Escape Artist Greenville – The Inventor’s Enigma (Review)

Location: Greenville, SC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $27 (Public Booking) or $30 (Private Booking) per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Great Scott!

Theme:

You’ve been invited to the workshop of one of the greatest inventors of our time, and his apprentice is here to give you the grand tour! There’s a couple of things he’ll need to take care of before he can safely take you around, so you wait for him in the main workshop. After he falls into a wormhole, however, (occupational hazard, pretty standard really,) it is up to you to find some way to get him out before the portal closes up for good!

First Impressions:

Escape Artist Greenville has some incredibly good set designers on their hands, and as we stepped into the Inventor’s Enigma, we were definitely not disappointed in what we saw! Furthermore, the upbeat and in character GM continued to prove that the staff here were 100% committed to delivering excellent experiences!

High Points:

One of the most stand out parts of Inventor’s Enigma is how tactile the whole room is. Almost every puzzle involves at least a light bit of moving or manipulation of props, and it fits extremely well with the theme. Nothing overly physical, but when in an inventor’s workshop, it’s always fun to be able to play around with their tools! This room also contains one of the best hidden surprises we’ve seen in a while, taking us by surprise almost 200 rooms in. That’s no easy feat! As usual for Escape Artist Greenville, the set is amazing, and highly immersive, providing more than just a room of puzzles and truly bringing you into the world of the story. The GMing here is great too, with hints and interactions being on theme throughout the experience, allowing the game to stay in universe throughout the experience. As you progress through the game, puzzles bounce between rooms, and bread crumbs you discover will provide satisfying ah ha moments as you come back to a puzzle that stumped you before. Some very simple, yet innovative pieces of tech bring this quirky room to life in unexpected ways, challenging the group to think outside the box throughout the escape.

Low Points:

Inventor’s Enigma felt like a different room that had been upgraded into a newer theme and “remastered” a bit, and our Game Master confirmed that that is exactly what had been done. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but we were a little confused about how this inventor had invented a wormhole that the whole story revolved around, but it seemed pretty much all he engaged with inventing was cars. Apparently the previous room had been about a racecar driver, so that cleared a lot up. The theming would’ve benefitted from less focus on cars and more on fantastical steampunk inventions to be more in line with what we were expecting. The cluing overall needs work, as some things are hidden around the room for the sake of being hidden, and while we found them, it is always much more fun to find items based off a puzzle rather than because they were just hidden somewhere. The a late game puzzle was a great idea, and very tactile, but the clues themselves were either extremely direct or incredibly vague, frustrating us during  one of the most climactic moments of the game.

Verdict:

Inventor’s Enigma is a good room that could use a bit more adjustment to the flux capacitor in order to make it really great. It’s an upgraded older room that would really benefit from further distancing from it’s previous incarnation to become it’s own entity, but a good room nonetheless. If you like Escape Artist Greenville, I definitely recommend checking this one out! You can book your time saving the Inventor’s apprentice here!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Escape Artist Greenville provided media discounted tickets for our team.

Sleuth Kings – Case 014: The Great Escape (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Escape Rooms and Subscription Boxes collide!

Theme:

Erin Fyre has been expecting a life saving kidney transplant for a while now, and the day has finally come for her surgery! Unfortunately, when the donor organ arrives, it’s missing, and a note from a familiar foe of Sullivan’s is tucked inside, taunting the detective and demanding he play a demented game in order to retrieve the kidney, or die trying.

First Impressions:

For full disclosure, I was extremely excited about this case due to the use of my suggestion to use the theme of an escape room as the backdrop! I was thrilled to hear that Sullivan would be taking on an old adversary in Dictator Sin from Case 001, and love that the Sleuth Kings universe continues to expand upon past criminals and cases. Also, this was the last box my fiancée and I completed at my old townhome before moving, so it was a little bittersweet as well. (Which is also why this review was delayed for a week, apologies for that!)

