Escape Room RVA – Unicorns v. Vampires: Unicorn Room (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Price: $25 per person

Players: 2-7 (We Recommend 3-5)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

The Great War is OVAH!

Theme:

An ancient feud between two factions of mythical creatures has begun to erupt into all out war! The dark vampires and shining unicorns have clashed for centuries, but now, the fight for the light has come to a head! As a group of Unicorn champions, you have been called upon to defeat the Vampire menace using your magic, fighting spirit, and puzzle solving ability! Help grow the light, and break through the Vampire’s stronghold to destroy their dark power once and for all!

First Impressions:

Having completed the Vampire room just beforehand, we had gotten a small taste of what the Unicorn room might be like from the attacks the Unicorns had hidden within the Vampire’s lair. This, and the hugely original Unicorn theme intrigued us greatly. Stepping into the stables and beginning our time as unicorn warriors, I had a good feeling about this room from the start!

High Points:

The Vampire room was a lot of fun, but Unicorns took the experience a step beyond! While Vampires are a fairly standard theme for escape rooms, I’d never seen anything like the Unicorns room. Bright, colorful set design, including a disco ball and an amazing soundtrack, helped bring the fantasy world of the unicorns to life in a way that blew away our expectations! We were able to compete with another team during this run, and we could see their progress via a wall of lighted skulls that would darken as they made progress. Puzzles here were perfect for the theme, and opened up small fairy doors that led us towards further parts of the room. There was a great mix of physical and perception based interactions, ciphers, and classic puzzling to be had, and the non-linear nature of the room kept us engaged throughout.

Low Points:

There was one point at which we had done everything we needed to do to trigger the final puzzle, but unfortunately, the interaction did not activate as it should have. However, our excellent game master Alex noticed immediately and made sure we were able to fix the problem asap. Also, as in the Vampires room, the doors opened fairly silently, so sometimes we were unaware that a puzzle had been completed, but this was mitigated slightly by the fairy lights and our expectations coming from that previous room. However, it would still be nice to have an audio cue that ensures players know when they have been successful.

Verdict:

During our 8 room tour of Richmond, the Unicorns room was by far our favorite, combining an amazing atmosphere and engaging puzzles to create a unique experience we’ll remember for a long time! I highly recommend booking this room and taking the fight to the Vampires yourself! Use your Unicorn magic to protect the light here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room RVA provided discounted tickets for our group.

Finders Seekers – March (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Puzzle Hunting at Home!

Theme:

Each month, Finders Seekers invites you to accept a mysterious mission from the head seer. These “finds” are located in exotic cities and involve high stakes, cryptic puzzling, and shadowy societies! You’ll need a clever mind and some google-fu in order to piece together the puzzles and complete the find! And when you do, you might even receive a reward!

First Impressions:

Another snazzy box gave me an idea of what enigmas might lie inside, while still giving off an air of mystique! Finders Seekers was one of the more mysterious boxes I’d received, as each month’s location and conundrum is veiled, ensuring that what you receive in each box is a surprise in itself!

High Points:

Finders Seekers is, at it’s core, a citywide puzzle hunt playable from the comfort of your own home! As someone who enjoys puzzle hunts, this was a great way to get that experience without having to travel or wait for one of the few great hunts to roll around. This is also one of those puzzle hunts that doesn’t just present obtuse, inaccessible riddles for the puzzling elite either. It presents a well crafted challenge, but provides just enough direction to get you started, ensuring a fun experience for all skill levels. Puzzle types also run the gamut from perception based, to logical, to word games, allowing different players to have their moment to shine! Several puzzles are presented all at once, and it’s up to you to determine which props sent to you belongs with each. These high quality items are fun to interact with, and figuring out which goes with which is sometimes an exciting puzzle in itself! This month’s find was located in London, England, and it was not only an enjoyable investigation into the Queen’s missing jewels, but an educational one as facts about the locations you explore are peppered within the clues themselves. Finally, once you complete the month’s find, you can enter yourself to win a mysterious prize! I’m not sure what prize is entailed, but I do hope I can win one for myself!

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Your tools for the hunt!

Low Points:

The story itself felt secondary to the puzzles, which isn’t a big deal, but we very much enjoy boxes that strike more of a balance between puzzles and story. Too much story, and there isn’t enough interaction to make the game worthwhile, but too little story tends to feel less immersive overall. We definitely prefer more puzzles to the alternative, but a little more narrative bread crumbs along the way couldn’t hurt the experience. One puzzle was slightly too obtuse, and while we had figured out the initial parts, getting to the solution from there wasn’t intuitive, but the hint system was very helpful in getting us back on track.

