Exit: The Game – Dead Man on the Orient Express (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $14.99

Night at the Museum

Theme:

From the Thames and Kosmos website:

A classic tale of murder on the Orient Express, reimagined. The culprit of a grisly crime is still on board your train. It’s a race against time to piece the clues together before the train reaches its destination. The case is perplexing, and you must solve it quickly so the assailant does not escape.

First Impressions:

Exit: The Game is such a great series of at home escape games, and years after diving into the many at home escape series that are available from your friendly local game store, it remains my favorite to crack open and play. It doesn’t hurt that this one is based off the work of my favorite mystery author, Agatha Christie! Of course, after Unlock’s ill-designed Scheherazade’s Last Tale, I made sure to keep my expectations tempered, just in case.

High Points:

There was no need to temper my expectations, as this game easily blew them out of the water! Taking heavy inspiration, but not ripping off, the Agatha Christie classic, Murder on the Orient Express, this game packs a lot of great nods to the source material in while remaining it’s own experience. Another thing this adventure is chock full of is clever puzzles and interactions. Though the usual ten are set up via the puzzle dial, there is an overarching meta puzzle that you’ll need to solve to truly catch the murderer, so a keen eye and attention to the many details placed within the game will be required in order to reach the best ending. This excellently added sleuthing portion really ratcheted up the fun and intensity of the experience, as well as the story. Although older Exit games tended to focus more on puzzles rather than storylines, these most recent entries have definitely stepped up the quality of the mysterious stories while ensuring the puzzle quality stays high!

The experience is fairly linear, but this is not a bad thing as it allows a small group to stay focused on the task and clues at hand, while gating the story fantastically. Clues that belong to the overall murder mystery as well as the individual puzzles will need to be identified and sorted out as you go, and everything is meted out more effectively in this linear manner. New rooms and items are presented excellently, ensuring that each new step deeper into the investigation remains integrated into its place in the story. Further, the move from just opening new journal pages to revealing all new rooms after most solves makes each successful interaction all the more satisfying. Every puzzle is wonderfully tactile, and Exit continues to find glorious ways to integrate interactions into the most unlikely places while still ensuring that each enigma is intuitive and well balanced. The difficulty of this game is higher than most Exit boxes, but it never felt unfair, ensuring that each and every solve provided some superb moments of revelation. The game also serves a wide range of puzzle types, which will engage and satisfy all members of the team, allowing everyone a moment to shine. The climactic puzzle is involved and very satisfying to solve, and depending on your answer, can lead to one of two different conclusions, offering a great finale to an amazing at home escape adventure!

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Diamonds, Cryptic Wheels, and Prescient Help Cards that will help you bust the case wide open!

Low Points:

I have no real complaints. One puzzle can be easily circumvented with what I believe to be a completely valid work around, but it didn’t feel like a let down, and we solved the puzzle we were missing as well, so the experience wasn’t diminished.

Verdict:

Dead Man on the Orient Express is easily my favorite new mystery from Exit: The Game, and I certainly recommend giving it a shot! Only one caveat, however, as though this is absolutely the best entry into the Exit series, it’s definitely one of the most challenging as well, so I wouldn’t recommend starting out with it. Pick it up along with one of the easier entries so you can get a handle on how the games tend to work first, but absolutely get this one as well. Buy your copy from your friendly local game store today! We recommend checking out Atomic Empire in Durham, NC, check out their online store here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

6th Se6se Escapes – Asylum (Review)

Location: Clayton, NC

Players:  2-6 (We recommend 2-3)

Price: $27.75 plus a $.69 booking fee per person (With the option to make the experience private for a flat $150 added on.)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

That way lies madness

Theme:

The old Asylum is meant to become an elegant hotel soon, but the workers keep coming across explainable phenomenon! It’s up to your team of ghost hunters to eradicate the spectral menace, and ensure the Asylum is free of ghosts. You have sixty minutes.

First Impressions:

6th Se6se seemed to have some good ideas for themes, if not business names, and were on the way during one of our most recent escape trips, so we thought we’d give them a shot. The lobby was interestingly decorated, and we had checked out a couple of pretty great businesses earlier in the day, so we were jazzed and ready to give another few rooms a go!

High Points:

The system for delivering clues to each other while split up between rooms is pretty awesome, if slightly difficult to reach for shorter players. The first part of the room does encourage a good bit of teamwork, and communication back and forth is absolutely key to getting the team back together. There quite a bit to do within the room, however, it is very hit or miss, and the mantra, “quality over quantity” came to mind frequently. This is also 6th Se6se’s most original room, for what it’s worth.

