Total Escape – Temple of Tikal (Review)

Location: Winston-Salem, NC

Price: $30 per person

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-6)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

It (still!) belongs in a museum!

Theme:

The Temple of Tikal is a legendary Mayan temple, rumored to house an ancient and incredibly valuable treasure, hidden away by the Jaguar King behind a series of traps and puzzles designed to only give way to those who are worthy of possessing his most prized treasure. You and your friends have found a way into the temple, and have one hour before the temple’s mechanisms seal again, leaving you trapped inside! Work quickly, and become the true heir to the Jaguar King’s riches!

First Impressions:

Prison Break was Total Escape’s first escape room, and it was a great experience, taking a fairly common trope and executing it better than most other escape rooms have. Before our venture into the Temple of Tikal, we spoke with one of Total Escape’s owners, and she gave us a sneak peak of the then upcoming Yacht Heist, which was a huge, and incredibly sleek looking room. All of this had us jazzed to see what the designers had cooked up for the Temple!

We were also impressed that Total Escape added in subtitles to their intro video, which is a small touch, but very much appreciated.

High Points:

Temple of Tikal began with our fantastic game master giving us our back story and challenging us to begin our game by opening us the Temple itself with somewhat of a pre game challenge. I always enjoy when escapes begin “outside” the room itself, and this was an unexpectedly cool way to start off our game. Once we’d pieced together this appetizer puzzle, the Temple was ours to explore! The experience remains highly non-linear almost throughout, with capstone puzzles measuring progress splendidly, and providing intuitive solves to ensure that all players remain involved with solves and there aren’t many choke points to stymie progress. The game flow works extremely well, and many solves provide great moments of revelation and satisfying pay offs. This may be one of the most hands on rooms we’ve done lately as the set is absolutely littered with large scale puzzles and interactions, displaying some amazing and tactile set pieces to puzzle around with your team. This focus on large scale, teamwork based puzzling is a constant theme throughout the adventure, and there was something for everyone to work on for almost the entire game.

Technology in the game is incredibly responsive, and players always know when a solution has been accepted, as many times when a correct answer has been input, there’s instant feedback. This feedback takes inspiration from great adventure games, and we were wowed many times by the exciting moments our actions triggered. This was one of the few games in which I felt as though I was in the middle of one of the great puzzle moments during a Tomb Raider game. The intuitive nature of the game ensured that even during the more challenging parts of the room, we were never left to cast about wondering what came next, and the high energy journey through the Temple remained engaging through it’s appropriately exciting climax. Like Prison Break, the absence of a game timer really elevated the experience, ensuring that we remained focused on the game and immersed within the story. I lost all track of time in the best possible way, and this small exclusion helped keep outside distractions from encroaching on the game.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle is an interesting interaction to begin, but is somewhat arduous to complete, due to it’s nature. It boiled down to a guess and check interaction at its core, and until we’d found the right way to manipulate things, it felt like busy work. An additional puzzle or clue could easily skip a lot of the aimlessness of this one, preventing the novelty of the interaction from wearing off. Though the room is non-linear and provides a lot for larger groups to do, there is one particular choke point we arrived at that leads to some standing around as only two players could comfortably work on it before becoming a case of too many cooks. Overall, though, both of these instances were minor points during a run of great adventuring.

Verdict:

Temple of Tikal is an awesome leap forward from the already great Prison Break, and if our sneak peek of Yacht Heist is any indication, the sky is the limit for Total Escape! Boasting some excellent set design, cool interactions, and large scale teamwork based puzzling, Temple of Tikal is a must play for any enthusiast in the area, and new players will be astounded by the highly approachable, yet challenging gameplay as well. Uncover the buried secrets of the Jaguar King’s treasure here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full disclosure: Total Escape provided media discounted tickets for our group.

Sleuth Kings – Case 024: Framed (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

I wasn’t me, I swear!

Theme:

From the Sleuth Kings website:

Sullivan King has found himself in the middle of a murder investigation – only he’s the prime suspect. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Sullivan is on the run from police with only one option: find the real murderer. Can you help Sullivan catch a killer and clear his name before he winds up in prison?

First Impressions:

After the lighter adventure that was Case 023, Framed promised a much more intense mystery, as the client this time was Sullivan King himself! Framed for a murder he did not commit, and on the run from police, he has reached out to us for help clearing his name! I’m sure this wasn’t the excitement he was hoping for after the recent slow days at Sleuth Kings!