Verdict:

Finders Seekers is a great way to get your puzzle hunting fix if you’re into that style of adventure! I’m definitely intrigued by what new finds will come in the future, and look forward to virtually visiting new cities each new month! If you like an abundance of original puzzles and don’t mind story taking more of a backseat during your investigation, you’ll love these boxes! Embark on your city hopping adventure here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Finders Seekers provided a complementary box.

Escape Room RVA – Unicorns v. Vampires: Vampire Room (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Price: $25 per person

Players: 2-7 (We Recommend 3-5)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

The Great War Begins!

Theme:

An ancient feud between two factions of mythical creatures has begun to erupt into all out war! The dark vampires and shining unicorns have clashed for centuries, but now, the fight for the light has come to a head! As a group of vampires, you must defend your stronghold from the Unicorn menace and extinguish the light before the power of sparkles and rainbows overwhelm your forces and leave you as piles of ash!

First Impressions:

We were excited to begin our first Richmond tour, and unfortunately, two of our teammates were unable to join us. We jokingly remarked that knowing their luck, this would be one of the best trips ever, and that when we arrived, the game-masters would probably give us ice cream. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at Escape Room RVA and the game-masters offered us ice cream! It was an excellent touch that had nothing to do with the rooms, but was appreciated all the same.

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So many ice cream sandwiches!

High Points:

As appropriate for a vampire themed room, our adventure began in the pitch dark, with a lone candle to see by while our mission briefing was delivered to us via an audio clip. Once we figured out how to enter the room proper, we made our way past the rainbow crack in the wall caused by those dastardly unicorns, and began the work to patch up the damage! The set here was fantastic, and highly appropriate to the theme, including gothic imagery and design sensibilities as well as a macabre scattering of bones. Though there were several points we were stumped, puzzles made sense within the confines of the room, and there were several exciting interactions that were brand new to us. The inclusion of a few story related crossovers with the Unicorns were a great touch and lent a bit of humor to the shadowy and vampiric atmosphere.

Low Points:

The competitive aspect of this room was interesting, though we didn’t get to compete against another team on this run. However, it felt as if our team was on defense against the unicorns throughout the entire story, as there wasn’t a point at which we got to strike back. Although holding the unicorns off seemed to be the overall goal, doing so was fairly anticlimactic, especially since we didn’t get to return fire at all. There were a couple puzzles in which we felt there could be more direction, as one involved a little guess and check, (but ultimately made sense through the positioning of the code,) and one had a bit of gray area to muddle though, though our game master was very helpful with our questions about the mechanics of this particular interaction. There was also the issue of not knowing if a puzzle was solved, as doors triggered silently, and not always near the puzzle itself, leading us to sometimes wonder if what we’d done was correct.

Verdict:

An asymmetric competition room is definitely an interesting idea, and Vampires is an entertaining first half of the Unicorns v. Vampires matchup. If you’re into the more macabre side of mythology and don’t have a fear of the dark itself, I highly recommend becoming vampires for an hour and fending off the light! You can book your time as bloodsuckers here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room RVA provided discounted tickets for our group.

Breakout Greensboro – Museum Heist (Review)

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

Price: $25.99 per person

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-5)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Is it really stealing if it was stolen in the first place?

Theme:

Your team of former art thieves have been hired by a prestigious art museum to recover an extremely rare art collection! This priceless exhibit has gone missing just before it is to be revealed to the public, and it’s up to you to return it to the museum before their big public gala! The party will be starting up very soon, and you need to get everything back before the attendees begin to notice something is wrong! You’ve tracked down the thief, but must steal back everything within an hour, otherwise, the unveiling will be ruined!

First Impressions:

Museum Heist started off slowly, but did present an opportunity to break into our target’s home, whereas many other heist themed escape experiences start you out in medias res, deadening some of the immersion, so the extra effort was appreciated there.

High Points:

The second half of the game kicked the immersion and fun into high gear, presenting surprises and original puzzles that we had not expected. In fact, we thought we were almost finished when the latter half of the experience presented itself! There were a couple of well hidden bits of technology that really brought home the immersion and added a great jolt of excitement to the game. One specific puzzle engaged the entire team in an awesome retrieval endeavor that spanned the entire room! The set itself was fairly convincing, presenting us with a bevy of art themed props to play with, and challenging us to engage with some of the props in unexpected ways.

Low Points:

Some of the props in this room have started to feel worn, especially the books included inside. Some searching feels overwrought, and takes away from the fun of the mystery. The opening to this room felt stilted and unnatural, with very little to point towards how to proceed. During the first half of the room, game flow was very choppy, and we were floundering for an idea of what to do at several points. There was a very light bit of outside knowledge that was not strictly required, but the alternative was poring through several books to determine the answer, which isn’t better. Luckily, we knew what we needed to in order to avoid that.

