Escape Room Fairfax – Molly’s Horror Room (Review)

Location: Fairfax, VA

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Who you gonna call?

Theme:

From the Escape Room Fairfax website:

Molly loved songs, and dolls, and teddy bears just like any other girl. Then two years ago, little Molly disappeared…Her room looks exactly as she left it, untouched (by the living). Lately, Molly’s parents have noticed strange and frightful disturbances. First, only bumps in the night. Now, Molly’s parents fear for their lives. They keep Molly’s room locked tight, to keep-in whatever (or whoever) is haunting them.You and your team are from the Department of Paranormal Investigations, and you’ve been invited to investigate Molly’s room. Unfortunately, you, too, will have to be locked-in. Will you uncover the secret of missing Molly? You’ll have to rely on wit, courage, and the clues you find hidden throughout Molly’s room. This cold-case will be hard to crack, and night-lights won’t keep these ghosts at bay. Can you handle the horror?

First Impressions:

Sometimes after reviewing a business several times, it becomes hard to give a first impression, as we’ve already had several impressions. So far, Escape Room Fairfax had proved to be serviceable, with average to good, if not great rooms. However, I really enjoyed their mural for Molly’s Horror Room. I have selected my favorite part, and shared below for your viewing pleasure.

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All shall love me and despair!

High Points:

Molly’s Horror Room stood out to me as a very enjoyable haunted room. It wasn’t overly flashy, but subtle touches created a great spooky ambiance. The storm brewing outside, coupled with a growing sense of unease as we worked through the adventure, developed a great atmosphere for horror themed puzzling, and I really loved how crazy the set became the further we delved. There were some cool sound design touches that evoked the theme in an immersive way, and a few good surprises kept us on our toes but didn’t overdo it with constant jump scares. The storyline was appropriately mysterious, and it was fun to uncover the truth behind the hauntings, which all culminated in a fantastic climax that mostly paid off the story ideas well. The puzzles themselves were a mixed bag, but two larger scale set pieces were a great time to solve using, and provided some fantastic late game moments of revelation. Though the game itself is fairly basic, first generation fare, there are a few spots of tech that do an excellent job bringing a sense of the supernatural into the game.

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I always love when a business spices up the entry doors to their rooms. It doesn’t even have to be all that elaborate, a little bit goes a long way.

Low Points:

On a general note, if you’re going to have a dark room, please provide a one to one ratio of flashlights to players. This room does not, and it’s generally frustrating, especially if you’re one of the folks doing without. As previously mentioned, the game here can be somewhat basic, and while escapes like this can be excellent, this one was mostly average, puzzle-wise. The room was also somewhat older, with a few of the props showing some real wear and tear, especially on some of the more tactile props we used. The connective tissue of the game was rather loose, and a few times, the puzzles made little sense between clues and solutions. Two in particular have some very weird logic that only sort of makes sense, and even then, only when you already know the solution. One more egregious example makes little sense at all, and has a solution that just feels completely random, even after the lock is open. Cluing overall is somewhat ambiguous, and it takes a lot of guess and check from time to time just to figure out what items are trying to say. The room doesn’t need to be made easier, but a bit of intuitive signposting would greatly help this room from having as many choke points as it does. As the room is supremely linear, this problem can compound quickly, and a larger group is definitely going to have a few folks waiting around for something to do. Finally, though the room does have a really engaging story and atmosphere, a little more closure during the climax would be nice, as a few story threads remain dangling at the end.

Verdict:

Molly’s Horror Room is certainly the spookiest room at Escape Room Fairfax, at least of the ones we experienced, though the puzzles are fairly basic and the game itself isn’t quite as exciting as the atmosphere and storyline. As an adventure, I recommend checking it out if you’re a fan of the supernatural and macabre, but as an escape room, it’s just ok, so I’d advise looking into other rooms if you’re seeking a more complete experience. Book your time exorcising Molly’s Horror Room here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room Fairfax provided media discounted tickets for this room.

 

Sleuth Kings – Case 028: Year of the Cat (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

I believe my cat Athena said it best when she said, “mmmrrrap.”

Theme:

From the Sleuth Kings website:

Spencer Dye is being targeted by the serial arsonist known only as “The Cat,” which means one thing – her life could go up in flames at any moment. To save herself, Spencer has only one option: find the connection she shares with The Cat. Then – and only then – will she stand a chance of stopping them. Can you help Sullivan and Spencer extinguish a burning grudge that spans decades?

