Cryptic Quest – Time Warp (Review)

Location: Fayetteville, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Let’s do the Time Warp again!

Theme:

Professor Harrington Rothchild has done it again! He’s built a steam powered time machine, and has been showing it off to all his colleagues and friends. Unfortunately, he’s been much too careless during these demonstrations, and time itself has been thrown into chaos! It is up to you to get into his time machine and correct the time vortex, otherwise everything will soon disappear from this reality: past, present, and future!

And watch out for the Kraken!

First Impressions:

Cryptic Quest has a spacious and very welcoming lobby, which houses some interesting puzzles to play with, though I enjoyed the clear rotational safe that you could unlock by watching how the tumblers interacted the most! It was a fun way to pass the time while waiting for our room to begin. A separate briefing room was provided, and once the somewhat over long rules and safety video had completed, we were led to the time machine!

High Points:

The set is nicely decorated, and the main dashboard is highly tactile, providing several fun interactions to fiddle with during the game. Though the room itself has a very home made feel, care has been taken to put together a detailed and eye catching environment. The room is smaller, but opens up in ways that work with the provided space well, and hosts a bevy of puzzles. One of the best innovations I saw during our game was that next to the timer, a percentage was displayed, showing you how far you’ve come. We really enjoyed knowing this, as it helped inform when we should ask for hints, as well as when we had triggered a solution correctly. This would be a major boon for new players as well who aren’t as versed in gauging how much of a room is left to complete. Game flow is slightly non-linear, and the two of us were able to find something to work on at most points within the room. A simple escape room staple was iterated on in an interesting way, keeping the interaction fresh while adding a challenge.

Low Points:

Some basic printed logic puzzles were included, and though they contributed to some interesting interactions within the room, it felt too much like something you’d find in a puzzle book. One of the most interesting props was part of a puzzle that had a few strange logical leaps, and the answer felt incongruous with the original logic. That prop also lost it’s luster when we realized how much physical work was involved with interacting with it. A few parts of the game flow, while novel, can feel somewhat cheap at times due to the hand made nature of the game, which could turn experienced players off to the room. As the game progresses, you’ll find a lot of unnecessary items, and while they are all on theme, the room gets messy real quick. The puzzling flow works fairly well, but is quite standard overall, leading to very few ah ha moments for experienced players.

Verdict:

Time Warp is a serviceable room that will appeal to beginners more than enthusiasts, though there are several fun additions that we did enjoy seeing within the time machine! I’d recommend giving it a shot if you’re new to the hobby, though if you’re an enthusiast, it may not appeal. There’s definitely a lot of good ideas within the room, though, so I look forward to seeing Cryptic Quest evolve as they iterate and introduce new rooms! You can book your wibbly wobbly timey wimey adventure here!

6/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: Cryptic Quest provided Media Discounted tickets for our team.

Conundrum Escape Adventures Bedford, TX– Sleepy Hollow (Review)

Editor’s Note: Today we have another informative review from Texas correspondent, Cathy Nanni! We are glad to hear she made it out of Sleepy Hollow without a decapitation incident, and as always, thank her for her review! (We’ve also gotten word that Conundrum Escape Adventures has suddenly closed as of August 25th, but hate to toss content, so we present this to you as a bonus review.)

Location: Bedford, TX

Players:   2 – 8 Public bookings, 4 – 10 Private bookings. (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $33 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

“Better get ahead of the horseman!”

Theme:

Just after the American Revolution the small town of Sleepy Hollow became plagued by the Headless Horseman. Can you and your team stop the horseman before he takes your head?  It is up to you to find out the dark secret behind the Horseman and his nemesis Ichabod Crane and save Sleepy Hollow.

First Impressions:

I was grateful for the level of directions given in my confirmation email from Conundrum. Apparently, Sleepy Hollow is at their newest location and they haven’t been able to add their sign to the main strip mall sign out front. I appreciated them providing landmarks around them to help me locate the room.

The lobby is simple but does its job. There are comfortable seats to wait in and a few puzzles to play with. The owners are enthusiasts and belong to the same local Facebook enthusiast community that myself and my teammates are a part of. This allowed them to skip a lot of the escape room spiels we’ve had to listen to over and over that most of us can recite in our sleep.

There’s a large TV in the waiting room that is used to show the rules video. Since we were the only ones there at the time it wasn’t an issue but I’m curious how they handle it when more people are present to do different rooms. I can see situations arising where people aren’t really paying attention to the video. This obviously isn’t a big deal when you have enthusiasts visiting but first timers might need to know to leave the power outlets alone.

High Points:

I’m a sucker for a good set and Conundrum did a nice job of decorating the room to look like the interior of a house from the 1700s. There were just enough props to make it interesting but not so many that you wasted time trying to find clues in random set pieces.

I was also impressed with the variety of puzzles the room offered. When you’re an enthusiast, you don’t often come across a puzzle you haven’t seen a different variation of somewhere else, so it was a pleasant surprise to find some new puzzle concepts to explore.