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Well that fellow looks familiar…

High Points:

Honestly, I think Sullivan should go ahead and repurpose Sleuth Escape into an actual escape room. I didn’t realize that I want a live action Sleuth Kings until this case started to get me thinking about it! The storyline is a lot of fun, especially for myself, a huge escape room enthusiast, and helping lead Sullivan through the escape trap set up for him is a fun time. The inclusion of Sullivan’s “good friend” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) Celeste St. Clair continues to be a welcome addition, and helps to characterize Sullivan as more than an island unto himself while on these cases. I think it would be interesting to hear more from Celeste during cases, but her help with hints is still such a wonderful addition.

Some interesting props accompany this case, and a certain puzzle that I’m not a huge fan of myself, is appropriated in a clever way that provided a very satisfying ah ha moment once we had it solved! The game flow is excellent, and there are a few side puzzles that you can solve afterwards that provide a funny easter egg or two. There are a good range of puzzles, allowing for different solving styles to shine, and making this a great group box as you’ll need a range of puzzling specialists to conquer this one! I especially enjoyed the perspective puzzle, as it added an immensely satisfying moment of revelation where everything clicked into place for me, and the below card featuring the world’s most sympathetic duck was a blast to look at from every angle.

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What a sweet card!

Low Points:

A puzzle that is included during the start and finish of this box can get a little vague with direction, with small clues that narrow down how to interact with the main prop, however, it was a little frustrating as a first puzzle since we got stonewalled with it after missing what we later understood to be a movement hint. It was highly satisfying, but stalled our momentum initially. The escape room theme is a lot of fun, but there wasn’t as much to Sullivan’s escape as I’d have hoped, as we didn’t get a whole lot of insight as to what the room itself looked like. It’s a small quibble, though, as the experience as a whole is great fun!

Verdict:

Sleuth Kings continues it’s standard of excellence with this box, further proving that you can’t go wrong with a subscription! This was also our 12th solved case, so another delve into Sullivan’s personal investigation into his father’s disappearance is on the way! I absolutely still recommend subscribing to what I believe to be the greatest value in the subscription box market, and 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!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

Adrenaline Entertainment Center Columbia – Russian Bomb Party (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $17.50 (advance booking) or $25 (walk-in) per person

Time to Escape: 45 minutes

Bombed.

Theme:

A bomb has been planted in Columbia by a Russian operative, and it’s set to blow in 45 minutes unless your team can break into their lair and stop it! Try to find out who is behind this threat and disarm the many traps inside or South Carolina will meet a nuclear winter!

First Impressions:

The last couple rooms we had tried at Adrenaline, Riddle High and Federal Bank Robbery, were fairly good and competent rooms, and while the theme of Russian Bomb Party seemed somewhat heavy for a family focused escape room, we were willing to give it a go!

High Points:

The set of this room is definitely the best of the three rooms we experienced at Adrenaline, with excellent lighting accompanying an interesting set that featured all manner of Russian propaganda and weaponry. Most puzzles were fairly practical and made sense on the whole, with bits of technology peppered throughout to bring a modern and somewhat magical feel to the room. The props are well built and lend a fun tactile nature to the game.

Low Points:

The soundtrack in the room was a loop of overly loud Russian anthems, assaulting our ears like a rapidly firing AK-47. It got old really fast, and didn’t really help with the immersion or themeing really. Game flow was choppy, and for a family friendly room, tended to have clues hidden high above even our tallest member’s head for no discernible reason. The structure of the clues within the room tended to range from somewhat reasonable logical leaps to completely unreasonable, seeming to demand we read the mind of the designer on several occasions. Like in Federal Bank Robbery, weird American political references abounded, making us wonder what purpose they served beyond just being there. A couple of times puzzles just triggered in seemingly random ways, confirming a solve we hadn’t even engaged with yet. There is crawling required within this room and it is immensely uncomfortable, with the hole being incredibly difficult to make it through for even our smallest member. While the room is family friendly, the puzzles in the adjoining room can be too high or perhaps too difficult for your usual child, so this crawlspace absolutely must be widened for comfort. Anyone who can’t make it through the wall by crawling might miss out on several puzzles due to the almost nonexistent cluing towards how to open the main door between rooms.

