The Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Secret of Easthaven Forest (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

There’s something unnatural in that there forest.

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

When a group of mischievous kids sneaks into Easthaven Forest to escape the prying eyes of their parents and have some fun they are surprised to see a dark stranger dragging a body wrapped in plastic through the brush. They get closer to try and see what is going on and watch in horror as the killer meticulously covers the body up with leaves and scrub so that no one will see it. When one of the kids accidentally steps on a dry branch, alerting the killer to their presence, he gives chase, intent on keeping his secret a secret. The kids hightail it back to town on their bikes and head straight to the police station to report what they saw. After several hours of searching in the forest, the police finally locate the body. However, given a recent string of disappearances, they have a theory that more bodies may be hidden in the woods. You and your colleagues at The Will Street Detective Agency have been hired to consult on this case and dig deeper for evidence that will lead to the killer’s capture. The kids are reluctant to say much out of fear that the killer will be coming to silence them for good so you have your work cut out for you. Find out as much as you can from the kids and identify the mysterious stranger in the woods. Easthaven Forest is a place where many dark secrets live and thrive. If you investigate this case properly and turn over the right stones, you may learn what some of them are and they may change much of what you’ve come to believe about Valley Falls.

First Impressions:

I can’t tell you how excited I was for The Secret of Easthaven Forest. The kids on bikes/Stephen King’s IT vibes were real with this one, and as Stephen King is my favorite author, I couldn’t be more thrilled. As of this writing, I’m actually reading back through his entire body of work, so this was great timing! The day this hit our stoop, we had dinner and immediately set about solving the mystery.

High Points:

The Secret of Easthaven Forest is one of the smoothest Deadbolt boxes we’ve played in terms of game-play and connections between puzzles. Everything is incredibly intuitive, providing great connections between puzzles and solutions while still keeping these sign posts subtle to maintain the challenge level. Each clue on every puzzle thread flowed well into one another, and there were several threads to follow at any given time, ensuring that if players are stumped, they can always find a new thread to unravel while they ponder the previous one. This non-linearity also makes this a fantastic box for teams or couples who enjoy solving separate puzzles in tandem. The mechanic for figuring out the suspects has been tweaked, and an extra layer or two has been added, adding to the level of immersion as all these extra steps have a story based reason for their inclusion. Overall, this clever method of suspect deduction is really cool, and greatly to the mystery. The game itself involves a lot of code breaking, but there is a great variety between each enigma, and while a couple of these codes will be very familiar to those that have played many puzzle boxes or puzzle hunts, they’re still presented in a way that keeps them feeling fresh. New players will benefit from the intuitive set up of these codes, and at no point will any outside research need to be done in order to solve the box.

This box is one of the best recent boxes for world building and characterization. While we love The Jester, it did feel at times that we never really got to know the characters and suspects as well as we would’ve liked, but The Secret of Easthaven Forest really adds some fantastic touches to the people involved with the story, giving us a fleshed out sense of their personalities and quirks. The expansion of Valley Falls’ lore through the mystery  of local cryptid Red Fang is engaging as well, and fits perfectly within the mysteriously established world of the town. There are several side stories and each new plot point is integrated into the puzzle solving excellently, ensuring that it doesn’t feel as though we are jumping back and forth between puzzling and receiving exposition. The climax is great, and ties all the loose threads together while still providing a spooky cliffhanger to finish things off, and I absolutely love that a particular part of the adventure is left open for possible further investigation.

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Low Points:

One puzzle seems to be a bit of a stretch story-wise, and we were a bit surprised at it’s inclusion, as it didn’t quite fit the usual puzzle type of Deadbolt experiences. The only other downside to this one, for us, was that it was a quick solve, however, as veterans of puzzle solving and mystery cracking, it happens sometimes when everything lines up just right. Long time fans should be aware that this one is a little easier, but it is absolutely worth it, as it’s a fantastic time.

Verdict:

The Secret of Easthaven Forest is a gloriously fun time, and a great introduction to the series for new players with it’s incredibly smooth game flow and variety of intuitive code breaking puzzles. Experienced players should also give it a go, as the entertaining puzzles and fantastic story are all absolutely worth it! Join the Deadbolt Mystery Society here! Right now, you can get 30% off your first box with the Promo Code ESCAPE30! You can also see the rest of our Deadbolt Mystery Society reviews here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Deadbolt Mystery Society provided a complementary box.