First Impressions:

Rather than a first impressions, I’m going to give you a “spoilers without context” for this box:

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That should tell you everything you need to know, you can probably skip to the end now, right? Seriously, though, I love that cat.

High Points:

One of our favorite things about Sleuth Kings is the cute art style that’s frequently included as part of most cases. We especially loved the set of zodiac cards that played a part in a few of the interactions, as the illustrations were adorable. All the main props included in this adventure are extremely well designed and deliver an immersive and tactile experience, which is always appreciated in any subscription box. This, along with the superbly exciting storyline, create a immersively themed experience we enjoyed puzzling through. The story is delivered well through the puzzles and emails from Sullivan, culminating in an exciting climax that fits with the high stakes of the investigation well. Characters are properly nuanced, and this box avoids the black and white of many mysteries by including some very gray area that provides the experience with fantastic depth.

Puzzles are good, and the beginning starts off well with an easy victory, smoothly transitioning towards more complex conundrums as the difficulty curve steepens. The structure of the game also breaks a bit with tradition, throwing a curve ball or two into the game, which can be good or bad, depending on your level of experience with Sleuth Kings mysteries. (It definitely confuddled us, but experimenting with the formula and changing things up definitely keeps things fresh.) One particular logic puzzle we loved came later in the game, and allowed us to continue to use the cute zodiac cards to organize our thoughts. I’m really not a huge fan of logic puzzles at their base level, but Sleuth Kings really spices this one up with some great clues and a tactile way of putting all of them together! All the interactions were beautifully integrated into the Chinese New Year theme, and we also learned a little bit about the Chinese zodiac without realizing it; the best way to learn!

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Low Points:

While the first half or so of the game is fairly intuitive, there is one point at which there is a big leap of logic we felt wasn’t quite clued well enough to prevent confusion. After going back over things a couple times, we were still confused as to how we were meant to ultimately bridge the gap between a certain puzzle and the identity it was trying to convey. During that time, we used these same clues to come to what seemed like perfectly valid solutions, so a bit of tightening of the connective tissue would help a lot here. We noticed that a couple other puzzles included some assumptions here and there that would have benefitted from a general clue or nudge to close some of the leaps. One is very small, in fact, and might’ve been slightly less frustrating with a small notation on how this solution should be organized. A particular puzzle was very similar to ones we’ve seen in previous boxes, and while we do enjoy it, it may be overly familiar for some sleuthing veterans.

Verdict:

Year of the Cat has a cute set up, fun puzzles, and an immersive story, but could benefit from stronger connective tissue and a mite bit more cluing. That’s not to say this is a bad box, we certainly had a lot of fun with it, and appreciated Sleuth King’s usual strong characterization, well paced storytelling, and wonderful art style along with the quirky puzzling, and I think players new and old will have a good time working through the Year of the Cat! You can purchase this and other previous cases 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!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

 

Southern Pines Escape – Da Vinci’s Office (Review)

Kara’s Note: This review is brought to you by me! 😀

Location: Southern Pines, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Da Vinci’s Other Code

Room Description, from the Southern Pines Escape website:

Leonardo da Vinci was one the greatest minds the world has ever known. He invented, painted, sculpted and did so many things that we are still trying to figure out. We can’t do it alone. Many have tried and failed. Time and time again Leonardo’s riddles baffle us. You and your friends have been granted a rare private viewing of Leonardo’s own private quarters. Now it’s up to you. You’ve got an hour. Can you do what many before you have tried and failed time after time?

Pre-Room Thoughts

Surprisingly, I have not done a Da Vinci themed room before. There are so many possibilities that such a room can cover – art, science, math, history, etc. – so I was excited to see what this one would hold!

Yay Points

When I first walked into the room, I immediately appreciated how big it was. It is definitely able to hold the maximum of 8 people the entire time! It had great and large on-theme decorations, and I could tell there was a lot of effort put into the creation of some of the props in this room.

There were interesting ideas behind some of the puzzles, and we really enjoyed one in particular early on in the game.

Pondering Points

I was told this was one of Southern Pines Escapes’ oldest available rooms, and unfortunately, that made our experience make a lot more sense.

