District 3 Escape Rooms – The Cabin (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

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

Price: $27 CAD per person (About $19.87 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Serial Kidnappers and Puzzle Filled Cabins… the new Peanut Butter and Jelly!

Theme:

From the District 3 Escape Rooms website:

There has been a series of kidnappings near a cabin. After locking your group up, the kidnapper leaves to find more trespassers. In trying to escape, you begin to learn more about who’s cabin it is, who the enemy is, why he kidnapped you, and what he is trying to hide.

First Impressions:

District 3 Escape Rooms came highly recommended to us by another escape room in the area, Mystery Mansion Regina, and I’m glad they gave us the heads up about these virtual rooms, and we had an excellent time working through an escape room double header during our lockdown! It may not be the 8-23 room marathons we’re used to, but taking on more than one room in a day helped us feel just a little bit more normal during the pandemic.

High Points:

As with most rooms we’ve experienced virtually, we would have loved to take this one on in person, but due to the pandemic, we are glad we were able to visit District 3 virtually! This room translates very well to the remote play experience, and it is, as always, a great time seeing our “Keyed Up!” team for some weekly escapes. Our Game Master/Avatar ensured we had a great time by interacting with us as we joked around, and assisted us with giving the room a thorough, streamlined search. Once we’d had a good look around, he was very responsive in reacting to our requests, and piecing together exactly what we were trying to say when we asked him to “put the doo-dad in the whatzit.” Truly, all remote escape game GMs absolutely deserve a pay raise for their long-suffering patience with us. The inventory system is great, displaying those items that were harder to read virtually, or we needed to come back to reference, and as we utilized props successfully, they automatically disappeared from view so as not to clutter up the window.

Puzzles themselves glide well across the linear game flow, and as we revealed new clues, it was fairly intuitive what needed to be done next. The breadcrumbs that have been sprinkled along the path are clear, and never become obtuse, ensuring that challenges remain fair. Though this is an older room with a few puzzles that may have popped up a time or two for expert players, these puzzles are still presented in an entertaining way, and don’t give off a feeling of “been there, done that,” but rather conceal a twist or two to ensure the process of solving stays fresh. One particular favorite of mine took a style of puzzle we’ve seen a few times, and tweaked it ever so slightly to ensure that we had to think just a little bit further out of the box than usual in order to put everything together. I thought it was a fun tweak that displayed the creativity of the designers well. As referenced in our previous review of Haunted, District 3 does a great job ensuring that the final debriefing continues the fun by presenting us with achievements that tie into their point system. It’s fun to see what sorts of milestones your team overcame during your game, and the extra personal touch to the finale is a fantastic way to cap off a room.

Low Points:

The Cabin itself was a very first generation room, and while that translate to a virtual setting well, the set isn’t quite as fancy, and the game itself is very much focused on locks, for the most part. The game can come across as a little “escape room-y” in parts, as the story tends to be more of a back drop for the puzzles rather than the puzzles being fully integrated into the story. There are a few puzzles that tie in, but overall, the story is most present at the beginning and only evolves slightly during the game. On the whole, we enjoyed the room, but the puzzles were generally geared more towards a less experienced crowd, so we didn’t happen across any particularly mind twisting enigmas or explosive moments of revelation.

Verdict:

The room is a good time, and is a solid experience, but is definitely more geared toward newer players, and enthusiasts might find it a bit easier. We enjoyed our time (virtually) inside The Cabin overall, however and would recommend it to players looking for a more introductory style room. Enthusiasts will still find a lot to like, as there are some good surprises and fun interactions to be found. Book your time escaping the mysterious kidnapper here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: District 3 Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

MPower Escape Rooms – The Cabin (Virtual Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

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

Price: $49.95 for the first 2 connections; $14.95 for each additional connection

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Ain’t nothing but gators out there in the swamp!

Theme:

From the MPower Escape Rooms website:

Tracking your friend’s last known whereabouts, you find yourself near a cabin deep in the Bayou. You and your team will need to search for clues and crack the codes in order to solve the mystery.

First Impressions:

MPower Escape Rooms was interestingly set up, and after speaking to our Game Master regarding our upcoming experience, we were virtually taken to their lobby to be given our mission briefing as well as get set up within the virtual systems they are using. This was a great start, as I’ve not seen such an in depth, yet brief tutorial for a virtual room before. I could tell that they’d put a good bit of effort into ensuring players were comfortable with the system, so I had high hopes for the in room experience!

