Exit Strategy North – The Mansion (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

“Is everything alright?” “Yep, two corpses, everything’s fine.”

Theme:

You’ve been invited to a dinner party at the mansion of an eccentric billionaire! Rumored to boast 108 rooms and many secret passages, you’re certainly in for the night of your life! Walking up the steps through the stormy night, your excitement builds as the butler greets you and ushers you towards your seats. After laying out the agenda for the evening, the real party gets started, and what a party does your host have in store for you!

First Impressions:

The Mansion is another of Exit Strategy’s newest and most elaborate sets. I had previously been entirely unimpressed with Subject Zero, save for it’s set, so that in and of itself wasn’t enough to get us too excited, but what followed our initial wonder at the design redeemed Exit Strategy greatly in our eyes.

High Points:

There’s not much I can say about the story itself without giving too much away, but I can say that the introduction to The Mansion is one of the best I’ve ever experienced, things start up with a bang, and don’t really let up from there. If you’ve ever wanted to experience the movie Clue as one of the guests, this is the best, and probably the most exciting, chance you’ll get! The set itself is flawless, and contains many secrets that make it more and more believable as you go. Technology used is well integrated, and although we experienced a hiccup during one interaction, the times they popped up, it was surprising and fun to experience! Finally, our Game Master gave a standout performance, and helped deliver a immersive and extremely fun experience on top of the room itself.

Low Points:

Puzzles flow pretty well for the most part, and contain some surprises that we really enjoyed, but some moments of weird logic brought us to a dead stop now and again. The hint system was integrated well in the theme, but the speaker itself was very fuzzy and caused us to need to have hints repeated a few times, eating up more time than was necessary. One technical failure caused us a bit of grief in the early stages of the game, and the immersion was broken a little bit as the fix was done, but it was spotted and corrected quickly, so I don’t fault them too much for it.

Verdict:

The Mansion is a great room, boasting an immersive mystery and well implemented theatrics to help deliver the story. While puzzles can mess with the flow from time to time, the adventure itself is well worth the price of admission. I recommend mystery lovers and Clue fans alike to experience this room, and feel it will be great fun for both beginners and enthusiasts. Book your dinner party here!

8/10 (Great)

2017 Extra Life Charity Event

Hi Everyone! This is a quick break from your regularly scheduled Escape Room content to bring you an announcement about Extra Life 2017.

Every year, I run a charity drive through Extra Life in order to raise money for the Duke Children’s Hospital, a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital that helps care for sick kids, many from families who couldn’t otherwise afford the critical care they need. Extra Life unites thousands of gamers around the world to play games in support of their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. Since its inception in 2008, Extra Life has raised more than $30 million for sick and injured kids. This is our fifth year running the drive, and are looking to make this year the best one yet, but we need your help to do so! If you’ve enjoyed my site or just want to help kids in need, please consider making a donation, even as little as $5 helps a lot! 100% of your tax deductible donation stays local to fund critical treatments, healthcare services, pediatric medical equipment and charitable care. If you’d like to help out, just click the donate link to the right of the screen here! That would be amazingly cool of you!

Also, we have a tabletop RPG convention that we run in conjuction with our drive, Extra Life 4: A Fistful of Cheat Tokens runs annually at The Gamer’s Armory in Cary, North Carolina and features a plethora of RPG gaming to enjoy over the weekend of Nov. 4th and 5th. Sign ups for Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers’ games are here and here. We also features tables for Dungeons and Dragons Adventurer’s League and Pathfinder/Starfinder Society. Not sure what these games are? No problem! The vast majority of tables are open to newcomers unless otherwise stated. Tables will be $5 or $15 for the weekend, and all proceeds for Convention play will go towards supporting the kids at Duke Children’s Hospital as part of the Extra Life donation drive. Donations above and beyond the registration cost are always appreciated! If you’re in the area, I hope you can attend!

Whether you are attending Extra Life 4 or just want to donate, I appreciate all the help you can give! If you have any questions about the drive, just let me know using the Contact form!

Thanks in advance!

Brandon Smith ~ Escape Room Adventurer

Experience the BlackOut – Trade Street Epidemic (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Weird Science

Theme:

Recently, the Agency has discovered a plot to unleash a zombification virus onto Charlotte by a brilliant scientist’s insane lab assistant, and is sending your team of BlackOut Agents into the field to find the cure he was working on!  The data was hidden away before his assistant could get to it, but the lab is currently under high security, and could possibly be home to undead creatures. It is up to you to figure out the clues left behind, and retrieve the data before the virus is let loose on the city, but stay on your toes, as time isn’t the only enemy working against you!

