Dispatch – On the Run: Box 1 (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $25 per box, 6 boxes in the first “season”

Special Delivery!

Theme:

Your close childhood friend recently married a beautiful and rich heiress, but soon thereafter she was murdered during their honeymoon! As the chief suspect of the crime, your friend has gone on the run and has been missing for some time. While the manhunt rages on, you receive a mysterious delivery, which turns out to be from him! Use the clues and tidbits inside to unravel the mystery and hopefully clear your friend’s name!

First Impressions:

We had previously enjoyed the rooms at our local Breakout Games, and were excited to see that they were breaking into the hugely popular subscription box market. Though we had tried other boxes with friends, they weren’t quite as exciting as we thought they might be, but with a new series coming out from a well known brand, we were interested to see what one of the big dogs in the escape room business could do!

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Slightly blurred to protect the secrets!

High Points:

Box 1 of On the Run weaves a exciting and mysterious tale of intrigue and conspiracy, and includes quite a few high quality props to help immerse you in the story. Just reading through everything provided in the box and on the web takes up a good hour and does a great job of setting up the world of Dispatch. Once the puzzle solving begins, you’ll need to look back through the story to pick out the pertinent parts, which are sometimes very clear, but are other times buried beneath levels of story. This was, for the most part, a fun investigation, and luckily there is help available on the forums and via an in universe detective agency if you get stuck. The other great thing about Dispatch is that you will 100% know when you are finished with a box, as once the final puzzle is solved, it becomes very clear that you have done what you needed to do. Most other boxes I’ve played around with are very unclear in this area, and I’m glad to see one that has a definite end point for each leg of the story.

Low Points:

The first box is definitely an introductory experience, as there were only a few puzzles included with the massive amount of great world-building. Puzzles were appropriately challenging, and though I was able to solve the box alone, another brain would’ve definitely helped! Those expecting this to be an escape room in a box will be disappointed, as it doesn’t quite have enough puzzles or capture that feeling of breaking out. The writing inside the journal included feels less polished than the rest of the reading materials, but conveys the initial story well enough. The experience, once you are solving the puzzles, ramps up a lot in difficulty after the first one, which could frustrate players who would like a quicker game flow.

Verdict:

On the Run Box 1 was a fun introductory adventure, and I am interested in seeing what comes next. For future boxes, I’d like to see a more even puzzle flow, along with more puzzles in general, but the story and high quality items that were sent make this a definite subscription for me. You can sign up to begin your monthly investigation here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Our first box was provided by Dispatch for free.

Escape Plan Columbia – Espionage (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-10 (We Recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Неосуществленное обещание

Theme:

You are an elite team of spy hunters who’ve been on the trail of a notorious terrorist that has recently threatened Columbia with a bomb that could level the entire city! After tracking him to his lair, you find yourselves locked in with only minutes before the bomb is set to go off! Find and disable the bomb, then get out of there before time runs out!

First Impressions:

At this point, we had completed The Wizard, which was pretty good, and Missing, which left us unimpressed, so it was a toss up so far. After a quick briefing, we were led into a mysteriously decorated first room to start our escape, so we were optimistic for what was to come.

High Points:

The starting point of this room showed promise, and fit the theme well. The mystery and interesting tech that was present was fun to interact with and had us excited for what came next, however the rest of the room failed to live up to the quality of the beginning.

Low Points:

This one was a mess after the initial few puzzles. You could tell that the room was older due to the very low tech and lower quality props that abounded, as well as puzzles that felt like they were from the early escape room days. Mostly code to lock or key to lock interactions, and a distinct lack of variety in the solving. One part of the room included a loud constant beeping which upgraded from annoyance to madness after only a few minutes with no way to muffle the sound. Flow was lacking, and several puzzles included unintentional red herrings and poor cluing that left us adrift; even after taking a hint on a couple, we were still having trouble piecing together the specious logic. The story-line of the room breaks down fairly immediately and there is no real attempt to explore it after the initial briefing and first couple puzzles. The second part of the game feels completely separated from the first, and is unfortunately a pretty big let down after the promise seen in the initial minutes.

Verdict:

Espionage, from what I was told, was Escape Plan Columbia’s first room, and it shows. Luckily, they have improved with their more recent rooms, but this one is definitely showing its age. It definitely feels and plays like an old school escape room, but unfortunately, not in the best way. A major update to the second part of the game that captures the feel and more sleek nature of the starting minutes would definitely improve this one, but for now, I don’t recommend it. Have a look at The Wizard instead. You can book your time tracking the spy here.