High Points:

During our time in quarantine, we’ve played a lot of virtual escape rooms, and they’ve all provided very different experiences. Some are highly theatrical, some remind me of popular video games and movies, and some are fun puzzle rooms. The Cabin, however, is a first for us, as it is the first virtual escape room we’ve played that replicates the feeling of being in an escape room with your friends very well! This is due to the incredible implementation of the Telescape software that MPower uses. While we have seen this software used to great effect in other rooms to provide inventory systems, MPower has done a fantastic job porting the entire room into Telescape, allowing our group to split up to search separate rooms, check out different puzzles and props, and work on different puzzles, all while being in the comfort of our own home! It was great to be able to fall into our old rhythm of searching a room and calling out what we’ve found; dividing and conquering based on our puzzle preferences and strengths. We still worked with our Game Master to search the room, but not in the traditional Virtual Escape Room way. Instead of the GM walking around the room as our avatar, we searched the room virtually on our own, and if we saw something suspicious or interesting, we could ask them if we found anything by searching said area. If so, we were rewarded with a new hot spot or video revealing what we discovered. Overall, the set up and presentation of this room was beautifully implemented, and working through it was about as close to doing the room live as I can imagine without popping on a VR headset!

Remote Cabin Picture - Brandon's Team

The room itself is a lot of fun, with a cool, well designed set that starts players off “outside” and tasks them with finding a way into the titular cabin. The difficulty curve of the room was great, starting us off with a few straightforward tasks, (one so straightforward that our group, notorious for overthinking, forgot to use the solution until a good 40 minutes after we discovered it,) and evolving into more challenging, layered conundrums. The puzzles were intuitive, and making connections between the subtle clues, puzzles, and locks was a great, challenging time. The room was also very technological in places, and while most rooms that have implemented tech don’t quite translate very well to the virtual space, we found that the way MPower has converted their room worked perfectly to make sure we got the magical feeling of the tech without actually being there. The room lends itself to teamwork and makes it easy for players to split between rooms and clues to ensure the challenge lies in the puzzle itself, and not the interface. A favorite puzzle of mine involved three of us making some highly satisfying connections in order to put together a tactile interaction into place while our fourth player sussed out the relevance of another puzzle in a separate room. Making a tactile puzzle satisfying is difficult remotely, and I’m pleased to say that MPower has made it happen. All told, this room did a wonderful job ensuring all of us remained engaged and puzzling for the full experience.

Low Points:

The story, while wild and crazy, mostly develops during the introduction and conclusion, and while we didn’t mind this, it would have added to the experience to have a little more story integrated into the puzzling. Sometimes there was quite a bit in the inventory, which made it difficult to keep track of what we had and where to find it. The owner, however, is working on streamlining this, so it should be a non issue soon. We also were sidetracked during one puzzle due to a particular word choice that was meant to be interpreted in a slightly broader way than the strict definition would entail. After speaking with the owner regarding this puzzle, though, they seemed receptive to adjusting the phrasing to ensure there were no unintentional red herrings involved with this one.

Verdict:

I am so glad we sought out MPower’s The Cabin for our team’s weekly escape room, as it was an amazing time! Working through this room together was as close to being within the room live as we could imagine, and though we have enjoyed some of the different ways other rooms have implemented their games virtually, nothing quite captured the escape room feeling like The Cabin did. Enthusiasts will love basking in the feeling of “being there” and I think new players will love the intuitive puzzles and great quarantine friendly introduction to escape rooms. Book your time in The Cabin here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: MPower Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Hacked (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Hackerman!

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

When famous Valley Falls hacker, Fluk3, infiltrates the computer database of The Will Street Detective Agency, the act doesn’t follow the usual pattern of anarchy and rebellion. After discovering information in a cold case that relates to the murder of a relative, it becomes necessary to make amends and enlist the agency’s services. Now offering assistance instead of resistance, Fluk3 offers to be the eyes and ears on the web in exchange for helping bring closure to this unsolved mystery.

First Impressions:

The Deadbolt Mystery Society’s reveal of their newest box, Hacked, promised to feature a hacker we briefly encountered during The Secret of Easthaven Forest. It is always interesting when Deadbolt Mysteries call back to previous characters and locations, and Valley Falls and its inhabitants are always interesting to learn about, so our interest was definitely piqued by the Will Street Detective Agency’s somewhat reluctant team up with Valley Falls’ most notorious hacker!