First Impressions:

Per usual, BlackOut’s theatrical approach brings you into the story long before you step into the room, joining a dim but comfortable lobby with a staff that remains in character throughout your experience. The briefing and transportation to your assignment are all expertly done, and do a great deal to immerse you into their world.

High Points:

Actor interactions are well timed and intense, allowing for a couple different ranges in emotion and excitement. Puzzles lead well into each other, and cluing is specific enough to allow the flow to work cohesively, if not perfectly. The theatrics push the story forward well, and add a level of pressure to the experience.

Low Points:

Of the three experiences that BlackOut has to offer, Trade Street Epidemic is the most basic. The décor is very banal overall and puzzling doesn’t quite rise to the level of South End Psycho and Cell Block 704. Puzzles are average and serviceable, but do little to excite, especially for seasoned escapists. One interaction feels like it has become overdone and highly predictable for the theme, and the execution does little to justify its addition. Several lock types show up multiple times, so it isn’t always clear what goes where.

Verdict:

While an alright room, Trade Street Epidemic feels like just another zombie themed room in an industry that’s already flooded with zombies. While some take the theme to new heights, like Undead Outbreak, this one feels like it is just barely above average, which is disappointing due to BlackOut’s track record for stellar theatrical experiences. This one will appeal more to beginners who haven’t yet become veterans in the fight against zombies, and unless you’re finishing up your quest for a plaque on BlackOut’s Agent wall, I’d say enthusiasts can safely skip this one. You can book your mission here!

5.5/10 (Mediocre)

Conundrum Escapes – Airship Legacy (Review)

Location: Garner, NC

Players:  2-10 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $27.63 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

A world of anachronism, wonder, and clockwork!

Theme:

Conundrum Labs specializes in creating interdimensional rifts in time and space in order to send agents into situations where they can help those who need it across the multiverse! In Airship Legacy, a girl named Molly needs your help to ensure she receives the inheritance her late uncle left behind for her. A brilliant clockwork inventor, Molly’s uncle hid away his plans for a new airship that’s sure to be a gold mine! Unfortunately, he died under mysterious circumstances and was unable to communicate the method of finding the plans. To make matters worse, an evil Duke is set to take everything that is rightfully Molly’s should she fail to snatch the plans from under his nose. You’ve been teleported to the presumed location of the plans, but you’ve only 60 minutes before the portal closes, so be quick!

First Impressions:

Conundrum is a fairly new business, and their lobby is still evolving, but they presented a welcoming face through their staff, as well as by presenting us with small hand made puzzle boxes to work on while we waited for our booked time to begin. These were fun little warm ups that contained a few fun surprises, and helped get us into the puzzling mindset.

High Points:

The ongoing theme of Conundrum Labs is an interesting way to tie multiple rooms with disparate themes together throughout the business, and helps with the immersion right off the bat. The original steampunk theme was well conveyed, and the room was lightheartedly themed and well focused. Puzzles ran across a good range, and were varied, allowing everyone a chance to shine. Props are true to the theme, and are great fun to interact with. Puzzles included a fair amount of original interactions and hand-built items that were obviously lovingly crafted. The climax of the room is surprising and appropriately entertaining.

Low Points:

There was one instance of outside knowledge needed for a puzzle, it was light, but I can definitely see a few groups being unable to progress if they don’t know the answer. One technical interaction felt fairly finicky, and though we had the solution correct, we had to try it several times in order to trigger the unlocking mechanism. One of the penultimate puzzles is a personal least favorite of mine, and my group agreed that it didn’t feel up to par with the rest of the room’s quality.

Verdict:

Airship Legacy is a great first room for Conundrum, combining technological and mechanical puzzles within an original theme.  For beginners, it will be a good first foray into escaping, and will provide an exciting introduction to escape room tropes, and enthusiasts will enjoy the unique theme and puzzles within. With more rooms coming just on the horizon, I recommend giving this room a shot! You can book your interdimensional travel here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Conundrum Escapes provided Media discounted tickets for our team

Rush Hour Escapes – Medieval Heist (Review)

Location: Fuquay-Varina, NC

Players: 2-10 (We Recommend 4-6)

Price: $24 per person (Wed-Thurs) or $26 per person (Fri-Sat)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Ocean’s 1311

Theme:

The scheming crown prince has stolen the throne from his father; unceremoniously exiling him from his own kingdom! It is up to you and your fellow rogues to break into the castle, steal back the crown, and ensure that order is restored by returning it to the rightful king! Do it quickly, however! The new king is not known for his gentle dealings with spies.

