Location: Richmond, VA
Price: $25 per person
Players: 4-8 (We Recommend 2-4)
Time to Escape: 60 Minutes
Once a year, the Carnival comes to town, bringing games, rides, and popcorn to the people of Richmond! It also brings a shadowy ringmaster, who steals away children, disappearing them from this world forever. With the vanishings always happening around the time of the carnival, you’d think you’d have the sense to keep away, but for whatever reason, you’ve come to this Dark Carnival and now you must escape before the ringmaster comes for you!
The set here was simple, but a nice set up of carnival-like games and bright colored lights, and the theme of a bleak, sinister carnival appealed to our team greatly. We were definitely excited to see what dark secrets were hiding just beneath this cheery exterior as we began our adventure!
The initial part of the game involves many great carnival game themed puzzles, which are a delight to figure out and execute, with physical interactions mixed within the intellectual ones, varying the game well. The bright designs bring the carnival to life within a simpler set, still bringing a sense of immersion to the theme. Technological interactions are interesting, and bring the room to life in an interesting way.
Unfortunately, the Dark Carnival never really got that dark. We were expecting a sinister horror theme, but it never manifested, instead presenting the bright carnival and what felt like a back office rather than the lair of an evil, mysterious ringmaster. If this had been more of an Escape the Carnival theme rather than a Dark Carnival one, it would’ve fit the room better. One puzzle relied on color and positioning, but two of the colors were extremely similar to the point we could not tell the difference, taking what was originally a fairly interesting puzzle and making it a game of guess and check. A puzzle that was presented soon thereafter had a standard method of solving, but the presentation was banal and even worse, it did not work properly at all, forcing the GM to enter the room and give us the code. The sensors for what could’ve been an incredibly fun carnival interaction were jostled out of place, and when we brought this up to the Gamemaster as an issue, we were told that they were aware, but there wasn’t really anything they could do about it. The connective tissue of the rooms is very sparse at times, leading puzzles to become guessing games of degrees. In these cases, the addition of a simple clue could have solidified solutions instead of leading to vague approximations. There was also an intentional red herring, which did nothing to make a completely bland final puzzle any more interesting, further highlighting that this particular puzzle didn’t have much going on for it, ending the room anti-climatically.
Dark Carnival promises an interesting theme and doesn’t quite deliver what is expected. Though there are a fair bit of great carnival puzzles in the beginning, mishaps and messed up props marred the experience throughout. Last Second Escape has a great idea, and a good foundation to build an excellent game upon, but right now, there is still a good bit of work to be done. This is definitely their best game so far, but I can’t recommend checking it out quite yet, as it is an average disappointment for now. Fixing the issues, connecting the game flow more smoothly, and adding a more sinister air to the room would do this room a huge service however, and I hope they can improve it in the future! You can book your escape from the Dark Carnival here.
Full Disclosure: Last Second Escape provided discounted tickets for our group.