Escape Plan Columbia – Floor 23 (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-5 (We recommend 3)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Beautiful, but flawed

Theme:

Floor 23 of the Jefferson Hotel is rumored to be a hotbed of supernatural activity, and you are determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. Unfortunately, you have no idea what to expect during your investigation, as all previous expeditions have disappeared after taking the elevator up! You’ll need to unravel the enigma before whatever happened to them, happens to you!

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First Impressions:

Having been told that Floor 23 is Escape Plan Columbia’s newest game, we were excited, as The Wizard was definitely head and shoulders above Missing and Espionage, the older games. Also, I’m always excited to try out a new room themed after supernatural horror, as it isn’t done nearly as often as the less spooky serial killers and traps themes.

High Points:

Once you make your way to the main part of the experience, the décor, lighting, and theatrical sound sell the environment and bring a great sense of immersion into the experience. The story itself is also very captivating, and should be the main draw of this room, as well paced and detailed stories are an unfortunately rare feature of many escape rooms.

Low Points:

The main problem with Floor 23 lies with the core experience. The bells and whistles of the game are all there, but the main draw, the game and puzzles themselves, do not flow well at all. The room is a linear affair, but there really isn’t much to guide you through the puzzles, making most of them feel like guessing games of varying degrees, a major disappointment when compared to the beautiful set and creepy story. The early game, for us, started off frustrating, as the simple interaction to begin was made overly difficult to overcome due to the need to apply way more force than we were instructed would be necessary. One particular technical failure saw us attempting a solution that did not work before wandering aimlessly and taking a hint, which told us to do the thing that failed to trigger, leading to further frustration. Another late-game puzzle was not only completely nonsensical in it’s solving, but was an unsatisfying end to an otherwise well thought out storyline. Too much obscurity takes what could be a tense and satisfying story based adventure, and bogs it down into a wholly frustrating slog.

Verdict:

The thing that disappointed me most about Floor 23 was that it shows a lot of promise through it’s secondary elements, but fails to deliver through it’s core experience. This could definitely be one of the top rooms in the area with a good bit of tweaking to the game itself, adding connective tissue between puzzles, ensuring technical interactions are clear and working well, and making sure that each part of the game feels purposeful, rather than random. At the moment, however, the excellent set design and story are brought down by a below average game. Escape Plan Columbia are definitely on to something with this one, though, and I hope that they are able to turn this one around. You can investigate the mystery of Floor 23 here.

5/10 (Mediocre)

Full Disclosure: Escape Plan Columbia comped our tickets for this room.

Dispatch – On the Run: Box 1 (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $25 per box, 6 boxes in the first “season”

Special Delivery!

Theme:

Your close childhood friend recently married a beautiful and rich heiress, but soon thereafter she was murdered during their honeymoon! As the chief suspect of the crime, your friend has gone on the run and has been missing for some time. While the manhunt rages on, you receive a mysterious delivery, which turns out to be from him! Use the clues and tidbits inside to unravel the mystery and hopefully clear your friend’s name!

First Impressions:

We had previously enjoyed the rooms at our local Breakout Games, and were excited to see that they were breaking into the hugely popular subscription box market. Though we had tried other boxes with friends, they weren’t quite as exciting as we thought they might be, but with a new series coming out from a well known brand, we were interested to see what one of the big dogs in the escape room business could do!

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Slightly blurred to protect the secrets!

High Points:

Box 1 of On the Run weaves a exciting and mysterious tale of intrigue and conspiracy, and includes quite a few high quality props to help immerse you in the story. Just reading through everything provided in the box and on the web takes up a good hour and does a great job of setting up the world of Dispatch. Once the puzzle solving begins, you’ll need to look back through the story to pick out the pertinent parts, which are sometimes very clear, but are other times buried beneath levels of story. This was, for the most part, a fun investigation, and luckily there is help available on the forums and via an in universe detective agency if you get stuck. The other great thing about Dispatch is that you will 100% know when you are finished with a box, as once the final puzzle is solved, it becomes very clear that you have done what you needed to do. Most other boxes I’ve played around with are very unclear in this area, and I’m glad to see one that has a definite end point for each leg of the story.

Low Points:

The first box is definitely an introductory experience, as there were only a few puzzles included with the massive amount of great world-building. Puzzles were appropriately challenging, and though I was able to solve the box alone, another brain would’ve definitely helped! Those expecting this to be an escape room in a box will be disappointed, as it doesn’t quite have enough puzzles or capture that feeling of breaking out. The writing inside the journal included feels less polished than the rest of the reading materials, but conveys the initial story well enough. The experience, once you are solving the puzzles, ramps up a lot in difficulty after the first one, which could frustrate players who would like a quicker game flow.

Verdict:

On the Run Box 1 was a fun introductory adventure, and I am interested in seeing what comes next. For future boxes, I’d like to see a more even puzzle flow, along with more puzzles in general, but the story and high quality items that were sent make this a definite subscription for me. You can sign up to begin your monthly investigation here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Our first box was provided by Dispatch for free.

Escape Plan Columbia – Espionage (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-10 (We Recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Неосуществленное обещание

Theme:

You are an elite team of spy hunters who’ve been on the trail of a notorious terrorist that has recently threatened Columbia with a bomb that could level the entire city! After tracking him to his lair, you find yourselves locked in with only minutes before the bomb is set to go off! Find and disable the bomb, then get out of there before time runs out!

First Impressions:

At this point, we had completed The Wizard, which was pretty good, and Missing, which left us unimpressed, so it was a toss up so far. After a quick briefing, we were led into a mysteriously decorated first room to start our escape, so we were optimistic for what was to come.

