Escapology Columbia – Mansion Murder (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $29.99 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Keyed Up, Consulting Detectives

Theme:

From the Escapology Columbia website:

Scottish Highlands; New Year’s Eve, 1999.

You are Robert Montgomerie, the only remaining direct heir to the Kildermorie Estate and the Montgomerie family fortune. You’re attending a family gathering, hosted by your Grandfather, Hugh ‘Monty’ Montgomerie, the 9th Earl of Kildermorie to celebrate the dawn of the new Millennium.

As the guests raise a toast, a scream fills the air…Your Grandfather is found dead in the library – and it looks like MURDER!

Suddenly, you’re bundled into the Drawing Room and the door is locked. Confused, you bang on the door and call for help until it dawns on you… that as the direct heir, all fingers are pointed at you! You realize you’ve been framed! But who would want to kill your Grandfather… and why?

 

First Impressions:

Our final room at Escapology Columbia was Mansion Murder, and we were still jazzed to solve the mystery after five straight rooms! There’s not much more to be said that we haven’t already in our five other reviews, (which you can read here,) so let’s jump right in!

High Points:

The room itself was very well designed, boasting perhaps the best set we’d seen at Escapology, and the décor kept up to that standard throughout. There were several great surprises held within this Scottish mansion, with several points at which triggering a puzzle solution opened up a seamless door or prop. The game flow is an excellent mix of tactile interactions, clever puzzling, and intuitive searching. The mostly non linear game kept our group of four very entertained, with multiple puzzles and interactions available at any given time.

We also enjoyed that there was a particular puzzle that could be solved in a couple different ways, allowing us to stretch our brains a little more than usual. Of course, this came at the expense of us doing it the easier way, and was most likely not the intended way to solve this conundrum, but it was a fun solve in any case. The storyline that evolved throughout the room was a great touch, and continued to evoke an Agatha Christie-esque feel, which if you’ve read our review of Budapest Express, you know we love! It’s so sadly rare for an escape room to remain on theme throughout the experience and truly deliver an immersive story, so it was fantastic that Mansion Murder was able to do so!

Low Points:

One puzzle involves math, which is always a bummer, but this particular one was also entirely too vague for something that demanded such a specific answer. It was one of those that makes sense only after you’ve solved the puzzle as other, more straightforward answers tend to be more reasonable. There was also the issue of a red herring appearing during this puzzle that further threw the flow out of whack, leading to more frustration than enjoyment. We were also able to accidentally trigger the solution to one puzzle from idly playing with one of the larger props, but it’s very unlikely to happen, and was more a result of sheer, ridiculous luck.

Verdict:

Easily one of the best rooms at Escapology Columbia, I highly recommend trying out Mansion Murder for a story based mystery that will keep you immersed until the end! Boasting an excellently built set, mostly smooth puzzling flow, and some great hidden surprises, it’s definitely an excellent time for beginners and enthusiasts alike! Book your time in Grandpa Monty’s manor here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Escapology Columbia provided comped tickets for our team.

Escape Artist Greenville – Classified (Review)

Location: Greenville, SC

Players: 4-5 (This is a hard limit, you must have 4 or 5 ONLY. We recommend 4.)

Price: $30 per person (Always private booking)

Time to Escape: 75 minutes

[REDACTED]

Theme:

I can’t tell you much about the theme of Classified since it’s… well… classified. I mean, I could; we did the room, but that would spoil the fun. Basically, Escape Artist Greenville has a mission for you, and once you arrive, they’ll tell you all about it! (For the skittish, it’s definitely not horror based, as noted on their website,) However, we’ve left some clues in our after room photo:

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Per the above, Classified must be about a intrepid D.A.R.E. task force who are tracking the Shake-Weight Killer during Mardi Gras using only their wits, fanny packs, and massive machetes. (This is totally not the theme, but now that I write it, I want to play this room.)

First Impressions:

This was our 15th room on a 17 room birthday escape extravaganza, so I had actually forgotten that we were given no clues as to what the theme of the room was until we were just about to start our adventure, which made that segment of the game that much cooler. Our GM came in an explained the mission to us, gave us what we needed to complete it, and sent us on our merry way! I’ll just say I was surprised but very intrigued by what we were getting ready to do!

