Breakout Greensboro – Mystery Mansion (Review)

Location: Greensboro, NC (There are locations nationwide, however.)

Price: See website, varies per person depending on size of group. All games are now private!

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

The Haunting of Puzzle House.

Theme:

From the Breakout Greensboro website:

This spine-chilling adventure starts in the ruins of an old mansion – abandoned decades ago by a reclusive and eccentric family. Since then, rumors swirl of a presence looming over the old house. Work as a team to race the clock and uncover the mansion’s secrets in this all-ages mystery adventure.

First Impressions:

We’ve been on three previous trips to Breakout, and it’s almost always a good time, but we noticed on this most recent trip that Breakout has made the shift to all private rooms; always a plus in our book! With a sliding scale pricing model, any size group can ensure they get the room to themselves, ensuring a consistent experience across the board, which is always commendable. Of course, for any of this to matter, the rooms have to be good, so were they?

High Points:

Mystery Mansion is one of the newer games at Breakout Greensboro, but has been around at other locations for quite some time, yet the game still holds up pretty well. Mixing technology with basic lock and key interactions, this room does a good job of keeping the escape room vibe going while still presenting some awesome supernatural interactions that ensure the experience feels fresh. A few climactic moments felt magical, and allowed for some pretty imaginative interactions we hadn’t seen done elsewhere. The logic for these moments are very well clued, and though players wouldn’t generally think to perform these actions, they make wonderfully intuitive sense within the context of the game flow. Barring one particular moment, detailed below, the game flow is fantastic, flowing smoothly between each layer of the game, and we always knew what to tackle next or were able to work these steps out naturally at all times.

The set design is well done, and while other sets at Breakout Greensboro can be hit or miss, this one is definitely put together well. It certainly isn’t Hollywood level, but for the market, it’s believable and immersive enough. Movement between different parts of the game makes logical sense, and the secrets we uncovered were excellently revealed. There was one particular puzzle of a genre that generally, we don’t much care for, but the way it was presented within this room ensured we were all engaged with the solve, and allowed for everyone to contribute. The climax was well implemented upon completion of our goal, the ending felt more satisfying as, unlike a few of the other rooms at Breakout, we didn’t just have to enter a code to escape, but find a hidden relic as well.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle that gave us some trouble was rather strangely clued, with not quite enough connective tissue to become truly intuitive, and once we’d determined what we needed to do, the answer hinged on a piece of outside knowledge. Though I think a lot of groups will be able to determine the answer, it cannot be determined in room if not, and having to waste a hint to figure it out would definitely be a bummer. One extremely original puzzle was a lot of fun to play around with, but never actually worked one hundred percent correctly for us, leading to the need to burn our only hint to figure out what in the world was going on. There was a reset failure in the early game for us, as a key was left in a lock accidentally. Fortunately, we didn’t notice until we were almost at that point anyway, but we would’ve bypassed a huge chunk of the game otherwise. The room is highly linear, so more than three or four players absolutely will result in some choke points wherein someone will be left sitting around with very little to do until the current puzzle is solved.

Verdict:

Though an older room, design wise, Mystery Mansion feels like a step above for Breakout Greensboro. While it still stumbles in places, and is firmly more of a earlier generation experience despite it’s best attempts, it’s still a really enjoyable and engaging experience. Providing enough of a challenge to ensure that enthusiasts don’t just blow through the game, yet ensuring it is approachable to new players, I think this one is definitely worth trying out! Experience the haunting at your local Breakout here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full disclosure: Breakout Greensboro provided media discounted tickets for our group.

Waxhaw Escape – Alice’s Dream (Review)

Location: Waxhaw, NC

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

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Curiouser and curiouser!

Theme:

From the Waxhaw Escape website:

Visit a historic room located in the 19th century hotel where Lewis Carroll first told his stories to Alice Liddell, and plunge into that magical world. Meet up with a white rabbit, BUT before you follow him anywhere, you’d better think about how you will get back!

First Impressions:

After the spectacular Train to Nowhere, we were excited to see what Waxhaw Escape could do with the Alice in Wonderland theme! This one promised to put a twist on the usual formula by setting it within the hotel where Lewis Carroll was inspired by the original Alice Liddel to write the whimsical tale of Wonderland. After a quick briefing and transport into the mysterious world of Alice’s Dream, we quickly got to puzzling!

