Ready Set Escape – Pirate’s Plunder (Review)

Location: Smithfield, NC

Players:  1-8 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $23 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Plunder the Treasure or You’ll be Plundering the Depths!

Theme:

You’ve made your way onto Captain Jack’s pirate ship, and there looks to be a chest full of treasure waiting for your crew’s greedy hands to claim it. The only problem is that it’s been locked up tight, and there’s no way to pry it open stealthily! Captain Jack is running on a skeleton crew right now, so you have some time to figure out how to get the chest open, but you’ll need to do so before he returns from shore and throws you in the brig!

First Impressions:

We’d been trying to make our way out to Ready Set Escape for a while, but our travels hadn’t quite gotten us there. Eventually, we were able to get the scheduling stars to align, and we were ready to take on all three of their rooms. Though it’s a pretty common theme, I do enjoy a good pirate adventure, so we were excited to storm the decks of Captain Jack’s ship.

High Points:

The owners of Ready Set Escape were incredibly hospitable, and we had a lot of fun trading stories with them about our escape adventures. It’s very obvious that they are passionate about the hobby, and that’s always a good sign. Pirate’s Plunder is a first generation escape room, using locks and keys during the entire experience, but this is not a knock against the room. This room is great fun even without any fancy tech. The game flow works very non-linearly, and with six players, we all still remained engaged for the whole experience. Early puzzles provide easy wins to get everything going, and the difficulty curve ramps up smoothly from there. This is definitely the easiest room at Ready Set Escape, and though we escaped quickly, it did not feel as though we did as we puzzled through a dense amount of fun enigmas and interactions. There were loads of props to work through, and it was a lot of fun to work through the mysteries and derive the purpose of each part. The puzzle threads intertwined well with each other, and contained a few great surprises along the way. The set is competent, converting the room into a wooden pirate ship, making sure the area doesn’t just feel like an office.

Low Points:

One puzzle felt out of place on the pirate ship, adding a small head scratching element theme-wise, but fit well with the light hearted, family friendly nature of the game. Once a solution has been derived there are usually several locks in which the answer will fit, so there is a fair amount of guess and check that could be fixed with some small cluing to add some connective tissue to the experience. One puzzle requires a small bit of outside knowledge in order to make the most sense of it, but can be solved another way, so it isn’t too egregious. Cluing for a couple interactions could be beefed up in order to turn some scavenger hunt sections into more robust puzzles.

Verdict:

Pirate’s Plunder was a lot of fun, and a great starter room for beginning escapists. Veterans may break out a bit more quickly, but it is still a good time, and a fun way to introduce friends new to the hobby to escape rooms. I recommend giving it a go if you’re in the area, especially if you’re a newer player or looking to have a fun outing with the family. Experienced players who would like more of a challenge will probably want to seek out Monopoly Mania instead, but we still very much enjoyed this experience. Book your siege of Captain Jack’s ship here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Ready Set Escape provided our team with comped tickets.

Unlock! Exotic Adventures – Scheherazade’s Last Tale (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-3

Price: $14.99

“A funny thing happened on the way to my potential…”

Theme:

From the Space Cowboys website:

Scheherazade is in grave danger! She only has one hour to tell one last story to the Sultan, but she’s out of ideas. The scribe she asked to help her come up with a story has gone missing, and she is begging you to find him and bring him back as soon as possible with a tale to please the Sultan. The princess’s life may end in the hands of the executioner, so act fast!

First Impressions:

I adore the 1001 Arabian Nights, and finding out that Unlock! would be releasing an adventure that featured the greatest weaver of tales, Scheherazade, was very exciting. I couldn’t wait to pop this one open to see what fantastic adventures awaited us in this exotic adventure!

High Points:

Immediately upon popping open this game, I could tell the artwork was going to be amazing. It truly evokes a feeling of mystery and adventure, and I really think it is some of the best the series has to offer. There are a few great puzzles sprinkled throughout the experience that play with the cards and perspective in fantastic ways, and the set up for the story is classic and immediately entertaining. A few out of the box interactions promise iconic moments for this entry into the franchise, and there are some great ideas tucked away inside this box. All the potential this game had, however, is completely squandered fairly quickly.

