Virtual Escape – Ben’s Big Heist (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: We recommend 3-4 players

Price: $45 AUD per person (About $32.05 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Needs the more money! All the more!

Theme:

From the Virtual Escape website:

Ever wanted to rob a bank? Now’s your chance! You’ve got 60 minutes to steal as much loot as you can.

Bypass security, crack vaults, fill the loot bags and safely escape.

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First Impressions:

We always enjoy knocking over banks… in escape rooms, of course! As a puzzling team of Bonnie and Clydes, trying to rob a vault blind is always an intense and exciting adventure. Virtual Escape looked to be a bit different than a usual virtual escape, as it would be played through WhatsApp, which I downloaded especially for this game. I was interested to see how the game would flow through a texting based platform, as we were very much used to seeing our Game Master live and working through puzzles through Zoom. Thanks also to EscapeTheRoomers for inviting us along!

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High Points:

For Ben’s Big Heist, we were contacted by our Game Master through WhatsApp, acting as Ben, who was just about ready to get started breaking into his first bank! He needed our help however, as he, like so many other escape game avatars, was completely unable to solve the puzzles on his own! The first couple interactions were straightforward, helping us get used to how we interacted with the game, and then the real challenges began. While some of the starting puzzles threw off the difficulty curve a bit, later puzzles flowed supremely well, and once the game found its footing, the linear puzzling provided some great ah ha moments and clever enigmas! Almost all of the challenges presented by the game are teamwork based, ensuring that every member of the team remains fully engaged with the experience, and allows for multi-level solving that keeps things interesting. Even one of the more banal interactions still created a sense of teamwork that elevated it somewhat over basic math.

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Later on in the game, things become much more intense, as time began to run low and we still had a vault to clear! Once we cleared out the bank, (setting a, at the time, record of $4,845,000,) the game wasn’t over, and we had to solve a couple more conundrums before the police arrived. This end game run of “boss level” vaults and a daring, if somewhat silly, escape truly ramped up the stakes and delivered a fantastic level of intensity to the adventure. The final vaults are a choice between the easier level vault for a smaller reward and a more difficult vault for a much bigger reward. Luckily we had time to take on both, and I can definitely confirm that both are a satisfying bunch of multilayered puzzles. Though I liked the more difficult vault more for its truly satisfying solves, the easier vault was still a lot of fun and a close second. Speeding away from the bank was highly satisfying, and receiving our final score was a fantastic way to cap off the experience.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle involved some translation that would be a bit more cumbersome than usual. Our team was very lucky in that one person was able to quickly translate for us, but had we been on our own, this would’ve been a fairly clunky puzzle for us. There were a few math based puzzles, which were banal for us. I know some folks really love math puzzles, but the majority of the people I play with tend not to enjoy them unless they’re really well integrated with the room. If the math was somewhat more interactive, it would be a little more interesting, and while it does present a good teamwork challenge, the presentation leaves a bit to be desired. The game itself started out a little rough, and most of the issues presented in this section are overcome by the second half, so a smoother introduction would definitely help. One puzzle required the use of a QR code, which, as I was already using my phone for WhatsApp, was not readable by me. Luckily, one of our teammates sorted it out and sent the link, but it may be better if the GM could just send the link along. Finally, WhatsApp isn’t quite the best method of presentation for the game, it was fairly wonky overall, and felt like more of an impediment to overcome than anything. Most of the time, I was translating links onto my desktop in order to better experience the puzzles. Zoom or other web conferencing sites have chat functions, so it wouldn’t be hard to change over to a somewhat more intuitive platform.

Verdict:

Ben’s Big Heist has some hurdles to overcome to become truly a great game, but it is still a solid time, and fun to work through on the whole. Enthusiasts who enjoy bank heist rooms that measure how much you can steal will enjoy this the most, but newcomers can still enjoy the room’s clever puzzling and heist based excitement. I recommend checking it out if you’re looking for something a little bit different from the norm. Book your time helping Ben liberate some cash here!

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7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Virtual Escape provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Roobicks – Escape the Basement (Review)

Kara’s Note: This review was brought to you by me! 🙂

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 6 players total, 2 per team

Price: $20/person or $30/shared device

Theme:

From the Roobicks’ website:

You’re on your way to an open house at a rustic country cottage. You’re expecting an idyllic retreat, but arrive to find the house in shambles. You can’t help having have a look downstairs…but then you hear the door lock behind you. There’s an elevator with a keypad, but you have to find the code. To do so, solve puzzles with your team by drawing together on the screen!