Verdict:

Museum Heist was a challenging and highly interactive room that presented us with many different types of puzzling to work through, but stumbled in spots where the game flow hadn’t been completely ironed out. Probably one of their more difficult rooms, I do recommend giving it a shot to experience some of the entertaining surprises in store during the adventure! Steal back the museum’s treasures here!

7/10 (Good)

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Murder in 3B (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Sherlock’s got nothing on us!

Theme:

In the Deadbolt Mystery Society’s first box, you’ll become a consulting detective for the Valley Falls Police Department in order to investigate a murder at the shady Hideaway Motel. Megan Thompson, a young woman who was staying in 3B, was brutally murdered and there’s very little evidence to go on. The mayor wants this case closed as soon as possible, and you can only hold the suspects, last night’s guests and employees, for so long, so you’d better get to investigating!

First Impressions:

As you can see from the featured photo, the presentation of this box is top notch! I really liked the excellent themeing and snazzy production value on the outside, getting me excited to see what was inside, which definitely didn’t disappoint as there was quite a bit to go through!

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There’s a lot to explore with this mystery!

High Points:

I appreciated the inclusion of glossy photos of each of the suspects, which gave us a tangible and immersive way to keep tabs on and eliminate suspects as we went through the mystery. There were a couple of nice props included from the motel itself, and the evidence included was a lot of fun to pore over. The writing feels true to each character and is realistically presented through letters, case notes, and emails. Side stories and Easter eggs provided were great, and deepened the story through convincing world-building. For fans of Deadbolt’s Escape Rooms, there are even some surprises that tie in from those experiences as well, though no prior knowledge is required. The puzzle threads and investigatory logic all intertwines well together and provides an enjoyable game flow for an experience that lasts around 2 hours. The self-contained nature of the mystery was a breath of fresh air when compared to many other mystery boxes that just plod forward aimlessly from month to month! There is an online component that provides specific feedback during the mystery and provides certainty that you have succeeded in your investigation when you have solved the murder.

Low Points:

We only had a couple of points for feedback with this box, first being that while the investigation reports were thorough, we would have liked to see more props and items tied into the story. The ones that were sent with this box were excellent, but were pertinent only for a short time. One of the best things about these boxes are the surprises they contain, so we’d love to see some interesting evidence in future deliveries. Also, we did not use the hint system, as everything was intuitive and solvable, but the files you unlock while progressing through the story are mixed in with the hint files. Luckily, all files require a password to unlock, but it’d be nice to have hints and solutions separated from evidence to keep up the immersion.

Verdict:

I’m very excited about the Deadbolt Mystery Society! Even though Murder in 3B is only their first box, this subscription mystery service is easily my favorite of the ones I’ve tried so far. The story, immersion, and overall experience was a lot of fun from start to finish, and I’m already looking forward to their next mystery, Asylum! This first box was a great introduction to their world, and I’ve been told that Asylum will include even more content and immersive fun! Join the Deadbolt Mystery Society here! Right now, you can get 30% off your first box with the Promo Code TRYDMS!

9/10 (Excellent)

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

Breakout Greensboro – Operation: Casino (Review)

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

Price: $25.99 per person

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Shaken, not stirred

Theme:

An MI6 agent has gone missing while investigating a shadowy syndicate of villains! He had tracked down their base of operations to a high roller casino in Breakout City, but has since gone dark. It is up to you to follow the trail of clues to determine where the agent has gone and finish what he started! But be quick about it, he doesn’t have much time to spare!

First Impressions:

The small casino we entered was flashy and inviting, and we started to notice hidden objects and puzzles from the moment we stepped in, getting us psyched up for our super-spy adventure!

High Points:

The themeing of the room is impeccable as the casino game tables and items are all very convincing, and every puzzle ties into the story realistically. Game flow is great and connections made between clues and the puzzles they correspond with are intuitive but challenging. The room itself is extremely interactive, presenting a bevy of props and mechanical puzzles that are exciting to interact with and produce surprising effects throughout! Production values and GM interaction was top notch during our visit as well. Specific puzzles were original and well thought out, some of which presented what appeared to be random results, but great care was obviously taken to ensure that each one worked in such a way as to lead to just one solution.

Low Points:

One specific puzzle near the beginning of the game was not properly reset, leading us to believe something else had triggered it and leading us to miss out on a puzzle. The latter half of the game was less interesting, as the decor presented was more sparse and just felt like an extra room instead of a back office or high roller’s den. The puzzles we used to identify the missing agent felt on mission, but we never felt like there was a point we saved him or took down the syndicate, leading to a fairly anticlimactic end.