High Points:

One thing I can say without spoiling anything is that Classified works off of a point system, and even though we were able to obtain the full run of points and make the leaderboard, it was a tough but highly rewarding experience! Though challenging, the room flows extremely well, and the puzzles and connections made between them are intuitive, requiring no logical leaps or mind reading to complete. The experience itself is also layered in ways we were not expecting, allowing the room to open up as we progressed, but doing so in a manner we had never seen before. The masterful use of space added an excellent level of required teamwork to the game that lasted the entire experience. In fact, through this team focused game design, there was never a dull moment for any of us; we kept engaged and immersed for the whole mission!

Our Game Master was an integral part of the experience, giving story beats and popping in to be generally hilarious from time to time, and the way he interacted with our group was top notch. All of our experiences with GMs at Escape Artist were awesome, but our adventure through Classified was made even more amazing through his efforts. The puzzles themselves are highly varied, and allow for some great tactile challenges, many of which we’d not seen before in other escape rooms. In fact, this game held some of the most highly original designs we saw on our weekend trip, making this easily one of, if not the, top games we played during this outing!

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We had to take a picture because we did all of these rooms on the last day of September! Oh, our fleeting leaderboard glory!

Low Points:

We aren’t the biggest fans of process puzzles, (puzzles in which you devise a method of solving and must then enact the method,) and there’s a huge one we spent a large chunk of time on in Classified. Running through the steps over and over began to become frustrating, and though we knew how to solve the puzzle, hitting all those steps just wasn’t interesting overall. However, that’s just one puzzle of many within this excellent room!

Verdict:

Save for one section of Classified, this room is flawless! With an amazing flow, great storyline, and excellent variations on the usual escape room theme, Classified is one of my favorite rooms in South Carolina. I’d expect players would like to have a room or two under their belts before booking Classified, as it is a challenging experience requiring excellent teamwork, but I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in the area. And if you need some recommendations on that first room to get warmed up, why not try out Dr. Fratelli’s Cabin, also at Escape Artist? Book your top secret mission here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Escape Artist Greenville provided media discounted tickets for our team.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Carnival of Chaos (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Step right up!

Theme:

From the Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

The Shadow Brothers’ Carnival of Chaos had only been setup in Valley Falls for a little more than a day when Madame Ruby was found murdered in her fortune teller’s wagon, bludgeoned to death with her own crystal ball.  Although the killer was efficient in their killing, they left Madame Ruby before they were certain she was dead.  In a last ditch effort to provide information about the one who murdered her, Madame Ruby managed to scrawl this note before passing over into the Great Beyond:  “The spirits will tell you who did this to me.” The prime suspects for the murder come from the freak show.  Those are the people you need to focus on.  However, if they won’t talk, maybe the spirits will.  There have been reports of some strange occurrences going on at night after the midway shuts down.  The carnies are claiming that something is using the midway games to leave cryptic messages.  So you have a murder investigation, a creepy carnival, and a midway that may or may not be haunted by ghosts who are seeking to shed some light on Madame Ruby’s murder by leaving messages amongst the test-your-luck games.

First Impressions:

I’ve found that The Deadbolt Mystery Society is at it’s best when delving into the supernatural and spooky, and though their murder mysteries tend to be excellent as well, in my opinion when things get creepy, the fun factor ramps up! When I found out that our friends from S.T.A.L.K., who previously assisted on The Haunting of Indigo House, were returning to investigate the haunted midway of the Shadow Brother’s Carnival of Chaos, I was immediately excited to delve into the mystery!

High Points:

It was time to solve our first mystery at our new house! Obviously, we wanted to make sure it was great, so we grabbed the newest Deadbolt box and got to sleuthing!Continuing to innovate with some of the usual parts of a Deadbolt box, the suspects have been complied within a snazzy booklet advertising the Carnival! The haunted midway is presented excellently, and a map of the carnival itself is helpful in portraying the area. S.T.A.L.K.’s new website is excellent, and I’m really enjoying the expansion of the most recent Deadbolt boxes via substantial websites and social media pages.