High Points:

Many of the puzzles within Alice’s Dream are hard wired wonderfully into the unlogic of Wonderland. Nothing is nonsensical, but it all tends to follow a dreamlike logic that makes sense while still feeling somewhat surreal. The room lacks any physical locks, relying on well hidden technical magic for puzzles and reveals. This leads to some great surprises when seemingly innocuous interactions help pave the way towards the next part of the room by unexpectedly triggering a new puzzle or opening up the environment in an interesting way. Props are well integrated into the room, and items that are intended to be used are delineated excellently from those that don’t need to be manipulated+. Playing around with one particular prop is a fantastic time, and the way it reveals it’s purpose is executed in a wholly appropriate, Wonderland focused moment.

As Alice’s Dream progresses, the room responds by becoming more bizarre, twisting perspective and encouraging more out of the box thinking as the difficulty curve ramps up along with the non-linearity of the game. While the beginning provides a good on ramp to the experience, the latter half shifts gears and presents a bigger challenge, but does so smoothly, ensuring that the new challenges aren’t jarring to the game flow or overly obtuse. The experience kept our whole team fully engaged, even during the linear bits, as though there was only one specific puzzle to work on to start, the wins came quickly and everyone was able to contribute during each stage of the adventure. During the later, non-linear segment of the game, most puzzles were very original, and encouraged us to work towards the overarching goal by splitting into teams to take on the various challenges. I very much enjoyed how different segments of the room had been played with and twisted in whimsical ways. One particularly interesting puzzle was found in the likeliest of unlikely places, and the interaction’s intuitive unlogic was a pleasure to behold, and a great addition to the Wonderland theme.

Low Points:

The set for Alice’s Dream was good, but not quite as spectacularly decorated as Train to Nowhere, and seemed to become a little more sparse as the game went on. Though several familiar characters showed up, I didn’t quite get that Wonderland feel as much as I’d hoped. The storyline for this experience is fairly light, mostly consisting of escaping, with one other story element added as we progressed. The added story element was an interesting idea, but there didn’t seem to be too much urgency or threat behind the problem we came across, and beyond its announcement, it seemed to fade into the background quickly. Perhaps a more nightmarish, (but not scary, as this is a family friendly room,) set design during the latter parts of the game would help sell this part of the story better. There was a heavy focus on scavenging during a few parts of the game, and one particular interaction was repeated a few times. A particular interaction was unclued, though we solved it quickly, so it wasn’t much of a bother. I can see other groups getting stuck on this choke point, however, so a small hint may have been a welcome inclusion.

Verdict:

Alice’s Dream is a well made traipse through a hotel that has been injected with a bit of Wonderland. Though a few more touches here and there could make this room truly spectacular, the original theme, fun puzzling interactions, and magical technology deliver an enjoyable adventure nonetheless. I recommend checking it out, especially for beginners and enthusiasts who are looking for a lockless escape to challenge them! Book your time within Alice’s Dream here!

7/10 (Good)

Full disclosure: Waxhaw Escape provided comped tickets for our group.

Escape Room in a Box – The Werewolf Experiment (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.99

Dr. Gnaw’s Gnarly Gn-experiments.

Theme:

From the Mattel Games website:

A mad scientist is plotting to turn you and your friends into werewolves. Only if you and your team members can solve 19 2D and 3D puzzles in an hour will you be able to escape with your humanness intact! You’ll have to work as a team—so put your heads together and let’s see if you can escape.

First Impressions:

I’ve been hearing about Escape Room in a Box’s The Werewolf Experiment for a while, it’s the Kickstarter success story that seemed like quite the sensation, but it took us entirely too long to get our hands on a copy. With the sequel, Flashback, already in stores, we knew it was time to finally pick one up and see what the fuss was all about.

20190903_1529057345816261661271138.jpg

There is so much secret stuff in here. Like loads.

High Points:

The story of The Werewolf Experiment is filled to the brim with so much great 80s slang, and though it caught us completely off guard, I thought it was immediately charming and brought a lot of personality to the missing Dr. Gnaw. In fact, the game presented a much lighter hearted, joke filled experience than I was initially expecting, and this was definitely a good thing. The whole adventure is extremely approachable, explaining things in theme while still ensuring that all the rules and puzzles are intuitive, ensuring the game is great fun for escapists young and old. Puzzles remain on the easier side of things, ensuring that this is a great start to any at home puzzler’s career, and the difficulty curve remains gentle, but increases the complexity during later levels of the experience. The game flow is great, and everything links into meta puzzles well. Every stage of the game presents new conundrums, and it is very clear what solutions go where without sacrificing the challenge of solving the puzzles.

