrative help develop the narrative as we solved. The mystery continued to build until everything culminated in a fantastic climax, propelling us towards a frantic race to complete the final puzzles and set everything right at the end. Cremlocke may be a smaller room than some of Lockbuster’s other experiences, but it has the biggest story of all of them, which really helps with the immersion factor. The puzzles themselves are well integrated into the story as well, and many tie directly into the mystery, allowing each moment to hold a bigger significance than just another roadblock along the game flow. The puzzles became more and more creative as the game continued, and we greatly enjoyed the use of tech within the room to help the ghastly manor become magically alive with supernatural power!

The set itself is fantastic, and feels convincing as the sitting room of an opulent manor home. The lighting effects and creepy sound effects build an atmosphere of creepiness without relying on cheap jump scares and provides a more horror themed than horrific experience overall. The experience provides many clues as to what needs to be done from the start, and does a masterful job of ensuring that the threads of the ultimate solution are intuitive and evident once everything comes together in the final, frantic interaction. Though the room is very linear, this approach works well in delivering a well fleshed out story that did an excellent job surprising us with it’s twists and turns.

Low Points:

The beginning of the room starts off fairly directionless, and the initial interaction doesn’t really have much in the way of cluing to get players going. We wasted a lot of time trying to figure out what to do, and by the time we asked for a much needed hint to get started, we were already feeling the time pressure of a forty-five minute room. One particular early stage puzzle was made even more difficult as we had a little trouble snagging what we needed, which wasn’t an intended challenge. At one point, there’s also a bit of a red herring due to the nature of one of the props used to solve the presented challenge, adding a little too much uncertainty to what exactly we needed to be doing. Due to the room’s linear set up, a bigger group might have trouble staying fully engaged since there’s only so much to work on at one time.

Verdict:

Cremlocke Manor is a great experience for smaller groups and newer players, with a linear game flow that allows for an expansive, and hauntingly excellent story! Enthusiasts will enjoy the immersion level of this room, and the mystery to be solved within is absolutely to die for. If you’re looking for an escape that provides mystery, original puzzles, and a gripping narrative, you definitely cannot go wrong here. Find out what happened in Cremlocke Manor here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Lockbusters provided our team with comped tickets.

Sleuth Kings – Case 022: The Trouble With Wizards (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Alohomora!

Theme:

From the Sleuth King’s website:

Wizard Con is supposed to be one of the best conventions of the year, but Gordon Falco might disagree – someone used it to frame him for a crime he didn’t commit. A mysterious package that showed up on his doorstep is Gordon’s only hope. The sender is missing, but their offer is clear: they can give Gordon the evidence he needs to prove his innocence. The catch? Sullivan has to find and rescue them, first. Can you help Sullivan work a little magic and find the evidence he needs in order to save two men’s lives?

First Impressions:

Time to hit up a con with Sullivan King! Not the usual kind of con Sullivan deals with, but it’ll still be a lot of fun, and hey, you get a free wand out of the deal! Joking aside, this theme is ripe for interesting game play, and we were definitely enthralled by the colorful clues  included with this box! The art design of Sleuth Kings is so unique, and easily one of the things I absolutely love about each box.

High Points:

Sleuth Kings has been on a roll with the massively creative themes lately, and The Trouble With Wizards brings the crime solving to a local convention! The story is another cool set up, with an original setting coupled with a thrilling crime to create an extremely creative mystery.  The inclusion of a new character hinted at during the epilogue of Case 021, A Book A Day, helps expand the Sleuth Kings Universe further, and presents the opportunity to get to know Sullivan a little better. Wizard Con’s awesome spell book brochure, advertising posters and alcoholic potions set up a convincing group of items for this case, as well as bring a sense of whimsy to an otherwise tense life or death mystery. The clues are laid out in a convincing way, and the game flow is incredibly smooth. Each puzzle contributes part of a meta puzzle through a really excellent online interaction, and we very much enjoyed receiving new pieces of the mystery in this way. Even a certain interaction I usually find rather tedious isn’t too bad due to the way it is gradually presented.

The clues included with this mystery are especially layered, more so than usual, which is absolutely saying something! Everything seemed somewhat separate at the beginning, with only a single mysterious thing tying each one together, but as we solved, new and cleverly hidden connections began to emerge. Bringing all the clues together in this way is very satisfying, and the build towards the meta-puzzle was a fun puzzling mountain to climb. Once we had solved the case, there was a small easter egg that allowed us to continue the experience, utilizing some enigmas that we didn’t originally use during the case, which was a cool twist. This helped optionally fill in the back story, and provided a highly satisfying denouement to the experience.

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Yer a wizard, Sully!

