Timed Out – Depth (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Under the Sea

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

One thousand miles off the African Somali coast, research station Sumundra sits on the ocean floor. Here scientists study the undersea ecosystem. But the station has gone dark, and the team is not responding to communications. The condition of the Sumundra and its inhabitants is unknown. Your team must descend 1,000 feet to the Sumundra, assess its condition and retrieve all records and research to prevent yet another mystery of the deep ocean.

First Impressions:

Last year, we were highly impressed with Timed Out’s three rooms, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to try out their newest experience, Depth, as it hadn’t yet come out. It was a must visit for our next trip out, and was absolutely one of the most highly anticipated experiences for this trip. I’m happy to say it did not disappoint!

High Points:

Depth is an absolutely beautiful experience, with an awesome set that immediately wowed us. I love how Timed Out designs their sets, and the way Depth is laid out is immediately immersive. Lighting and sound design work perfectly in tandem to create a really awesome environment to puzzle within, and all the elements combine to create a truly elevated experience. Puzzles are well themed, and all tie into the mission seamlessly, with an opening that tasks the separated players with getting the power on, and a progressive meta puzzle later that utilizes a big set piece fantastically. In fact, all of the set pieces within the room are beautifully integrated into the puzzling, and every item feels like an important piece of the Sumundra. Many of the props were custom 3D printed, ensuring they are highly original and look fantastic within the context of the room. These props lend a tactile feel to the experience as well, upping the immersion to help us feel like we are actually performing the scientific tasks required to complete our mission.

The game design is great as well, with an almost completely non-linear flow once the game gets going, and multiple teamwork puzzles that kept our group of six fully engaged for the most part. Though we began the game separated, both of the initial rooms feel like they have enough to keep everyone engaged, and there’s no “curse of the less interesting room” to be found here, as both had really fun puzzles to solve. One early stage teamwork puzzle is very clever, and though we somehow glitched past it due to our weird ability to accidentally open stuff, it is very well designed and was only glitchable due to the powerful aura of chaos that seems to surround our team, (with apologies to the no less than three businesses that have experienced freak power outages on days we visit.) During the most open ended parts of the room, we split into teams of two or three, flitting about between some of the coolest puzzles we’ve seen, racking up loads of satisfying ah ha moments as we discovered the hidden meanings behind the room’s many ciphers and clues. Most all of these puzzles involved a large, well designed set piece, adding to the cool, science-y feel of the whole game. In fact, it’s very hard to pick a favorite puzzle here, as all of them were so engaging and interactive.

Low Points:

The penultimate puzzle caused some severe frustration with our group. It is a teamwork puzzle, but is only for four players, so any additional players may be a little left out, especially if one of the tasks doesn’t appeal to their skill set. There was also a small technical glitch with my personal task that made things a lot more difficult. Overall, though, this is a fairly intense interaction that relies on a lot of dexterity and time pressure that did not translate well for our group, especially when we were milliseconds from victory but were forced to restart due to a minor error. Luckily, our GM sensed our frustration, (it wasn’t well disguised, sorry!) and overrode the puzzle for us, a pity move we highly appreciate and embrace with open arms. Though the room was definitely a lab, and was themed aquatically, we would’ve loved if there had been a little more to get across the feeling of being under water.

Verdict:

Depth is an astoundingly good game that kept us all frantically puzzling from start to finish, and minus a highly frustrating experience with a dexterity based puzzle that kept us fully under pressure, we had a wonderful time in this room! It’s certainly one of the most challenging experiences in Charlotte, so I’d recommend having a few rooms under your belt before taking it on, but enthusiasts will have a great time working out the challenges within, and newer players will still enjoy the experience as long as they are open to taking a hint or two as needed. Book your time cracking the mystery of the Sumundra here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.

The Conundrum Box – The Storyteller: Part One – Aladdin’s Lamp (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Theme:

From The Conundrum Box website:

FROM SCHEHERAZADE TO ALADDIN, EXPLORE THE 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS TO DEFEAT THE EVIL VIZIER OMAR

You have been transported within the world of the 1001 Arabian Nights, your mission is to retrieve four genie lamps in order to get back home. Meanwhile, a despicable tyrant, the Vizier Omar, has taken control across all the realm. He has imprisoned the princess Scheherazade and seeks to gain control of the lamps for himself. Travel through two legs of the journey, meeting many of the characters, heroes, and villains of the tales of The 1001 Arabian Nights.

Box One: Aladdin’s Lamp – As you get your feet wet (dry?) in this new world, you will strive to obtain the first two genie lamps. You will learn some of the secrets of this realm, and perhaps be recruited to help bring down its ultimate evil.

