Escape Room Arlington – Secret in the Attic (Review)

Location: Arlington, VA

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Spill that tea!

Theme:

From the Escape Room Arlington website:

Everyone loves your Grandmother, including you. Baking cookies, knitting sweaters, and everything else on the good Grandmother checklist. But you’ve always felt that there was something off about her, she always seemed to have lived a life more adventurous than the stories told of her youth. After she retired and moved away, you took it upon yourself to find out her secret. What was your sweet old Grandma hiding in the attic? The answer may change your life forever.

First Impressions:

After escaping the harrowing, yet enormously cool Mind Trap, it was time for us to embark on a somewhat more light hearted adventure. While the theme could certainly make room for some dark revelations, (and of course after escaping a serial killer, we couldn’t help but wonder,) but Escape Room Arlington’s website assured us this was a family friendly, wholesome adventure. While we were the slightest bit disappointed grandma didn’t have literal skeletons in her closet, we were excited to see what the big revelation would be!

High Points:

Our first steps into the room was astounding, as grandma’s house truly felt like the home of a grandmother, minus the distinct scent of mothballs. Antiques, a strangely familiar late 60’s couch, and the ubiquitous touches of the home of an elderly lady were all well incorporated into the room, and it brought back memories of spending time with grandma when I was a child. The set design here is brilliant, and though we’ve done grandma themed rooms before none were quite as marvelously decorated or nostalgic as this one! The design of the room also pays off the promise of a secret attic in a literal way, leading us up some winding stairs into the titular room, which added to the excellent immersion. The room itself is completely non-linear throughout, and the open space of grandma’s house truly ensures that the maximum eight players will not only be able to spread out comfortably, but always remain engaged with the game flow as well.

Speaking of game flow, it was amazing to me just how much there was to do within the room. Though we flew through the room, it always felt like each of us were interacting with a puzzle or working through the connections from start to finish, and our engagement with the room ensured that though we were making our way through at a good clip, it did not seem like it. In fact, it was surprising to us when we were almost done with the room and saw that we still had quite a bit of time to finish, we were that lost within the game’s immersion! The solves were very satisfying, and though the room was one of Escape Room Arlington’s easier challenges, we still had to work for our escape. The connections made were intuitive, but it took a good bit of brainpower and collaboration to crack the various codes. By the time we reached the excellent climax, we were jazzed and ready for more.

Low Points:

There is one point we got hung up on due to a small, unintentional red herring that directed us away from the proper solution. It wasn’t egregious, but the inclusion was strange as it was simply there with no particular purpose. Another puzzle relies on searching a rather large area, so outside knowledge becomes very helpful, though not strictly required. The item used to derive the code for this puzzle was also a little finicky, leading us to need to guess and check at one point. Veterans are gonna bust out of this one very quickly. As noted, it didn’t feel like we escaped in under twenty minutes, but we did. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but folks looking for a challenge should bring a small team or try out one of Arlington’s more difficult rooms, like Glitch. That being said, we really enjoyed this room overall.

Verdict:

Secret in the Attic is an excellent game that mixes tactile props, clever and hugely inventive puzzles, and a light hearted and wholesome storyline that families and new players will love. This would be an awesome way to start a new players escape room obsession, and though this room is easier, a small group of enthusiasts should not miss out on the beautiful set and satisfying puzzles within. I recommend giving this one a shot, and savoring your time searching for the Secret of the Attic! You can book your time in grandma’s house here!

8.5/10 (Great)

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

Escape Room Herndon – Magician’s Workshop (Review)

Editor’s Note: Today’s review comes from my lovely wife, Kara, who was interested in taking on reviewing one of the many rooms we experienced during our 23 room marathon in Northern Virginia. Special thanks to her for taking a little bit of the work off my plate, and for writing such an excellent review of our favorite room of the trip!

Location: Herndon, VA

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

…and for my final trick…

Theme:

From the Escape Room Herndon Website:

You’re an apprentice for Carter the Great, the best magician this town has ever seen. Unfortunately for him, he’s been sharing the theater with his biggest rival, The Great Danton. Danton said he will be unveiling his newest trick at tomorrow’s performance. If his trick truly is amazing, it’ll surely put your show out of business. You must sneak into the theater at night and figure out the source of Danton’s new power otherwise Carter will surely be finished!