Low Points:

We communicated with Sullivan very little during this case, and we really missed the little story breaks that usually accompany an email to Sullivan. They allow for a small respite from puzzling to deliver new story beats, which is a great feature of Sleuth Kings cases. This case felt as though it didn’t have as much build as other cases due to the absence of Sullivan’s jaunts around Dayton or spats with his grandfather when we fed him a new piece of information. This mystery also felt a little easier, and therefore quicker than usual, as one of the main puzzles that takes the most time to solve is a creative, but highly ubiquitous cipher. While it was broken up across the puzzles, keeping us from having to solve too much of it all at once, the cipher did come up a little too much for us at times.

Verdict:

Case 022: The Trouble With Wizards is a great new case that presents some interesting new characters to the meta-story. I’m very interested to see how Sullivan’s relationship with his brother will evolve, especially considering his current investigation into his father’s disappearance. This is definitely an easier case, so it’s a great jumping off point for new Sleuths, but veteran gumshoes will enjoy the story beats that are introduced during the course of this adventure. 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!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

Doldrick’s Escape Room – Captain Spoopy Bones and the Magnificent Quest for Some Other Pirate’s Treasure (Review)

Location: Kissimmee, FL

Players:  4-8, Always Private (We recommend 4-12)

Price: $33.99 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

That dastardly… uh… other pirate won’t know what hit ’em!

Theme:

From the Doldrick’s Escape Room website:

Raise the anchor and set sail with Captain Spoopy Bones in this lighthearted tale of nautical nonsense! Navigate the treacherous waters aboard the Captain’s massive ship, and race against time in this grand adventure on the high seas. With teamwork, determination, and a little bit of luck, the players will uncover the secret of Captain Spoopy Bones and the magnificent quest for some other pirate’s treasure!

First Impressions:

Super Bomb Squad: Commandos Awesome was easily one of the absolute best games that I had ever played, so when it was time for Captain Spoopy Bones and the Magnificent Quest for Some Other Pirates Treasure, (henceforth to be known as “Spoopy Bones” for my sanity and yours, as much as I’d like to artificially inflate my word count,) we were jazzed.

High Points:

Spoopy Bones starts off with the team separated into two different cells. All seems lost until the titular Captain appears on screen to… tell us a story? About us? Intriguing! And the genuinely hilarious adventure only builds from there. The entire experience takes the ubiquitous pirate escape room, and absolutely refuses to fall into stagnant tropes. While the story line boils down to the usual, find the treasure and win the day style room, the character of Spoopy Bones and the journey to the treasure, (and it truly feels like an epic journey,) allow the room to evolve beyond the usual trappings of a pirate themed escape! The puzzles and interactions included within the beautiful set are, for the most part, highly original, with some awesome set pieces that will only reveal their secrets to the most inquisitive, and determined, minds. The room utilizes the space provided well, and packs a highly dense game flow into each area. In fact, once we had reunited and made our way to the ultimate room, we figured we were almost at the end of our quest, as most other games would have been just about out of ideas at that point. Not so, as we were presented with loads more to do, which was an excellent surprise!

Speaking of excellent surprises, Spoopy Bones is absolutely chock full of them, especially during the climax of the game. There was a point in the game in which the story really started to pop off, and when it did, it was astounding the level of detail that had gone into making this area feel highly authentic. It was just capital c, Cool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it, really. The lighting and sound design really helped tie the whole game together into an immersive experience, and it’s really something that has to be experienced. Words can’t quite capture how fun the atmosphere of this room was. Teamwork is really the most important part of this room, and success or failure truly hinges on how well the group works together. Luckily, this room is always private, so you don’t have to worry about going in with someone you aren’t going to work well with.

The puzzles remained within the theme throughout, keeping us working together with fantastic nautical props and interactions. A favorite puzzle of mine involved a satisfyingly tactile interaction that helped us overcome our piratical competition in an explosive way, and was an exemplar of how engaging Doldrick’s rooms can be. The game flow itself was mostly non-linear, and with the minimum of four players, we stayed very busy throughout. This is one of the few rooms I could see a maxed out group staying occupied. I wouldn’t recommend it to enthusiasts, but could definitely see a group of new players staying busy with the dense amount of puzzling to do here.

Low Points:

Splitting up the teams is always such a good idea on paper, but the charm unfortunately always wears out its welcome. Splitting the group really only works, it seems, when the game has been strictly designed for all puzzles leading up to the reunion to demand teamwork. When they don’t, one team inevitably runs out of puzzles to solve before the other, and it becomes a less than ideal waiting game for that team. It is also disappointing because each team effectively misses out on a few of the puzzles, and while you can always ask what they did, it isn’t the same as helping out during the puzzle. Or at least having the option to. One, and only one, puzzle was a fairly common riddle that was intended to clue a certain solution, but the leap of logic was vast and somewhat nonsensical. It was the only puzzle I didn’t enjoy within the room, however. Actually, I think it was the only one I didn’t like in the entire business, which is saying something!