Rush Hour Live Escape Games – Something Wicked (Review)

Location: Fredricksburg, VA

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

Price: Prices vary, see website for more details

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

…this way comes.

Theme:

From the Rush Hour Live Escape Games website:

A malevolent evil radiates from Deep Creek Forest. You and your team of paranormal investigators have been called in to find the source of the evil that is inhabiting the forest. People are disappearing without warning, including the first team of investigators called in. You had better be prepared because Something Wicked has moved in to the woods.

First Impressions:

Our final room of our Northern Virginia, 23 room trek took place within a haunted wood, and that’s the kind of theme I’m more than thrilled to engage with! Stepping in, we were treated to a very large, open area decked out to resemble a spooky witch’s wood, and I was excited to get started!

High Points:

Though the theme of paranormal investigation and folks disappearing into a mysterious forest are common horror tropes, I haven’t seen an escape room that takes on these combined tropes in my neck of the woods. The story is pulled off well, and uncovering the mystery of the Deep Creek Forest is a lot of fun, especially due to a couple of great surprises along the way. The set design within Something Wicked is engaging, and the huge room that Rush Hour has placed the experience within serves to ensure that it feels as though you’re adventuring through a huge, open air forest. Lighting is well done, presenting a night time scene without being so dim that it’s hard to see, (and for those darker corners, every player is provided a flashlight,) and the sound track does a great job at ensuring the room doesn’t feel flat, sonically. The whole vibe of the experience gives off a slightly more light hearted Blair Witch vibe, keeping things spooky and mysterious without getting overly scary. Rush Hour has done a great job with sound proofing again, and though other rooms touched the same walls, we’d never know it while puzzling inside.

There are loads of different areas to explore within Something Wicked, and while the room is mostly open, there is a distinct and intuitive puzzle path to begin with. From there, the game becomes mostly non-linear and this, coupled with the immense size of the room, ensures we were all happily puzzling away from start to finish. The puzzles were engaging, and well integrated into the theme, and the puzzle threads all tied up into a great climactic puzzle as well as a satisfying finale. The finale could also lead one of two ways depending on a choice we made during the game, and although we received the “good” ending, both seemed like a lot of fun, and several of us were wishing that we had unlocked the other, based on the description that was given to us. The game flow was very smooth, and the puzzles were gated off well, with all threads connecting nicely to one another, allowing the game to remain immersive, fluid, and intuitive.

Low Points:

One drawback of the set is that there is one area that initially looked like a spooky new place to explore, but was soon discovered to be a storage room that was not fully blocked off. While the ladder inside might’ve “helped” with the puzzles, it was fairly immersion breaking and probably should be sealed off better to prevent the antics of players more mischievous than us. The one exception to the excellent game flow was one puzzle that tied into another and did not actually require us to solve, leading a couple of us to wonder why it didn’t activate anything when we correctly placed the items. Luckily, our GM advised us that we no longer needed this part of the game, but it would’ve paid off better if the interaction was not solvable without this section. One particular puzzle was undirected, presenting us with a prop, and requiring us to just know when and where to use it, coming off as more of a directionless seek and find. We had one moment were we activated a solution, but the tech was a little faulty, leading us to double check our answers several times until the GM realized what had gone wrong. Finally, although we enjoyed the idea behind having two separate endings, the choice to trigger these endings was random, and it would’ve been nice to have more player agency over determining which ending we desired. Perhaps another puzzle or a more directed choice would make this part of the game more impactful than a fifty-fifty shot.

Verdict:

While there are hiccups here and there, Something Wicked was definitely my favorite of Rush Hour Live’s experiences. Blending a huge, spooky set with a Blair Witch lite storyline, we had a lot of fun escaping Deep Creek Forest. I’d definitely recommend this room to connoisseurs of the creepy and players of any skill level. Book your time facing the mystery of the forest here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Rush Hour Live Escape Games provided media discounted tickets for this room.

 

Escape Room Herndon – Room 213 (Review)

Location: Herndon, VA

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Rest Uneasy Hotel

Theme:

From the Escape Room Herndon Website:

You’re a team of paranormal investigators who have been requested by a hotel owner to investigate strange happenings inside the mysterious room 213. As soon as you enter the room you can sense that something else is going on. Before you can ask, your host has quickly left the room. As you hear the door lock, you realize you’ve been trapped. Can your team uncover the Mystery of Room 213?

