Escape Room Arlington – Secret in the Attic (Review)

Location: Arlington, VA

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Spill that tea!

Theme:

From the Escape Room Arlington website:

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

First Impressions:

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

High Points:

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

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

Low Points:

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

Verdict:

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

8.5/10 (Great)

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

Rush Hour Live Escape Games – Tomb of the Red Queen (Review)

Location: Fredricksburg, VA

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

Price: Prices vary, see website for more details

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Tomb Reconsecrators

Theme:

From the Rush Hour Live Escape Games website:

As a team of archaeologists, you are studying the ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque. Shortly after entering the dig, you find the entrance locked behind you. King Pakal commands you to complete the burial rituals to allow the soul of his beloved wife to join him in the heavens! Can you find your way out of the temple before he arrives to have his revenge!

First Impressions:

Rush Hour Live boasts an enormous lobby and a huge area for all their escape games, and the business as a whole looks really top notch from the outside. The only thing we were worried about was that some of the rooms’ walls did not go all the way to the ceiling, so we were worried about sound pollution between rooms. Overall, though, it looked like this spot would be a great time!

High Points:

As mentioned above this room’s walls did not quite reach to the ceiling, but at no point did this become a problem, as the sound proofing between rooms was excellent, using the fantastic soundtrack to help ensure we wouldn’t be pulled out of the room’s immersion by errant noises. Lighting was also used effectively to ensure the room gave off a great, tomb-like vibe, but was never too dim to see by, hitting a happy medium that is all too rare in most dim escape rooms. Though the intro video to the room was just a little bit hokey, it got the story across well, and new bits of narrative were sprinkled through the room as we solved. The set was nicely designed, and while not at the level of a Hollywood production, it served to express the feeling of being in a tomb well. Passing through each chamber was exciting, and each step towards the Red Queen’s final resting place marked our progress excellently.

Puzzles for the tomb remained in theme, for the most part, and while there were modern locks around the room, they didn’t feel wildly out of place due to the smoothness of the game flow. To start the room, our team was split up, and each puzzle involved with the initial stages of the game relied on teamwork, ensuring that we solved all the puzzles together, rather than splitting individual puzzles between the rooms. This circumvented the usual “curse of the less interesting room” problem excellently, and kept us all engaged. From that point, we traversed the inner areas of the Red Queen’s tomb, and were glad to see that the game was fully non-linear during the mid to late stages of the game. Our group of five stayed completely involved with tackling the rooms challenges, and were able to divide and conquer to great effect. A few of the larger scale set pieces were integrated well into the room and the puzzles, and interacting with these was a lot of fun.

Low Points:

One of the early puzzles involved riddle solving, but was mitigated a little by providing answers in an interesting way. Riddles are still somewhat underwhelming within escape rooms however, but at least the outside knowledge factor was completely removed. The set design ramped up well after the initial stage of the game, but to start, we were somewhat wary of the rooms design. One particular puzzle is out of theme for the room, and while it is an overall alright interaction, it doesn’t quite feel as though it belongs and reminds players they are in an escape room. Another puzzle breaks immersion as well, including stickers and some light outside knowledge that inserted some random confusion as to why this would be included within an ancient tomb.

The climax of the game fizzled for us, as the final congratulations and story ending did not trigger properly, even though we had completed the ritual, but even if it had, the experience felt underwhelming due to how this final meta puzzle is presented. Even though one part of the ritual was interesting, the others didn’t quite have the gravitas due to a particular barrier, and because one integral part of the final stages of the game was not clued, leading the GM to have to notify us to do something we wouldn’t have naturally done ourselves based on the connections available to make within the room.

The theme itself is ok, but involves a Mayan tomb and performing burial rites, which can feel somewhat uncomfortable at times. If the tomb was non-descript and didn’t focus on a specific culture, this would be overall alleviated, but the Mayan parts feel underdeveloped and somewhat cliché, presenting somewhat of a stereotypical view of the culture.

Verdict:

The Red Queen’s Tomb is an interesting game that could use a few tweaks here and there to make it shine, however, it is still a serviceable game, and is a good challenge for escape room enthusiasts and rookie players alike. With a little fine tuning and a slight bit of reworking of uncomfortable theming, this could easily be an even more memorable game. For now, it’s still a solid choice for players, and we recommend giving it a shot. Help complete the Red Queen’s burial rites here!