First Impressions:

After three already amazing rooms, we were raring to start the Magician’s Workshop! To be honest, I definitely had some reservations. We have already escaped a really great magician-themed room (see my husband’s thoughts on the Illusion room) so was curious as to how another room could stack up. But, as already mentioned, we were in high spirits after escaping the 8-Bit Escape room, so my optimism was on full blast.

Magic Hat Plain

High Points:

If I was expecting to play with one or two kittens (or puppies! Or bunnies! – Whatever your fancy!), the Magician’s Workshop was like the door opening to a mountain of kittens!!! The room started out deceivingly simple, and it wasn’t long before the room astoundingly expanded to a plethora of amazing puzzles. The transitions between the rooms were exciting from the beginning, and the game flow and connections were so smooth and intuitive. The theme was consistently and expertly woven into all of the puzzles, which were a great mix of non-linear and linear activities that easily kept our whole room busy and entertained.

The child (and adult) in me was excited to see a lot of familiar magician elements and props. I really enjoyed the creativity in how they were implemented, and we were able to interact with them in really satisfying ways. (You may even find yourself performing a trick or two!) There were so many a-ha (or as I like to say – ohhhhh) moments that were had, and – true to the theme – I was constantly amazed at how well multiple clues were made to be both obvious and hidden in plain sight. There were a couple of multi-part puzzles that, though you reached a point where you might realize what would happen, were really exciting to see play out. What I would consider the climactic puzzle revealed a really neat, magical effect and turned our ohhhhh’s to ooooh’s (read: very impressed).

We learned that many of the props were handmade, and it was clear how thoughtful and careful Escape Room Herndon was in building this room. (I can only imagine how one of them in particular was painstaking to create.) The set design and soundtrack were very appropriate, and really immersed you into the Great Danton’s workspace. And, if for some reason you got lost in the magic and wonder of it all and forgot why you were there, the puzzles and clues did a great job of reminding you of the storyline. There was a lot of creativity that went into this room and so many moving parts to manage, but their team’s efforts seemed well worth it because it culminated into a phenomenal room!

Magician's Workshop

Low Points:

I struggled to think of a low point for this room. There was one small red herring that may be distracting/misleading, but I think the game flow was pretty good at keeping you moving with other things. I did expect a little more to happen after one puzzle was triggered (and it did have a really cool effect), but was not disappointed overall.

Verdict:

The Magician’s Workshop was my favorite room of the trip, and my favorite magician-themed room of all time! After playing, we learned that it was their newest room and had only been open for about a week. Considering how many rooms (understandably) tend to improve over time, I was even more impressed with how amazing The Magician’s Workshop already is. Book your time in the Magician’s Workshop here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room Herndon provided comped tickets for this room.

 

Escape Room Arlington – Mind Trap (Review)

Location: Arlington, VA

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

The Doctor will see you now.

Theme:

From the Escape Room Arlington website:

The good Doctor has always been a fan of clever games, especially over a vintage bottle of Amarone and an exquisite Foie de Veau painstakingly crafted with… extra special ingredients. After foolishly accepting an invite to one of his prestigious dinner parties, you find yourself trapped inside his dining room. Your task: crack the fiendishly clever puzzle he left behind, before the dinner bell chimes. Bon Appetit!

First Impressions:

The many escape rooms that are a part of the Ravenchase family have been some of our absolute favorite experiences in Virginia, and I have been wanting to visit their Arlington and Herndon locations for quite some time. The expectations were high as we stepped into our first Ravenchase room of this trip, and we absolutely were not disappointed at all!