3.5/10 (Bad)

 

Full Disclosure: Escape Plan Columbia comped our tickets for this room.

Escape Plan Columbia – The Wizard (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-10 (We Recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

I cast a spell on you!

Theme:

Merlin has been transformed into a tree and as his most promising apprentices, it is up to you to find and restore him! Search his tower for clues, and retrieve the powerful artifact capable of turning him back into his true form. Do it quickly, though, as once the magic has taken full hold, the great wizard will be gone forever!

First Impressions:

We were initially much more impressed with the design of The Wizard and could tell that it was a more recent addition to the business in comparison to Missing. Lighting effects, sound, and set design were leagues beyond what we had just experienced, and we had much higher hopes going into this one.

High Points:

As previously mentioned, the room was quite a bit more impressive, and the whimsical set design was playful and mysterious. Nice props as well as technical puzzles were scattered throughout and made for an enjoyable and tactile puzzling experience. Movement from the early to late game made good sense, and the design held throughout. Clues were mostly clear and helped direct our path without holding our hands too much.

Low Points:

The game flow was fairly choppy, as some puzzles relied on much fuzzier logic, leading to lulls in the game that were exacerbated by the linear nature of the room. One late game puzzle was increasingly finicky, and required a good bit of fiddling to trigger. This prop also felt out of place as it was not quite as high quality as the other props. Our group of 4 was comfortable and had enough to do, even with the fairly linear puzzle thread, but I believe any more than 6 would start to feel crowded and would not have nearly enough to do.

Verdict:

With a interesting set design as well as a better story and core puzzling experience, we were happier with our experience in The Wizard, and would recommend giving it a shot. Though uneven, the core design is mostly well thought out and delivers a fun adventure to players. A bit of fine-tuning and polish would help launch this one from merely good to fantastic, but is an overall solid experience. You can book your race to save Merlin here!

7/10 (Good)

 

Full Disclosure: Escape Plan Columbia comped our tickets for this room.

Escape Plan Columbia – Missing (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-10 (We Recommend 4-6)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Gone Baby, Gone

Theme:

You’ve been kidnapped by an elusive serial killer, and a team of detectives are trying to find and save you. You’ll have to work together to solve the puzzles and escape before he returns to finish you all off!

First Impressions:

The fairly sparse and generic serial killer theme is still one of my favorite overall guilty pleasures as far as escape rooms go, so I wasn’t overly worried to that point, and when we were told that we’d be separated into two groups, one for the kidnapped victims and one for the detectives, I was fairly excited for this twist. We were briefed just outside of our respective rooms, blindfolded, and set upon the room.

High Points:

The split up as detectives and victims idea was interesting, even though it didn’t play out excellently. Room flow was alright once we were reunited and there were a couple surprises here and there to keep us on our toes. Emphasis on teamwork was appreciated, and worked as intended.

Low Points:

As the kidnapped, my group was locked in a sparse room and had our end of the puzzles solved pretty quickly, and did what little we could to help our teammates. There were several minutes we spent sitting on the floor wishing we were in the next room while we waited for the detectives to figure out how to get us together. Once we had been reunited, we found that the detectives were next to done with most of the puzzles in their room, so we weren’t able to help much there. Due to poor gating, it is very likely that many groups will have the same issue of waiting around for the other group to figure out which puzzle gets everyone back together. Once we entered the final stage of the game, it didn’t take overlong for us to finish up, as the game was fairly sparse overall. Puzzles weren’t overly exciting, and themeing was sparse. For all the good ideas in the beginning, we were fairly unimpressed with the execution. The fact that one group of us were detectives and one were victims could’ve been played up for much better effect, but was sadly just a reason to split us up.

Verdict:

Missing has a few good ideas to start off, but fails to execute properly. Puzzles are overall pretty banal, and do little to excite. There are a couple interactions that lend a fun bright spot, but don’t quite overcome the overall average nature of the room. A major retooling would be necessary for me to recommend this room, but for now, I cannot. If you’d like to check it out, however, you can do so here.

4/10 (Subpar)

 

Full Disclosure: Escape Plan Columbia comped our tickets for this room.

Mission X – Mirage (Review)

Location: Durham, NC

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

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 45 minutes

I must be dreaming…

Theme:

You’ve fallen into a deep deep sleep, and have ended up in a room that feels familiar, but is all wrong! It’s dark, everything has twisted around, and the only way to wake up is to find a your way back to normalcy! Sort through the dream and figure out how to move through the twisting perspectives and awaken!