7/10 (Good)

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

 

The Conundrum Box – Sleepy Hollow Box 1: Washington’s Spies (Review)

Editor’s Note: This review comes to you courtesy of my lovely wife, Kara. Thank you Kara for this excellent review!

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

 

Theme:

From The Conundrum Box’s Website:

SAVE THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AND SAVE YOURSELF FROM THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN

This three part series takes place during American Revolution and afterwards. General Washington’s life is in danger! He has tasked you to help stop the most recent assassination plot. Your leads have led you to the small village of Sleepy Hollow where you meet the townsfolk, and soon discover their dark secrets. The second and third adventures in this season get weirder and darker.

First Impressions:

Though I have enjoyed our latest run of “spooky” themed boxes, I was not sad our Halloween run would soon be over with the completion of this one. However, I have always enjoyed the film/TV adaptations of the classic story of Sleepy Hollow! After our first taste of The Conundrum Box’s Boxes, Anastasia: The Lost Princess, I was excited to see what their take on the legend would be.

(Note: Brandon has excitedly informed me that the spooky themes are apparently not over…I do this for you, readers. Though I do have to admit that these themes do make for great mystery boxes!)

High Points:

This is only the second of The Conundrum Boxes that we have done, but it is very clear how thoughtful they are in concocting and immersing you into the story they have created for you to enjoy. This box included a “choose your own adventure” element, which was an enjoyable update to the adventure mode that we saw in the Anastasia box. I would certainly be curious to know the percentage of people who choose each path!

For the most part, the puzzles were really fun to solve, with a couple in particular being very satisfying to complete. The story wove well into the puzzles, which were multilayered, diverse, and non-linear. I always appreciate when there’s a range of difficulty, which was evident here. The clues were pretty intuitive and it was easy to put the associated ones together, which is always helpful in identifying if you have the right parts to solve the puzzle. And, if you’re ever not sure, The Conundrum Box website has a great, incremental hint system that will put you on the right path.

The box contained a neat meta-story, and we really liked the way the clues allowed us to move forward with it. There was a reference that was used multiple times, and though this may seem like a minor detail, I just wanted to say THANK GOODNESS for its organization. This made it extremely easy to use, and saved us from a lot of potential headache.

Actually, there were a couple of items that were used multiple times, and they were always pretty intuitive. In particular, there were some mini-figures that were a great visual aid with a couple of the puzzles. Also, while this is neither a pro nor a con, I was surprised that one of the more tactile clues wasn’t used more (though I did like the way it was used!).

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Low Points:

As alluded to above, there were a couple of puzzles that could use improvement. One of them involved a great visual component, but the last part of it is confusing as the method used to solve it seems inconsistent/contradictory with the internal logic of the puzzle.

The other puzzle we had trouble with is one that I think players will either love or hate in its current form. I really like the thought behind the puzzle, but there were a lot of things to keep in mind and a high potential for human error, without a clear indication of what mistake was made. That being said, some sort of automation in this puzzle would be very helpful in allowing players to make choices and be able to accurately see the results of those choices. Additionally, while I am all for saving paper, this puzzle in particular would have benefited from being printed single-sided.

As mentioned previously, this box contained mini-figures that were very helpful in completing the puzzles. It’s possible we may have missed it, but one more representing us players would’ve been helpful. Though, we did enjoy being represented by a little plastic cat that we just happened to have nearby. 😊

As a minor point, we were using our phones to navigate the website (which is great in general). I probably would recommend players to use a computer rather than a phone, as the mobile site didn’t seem to have the navigational structure of the desktop version, which makes it easier to go back and forth between puzzle pages. This sometimes made it slightly harder for us to figure out which page we needed to return to in order to find the puzzle page we wanted to work on next.

The box would also benefit from some audio options. Though I enjoyed the detailed story line, it can sometimes be a lot to read out loud to your partner/group.

Speaking of story, the ending of the box was certainly unexpected. This is not a bad thing, and was clearly a transition to the next box, but I definitely did not expect it to go where it did.

