Escape the Room Dallas, TX– Western Bank Heist (Guest Review)

Today’s review was graciously written for us by Texas correspondent, Cathy Nanni! We thank her for enduring this room so that we don’t have to.

Location: Dallas, TX

Players:  Up to 10 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $28.00 on the weekdays, $30 on the weekends per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Git along lil’ doggies and rob that bank!

Theme:

Round up your best Huckleberries and put on your black hats. In this Western, you’re playing the bad guy. You have 60 minutes to break into the bank, grab the loot and get out of Dodge.

Impressions:

I was excited to check out Escape the Room. I was bringing along three friends who had never done an escape room before. I wish I hadn’t.

Escape the Room did not offer up a great first impression. In hindsight, this should have been a major red flag, as the sparsely decorated lobby only had a folding table set up for the receptionist who didn’t even offer us a greeting as we walked in. After getting her attention and checking in, we were told to wait for the rest of the people signed up to do the room with us. Our room was scheduled to start at 7, but we weren’t invited back to the room until almost quarter after. The GM guided us right into the room for our safety talk and introduction to the room. There was a large TV on the wall that myself and another room veteran thought would show the backstory for the room but it turned out to be the clock and the means of communication between us and the GM.

We were not offered a locker or basket to place our things in. Along the wall under the TV was a wooden bench. The GM told us to place our things on this bench (remember this, it will become important later!) We set our things down on top of the bench and began the game.

High Points:

The set was well done and felt like the inside of an old timey bank. The walls were covered in wood paneling, there were antique looking safety deposit boxes, and even a creepy banker mannequin.

Several of the puzzles allowed you to  use items you’d expect to find in a Western movie which was a fun touch that added to the theme. They even had several antique items you could manipulate which made the room feel more authentic.

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At least the set is nice?

Low Points:

This is the only escape room I have ever played that allowed people to join after the rest of the group had already begun the game. A couple joined our game about 10 minutes in, breaking the flow. This couple had also never done an escape room before and had missed the GM’s introduction, further confusing things.

The hint system was incredibly frustrating. It should be simple, players ask for a hint out loud and the GM submits the hint via the large TV mounted to the wall. I’m guessing that Escape the Room doesn’t really trust their GMs to be able to run a room because it took a very long time for the GM to respond and when she did, it was very obviously a scripted response that never really answered our questions, just gave a general hint.

The puzzles were so poorly clued that even with half of our group being experienced players, we had to ask for hints for almost every puzzle. One puzzle even required outside knowledge of pop culture. Then there was the bench. Remember the bench the GM directed us to place all of our personal items on? Turns out that bench had a puzzle on it and now we were required to lose precious time moving all of our personal items to access the puzzle.

Another time sink we encountered was a puzzle that required us to use an antique machine that unfortunately didn’t work. We lost a lot of time trying to get help through the hint system, especially since the only responses our GM could use were automated and not actually pertinent to our conundrum. Eventually, a staff member had to come into the room and fix the machine. We were not compensated for the time lost due to this even though the room was strictly linear. This tech fail left our group of 10 standing around twiddling our thumbs for over 5 minutes!

Verdict:

Don’t waste your time with this one unless you want to deal with late guests, a horrible hint system, frustrating puzzles and broken tech. In case you’d like to sate your morbid curiosity, you can do so here. We’d recommend against it, however.

1/10 (Rubbish)

 

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Copycat (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Let’s get meta!

Theme:

From the Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

A new series of victims belonging to The Toymaker, The Seaside Strangler, and The Black Rock Butcher have been found. The only problem? Those maniacs are either incarcerated, institutionalized, or dead. That can only mean one thing: a copycat is on the loose!

First Impressions:

I love a good meta case, and copycat fits the bill nicely! Promising a look back at the previous Deadbolt Mystery Society Cases and a return of the methods of several notorious killers, I was excited to see how this case would unfold. With several interesting threads having woven throughout a few of the previous cases to lead to this mystery, we were ready to get started as soon as our box arrived!