First Impressions:

We were invited to this competition room by our friends at Escape the Roomers, and were also joined by Review the Room. I’m usually not *that* competitive of a person overall, but was certainly curious as to how things would go!

Yay Points:

Story-wise, this room was simple, but effective. Everything was presented in a very smooth and effective way, and the story line progressed very nicely as you overcome each task. Though our goal was to “escape”, the game seemed more of a “pub quiz”, but with puzzles instead of trivia. It made for a light story, but not in a bad way, as it gave enough context for each brainteaser and made them into the focus.

The puzzles had a mixture of types, which will definitely cater to those with a diverse skillset (and makes for an interesting competition!). We had a nice oooh moment when we figured out how to interpret one riddle. And there were a couple of neat twists/effects that elevated some puzzles. The game design also allowed each team to experience the same activities with the only pressure being time (a true “friendly” competition in my opinion). I really enjoyed this aspect, and it was fun to hear about how the other teams progressed and approached each task after we were all done. If I remember correctly, I believe this game may have intended to be geared towards corporate team building. I think it does well to serve that purpose!

This was my first virtual competitive room, and I’m happy to say that the overall set-up of it went pretty smooth as well. Though we were all in one Zoom call, each team was given their own breakout room. We were also able to annotate the screens for each task as needed, partially for ourselves and partially so our GM could keep tabs on our progress. Our experience was a little more unique since we had one GM that managed all 3 teams (though I think typically there’s one GM per breakout room), but it went overall smoothly.

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Pondering Points:

This game might seem a bit easier for enthusiasts. I think there were about 5 puzzles total, and Brandon and I took first place, finishing the game in about ~25 minutes, and the last team taking ~37 minutes to complete the game). I would definitely recommend this game to be played competitively, in particular for enthusiasts as that might bolster your experience.

The puzzles definitely progressed in complexity, which is a great thing, though the last puzzle is definitely a more time-consuming puzzle that players will either love or hate depending on their time preferences.

Verdict:

If you’re looking for corporate team building or some friendly competition between family/friends, I think this game would work really well. I certainly had a good time and it was fun to see who would “get out” first! Book your frantic escape from the basement here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Roobicks provided us with a complementary game. 

Sleuth Kings – Case 201: Monster Madness Pt. 1 – Abduction (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

They did the Mash. They did the Monster Mash!

Theme:

From the Sleuth Kings website:

Sullivan King had only heard whispers about a new criminal group – until their reign of terror made things personal for him.

The group – filled with self-proclaimed zombies, vampires, and other monsters – has its hand in everything from selling drugs to abducting people. Although they have police baffled, Sullivan is sure of one thing: he’s going to do whatever it takes to stop them.

Can you help Sullivan uncover the group’s monstrous secret and bring them to justice before they hurt someone else?

First Impressions:

Sleuth Kings has made a slight adjustment to their subscription model, starting with this case. Abduction starts off a new set of four cases that will tie into an over arching mystery, while still remaining a stand alone mystery itself. I’m always interested in longer term mysteries and meta-narratives, so I was excited to see what was new with this case!

High Points:

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Sleuth Kings may have changed up the subscription model, but the general set up of the box itself has largely remained the same subscription we’ve gotten to know and have loved for the past few years. That being said, while this box works excellently as a stand alone mystery, there are still a few good cliff hangers left over by the time the current mystery is solved, and I can’t wait to see what sort of crazy high jinks initiate the proceedings of the next case in the series. I’m voting for Zombie Ghost Vampires… from space! The story line for this mystery is well written, and I love that Sleuth Kings continues to come up with light hearted, yet completely wild story lines for us to investigate. The fact that the kidnappers are part of this weird alien conspiracy theory network, (not a spoiler, it’s pretty clear from the start,) makes me immediately want to know more about them and their motivations, and the tidbits that are shared through the clues provided are fantastic. Especially their super handy, 90s teen magazine quiz! (I’m not even kidding. There is a quiz, it is hilariously written, and we took a break in the middle of the game to take it. Totally worth it.)

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The puzzles for this box start out really strong, and we really enjoyed how well they fit together with each other. Though we did run into somewhat of a road block about halfway through, once we had overcome it, the game settled back into the usual, fantastic flow. All the puzzles integrate excellently into the story, and each new item is more excellent than the last! Especially, as can be seen above, the bumper sticker included. I kind of wish it came with two so I could put one on my review journal and keep the other one with the box! Abduction, more than other cases, has several clues that are just plain fun to read, and some of my favorite puzzles have some truly hilarious writing included. The design of each clue and prop is superb, and, as always, I love how they layer atop one another to create some really satisfying solves. To top everything off, the epilogue is great, and provides a tidy ending to the story, while keeping the door open for more monstrous investigations! It also includes my favorite ending gift of any case thus far.