High Points:

Mind Trap boasts a beautiful set, presenting us with an extremely well appointed dining room fit for someone of such… discerning tastes. As we started our adventure, nothing seemed amiss quite yet, but small hints peppered throughout the room hinted at the horrors that were to come. The dichotomy between that which the Doctor presents willingly and those things he keeps hidden is expertly designed, and this portrayal really benefits the room’s immersion and delivers a great surprise as it is revealed. The puzzles are somewhat non-linear, and kept our team entertained throughout with some fantastic tactile interactions, some of which are strange, but very intuitive. Most also involve some surprising reveal that we really enjoyed. Everything within the room matters, and the challenge in figuring out how to interact with the room is very well implemented. The connective tissue of the room is well signposted however, so we never felt an inkling of frustration while we explored the dingy halls of the Doctor’s madness.

The sinister nature of the Doctor pervades the entire room, and most interactions and puzzles are well designed to portray just how insidious he is. Scares are spaced just far enough to be effective, while still filling the room with enough horror to keep our team on their toes. The climax of the room is superb and totally unexpected, leading to a thrilling escape for the whole group. It’s really quite a simple addition to the room, but it works extremely well, injecting the experience with some fun psychological terror.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle takes some jostling to make sure everything falls together correctly, forcing the solve to become somewhat overlong. A few of the props have started to feel a little worn out, with dents and dings from seeing so many players come through. A couple of the puzzles within can feel a bit random, not really tying into the story quite a well, and feeling somewhat less immersive overall. Though the story is a great set up for the game, it doesn’t quite evolve, and we would’ve liked to find out a bit more about the good Doctor and those who came before and never left. It feels as though there’s just a little bit more beyond the final door that could be explored.

Verdict:

Mind Trap is an excellent room, especially for those that enjoy the sinister and spooky! Approachable for newbies, while still presenting a fun challenge and great surprises for veterans, I wholeheartedly recommend checking this experience out if you find yourself in Arlington. Book your dinner party with the good Doctor here!

8/10 (Great)

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

Gnome & Raven – The Tomb Ruins (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $25 per person, every experience is private, with a 4 person minimum

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It belongs in a museum!

Theme:

From the Gnome & Raven website:

Ever since archaeologists uncovered the tomb of the young pharaoh Nekauba and took his favorite ruby, strange things have happened in every museum to display it. Inexplicably, museum workers would find nearby exhibits damaged or broken and mysterious power outages plagued every building to store it. Some even claim that a ghostly red light fills the hallways at night. It was finally decided that the ruby needed to be returned to its beloved and rightful owner. Your job is to navigate Nekauba’s tomb and restore the ruby to his tomb once again. But beware – the tomb is still protected by traps and ancient puzzles and getting to the pharaoh’s room won’t be easy!

First Impressions:

After a fun romp through a fairy tale museum, we were very interested to delve into the ancient tomb of Nekauba! We began our trek at the archaeologist’s base camp, ready to seek out the stolen treasures. Though the Museum of Light and Dark was pretty large, the scale of The Tomb Ruins was even more magnificent in it’s size and décor. As our game master began to brief us on our mission, I could tell we were in for an excellent adventure.

High Points:

Katie, our game master, was phenomenal. She did an excellent job portraying the story and psyching up our group for the mission. It’s great that Gnome & Raven has game masters that introduce their rooms in character, and have ensured that the folks they’ve hired are all in for the performance. As mentioned before, the tomb itself is huge, with a Hollywood quality to its design, and the soundtrack that goes along with the experience lends it an astounding measure of immersiveness. Lighting also serves to keep the tomb dim and spooky, without making it arduous to complete puzzles due to lack of light. There were a few traditional locks at the base camp, but the tomb’s puzzles, barring a couple instances of locks explained by the story, utilized hidden technology to great effect, making the solving process feel mystical while still sticking to the over arching theme of the game. The whole experience was very tactile and intuitive, with many excellent surprises sprinkled throughout, and a few set pieces that provided large scale “wow” moments.