High Points:

The storyline for Copycat is excellent, weaving together the themes of a few cases, with the puzzle styles and locations coming together to create an entirely new case. Though this could create a sense of deja vu, in this case, everything is kept feeling fresh, so no worries there! Evidence continues to become ever more high quality as Deadbolt enters its second year, and everything looks sharp and engaging as we puzzle. For veteran Deadbolt investigators, this case will absolutely hit some excellently familiar points, while presenting an insidious new enemy via The Chimera.

The game flow works excellently, and the entire experience is presented strictly non-linearly, so there is always a lot to do. Several times, we were stuck on an interaction, so we had the freedom to jump to a different puzzle and once we returned with fresh eyes, everything clicked into place. There are a few great moments of revelation, and poring over evidence while puzzling can trigger these amazing ah ha moments in a most satisfying fashion. Small clues and reports hidden within the interviews and ciphers become important, and the game challenges players to keep a keen eye out for buried details.

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Not merely a copy, but an evolution!

Low Points:

A particular puzzle can become much easier with prior knowledge of previous cases, which is thematically appropriate, but might frustrate some players. The puzzle is solvable via process of elimination, though some parts may feel vague to some, and a particular answer pops up in a way that is contrary to the initial internal logic of the puzzle. Another puzzle contains some outside knowledge that is slight, but doesn’t quite have enough cluing to make the required connections without a logical leap.

As an aside, I’ve come to miss the evidence notebooks that were a staple of a run of some previous mysteries. Tossing the suspect cards in the box as we eliminate them is quite satisfying, however, so it’s sort of a neutral point, if anything. They make a lovely “thonk” sound.

Verdict:

Copycat is an excellent capstone adventure for veteran sleuths, while still presenting an accessible challenge to newer players. Though I’d definitely recommend completing, at the very least, The Toymaker, The Seaside Stranger, and Wanted before taking on Copycat, it is eminently playable as a stand alone case. Join the Deadbolt Mystery Society here! Right now, you can get 30% off your first box with the Promo Code ESCAPE30! You can also see the rest of our Deadbolt Mystery Society reviews here!

8/10 (Great)

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

Timed Out – Precinct (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It may be an abandoned police station, but it still has doughnuts!

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

Set against the backdrop of three missing police officers, your team’s ability to unravel the story of Precinct will be tested by challenges that require analytical skills, deductive reasoning and collaboration. If you’re successful, you’ll progressively uncover the details behind the mysterious disappearances and seize opportunities to change the outcome of the series of events. But be careful – you’ll need to avoid be pulled into the very things you’re trying to prevent!

First Impressions:

Police Stations and prisons are an old standby for escape rooms at this point, so it really takes a masterful hand to ensure they remain fresh, especially for escape room veterans, and after doing two other rooms at Timed Out, we were sure Precinct would be a lot of fun! We were advised it was their most challenging room, and we were ready to take it on!

High Points:

Our game master for this game was McKenna, and she expertly sent us a couple clues when we began to flounder or became too confident in our wrong answers, she read the room perfectly and did an excellent job! As an aside, she is also the writer for Timed Out’s blog, which I really enjoyed reading through. I’ve never read an escape room blog run by a business that is quite this varied or interesting to peruse, so I definitely recommend checking it out! You can find it here.

Precinct’s set is very well done, with some cool touches to add immersion, and an awesome old style phone booth that was great fun to play around in. The introduction video and the soundtrack of the room keep energy high without being overly loud or intrusive, and helped tie the story in as we progressed. The video that ended the room was also a fitting dénouement, and tied up all the loose ends neatly. The experience is ever evolving throughout the room, and several surprises popped up regularly to keep us saying “wow!” The whole room is really awesome, design-wise, and the owners let me know they were going to further iterate the set to make it even more immersive, which is great to hear!

