Room Escape USA – Family Secrets (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

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

Price: $25 per person, Private Sun-Thurs or any day with a 4 player/$100 minimum

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Some secrets should remain buried.

Theme:

From the Room Escape USA website:

Grandpa Earl has been drugged for the last 30 years by your parents who have been running an illegal medical clinic. He has since escaped, sobered up, and he is angry! He has kidnapped you and your cousins and we’re not sure what he has planned. Handcuffed in a darkroom with the temperature rising, you must escape before grandpa Earl returns!

First Impressions:

The first thing that I should note is that this room utilizes handcuffs, but do not include a safety for removing the handcuffs. Recent events have proven that this is unacceptable, and while there is a way to remove what keeps you stuck in the room, this requires an extra step and still does not rid players of the cuffs should an emergency situation arise. I’m all for handcuffs for immersion, but there should always be some way to quickly rid yourself of them should an emergency arise. This issue, coupled with the fact that the initial room is pitch dark could become a recipe for tragedy should a crisis strike.

High Points:

I really enjoyed one specific puzzle that, while we’ve seen one very much like it before, worked very well within the theme of the game. There were also a couple of surprises when we solved certain parts of the adventure.

Low Points:

As I’ve pointed out previously, there are some serious concerns about safety with this room, and while they aren’t the most egregious I’ve seen, they’re still an issue and can and should be easily corrected. Further, the handcuffs really do little to add to the experience overall, and provide only discomfort. Safety issues aside, the room just really isn’t that fun. The game starts in a pitch black room, with one dim light that fades in and out, and several tiny tea candles for players to use. The dark only serves to make the initial, severely banal puzzles somewhat more difficult, but in a way that only serves to frustrate players. The set is also very bare, and looks like a converted office space rather than a creepy basement and bedroom.

Beyond the set design, the hum-drum puzzles and choppy game flow continue to make the experience feel incredibly dated. None of the enigmas included within Family Secrets is very memorable, in stark contrast to the great run of interactions we found in Room Escape USA’s newest room, Rock Star. The initial room definitely would be uncomfortable with the maximum 10 players, and even if a group charged forward with this many, a lot of folks are going to be at a loss for anything to do in this slightly non-linear room. The puzzle that provided the most items to work on at any one time is a dreaded process puzzle, proving that sometimes, sitting around with nothing to do is preferable.

Verdict:

Family Secrets just feels like a game that’s far past its prime. With safety issues, a much too large player count, choppy game flow, and average at best puzzles, it’s high time for Family Secrets and Grandpa Earl to be put out to pasture. I don’t recommend this one, especially since the much more engaging Rock Star can be escaped at this venue, but should you wish to book yourself a kidnapping, you can do so here.

2/10 (Bad)

Full Disclosure: Room Escape USA 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)

Exit: The Game – The Sunken Treasure (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $14.99

Treasure in the Waters

Theme:

From the Thames and Kosmos website:

Setting sail for dangerous waters, you embark on a treacherous quest for the legendary treasure of the Santa Maria. While investigating a mysterious shipwreck, something goes terribly wrong and you are trapped deep underwater! Can you solve the riddles of the wreck and recover the treasure before your time is up?

First Impressions:

I’ve always loved Exit: The Game’s highly interactive puzzles, and it’s actually pretty surprising I haven’t gotten around to reviewing their products just yet. When the newest set of games arrived, however, I knew I’d have to work it into the review schedule! The Sunken Treasure seemed right up my alley, boasting a nautical theme and interesting box art, so we started the next run of Exit games there.

High Points:

As always with Exit games, The Sunken Treasure had loads of really stand out moments that took us by surprise! At first, I thought there were relatively few props and wasn’t sure how involved this experience would be, but I was glad to see that this game continued to hold to the standard of using absolutely every prop to it’s fullest to deliver an extremely tactile game. Even though this was my seventh foray into the Exit universe, and I had an idea of what to expect, I found that many of the revelations included within the box were still cleverly hidden from perceptive players. A more beginner level experience, we still found some puzzles to be challenging, but the simpler ones were still a fun solve, with several leading us to exclaim how clever we found the puzzle to be. The game also didn’t disappoint content wise, as it still took us a good 56 minutes to complete, longer than some great escape rooms we’ve broken out of!

This was the first Exit game we’d played that was a one hundred percent linear experience, and while that could serve to bottleneck everything, I felt that linearity served this particular experience well. Though you cannot jump between puzzles, the overall experience isn’t obtuse at all, and each step just takes some thought and a fair measure of outside, (and sometimes inside,) the box thinking. The experience held tighter to the storyline than some other Exit games have, and the linear nature really helped make sure that each step progressed the story as well as the game flow. Tight is one word that can absolutely describe the experience playing The Sunken Treasure, and not in the 90’s sense. Each facet of the game feels like it has been tested to ensure that the puzzles, logical flow, and story are tightly crafted and serve to keep the adventure trucking along nicely. Though there were points we needed to stop and think, or set up a solution, we never felt as though we had become mired or thrust into tedium.

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So much puzzling treasure is hidden within these few props!

Low Points:

The linear nature of the game does mean that it cannot handle more than two players especially well. Those with a lot of experience will want to cap things at two, definitely, and newer players may find they have more fun and will get to be more involved with fewer players as well. A particular puzzle becomes somewhat more difficult due to the vague and possibly misleading wording, but on the whole the experience does not stray from the tighter logic presented in the rest of the enigmas. The game itself is a lot easier than other Exit games, and while this isn’t really that bad of a thing, veteran players may feel they’re being led by the hand a bit too much.