Components in the box are great, and pack a lot into the game. The locks are plastic, but instead of feeling cheap, they work splendidly and do their jobs more than admirably. They’re a lot of fun to play around with, and though they aren’t going to win any awards for security, they’re an excellent way to add variety to an at home escape. Other props are just as enjoyable to manipulate and use during the adventure, and Escape Room in a Box packs some unexpected surprises into almost every prop we came across, no matter how innocuous it may have seemed at first. Cluing is fantastically done, and with a non-linear game flow, even a larger group will stay fully engaged from start to finish.

20190903_1529504680218594201185742.jpg

Real locks? Sold!

Low Points:

A lot of the puzzles in the box are pretty basic. In fact, the opening part of the game is more basic than usual, as many of the challenges presented are akin to those found in a family puzzle book. This will appeal to newer players, but enthusiasts will not be as impressed. Some answers are extremely easy to work out when looking at the master sheet used to enter words into blanks to complete each stage’s meta puzzle. While it feels clever to do so, it does cheapen the experience when the corresponding puzzle is bypassed. Adding in a timer is hit or miss for at home experiences, and per usual for us, we just ignored it in favor of having a good time. We do mark our start and stop times so we can get a handle on the play time for all experiences, and this one clocked in at around 45 minutes, so it isn’t too far off the mark on general play time. $30 may be a little steep for experienced players who will probably blow through the adventure. The climax of the game is a little anticlimactic overall, ending the story with less of a bang than we’d hoped for.

Verdict:

Escape Room in a Box’s The Werewolf Experiment is a lot of fun, but is definitely geared more towards new players and families seeking an approachable at home escape room experience. It still contains enough fun bits for enthusiasts, (and to be clear, we had a great time,) but may not present the best value proposition for players who might blow through the game quickly at the full $30 price. New players will have loads of fun with this game, however, and I absolutely recommend it to those players and puzzle veterans who are looking to induct new fanatics to the hobby. Purchase your Werewolf Experiment at your friendly local game store! We recommend the ever excellent Atomic Empire in Durham, NC, check out their online store here!

7/10 (Good)

Waxhaw Escape – Train to Nowhere (Review)

Location: Waxhaw, NC

Players: 2-6 (We Recommend 3-5)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Tickets, please!

Theme:

From the Waxhaw Escape website:

Go back to the exciting era of steam engines and mechanical automation. Famed Italian inventor, Giordano Neri, has shocked the world with his newest brainchild – a self-driving train! Rumors of his unorthodox methods and use of humans in his research has forced him to flee to America to continue his work, where he has just put the first autonomous train into action for its initial run. No one could have predicted what would happen on this first ride of the ominous “train to nowhere.”

First Impressions:

I’ve been very interested in a good steampunk room, but so far have been unable to find one. Waxhaw Escape’s Train to Nowhere looked like it could fit the bill nicely, however, and the site’s description was appropriately mysterious, so we were ready to book our train ride as soon as possible!

High Points:

Train to Nowhere is easily one of the coolest rooms I’ve done in terms of concept. The theme is quite original, and the execution creates something really amazing. The set itself really does instill the feel of being on a funky, old timey train and is a joy to explore. The story is great, and tidbits about what is really going on are worked into the puzzles themselves and sprinkled throughout the experience. A great twist during the game ratchets things into high gear by utilizing the set design to create some fun surprises to go along with the reveal. From there on, the experience is a high energy race to right the atrocities committed, and somehow escape! The room includes a bumpy, but very exciting climax that can conclude in one of multiple endings depending on your actions. The room is a smaller experience than some others, but the space is utilized to great effect, and comfortably holds all players within it’s snazzily designed walls. The design of each stage of the game is appropriate, and all the small details and props are brilliantly woven into the theme.

The game flow is also up to the task of including the maximum six players, as the game is mostly non-linear up to the end. One particular capstone puzzle keeps everyone involved with one of the best teamwork interactions I’ve seen. It isn’t a particularly difficult one, but it got our whole team involved and was an exciting way to move forward. All puzzles are highly intuitive, and as we worked through the challenges presented, everyone stayed engaged with the experience. A very high tech experience, the train really does feel like it’s a fully automated, responsive mechanical marvel. The feedback given by the conundrums housed within the train’s walls is fantastic, ensuring that we definitely knew when we were right or wrong about an answer. In fact, one general gripe I have about many escape rooms over using a particular prop is alleviated via the simple inclusion of one particularly elegant fix, ensuring we knew exactly what was going on. The adventure was overall an entertaining steampunk adventure, and delivered exactly what I wanted from such a clever theme.

