Time Traveler Escape Games – Dr. Trott’s Apothecary (Review)

Location: Charleston, SC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

A bit of heroin for your cold will fix you right up!

Theme:

It’s 1867 and the rain has been falling in Charleston, SC for four straight days. Citizens are beginning to worry that Dr. Trott is the reason for all their woes, due to the fact that he’s captured a mermaid within his apothecary and refuses to set her free! The unprecedented storm threatens to bury the whole city underwater unless you can find the mermaid and set her free. Dr. Trott returns in an hour, though, so you’d better act fast!

First Impressions:

Dr. Trott’s Apothecary is based on a local legend that you can read about here! It’s really quite fascinating that people truly rioted outside of a pharmacy because they thought that the owner was holding a mermaid hostage, but that’s the 1800’s for you. An escape room based on the hidden legends of Charleston really sounded like a fantastic idea, so we were very excited to give Time Traveler Escape Games a visit during our most recent trip out!

High Points:

Dr. Trott’s Apothecary is well decorated, housing some excellent tech, lighting, and sound effects to simulate the storm, as well as other hidden surprises to assist with the immersion factor of the game. Though there are a few trick puzzle boxes and locks, generally a huge escape room sin, they are clued cleverly and justify their inclusion by being more than just a box purchased online and sat in the room for no thematic reason. The game flow runs nicely, and is non linear for the most part, with a subtle clue to start off the room’s puzzling threads. Each section of the apothecary feels like it’s own level of sorts, with all the threads coming together to unlock the next segment, leading to another challenge that repeats the process. We are big fans of this video game like style of escape room puzzling and are glad to see it catching on in Charleston!

Connections within the room are intuitive, and the meta puzzles for each step work smoothly, with the original and sometimes room spanning puzzles keeping our group of five engaged with the story throughout the entire adventure. When we needed a hint or two our GM provided clever clues that gave us just the right amount of push without giving the answer away outright, which is always appreciated. There’s quite a few props to play around with, and all of them are integrated well into the theme of a sea loving, (perhaps too much,) pharmacist from the 1860’s.

Low Points:

One puzzle failed spectacularly on us, and it seemed like there was no backup to overcome the technical problem. Though we eventually were able to force it to finally trigger, it burned a lot of time off of our clock. From behind the scenes looks of other tech heavy rooms I’ve done, I’ve noticed most have a program of backups in place should a puzzle be solved and the prop not trigger, so that might be worth looking into for Time Traveler Escape Games. Though light on hidden objects for hidden objects’ sake, there is one that felt overly well hidden, and without a puzzle or clue to help find it, it feels like a random scavenger hunt rather than an exciting solve. One early puzzle was interesting, but involved a fairly large leap of logic, coupled with searching for a small marking that just blends in with its surroundings, leading to some early frustration on our part. There’s also no timer within the room, which adds to the authenticity, but can make marking your progress within difficult, so this could really go either way based on your preferences.

Verdict:

Dr. Trott’s Apothecary is a fun room for first time players and enthusiasts alike, delivering multiple stages of puzzling fun. Though there are a couple points at which the room failed on us, these seem to be isolated cases of bad luck and I still recommend checking this one out in order to delve into the hidden history of Charleston for an hour, and commend Time Traveler Escape Games on coming up with such an excellent idea. Book your rescue mission here!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Time Traveler Escape Games comped our tickets for this room.

Room 5280 – The Dark Room (Review)

Location: Raleigh, NC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

In the dark of the night!

Theme:

Something strange happened in this mysterious dark room, and it’s up to you to determine what. The previous occupant is long gone, but the mystery endures. Follow their lead, and you might just make it out. There’s more than meets the eye to unearth within, but you’ll have to discover the path within an hour, otherwise you might become part of the mystery itself!

First Impressions:

The Dark Room, like Classified, is slight on details in order to heighten the mystery of the room. From what we could gather, however, this would be a spooky, though not outright scary, adventure. Further, the room was based on a true story, with psychological roots, so we were very excited to uncover the mystery behind this escape!

High Points:

The atmosphere of The Dark Room is excellent, as the pitch darkness coupled with creepy props and designs quickly immersed our group within the world of the room. It became immediately clear that the previous captive of this room had left bread crumbs for us along the way, and these were hidden well, but highly intuitively for the most part! The theme of the room was pretty great, with subtle hints as to what might be going on buried within the puzzles and props. We liked the idea that someone had already escaped, and we were following in their footsteps, as it sort of flipped the ubiquitous kidnapping genre on it’s head.

Once again, we appreciated the trademark streamlined set and game flow of Room 5280, as well as the great use of almost everything in the room to contribute to the puzzles, connecting everything together cleverly. Each clue along the way feels important, ensuring that the experience was light on filler. The game flow works very well, if mostly linearly, and kept us all engaged until the very end with original and finely crafted puzzles. The climax of the room is appropriately exciting, and the interaction at the end was simple, but very much on theme and a lot of fun to experience.

Low Points:

The four of us were only given a couple flashlights in order to explore this dark room, and though this is sometimes done in the name of promoting teamwork, everyone in the room should have their own flashlight, as it alleviates frustrations. I know that I, personally, want to look at and poke everything, so not having a flashlight can make you feel like you’re missing out. One particular puzzle was a lock we hadn’t seen before in a room, which is saying something! Unfortunately, there wasn’t really an intuitive way to open the lock, so it got completely bypassed and we missed out on some key story notes. As it has been said many times, it’s important that you solve puzzles, not locks in escape rooms. This particular lock would benefit from being part of another puzzle, or a clue or two about how to pop it open. One early puzzle involved some particularly hard to find markings that could be made more intuitive with a clue or extra puzzle to determine where they are.