High Points:

The clues involved with this case are great, and fit well with the movie theater aesthetic that the box is going for. The puzzles are loaded with hints, and layer upon each other in great fashion. The initial solve is devious, but highly intuitive, and unfolded in stages to develop into a wonderful moment of revelation as we solved. The challenge for the box remains steady throughout, and build towards a fun meta puzzle that caps off the climax in an appropriately exciting fashion. As players solve, new interactions reveal themselves, and there is much more to the box than initially meets the eye, and each new step in the investigation adds another level to the mystery. Props are fantastic and highly tactile, incorporating into their respective puzzles excellently, and giving us some cool interactions to work through. The design of the evidence included is fantastic as well, and the movie poster for the (sadly fake,) upcoming Head Hunter III has a perfect B-movie horror vibe that I really love.

Sullivan’s time spent on the run is well told, and there is a good bit more interaction with him during this case, which brings back some of the fun story tidbits we missed from some recent cases. The hunt is believable, and ties into the overall universe of Sleuth Kings while remaining accessible to new players. The epilogue is a great denouement to the story, and includes a great little bonus in the form of an extra optional puzzle. It’s a great, small addition that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and allows players to help in the investigation just a little bit more.

20190917_1106523139593679207594041.jpg

Lights, camera, action!

Low Points:

One specific clue uses a cipher that we are familiar with, having done a lot of subscription boxes in the past, but may be very unfamiliar for newer players. The hint section is helpful, but if players are reticent to take a hint, they may be stuck for a while. The in game clue is good, but does require a passing familiarity with codes to decipher at first blush. There is a point at which there is a lot of deciphering to be done, which becomes a choke point if playing with more than one person, as only one can comfortably solve the code while the other is relegated to waiting, or busy work if you make some adjustments to involve them. More than two players is right out for this particular point in the game.

Verdict:

Framed is a great new addition to Sullivan King’s continuing adventures, blending an intense story and great puzzling together into an awesome investigation! I recommend trying it out, especially if you’re a long time sleuth, as this one adds some great story beats for loyal fans. You can purchase previous cases 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.

Breakout Greensboro – Runaway Train (Review)

Location: Greensboro, NC (There are locations nationwide, however.)

Price: See website, varies per person depending on size of group. All games are now private!

Players: 2-7 (We recommend 3-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

All aboard!

Theme:

From the Breakout Greensboro website:

As the train winds through beautiful countryside, news spreads of an uproar in the locomotive car. Radicals have taken control of the conductor’s cabin, planted explosives, and set the train for a non-stop destination in the heart of the city. Gain entry to the conductor’s cabin, stop the train, and free the passengers before time runs out.

First Impressions:

Runaway Train is Breakout’s newest experience, and after the fun, if slightly flawed, step forward that was Do Not Disturb, we were excited to see what Breakout had cooked up next! We definitely got the more high tech feel Breakout’s newer rooms seem to have from the opening cinematic and screens showing our ill-fated train’s breakneck speed, and couldn’t wait to begin our adventure!

High Points:

Runaway Train’s tech and set design is definitely well done, presenting a convincing train car to puzzle within. The whole experience starts off pretty quickly, and gives us a great impetus to begin working on getting the train’s brakes back online! Some flashy tech and engaging hidden spaces are a lot of fun to interact with, and the set did surprise us from time to time, especially during the climax, which takes a note from Do Not Disturb’s playbook. This final interaction is well implemented, and instills a real sense of urgency in players, but unlike Do Not Disturb, the puzzle presented to close out the room is signposted in a much more intuitive manner, allowing for less frantic frustration. It also encourages more teamwork, keeping everyone engaged with the game’s ending. The latter half of the game also plays host to some of the best puzzles in the game, and though they are the most challenging, they generally aren’t frustrating to work with, unless there is a technical glitch, as noted below. One point of the game becomes non-linear, and the experience really shines during these moments as we were able to divide and conquer, playing to our strengths and working together to progress to the next level of the game.