Verdict:

Operation: Casino is one of my favorite games at Breakout, as it presents a cohesive mission, exciting set and puzzle design, and great reveals! I highly recommend giving it a shot at your local franchise, as it is an excellent choice for players new and old! Book your undercover mission here!

8/10 (Great)

Breakout Greensboro – Do Not Disturb (Review)

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

Price: $25.99 per person

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Taken!

Theme:

Breakout City is under attack by a shadowy serial kidnapper! Your task force has been working day and night to find out where he is operating and end his reign of terror, but have had little luck until now. It seems, though, that he has slipped up recently, and you’ve found his hideout within a seedy motel room. Unfortunately, it seems like he’s played you, luring you into a trap! Seek out the mysteries inside the kidnapper’s hideout and escape before you become the next to go missing!

First Impressions:

Having escaped Breakout Greensboro’s five other rooms, we were told by the excited front desk staff that Do Not Disturb was not only the company’s newest room, but an example of the new direction that Breakout would be taking with their future rooms! Though we have enjoyed most of the rooms we’ve experienced at Breakout, a more technically focused and story driven room definitely sounded like a great step forward.

High Points:

Though still featuring basic letter and number locks, we could see that there was quite a bit more technological interactions to be had inside Do Not Disturb. The more theatrical production of the experience was certainly a new feature for the company, and the addition of a deeper story was a welcome evolution to their style. Many new and surprising interactions help the room become more immersive as we progressed, and lent a sense of mystery that can be lacking in more straightforward rooms. Once we began to twist further and further into the web of intrigue being spun by the kidnapper, a sense of urgency was fantastically portrayed, leading into an amazing climax and finale!

Low Points:

The room starts out slowly, which can lead to an enjoyable build towards a crescendo, but goes a bit too long and stumbles a few times before the adventure kicks into high gear. The aforementioned stumbles stemmed mostly from the times that the room contained highly specific clues that intentionally pointed us towards the wrong solutions, hanging us up even though we had solved the puzzle itself. Some players may also be put off by a certain complication during the end of the room. A highly linear experience, the room provided a good challenge for 3-4 players, but the maximum of 8 will be way too many to keep everyone engaged for most groups.

Verdict:

Do Not Disturb is an entertaining step forward for the Breakout brand, and though it does have it’s faults, I’m looking forward to how this new design philosophy shapes future rooms for the franchise! Definitely a lot of fun, I’d recommend beginners and enthusiasts alike giving it a shot! Chase down the kidnapper at your local Breakout here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full disclosure: Breakout Games provided discounted tickets to our group.

Breakout Greensboro – Island Escape (Review)

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

Price: $25.99 per person

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

She’s gonna blow!

Theme:

You’re on the vacation of a lifetime on a beautiful tropical island when you start to feel a rumbling under your feet! You rush back to the beach to see what’s going on, and see that everyone has evacuated and the volcano in the distance is starting to put out ominous black smoke! You find a boat docked in the distance, but when you get to it, it’s covered in a series of locks. Figure out a way to get it unlocked and started so that you can get out of there before the volcano erupts!

First Impressions:

We’ve always had a good time at Breakout, and this was the place where most of my A-team met and started breaking out of rooms for the first time together! With a new regular member joining the fold, it seemed right to try out the two new rooms Breakout had on offer!

High Points:

There was a large variety of puzzles to solve throughout the room, which allowed for just enough non-linear puzzling to keep our group of 4 engaged with the flow. There were a couple original ideas sprinkled throughout that presented fun physical challenges and encouraged out of the box thinking. The theme itself was well presented and the set was fun to interact with. Our GM was also very attentive as we’ve come to expect from the Breakout brand. Though we had a very minor technical mishap, she handled it very well and kept us moving along expertly.

Low Points:

Even though Island Escape was new to Breakout Greensboro, it had been available at other Breakout chains for a while. It shows in the game design as this one is heavily reliant on black lights, tends to rely heavily on first generation design sensibilities, and packs several escape room cliches into the game flow. Not that this makes it a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it does end up feeling very dated, especially to a seasoned group of players. Air cannons were used during one point in the game, and were very loud in the enclosed space, which was unintentionally disorienting. The room was also very worn in places, with a few locks starting to have their letters wear off and the black light being fairly low on battery. Our group fit in the room comfortably, but I could not imagine a group of 8 being comfortable stuffed in there.

