A-Escape  – Mystery Lodge (Review)

By: Cassandra Smith

Location: Asheville, NC

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

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes


Great Uncle Lou’s Mystery Lodge is full of all sorts of wondrous and bizarre collections! UFOs? Bigfoot? Ghosts? You name it! When a greedy businessman hatches a plot to tear down the Mystery Lodge and open a car wash, it’s up to you and your friends to solve the riddles within the Lodge and save the day! Work through cryptids, magic DVDs, and mesmerizing puzzles in this fun-filled room!

First Impressions

I’d been to A-Escape back in 2017, and had an absolute blast in their Selachi Research Lab room, long before I started reviewing rooms. Despite having a more “home-made” feel, it was a brilliant little room, with loads of interesting interactions and a mysterious vibe that stuck in my head five years later upon my return to Asheville on a couple’s retreat with my wife. I was excited to return, and I loved the idea of a room based on a cryptid “museum” of sorts. At first, we were only going to play Diner 51 (which the wonderful Johnathan Byerly reviewed here,) because there were no other time slots available, but we contacted the folks at A-Escape on a lark, hoping for a miracle, and they were more than happy to have Mystery Lodge ready for us to play as well!

High Points

The Mystery Lodge promises a wide array of cryptids and supernatural enigmas to explore, and it absolutely delivers! The decor of the room is on point, and I really loved the strange and wonderful exhibits that really seemed to take time and care to create. From jackalopes to my personal favorite, Mothman, this little lodge has it all. But what is a cute theme and well decorated room without puzzles? Luckily, this lodge is filled to the brim with them! The room was semi non linear, and despite our experience in escape rooms we found that we were given an appropriate challenge to conquer, and never felt like anything was too elementary or overly obtuse. In fact, the only hint we needed was in order to overcome our Achilles heel of finding items left out in the open. We really need a remedial class on “spotting things hidden in plain sight.” Several of the interactions in the room resulted in some interesting results, and one in particular is really well done, producing a magical result we certainly weren’t expecting! All of the puzzles in the room have some sort of way to tie the clues together, with icons or similar motifs allowing us to make connections between the plethora of clues we had at any given moment, which was a nice touch. Despite the room being full of crazy props and exhibits, there weren’t any items that stood out to us as extraneous, or as red herrings, and the game flowed very smoothly from point to point. One of the focal points of the room is the hint system, which is well delivered, and a really fun, integrated way to dole out hints without detracting from the immersion. All in all, I’m very glad we added this room on to our trip, and had an amazing time saving Great Uncle Lou’s Mystery Lodge!

Low Points

One of the items we needed in order to solve the room was broken. Luckily, it could be worked around, but it always stinks to miss out on part of the room, despite this not being 100% the fault of the business. It would probably be a good idea, however, to have some duplicate props on hand for future unfortunate events. Some parts of the room felt a little worn, and despite the theme, this wasn’t the kind of worn that looks as excellent in an escape game. There is one particular part of the room that looks really cool, keeping something truly mysterious under lock and key, but feels like a missed opportunity once it is revealed. It’s not all that bad by any stretch, but we were really hoping for more.


We had an awesome time in what is now my favorite room at A-Escape! I loved the theming and the inclusion of loads of interesting cryptid and supernatural exhibits housed within the Mystery Lodge, not to mention the slate of excellent puzzles to solve. I absolutely recommend checking this one out, and you can book your time in the Lodge here!

8 out of 10 (Great)

Game On Escapes & More – Blind Eye (Review)

Location: Cary, NC

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

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes


From the Game On Escapes & More website:

You find yourselves outside your neighbor’s apartment after hearing and noticing unusual behavior next door. It has been made apparent to you that all is not what it seems and there is likely a crime being committed here. He may be holding someone against their will. You’d like to involve the authorities, but first you decide the best course of action is to gain something tangible from his place to have probable cause for the authorities to search.

