Room Escape USA – Rock Star (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $25 per person, Private Sun-Thurs or any day with a 4 player/$100 minimum

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Swan Song

Theme:

From the Room Escape USA website:

Dean Waylon is the front man of the band, Us, Them, Or Dean. Tonight, they will be performing the last show of their concert run but Dean is nowhere to be found. As private investigators, your backstage passes give you access to his private studio.  They are set to take the stage in 60 minutes. Find the clues and solve the puzzles that lead to his whereabouts before that time.

First Impressions:

I’ve only done one musically themed room before, and it was pretty excellent, so I was excited to see another during our trip to Richmond. With a more mysterious and objective based theme, it seemed that Rock Star would be an excellent adventure! On top of that, this room is advertised as Room Escape USA’s most difficult room, and we always like a good challenge! We were given our backstage passes and immediately went to work.

High Points:

The set for Rock Star is compact, but believable, with excellent props and a great sound track to get you in the mood for musical meditation on myriad mindgames. It was really immersive to be able to interact with the wide range of instruments and sound equipment, some of which looked nice enough to prompt one of our teammates to ask if we were truly allowed to touch all this stuff! Though there are a lot of fantastic props decorating the entire experience, at no point does the game feel cluttered or messy, and everything felt as though it was important to the mystery or the slowly but surely evolving storyline.

The game flow of this adventure is solid, if highly challenging. The difficulty, however, never feels unfair or obtuse, rather, everything is embedded within the game cleverly, requiring excellent perception, teamwork, and attention to detail. Puzzles flow from point to point well, with each signposting towards the lock they’re meant to open in excellent ways. Interactions within the room were varied, ensuring everyone on our team of five remained engaged, while allowing us to shine individually when a puzzle within our wheelhouse was discovered. Clues emerged naturally as well, popping into our heads during solves as a clue triggered remembrance of something we may have thought was a throwaway decoration or random tidbit included for immersion’s sake. These surprises kept up during most of the room, and it was always fun to find a new ah ha moment during each step of the game.

Low Points:

A lot of clues were presented via paper, which isn’t necessarily a poor choice overall, but can sometimes feel as though puzzles are more from a coffee table book than from the green room of a rock band. One particular puzzle can feel somewhat arduous without at least a small bit of musical background, as even though the knowledge is somewhat basic, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that some groups may be unfamiliar with this enigma’s specific tells. I also feel the room/game flow would be fairly cramped with more than 6 people, especially since the difficulty caters to a more experienced crowd.

Verdict:

Rock Star was my favorite room at Room Escape USA, and absolutely a great challenge to take on with an experienced group of escape enthusiasts. Beginners should get a few rooms under their belts before taking this one on, or be willing to take a clue here and there to keep things rockin’. You can book your time facing the music here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Room Escape USA provided media discounted tickets for this room.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Strange Case of Mr. Mindgame (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

I want to play a game.

Theme:

From the Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

When a strange character calling himself Mr. Mindgame kidnaps five suspects in a recent murder, you must play his twisted game in order to determine who the killer is and set the innocents free.  But is his game everything it seems to be or is there a dark secret behind all the trickery? 

First Impressions:

The Strange Case of Mr. Mindgame seemed like it would be a fresh twist on the Deadbolt formula, casting us a pawns in a game being played by a Jigsaw-esque vigilante. This sort of high-stakes mystery solving game is right up my alley, so I was excited to see what was behind the veil of the unusually light theme description that had been posted!

High Points:

I was glad to find that Mr. Mindgame would not disappoint, theme-wise. Immediately we found that we had been cast as detectives by the villainous Mindgame, tasked with deducing who had murdered Jennifer Cochran, and further, making the connections between this murder, and one that Mr. Mindgame had been falsely accused of committing! His methods of confirming our answers and helping us eliminate suspects were exciting, and lent believability to the story, which felt as though it was unfolding in real time. I really enjoy when Deadbolt stories progress in this way, casting us as active heroes, racing against time, rather than as more passive detectives looking through a case file. (Which, to be fair, is still fun, just not as immersive.) The entire experience kept me guessing, wondering what Mindgame was up to, who they could possibly be, and what would happen when we finally won his twisted game!