First Impressions:

After a good chat with the staff at Mission X, we were quickly briefed and set upon the darkened room, each armed with a flashlight. Though not quite as elaborate in design as Vampire Manor or Butcher Shop, Mirage’s décor delivered an thoughtful take on a more abstract theme, which was an interesting way to begin.

High Points:

Puzzles play with perspective in fun and imaginative ways, building upon the theme of the room while delivering new challenges that require keen observation. The twisting nature of the room is an entertaining approach, delivering original approaches to puzzle design and room flow as well as a floaty, dream-like theme. The room is set in darkness to create effective mood and immersion, but every player is equipped with a flashlight, so it serves it’s purpose without being an unnecessary  detriment to the game.

Low Points:

Hints are still the weak point of Mission X, as the gamemaster must enter the room to deliver hints, though it is appreciated that they pause your time to do so. Hints during this trip were less hints than actual walkthroughs of the current puzzle, which was frustrating as it removes a sense of accomplishment. The room itself was a bit sparser than the other two rooms we’d played with Mission X, due to the less elaborate décor, and also because this was an easier room than the others.

Verdict:

Though perhaps a bit too simple for enthusiasts, Mirage is a great introductory game for beginners and families, delivering a light hearted theme along with an easy to follow game flow. I definitely recommend giving it a shot if you’re looking for a good starter room, or an approachable one for friends new to the hobby. If you’re an enthusiast, however, it will be a fun if simple room, but if that isn’t your style, I’d recommend you try out the more challenging Vampire Manor or Butcher Shop instead. Book your time in the dreamlands here!

7/10 (Good)

Conundrum Escapes – Conjurer’s Dungeon (Review)

Location: Garner, NC

Players:  2-10 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $27.63 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Welcome to the Dungeon!

Theme:

A foul tyrant has taken over the kingdom, but a mystical sword could break the hold she has over the people. Unfortunately, the creator of that sword, a powerful wizard, was trapped in the dungeon and the weapon has gone missing. It is up to you to break into the dungeons and decipher the clues left behind by the wizard to find the sword and ensure the defeat of the evil queen!

First Impressions:

We had a fun time escaping Conundrum’s previous room, Airship Legacy, and were excited to hear that they had opened a new game. Once we had an opening in our escape schedule we booked and had high hopes for this adventure!

High Points:

The latter half of the game is where Conjurer’s Dungeon really shines. One particular prop gives a sense of direction to the rest of the game, and allows the puzzling to flow quite nicely. Connections in this half are clear and direct, without taking away from the challenge of the room. The room is well decorated, if sparse, due to it’s nature as a dungeon. The general ambiance of the room feels chilly and appropriately lonely. One puzzle in particular I really enjoyed due to it’s engagement of a sense that’s rarely used in escape rooms.

Low Points:

The first half of the game was a slog, as much needed cluing and direction was absent. This led to too much ambiguity and murky logic, as well as a fair amount of wasted time trying to find the path we were meant to be following. A good bit of iteration and the addition of clues to fully flesh out the challenges during the beginning would go a long way towards ensuring the room flows well and feels logically balanced. Especially with one main puzzle being original and well implemented, but obtuse if you don’t already know the solution. The room gets better after the initial unclear puzzles, but the frustration lingers through the rest of the experience. A large amount of unclued scavenging comes across as more of a time sink, and doesn’t provide as entertaining an experience as a few more puzzles might.

Verdict:

Conjurer’s Dungeon is an uneven experience that starts weakly, but finishes strong(er), so I’m sure with a bit of finesse and iteration, this room can be great. Currently, however, I can’t recommend it due the lack of connective tissue between many of the puzzles and the frustration that causes. In the meantime, I still recommend trying out Airship Legacy and am confident that with a bit of tweaking, Conjurer’s Dungeon can be a great challenge. You can book your time in the Dungeon here!

5/10 (Mediocre)

Full Disclosure: Conundrum Escapes provided media discounted tickets for our group.

The Final Door – The Sacrifice (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

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

Price: $25 per person (Tues, Wed, Thurs) or $28 per person (Fri, Sat, Sun)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

The Pact is sealed with blood!

Theme:

You’ve been kidnapped by a fanatical cult, intent on using you as a human sacrifice in their next dark ritual! You and your fellow kidnappees have only one hour to figure out how to get out of the dark holding cell before they come back for you to complete their evil work, summoning forth who knows what vile creatures!