Verdict:

Though I enjoyed Super Bomb Squad a bit more than Spoopy Bones, I think this room is still spectacular and one of the finest we’ve done! This pirate adventure is truly a step above the rest, evolving the overdone pirate theme of escape rooms beyond the simple cliches. I whole heartedly recommend assembling a team you communicate well with and joining Captain Spoopy Bones on his Magnificent Quest for Some Other Pirate’s Treasure here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Doldrick’s provided our team with discounted tickets.

Dare 2 Escape – The Ringmaster (Review)

Location: Kissimmee, FL

Players:  2-8 (We recommend 2-5)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Step right up, and be… see the next freak!

Theme:

From the Dare 2 Escape website (Truncated):

As you are standing in line for the Freak Show, an elusive figure wearing a top hat and a red jacket approaches you and your friends. He waves his wooden cane at you, beckoning you to follow him to the best seats in the house because you have been chosen as the lucky ones. Thrilled with this opportunity, you and your friends follow the Ringmaster into a side entrance to the main tent where he welcomes you into his personal dressing room. The musky room is covered in red and is illuminated with marquee lights and a small lamp. It’s quite dark, but there is enough light for you to see photos of grotesque freaks on the walls. You ask the Ringmaster about what you see, but the last thing you see is his scarred face before he hits you over the head with his wooden cane. In the background, as you are fading away, you can hear a cynical voice in the distance saying, “Welcome to my Carnival, where the lucky ones become part of the show!”

First Impressions:

After the thrilling escape from Dare 2 Escape’s haunted Asylum, (easily the best Asylum we’ve ever escaped from,) we were more than excited to be jumping right into our next chapter investigating the illusive Tillman family! There’s nothing creepier than a weird circus run by a mysterious ringmaster, (save maybe for our friend Lizzie from the Asylum,) so we steeled our nerves and started searching the Ringmaster’s office!

High Points:

The Ringmaster took the story begun in The Asylum and upped the game in several fantastic ways! The puzzle branches are even more non-linear than before, and presented us with a denser game flow that challenged us to remain on our A-game throughout. Dividing and conquering was the name of the game within this room, and while it remained a great challenge for our team of escape enthusiasts, it always felt like a balanced, if difficult, adventure. The Ringmaster’s office and tent are constructed believably and the highly tactile puzzles and props lend a sense of immersion to the experience from start to finish. Not once did any of the interactions dip outside the theme, and the solutions were cleverly hidden, sometimes in plain sight! One of my favorite puzzles involved a bit of decor that I had puzzled over for a while, mainly writing it off as just a swath of the scenery, but once I had connected it with another clue in the room, the moment of revelation was supremely satisfying.

The story is expertly integrated into the puzzles as well, and not only from overt storytelling via clues found, but via the set design and puzzles types that were found during each stage of the experience. Never before had I seen quite this level of attention to detail, and the whole thing is elevated from a simple game to a truly immersive adventure by it. The story throws twists at the players multiple times, subverting expectations and keeping everyone on their toes until the electrifying climax, and even then we were unsure if one more curve ball might be tossed our way. The entire room is the very definition of excellent design as every part of the set, down to the shape of the rooms, contributes to the overall story that Dare 2 Escape is telling. Gripping narrative in escape rooms is difficult to achieve, and even more difficult to ensure players fully experience, but when it’s done this well it grabs your attention and refuses to let go!

Low Points:

There were only a couple moments at which The Ringmaster hiccuped, and honestly, they were both pretty minor issues. There was a puzzle during the initial stages of the game that just wasn’t clued quite well enough to lead to an intuitive and natural solution. Another puzzle had another layer added to the solution after we had solved the initial stage. The addition of a new level of the solve wasn’t so much the issue as the way this was introduced, which felt natural theme-wise, but not so much mechanically. Overall, though, both low points weren’t too much of a downer in the grand scheme of things.

Verdict:

The Ringmaster was easily my favorite room at Dare 2 Escape, and thinking back on the experience, one of my favorite rooms period. Though I think anyone who’s thinking about trying out Dare 2 Escape’s fantastic experiences should follow their generally recommended order of play (The Asylum, The Ringmaster, The Dig, The Archive,) this one absolutely stands on it’s own. If you only have time for a few games in the Orlando area, this one should absolutely be on your short-list. Book your time escaping the clutches of the sinister Ringmaster here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Dare 2 Escape provided our team with discounted tickets.