Puzzles continue to be excellent, with clever clues winding around each other, leading us towards our ultimate goal. Mr. Mindgame is hands down the most difficult Deadbolt case to date, but not unfairly so. For the most part, each piece of the puzzle is intuitive and will reveal their secrets after an engaging solve and terrific ah ha moment. As we peeled back each layer of the mystery, I could definitely feel a sense of momentum building from point to point, until we finally arrived at the climax. The sense of achievement from solving each part of this box was palpable, and truly delivered a satisfying sleuthing experience from start to finish.

20190211_1628191890588395704783670.jpg

Mr. Mindgame is a Puzzling Poe-esque Poe-t!

Low Points:

The story, while surprising and very entertaining, ends in a way we felt came out of nowhere. While explained well after the fact, there didn’t seem to be much that led up to it, causing it to fall a little flat with us. It was also rather hard to justify our involvement with this case, so overall, we would have liked to see the story fleshed out a bit more during the game itself. Some connections made during the mystery do feel more tenuous than others, with some logical leaps we made, but looked askance at while we were doing so. There were a couple times I posited an answer, which was correct, and when asked how I came to that conclusion, I had to admit it was a degree short of a wild guess. In general, neither of these issues pop up overly often, however.

Verdict:

The Strange Case of Mr. Mindgame is an excellent mystery for Deadbolt veterans and mystery enthusiasts that are looking for a tough, but fair challenge. While newcomers may have more difficulty with this box, Deadbolt’s fantastic hints will keep players on track, allowing for engagement without frustration. I recommend giving it a shot, and look forward to their next adventure, a Wild West adventure I’m sure will not disappoint! 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!

8.5/10 (Great)

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

Escape Room RVA – Cake or Death? (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $25 per person, (All experiences Private Monday-Saturday, four person minimum to book)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

No, I do believe I’ve changed my mind, I’d like the Cake, please.

Theme:

From Escape Room RVA’s website, since their theme description is fantastic:

When the circus closed, tensions grew and the drinking got out of hand. Krinkle the Clown did not take it well, and spiraled to a dark place. To support his habits, he started booking gigs at children’s birthday parties which proved to be his undoing. One dark night, he came back to the shuttered fun house, where he and the other Carnies lived. He was stark raving mad and screaming about cake. Apparently, no one remembered his birthday….it’s up to you to solve the madness. Do you have what it takes?

First Impressions:

Escape Room RVA was the crown jewel of our previous trip to Richmond, housing the enormously creative, yet unfortunately retired, Unicorns vs. Vampires rooms. With a couple more extremely original themes having gone live since our previous visit, we were excited to return to make our choice between Cake or Death. Unfortunately, we were not greeted by Eddie Izzard to start, but no game is perfect, I suppose!

High Points:

Horror themes, especially those regarding crazed killers who’ve kidnapped your group, are fairly ubiquitous in the escape room industry. I have a soft spot for them, but it is always nice to see a unique take on the genre from time to time, and Cake or Death is absolutely that! Housed within a run down funhouse, the clashing pops of lighthearted color and evident dismemberment mix together to create a creepy atmosphere and immersive set. The way that the experience physically twists and turns kept everyone on their toes throughout, and though we had played a room in this same area and recognized some of the spaces, overall, it felt like an entirely unique set. The icing on the cake is the interactions with our GM, Krinkle himself. While not physically inside the room, his presence is always felt, a humorous, yet subtly (and sometimes not so subtly,) threatening figure that brought a whole new level of immersion to the game.

Puzzles themselves are wildly creative for the most part, with the vast majority of them involving some sort of tactile interaction to solve. The props themselves are tied well into the theme, and belong in the run down fun house home of a band of down on their luck carnies. Two big items in particular worked in clever ways to provide solutions that were hidden in plain sight and provided enormously satisfying ah ha moments when solved. The game’s progression is non-linear and can keep a larger group fully engaged with the adventure throughout. The progression is also blissfully free of any overlong or tedious choke points, allowing for each culmination of a puzzle thread to come to a conclusion elegantly and without frustration.