The game flow worked splendidly, with a non-linear run of puzzles during any given stage of the game keeping our group entertained and fully engaged. I really enjoyed the fact that the room begins with your team breaking into the tomb itself, rather than starting us out already in the ruins. There’s something about busting into the escape room ourselves that adds to the fun, and I think a lot of rooms would benefit from not beginning in medias res. The definitive beginning, middle, and climax really solidifies the flow of the game, and when we did reach the end, it felt like a triumph. There’s not a specifically deep story, but the adventure exhibits shades of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider by presenting a tomb full of traps and puzzles and a mystical treasure to find.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle was a bit irksome, and required us to engage in a banal interaction that seemed out of place in the tomb. It was over fairly quickly, but was still a weirdly ho-hum puzzle in a sea of otherwise amazing interactions. There were also several hidden drawers that would trigger, and while they were luckily easy to find when they triggered due to the sound they made, they were also very, very slow to open. It wasn’t too big of a deal, but the whole team did have several occasions to crowd around drawers, crack a few jokes, then go back to marveling at how slow the drawer was moving.

Verdict:

The Tomb Ruins is one of Richmond’s most amazing games, and is absolutely one of my favorite rooms in the area, and of all time! Families, friends, new players, and old veterans will definitely find something to enjoy within the ancient tomb of Nekauba, and I recommend checking it out without reservation! Book your time in The Tomb Ruins here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Escape Room RVA – Genie’s Lamp (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

I dream of Genie

Theme:

During your travels, you’ve come across a lamp similar to that described in the 1001 Arabian Nights, and on a lark you rub it to see what will happen. Much to your surprise, the lamp begins to emit a smoke, coalescing into the form of a wish djinn! Unfortunately for you, the tricksy djinni has had millennia to devise a way to twist your wishes, and he’s trapped you inside his lamp so that he can go free. The magic is unstable, though, and if you can determine a way out within the hour, you can reverse the curse! If not, you’d better get comfortable.

First Impressions:

Genie’s lamp is the newest room at Escape RVA, and is yet another in a string of highly original ideas coming from the folks that brought us Unicorns vs. Vampires, one of my favorite theme ideas of all time! In fact, this is the room that replaced those, so upon entering the genie’s lounge, there was a slight bit of nostalgic familiarity to the room. The colors were bright and the set design was alluring, so we immediately got to escaping!

High Points:

Though Genie’s Lamp felt familiar to us because of our adventures as Unicorns and Vampires last year, Escape Room RVA ensured that the experience felt fresh by flipping the script in several places. We enjoyed reminiscing about spots we remembered, while still being served up a fresh set of puzzles and loads of new surprises that wowed us. One particular interaction was highly unexpected, and had me grinning while I completed the task. Another highly interesting part involved a door I had loads of fun unlocking, becoming a puzzle in itself, which is an idea I’ve only seen a couple times before and think is a wonderful, outside the box way of presenting this sort of enigma. The bright and beautiful atmosphere is a welcome respite from the usual run of dark and dreary horror themed games, and though we love those, its always nice to have something a bit more light hearted and colorful. The climax was appropriately engaging and was an excellent way to end the escape, with a few tactile puzzles and one that played with perspective in a fun way.

Low Points:

On the whole, Genie’s Lamp felt disjointed. There were a lot of puzzles to complete, but they mostly felt disconnected from the theme, feeling somewhat less like the home of a powerful djinn, and more like the lounge of a Hollywood actress with some slightly Arabian Nights inspired decorative tastes. One puzzle along those lines felt weirdly out of place, shoehorned in randomly, and feeling more like filler than an engaging interaction. Another contained a superfluous interaction that we never quite understood, despite figuring out the code. The connective tissue during the game flow never quite took hold, and rather than feeling as though we were playing through a tightly knit adventure, the experience was more like floating from point to point without a real story or goal beyond get out of the room. While that usually isn’t that bad of a thing, we’ve come to really enjoy Escape Room RVA’s objective based games that involve a little more story.

Verdict:

There are some really great ideas within Genie’s Lamp and the basic premise is ripe for an inspired experience, possibly because the game is still fairly new, it doesn’t quite hold us to the usual standard of excellence that Escape RVA has set for Richmond. However, having escaped 5 other fantastic rooms at this company, I know that they can iterate this one to make it truly shine. That said, it isn’t a bad game in any respect, just not as amazing as their others. Newer players and those who care less for theme and story will have a lot of fun in this more puzzle focused room, but enthusiasts will probably enjoy their other offerings, Cake or Death and Vanity, much more. You can book your time escaping the lamp here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room RVA provided comped tickets for this room.