Verdict:

Room 5280 continues to impress with their newest room, delivering a spooky and historically based story that is sure to entertain. Though this one is a bit easier, I think enthusiasts will enjoy the excellent and original puzzles on offer, and newcomers will appreciate The Dark Room as a thrilling introduction to the world of escape rooms. I absolutely recommend giving this and the other three rooms at Room 5280 a shot if you’re in the Raleigh area. Unravel the mystery here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Room 5280 comped our tickets for this room.

Mission X – Hurricane (Beta Preview)

Location: Durham, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Hurricane Beta

Theme:

From Mission X’s website:

You and your friends are on vacation in a rental beach house. Without warning, a category five hurricane suddenly appears in the horizon. Waves of thunderstorms and strong winds are pounding the house relentlessly. The house suffered considerable damage and is on the verge of collapsing. The power is out and you are trapped in the dark! The emergency channel warns the devastating landfall is within the hour. Staying in the house is not an option. You must escape to safety!

First Impressions:

Though the theme sounded a little bit far fetched, (a category five hurricane suddenly appearing on the horizon,) Mission X is usually a lot of fun, so we were excited to help out with their most recent beta test for Hurricane. This would would be replacing their most difficult room, Butcher Shop, so we were ready for the challenge as well!

High Points:

Taking a cue from Butcher Shop, there is an item in the room that helps direct players to answers with some slight clues, but this has been improved as the prop is a puzzle to solve in itself, adding to the experience rather than just making it simpler. A couple of highly original puzzles encourage teamwork and allow for multiple players to engage in an otherwise linear room. In fact, the initial puzzle of the room starts the whole experience off on an exciting, team based moment we really enjoyed. The soundtrack was good, bringing environmental tension to the game, but could definitely use more dynamic implementation by adding lights and perhaps by ratcheting up the intensity as the timer ticks on. The connective tissue of the game is mostly excellent, with bread crumbs leading from room to room intuitively, allowing for a couple awesome ah ha moments.

Low Points:

A few of the puzzles were vaguely clued, leading us to feel as though we needed to read the minds of the designers in order to solve them. Fortunately, we were able to make several of the leaps of logic after some intense brainstorming, but for some of these issues, we needed to call for hints. While hints were delivered quickly to keep us going, GMs still enter the room in order to give them to us, and they were a bit too direct to keep the puzzle puzzling. The set itself was much more basic than we expected, as the house seemed to have sustained very little damage. It would help the immersion to have more damage showing and to perhaps have the damage seem more extensive as players make their way through the room. The linearity of the room tended to ensure that at least one member of our team of four was standing around while others solved the riddles within, making the maximum team size of eight highly dubious. Escaping felt fairly anticlimactic because the room itself didn’t really deliver a story, but was more of a puzzle room.

Verdict:

Overall, Hurricane was a fun room, but didn’t really feel as immersive as it’s predecessor, Butcher Shop. Our newest teammate, however, had a great time, so new players will probably enjoy Hurricane more than enthusiasts. This is complicated slightly due to the high difficulty rating, so newer players might want to get a room or two under their belts before taking the Hurricane on.  here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

Note: The score above is based on the beta test we completed. We, and the other beta testers, identified areas of improvement, so I expect the room will have been adjusted by the time this preview goes live.

Full Disclosure: Mission X provided comped beta testing tickets for our group.

Escape Artist Greenville – The Lift (Mini-Adventure Review)

Location: Greenville, SC

Players: 2-4 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $20 per group

Time to Escape: 10 minutes per episode

Cherie Berry would not approve.

Theme:

For The Lift, you choose from one of two different capers, The Gambler and The Pickpocket. For your chosen adventure, you’ve chased a notorious criminal into a nearby elevator, but they’ve turned the tables on you! Having rigged the elevator to rise to the tenth floor before plummeting into the basement, you have only ten minutes to figure out how to escape before disaster strikes!

First Impressions:

The Lift is installed within a side room of Escape Artist Greenville, and is apparently mobile, allowing the business to take this experience on the road for shows and events. We were impressed by the craftsmanship and versatility of this room, and were excited to try out our first mini-escape adventure! For each trip into the elevator, our GM handed us a piece of evidence recovered from our respective criminal, hit the button to start our journey, and left us to puzzle our way out of the elevator.

High Points:

Taking place over only a few short minutes, The Lift’s two episodes perfectly capture the frantic final moments of an escape room for the entire experience! From the second you begin, the lights flicker for every minute spent, announcing the current floor and slowly heralding your demise. There’s nothing quite like that frantic last few minutes within a well designed room, and the adrenaline these adventures provide is perfectly thrilling. The games themselves are short, containing two to three puzzles and satisfyingly tacticle interactions, but the length of each puzzle is appropriate for a ten minute room and each one is intuitive and connects well to the theme. We found The Gambler to be a great fit for a warm up game or for new players, with a simple game flow and some neat surprises to be discovered. The Pickpocket will cater to those seeking a more difficult challenge, having almost bested our team, who escaped with mere seconds left on the clock!

The sets are well implemented and excellently designed for versatility between games as well as a streamlined puzzling environment that will comfortably hold the maximum four players during the whole experience. Though simple, the sound and lighting design elevate the adventure into a pulse-pounding mission that is sure to keep even the most hardened escape veteran on their toes!

Low Points:

With such a short period for escape, the game definitely leaves you wanting more, which is certainly the point, but after finally experiencing a good elevator game, we’d love to see what could be done by expanding on this idea into a full 60 minutes!

Verdict:

The Lift is a great add-on challenge to any of the rooms at Escape Artist Greenville, so if you’re looking for a warm up or extra dessert challenge, definitely try out The Gambler or The Pickpocket while you’re there! You can book your rise to glory, (or sudden drop,) here!

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

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.