Low Points:

A puzzle type that worked pretty well in Mystery Mansion, due to it’s ability to engage our whole team and present the problem in an interesting way, falls completely flat during Runaway Train due to the arduousness of the solve, coupled with some vague cluing that further exacerbates the issues we have with this sort of puzzle. The game is almost completely linear, and there were several moments in which only two or three players could work on a problem while the rest of us toodled about until the next item was opened and we could move forward. This is most noticeable during the late game when several puzzles take place in an area that can fit maybe one and a half people at max. The game flow is very choppy, and the connective tissue between each step of the process tends to be very thin, leading to a lot of time just wondering what in the world is going on. One particular puzzle is very hard to see, and is a dreaded process puzzle, but luckily, the solution is extremely easy to hack, if players look at the problem holistically, but I’m sure the game designers did not intend this side method of solving, due to our game master’s shock at our having solved this one so quickly. We also experienced a fair bit of frustration when one tech based puzzle failed to trigger on multiple occasions, leading to the need for our GM to override the problem.

Verdict:

Breakout’s newest games have been great for introducing new ideas and tech, but have been generally fairly uneven in execution. However, Runaway Train isn’t a bad experience, just an uneven one. I like the steps forward Breakout has taken with this and Do Not Disturb, but a little more iteration is needed to make these games truly shine. Still, this one isn’t a bad time, just not the best room currently on offer. If you like Breakout and have played the other rooms, you’ll like this one well enough, but if not, this game won’t convince you otherwise. Stop the Runaway Train at your local Breakout here!

6/10 (Alright)

Full disclosure: Breakout Greensboro provided media discounted tickets for our group.

Total Escape – Prison Break (Review)

Location: Winston-Salem, NC

Price: $30 per person

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 2-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Let’s blow this popsicle stand!

Theme:

You and your partners in crime, for one reason or another, have found yourselves convicted and thrown into jail. But worry not! Your pal Donny knows a guy, (who knows a guy,) who busted out of this place before. Apparently, he left clues around about how to escape, and Donny previously followed them to obtain his freedom before you. Just stick to the clues, and you’ll be outta here in no time! But do it within an hour, because the diversion Donny set up for the guards is only going to hold for so long!

First Impressions:

Our game master, whose name I unfortunately did not get, was phenomenal! Delivering a light hearted introduction to our cells, and playing along with our pre-escape shenanigans, she really helped set a fun tone for our experience. I could tell from her interactions with us that not only would the room be a great experience, but the staff at Total Escape were having a good time as well. All of which boded well for our adventure!

High Points:

Prison Break initially split our team between two different cells, and most times, the execution of this sort of game mechanic leaves much to be desired. Total Escape, however, ensured there was no “Curse of the Less Interesting Cell” by making sure that both teams had plenty to do, and peppered this whole stage of the game with great teamwork puzzles that ensured that all of us were able to remain engaged with the game every step of the way. Even when there was one interaction that was reserved for one team, the rest of us felt involved with what was going on, and were never left to twiddle our thumbs waiting to be rescued from our cell. The game flow for the entire experience was incredibly smooth, climbing a steady difficulty curve and weaving clues, solutions, and inputs together well, leaving no room for uncertainty once we had solved any of the game’s myriad challenges. The puzzles were also very original for the most part, and were presented in a mostly non-linear fashion, keeping us immersed in the experience from lock-up to jail break!

Technology implemented within the room was fantastic, and really elevated the experience beyond many other prison themed rooms we’ve done before. Interacting with the set was a thrill, and in many cases, provided a clever clue to keep us on the right track. There are several excellently tactile puzzles scattered throughout the game, and one in particular was a great addition. I won’t spoil the surprise, but it was a small thing I think all of us have wanted to do in an escape room from time to time. This tiny addition to the game really adds to the experience, and it’s a willingness to do things like this that can make a good game really great and engaging. Progress is well measured, and it was always clear where we stood during the game, even without a timer present. In fact, the removal of a game timer added to the immersion greatly, and had us worrying less about how much time remained, allowing us to truly lose ourselves in the experience. Though we could ask for a time check at any time, we never thought to ask for one, the game was so immediately gripping.

Low Points:

The set and story are fairly simple, and the experience remains a standard prison break from start to finish, so escape veterans who’ve tired of the theme may not be as impressed. There’s some searching to be done, and while we didn’t have too much of a problem with it, another puzzle or two to find these rather small items would be generally more engaging overall. Enthusiasts might run through this game fairly quickly, (ours clocked in at around 26 minutes in room total,) and though it felt like a full experience to us, players looking for a longer challenge might want to try Temple of Tikal instead.