First Impressions:

We were pleasantly surprised with the more detailed set design of Medieval Heist, as well as the readily apparent realization that the room was much less linear than The Inheritance. It was already obvious that there would be several tactile interactions to be had, with several creative looking puzzles beckoning us!

High Points:

The non linear threads wove around each other expertly throughout the experience, and came together at perfect points throughout. The sheer variety to be had in this room was a lot of fun, and allowed everyone to pitch in with their areas of expertise. Puzzles were interesting and thoughtful, leading up to many eureka moments. Story was light, but everything remained on theme, and many puzzles added to the immersion by being an integral part of the heist. Even though we still had 38:54 left on the clock when we completed the room, we felt as though we’d been puzzling for much longer, as the flow of the room was extraordinarily good. All members of our 5 person party were engaged throughout, and we experienced no boring dead time. The ending was appropriately climactic, and provided an excellent capstone to the adventure.

Low Points:

One instance of outside knowledge may frustrate some players. A couple parts of the set near the beginning did not feel quite as polished to fit within the medieval theme, but this was a minor issue.

Verdict:

Medieval Heist is a rare room in that it contains an amazing game flow that didn’t lull at all! Puzzles lead from one to the next in an intuitive way, and very little ambiguity is experienced during solving. The experience is great for beginners and enthusiasts, as the room contains a lot of interesting things to do, while still maintaining an excellent cohesion. The maximum of 10 may be far too many, especially during the early game, but 5 players felt just right for us. I highly recommend checking this room out! You can book your daring heist here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full disclosure: Rush Hour Escapes provided media discounted tickets for our group.

Rush Hour Escapes – The Inheritance (Review)

Location: Fuquay-Varina, NC

Players:  2-8 (We Recommend 2-4)

Price: $24 per person (Wed-Thurs) or $26 per person (Fri-Sat)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Show me the money!

Theme:

Grandma has been sent away to a nursing home by her greedy children, who’ve done so in the hopes of finding the cash she’s hidden away. Luckily, her late husband set up puzzles and traps to keep it safe for just this sort of situation! Unluckily, he never got the chance to tell grandma how they worked. She’s sent you to her home to pick up her medicine for her, and if you are able, find the money! If you can, it’s all yours.

First Impressions:

Rush Hour Escapes is part of the a new set of escape businesses that have been popping up in shopping centers, which is great for visibility, and an obvious evolution from older locations hidden away in business centers and warehouse districts. Easy to find, cleanly laid out, and a great advertisement for escape rooms by virtue of its visibility. Staff is personable, and very helpful!

High Points:

One particular puzzle was very tactile and enjoyable to put together, leading us through a fairly satisfying run of connections toward the solution. GMing was well done, and hints were given as needed when we needed a nudge forward. The soundtrack in the room was unobtrusive, but added a nice vibe to the experience overall. The theme itself is original and creative, and well out of the escape room norms. A few of the puzzles had a nice vibe that encouraged thinking outside of the box, and were innovatively done.

Low Points:

The room was vastly linear, and unfortunately not in a way that allows more than two people to work on a puzzle at a time. For the majority of the experience, it felt as though there was a lot of waiting around for at least 3 members of the team. Many puzzles felt overly ambiguous in their solutions, and on a couple of occasions, the solutions themselves were unsatisfying and caused us to groan. One large unintentional red herring caused us significant frustration, and the room at several points felt like it was meant to trick players, but not in an enjoyable way. Décor was appropriate for a grandma’s house, but did little to excite. The experience as a whole had few real standout points, feeling average at best.

Verdict:

The Inheritance is a room that feels more adversarial than most escape rooms I’ve been in. Though the theme is based on a booby trapped, hidden away inheritance, escape rooms should not be frustrating to experience. With a bit of fine tuning and clearer cluing, I feel like this room could be much better, but as of right now, it’s just run of the mill. Funnily enough, I feel like beginners will have an easier time with the room, due to red herrings seeming to be positioned to mix up enthusiasts, but don’t think this room would be a good introduction to escape rooms for a new player. Enthusiasts themselves will more than likely feel underwhelmed by the experience, and frustrated by unclear puzzling. Hopefully, further iteration can make this a more worthy experience, but based on our visit, I cannot recommend this one. If you’d like to book a search for the Inheritance, you can do so here.

5/10 (Mediocre)

Full disclosure: Rush Hour Escapes provided media discounted tickets for our group.