Verdict:

Though the experience is a more “classic” escape room game, it’s still a fun and challenging romp. I recommend trying out Island Escape when you have new players or just want to get back to basics with your escape adventuring! You can book your Island Escape at your local Breakout here!

7/10 (Good)

Full disclosure: Breakout Games provided discounted tickets to our group.

Mission X – Candy-land (Review)

Location: Durham, NC

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

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!

Theme:

You’re stuck in the candy factory and the Gingerbread Man has run off with the key! You’ll have to chase him through the magical Candy-land around you to find the exit and escape before you’re locked in for the night! Not that that really sounds like such a bad thing, really…

First Impressions:

Two of Mission X’s other rooms, Vampire Manor and Butcher Shop, are horror themed, and their other, Mirage, is sort of a surreal, spooky experience, so the theme of Candy-land is a massive tonal shift! I was interested to see how this new, family-friendly room would come across, but definitely had high hopes due to how much I had enjoyed their other top-notch, tech-focused rooms!

High Points:

One immediate positive I noticed was that Mission X had reduced their per ticket price to $25 and upped their room times to 60 minutes, adding puzzles in order to lengthen the experience and give customers more bang for their buck! Within the room, we very much enjoyed the bright and colorful nature of our surroundings, which fit the theme perfectly. There was a focus on puzzles that were solved using the scenery and props, allowing us to interact with the factory and immerse us in the theme. Game flow worked great for the most part, and there was plenty of non linear puzzling to do, allowing our group of 4 to stay involved in the experience.

Low Points:

There were much fewer do not touch stickers than usual, which was a good step, but they were still about and were fairly immersion breaking when they did appear. Hints are still delivered via the Game Master entering the room, which still brings immersion to a grinding halt. One particular puzzle uses a less common answer type, but doesn’t give a clue that it should be done this way, so it isn’t very intuitive, and the puzzle itself feels very out of place itself. The room lacks a story beyond the basic theme, so it is more of a puzzle room than a full escape experience.

Verdict:

Candy-land is a great beginners and family focused room and is a great one to introduce new players to the hobby! Enthusiasts may still find a few new puzzles here and there, but would definitely find more of a challenge in Mission X’s horror themed experiences. All in all, though, I recommend giving it a shot for some light-hearted puzzling fun! Book your escape from the candy factory here!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Mission X provided discounted tickets for our group.

NC Escape – Dreamscape (Review)

Location: Durham, NC

Players: 2-6 (We Recommend 3-4)

Price: $26 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Trapped in the Matrix

Theme:

You’ve been selected for a next generation Virtual Reality experiment, which will involve uploading your mind into a digital world in order to see what effect it has on the human brain. You’ve been assured that the experiment is perfectly safe, but as soon as you’re strapped in and begin it’s obvious that something’s gone wrong when you’re unable to contact the team responsible for monitoring you! You only have a limited amount of time to explore the digital world and find a way to extract yourself before you’re lost in the Dreamscape forever!

First Impressions:

NC Escape’s previous games were entertaining experiences, mixing basic physical locks and technical puzzles, so when they announced a highly technology focused experience, I was certainly interested to see what they had in store! Considering that they delivered one of the greatest props I’d seen in a room in Ex Machina, expectations were high.

High Points:

There are some clever puzzles in the Dreamscape, some of which have to do with perspective, which is always fun when implemented correctly. Overall, the room heavily focuses on puzzles, and ensures that they make sense within the theme of the digital world. Though a technologically focused room, it involves a good bit of tactile, physical interactions, making the experience as a whole more immersive. The game flow of the room was mostly non-linear, allowing the entire team to stay engaged throughout the game.

Low Points:

The main issue I had with this room was that it seemed to imply in the description on the website that VR would be used within the room, but did not feature actual VR. Also, the room was very new when we visited, but there were several issues within the room involving a malfunctioning technical prop and pieces breaking off of other props even though they were being used very delicately. Another issue is that many of the puzzles involve doing the same task over and over, to the point of the interactions becoming repetitive and boring by the time you complete them. In fact, the second half of the game seems to have a bit of awareness when it refers to it’s puzzles as “inane tasks.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t make completing the more banal puzzles any more entertaining, as at this point, the room seems to be aware of how repetitive it is. Set design is appropriate, but it doesn’t really wow in any way. Due to an ambiguous puzzle and a malfunctioning prop, the climax of the room fell completely flat.

Verdict:

Dreamscape was a highly uneven experience, marred by technical glitches and broken props. The overall experience was interesting, but ultimately disappointing. Given a bit more polish, this room could be more fun, but currently, I’d recommend trying out Ex Machina or The Study instead. You can book your time in the Dreamscape here!

5/10 (Mediocre)