Verdict:

Overall, Russian Bomb Party is a jumbled mess of a room that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere story wise. The puzzle flow is incredibly choppy and the cluing within the room definitely does not alleviate any of the problems within. Furthermore, the room’s theme and puzzles tend to stray from the family friendly theme that Adrenaline seems to be trying to capture with their other rooms. With much better rooms available at Adrenaline, I don’t recommend checking this one out. However, if you want to experience this one for yourself, you can do so here.

4/10 (Subpar)

Full Disclosure: Adrenaline Entertainment Center Columbia provided comped tickets for our team.

Escapology Columbia – Budapest Express (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $29.99 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

I am Hercule Poirot and I am, perhaps, the greatest detective alive.

Theme:

You’ve been enjoying a delightful holiday aboard the luxrious Budapest Express, but sadly, your trip has almost reached it’s close. Suddenly, only an hour before it is time for you to arrive at your destination, a body is discovered! The conductor refuses to stop the train, as he has a reputation for timeliness to uphold and enlists your help in solving the mystery. You only have one hour to find your suspect, otherwise, they’ll be free to leave the train and disappear forever! The only (other) problem is that it seems everyone has the means and motive to have done in the dearly departed!

First Impressions:

My second favorite Agatha Christie mystery is Murder on the Orient Express, and Budapest Express immediately jumped out at me as one of my most anticipated rooms at Escapology due to the simple fact that it seemed to share more than a few similarities to that venerable novel. (My favorite, for the curious, is And Then There Were None.) The second we stepped into the dining car of the Budapest Express, I knew this one would either be a great mystery worthy of its obvious inspiration, or it was going to break my heart. Luckily, the mystery within this room was great fun!

High Points:

The Budapest Express really does wow with its initial car, delivering a very convincing luxury dining car from the era. Searching around reveals more than meets the eye, and an emphasis on careful observation and some old fashioned sleuthing really help this experience to shine. The game flow centers around solving the mystery just as Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple would, paying a great homage to the greatest detectives in literary history, (Sorry Sherlock, but you’re vastly played out!) The style and ambiance are a breath of fresh air in the jam packed genre of mystery themed rooms. Anything can be important, but as the room evolves, it becomes clearer what is and isn’t a clue, and it all culminates with a climactic meta-puzzle that we really enjoyed solving in order to find our murderer!

The game flow has a few hiccups, but the largely non-linear nature of the initial parts of the room quickly engaged our group, as there was definitely a lot to open and sort through at the start. As the progression narrowed, we still had plenty of sleuthing to do, and with the exception of a couple instances where only a couple players could solve a particular puzzle, that engagement held throughout the adventure. Immersion was excellent, and barring the set becoming a bit bare by the end of the mystery, the train itself was very convincing. In fact, opening the windows on the train was a fun surprise, opening up to the “outside” rather than a bare wall as we’ve seen in other experiences.

Low Points:

Like Under Pressure, the cars of the Budapest Express unfortunately become less and less detailed as you move along through the game. The effect is not as jarring as within the submarine, however, as there other cars are still fairly well done, but the end result is a flashy start and a somewhat anticlimactic reveal to subsequent rooms. There is a very small amount of destructible state puzzling involved, though not as severe as we first thought when we came across one of the main puzzles near the end of the game. It would’ve been nice to know that it behooved us to keep things together, but luckily, this wasn’t much of an issue overall. A fairly basic puzzle type that we’d seen before in another Escapology room showed up again, and the interaction itself wasn’t too interesting, save for the method of finding it being more involved.