First Impressions:

Escape Room Herndon boasts some of the best rooms in Virginia, and I love a spooky, haunted theme, so Room 213 became more highly anticipated as we adventured through their other rooms! Stepping into the ominously appointed hotel room, I couldn’t wait to see what creepy puzzling was in store for us!

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High Points:

As always for a Ravenchase production, the set design of this room is great, encapsulating the theme within its walls perfectly, and oozing spookiness out of every pore. As we delved deeper into the room’s secrets, the set, utilizing the grimily gorgeous design as well as great lighting and sound effects, gradually became even more sinister and ominous. The storyline helps compound this feeling of uneasiness, and the more we discovered, the creepier the experience felt! Several of the larger props hide some real surprises that kept us on our toes until we finally escaped, never sure what was going to pop up next. All of this melded together during the climax, delivering an exciting finish to the room.

The room is very tactile, which I always love, with loads of interesting and theme relevant props to mess around with. Some we initially figured were just set dressing ended up being part of an incredibly creative puzzle that became one of my favorites on the day for its elegant simplicity and intuitiveness. This tactility and streamlined puzzling carries throughout the adventure, and though the room feels somewhat sparser than the other three at this location, it certainly remains an exciting experience to puzzle through! There is just enough technology integrated into the room to give off the spooky vibe via the enigmas within without overdoing it or including technology for technology’s sake, and the few jumps that are included are done expertly. The final bit of tech ties into the story fantastically, and helps cap off things nicely.

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Low Points:

Though the room is sometimes non-linear, it felt mostly linear in our experience, leading to a few unfortunate choke points that stop up the action. At the same time, however, there are a couple moments at which groups can accidentally get ahead of themselves by solving certain puzzles before they are meant to, so a mite bit more gatekeeping in areas could help alleviate that problem. The game flow works well for the most part, but at times, there are some small logical leaps in which the connections break down, muddling the logical waters a bit. We enjoyed the story within the room, but at times, it felt as though the “why?” of the room was lost between the cracks, leaving a loose end here and there. Finally, though the room does ramp up the spookiness well, the puzzles overall don’t feel quite as exciting as some of Escape Room Herndon’s other rooms. However, this is still an excellent experience, which just speaks to how amazing the rooms here are!

Verdict:

Room 213 is an exciting haunted romp to adventure through, and although there are a few small bumps in the road here and there, they don’t detract overmuch from the experience. I absolutely recommend this room, as you cannot go wrong with any room at Escape Room Herndon; they’re all so fantastic! Book your time in the haunted hotel room here!

8/10 (Great)

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

 

The Conundrum Box – The Great Explorer’s Society and The Orient Express (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Theme:

From The Conundrum Box website:

All Aboard the Orient Express! The extravagantly wealthy J. D. Pritchard has the find of a lifetime for any adventurer, the original copy of the 1001 Arabian Nights. He has decided that he will auction off this prize, but first all potential bidders must join him on an elaborate ride on the Orient Express. On which he plans to wine, dine, and determine a party worthy of having his prized possession. You are sent to impress Pritchard for your client, but something goes terribly wrong and now it is up to you to solve a mystery, save the train, and get that book, all before the end of the line!

First Impressions:

Sleepy Hollow was an interesting start to the Conundrum Box’s series of games, though it felt a bit overly expository and uneven at times. However, it was also an overall fun experience, with clever challenges and a well crafted storyline, so I was interested to see what a new series would bring to the table. As I’ve professed many times, I really enjoy the mysteries of Agatha Christie, so The Orient Express is certainly an exciting theme for me!

High Points:

I really thought that The Orient Express was a step up from the previous Sleepy Hollow boxes, as the game flow felt much smoother, and the overall text was not overly long. (However, I do think a voiced version of the text would be fantastic, allowing teams to listen to the exposition together.) One of the things that I thought held other boxes back were the large scale process puzzles that bogged us down until we could muddle through the very long logical pathfinding, and for this box this has been streamlined to the point that I found myself enjoying this particular Conundrum Box hallmark. The initial set up for the game was intriguing, and we found ourselves enjoying the timed component of an at home adventure for the first time, which is really saying something, as we usually ignore timers since we find they take away from the fun. The puzzles included were all very clever, and well designed, and we found at the end that it was difficult to select just one favorite puzzle, opting to choose a few instead. The enigmas weave well through the experience, and each point presents a semi-non-linear method of play, allowing for multiple players to engage with differing puzzles or alternate as they become stuck, should they so desire. We really enjoyed the props included, and one in particular intuitively used a couple of items we didn’t think we’d originally need to great effect.