High Points:

We were asked to beta test Game On’s newest room, Blind Eye, and we were excited to get back to escaping! One of our first full trips out, we were excited to return to one of our favorite businesses in the area for a brand new room. The set itself was not quite as detailed as previous adventures, but as this room took place within a schlubby old guy’s apartment, it didn’t need to be as ornate in order to evoke the feel that the designers were going for. The theme was also conveyed well through story bits delivered as we solved, and though it was a darker theme, it didn’t cross any lines and become too dark. What we were there for, however, were the puzzles! There was a great mix of tech and lock based puzzling within Blind Eye, and it was spread out in a mostly non-linear fashion, separated into levels. This allowed our group of four ample opportunity to divide and conquer, and ensured that we were all engaged from start to finish! Each stage of the game drip fed clues that built upon each other until we finally reached the ah ha moment we were seeking. The difficulty curve here was also very smooth. Most of the early game puzzles did a great job delivering easy wins and the further we delved into the dingy old apartment, the more challenging the game became. One puzzle in particular was really fantastic, inviting us to think outside the room itself in order to find the answer! The game flowed really well, and we were never stuck due to a flaw in the design. Blind Eye also included an interesting easter egg for perceptive players, (that of course, we did not initially notice due to the fact that we are certainly not perceptive players.) It is really cool to see the level of attention to detail that has been given to this room, even though it is meant to be temporary, and I love that it still has that Game On polish we’ve adored in their other rooms!

Low Points:

There were a few extra bits and pieces that weren’t used in puzzles, which sort of cluttered up a specific area. I believe these were from excised puzzles, if I remember correctly, and it wasn’t too much of a distraction. One puzzle in particular displayed it’s information too quickly for us to process, making it more difficult that it was intended to be. Finally, there were a lot of color based puzzles during our play through, which could be a problem for color blind players and for keeping connections between puzzles clear. However, we spoke to the owner regarding these issues, as we were invited to beta test, and we’ve been assured all these have been adjusted. The only other thing I’d mention is the set is not quite as awesome as Game On’s other rooms. It’s still serviceable, especially since this is meant to be a temporary room, and doesn’t detract from the experience.


Blind Eye is a great new room at Game On Escapes & More, and even though it is a temporary room, the designers haven’t skimped on the puzzling! We had a fantastic time in the beta test, and are glad to hear that the small issues we found have been addressed. This spot can always be trusted to deliver a fantastic experience, and I cannot recommend them enough! Book your time in Blind Eye here!

8.5/10 (Great)

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

Total Escape – Yacht Heist (Review)

Location: Winston-Salem, NC

Price: $30 per person

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-6)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Steal from the ultra rich and give to the poor. The poor being us.


Your team owes a loan shark a lot of money, and in order to raise it in time, you look to your only skill set, thievery! You’ve identified a swanky yacht and have the inside scoop on a couple million dollars worth of crowns and coins hidden inside. You need to collect at least a million to get keep the knee breakers at bay, but anything beyond that will definitely make for a good nest egg! You’ve only got an hour, so get in, get the loot, and get out before the cops arrive!

First Impressions:

A few months ago, we’d tried out Total Escape’s two previous escape rooms, Temple of Tikal and Prison Break, which we had an amazing time escaping from. We just barely missed the opening of Yacht Heist the last time we came out, and couldn’t wait to return, as when they gave us a sneak peek of the build, we were absolutely floored at how awesome it already looked! To cap off our Charlotte area road trip, we visited on our way back home, and I can easily say that it was an awesome way to end our 11 room run!

High Points:

The finished set of Yacht Heist is absolutely beautiful, with an ever expanding, wonderfully spacious set of rooms that were filled to the brim with astoundingly good props, puzzles, and technical effects. Matching the great set is the excellent premise, which tasks players with stealing as much loot as they can within an hour, rather than simply escaping. One of my favorite introductions for any escape room is breaking in, rather than out, and the initial stages of the game have players doing just that, ensuring they feel like the master thieves the theme promises. As puzzles are solved and the money total ramps up, the sense of accomplishment and immersion into our roles was enormously satisfying. This room truly lived up to the hype I’d built up in my mind, and then some. We were told roughly how much loot was in the yacht from the start, and the way progression was marked was beautiful, giving us a tactile way to log our spoils, while at the same time ensuring we knew exactly where we were within the flow of the room itself. As far as the set, thematic design, and overall game mechanics go, this room was executed beautifully.