Verdict:

Though there were certainly some places for improvement, this was a solid start to the 3-box series. I think the range of puzzles will keep it interesting for both newer and experienced players. With an intriguing ending and a couple of neat items that I’m pretty confident will be used for the next box, we look forward to seeing them again in Part 2! Subscribe to The Conundrum Box here! You can get $5 off your first box with our Promo Code ERA5OFF!

7/10 (Good)

Cyber Raccoons Escape Room – Train Robbery (Review)

Location: Fairfax, VA

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

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Yee-haw!

Theme:

From the Cyber Raccoons website:

Today we step back into the 19th century gold rush and western frontier. The transcontinental railroad has spurred the settlement of the American West. It carries massive Railway Mail shipments and transports millions of dollars in gold across the country from California to the main treasury in Washington, DC.A great train robbery stunned everyone with its audacity and execution. It required extensive planning on the part of the criminals to carry it off. Over $6,000,000 dollars varnished into the rugged mountain ranges of Nevada along with the clever outlaws. It could have been a ordinary crime but the gangs used a previously unknown weapon powerful enough to turn the main cat into a mangled pile of steel.So now it’s a matter of national security and because of the secrecy involved, a famous private company called the Pinkerton National Detective Agency was engaged. They specialize in solving train robberies and were hired by the government to investigate the crime and track the wily outlaws.Now you are the part of a team of Pinkerton Detectives, deputy sheriffs and marshals heading to a Virginia City Saloon with a mission to find the perpetrators of the crime, recapture the gold and to learn the nature of the secret weapon they used.

First Impressions:

Cyber Raccoons Escape Room has one of the most intriguing names for a business, but a fancy name isn’t everything! We were excited to hear a good many fantastic reviews pretty much across the board from other owners while we were in Northern Virginia, however, so by the time we entered the lobby, we were psyched to see if Train Robbery would live up to the hype.

High Points:

Stepping into Train Robbery sets the scene perfectly. The set is beautiful, fully immersive, and densely packed with secrets from start to finish. Boasting zero basic locks, and filled to the brim with well hidden technology, the room was constantly surprising us with well planned reveals and satisfying solutions. The whole room is objective based, tasking us not with escaping, but with determining the criminals responsible for the robbery and capturing the gold they stole for the most part of the experience. The story line follows these lines of investigation well, and drops tidbits of the mystery into our laps bit by bit. It continued to unfold beautifully until the final quarter of the room, when a majorly unexpected story element appeared, throwing our expectations for a loop in the absolute best possible way. We loved how masterfully Cyber Raccoons crafted their universe and narrative, and look forward to the implications of the astoundingly good climax, as there is room for a sequel.

The game flow is marvelous, with a non-linear approach that ensured our group of five remained locked into the experience and totally immersed within the story. The space is also large enough to comfortably hold the maximum number of players, and a group of eight newbies will not have trouble finding something to do. Searching within the room is directed, and never becomes a glorified scavenger hunt, ensuring that at all times, the game remains tightly crafted. Set pieces are large, and allow for some really cool large scale puzzling, and though the game does not hold your hand, it ensures that connections remain overall intuitive. The whole mystery remains in theme, and even when it was throwing us for a complete, mind blowing loop, it makes sense within the world of the game. So many of the puzzles are beautifully tactile, introducing a physical element of the game that I always enjoy, and allowing us to have a great time manipulating the hand crafted items while we solved.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle requires a little more guess and check than we would prefer, as there is a small logical leap to make based on the clues provided. Another main puzzle becomes a little to complicated overall, when small details suddenly become incredibly important, and it becomes necessary to scour the room for a good while to gather all the previously overlooked items. It is an interesting idea as a meta puzzle, but takes a rather long time to complete, stalling out the game flow.

Verdict:

Aside from a few very small issues, Train Robbery sets off an amazing start for Cyber Raccoons! One of the best rooms we experienced during our trip, I absolutely recommend checking it out. Their next room, Space Glider, is due out soon, and I cannot wait to see what these guys come up with next, as their sets, story lines, and immersion are absolutely stunning! Book your time solving the great Train Robbery here!