Verdict:

The Budapest Express delivered an excellent train ride through a mysterious and rollicking adventure! The overarching story’s build toward the engaging meta-puzzle was an enjoyable experience that I definitely recommend checking out. It is definitely a breath of fresh air to solve a mystery as part of the room rather than just escape as quickly as possible, so I think enthusiasts and beginners alike will have a lot of fun with this one, minor bugs aside. You can purchase your tickets on the Budapest Express here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Escapology Columbia provided comped tickets for our team.

Uptown Escapes – Sanctuary (Review)

Location: Shelby, NC

Players: 4-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $23 (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday) $28 (Friday, Saturday) per person

Time to Escape: 70 minutes

People are the true monsters here.

Theme:

From the Uptown Escapes website:

It’s been years since the lights went out. Civilization is in shambles. All forms of government have crumbled. After the blackout, cities were razed to ash as different factions desperately tried to seize power. There remains, however, one small ray of hope: Sanctuary. You’ve seen the signs, painted crudely on billboards and underpasses. A safe place, open to all, where your worries will finally be relieved.

You have had an uphill journey making your way to Sanctuary’s gates. You are relieved to be here, but there is unquestionably something strange about this refuge. As you enter the gates and approach the welcoming headquarters, the other inhabitants will not look you in the eye. Could this be the place you’ve hoped for? A place to rebuild and start over? Or is this Sanctuary just a prison in disguise?

First Impressions:

Jumping back into the briefing room, we were greeted with another well produced briefing, and waited to see what would happen to us this time! We had been told that Sanctuary was a much more intense experience than Room 1306, so we steeled ourselves for anything! Soon our helpful Sanctuary guard came by to show us to our two separate rooms in his own special, and our adventure into the safe walls of Sanctuary began. There were gumdrop trees and warm hugs all around, definitely. No need to fear your first steps into this stronghold of fear!

High Points:

Sanctuary may be the first room I’ve done that splits the players at the beginning and doesn’t have one room that is way better than the other, which is apparently a triumph, as I’ve never come across such in the almost 200 rooms I’ve previously experienced, so kudos to Uptown Escapes there! Sanctuary is definitely an intense adventure, spanning an extra ten minutes more than the usual escape, and that time isn’t just there for show, you’ll need it during the densely packed rooms that are ahead! The game starts in your dark and bare holding cells, but as you make your way through this, one of humanity’s last bastions, a sinister story unfolds through the development of the set and the excellent props you’ll find inside!

The game flow is great for the most part, splitting between many different puzzle types, allowing for each member of the team to shine during their favorite interactions. There are many points at which small details were suddenly important and helped direct us toward intuitive and satisfying ah ha moments. Several great interactions with the set and props abounded, and one particular puzzle was so simple in it’s presentation, but was one of my favorite interactions of the 17 room weekend, the solution was so elegant! The intense storyline of our escape kept building throughout the entire experience, and only let up once we had completed the wholly awesome climax.

Low Points:

One of the first interactions I had with the room was getting a splinter from a very rough area of one of our initial props. The owners have been notified however, so I’m confident this won’t be a problem in the future. The intensity of the experience could be a pro or con, depending on the player, as it certainly does not let up at all. A slight reprieve from the action might help, as this is definitely a long experience, and though we enjoyed it, there’s a reason most horror movies include comic relief to lighten the mood, as once we were done, we were thoroughly mentally exhausted. At one point during the room, a key was unfortunately missing from the set, causing us to fumble about for a while trying to find it, but once we asked for a clue and it was ascertained that the key was not where it should’ve been, our Game Master leapt into action, getting the key to us and adding some extra time to our clock to make up for it.

Verdict:

Sanctuary is definitely one of the most intense escape adventures I’ve been on, but I still think it is a must do if you’re anywhere near Shelby, NC! An excellent set, coupled with a dense game flow, and an intense storyline, this room is definitely the full package! Beginners might want to check out Room 1306 to start, since this one definitely is a challenge, but I think it can be done with the right group. Enthusiasts will love the ramped up challenge and story, I think! Start your trek to Sanctuary by booking here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Uptown Escapes provided media discounted tickets for our team.