Puzzles did not disappoint either, with a non-linear run of interactions that kept our group fully engaged from start to finish. The multiple threads weave through the game fantastically, and branch off of the main path with what could be described as fun side missions as we investigated suspicious areas of the yacht and uncovered new and exciting items and loot! (and bottled water once, which was greatly appreciated.) Many of these interactions were housed within some fantastic tech, which were seamlessly implemented within the luxurious floating puzzle room and I don’t remember coming across a single basic lock! The difficulty curve works wonderfully, and delivers some easy wins on the way to some deviously clever puzzling. The gamut of challenges was also astoundingly varied, with something to appeal to all types of solvers! Our team split up and came together for various puzzles multiple times, finding conundrums that played to each of our strengths, and at no point did anyone experience any time standing around. By the time we triggered the climax of the room, we were jazzed at having solved this densely packed room, and amazed at what was certainly one of the best rooms in NC.

Low Points:

There is quite a bit to find within the titular yacht, but some of it boils down to aimless searching. As completionists, we wanted to make sure we found everything, and we did, but some of the more well hidden items were unclued. It would’ve been more interesting to have a clue or puzzle to point towards these, especially one hidden stash that seemed like it was in a place we were told would hold no secrets. This was really the only point where we hit a snag in the game flow, and luckily, we aren’t averse to taking hints when we need them, so it didn’t become overly frustrating. There is one piece of outside knowledge that wasn’t an issue for us, but the younger crowd might not know what’s being referenced.


Yacht Heist is my absolute favorite room at Total Escape, and that’s certainly saying something, as all of their rooms have been beautiful, top notch puzzling experiences. This business is absolutely one of those to keep an eye on, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. Their rooms have evolved by leaps and bounds each time, and I highly recommend checking this, or any of their others out, as they’re some of the best around. Book your yacht heist here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full disclosure: Total Escape provided media discounted tickets for our group.

Key to Escape – Under Pressure (Review)

Location: Statesville, NC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Watching some good friends screaming “Let me out!”


From the Key to Escape website:

In 1925 our city of Statesville had a devastating fire that nearly leveled three city blocks. The fire was started when the hidden still at Key and Co exploded after being left unattended. The owner of the still had been nabbed by police and no one was able to find the hidden valve key to release the pressure from the still in time to save our city. Your escape room adventure entertainment begins as your team is selected to travel back in time to prevent the explosion. We have built a time portal machine and have the opportunity to send your team back in time for only one hour to try to save the still and our city from ruin. The pressure is on as you race the clock.

First Impressions:

We’ve been planning on making a trip out to Key to Escape for a good while! Though we intended to go a full year ago, our schedule just didn’t work out, but this year, it was the first spot we put on the docket! After hearing so many folks rave about their rooms, we were sure this was an experience we would not want to miss. Not only that, but this would be my 300th room, which the owners of Key to Escape made even more exciting by presenting me with an Escake!


It was red velvet, for the curious.

High Points:

Under Pressure displays some excellent set design that truly ups the ante for escape room immersion going forward! Though it is housed in a smaller space, everything is used to the fullest, and nothing feels out of place or anachronistic. The speakeasy is extremely well appointed, with so many fantastic props and design touches that evoke the feel of the 1920’s, and the historical building that Key to Escape is housed within is utilized in amazing ways. A myriad of hidden secrets are incorporated into the design, and we were constantly amazed at so many of the reveals. So much practical design work has been done in this room to truly simulate the sound, sights, and intensity of a still that’s about to blow, and it really did keep us under pressure for the full time! Though we didn’t use it, the hint delivery system is completely in theme, as with the rest of the room, and it’s obvious that no corners were cut in the creation of this amazingly designed experience! The soundtrack is a real treat throughout the room, and the awesome into and fantastic climax bookend the adventure perfectly.

The game flow was mostly non-linear, and our team was almost always engaged with one puzzle or another for the full experience. There’s a great mix of mechanical, hand built puzzling and well hidden technical wizardry going on throughout the room, and there are just so many intensely clever enigmas within! One of my favorites takes the usual escape room maze, flips it on it’s head a bit, and tasks players with some deductive reasoning rather than standard, everyday maze solving. There are others that make code breaking feel fresh and new, with some cool twists on the theme. Any included locks feel completely convincing for the in game universe, but the majority of the game forgoes traditional locks for much more interesting interactions and tactile puzzle solving. The story is historically interesting and very well implemented, and though the mission not overly complex, completing it is a fantastic challenge! The difficulty curve is not insurmountable, however, and the cluing and signposting is well implemented in order to prevent frustration. It truly took our whole team working together to solve this one, and there were conundrums to satisfy all types of puzzlers!