Even though I liked the ideas behind many of the puzzles, the execution of them was marred by the fact that they seemed worn. This slowed us down because we had to repeat some puzzles multiple times or make guesses to some of the answers because the puzzles did not always get their placement exactly right, which was pivotal to solving them. One puzzle was held up by locks, of which some were broken so that they were coming off the wall. It was a potentially interesting idea, but its broken state made it hard to solve and confusing to approach. Another puzzle also got in its own way by accidentally obscuring its own clues, which was a shame because it was also a more unique idea. The directions to both of these puzzles were also a little confusing, and we ended up needing to guess and check at the right answers.

Those puzzles weren’t the only ones we had those issues with as there seemed to be more than a few logical leaps within this room, sometimes due to incomplete directions or just a general lack of cluing, which made a number of the puzzles more difficult to solve, but in the worst possible way. There were also some intentional (or perhaps unintentional) and unnecessary red herrings. While I do admit my bias against red herrings, this definitely made an already tiring room more frustrating, and made it harder to figure out what was actually important to solving a couple of the puzzles. (That being said, one of the puzzles to which I am referring likely had a lot of great effort that went into it, and I do appreciate the information it otherwise contained.)

A couple of times, we had to guess at which set of clues went with which puzzle, as the style of the clues overlapped with each other. The room also contained many of the same-type locks without an easy way to match locks with puzzles, which made us need to try our answers on multiple locks until we found the right one.

I do not often see destructible state puzzles, which become impossible to solve if you move things around (and therefore mess up the information you need to solve it), but we had to use a hint on one because that is exactly what we did. (Editor’s Note: Also, there was no indication that there was a destructible state puzzle in play, further muddling things.)

Despite some great uses of the theme, there were a couple of missed opportunities with some of the room’s decorations – and I mean that literally because they didn’t serve more than an aesthetic purpose. Of course, this is not inherently a bad thing (as most rooms have amazing decorations that solely serve to exhibit the theme of the room), but is surprising given the prominence of the props, the types of props they are, and the effort it likely took to build them when there were likely easier ways to do them.

Final Verdict

The Da Vinci room has a lot of potential, but would certainly benefit from some updates and added cluing. It was not the best room we did at Southern Pines Escapes, so I would definitely recommend their other ones first – in particular, the Wizard Thief (review to come!) However, you are definitely welcome to check the room out for yourself here.

2/10 (Bad)

Rush Hour Live Escape Games – Lost Jewel of Zanzibar (Review)

Location: Fredricksburg, VA

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: Prices vary, see website for more details

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

How did so many jewels become lost?

Theme:

From the Rush Hour Live Escape Games website:

The year is 1930 and your former colleague, Magnus Ferguson, has sent you a distressing request to collect a hid, mystical gem in the heart of Africa. Fleeing a powerful, bloodthirsty African warlord, he has left you clues on how to find the exotic treasure. Beat the warlord to the gem or suffer the wrath of his army!

First Impressions:

Our third room at Rush Hour Live was a bit of a mental break for us, as we were informed that it was one of their more beginner level rooms. As it was also our 22nd of the 23 rooms we’d be experiencing this trip, it was certainly not unwelcome news. The friendly game master let us know they were excited to watch us blow through the room, (and we managed to escape the usual jinx of doing terrible when people tell us this,) and we immediately got to puzzling! We were more than ready to uncover another lost jewel!

High Points:

To start, it was explained to us that we’d need to enter all of our answers into a part of the set that was prominently displayed. It was certainly a creative way to have a meta puzzle presented within what was ultimately a fairly low-tech room, and it was an enjoyable way to solve, some issues aside. The game flow for the room was very straightforward, and therefore worked pretty well, coupling a mostly non-linear beginning and middle with a dense amount of puzzling that was able to sustain our whole group. The puzzles are fairly engaging, if somewhat basic, and make good use of the space provided within the game, and the connections between each clue were intuitive, providing some small moments of revelation that kept us engaged with the experience. The climax was appropriately exciting, and the final reveal was a fun way to cap off the room. I also continue to be impressed by the job that Rush Hour Live does sound proofing their rooms. At no point did we hear any of the noise from the other six rooms around us, allowing us to remain immersed within the adventure for the full time.

Low Points:

Though the set for Lost Jewel of Zanzibar is competently made, it was definitely the least interesting, visually, of the rooms we experienced at Rush Hour Live. It takes place, for the most part, within a tent and though there are a couple of interesting set pieces, overall it is fairly banal. Puzzles were also the most basic here, which makes sense, as this is one of their easier rooms, but we found several of the puzzle types to be fairly basic, especially one of the penultimate puzzles, which included a problem that felt more like homework than an exciting escape room conundrum. One of the main inputs for this game was interesting as previously stated, but one problem with it is that there was no feedback on solutions, meaning that this meta puzzle could throw everything out of whack and suck up a lot of time if anything is incorrect or misplaced. A few puzzles also felt out of theme and included “because escape room.” Throughout the experience, there never felt like there was much of a connection to the stated story, outside of the gem we were meant to discover, and there wasn’t a sense of urgency other than the fact that we were in an escape room. Overall, this room was average, nothing too egregious, but it never quite differentiated itself from the pack.