International Spy Museum – Operation Spy (Review)

Location: Washington DC

Players: Up to 15 (As an interactive theatre experience, any amount will do)

Price: Depends on your ticket package, see here.

Length of Mission: 60 minutes

No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!

Theme:

Accepting your first mission with a shadowy government spy agency, you and your team are transported to Khandar for a mission filled with intrigue and betrayal! A possible political assassination, a stolen doomsday device, and shifting alliances are only a few problems you’ll have to deal with during your mission! Based on actual CIA case files, Operation Spy is promised to be an experience unlike any other!

First Impressions:

Going in, I knew Operation Spy was more of an interactive theatre experience than an escape room, even though it was built by the highly recommended 5Wits. We enjoyed the Spy Museum before embarking on our mission, and it is top notch, containing a huge James Bond exhibit with a lot of interactive exhibits and props from a whole range of movies to marvel at! Upon our arrival at the briefing point, we were introduced to each other and the world of Khadar before meeting our contact.

High Points:

Our contact kept the high energy pace going throughout the experience, and helped lead us from point to point during this interactive adventure. There were several points throughout that felt like an “escape room lite” especially a hectic and pulse quickening bit during the middle of the game, and the puzzles that were delivered were fun and responsive. The story is well crafted, and evolved throughout the experience, with parts of the narrative branching based on the group’s actions. Throughout the many different areas we moved through, transitions were smooth and convincing, and the theatrical sets were incredible. For each puzzling interaction, there was enough for each member of the group to work together with others, leaving very little downtime.

Low Points:

On the flip side, having a large amount of strangers to work with can be difficult. In an escape room, random teammates can be good or bad, but are usually a certain type of person who has fun solving real life, large scale puzzles. The nature of the Spy Museum ensured we encountered a few teammates who were just along for the ride, and couldn’t quite pull their weight for their sections. Those going in expecting a full escape room experience will be disappointed, and most puzzling will be fairly simple for those who are enthusiasts. The show itself runs at a fast pace, and we’d hit a great part of the experience, only to have to shuttle out long before we’d exhausted the fun we could have in each segment.

Verdict:

As an interactive theatre experience, Operation Spy is a great addition to a visit to the International Spy Museum. There’s no real need to visit if you’re only interested in an escape room, but as a live, interactive show, it’s great fun! It’s also a good breather during DC escape marathons, as the puzzling is light, and allows several points where you can catch a rest. I definitely recommend checking it out! You can book your mission here!

7.5/10 (Good)

The Escape Lounge – Escape the Oval Office (Review)

Location: Washington DC

Players: 4-10 (We Recommend 4-5)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

“Scandal”

Theme:

As a group of White House correspondents, you’ve gotten wind of a brewing scandal surrounding the President. The details are all nebulous right now, but you’ve found your way into the Oval Office, and have an hour to find out what’s going on so you can break the story once you escape!

First Impressions:

When entering the Escape Lounge, we were greeted by the upbeat owner and her well decorated lobby just up the stairs from the street. They were preparing for a birthday party, but were happy to stop and help us get briefed and ready for our room.

High Points:

The room itself was a decent facsimile of the Oval Office, and the centerpiece was quite convincing, it was, unfortunately, not oval, but building codes being what they are, we didn’t think much of it. Some unique props were to be found, and were satisfying to open. A few surprises were to be had, opening up parts of the room that seemed rather solid at first glance. The hint delivery system itself was cute.

Low Points:

So many escape room sins were committed here, and they built upon each other as we went, culminating in what may be the most disappointing conclusion to a room we’ve seen in a good while. The room had a CD player belting out overly loud, random music, which we were luckily able to turn down. A massive amount of double cluing ended up developing several dead ends along the way that only made sense once puzzles were solved. Some parts of the room had no bearing on anything, and were egregious red herrings. Many hiding spots were unintuitive and seemed to be placed for artificial difficulty rather than adding to the experience. A lot of the room felt as though it drifted off theme, and the over use of one particularly cliché prop exhausted us with its over implementation. The story didn’t build in a coherent way, and the climax fell completely flat. As a whole, the room felt like a random collection of average puzzles, glossed over with a political sheen.

Verdict:

Overly banal and haphazard, Escape the Oval Office is a disappointment. Our expectations of its theme remained unachieved, turning what could’ve been a story of puzzling political intrigue into a groanworthy flop. Enthusiasts will have seen it done much better before and beginners should steer clear. If you’d like to try it out for yourself, however, you can do so here.