Verdict:

Prison Break was a great game, boasting an excellent game flow and some truly original puzzles. Though we were in and out fairly quickly, it certainly felt like a much longer experience in the best way possible, and for Total Escape’s first room, Prison Break is a lot of fun! Beginners will really love the intuitive adventure, and enthusiasts looking for an entertaining and engaging run of puzzles will not be disappointed. Book your time in the slammer here!

8/10 (Great)

Full disclosure: Total Escape provided media discounted tickets for our group.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Traitor (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

What do you do with a murdered pirate, early in the morning?

Theme:

The “Voyage on the Black Dagger” was meant to be a luxury cruise with a twist. All the passengers would be dressed as pirates, and a puzzle filled scavenger hunt would be hosted, boasting a $25,000 prize to the winner! As with most high stakes games however, conspiracies arise, and those hatched aboard the Black Dagger have resulted in murder! You’ll need to sift through the evidence, as well as the cruise ship’s ill fated scavenger hunt, and determine what went wrong before the case gets washed out to sea!

First Impressions:

Pirates are somewhat of a weakness of mine. Though a common escape room trope that is sometimes looked down upon by many, I nevertheless tend to get excited for swashbuckling experiences. Traitor promised to be an exciting twist on the pirate theme, by inserting the impetus for the piratical theme into a game within the game, and pitting us against our toughest opponent yet, university professors dressed as pirates!

High Points:

Traitor’s story definitely pays off well, delivering a great twist on the pirate genre while still delivering further excellent story twists consistently throughout the experience. Highly original themes are one thing, but without puzzles, they won’t hold up. Luckily, Traitor is densely packed with some great puzzling threads, and some of the most challenging deductions to date for a Deadbolt mystery. All of these deductions are well integrated into the game, and add a new element to the sleuthing. Witnesses are appropriately cryptic, setting up some fantastically devious cyphers that seem incredibly cryptic initially, but with a bit of out of the box thinking, resolve into enormously satisfying moments of revelation. There are several tactile and creative puzzles that have been included which add an excellent perspective element to the game. Several times, we would be mulling over a specific item, when it would suddenly click with another once we hit upon the visual clues within each piece of evidence. The puzzle threads are cleverly integrated into the story as well, delineating specific levels of the game, ensuring players are given intuitive hints as to what needs to be worked on at any given time without explicitly saying so. The on board scavenger hunt is well done, and it’s inclusion as part of the mystery creates a memorable run of puzzles that evoke the feeling of a mini escape room. One particular puzzle we solved in the early stages of the game got us better acquainted with the suspects and their personalities by giving us a tactile task that correlated with the suspect cards, and set up further clues for the remainder of the game.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society recently announced that in order to ensure their products are better protected from the elements, they would be paring down the dimensions of the boxes in order to fit within mailboxes. As such, the physical items within this game have been reduced in size, I assume, to test how the game would work within a smaller delivery system. In fact, I think it works better, packing just as much puzzling and mystery into reduced props, making much more room on our table to survey every clue included, and preventing larger pages from obscuring smaller items at inopportune times. I’m also looking forward to the smaller boxes, since they’ll definitely be easier to store.

20190906_220703967214151769522311.jpg

A mystery big enough for the High Seas!

Low Points:

A late game puzzle was worded in a way that caused it to become an unintentional red herring for us. It seemed to set up a second layer of puzzle to round out the box, but it was looking for something far more specific and less broad than we inferred. The suspect elimination was more challenging for this mystery, but there is one clue that allowed us a bit of a shortcut to our accusation. This came late in the game however, so it only allowed a small jump for us. I believe this clue is meant to confirm the accusation, but it is possible to reach this point without having properly combed through all the eliminations just yet, so it can circumvent some investigation.

Verdict:

Traitor is a great new adventure from The Deadbolt Mystery Society, including a phenomenal game flow wrapped within a hugely original theme and storyline. The intuitive nature of this game ensures it remains approachable for newer players, but there’s still plenty of challenge for Deadbolt veterans! I recommend picking it up as a one time box purchase if you get the chance. As always, I definitely recommend subscribing for future boxes as well, especially since October’s creepy clown box, The Last Laugh, is coming up! 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.