Low Points:

While the mystery starts out really strong, things get very muddled around the halfway point. There was somewhat of a dearth of cluing during a particular puzzle which had us casting about, trying to find a foothold in one of the clues, but having quite a bit of trouble due to the ambiguity of the wordings. Once we had it solved, it made a lot more sense, but we really had to work for it as the hints provided weren’t quite as directed as we had hoped they would be. While we eventually got there, some tighter cluing and more direct hints would have taken a fair bit of the frustration out of the process. One puzzle in particular will be familiar to long term players, and those veterans will know immediately what to do, taking a little bit of the challenge out, but we haven’t seen this sort of puzzle in a long while, so it isn’t that low of a point for us, more of a heads up for veteran sleuths. (I myself was actually really excited when I saw the telltale prop!)

Verdict:

Abduction starts off strong, but can be a bit difficult to parse before finishing up with an interesting climax. We did enjoy the case overall, however, and are interested to see where the Monster Madness saga takes us next! It’s no secret that I loved Blood P.I. and The Haunting, so I’m hoping for Vampires and Ghosts next! You can purchase this and other 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!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

District 3 Escape Rooms – The Cabin (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

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

Price: $27 CAD per person (About $19.87 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Serial Kidnappers and Puzzle Filled Cabins… the new Peanut Butter and Jelly!

Theme:

From the District 3 Escape Rooms website:

There has been a series of kidnappings near a cabin. After locking your group up, the kidnapper leaves to find more trespassers. In trying to escape, you begin to learn more about who’s cabin it is, who the enemy is, why he kidnapped you, and what he is trying to hide.

First Impressions:

District 3 Escape Rooms came highly recommended to us by another escape room in the area, Mystery Mansion Regina, and I’m glad they gave us the heads up about these virtual rooms, and we had an excellent time working through an escape room double header during our lockdown! It may not be the 8-23 room marathons we’re used to, but taking on more than one room in a day helped us feel just a little bit more normal during the pandemic.

High Points:

As with most rooms we’ve experienced virtually, we would have loved to take this one on in person, but due to the pandemic, we are glad we were able to visit District 3 virtually! This room translates very well to the remote play experience, and it is, as always, a great time seeing our “Keyed Up!” team for some weekly escapes. Our Game Master/Avatar ensured we had a great time by interacting with us as we joked around, and assisted us with giving the room a thorough, streamlined search. Once we’d had a good look around, he was very responsive in reacting to our requests, and piecing together exactly what we were trying to say when we asked him to “put the doo-dad in the whatzit.” Truly, all remote escape game GMs absolutely deserve a pay raise for their long-suffering patience with us. The inventory system is great, displaying those items that were harder to read virtually, or we needed to come back to reference, and as we utilized props successfully, they automatically disappeared from view so as not to clutter up the window.

Puzzles themselves glide well across the linear game flow, and as we revealed new clues, it was fairly intuitive what needed to be done next. The breadcrumbs that have been sprinkled along the path are clear, and never become obtuse, ensuring that challenges remain fair. Though this is an older room with a few puzzles that may have popped up a time or two for expert players, these puzzles are still presented in an entertaining way, and don’t give off a feeling of “been there, done that,” but rather conceal a twist or two to ensure the process of solving stays fresh. One particular favorite of mine took a style of puzzle we’ve seen a few times, and tweaked it ever so slightly to ensure that we had to think just a little bit further out of the box than usual in order to put everything together. I thought it was a fun tweak that displayed the creativity of the designers well. As referenced in our previous review of Haunted, District 3 does a great job ensuring that the final debriefing continues the fun by presenting us with achievements that tie into their point system. It’s fun to see what sorts of milestones your team overcame during your game, and the extra personal touch to the finale is a fantastic way to cap off a room.

Low Points:

The Cabin itself was a very first generation room, and while that translate to a virtual setting well, the set isn’t quite as fancy, and the game itself is very much focused on locks, for the most part. The game can come across as a little “escape room-y” in parts, as the story tends to be more of a back drop for the puzzles rather than the puzzles being fully integrated into the story. There are a few puzzles that tie in, but overall, the story is most present at the beginning and only evolves slightly during the game. On the whole, we enjoyed the room, but the puzzles were generally geared more towards a less experienced crowd, so we didn’t happen across any particularly mind twisting enigmas or explosive moments of revelation.