Low Points:

The room starts out in a pretty poor fashion, with our GM jumping in over the walkie talkie to ask us if we want a hint since pretty much everyone needs a hint for the first puzzle. Not the best way to start, as if everyone needs the hint, why not incorporate it into the game via a in room clue? The puzzle itself also required leaps of logic that made little sense, and was a puzzle type that is widely despised, furthering the negative first impression. Beyond that, the rooms are very first gen, which is not an issue in itself, but a lot of the locks repeat, so there is entirely too much guess and check after solving a puzzle which becomes tiresome. This could be alleviated by adding in some in game method of tying locks to puzzles, which tends to be the norm. There were also particular locks that were pointed out to us before the game that were known to be overly finicky, and there was no reason not to replace these with better functioning locks. True to form, these locks were difficult to open and it’s very frustrating that the owners know the locks are temperamental, yet haven’t replaced them with better locks. There was also a reset failure for one box, which was already set to the code needed to open it.

Asylum was filled to the absolute brim with escape room sins. The first was a seeming love affair with the black light we found, which needed to be shined everywhere because of reasons. No direction at all, just lazy, shine the light on everything “puzzles.” An extremely common escape room code was used over and over, padding out the game time in a way that added absolutely nothing positive to the experience. Very frequently, the victory of opening a lock was confounded when all that was found inside was a random key or yet another locked box, ultimately destroying any sense of satisfaction or progression we could eke out from the room. There’s a lot of junk in the room as well, leading to an extremely messy set, even though we tried our best to stay organized, per usual. This was exacerbated by the room’s inability to comfortably hold the six escapists we brought, much less the maximum of eight that was advertised. Luckily, we weren’t joined by any strangers, or we probably would’ve been crammed in there even more uncomfortably. Most puzzles involved some Herculean leaps of logic, with one making next to no sense, essentially requiring us to spin the last dial for reasons unknown.

Truly, this room is just an absolutely miserable time.

Verdict:

The Asylum has some good ideas in theory and 6th Se6se’s best set, but it’s not quite good enough to overcome the bland puzzling and the uncomfortable nature of the escape room itself. Unfortunately, this is also their best room. If you’re really desperate for an escape room, it might do the trick, but there are others within a thirty minute drive that’ll scratch that itch way better than this one. Even worse, this room is one of the most expensive in the area, and it certainly does not live up to the almost thirty dollar price point. I don’t recommend booking here, but if you would like to get trapped in this particular Asylum, you can do so here.

3.5/10 (Poor)

Downtown Escapes – The Studio (Review)

Location: Goldsboro, NC

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

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Killer Art.

Theme:

From the Downtown Escapes website:

The year is 1987. The place Vienna. An up-and-coming artist named Pierre Eville was gaining recognition for his incredible colorful works of art. Many said he would one day be famous. That was until he had psychotic breakdown. No one knows exactly what happened but many have their theories. From that moment on he was never the same. His colorful masterpieces turned twisted and dark. He was constantly looking over his shoulder as though someone were out to get him.

His fears came true when he was found dead in his art studio on Friday, October 13th. The crime was never solved and the cause of his death remains a mystery. His most famous paintings have still not been recovered. Many people came to his studio in search of them but all of them left in fear, claiming the studio was haunted. Some say it’s Eville himself who occupies the gallery trying to protect what is left and lead others to the truth behind what really happened.

That was many years ago and no one has been in the studio since. You have been given one last opportunity to explore his gallery in search for his missing famed art pieces, and to uncover the mystery of his death and find out what truly happened.

First Impressions:

Our previous visit to Downtown Escapes was fantastic, with two incredibly engaging rooms that really brought the wow factor! So once we’d heard The Heist was retiring, to be replaced with The Studio in October, we were raring to get back to downtown Goldsboro for another challenge! It was a long wait until we finally made it back this June but the anticipation was absolutely worth it!

High Points:

The Studio is basically what would happen if you took Downtown Escapes’ The Heist, ensured it was haunted, and added all new puzzles as well as some real effective spooky tension! I mean this in the most positive way, as the shades of The Heist were felt, but the room was absolutely it’s own thing. Even though we had taken our team through a successful heist of the previous room, this one felt supremely different and the revamp that was done to change it over to the new experience was fantastic. The previously bright and clean atmosphere is gone, replaced with the abandoned and dimly lit ambiance of an abandoned haunted manor, and the old artwork has been replaced with the masterworks of a madman. Fantastic lighting ensures that everything that needs to be seen is easily spotted without sacrificing the creepy mood that The Studio is going for. The art is appropriate, and tells a story all its own as you begin to wind your way down the twisted story of Pierre Eville, granting even more gravitas to his tragic tale.