There are several fantastic surprises included within the story and gameplay of The Orient Express, all of which add excellently to the experience. As the game literally and metaphorically reaches the final station, two of my favorite twists occur, and I definitely did not see them coming. The story mostly builds organically via the gameplay, and builds towards the exciting climax in an immersive fashion. One particular logic puzzle conveys the personality of the cast of suspects well, and shows rather than tells by integrating the story bits into the puzzle. At the end, the story segues extremely smoothly into the realm of the next box, and I’m immensely excited to tackle the adventure that comes next!

Low Points:

There was one item that ended up in the wrong spot for us, but it was part of a fairly commonplace code, so we didn’t have trouble with the solve. One particular puzzle was a toned down version of some of the previous pathfinding problems we have seen in previous boxes, and though those weren’t my favorite, this one was fun for me, but a couple of tries were needed as I initially found an answer that worked, given the rules, but was not the one the website accepted. There were a few typos I came across on the website, but they weren’t egregious, however they were definitely noticeable. The only typo that tripped us up was part of the “dinner menu” clue, but we were still able to make out the code after a bit of confusion.

Verdict:

So far, The Orient Express is easily my favorite Conundrum Box to date. Coupling an Agatha Christie style mystery with loads of clever problems to solve, I’m very excited to see where future boxes take us! This is definitely a good starting point for new players, and the experience is very intuitive overall, but veteran puzzlers will still find plenty of challenge within. Subscribe to The Conundrum Box here! You can get $5 off your first box with our Promo Code ERA5OFF!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: The Conundrum Box provided a complementary review copy.

Escape Room Arlington – Glitch (Review)

Location: Arlington, VA

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Care to see how far down this rabbit hole goes?

Theme:

From the Escape Room Arlington website:

Have you ever had a dream, that you were stuck in an escape room, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream and unable to escape? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the escape room you’re trapped in? Jump down the rabbit hole and find out.

First Impressions:

Escape Room Arlington has some fantastic rooms available, and great rooms always energize us for more. Our only regret was that this was the last room available here during this trip! After a previous “problem in virtual reality” room proved to be incredibly disappointing, I was looking forward to what could be done with this theme when in the hands of such capable designers!

High Points:

The set design of this room is fantastic, with a black and white color scheme inside of a Spartan room that slowly becomes more dynamic, opening up in surprising and interesting ways in order to evoke the feel of breaching new areas of a virtual reality simulation gone wrong. Lighting and sound design work well in this regard as well, and the opening video creates a feeling of ominous urgency that carries throughout. Props are very cool, and many allow players to interact with the room in interesting ways. One in particular is something I haven’t seen in an escape room before, but it’s inclusion is a lot of fun, and gave us an item that was great fun to play around with. The game begins with a great reference to the Matrix, allowing players to make a decision that will affect their gameplay, and the room plays as a homage to the sci fi masterpiece while still remaining it’s own thing.

Glitch is fairly non-linear, and the multiple puzzling paths allow for groups to take a divide and conquer approach to the adventure that generally keeps everyone engaged with the game. The game flow works well and is absolutely chock full of wonderfully abstract puzzling to wrap your brain around. While abstract, the thinking behind these conundrums is generally very logical, and there aren’t any leaps or red herrings to be found within. Everything remains within what could be a very broad theme, but remains tight through an obviously well crafted vision of design.

Low Points:

We came across a particular technical failure that stymied our progress for a while, and it took a bit for everyone to realize that there was a problem, but once it was identified, our Game Master was quick to correct the issue. One puzzle caused a lot of confusion, as even though it was solved at some point, there was no feedback once it was solved, and we kept coming back to it long after we retrieved the items it unlocked as it wasn’t clear that this is what caused the box to open. In fact, there were several moments at which we solved some of the more technical puzzles, and there was very little feedback to notify us what had happened due to our solve. The ending was a little anticlimactic, but there wasn’t much story-wise to build off of, as this ended up being more of a puzzle room than a narratively driven escape, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it would’ve been interesting to have a bit more story injected into the experience.

Verdict:

Glitch is a fun room that combines clever tech, hidden secrets, and some fantastic Matrix references in order to deliver an adventure that’s densely packed with puzzles! While there are a couple issues here and there, I think this is a great room for veteran players who are looking for challenging puzzles, and new escapists who are looking for a cool  way to start off their escaping career! You can book your time within the simulation here!

7/10 (Good)

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