High Points:

One of the things we like most about The Deadbolt Mystery Society is that though there is a basic, (quite successful,) formula to Deadbolt cases, the designers are constantly iterating and experimenting with said formula, ensuring that every experience is fresh and interesting. We always know what we’re getting from one of their mysteries, but we also are excited to see what new mechanic or twist comes along with every box! Hacked is no exception, as it presents us with three cold cases to connect together and solve. Each case is delivered separately, and we were encouraged to pore through each, make connections within them, and then expand our sleuthing to all three together. It was a great set up, and helped the mystery feel like an expansive, devious riddle devised by the killer! The game flows fantastically, and presents a few non-linear paths of investigation to follow across the three case files, ensuring we never felt as though we were stuck on one particular road at any point. Puzzles are clever and challenging, with one in particular I really loved. We ruminated on this one for a while, trying to determine the cryptic meaning behind the clue, and as we looked over other evidence, the purpose of the items and the ultimate solution were slowly pieced together until we reached the beautiful ah ha moment that unlocked it all!

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The game is directed subtly by well hidden, but intuitive clues, ensuring that while the next step wasn’t spelled out for us, the tools to move forward were always available. For players that enjoy tackling these boxes as groups, there are more than a few conundrums that work excellently as teamwork puzzles, though they are not inaccessible to solo players. Props included within the box are high quality, and fit convincingly into the theme while still being relevant to the puzzles at hand, ensuring nothing feels extraneous. The story is excellent, and working with FLUK3 to solve a mystery that is personal to them is a lot of fun. The culmination of the experience, and climactic finale contains a few great reveals, and finishes off the game satisfyingly. With most murder mystery boxes, it is always enjoyable to solve the crime and catch the killers, but it is even more enjoyable when you have helped someone along the way, as is the case with Hacked. Assisting FLUK3 with their personal journey for justice adds a lot to the victory of solving the cold cases, and I really enjoyed the work the designers put into fleshing out their backstory.

Low Points:

One puzzle in particular was a bit simplistic, which we aren’t quite used to with Deadbolt boxes. This one in particular had no hidden layers, so we were somewhat surprised when we solved it and the long and short of it was what it was. Another puzzle is similar, but does do a little bit of encoding before the answer is revealed. As the vast majority of puzzles we discover in Deadbolt experiences are usually rather inspired coded messages, this one stood out. 7/23/2020 Edit: One particular puzzle was brilliant, but in piecing together one of the bits of the solution, it came out a bit mangled. We went back over it and it came out the same way twice, but we were able to suss out the intended solution, so it wasn’t egregiously difficult to correct. (We’ve since gone back over this puzzle, and we probably had a case of the dumb regarding the muddled item.) One particular video included is fairly long compared to others, but is a bit unengaging due to the presentation. While it fits well with the theme, it may have been better, in our opinion, to have all the information presented through a web portal for players to read through at their convenience. We had to jump back to it once, and trying to search through a video was a little time consuming.

Verdict:

We had an awesome time working through the cold cases included within Hacked, and really enjoyed the call backs and engaging puzzling that was built into this adventure. Veterans of the Society are going to love finding the many Easter Eggs that have been worked into this box, as well as the challenging enigmas, but newcomers will find the great game flow and subtle, yet intuitive cluing provides an excellent experience as well. I recommend checking this one out, as it is the most fun you can possibly have getting hacked! 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!

9/10 (Excellent)

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

Clue Cracker – 3-pack Online Escape Games (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: We recommend 2 players

Price: £9.99 for one game, £24.99 for all three

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Theme:

From the Clue Cracker website:

Bored of watching Coronavirus updates? Not sure which wall to stare at for the next two hours? Well, fear not! The Clue Cracker team have decided if YOU can’t come to our Escape Game, we will bring our Escape Game to YOU!

We have created a series of online Escape Games to suit every skill, ability and interest! The games can be played remotely from the comfort of your own home and you don’t need a printer! All you will need is a computer, laptop or mobile device to play on. It may be handy to have a pen and paper for your workings out, and perhaps a nice cool drink to hand for when the clock starts ticking and the adrenaline gets going!

First Impressions:

Clue Cracker has created a set of three online escape games for play at home during the pandemic, and we couldn’t wait to try them out. With a wide array of themes, and production values that seemed to be above average for your usual at home escape experience, these games appeared to be an excellent time! For this review, since there are three separate experiences, I’ve broken each one out into its own section, beginning with the easiest game, and moving toward the hardest. This is our recommended order of play as well, for the smoothest difficulty curve.

Escape Extinction Island (Easy):

ext

Extinction Island is a top secret, man made island that has been recently used to breed long extinct dinosaur. As Archeologists based in Kent, we’ve been called by our mentor Professor McDougall to help him escape the island after the dinosaurs had broken loose! We only have sixty minutes to get the good Professor out and secure the island, so we had to work quickly!