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Enter the colorful world of 1001 Arabian Nights!

Low Points:

This box was one of the biggest letdowns in the Unlock! series. Admittedly, as a fan of the 1001 Arabian Nights, I had higher expectations, but even players who aren’t are going to have some serious problems with this game. There are several points within the game where you are penalized for taking completely reasonable actions, some of which are actively encouraged by the game. These “gotcha” moments are evident in the last entry into Unlock’s Exotic Adventures, Night of the Boogeymen, but they are much more egregious here. The fact that two of the newest Unlock! games contain this sort of regressive game design is disheartening, and I hope newer adventures leave this sort of arbitrary penalization behind permanently.

One of the machine puzzles that is presented is clued incredibly vaguely, and penalizes you every time you fail. Because of the vague clues, guess and check is required to fully solve this puzzle, so this constant penalization is frustrating and really sucks the fun right out of the game. It isn’t easily solved either, so expect a lot of your play time to be drained with this interaction, stalling you from the rest of the adventure until you finally complete it. Another machine interaction is an excellent idea, but requires outside knowledge of the story, (which we fortunately had,) and a lot of pure luck getting your device to do what it is supposed to, (which we did not, causing us to fumble about wondering how to solve the puzzle.) The end of this tale is also supremely anticlimatic, and for all the buildup, we were really hoping for something more than that. On the whole, I’d describe the experience of playing this box as actively discouraging.

Verdict:

Scheherazade’s Last Tale is a game that I was supremely excited to play, based on the theme, but unfortunately, the whole experience face-plants into frustration and poor game design almost immediately. This is definitely an Unlock! game that you should give a wide berth, as the few clever puzzles and great art style is not enough to make up for the extremely misguided gotcha penalties and leaps of logic that plague this adventure. Definitely check out one of the better games from your friendly local game store, however! We bought ours at the ever excellent Atomic Empire in Durham, NC, check out their online store here!

4/10 (Subpar)

Dare 2 Escape – The Dig (Review)

Location: Kissimmee, FL

Players:  2-5 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It belongs in a museum!

Theme:

From the Dare 2 Escape website:

Dare to face the sandstorm in the Dig of the century? Your colleague, archaeologist Dr. Eleanor Harding, has uncovered the fossilized remains of a new dinosaur species in her dig site located in the heart of the northern Sahara Desert. She has contacted you and your team of paleontologists from London to help stake claim to this find of the century. Upon arriving at her campsite, your team finds it abandoned because Dr. Harding was forced to evacuate from the path of a massive sandstorm that came through overnight. She is bunkered down in a safe refuge, but the secret location of the dig site was compromised when she radioed for help. Her longtime nemesis, Dr. Arthur Tillman, intercepted the transmission and his team is on the way to unjustly steal this once-in-a-lifetime find! Satellite images of the area show that Dr. Tillman and his team are only one hour away from the dig site. You must now use the clues that Dr. Harding left behind for you, find the dinosaur fossils, and escape from the African desert before you competition arrives and claims the find of the century for himself!

First Impressions:

The Tillman Family saga had been a great adventure so far, so we were thrilled that we were only halfway done exploring this excellent meta-story when the time for The Dig came around. Dare 2 Escape’s smallest room would also veer away from the horror themes I’m rather fond of, but with this business’s track record, I wasn’t worried at all!

High Points:

The Dig was a wholly different adventure than the previous two horror focused rooms we had experienced at Dare 2 Escape in regards to story and theme, but the level of quality we had come to expect stayed consistent. This family friendly experience had more straightforward puzzles, but did not skimp on the challenge overall. The game flow works well, and a few teamwork based puzzles keep everyone involved in the action. The game makes sense the whole way through, and the linear puzzling thread that winds through the whole room always makes sense from point to point. All clues lead nicely into each other, and we were never at a loss for what to do next. There are a lot of incredibly creative puzzles to discover within the Egyptian sands, and some of my favorites within this game were great hand crafted interactions that I had never seen before!