Verdict:

Lost Jewel of Zanzibar is a good room for beginners, with an approachable game flow and intuitive connections, though it may be a bit basic for players with more experience. I recommend checking it out if you’re new to the hobby, but after getting a couple rooms under your belt, this one may lose a bit of its luster. However, it is a serviceable, family friendly experience, and I can recommend it to those looking for that sort of game. Book your time hunting for the lost jewel here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: Rush Hour Live Escape Games provided media discounted tickets for this room.

 

The Conundrum Box – Sleepy Hollow Part 3: The Headless Horseman

Kara’s Note: This review comes to you from me!

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Theme:

From The Conundrum Box website:

SAVE THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AND SAVE YOURSELF FROM THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN

This three part series takes place during American Revolution and afterwards. General Washington’s life is in danger! He has tasked you to help stop the most recent assassination plot. Your leads have led you to the small village of Sleepy Hollow where you meet the townsfolk, and soon discover their dark secrets. The second and third adventures in this season get weirder and darker.

First Impressions:

As the last box in the Sleepy Hollow series, I was excited to see how the story would end. Given the interesting twist and cliff-hanger of Part 2, there’s no telling where this one would lead!

Yay Points:

The story drops you in the middle of a predicament, and it’s not long before you’re able to escape and get some clarity on the situation. You are soon tasked with multiple sub-goals to help you toward your larger goal, and fortunately, you’re provided with a document to keep track of each one you’ve achieved. This is immensely helpful since this box is jam-packed (in a good way!) with puzzles of varying difficulty levels and a lot of satisfying solves.

The clues interacted with each other in many interesting ways. In particular, there was one set of deceivingly simple clues that played a helpful role in a couple of the puzzles, and we really enjoyed deciphering them. We had some good lightbulb moments when making connections, and also some ‘ohhhh’ moments when catching ourselves overthinking. On a potentially unrelated note, if you’re like us, please remember to look on the front and back of everything. 😀

It was pretty clear what we needed from Parts 1 and 2 to help us solve some of the puzzles, with a lot of good callbacks to them. (Side note: Though it’s taken me 3 boxes to finally learn, I will also be a little better at notetaking when I make a solve or notice something in a box series that doesn’t seem to be used in the current box.) I also really liked how one set of clues built upon a prop from a previous box to make for a new interaction, and more tactile players will benefit by having another figure to help you visualize this puzzle.

In the previous box, I noted how one of the color puzzles was tricky as I had a hard time telling some of the colors apart. I’m happy to report that it wasn’t an issue in this box!

As with all The Conundrum boxes, we really appreciate the incremental hint system that the website provides. It’s really helpful in making sure you’re on the right track, and also helps you figure out how solve it so you can learn and understand the process.

Pondering Points:

While my husband and I both agreed that this box started and ended great, the middle can be a little rough for players who don’t enjoy longer process puzzles. (Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Kara for having much more patience than I for process puzzles. My disdain for them has been well documented.) One of the puzzles involved a challenge that I found satisfying to solve, but can definitely be an exhausting experience for many players to repeat the process so many times (especially since even if you know what to do, it’s not always an easy find).

There was also one puzzle that I really relied on the hint system to help fill in the blanks on what I need to do with it to make the solve. I may have missed it, but perhaps a little more direction in the puzzle would be helpful.

We liked how one puzzle gave us an easy/hard option to choose from. However, we were a little disappointed when we found out that none of our possible solutions to the hard puzzle worked because one of the clues seemed to contradict the accepted answer (though, giving a shout-out to the hint system for instant-gratification to help us figure this out). This should hopefully be an easy fix, though.

Verdict:

This box had a lot of great puzzles that were fun to solve, though there were a couple longer ones that may be a hit or miss with players. It certainly was an interesting end to the series, and provided a surprising foreshadowing of a future box. Subscribe to The Conundrum Box here! You can get $5 off your first box with our Promo Code ERA5OFF!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: The Conundrum Box provided a complementary review copy.