High Points:

The starting point of this room showed promise, and fit the theme well. The mystery and interesting tech that was present was fun to interact with and had us excited for what came next, however the rest of the room failed to live up to the quality of the beginning.

Low Points:

This one was a mess after the initial few puzzles. You could tell that the room was older due to the very low tech and lower quality props that abounded, as well as puzzles that felt like they were from the early escape room days. Mostly code to lock or key to lock interactions, and a distinct lack of variety in the solving. One part of the room included a loud constant beeping which upgraded from annoyance to madness after only a few minutes with no way to muffle the sound. Flow was lacking, and several puzzles included unintentional red herrings and poor cluing that left us adrift; even after taking a hint on a couple, we were still having trouble piecing together the specious logic. The story-line of the room breaks down fairly immediately and there is no real attempt to explore it after the initial briefing and first couple puzzles. The second part of the game feels completely separated from the first, and is unfortunately a pretty big let down after the promise seen in the initial minutes.

Verdict:

Espionage, from what I was told, was Escape Plan Columbia’s first room, and it shows. Luckily, they have improved with their more recent rooms, but this one is definitely showing its age. It definitely feels and plays like an old school escape room, but unfortunately, not in the best way. A major update to the second part of the game that captures the feel and more sleek nature of the starting minutes would definitely improve this one, but for now, I don’t recommend it. Have a look at The Wizard instead. You can book your time tracking the spy here.

3.5/10 (Bad)

 

Full Disclosure: Escape Plan Columbia comped our tickets for this room.

Escape Plan Columbia – The Wizard (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-10 (We Recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

I cast a spell on you!

Theme:

Merlin has been transformed into a tree and as his most promising apprentices, it is up to you to find and restore him! Search his tower for clues, and retrieve the powerful artifact capable of turning him back into his true form. Do it quickly, though, as once the magic has taken full hold, the great wizard will be gone forever!

First Impressions:

We were initially much more impressed with the design of The Wizard and could tell that it was a more recent addition to the business in comparison to Missing. Lighting effects, sound, and set design were leagues beyond what we had just experienced, and we had much higher hopes going into this one.

High Points:

As previously mentioned, the room was quite a bit more impressive, and the whimsical set design was playful and mysterious. Nice props as well as technical puzzles were scattered throughout and made for an enjoyable and tactile puzzling experience. Movement from the early to late game made good sense, and the design held throughout. Clues were mostly clear and helped direct our path without holding our hands too much.

Low Points:

The game flow was fairly choppy, as some puzzles relied on much fuzzier logic, leading to lulls in the game that were exacerbated by the linear nature of the room. One late game puzzle was increasingly finicky, and required a good bit of fiddling to trigger. This prop also felt out of place as it was not quite as high quality as the other props. Our group of 4 was comfortable and had enough to do, even with the fairly linear puzzle thread, but I believe any more than 6 would start to feel crowded and would not have nearly enough to do.

Verdict:

With a interesting set design as well as a better story and core puzzling experience, we were happier with our experience in The Wizard, and would recommend giving it a shot. Though uneven, the core design is mostly well thought out and delivers a fun adventure to players. A bit of fine-tuning and polish would help launch this one from merely good to fantastic, but is an overall solid experience. You can book your race to save Merlin here!

7/10 (Good)

 

Full Disclosure: Escape Plan Columbia comped our tickets for this room.

Escape Plan Columbia – Missing (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-10 (We Recommend 4-6)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Gone Baby, Gone

Theme:

You’ve been kidnapped by an elusive serial killer, and a team of detectives are trying to find and save you. You’ll have to work together to solve the puzzles and escape before he returns to finish you all off!

First Impressions:

The fairly sparse and generic serial killer theme is still one of my favorite overall guilty pleasures as far as escape rooms go, so I wasn’t overly worried to that point, and when we were told that we’d be separated into two groups, one for the kidnapped victims and one for the detectives, I was fairly excited for this twist. We were briefed just outside of our respective rooms, blindfolded, and set upon the room.

High Points:

The split up as detectives and victims idea was interesting, even though it didn’t play out excellently. Room flow was alright once we were reunited and there were a couple surprises here and there to keep us on our toes. Emphasis on teamwork was appreciated, and worked as intended.

Low Points:

As the kidnapped, my group was locked in a sparse room and had our end of the puzzles solved pretty quickly, and did what little we could to help our teammates. There were several minutes we spent sitting on the floor wishing we were in the next room while we waited for the detectives to figure out how to get us together. Once we had been reunited, we found that the detectives were next to done with most of the puzzles in their room, so we weren’t able to help much there. Due to poor gating, it is very likely that many groups will have the same issue of waiting around for the other group to figure out which puzzle gets everyone back together. Once we entered the final stage of the game, it didn’t take overlong for us to finish up, as the game was fairly sparse overall. Puzzles weren’t overly exciting, and themeing was sparse. For all the good ideas in the beginning, we were fairly unimpressed with the execution. The fact that one group of us were detectives and one were victims could’ve been played up for much better effect, but was sadly just a reason to split us up.

Verdict:

Missing has a few good ideas to start off, but fails to execute properly. Puzzles are overall pretty banal, and do little to excite. There are a couple interactions that lend a fun bright spot, but don’t quite overcome the overall average nature of the room. A major retooling would be necessary for me to recommend this room, but for now, I cannot. If you’d like to check it out, however, you can do so here.

4/10 (Subpar)

 

Full Disclosure: Escape Plan Columbia comped our tickets for this room.