The game flow is really engaging, and though there is no set path through the puzzles, it feels like everything leads into each separate piece smoothly. The tidbits of information that are hidden throughout the experiencer really help tie everything together as you solve your way through, and there are some truly clever intuitive deductions to make between pieces of evidence that we really enjoyed. The satisfaction of solving this box is real. To help new players along, a tips page has been included with this box, and those who don’t quite know where to start or are new to the whole experience will definitely benefit from giving it a once over. We’ve become experts at this, and there was still some good information included for us to keep in mind as well! A link to the finale has been included as well, circumventing the break of immersion that seeking out the Deadbolt website generally entails, and allows the box to keep the experience whole for the full game.

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Try your luck, and don’t mind the ghosts! These games are scary good! (I’m sorry, I’ll see myself out.)

Low Points:

After The Cabin’s astounding leap forward in storytelling, it was just slightly disappointing to return to the previous formula. It’s a very small change, but it was a lot of fun to solve the mystery in the moment, so we hope that returns one day! One particular puzzle shows up twice with slightly different coding, but with the exact same solving method. This type of puzzle also showed up in a previous recent box, which causes these to feel even more redundant overall. One of these in particular is very hard to differentiate between, which is much more frustrating than it needs to be. A bit clearer of a printout would help immensely in this situation. One particular elimination is circumstantial at best, and though we reasoned out the solution without help, we required the solution page in order to figure out why a certain suspect was innocent. The evidence was very light, to say the least, so an extra puzzle or story note would’ve helped clear this one up significantly.

Verdict:

Though not quite on the level of The Cabin’s masterful storytelling, the mystery conveyed within Carnival of Chaos is excellent, providing hours of supernatural puzzling and sleuthing to enjoy. I love that the most recent boxes have delved into the realm of the spooky, and am excited to see that continue with December’s The Toymaker! Join the Deadbolt Mystery Society here! Right now, you can get 30% off your first box with the Promo Code TRYDMS! 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.

Escapology Columbia – Th3 C0d3 (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $29.99 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Hack the World!

Theme:

The notorious hacker Nitr0 is plotting something big, and as a team of rookie FBI agents assigned to the case, you’re looking to bring him down! You’ve recently stumbled across what you believe to be his current location, and in a mad rush to make a name for yourself, you rush to the scene in order to take him down! Unfortunately, this was all an elaborate ruse, and you’ve been locked inside by Nitr0, who tells you that he has alerted your office to “Nitr0’s” whereabouts and will be framing you for his crimes! With only an hour to escape, you’ll have to beat the hacker at his own game and escape!

First Impressions:

We were jazzed for a high tech hacker themed room, and couldn’t wait to see what was in store within Th3 C0d3, leetspeak aside. Other rooms promising high tech themes had ranged from disappointing to awesome, so I was eager to see what Escapology could do with this theme. Imagine my surprise when we entered Nitr0’s lair and it was… a dorm room with Dorito wrappers strewn about. Obviously we’d yet to reach the inner sanctum, so we got to puzzling immediately!

High Points:

It was super obvious that Nitr0 was evil, due to his University of South Carolina Gamecock decorations! (Go Tigers!) Kidding aside, it was fun to see that an evolving, if light, story was told through our timer. Every so often, we were interrupted by our hacker “friend” for a nice round of taunting, reminding us of how little time we had left, and how close the FBI was to finding us. It was an interesting twist on a basic item you’ll find in almost every escape room. A couple of puzzles stood out from the norm, with one excellent tactile one surprising us with its simple, yet elegant conveyance of a code. The puzzling itself was fine, if a little basic, and tended to work well for the most part. The use of a news broadcast also added a fair amount of flavor to the room, and kept us immersed in tension!