9/10 (Excellent)

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

 

Ubisoft Blue Byte – Assassin’s Creed: Escape the Lost Pyramid (Review)

Location: This game is available from many locations, we played at VR Zone DC in Washington, DC

Players: 2 or 4, either of which is a great time

Price: Varies, based on location.

Time to Escape: Approximately 60 Minutes

Into the Animus!

Theme:

From the Ubisoft Escape Games website:

Welcome to the Animus. February 1928.An expedition led by Sir Beldon Frye disappears somewhere in the Sinai Peninsula. A team of four and a dozen local porters were looking for the Lost Pyramid of Nebka… Or more precisely, “something” that should have been there. They were never seen again. Using the simulation reconstructed from their DNA memory, your team will put themselves in the shoes of the explorers. Find out what happened to the expedition. And more importantly, locate what they were looking for.

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First Impressions:

I love Assassin’s Creed. It was what I asked for Christmas every single year when it came out annually, and is still a must buy for me even through the ups and downs of the series. When I heard they were developing Virtual Reality escape games for the series, playing them became a high priority for me. VR seems like such a great substitute for the Animus, and barring the absolute travesty that was the Assassin’s Creed movie, I’ve loved every product that bears this franchise’s name. I had high expectations, and luckily, I was not disappointed.

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High Points:

Escape the Lost Pyramid is an awesome adventure, and utilizes Virtual Reality to create one of the most immersive escape games I’ve ever played. The medium is truly used to great effect, allowing for some giant scale puzzles that you just cannot create in a traditional escape room, including some great traversal puzzles that aren’t for the faint of heart! (Side note, if you’re afraid of heights, do not, I repeat, do not look down.) At the outset, each player chooses an avatar, and is led into a dressing room/lobby which is full of hats and necklaces to use to further customize the avatars. While the avatars are really great, this customization allows for players to further differentiate themselves, which helps in the long run. I knew we were in for a great experience when the basic experience of selecting our avatars and putting on hats was already getting us engaged and psyched to play around in the VR space.

The game’s absolutely epic journey begins with the players separated from one another, and intuitively teaches everyone how to play the game at their own pace. Once these introductory puzzles have been completed by everyone, the game brings everyone together and the experience starts in earnest. The game flow is linear, but presents incredibly immersive and wholly intuitive puzzles to the group, which varied between solo, pair, and full group solves during our four player experience. The difficulty curve and size of puzzles smoothly upgrades from start to finish, and while a few of the conundrums included are sometimes quite challenging, other players are almost always available to help, either through the game itself, or by offering tips over the headsets. Every stage of the game moves further up the titular Pyramid, and the sense of progress is well marked, providing many points at which to feel victorious. Except for those parts in which your wife knocks you off a platform. Those are only fun for her. Just kidding, that was still hilarious. Speaking of something that should’ve turned my stomach, Escape the Lost Pyramid feels comfortable at all times, and at no point did I feel nauseous, which is a feat.

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Low Points:

While playing with three other friends is great, and messing around in the VR space together is amazing fun, the game is set up in such a way that from time to time, and depending on how good your comrades are at the game, you may be spending some time sitting around. There was one point in the game where I was waiting for my friends for quite some time, and I couldn’t even see what they were doing because of how my part of the game had been positioned. Luckily for me, I had a bow and arrow to mess around with, but even shooting that around and flinging some ill fated pots around started to wear thin after a while. Players may be disappointed with some of the game’s linearity as well, as each player is funneled through a predetermined path, and very little deviation is allowed. These two points sometimes join together to create some real frustration, but more often than not, there’s at least some way to create your own fun or help direct your teammates. The final climax is, unfortunately somewhat of a let down, as there’s not really a great capstone puzzle of huge boss fight as you would expect. It just sort of… ends.

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Verdict:

Though Escape the Lost Pyramid stumbles from time to time, it is an amazing first step for Ubisoft’s new series of escape games, and I am absolutely looking forward to more! The game is extremely well made, and even those who don’t have a background with Assassin’s Creed will enjoy the adventure. On the whole, the game is an amazing evolution for escape rooms, and it is a must play for those interested in trying out a room that allows you to puzzle around in an enormous pyramid! Find a room near you here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: VR Zone DC provided media discounted tickets for our game.