Low Points:

Escape RVA’s website noted that there would be a bit more climbing and crawling than usual in this room, but even that felt like an understatement after the amount of bending, ducking, and climbing we did. The spots that required climbing could’ve benefitted from a stepstool, as at average height, I was still having trouble safely getting over what I needed to. I don’t mind physicality in rooms, but a misstep would’ve been slightly more dangerous than usual here. Some cluing could be cleaned up a bit, as there are moments of vagary that tend to cause the logical progression to stall in places. The final climax of the room is a good finish, but to trigger our escape, we had to contend with some fairly finicky tech.

Verdict:

Cake or Death is a unique take on the Serial Killer/Killer Clown genre of escape rooms. While the game flow does hiccup here and there, it’s still a solid horror themed room that we had a lot of fun messing around in while we solved Krinkle’s challenges! If you’re a fan of horror and aren’t too skittsh about the crazy clown theme, I’d definitely recommend checking out this funhouse of horrors! You can book your time at Krinkle’s birthday party here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Gnome & Raven – The Museum of Light and Shadows (Formerly, Once Upon a Time) (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Players: 2-12 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $25 per person, every experience is Private, with a four person minimum

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Once upon a time…

Theme:

The Museum of Light and Shadows has been robbed! A mysterious raven and the most powerful magic wand in the land have disappeared, but no one was seen leaving the premises with these priceless relics. It’s very possible that the thief has stashed them inside the museum itself in order to create confusion and secret them away at just the right time. It’s up to you to find the missing items and restore the museum to it’s former glory!

First Impressions:

Gnome & Raven is Ravenchase’s newest family friendly experience, boasting the ability to not only entertain kids of all ages with their escape experiences, but also provide the space for a party replete with cake and all! Though we weren’t celebrating any particular occasion, other than being on another whirlwind escape adventure, we were excited to see what Ravenchase could do with this whimsical, family oriented theme!

High Points:

As is usual for a Ravenchase room, the Museum’s set is absolutely beautiful! Boasting a large table, ornate accoutrements, and fantastical props, The Museum of Light and Shadow is truly a sight to behold! The whole place is filled to the brim with elegant and whimsical items, befitting for a fairy tale museum. Though there is a lot to look at and use, there is very little clutter, and everything that seems important, usually is. The room itself would be mind blowingly magical for a group of kids set to celebrate a birthday, but challenging enough for a group of enthusiasts to enjoy. Gnome & Raven also provides a character actor for introduction to the room, as well as for game mastering, and though the actor doesn’t usually stay in the room, we were advised that they are available to for younger groups that might need a little more direction.

The game flow works well for the most part, with only a couple of spots where it stalled out. The museum itself is massive and packed with a fairly large amount of non-linear puzzles, which allowed our group to divide and conquer as necessary. The experience utilizes a fantastic mix of technical wizardry and mechanical lock based puzzles, instilling a sense of magic to the room, heightening the immersion within the mythical museum. All enigmas and interactions are themed well into the theme of the adventure, and most are introduced with a riddle that evokes the cadence of a childhood storybook, without being patronizing. The whole room struck a unique balance between family friendly and challenging, which is truly a feat on it’s own!

Low Points:

One particular part of the game advises against taking a certain course of action, which we later determined was supposed to be necessary in order to progress. This caused no end of confusion, and ended up stalling us for a good while as we put together a workaround that we were told was not the intended solution. The fact that we were told not to do something, then were given a punishment (albeit a small one, but there was no way to know that at the time,) for doing so is a poor way to design a interaction, and was frustrating to no end. Another puzzle was very unclear in it’s presentation, and could’ve used a bit more cluing to clean up the ambiguities inherent to the solution.

Verdict:

The Museum of Light and Shadow is a fantastic room to book for kids of all ages, and would be a wonderfully whimsical place to reserve for your child’s birthday! I one hundred percent wish that there had been something like this around when I was a kid; I imagine the adventure of finding your cake at the end of such an immersive experience would be stunning. Adults and enthusiasts can find a lot to like inside as well, as the usual Ravenchase challenge has not been dulled in favor of the theme. You can book your time in the fairy tale museum here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Sleuth Kings – Case 017: The Cupid Killer (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

My Bloody Valentine

Theme:

After three years of serial murders, the Cupid Killer is on the hunt again, and this time, it’s personal for Sullivan King. The killer, who stalks, taunts, and finally murders couples on Valentine’s Day has been sending Sullivan and his definitely not girlfriend, Celest St. Clair,  increasingly threatening messages, which have culminated in the disappearance of Celest! With the police baffled, and time running out, Sullivan needs your help to find Celest and stop the Cupid Killer’s reign of terror once and for all.