Low Points:

The Dallas area is seriously lacking in horror themed rooms, which happen to be my favorite, so I went into Sleepy Hollow with high hopes. It was a theme I had never seen done before and such a spooky legend! Much to my disappointment, the room wasn’t scary at all. The only thing that really linked the room to the Legend of Sleepy Hollow were excerpts from Ichabod’s journal that were found each time a puzzle was solved. If you didn’t take the time to read the journal entries, you would just feel like you were escaping from a colonial house. There’s a pivotal moment in the room where I feel they really could have upped the scare factor and transformed the mood of the room to fit the theme more appropriately. However, they seemed to really rein in any aspects of horror.

The room was also simple to the point we solved two puzzles completely by lucky accident and completed the room in less than 30 minutes. The ending was anticlimactic and left you unsure the room had been completed until the GM walked back in to guide you out. I really want the finale of a room to feel like we’ve accomplished something, and that is noticeably absent from this experience.

Currently, Conundrum Escape Adventures is running a $10 off promo making Sleepy Hollow a more reasonable $23. The experience does not justify their regular $33 price tag, as when I’m paying more for a room, the experience must offer something more than 30 minutes of interesting puzzles.

Verdict:

Sleepy Hollow lived up to the “sleepy” in its name rather than the chilling legend it is based on. If you’re looking for a Colonial America themed room with some interesting puzzles then check it out. However, if you’re hoping to feel the thrill of being chased by the Headless Horseman, you won’t get that in this room. This room is better for non-enthusiasts as the puzzles, while creatively done, provide a much simpler, introductory experience. You can book your time in Sleepy Hollow here. (Though the site is still active, this location has since closed down.)

5/10 (Mediocre)

Sleuth Kings – Isaac Case 002 (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Mystery from the Cinders.

Theme:

The search for Isaac King continues in this second bonus mystery from Sleuth Kings! On the trail of an elusive gang, Sullivan has found a former member who might know something about where his father disappeared to, but will only talk if he can stop the attacks that have been going on in his neighborhood. Sullivan needs your help to piece together the evidence and determine how deep this conspiracy goes, or his father’s trail might go permanently cold!

First Impressions:

For those not in the know, one of the many amazing things about Sleuth Kings is that once you’ve successfully solved four cases, you will receive free bonus case that ties into the overarching meta-story of the disappearance of Isaac King. As we had completed our eighth case, it was time for us to continue the hunt for Sullivan’s father! Sleuth Kings being our top favorite monthly box, we dove in as soon as possible!

High Points:

While this may be a bonus case, it’s no less complex than a regular case, and boasts an excellent continuation to the overarching story! Codebreaking puzzles along with an extremely fun tactile interaction all feed into a couple meta puzzles which open up online components that further add to the narrative. The game flow and story deepen as the case evolves, allowing for each thread to unravel slowly, pointing towards new clues and details to explore. Some classic puzzles are involved, and will be spotted immediately by veteran solvers, but are still presented interestingly, with a few twists to keep things fresh. Emails to Sullivan continue to be fantastic additions to the experience, and create a sense of real world progression while not halting the action unnecessarily. The climax sets the mystery up well for a continuation while still presenting a satisfying conclusion, and the epilogue is appropriately equal parts a denouement and cliffhanger.

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Another bonus case full of codes!

Low Points:

The great tactile interaction mentioned earlier was a lot of fun, but I can see some people having a hard time getting it to work. Without spoiling anything, I personally had to seek out some extra tools to really get it going. Others might find it frustrating since there aren’t tools included to finish this one easily, but most people should be able to get it done with household items. One particular part of the metapuzzle was a bit silly in how strained the suspension of disbelief was, though there was an obvious reason for why it was presented in this way. It was still a little more over the top than what we are used to when solving Sleuth Kings cases.

Verdict:

Though you can’t order this case right away, it is an excellent example of how Sleuth Kings adds so much value to their subscriptions. The fact that this free case is so deep and tightly crafted shows that even when something is a bonus, Sleuth Kings does not skimp on the quality! It may take a while to get there, but I highly recommend subscribing so that you too can experience this fantastic story. 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!

8.5/10 (Great)

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

Xscape Factor – Al Capone’s Revenge (Review)

Location: Fayetteville, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $26.50 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

The hunt for Tax Evasion documents!

Theme:

It’s 1930 and Al Capone is on trial in one hour! Unfortunately, Eliot Ness has left his files locked away in his office, and needs that evidence to put the infamous Mob Boss away for good. He’s sent you to retrieve the files, but trusting no one, has set up a series of puzzles in order to keep the files safe. Get those files to the courthouse asap, or risk the newly freed Capone coming for you next!

First Impressions:

Xscape Factor was two for three at this point, with the excellent Haunted and Circus of the Damned blowing us away, but the less than thrilling Abduction tempering our expectations. Our GM was excited for us to play Al Capone’s Revenge, however, stating that it was their most difficult room, but that he was sure we’d absolutely kill it. (Spoiler alert: whenever a GM is sure we’ll set a record, that always means we won’t. Thanks for the vote of confidence, though!)