The game flow is spectacular, with several non-linear tasks to overcome, all of which help develop the mystery and assist players with unwinding what really happened the night of Pierre’s death. The puzzles engage players in several varied ways, with some cool interactions allowing escapists to test their bravery and spatial reasoning in new and clever ways. Some brilliant and insidiously crafted scares lie inside, and are more than simply cheap jump scares! The technical and practical effects inside The Studio really wowed us, and a lot of thought obviously went into crafting the room and the challenges within. Art mixes with horror several times, and meld together into some really fantastic interactions, most of which have some hidden effects to make them feel truly supernatural. The difficulty curve is great, starting players off with some simpler puzzles to get started, and eventually twisting into larger scale solves that provides some amazing moments of revelation! The room is definitely a superb challenge for enthusiasts, but is still an excellent experience for new players, as the game masters are great at ensuring puzzles never become too frustrating by delivering pointed hints without giving too much away.

Team Keyed Up! has taken both leaderboards at Downtown Escapes! Come challenge our times!

Low Points:

One particular puzzle could have been clued slightly more, as it was initially a bit too vague before a hint was given. There is also one interaction that, while cool, tended to force the team to shut down any side solving while it was deciphered. One puzzle in particular may seem very familiar to those who have escaped The Heist, but it’s a brief and still enjoyable interaction.

Verdict:

As sad as we were to see The Heist go, The Studio is a more than worthy successor! Downtown Escapes has some brilliant games, and we cannot wait to see what they have in store for the future. I absolutely recommend giving this one a go, as well as checking out Jay’s Sushi and Burger Bar just down the road for an after room celebration. Book your paranormal investigations here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Downtown Escapes comped our tickets for this room.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Backstage Pass (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

I wanna rock and roll all night, and escape every day!

Theme:

The band Voodoo Mary has come to Valley Falls to finish off their Pins and Needles Tour, but unfortunately, the town residents won’t be able to enjoy it for very long, as just before the show was set to start, the band’s manager was found murdered! Luckily, the Will Street Detective Agency is on the case

First Impressions:

The Deadbolt Mystery Society has been on a roll lately, with their really incredible Infected and Sanitarium boxes truly wowing us for the last couple months. With another spectacularly original theme, Backstage Pass was certain to deliver another great mystery to solve.

High Points:

Deadbolt does a really great job with their customer service. Many of the boxes were arriving a bit later than usual, and true to form, they made sure to let all of their subscribers know what was going on immediately through email, facebook, and other outlets. They really went above and beyond to let us know they were working on making sure everyone’s boxes made it to their intended destinations, and kept everyone in the loop throughout the process. Once our box landed on our doorstep, we were excited to tear into it to see what was behind the snazzy design. This box is really quite dense, filled with many well produced clues and puzzles. The suspect list has been beefed up a bit, ensuring there’d be extra interactions to eliminate the innocent, and the cards arrived in a separate bag within the box, ensuring they remained pristine, and that they were easily identified, which was an excellent touch.

The experience remains non-linear, per usual, allowing for a free form puzzling adventure, and it was really enjoyable to soak this particular mystery in. Many of the interactions we engaged in during this box relied on some detail oriented sleuthing, and it helped to just take everything in at the start, and begin making connections. Though most of Deadbolt’s mysteries are set up this way, everything seemed to click even more satisfyingly than usual for this box. Clues we would come across would connect to even the most innocuous seeming item, busting open some really great moments of revelation, and propelling us forward through the story. Some mystery box standbys are used during this mystery, but they are twisted in such a way that they aren’t always as obvious as one might expect, keeping veteran detectives on their toes while still presenting an approachable challenge to newer players. Not all puzzles feel familiar however, as there are certainly more than enough clever hidden messages and codes to ensure that you never quite know what’s coming next!

Speaking of not knowing what’s coming next, story remains a strong suit of Deadbolt’s experiences, and this one is really quite twisty! There are a couple mysteries within the mysteries that help solve the overarching murder, but there are many threads that needed to be tied up before we could definitively conclude this case. The story feels personal to the characters, especially some of the more enigmatic suspects, and this line up really feels like a family, albeit a very dysfunctional one. It’s one of those stories where even though it has reached a satisfying conclusion. I’d love to see what happens next for this crew.

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There’s a lot that’s been left behind at the ill fated show!