Challenging rooms, I find, come in two different varieties. Those which are difficult for the sake of difficulty, and those that weave the challenge throughout the room in an engaging, but fair way. Precinct is definitely the latter version. The difficulty of this room comes not from a puzzle designer that wants to “beat” the players, but from one that really understands how to create a fun challenge, packing the room with creative puzzles that force your group to act as a team; engaging keen perception and out of the box thinking to succeed! So much within this room was a thrill to interact with and the puzzle density was just right to keep all three of us fully entertained. The non-linear set up could definitely handle a maximum of eight players, and no one would ever feel like they were just standing around. The game flow is almost perfect, with all props and puzzles having a purpose and integrating into the theme fantastically. The signposting of clues and astounding gating that can be found here is just top notch all around. The climax of the room was an absolute blast, and caught us all by surprise! It added an excellent twist to the room and ended it on an exceedingly high note after a run of already excellent puzzles.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle is rather onerous, as it requires a fair amount of guess and check. It isn’t the most egregious version of guess and check, as you’re able to develop somewhat of a framework to work off of, but it still was a bit too much for our liking. There was a quicker way to solve this puzzle that was a small hack, so that was a relief. One prop activates with some experimentation, but didn’t give us feedback that our experimentation led to a wrong answer, leading us to believe that the green lights we had found were placed correctly. Our GM was quick to redirect our thinking regarding this, but a small bit more feedback would’ve helped.

Verdict:

Precinct was my absolute favorite room at Timed Out, and one of my favorites during our most recent trip to Charlotte! I absolutely recommend giving it a go, though newer players might want to give one of their easier games a shot first to get a feel for escape rooms. The game masters here are excellent, however, and I’m sure they’d be happy to tailor the difficulty for you if investigating an abandoned police station is your jam. Book your time in the Precinct here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.

Sleuth Kings – Isaac Case 004 (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Searching through the ashes

Theme:

After figuring out the identity of the mysterious informant Sullivan has been working with for almost a year, it’s time to return to the mystery of the gang known only as Cinder. Sullivan has enlisted your help in breaking into a laptop stolen from the gang’s hideout, but you’ll need to break several codes in order to figure out how to access the information hidden on it, which will hopefully reveal something about where Isaac has gone. Work quick, though, since the gang knows their property has gone missing, and they don’t exactly take kindly to people who steal from them!

First Impressions:

It’s time for another meta-case from Sleuth Kings! Every four cases, we’ve received a bonus case that ties into the disappearance of Sullivan’s dad, Isaac, which is always exciting! We love getting another case to solve in between the standard monthly cases, and the value this adds to the subscription cannot be ignored. Either way, we were absolutely ready to find out what new mysteries were in store with this next installment to the meta-story!

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I would highly recommend that Sleuth Kings’ open a Chik N’ Pete. They have the best mascot ever.

High Points:

This is definitely the most dense and challenging bonus case we’ve received yet! The multiple levels between code cracking and various puzzles was great, and we really enjoyed peeling back the layers of each individual clue in order to progress further into the story. Though this case mostly consisted of breaking one particular code, the code itself is actually quite fascinating, and each puzzle that leads towards it’s eventual solving is satisfying, though it does absolutely make you work for it! The difficulty isn’t strained or frustrating however, and it allows for even veteran solvers to feel a major sense of accomplishment when the final conundrum is completed! The game flows well, and each clue follows into the next well, with some of the most engaging codes we’ve come across yet, which kept us sleuthing well into the night.

After three previous cases, we are definitely engaged with this ongoing mystery, and look forward to seeing it through quarterly, and this case absolutely continues to deliver story wise. The climax truly raises the stakes, ending on the usual cliffhanger, but with a sense of urgency that will keep us on our toes until the next bonus case arrives! Sleuth Kings is nothing if not a master at making you care for the characters they’ve created, and it’s no mistake since they’ve got the most compelling cast of any subscription box. Like any good mystery, I absolutely can’t help but want to know what happens next, but for now, we’ll have to wait and see!

Low Points:

Some of the code breaking included can begin to feel like a solo job, with not much to do once the busy work of filling in the letters begins. Though the presentation of this new cipher is excellent, it may present a short bottleneck where any additional players might want to refresh their beverages. Obviously, this isn’t an issue if you prefer to take on this mystery as a lone wolf. There was also a reference to something being on the epilogue letter that wasn’t actually there, which caused us some slight confusion. One prop was really cool, but it felt like a missed opportunity due to the majority of its contents having little relevance to the case.