The set is fantastic as is usual for Dare 2 Escape and transitioning between each area of the game is natural and convincing. The tomb itself is immersive and boasts some archeological fun that players young and old will enjoy digging into! The story tied into the game cleverly, and from start to finish we enjoyed facing off against our rival Tillman, who threatened to steal away our prize. The Dig was also a great reprieve from the more intense horror based rooms we had just completed, with its bright lights and more light hearted theme, so its place in the overall chronology makes great sense for marathon players. Dare 2 Escape really knows how to make a room come to life using story, lighting, and sound, and The Dig is certainly no exception.

Low Points:

The Dig is very much a smaller room. It still is comfortable for the maximum group size, but the adventure can feel somewhat more limited due to the size of the room and the linear nature of the game flow. However, there were a lot of props to go through, and things can begin to feel cluttered if you aren’t organized and careful. At one point, there was a lock that needed a lot more finesse due to the environment in which this box was located causing it to jam. One particular puzzle felt just a smidge out of place, but it was not unenjoyable, just a little off when compared to the rest of the room’s challenges.

Verdict:

The Dig is yet another awesome chapter in the epic Tillman Saga, as well as a great room for new players and families! Though it lacked the thrills and chills I’d enjoyed in their previous rooms, this was more than made up for with the great puzzling and immersive set. I wholeheartedly recommend this room, and cannot wait to see what the masterminds at Dare 2 Escape come up with next! Book your archaeological expedition here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Dare 2 Escape provided our team with discounted tickets.

Lockbusters – Cremlocke Manor (Review)

Location: Orlando, FL

Players:  2-7 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $29 per person

Time to Escape: 45 minutes

Mr. Cremlocke is quite the lady-killer.

Theme:

Cremlocke Manor has always been the subject of immense speculation and suspicion. The former owner has long since passed away, and the sordid history of the manor has passed into the status of an urban legend. The master of the mansion’s previous four wives all died under mysterious circumstances, and it’s said they, and their treacherous husband, continue to haunt the halls of this once great manor to this day. As paranormal investigators, it’s up to you to see if you can finally put these spirits to rest. Careful, though, as others have gone in with the same good intentions and have never returned!

First Impressions:

For our last spontaneous room of the day, we were taking on Lockbusters’ forty-five minute haunted manor! I always love a spooky room, and this was definitely one of the rooms I was most looking forward to during our time at Lockbusters, even though it was a shorter experience.

High Points:

Cremlocke Manor is definitely a spooky game, with a fantastic story to go along with it. With new story beats popping up fairly frequently, new tidbits of narrative help develop the narrative as we solved. The mystery continued to build until everything culminated in a fantastic climax, propelling us towards a frantic race to complete the final puzzles and set everything right at the end. Cremlocke may be a smaller room than some of Lockbuster’s other experiences, but it has the biggest story of all of them, which really helps with the immersion factor. The puzzles themselves are well integrated into the story as well, and many tie directly into the mystery, allowing each moment to hold a bigger significance than just another roadblock along the game flow. The puzzles became more and more creative as the game continued, and we greatly enjoyed the use of tech within the room to help the ghastly manor become magically alive with supernatural power!

The set itself is fantastic, and feels convincing as the sitting room of an opulent manor home. The lighting effects and creepy sound effects build an atmosphere of creepiness without relying on cheap jump scares and provides a more horror themed than horrific experience overall. The experience provides many clues as to what needs to be done from the start, and does a masterful job of ensuring that the threads of the ultimate solution are intuitive and evident once everything comes together in the final, frantic interaction. Though the room is very linear, this approach works well in delivering a well fleshed out story that did an excellent job surprising us with it’s twists and turns.

Low Points:

The beginning of the room starts off fairly directionless, and the initial interaction doesn’t really have much in the way of cluing to get players going. We wasted a lot of time trying to figure out what to do, and by the time we asked for a much needed hint to get started, we were already feeling the time pressure of a forty-five minute room. One particular early stage puzzle was made even more difficult as we had a little trouble snagging what we needed, which wasn’t an intended challenge. At one point, there’s also a bit of a red herring due to the nature of one of the props used to solve the presented challenge, adding a little too much uncertainty to what exactly we needed to be doing. Due to the room’s linear set up, a bigger group might have trouble staying fully engaged since there’s only so much to work on at one time.