Verdict:

A simpler adventure, I still recommend that anyone interested in Exit: The Game try out The Sunken Treasure. Newcomers will get an awesome and tightly plotted introduction to the game series, and long time players will find a lot of new and engaging content to enjoy within the box. You can pick this one up from your friendly local games store now! We recommend checking out Atomic Empire in Durham, NC, check out their online store here!

8.5/10 (Great)

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.

Warehouse 29 – The Dark Raven Museum (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Players: 3-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 90 minutes

Our biggest escape yet.

Theme:

From the Warehouse 29 website:

Come explore the mangled heart of the Dark Raven Museum. An institution that once stood at the forefront of machine learning technology, has now fallen to chaos in the wake of an unforeseeable event. The museum’s custodial AI, a meticulous recreation of Edgar Allan Poe himself, has become infected with a madness much like that of his namesake. He has escaped his programming, seized control of the museum technology, and taken his creators hostage. So far all attempts to shackle the AI and restore order have ended in disaster. We are counting on you to succeed where everyone else has failed: face Poe, and restore the Dark Raven Museum to its former glory.

First Impressions:

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Warehouse 29, as we’ve heard many good things, and the site promises something truly unique. Further, it is a collaboration between Escape Room RVA and River City Escape Room, our two absolute favorite escape room businesses in Richmond. It’s putting it mildly to say that we had very high expectations for this game. To begin our experience, we met at Legends Brewery, where we were instructed to be ten minutes before our start time. Luckily, we were there very early and were able to enjoy lunch at the Brewery before our game, and I highly recommend it. At the appointed time, we gathered at the meeting point, and the adventure started with a highly immersive bang!

High Points:

After making our rendezvous with the agents of Warehouse 29, (and being denied our usual $100,000 upfront fee for these kinds of things, which we are still waiting on,) we were introduced to Warehouse 29 and the Dark Raven Museum itself. The experience itself takes place within a 7,000 square foot area, and upon glimpsing the initial areas, we knew that none of that space would be wasted at all. After an excellent in-character briefing, we set to work by donning our VR packs and jumping in! The Dark Raven Museum uses VR for about a third of the game to bring the experience to life in an incredibly unique way. The implementation is superb, and the whole experience benefits from it; allowing your team a full range of motion over a large area that’s fully part of the virtual space. This part of the game is very smooth, and involves some great interactions and wildly immersive puzzles and atmosphere. It truly is something that has to be experienced, and I look forward to seeing what can be done with this burgeoning tech in the future.

As we moved to the next part of the experience, we were once again greeted by an actor who definitely added to the experience while still allowing us the freedom to continue puzzling and cracking jokes. At this point, we were inside what felt like a more traditional escape room, but on a much larger scale. The whole thing is filled to the brim with amazing set design and well thought out enigmas. This area on it’s own would be a crown jewel in a traditional escape room, and it is only another third of the experience! While large, it didn’t feel junky or full of red herrings, and everything we found felt important to the over arching experience. The game flow was non-linear enough to keep our team engaged, and I can definitely see the maximum of eight players getting their money’s worth as well. All of the puzzles and interactions played well into the theme, and there were several points at which we were appropriately wowed by the design. On top of all that, fans of Edgar Allen Poe’s work will be very pleased to see that the game is saturated with easter eggs based on his many stories and poems. These are well placed and feel like loving homages rather than items placed without purpose.

We’d only been through about two thirds of the game at this point, but we were still having the time of our lives with the awesome game flow, fantastic signposting of clues, and particularly great storyline. When we finished up with this area, we were once again treated to what felt like a live action, interactive cut scene from a video game, and yet another large area was introduced, along with another great game mechanic that truly ratcheted up the tension. This part of the game tied in very well, and brought up some hanging threads that had been hinted at during the earlier parts of the game. These surprises were insanely fun, and the final puzzles and the climax of the adventure were some of the best story telling I’ve seen in an escape room. Honestly, everything about this adventure knocked it out of the park. I’ve never quite experienced something so full of action, adventure, and interactivity beyond a video game, and Warehouse 29 is much, much more than a game, it’s a phenomenal escape adventure!

Low Points:

The only thing I’d say would’ve made our experience better is if the actors were a little more improvisational with us. We’ve had games in the past where the live actors read our group and adjusted to fit our, admittedly weird, sense of humor, and those moments really shined for us while still immersing us in the story. While the actors did a fantastic job overall, especially during the beginning, where they did respond to our input well, there were a few parts in the middle section where we could tell they weren’t quite sure what to do with us, (mostly me, really,) so they stuck to the script. Overall, not a bad thing, but really the only “low point” that sticks out to me at all.

Verdict:

Warehouse 29 is a wholly unique event that is truly second to none! The marriage of VR, live action interactive theatre, and escape rooms works perfectly, and this adventure is something any escape enthusiast or thrill seeker should absolutely experience! Beginners and veterans alike will find something new and exciting here, and I cannot recommend The Dark Raven Museum enough. If you only have the time to visit one escape room while in Richmond, make it Warehouse 29. You can book your time battling rogue AI Edgar Allen Poe here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Warehouse 29 provided media discounted tickets for this room.