Low Points:

One particular code is easy to derive, but the connection between it and the solution it goes to was a little more tenuous. We arrived there by trying it on the items we hadn’t used yet, rather than deducing where it goes using the clues that provided the solution. Looking back, I can sort of see how one could get there, but without already knowing the answer it’s a bit of a leap. One particular item, coupled with a clue we were given, became a sort of red herring for us. I believe it’s unintentional, but a few other folks I know who subscribe also fell down a bit of a rabbit hole until they were able to come to the real reason the item we’d puzzled over was included. One color dependent puzzle gave us some real trouble until we used a flashlight to really up the lighting, as in normal light conditions, some of the colors looked mostly similar.

Verdict:

Backstage Pass is an excellent box that provided a lot of clever twists and turns, as well as some highly satisfying puzzling. Set against the backdrop of a dysfunctional group of band members, Deadbolt remains one of the most originally themed subscription boxes from month to month. (And next month’s box, Body Farm, looks to continue this trend!) I can easily recommend giving this one a go for new and experienced players alike, as the game itself is very dense, and the difficulty is just right, overall. If you’re not a subscriber already, you should be! 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!

8.5/10 (Great)

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

Dare 2 Escape – The Archive (Review)

Location: Kissimmee, FL

Players:  2-8 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $36 per person

Time to Escape: 90 minutes

This is it! The culmination of all your hard work!

Theme:

From the Dare 2 Escape website:

Do you dare to follow the coordinates sent to you by a mysterious source and be the first group of urban explorers to make it out with the deepest, darkest secrets of the Tillman Family? Do you dare to face the unknown and expose these secrets, with the ultimate risk of being trapped underground and becoming part of the secret that might be buried forever?

First Impressions:

This is it! After three fantastic rooms at Dare 2 Escape, it was time for the room that would tie up the stories of The Asylum, The Ringmaster, and The Dig into one epic conclusion. To say anticipation was high amongst our group would be an understatement. When we stepped into this room for the first time, it was immediately evident our excitement was not unfounded.

High Points:

The Archive boasts the best set of all of Dare 2 Escape’s rooms, and that is high praise. You’re not just told by the game master that you’ll be delving into the sewers of New York to seek out the mysterious Tillman family’s archive, you legitimately step down into the dank looking sewers as the first introduction into the game. The effort gone into making this experience look dank and murky without actually being so is commendable, and it really adds to the immersion of the adventure. Perfectly placed lights and excellent sound design ramp up the feeling of urban exploration, and the multi-floor game remains thrilling from start to finish because of the amazing work done to keep the room looking brilliant. Transitions between each contrasting level of the game were done fantastically, and the reveal of the Archive itself is truly really cool. The set had a few points at which we would climb or crawl, and it was nice to see that there were comfort and safety features added in a way that were non-intrusive, but still ensured we wouldn’t experience any pain during these segments. Story-wise, The Archive expertly weaves together the previous three rooms into an epic conclusion and delivers a superb, twisty climax that leaves the door open for new adventures.

The game flow was incredibly packed with loads of original puzzles, keeping our team engaged for the whole adventure. There are a few different stages to the game, and are, for the most part, non-linear, allowing us to split up to unearth all the secrets that the Tillman family Archive had to offer. And there were so many! Call backs to previous rooms and new story revelations that wove through the entire saga were an excellent way to wrap up the four room experience that Dare 2 Escape has put together. Connections between puzzles and their solutions remained very smooth, and at no point did we feel as though we were stonewalled due to deficiency in the design of the game. There were many different puzzle types to enjoy as well, and enough variety that everyone was able to find an interaction they excelled in. I had several favorite puzzles within The Archive, many of which seemed wholly enigmatic until we discerned the secret behind their moving parts, leading to incredibly satisfying moments of revelation we won’t soon forget!

Low Points:

There weren’t many low points to the experience, honestly. One particular puzzle could have used a little bit more cluing as to the order the solution should be placed in, and another felt as though it required some slightly aimless searching, but these are very small criticisms overall.

Verdict:

The Archive is truly a masterwork of an escape adventure. Very rarely do we see a business that has tailored their rooms into one over arching story, and rarer still is the climactic room so incredibly well done. The Archive is a splendid crown jewel in the Tillman Family Saga of rooms, and I absolutely recommend doing it, especially if you can try out the three rooms that lead up to it. For ninety minute experience that will fly by in the best possible way, you can’t go wrong with this room. Book your urban exploration into the New York sewer system here!

9/10 (Excellent)