First Impressions:

I love the 1001 Arabian Nights and the tales of Scheherazade, so it wasn’t difficult for me to get excited about this new series from The Conundrum Box! However, my heart has been broken before, so I had tempered my expectations to prevent another disappointment. Luckily, this experience was a vast improvement over the debacle that was Unlock’s previous failure!

High Points:

In short, The Storyteller was a fantastic experience! We had an excellent time with this box and were impressed with all facets of the adventure. In long, we should start by talking about the incredibly smooth game flow. The Storyteller benefits from a linear set up, allowing for the gatekeeping to remain tight between puzzles and preventing the box from devolving into chaos by presenting players with too many items too quickly. I definitely find that story centric experiences tend to benefit from a mostly linear set up as it keeps the narrative more easily on track, and I think that is certainly the case here. It was much simpler to keep track of everything that is going on, puzzle and story wise, and this box is really elevated because of this mechanical choice. The story is also somewhat more concise, paring down slightly from the long swaths of text we’ve previously seen in some Conundrum Box entries. Every puzzle within the game provided a fun, intuitive solve, and was set up within an extremely well paced difficulty curve. Clues were subtle, but pointed, and presented a challenge that never dipped into the territory of logical leaps. Rather, the game remained intuitively challenging and elegantly approachable throughout. Some puzzles contained more complex rules for solving, and others took a longer time to work through, but at no point did they become arduous or a tedious procedural process. Even some interactions that I generally don’t enjoy became some of my favorite moments, a testament to how well this box is crafted.

Presentation of The Storyteller is amazing, including quality materials and convincing props. Some earlier boxes could overload the player with paper and items, but I feel this entry absolutely has streamlined things, allowing for tighter gameplay and better focus. This box is highly interactive, and props from this, and optionally, one previous game are used to great effect, drawing the player into the world tactilely. The late game presented my two favorites of the experience, placement puzzles that were filled with awesome moments of revelation and some of the most satisfying solves so far. As far as the extras, the included Spotify playlists were excellently curated, adding a nice underlying soundtrack to the whole adventure, and the included recipes seemed delicious, though we haven’t yet gotten to try them.

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Just a small selection of the many puzzles within!

Low Points:

We really had trouble coming up with anything we didn’t like about this box! I will say that even though there are no mountains of text to read through like the Sleepy Hollow series, some spots are still quite long. We found a screen reader immensely helpful in these instances, especially as I was sick while we played through this one, and we usually like reading story entries aloud to each other. There was also an initial puzzle in which some of the color identification was somewhat difficult as the prop became a little worn in transit. Other than that, we really found little fault with this box.

Verdict:

Finally! A 1001 Arabian Nights focused experience I can love! It’s not a frequently used theme, so I’m very glad that The Conundrum Box pulled off such a great experience with part one of The Storyteller. I definitely have a new favorite Conundrum Box in this entry, and cannot wait to see what happens in part two! I heartily recommend this one, as players of all skill levels will enjoy the experience. Subscribe to The Conundrum Box here! You can get $5 off your first box with our Promo Code ERA5OFF!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

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

Timed Out – Noel (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-4 (We recommend 2)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Well seasoned

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

Ho Ho Ho, Merrrrrryyyyy Christmasss! By the time you receive this I’ll be off on my present delivery run for the year. I was recently informed that one special child, Noel Bailey’s Christmas list was misplaced! The Central Elf Agency has received intel that it is likely at her father’s hunting cabin in northern Vermont. Your elf team is tasked with investigating the cabin and recovering the list, but be warned, we’ve heard that Noel is a rather…. Creative little girl. Find the list within an hour to allow for me to properly deliver Noel’s presents!

First Impressions:

Timed Out is one of our favorite spots in Charlotte, and we were enormously excited for Depth, but first, we wanted to take on their seasonal Christmas room, Noel. This smaller room was perfect for my wife and I to puzzle through while our teammates took on Precinct, a room we had previously loved and recommended. Though December had come and gone, we were still full of holiday spirit and ready to help Santa find Noel’s Christmas List!

High Points:

Noel takes place in what can only be described as the coziest Christmas cabin imaginable! Though I’m much more of a Halloween person at heart, I could definitely imagine spending a holiday in this puzzle filled room! The way the room has been decorated provides an incredibly immersive atmosphere, rife with a super chill vibe, a comfy recliner, and a festive, but not annoyingly so, soundtrack.  The decorations aren’t just for show either, as many are highly tactile props that can be changed and used in deviously clever, well themed puzzles. This may be a seasonal room, but nothing about the build out says “slapped together” like some other temporary rooms do. This could easily be a year round experience. The room is filled with story, and though it is lighter fare, it’s great to see that at all times the experience feels purposeful and tied to the intial mission of seeking out Noel’s Christmas List.