Verdict:

Cremlocke Manor is a great experience for smaller groups and newer players, with a linear game flow that allows for an expansive, and hauntingly excellent story! Enthusiasts will enjoy the immersion level of this room, and the mystery to be solved within is absolutely to die for. If you’re looking for an escape that provides mystery, original puzzles, and a gripping narrative, you definitely cannot go wrong here. Find out what happened in Cremlocke Manor here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Lockbusters provided our team with comped tickets.

Sleuth Kings – Case 022: The Trouble With Wizards (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Alohomora!

Theme:

From the Sleuth King’s website:

Wizard Con is supposed to be one of the best conventions of the year, but Gordon Falco might disagree – someone used it to frame him for a crime he didn’t commit. A mysterious package that showed up on his doorstep is Gordon’s only hope. The sender is missing, but their offer is clear: they can give Gordon the evidence he needs to prove his innocence. The catch? Sullivan has to find and rescue them, first. Can you help Sullivan work a little magic and find the evidence he needs in order to save two men’s lives?

First Impressions:

Time to hit up a con with Sullivan King! Not the usual kind of con Sullivan deals with, but it’ll still be a lot of fun, and hey, you get a free wand out of the deal! Joking aside, this theme is ripe for interesting game play, and we were definitely enthralled by the colorful clues  included with this box! The art design of Sleuth Kings is so unique, and easily one of the things I absolutely love about each box.

High Points:

Sleuth Kings has been on a roll with the massively creative themes lately, and The Trouble With Wizards brings the crime solving to a local convention! The story is another cool set up, with an original setting coupled with a thrilling crime to create an extremely creative mystery.  The inclusion of a new character hinted at during the epilogue of Case 021, A Book A Day, helps expand the Sleuth Kings Universe further, and presents the opportunity to get to know Sullivan a little better. Wizard Con’s awesome spell book brochure, advertising posters and alcoholic potions set up a convincing group of items for this case, as well as bring a sense of whimsy to an otherwise tense life or death mystery. The clues are laid out in a convincing way, and the game flow is incredibly smooth. Each puzzle contributes part of a meta puzzle through a really excellent online interaction, and we very much enjoyed receiving new pieces of the mystery in this way. Even a certain interaction I usually find rather tedious isn’t too bad due to the way it is gradually presented.

The clues included with this mystery are especially layered, more so than usual, which is absolutely saying something! Everything seemed somewhat separate at the beginning, with only a single mysterious thing tying each one together, but as we solved, new and cleverly hidden connections began to emerge. Bringing all the clues together in this way is very satisfying, and the build towards the meta-puzzle was a fun puzzling mountain to climb. Once we had solved the case, there was a small easter egg that allowed us to continue the experience, utilizing some enigmas that we didn’t originally use during the case, which was a cool twist. This helped optionally fill in the back story, and provided a highly satisfying denouement to the experience.

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Yer a wizard, Sully!

Low Points:

We communicated with Sullivan very little during this case, and we really missed the little story breaks that usually accompany an email to Sullivan. They allow for a small respite from puzzling to deliver new story beats, which is a great feature of Sleuth Kings cases. This case felt as though it didn’t have as much build as other cases due to the absence of Sullivan’s jaunts around Dayton or spats with his grandfather when we fed him a new piece of information. This mystery also felt a little easier, and therefore quicker than usual, as one of the main puzzles that takes the most time to solve is a creative, but highly ubiquitous cipher. While it was broken up across the puzzles, keeping us from having to solve too much of it all at once, the cipher did come up a little too much for us at times.

Verdict:

Case 022: The Trouble With Wizards is a great new case that presents some interesting new characters to the meta-story. I’m very interested to see how Sullivan’s relationship with his brother will evolve, especially considering his current investigation into his father’s disappearance. This is definitely an easier case, so it’s a great jumping off point for new Sleuths, but veteran gumshoes will enjoy the story beats that are introduced during the course of this adventure. You can purchase it from the Sleuth King’s archives here, and if you’d like to subscribe to upcoming adventures, 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!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.