Escape Extinction Island was a great introduction to Clue Cracker’s online escape games, with clear, unambiguous puzzles, and an easy overall difficulty. Though the game itself wasn’t overly difficult, we did find the puzzles to be fun introductory challenges that will appeal to novice puzzlers and enthusiasts just looking for a well designed, but not overly challenging escape diversion. The difficulty curve was very gentle, but did ramp up into some nice climactic challenges, a few of which provided some satisfying ah ha moments once we sussed out the trick to solving. The videos presented between each puzzle stage are fantastic, with a bombastic actor playing the part of Professor McDougall, spurring us along and chewing up all the scenery as he goes.

If you’re feeling competitive, try to beat our completion time of 20 minutes and 41 seconds with no hints!

Fairground Felony (Medium):

fair

Faskin’s Fairground has come to town, and we’ve been invited to check out the rides and games for free! Unfortunately, however, the free tickets are too good to be true, as it seems a madman is on the loose, and he’s taken the various carnival workers hostage! It’s up to us to solve his puzzles and save the fair within the next 90 minutes, otherwise the solution to the mystery will disappear with us!

Fairground Felony is a definite jump in difficulty, presenting some very creative puzzles and mind twisting logic! After the introduction of Escape Extinction Island, we found the interface easy to navigate, and really enjoyed this more challenging game. All puzzles still made good sense, and the rise in difficulty was due to puzzles being more intricately  layered, with clues to their solutions more subtly hidden rather than obtuse puzzling and red herrings. I really loved the variety of puzzle types to be discovered within this game, and there were several entertaining “interactions” with some of the characters integrated into the enigmas. There was a wider array of characters within this game, and I very much enjoyed the over the top portrayal the actor brought to every performance. A particular favorite of mine was the magician, who not only delivered a fit of laughter, but a very satisfying moment of revelation once we solved the puzzle he was involved with.

We did notice once that if we did not pause a video while it was running and entered a solution successfully, the video’s sound continued to play over the next part of the game with no ability to go back and stop the video, which could be an issue if the next puzzle requires sound as well. There was also a logic puzzle we weren’t overly thrilled with, as it slowed down the pace for a somewhat longer term solve that didn’t seem to fit as well with the others. It was still well integrated, and presented a fair challenge, it just seemed to overstay its welcome, length-wise.

For the competitive, we completed Fairgound Felony in 47 minutes and 34 seconds without hints!

The Haunting of Harlequin House (Hard):

haunt

The Haunting of Harlequin House found us moving into our newly purchased home. The large manor is just perfect for us, and even comes with it’s own ghost! Unfortunately, it seems the ghost has some unfinished business, and if we can’t get it sorted within the next 90 minutes, we might not live to enjoy our new home!

The Haunting of Harlequin House really brings the challenge, presenting a tough, but fair run of puzzles. Though this was definitely the most difficult of Clue Cracker’s challenges, it was absolutely my favorite of the three. The puzzles themselves were all incredibly clever, and I really have trouble choosing a favorite, as they were all a lot of fun to solve, with multiple ah ha moments to be enjoyed! Harlequin House also added in a fantastic meta puzzle that ensured that our final solve would tie everything together in a neat and highly satisfying final package. We very much appreciated that the game directed us to write down our solutions, as this becomes very important during the end game. The videos for Harlequin House are meant to be somewhat spooky, but never become overly scary, with a few silly jump scares here and there, and an overall tone of light hearted humor that runs throughout. I really loved some of the sight gags that the ghost was involved in, and this humor really made the experience for us.

We also noticed here that the previous problem with videos not automatically ending after moving on persisted. (At this point, we should’ve known.) It would, however, be nice if in a future update, this could be corrected, or, at the least, a back button be implemented.

If you’d like some competition to further spur you on, we escaped Harlequin House in 52 minutes and 15 seconds with no hints!

Final Overall Thoughts:

All three games are well developed, and we appreciated how clear inputting our answers was; we were given immediate feedback on whether we were correct or not, and once we’d determined the correct password or sequence, it was always intuitive and logical. The timer is always visible at the top, allowing you to see how much time remains, and there is a tracker that gives players a general idea of how much time remains, ensuring they are able to gauge how well they are doing, and if a hint is needed. The creators have done a great job combining energetic, over the top humor with inspired gameplay, and I hope they continue to create these sorts of games in the future, as this set of games were an amazing time. On the whole, though these games can be purchased individually, I highly recommend picking up the discounted complete pack, and playing all three in sequence made for an entertaining couple hours of fun! The only overall downside we found to this pack was once you’ve played through each game, you cannot go back. Though puzzle games do have limited replayability, it would be nice to retain the ability to play again, as I do enjoy revisiting some of my favorite puzzle games years later.