And what an exciting mission it is! Though the room is eminently family friendly, it’s still an enjoyable challenge for seasoned escapists, and my wife and I had an absolute blast working through the incredibly smooth game flow. While the flow is strictly linear, this does not harm the game, as the player limit of 2 to 4 is designed well for a small family or couple, ensuring that no choke points will leave anyone out. Even some of the quicker puzzles have multiple steps that can be worked simultaneously, allowing for players to divide and conquer, even within the bonds of a linear game. Signposting is subtly integrated, and it never feels as though you’re flailing about, wondering what to do, but answers are not just handed over, ensuring that the experience still delivers a reasonable challenge. For a smaller escape room, Noel is densely packed with enigmas, providing a full gamut of puzzles to solve, further ensuring a fully developed adventure. Progress is easy to track, using a very simple meta puzzle that literally builds as players work their way through the room, and it’s very simple to gauge how you’re doing on time. The climactic moment of Noel is just so much fun, delivering a payoff that ties off the mission in an excellently themed finale.

Low Points:

This is definitely an easier room, and while that does not deter us or ruin our fun, it’s good for enthusiasts to know in case they’d like to seek out a more difficult experience. The only real problem we came across was that one particular puzzle that involves deciphering pictures made through the course of the puzzle, and while we were able to determine what was what, three of the five were a mite ambiguous.

Verdict:

Despite the small space in which Noel takes place, the is a fully realized escape adventure to be had within! Far from the stereotypical “seasonal escape room,” Timed Out boasts what could easily be a year round room within Noel’s cozy Christmas cabin. Perfect for families, new escapists, or even a couple of hardened escape veterans, I highly recommend checking this room out when the Season comes round again! Though only available during the holiday season, you can check out all of Timed Out’s wonderful experiences year round here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.

Southern Pines Escape – Wizard Thief (Review)

Location: Southern Pines, NC

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

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Magic Mirror on the wall, who’s the greatest escapist of them all?

Theme:

From the Southern Pines Escape website:

The Evil Wizard has stolen artifacts from your favorite childhood storylines. He is gone for the next hour gathering supplies for his final evil spell and you have found yourself in his castle tower. It is up to you and your team to retrieve each artifact before he returns, to thwart his evil plan and to save everyone’s ‘Happily Ever After’!

First Impressions:

Wizard Thief was the last room we experienced at Southern Pines Escape, and though the previous three rooms varied a bit in quality, I can definitely say that we saved the best for last. This room easily had the best set, and it showed from the very start.

High Points:

As stated, Wizard Thief has the best set of any of the rooms at Southern Pines Escape, no contest. The design, lighting, and sound effects are implemented very well, and show a marked evolution from earlier rooms. Everything is very responsive, and when tech is involved, it is easy to know when a solution is working or not. The story line is simple, but sets up the tasks in the room well, presenting a great start, and ensuring that the overall mission is intuitive. As we puzzled through the room, gathering various fairly tale items, our progress was excellently signposted, so we always knew about where we were situated in the game flow. Speaking of game flow, this room definitely had the most smooth game flow of the bunch, with an intuitiveness that held up throughout, and a diverse run of puzzles that challenged without resorting to logical leaps or red herrings. One particular puzzle used well hidden tech, lighting, and a very satisfying tactile solve to present one of my favorite “crafting” puzzles I’ve seen in a room. With a mostly non-linear set up, some surprising reveals that we absolutely did not see coming, and, (I think most enthusiasts will appreciate this one,) ample flashlights for everyone, Wizard Thief is easily my favorite room at Southern Pines Escape.

Low Points:

To start off the room, we found a pair of pliers, which seemed out of theme, but also seemed very useful for one particular puzzle we had identified. While it was tricky, we were able to solve the puzzle, but weren’t quite able to use what we found immediately. Later on, we found a prop that seemed much more suited to this task, revealing that the pliers may have been left in the room on accident during the reset. For this room’s climax, there was again a lock to the side of the door, which remained anticlimactic, especially since this seemed very unnecessary due to the task based nature of the room. There were many similar lock types used within this room, but for the most part, it didn’t involve as much guess and check as previous rooms here, and each level contained mostly diverse lock types. One particular set piece was a great idea, and seemed like it would be a very cool way to evoke magic, but the projector that was used to pay this magic off was fairly unfocused, making for some very difficult reading.

Verdict:

Wizard Thief is a fun experience, especially for new escapists and families looking for an engaging hour of puzzling. While some of the experience could be refined in order to create an even more magical experience, overall, it is a good time, and has just enough surprises to keep veterans on their toes. I recommend this one, but do think enthusiasts will be happiest with a smaller group. Book your time recovering the stolen fairy tale artifacts here!

7.5/10 (Good)