Verdict:

While you can’t purchase this case outright, I absolutely recommend subscribing to Sleuth Kings so that you (eventually) will receive this one! The whole run of bonus cases is an amazing value added to your subscription, and isn’t just a throwaway benefit, these stories are truly compelling! You can use the promo code ESCAPEADVENTURE to get $5 off your subscription here! And if you’re really wanting to get to a bonus case quickly, you can order and solve past cases from the Sleuth Kings archive! You can also read the rest of our Sleuth Kings reviews here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box. (Duh.)

The Valcarol Missions – The Crystal Cave Mission (Review)

Location: Concord, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-6)

Price: $26 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

On post apocalyptic Earth, all that’s left are puzzles!

Theme:

From the Valcarol Missions website:

November of 3049, Valcarol’s people land on earth and plan exploratory missions. Will there be clean air and water on earth? Will there be people there to help them fix their ship’s hydro system? Will it be safe outside of Valcarol?One of our explorers has met a survivor on earth. This survivor gives us the secret location of their water filtration station. It is protected in a cave system that was used as a fallout shelter back when the bombs rained down. This cave system has the special element that makes radiated water clean and safe again. The survivor is to remain anonymous and will not accompany us. We are going to the caves at our own risk. Volunteers for this mission must enter the caves while security is off the premises and make it through any protective measures. Find the elements that purify the water, including the special element that is mined from the cave. Once all of the elements are found, bring them to the water filtration system and get it working. Security will be gone for only an hour, so be quick! This is an important mission because clean water is needed by the dehydrated people of Valcarol and our hydro systems engineer will need to recreate the cave’s water filtration system that can put Valcarol and her people back into space.

First Impressions:

After a run of two not so great rooms, we were really hoping for a room that would reenergize us and remind us why Charlotte is such a great place to go for escape rooms. Luckily, our next stop was The Valcarol Missions, a highly anticipated spot we’d heard great things about! From the amazing design of their front area to the exuberant enthusiasm of the owners, I could tell this was going to be something special!

High Points:

The Valcarol Missions has really hit it out of the park with their sets, storyline, and original puzzling! Stepping into the Crystal Cave was immediately immersive, and the painstakingly created walls of the cave itself were amazing! Lighting and sound design also played an integral part of this amazing experience, lending believability to the entire adventure. Puzzles made excellent use of the space, spanning entire rooms and feeding us new conundrums and props every step of the way. Everything is woven into the theme expertly, and the tactile nature of the room truly engaged us on multiple sensory levels.

As a game, The Crystal Cave mission is amazingly satisfying to complete. The flow is impeccable, with a non-linear approach that allows everyone to stay engaged, and signposting that gives just enough of a hint to keep things moving at a good clip. Each non-linear portion of the game leads to a capstone puzzle that is designed in such a way as to ensure it doesn’t become a boring bottleneck for other players, and it seems like everything was designed with a team focus in mind. One particular puzzle lent an awesome sense of discovery, and as we unraveled the mystery behind it, the ah ha moment was immensely satisfying. The method for entering codes is straightforward, and works within the sci-fi theme, removing the basic locks for a truly technological vibe.

Low Points:

The initial area for the room felt a little more snug than we would’ve liked, and any more than the six we had would be a squeeze, but the room opens up immensely after the initial stage. There was also one puzzle in which the clue to be revealed was very difficult to see due to the cloudiness of the area it was in. One other puzzle could use a mite bit more cluing in order to get across it’s general idea, but was otherwise very cool.

Verdict:

The Valcarol Missions is off to a resoundingly positive start with the Crystal Cave mission, and we absolutely cannot wait for their next rooms to open! Easily one of the top businesses in the area already, I absolutely recommending checking them out as soon as you can. Book your mission in the Crystal Cave here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Valcarol Missions comped our tickets for this room.