Low Points:

There was a distinct absence of many tech based puzzles, which is ok in general but for a hacker themed escape room, this feels like a missed opportunity. I understand that a hacker might be distrustful of utilizing too much technology in his lair, but the theme would be better served with more ubiquitous technical wizardry about. The set was ok, but was a far cry from what we expected, since our foe’s lair was a college dorm room. The set itself really improved as we progressed, but unfortunately, when it got really cool, we were moments away from the end. Quite a few logical leaps abounded, with tenuous connections stalling the game flow and leaving us wondering how we were supposed to intuitively come up with some of the answers. Overall, the game flow would’ve benefitted from more robust connective tissue between puzzles. There were moments of nonlinearity, but overall, there just wasn’t quite enough for all four of us to keep entertained for the full experience, and by the end, one person was responsible for halting the evil schemes of Nitr0. This ended up being a very bland climax, which could’ve been made so much better if the choice that seems to be presented through audio clips was a true one, or if the puzzle itself wasn’t so very banal.

Verdict:

Th3 C0d3 has an interesting theme, but unfortunately the puzzles and set don’t quite do it justice. Still, the room is competently made, and newcomers will more than likely  find it engaging. Enthusiasts will have seen a lot of the challenges inside before, so I recommend trying out Mayday or Budapest Express instead. You can book your time matching wits with Nitr0 here!

6/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: Escapology Columbia provided comped tickets for our team.

Game On Escapes & More – Grinched (Review)

Location: Cary, NC (Also Columbia, SC via The Final Door)

Players: 3-7 (We recommend families of any size!)

Price: $22 per person ($20 at The Final Door)

Time to Escape: 45 minutes

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch!

Theme:

A certain green villain has stolen your letters to Santa! Not only that, but he’s made sure you won’t be able to find them by breaking into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Claus, boarding up the chimney and sealing away Mrs. Claus’s magical cookie recipe! The Clauses are away on official Christmas business, so it’s up to you and your family to right the Grinch’s wrongs, and maybe leave behind some treats for Santa on the way!

First Impressions:

Game On is one of our favorite local escape rooms, and they’ve partnered with one of our favorite escape rooms of all time, The Final Door, to help families celebrate the magic of Christmas with a new seasonal escape room! I can’t think of a better holiday activity than an escape, (or several escapes, as every holiday trip to my parent’s house over the last few has evidenced!) Game On invited us to test out this new room as soon as they’d finished, and of course, we jumped at the chance!

High Points:

To start the room, we were given crayons and asked to write our letters to Santa, which we did dutifully, as you can see below! We asked for pretty standard stuff, I think…

A bag of clementines, World Peace, the vengeance of Ares. You know, easy gifts.

Our letters were then to be delivered by one of Santa’s best elves, but alas! The Grinch intercepted her and whisked them away, and thus our adventure began. Santa’s house itself is bright and colorful, with spectacular Christmas decorations all around, and so many (locked) presents to open. The game itself is perfect for families, with a non-linear flow for children to work separately if they like, but at a difficulty level that allows for kids to work at their own pace on each individual puzzle if that’s preferred. Difficulty isn’t too simple, however, so parents can still enjoy the room by assisting their little ones with their adventure. The room is highly accessible for junior escapees, and several teamwork puzzles are available to encourage everyone to work together as a family!

There are so many tactile puzzles to manipulate, and clever technical and mechanical workings that truly bring the room to life with Christmas Magic! From start to finish, the game is an absolute joy to engage with, and families are going to love popping open or activating each and every surprise contained within the room. In fact, there are a few awesome activities that I won’t spoil here that are absolutely brilliant. I’ve played a few seasonal rooms before, and it almost always feels like a step down from a permanent room, but Grinched does not skimp on quality, keeping up to the high standards that both Game On Escapes & More and The Final Door have set for their rooms!

Low Points:

As far as I can tell, Santa did not entreat Ares to smite my enemies. However, Christmas has not yet arrived, so I remain optimistic.

Verdict:

Even though this room is geared towards children and their parents, our team of three veteran enthusiasts loved puzzling through Santa’s house! Families are in for a treat, especially parents who love escape rooms but haven’t been able to find one to take their young puzzlers to! I absolutely recommend this room for any kid or kid at heart, but be quick, this room won’t be around long, so book your time saving Christmas here! This room is also available at The Final Door, where you can book here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Game on Escapes & More provided comped tickets for our team.