Low Points:

Later stages of the game were housed in really cool areas, but unfortunately were a bit smaller, creating a choke point that made it so not all players got to check these awesome areas out. While there were a few teamwork puzzles that got others involved, it did dampen the later stages for some of our team. The soundtrack was awesome, but from time to time, it did get rather loud.


We’ve escaped a few speakeasies in our time, but this room takes (and gives) the cake! With a set design and ultra clever puzzles that are absolutely to die for, Under Pressure absolutely delivers an astounding escape adventure! I highly recommend checking this room out if you’re in the area, as it will give enthusiasts an engaging challenge while still presenting an approachable run of enigmas that will give new players one of the best intros to escape rooms they could ever hope for. Book your time solving the clues while under pressure here! Also, at the time of publication, COVID-19 is shutting down escape rooms everywhere. Key to Escape has created I’m Bored/The Game for at home play, and if you’d like to support them and receive this experience, you can here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Key to Escape provided media discounted tickets for this room.

Race City Escapes – Medieval Marauders (Review)

Location: Mooresville, NC

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

’tis a silly place.


From the Race City Escapes website:

The king has died. He cared deeply for his cherished kingdom. He chose a leader from each of the four neighboring factions. Knowing that the lust for power would be a factor he hid the identity of his chosen benefactor inside the room. It is your job to find out who it is, eliminate the other factions to be able to claim the throne, and stop the Crusaders from taking control.

First Impressions:

Race City Escapes was a new (to us) business we visited on our recent annual trip out to Charlotte for a marathon of escapes, and we were hoping to find another diamond in the rough, akin to the glorious Masterpiece Escapes in Indian Trail.

High Points:

Continuing this trip’s trend, Medieval Marauders is a very spacious room, easily capable of physically holding the maximum ten players. It’s strange to have to list that as a high point, but it seems like so many rooms are intent of smushing as many players as possible within a tiny room, so it’s commendable that the room is large enough to fit comfortably within. The room is decorated adequately, and while it isn’t anything mind blowing, there are a few nice large scale props included, and it works for a small scale business. Some of the heftier props gave an excellent tactile feel to some of the puzzles, and a lot of the ideas are, at their base level, clever to build off of. The foreshadowing for some of the main endings of puzzle threads was nicely done, and the climax of the room ends things off in an exciting and fun way.

Low Points:

Race City Escapes has a lot of great ideas within the room but is overall lacking in execution. There were quite a few moments when large logical leaps had to be made, and from time to time we’d accidentally get something right, triggering the next box to open and having no idea how we did so. To quote one of my teammates from this room, there’s just a certain level of ridiculousness in place. If you can start to wrap your head around said ridiculousness, it does become somewhat easier to navigate the room, but this experience is very much akin to those in which you have to be inside the designer’s head to understand what’s going on for the most part. The game flow is very choppy, and this is exacerbated by a couple of issues. First, the game play mostly consists of opening a lot of locked boxes, causing a dearth of variety and never really elevating the experience with an exciting reveal. Even those items opened via some form of tech are never surprising as they are not seamlessly hidden and are obviously panels to be opened from the start. The other issue is that the game play is very linear, and there are many moments at which some players are just going to be casting about, looking for something to do. While the room may hold ten players, I can’t imagine a maxed out group staying engaged for the whole experience; there are just too many choke points along the way. The one thing that could improve the whole game is the introduction of a fair amount of cluing. As it stands, there is a lot of vagary and guess and check involved with the puzzling, which just isn’t an entertaining way to engage and immerse players. While the set design is adequate, a lot could be done to add to the immersion in this regard as well, and we’ve seen even smaller businesses execute a convincing castle before, it just takes a bit of know how and a good carpenter/set designer.


Medieval Marauders isn’t a terrible room, but it overall fails to impress. Alright for a small group itching for an escape, or new players looking for an alright introduction to escape rooms, I still can’t fully recommend it due to the absolute boon of escapes available to Charlotte area residents. If you’ve done everything else, it’ll be an ok hour, but I’d check out other spots first. Book your time claiming the crown here.

6/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: Race City Escapes provided media discounted tickets for this room.