Verdict:

The room is a good time, and is a solid experience, but is definitely more geared toward newer players, and enthusiasts might find it a bit easier. We enjoyed our time (virtually) inside The Cabin overall, however and would recommend it to players looking for a more introductory style room. Enthusiasts will still find a lot to like, as there are some good surprises and fun interactions to be found. Book your time escaping the mysterious kidnapper here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: District 3 Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

MPower Escape Rooms – The Cabin (Virtual Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

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

Price: $49.95 for the first 2 connections; $14.95 for each additional connection

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Ain’t nothing but gators out there in the swamp!

Theme:

From the MPower Escape Rooms website:

Tracking your friend’s last known whereabouts, you find yourself near a cabin deep in the Bayou. You and your team will need to search for clues and crack the codes in order to solve the mystery.

First Impressions:

MPower Escape Rooms was interestingly set up, and after speaking to our Game Master regarding our upcoming experience, we were virtually taken to their lobby to be given our mission briefing as well as get set up within the virtual systems they are using. This was a great start, as I’ve not seen such an in depth, yet brief tutorial for a virtual room before. I could tell that they’d put a good bit of effort into ensuring players were comfortable with the system, so I had high hopes for the in room experience!

High Points:

During our time in quarantine, we’ve played a lot of virtual escape rooms, and they’ve all provided very different experiences. Some are highly theatrical, some remind me of popular video games and movies, and some are fun puzzle rooms. The Cabin, however, is a first for us, as it is the first virtual escape room we’ve played that replicates the feeling of being in an escape room with your friends very well! This is due to the incredible implementation of the Telescape software that MPower uses. While we have seen this software used to great effect in other rooms to provide inventory systems, MPower has done a fantastic job porting the entire room into Telescape, allowing our group to split up to search separate rooms, check out different puzzles and props, and work on different puzzles, all while being in the comfort of our own home! It was great to be able to fall into our old rhythm of searching a room and calling out what we’ve found; dividing and conquering based on our puzzle preferences and strengths. We still worked with our Game Master to search the room, but not in the traditional Virtual Escape Room way. Instead of the GM walking around the room as our avatar, we searched the room virtually on our own, and if we saw something suspicious or interesting, we could ask them if we found anything by searching said area. If so, we were rewarded with a new hot spot or video revealing what we discovered. Overall, the set up and presentation of this room was beautifully implemented, and working through it was about as close to doing the room live as I can imagine without popping on a VR headset!

Remote Cabin Picture - Brandon's Team

The room itself is a lot of fun, with a cool, well designed set that starts players off “outside” and tasks them with finding a way into the titular cabin. The difficulty curve of the room was great, starting us off with a few straightforward tasks, (one so straightforward that our group, notorious for overthinking, forgot to use the solution until a good 40 minutes after we discovered it,) and evolving into more challenging, layered conundrums. The puzzles were intuitive, and making connections between the subtle clues, puzzles, and locks was a great, challenging time. The room was also very technological in places, and while most rooms that have implemented tech don’t quite translate very well to the virtual space, we found that the way MPower has converted their room worked perfectly to make sure we got the magical feeling of the tech without actually being there. The room lends itself to teamwork and makes it easy for players to split between rooms and clues to ensure the challenge lies in the puzzle itself, and not the interface. A favorite puzzle of mine involved three of us making some highly satisfying connections in order to put together a tactile interaction into place while our fourth player sussed out the relevance of another puzzle in a separate room. Making a tactile puzzle satisfying is difficult remotely, and I’m pleased to say that MPower has made it happen. All told, this room did a wonderful job ensuring all of us remained engaged and puzzling for the full experience.

Low Points:

The story, while wild and crazy, mostly develops during the introduction and conclusion, and while we didn’t mind this, it would have added to the experience to have a little more story integrated into the puzzling. Sometimes there was quite a bit in the inventory, which made it difficult to keep track of what we had and where to find it. The owner, however, is working on streamlining this, so it should be a non issue soon. We also were sidetracked during one puzzle due to a particular word choice that was meant to be interpreted in a slightly broader way than the strict definition would entail. After speaking with the owner regarding this puzzle, though, they seemed receptive to adjusting the phrasing to ensure there were no unintentional red herrings involved with this one.

Verdict:

I am so glad we sought out MPower’s The Cabin for our team’s weekly escape room, as it was an amazing time! Working through this room together was as close to being within the room live as we could imagine, and though we have enjoyed some of the different ways other rooms have implemented their games virtually, nothing quite captured the escape room feeling like The Cabin did. Enthusiasts will love basking in the feeling of “being there” and I think new players will love the intuitive puzzles and great quarantine friendly introduction to escape rooms. Book your time in The Cabin here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: MPower Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.