First Impressions:

For The Sacrifice, there are two versions, standard and advanced; we played the advanced version. The offering to increase the difficulty is a nice touch, and fun for enthusiasts looking for a greater challenge! As we were led to another masterfully themed briefing room, we could already smell incense in the air. It was a great touch to get us excited for our 3rd room of the day, and was yet another small detail that helped up the immersion factor of the room. There was a good, if lighter, introduction to this room and afterwards we were left in our cell to rot.

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High Points:

As we had come to expect from The Final Door by now, barring one major hiccup, the room’s puzzles connected incredibly well from one to the next, and an evolving story that tied everything to the theme was woven throughout. The progression from the early to mid and late game felt natural, and the set evolved to reflect our progress. Another great out of the ordinary hint system was in place, keeping everything within the universe of the room. Fantastic interactions that rose above and beyond locks and keys, (or even basic technological interactions,) enveloped us in the narrative and made for some amazing storytelling. The penultimate puzzle pulled everyone together to finish the room with a thrilling and appropriate culmination, capping off an amazing run of escapes from The Final Door.

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Low Points:

The room stumbled quite a bit at the beginning. Our initial excitement became frustration as we worked out the solution for a puzzle, but were unable physically to complete it, causing us to spend an overly long time uncomfortably attempting over and over to finally get past it (with a wee bit of assistance from our fantastic GM,) and onto the rest of the room. (After our visit, I was told that the game flow has been reworked to alleviate the frustration of this particular puzzle, and though I cannot comment on its effectiveness, I think it is definitely a positive change!) It was, fortunately, all uphill from there. The room itself was very well designed, but felt a bit less complex than Blackout and The Vampyr. That being said, it was still head and shoulders above most other rooms in terms of presentation.

Verdict:

It says a lot that even though it wasn’t my favorite room at The Final Door, The Sacrifice was one of the best I’ve played. The business as a whole is one of the greatest I’ve ever seen, with only one puzzle I didn’t like during the course of three rooms, which speaks volumes about their amazing design! If you are looking for a place that combines all the best elements of escape rooms and elevates game design from craft to art, this is the place to go. I highly recommend anyone check out one or all of the rooms here, The Sacrifice included. Book your time with the cult here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Final Door provided Media discounted tickets to our team.

The Final Door – The Vampyr (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

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

Price: $25 per person (Tues, Wed, Thurs) or $28 per person (Fri, Sat, Sun)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Let’s hunt some monsters!

Theme:

A wealthy nobleman has contracted your team of monster hunters to take care of a big problem he has with his newly inherited castle. Unfortunately, it seems he’s unable to move in since an extremely powerful and ancient vampyr has taken up residence inside! It is up to you to break into the castle and find out where the fiend is currently hiding while he sleeps. Once you do, make sure to destroy him before the sun sets, or it’s lights out for you in more ways than one!

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First Impressions:

The lobby at The Final Door is well appointed, containing a bar as well as a nice selection of party games and puzzles to enjoy with your team while you wait. Staff is very friendly and are escape room enthusiasts as well, so trading war stories with them was great fun. Our experience started even before we entered the briefing room, which was a fantastic and mysterious way to begin the introduction. After our briefing, we were led to the castle and began our hunt!

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High Points:

What a room! It combined two of my favorite little things for escape rooms to do, the first being a well decorated entry door, and the second I can’t reveal so as not to spoil the surprise! As with other rooms at The Final Door, puzzle flow was marvelous, there were no points at which we felt the tasks were too ambiguous or we were flailing about to determine what we needed to do. Set design was convincingly done, and fully immersed us into the story of the room. Some rarely used senses came into play for a fun and, for our team, hilarious puzzle, and the hint system was interestingly integrated into the theme as well. The taks presented involved our entire team throughout, and rewarded communication and cooperation. The climax of the room was extraordinarily satisfying, delivering a great interaction and end to the story. This is, without a doubt, the best room I have done in South Carolina.

Low Points:

None. This is an amazingly crafted experience and we had no problems with it at all, it was truly great from start to finish!

Verdict:

Another astounding experience from The Final Door, The Vampyr excels at weaving together challenging gameplay, smooth flow, and immersive production values. As satisfying to puzzle through as it is to experience the set design, this room keeps the surprises coming throughout! This is definitely the most challenging room available at The Final Door, so beginners may want to try out an easier room or two, (such as the equally fantastic Blackout,) before taking it on. Enthusiasts and more seasoned players, however, will love the fantastic adventure that The Vampyr offers! Book your time in the castle here!