3/10 (Poor)

Escape Quest – Black Widow (Review)

Location: Alexandria, VA

Players:  2-8 (We Recommend 4-6)

Price: $34 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Y’know, after the death of husband #3, you’d think she wouldn’t be so alluring…

Theme:

The Black Widow is a notorious alleged serial killer whose previous three husbands have all died under mysterious and violent circumstances. Her fourth husband has recently gone missing, and though the police have nothing so far, they’ve hired your group of private investigators to break into her home and find out what happened. Uncover the truth quickly, though, as you don’t want to get caught in her web!

First Impressions:

The Black Widow’s home is lovely, and eerie, with signs of her subtle madness hidden throughout the room. As always from Escape Quest, the attention to detail and production values are wonderful and immediately immersive. Rooms feel nothing like the usual converted office spaces, and help transport you into a new space while telling their stories.

High Points:

Along with the immersive and beautiful room, comes a slew of thought provoking puzzling. Each item leads from spot to spot, but in a subtle way, allowing for quite a few moments of revelation. While building toward the meta puzzle, new revelations are found, and each step is satisfying in it’s feedback when solved. All details of the room are woven into the puzzling, and finding small details or prop interactions were very enjoyable. The reveal near the end is exciting, and the climax feels appropriate and fun. One puzzle in particular is tactile and feels great when solving, but also helps build a creepier atmosphere once it has been completed.

Low Points:

We accidentally skipped one puzzle, which was optional, but became a sort of an unintentional red herring for us near the end. The solution for a couple puzzles felt a bit tenuous and in one case, we found that a certain puzzle was used twice in different ways, which was fairly unusual.  

Verdict:

Black Widow was our final room during our DC trip, and I couldn’t have asked more a more enjoyable experience for our capstone. This adventure left me wanting more, and I cannot wait to return to Escape Quest to see what they can cook up next. As with all of their rooms, I very much recommend you give them a try. Beginners and Enthusiasts will find something to enjoy here, and I would say that Escape Quest is the overall best company to visit in the DC area, definitely give them as shot if you’re in the area. Book your investigation into the Black Widow here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Escape Quest comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Quest – Captain’s Quarters (Review)

Location: Alexandria, VA

Players: 2-6 (We Recommend 4-5)

Price: $34 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

We’re bad guys, but we’re not THE bad guys!

Theme:

As a crew of privateers, you’ve been patrolling the high seas with your letter of marque, taking down enemies of The Crown and keeping a tidy bit of the spoils for yourselves. But your pirate past beckons when you find a rival Captain has commandeered a large chest of gold and jewels for himself. Under the cover of night, you sneak into his quarters with a trusted few in order to take the bounty for yourselves! But be quick, the Captain will return shortly, and he’ll be none too pleased to find you lurking about…

First Impressions:

We were told that Captain’s Quarters was one of Escape Quest’s earliest rooms, and though our GM thought we’d be less impressed by this room due to this, we were still wowed by the great production value of this room. There was an exciting soundtrack playing to spur us along, and though this was our 3rd room in a row here, we were energized and excited to continue escaping!

High Points:

Though this was a strictly linear, Generation 1 room that included limited tech and mostly lock inputs, it fit the theme and remained an enjoyable escape. The room itself was comfortable for our group of 4, and could easily fit the maximum of 6, which is rare for escape rooms, I find. Props were convincing and enjoyable to work with, and puzzles connected well from one to the next. One particular teamwork puzzle was a fun surprise, and searching through the room turned up some entertaining hidden compartments. One thing I very much enjoyed about Escape Quest, was that they took the standard after escape photo inside of the room, using props you’ve found throughout, turning the usual memento into something a bit more exciting.

Low Points:

Some players will be disappointed by the lack of technical items in the room, especially if they’ve recently played one of Escape Quest’s more technology heavy games. One entertaining teamwork puzzle was a bit more well hidden than felt necessary, but was fun once we’d found it. A couple props felt a bit off theme, but weren’t enough to break the immersion. Some puzzles I had seen before, and were, we were told, part of a prepurchased set, so there may be some repeats for Enthusiasts, though the puzzles were well done overall.

Verdict:

The Captain’s Quarters is a fun experience, but is probably best suited for those new to the Escape Room hobby. Beginners will enjoy this as a low-tech introduction to escape rooms, but Enthusiasts will escape quickly, and may have a few repeats in puzzles. I recommend trying this one out if you’re into the theme or are introducing new players to Escape Rooms, but if you’re more experienced, check out the excellent Black Widow, King’s Ransom, or Lost Temple rooms at Escape Quest, which are newer, and should be more challenging for you! Book your heist in the Captain’s Quarters here!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Escape Quest comped our tickets for this game.