High Points:

Xscape Factor does a good job with their sets with limited space, which is commendable. The props and room feels convincing and belong within the 1930s. Even the materials used to keep notes during the game are updated to match the theme, which is an excellent touch! A historically minded game always works best when dressed appropriately, and it really helps the immersion immensely. A lot of hard work was obviously put in to make the room look great, and match with the storyline, which is why I feel bad that I’m about to rake the rest of the experience over the coals for a little while.

Low Points:

It is not clever to hide clues in hidden drawers or compartments without having a clue or some part of game flow to direct you to them. It’s probably one of the most frustrating things I’ve seen in any escape room, akin to being asked to shine a black light everywhere because we have a black light. We started this room spinning our wheels because of this, and unfortunately, the game didn’t really improve from there. The difficulty of this game does not stem from clever puzzling or really great and devious design, but rather from randomly hidden clues, a lack of connective tissue, and leaps of threadbare logic. In fact, one particular puzzle had us poring over a map, using imprecise clues to find a tiny word that barely made sense as the solution. These problems were further exacerbated by a strictly linear game design that did not accommodate our group of four well, much less the maximum of eight players. Too often did I or one of my teammates seem to be standing around waiting for something to do since there either wasn’t enough space for all of us to work on a puzzle, or it was just an uninteresting one-person puzzle to begin with. The room is fairly forgettable on the whole, and it’s unfortunate that the interactions I remember the most are those that we despised. Of the rest, I only thought they were run of the mill at best.

Verdict:

It’s unfortunate that Al Capone’s Revenge isn’t a better game. It’s serviceable, but it seems to be one of those games that was was designed for “difficulty” rather than a well designed game flow. As I’ve told many owners, never design for difficulty, as too often doing so results in artificial difficulty. This room is much too arbitrary to be much fun, but I know that Xscape Factor is definitely capable of better, and hope that this room is given a much needed facelift during the next update! For now however, I recommend checking out the much superior Haunted and Circus of the Damned. You can do that here!

4.5/10 (Subpar)

Full Disclosure: Xscape Factor provided Media Discounted tickets for our team.

Xscape Factor – Circus of the Damned (Review)

Location: Fayetteville, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $26.50 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

A Smorgasbord of Spooky Serial Killer Clowns!

Theme:

A deranged killer has been terrorizing Fayetteville, and now he’s come for you! You’re (possibly) lucky, however, because he hasn’t killed you yet, and it seems like he wants to play a game with you. He’s hidden the evidence from his last kill all around his lair, and if you can find them and make your way out of the room in time, he’ll spare your lives. Promising to pin his spree of chaos and murder on you should you fail, you’d better work quickly!

First Impressions:

Having just finished the great Haunted in record time, we were raring to get started with our next Escape Adventure at Xscape Factor! Well, I was at least. The rest of my party does not like clowns. At all. I caught a lot of flak for booking this one, sorry guys! After a short wait, our GM returned to blindfold us and lead us into the lair of the most psychotic clown we’d ever seen.

High Points:

Usually with horror themed rooms, things are spookily themed rather than going for out and out terror. This was definitely not one of those rooms. The creep factor was severely high within Circus of the Damned, and I definitely liked how horrific the room felt at the beginning. As we puzzled, the uneasiness died down, but the set design provided excellent ambiance throughout. A fairly linear room, the Circus still kept us all fully entertained while we worked through the twisted machinations of the killer clown. Puzzles are varied, and bigger ones are doled out slowly as we continued to solve, allowing for everyone to start solving different parts of the room in tandem. There was a lot of fun tech, and only a few mechanical locks, ensuring that the game flow felt varied, and that the answers all had logically sound places to go. The room itself slowly got creepier and darker as we moved through the story, leading us down into the most crazed parts of the killer’s mind.

Low Points:

The storyline is a bit of a jumble, as it seems that the clown is going to frame you for the murders he committed, but he also says he’s going to flay you alive? If you go missing because he killed you, it seems like the frame job would be vastly hard to pin, but we went with it. He’s a psycho anyway, right? There was only one light in the room cycling between several different colors, which helped establish the ambiance, but at the same time made solving some of the color based puzzles much more difficult than they had any right to be. Players with poorer vision will definitely have a hard time with this. This is alleviated in the second half of the room, but just barely. The final puzzle was fun to solve, but unfortunately, the tech fizzled out even though we had the correct code, leading to an ending that fell a bit flat, as we had to confirm our answer with the GM and just… walk out.

Verdict:

Circus of the Damned is a fun if sometimes uneven room that provides a chilling serial killer story and excellent game flow. I’d recommend trying it out if you have an affinity for the horrific and decent vision! The story in this one gets really dark (story-wise and lighting-wise) though, so if you don’t like that sort of thing, I’d check out the less scary, more spooky Haunted instead! You can book your trip to the Circus of the Damned here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Xscape Factor provided Media Discounted tickets for our team.