20190208_0951483281094782188653792.jpg

Even psychotic Valentine’s themed killers can see the attraction, Sullivan! Wise up!

First Impressions:

The romantic tension between Sullivan and Celest has been building for almost half a year now, and though Celest knows exactly what she’s about, Sullivan has been blindingly oblivious to everything. When this case’s theme hit the website, however, we were excited to see that the attraction between the two sleuths had to come to fruition soon!

20190208_0951176491301636574879481.jpg

Dare to take on Cupid’s Challenge?

High Points:

After the last few, fairly light-hearted mysteries, The Cupid Killer is pretty dark, story wise. For the bright Valentine’s colors and props, there’s an excellent undercurrent of tension and threat that works as an impeccable foil to the explosion of pink and purple Cupid’s Challenge clues. This case definitely boasts the most tightly themed aesthetic to date for Sleuth Kings, and it really impresses. The progression of the clues is interesting also, as we observe the Cupid Killer’s messages and gifts become ever more threatening. These touches lend a sense of urgency to a game that is otherwise not under any sort of time pressure. The overarching plot line ties well into the meta-story without requiring knowledge of previous cases, remaining accessible while still including some great story rewards for the Sleuth Kings faithful. The look into the personal lives of Sullivan and Celest is very entertaining, and the way that Celest’s kidnapping is handled doesn’t fall into the trope of fridging important female characters; leading to an excellent climax we really enjoyed.

The game flow itself is just as tight as the aesthetic. The case itself is certainly not insubstantial, but there is always an excellent sense of progression throughout the adventure. The puzzles are fantastically themed and tie into the Cupid Killer’s strange machinations appropriately, with his taunts and games feeling almost Riddler-esque. One particular puzzle is one we’ve seen a few times before, but with an added twist that breathed new life into what could otherwise have become tiresome. The game itself is well layered as usual, but there are some great points at which the puzzle path takes a few twists back around cleverly, and opens up new riddles we hadn’t noticed before. There’s even a killer cookie recipe that can actually be made and, from what I hear, tastes delicious! Finally, as of this case, Sleuth Kings no longer sends out your epilogue letter for delivery a few days after you’ve solved the case. While this does hurt the immersion factor ever so slightly, it’s nice to have some closure immediately close at hand. Sullivan still sends a follow up email regarding the meta-case a few days later, ensuring that your Sleuth Kings Solving High (TM) lasts a few extra days.

One last note, even if you don’t need a hint, check out Celest’s hint files included online after you’ve closed the case. Even if you don’t usually prefer to use her hints, for this one, it adds a lot to the story and closes what otherwise could seem like a plot hole. I have never seen a hint system tied so excellently into the story before, and Celest’s observations were a fantastic way to flesh out some aspects of the story. I’m glad we ended up needing a hint, because it would’ve been a shame to miss out on the easter eggs hidden within her hint files.

20190208_095320711736711397538190.jpg

Instant Epilogue Gratification.

Low Points:

There is one odd red herring-ish prop that didn’t seem to have a specific purpose, which was a bit confusing. We’ve become rather used to everything tying into a puzzle or furthering the story in some way, so when an item wasn’t utilized, it took us off track while we tried to deduce its purpose. We also felt as though one puzzle could benefit from a slight bit more cluing, as it didn’t perfectly line up with everything available, leading to a bit of uncertainty as to its validity.

Verdict:

Boasting a Valentine’s themed serial killer, some awesome story based payoff for long time fans, and a dense amount of puzzling, Case 017: The Cupid Killer is one of my favorite cases Sleuth Kings has released so far! Though completing some key previous cases would help players catch all the references, it’s still a great jumping off point for newbies, and I highly recommend it! This case can be purchased 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!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.