10/10 (Sublime)

The Final Door – Blackout (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

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

Price: $28 per person (Tues, Wed, Thurs) or $33 per person (Fri, Sat, Sun)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It’s weird that getting kidnapped by a serial killer has become a normal Sunday morning

Theme:

The Columbia Killer wants to play a game, and has taken you and your friends hostage in his basement making you unwitting players! A huge storm is sweeping across the area, and to make matters worse, it has caused a blackout. With only the lightning to guide you, you’ve no choice but to play along with the killer’s twisted machinations, or be yet another missing person in tomorrow’s news!

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First Impressions:

We could already tell that we were in for something very special when we were briefed in a specially tailored room that fit the theme perfectly! After the quick rules run down, we were very surprised by the beginning of the experience, which I won’t spoil here. Once complete, we doffed our blindfolds and got to the task of escaping the dank, dark basement we’d found ourselves in!

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High Points:

I want to preface this by saying that there is so much I enjoyed about this room that may not translate into words (or would be too big a spoiler,) and that you should absolutely go and have your mind blown like we did. The experience weaves immersive theatre and personal touches throughout in order to remove you from the outside world and truly set you inside a psycho’s basement. Special effects and set design are impeccable; providing a convincing environment without being so Hollywood that it still feels artificial. Puzzle flow is flawless, and each step is logical and challenging, but fair and direct enough to remove any possibility of frustration. Puzzles themselves are highly satisfying across the board, and deliver excellent feedback when they’ve been solved. Delivering surprises again and again, I can confidently say that Blackout is easily one of my favorite experiences to date.

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Low Points:

The introduction set the scene well, but it got a little too scream-y for our tastes, which took it a little further over the top than we reasonably wanted to go. Everything else was spectacular!

Verdict:

There is no doubt that Blackout is one of the finest escape adventures I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing! If you are anywhere near Columbia, I highly recommend planning a trip out, as this room is like no other! This is a finely tuned, fully immersive escape room adventure that delivers an intense, well thought out spectacle that is sure to entertain beginners and enthusiasts alike. Book your kidnapping here!

10/10 (Sublime)

Full Disclosure: The Final Door provided Media discounted tickets for our team

Exit Strategy North – Spy Trainer (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

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

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Spy vs. Spy

Theme:

As top trainees of a shadowy government agency, you are expected to be the best of the best, and your mission today will test whether you become a full fledged spy, or return to desk jockeying for the CIA. You’ll be given a series of tasks to test each area of competency, but if you cannot finish them within 60 minutes, you will fail. In order to raise the already high stakes, another group of trainees will be placed in an identical test, and you will be expected to finish before them for top honors! Will you be able to complete your mission and earn bragging rights over the other team, or will you crack under pressure?

First Impressions:

This was my first run through a competitive room, and though I am confident in my team’s abilities, I still felt the extra pressure of going head to head against another team. In fact, we didn’t meet them until we were lined up at the two red and blue doors, minutes away from our face off! An excellent video intro played to give us our mission and the stakes, and we jumped into action as the clock started, spurred on by the thrill of competition!

High Points:

As previously stated, the competition aspect of the room gives it that extra kick of adrenaline, even though we were playing against strangers. I would imagine with other enthusiast friends, the pressure would’ve been greater! Some highly original interactions and puzzles were very exciting to complete and puzzle through, and the room ran a gamut of puzzle types to keep things fresh. Though sparse, the set changed based on where we were in the game, and added new obstacles, mysteries, and clues as we went. Immersion was well done, as we felt the tension of being tested, (in a good way!) throughout the experience.

Low Points:

The room is highly linear, so even with the small maximum of 6 players, there isn’t always enough to do to keep the whole group engaged. Some fuzzy logic during a couple of the tests, as well as a few clues that were extremely well hidden, caused the flow to break down fairly hard. The room itself is nowhere near as beautiful as some of Exit Strategy’s other offerings, though it does fit “Government Training Facility” pretty well, so it’s a small thing.

Verdict:

As Charlotte’s first Competition based room, Spy Trainer fits the bill for an exciting race against your friends. Several blemishes keep it from being as amazing as it could be, but for the first room of its type in the area, it’s a good jumping off point. Beginners and enthusiasts alike will enjoy testing their mettle against friends, and I highly recommend Spy Trainer for a large group that wants to do a room, but doesn’t want to have too many cooks in the kitchen. You can book your final exam here!

7/10 (Good)