Low Points:

Though having multiple endings is a great addition, you don’t really know that the final puzzle will trigger an unavoidable final timer until it has already been started, which threw the entire room into chaos for us. A warning note in theme might have been helpful, as once that timer started, we weren’t quite sure of what to do, and being placed on this timer when we still had plenty of time left deflated the end game for us. A couple of moments had us thankful we had a tall teammate in the room with us, I’m not sure we would’ve been able to progress as quickly without his help. There were a couple points at which we needed to hear an announcement being made during the room, but the volume was somewhat low unless everyone stopped and were as quiet as possible, so making these moments just a bit louder would be very helpful.

Verdict:

Train to Nowhere transports you into an amazing steampunk train, and keeps the puzzle solving adrenaline going with numerous surprises and a fantastic storyline. Highly approachable, yet teeming with clever challenges and great storyline surprises, players of all experience levels will find something to love about this room. I definitely recommend giving it a go! Book your time on the mysterious steampunk train here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full disclosure: Waxhaw Escape provided comped tickets for our group.

NC Escape – Brewery Heist (Review)

Location: Durham, NC (Also available at Green Light Escape Room in Wilmington, NC)

Players: 4-10 (We Recommend 4-6)

Price: $26 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

OktoberHeist

Theme:

A modern day prohibition has struck, and beer lovers everywhere have been stockpiling as much alcohol away as they can, but a much beloved cache is lost inside an old brewery! You and your boozy friends have stumbled upon that same brewery, and are looking to score the lost beer, but only have an hour to do so. You’ll need a sharp mind if you want to dull it later, so get cracking!

First Impressions:

The Attic was an astounding upgrade for NC Escape, and we were looking forward to our next room almost immediately. Brewery Heist has an original theme and promised to be a larger scale experience based in the same room we had originally completed The Study. This room absolutely blew that one out of the water!

High Points:

I had been in this room before, when it was The Study, a room the previous management had built. Usually when doing a new room in a familiar space, it gives off a palpable sense of deja vu, even with the best makeover, but that was not the case here. NC Escape’s new owners have done such an amazing job transforming the old room into such a beautiful set that I didn’t recognize the room at all. Even after the sneaky twists in The Attic, Brewery Heist proved to be just as, if not more surprising than NC Escape’s other room! A couple of moments during the game, we were astounded by how well the room magically delivered unexpected new treats. In fact, at one point we thought we had to have completed the room when much to our surprise, the room delivered a great “But wait, there’s more!” moment. This room is also one of the few which I can believe would comfortably entertain the maximum ten players via their game flow. With a great run of non-linear puzzling that comes together and branches off several times throughout the game, we remained busily engaged with the room from start to finish. One awesome puzzle had us puzzling over what could possibly be next, and the way we built towards the solution was organic and amazingly satisfying to solve once we finally put all the pieces together.

Though there wasn’t an ongoing storyline beyond exploring the secrets of the old brewery and coming out with the cache of beer, it was an original and entertaining impetus for engaging in the escape. The whole experience is full of mystery, and the final climax of the adventure comes after several very memorable moments. There are a lot of great props to engage with, and the tactile nature of the room really adds to the fun. Each stage of the room builds towards an interesting meta-puzzle, and once each one is completed, it’s a joy to see how the room reacts. The challenge is set upon a really smooth difficulty curve, and the variety of puzzle types really encouraged us to bring our A-game in regards to teamwork! The game flow remains logical and intuitive throughout, and though the room was certainly very challenging, I never felt like we were spinning our wheels or at a loss for what to do.

Low Points:

One small technical failure occurred during our run through the brewery, but it was spotted and taken care of quickly. Some of the puzzles don’t tie as well into the theme as others, popping up as somewhat strange additions. They’re fairly benign, however, and don’t disrupt immersion too terribly. One puzzle type repeats a few times, but each instance was short, causing little frustration.

Verdict:

Brewery Heist is easily one of the best rooms in the area, with an expansive and beautiful set, a great run of non-linear puzzling, and some superb surprises around every corner! Players of all experience levels will find something to enjoy here, and I absolutely recommend trying it out if you’re in the RTP area. The future of NC Escape is very bright under the new owners, and I am extremely excited to see what they come up with next! Book your time searching for the lost beer here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full disclosure: NC Escape provided comped tickets for our group.