Verdict:

Clue Cracker’s online escape room complete collection is a brilliant set of at home escape experiences! We truly loved working through each of them, and once we’d started, we couldn’t stop until the whole pack had been completed. Filled with clever conundrums, humorous videos, and excellent presentation, I absolutely recommend picking up all three. There’s certainly something here for everyone, from complete newbie to hardened puzzling veteran. Pick up your games here! And if you’d like to get a quick taste of how these games work before buying, the quick and easy “Disappearance of DJ McDee” is available here. As a heads up, this is definitely a simpler game, (it took us 5 minutes and 11 seconds to complete, for reference,) so be aware that the paid experiences are certainly more challenging.

9/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Clue Cracker provided our team with complementary games.

 

 

 

Get the F Out Room – The Experiment (Remote Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 3-10 players (We recommend 3-4 players)

Price: $30 per person, 3 person minimum

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Digital Juice to be served.

Theme:

From the Get the F Out Room website:

Participants needed in an escape room study. Looking for all ages, male & female to participate in a psychological study of escape rooms.  It will take 60 min of your time. Juice will be served.

First Impressions:

I’d heard about The Experiment previously, from folks who made their way out to California, and it sounded exactly like a game I’d like to play. A meta-escape room experience, including some light horror themes masked within a pirate themed escape? Sign me up! Unfortunately, being on the other side of the country, it was dubious whether we would be able to experience this game, but luckily, due to the magic of the internet, we would finally get to see what all the fuss is about! We were invited to this experience by our friends at EscapetheRoomers, and we were excited to join them!

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High Points:

First and foremost, it is important to mention that there is indeed juice. While it was digital, and we could only look at it, the juice is not a lie. I repeat, the juice is not a lie. In other news, The Experiment was a beautiful room, boasting a huge set, great sound and lighting effects, and subtle touches that reward players who seek out story details. One particular moment stood out to me when all of us noticed a small detail that triggered us all to shout, “Oh that’s [REDACTED]!” (We actually shouted redacted, it was weird.) Technical wizardry is implemented in excellent ways, with some astounding reveals, both of which we did not see coming at all. Our Game Master, Josh, did a great job of ensuring that the camera was in just the right place to catch these moments as well, without giving anything away. Speaking of our GM/Avatar, Josh did a fantastic job of leading us through the room as his character, Bob. Virtual rooms are always one hundred percent more entertaining when the Avatar really gets into character and banters with us, so we really appreciate the extra mile Josh went to ensure his character was realistically portrayed. We also highly, highly, appreciate how streamlined Josh has made searching the room. It can never be overstated that enthusiasts are bad at finding hidden objects, and it becomes so much harder in digital rooms if this streamlining isn’t present.

The story line of the room is awesome, with things starting out fairly benign, and continuing to build intensely towards the finale. The puzzles and interactions play upon this theme beautifully as we worked though the experience, and enthusiasts will very much enjoy how even the simplest of escape room rules are subverted to create a highly entertaining experience on top of the game itself. One particular moment that I adored comes after a fantastic reveal, and all of our expectations about what would come next were turned upside down by the time we reached the excellent moment of revelation about what we were meant to do. The game flow is smooth, and though the room is fairly linear, we didn’t feel at any time that any of us were just sitting around while others solved. While the game itself isn’t overly difficult, it does present several good moderate challenges, and plays with perspective several times, encouraging out of the box thinking throughout. Several items have been translated to the virtual experience well, with PDFs sent to players before their game. These have been password protected, and while they don’t quite have the tactile feel of opening a lock, it is nice to “open” something when you’ve solved a puzzle.

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Low Points:

At one point, colors become important, and had we been physically within the room, I’m sure we would’ve noticed them immediately, but due to the remote nature of the game, we thought the color that should’ve been a hint regarding what to do next was just gray, which threw us off. A brighter color painted on for the virtual experience, or perhaps a call out by the Game Master might help ensure this puzzle doesn’t become unintentionally obtuse. A little bit of the experience is lost in translation to the virtual space, but not much, and it was definitely a fun experience! I would certainly be interested in playing the full scale, live version in the future, should fortune find me in California, however. The camera tended to be somewhat shaky at times as well, not quite triggering motion sickness feelings, but I did get a little dizzy.

Verdict:

The Experiment is a fantastic experience, and I’m glad we had a chance to check it out. Per their website, this is a limited time virtual game, so I recommend checking it out as soon as possible if you have a chance. If not, I feel confident that I can recommend the live experience as well! The great storyline, entertaining puzzling, and subversion of escape room tropes are sure to keep any group of players immersed and entertained. Book your session working with Dr. J. Elias here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Get the F Out Room provided our team with a complementary game.