Uptown Escapes – Sanctuary (Review)

Location: Shelby, NC

Players: 4-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $23 (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday) $28 (Friday, Saturday) per person

Time to Escape: 70 minutes

People are the true monsters here.

Theme:

From the Uptown Escapes website:

It’s been years since the lights went out. Civilization is in shambles. All forms of government have crumbled. After the blackout, cities were razed to ash as different factions desperately tried to seize power. There remains, however, one small ray of hope: Sanctuary. You’ve seen the signs, painted crudely on billboards and underpasses. A safe place, open to all, where your worries will finally be relieved.

You have had an uphill journey making your way to Sanctuary’s gates. You are relieved to be here, but there is unquestionably something strange about this refuge. As you enter the gates and approach the welcoming headquarters, the other inhabitants will not look you in the eye. Could this be the place you’ve hoped for? A place to rebuild and start over? Or is this Sanctuary just a prison in disguise?

First Impressions:

Jumping back into the briefing room, we were greeted with another well produced briefing, and waited to see what would happen to us this time! We had been told that Sanctuary was a much more intense experience than Room 1306, so we steeled ourselves for anything! Soon our helpful Sanctuary guard came by to show us to our two separate rooms in his own special, and our adventure into the safe walls of Sanctuary began. There were gumdrop trees and warm hugs all around, definitely. No need to fear your first steps into this stronghold of fear!

High Points:

Sanctuary may be the first room I’ve done that splits the players at the beginning and doesn’t have one room that is way better than the other, which is apparently a triumph, as I’ve never come across such in the almost 200 rooms I’ve previously experienced, so kudos to Uptown Escapes there! Sanctuary is definitely an intense adventure, spanning an extra ten minutes more than the usual escape, and that time isn’t just there for show, you’ll need it during the densely packed rooms that are ahead! The game starts in your dark and bare holding cells, but as you make your way through this, one of humanity’s last bastions, a sinister story unfolds through the development of the set and the excellent props you’ll find inside!

The game flow is great for the most part, splitting between many different puzzle types, allowing for each member of the team to shine during their favorite interactions. There are many points at which small details were suddenly important and helped direct us toward intuitive and satisfying ah ha moments. Several great interactions with the set and props abounded, and one particular puzzle was so simple in it’s presentation, but was one of my favorite interactions of the 17 room weekend, the solution was so elegant! The intense storyline of our escape kept building throughout the entire experience, and only let up once we had completed the wholly awesome climax.

Low Points:

One of the first interactions I had with the room was getting a splinter from a very rough area of one of our initial props. The owners have been notified however, so I’m confident this won’t be a problem in the future. The intensity of the experience could be a pro or con, depending on the player, as it certainly does not let up at all. A slight reprieve from the action might help, as this is definitely a long experience, and though we enjoyed it, there’s a reason most horror movies include comic relief to lighten the mood, as once we were done, we were thoroughly mentally exhausted. At one point during the room, a key was unfortunately missing from the set, causing us to fumble about for a while trying to find it, but once we asked for a clue and it was ascertained that the key was not where it should’ve been, our Game Master leapt into action, getting the key to us and adding some extra time to our clock to make up for it.

Verdict:

Sanctuary is definitely one of the most intense escape adventures I’ve been on, but I still think it is a must do if you’re anywhere near Shelby, NC! An excellent set, coupled with a dense game flow, and an intense storyline, this room is definitely the full package! Beginners might want to check out Room 1306 to start, since this one definitely is a challenge, but I think it can be done with the right group. Enthusiasts will love the ramped up challenge and story, I think! Start your trek to Sanctuary by booking here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Uptown Escapes provided media discounted tickets for our team.

Escape Artist Greenville – The Fallout (Review)

Location: Greenville, SC

Players: 2-7 As a one team experience, 4-14 for a competitive experience (We recommend 3-4 per room)

Price: $27 (Public Booking) or $30 (Private Booking) or $21 (Private Party of 10+) per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Ain’t never liked them no good Bluefords anyways!

Theme:

The Redfields and the Bluefords have been at each other’s throats ever since… well, ever since that falling out their great great great grandpappys had with each other over… something or other! Either way, each family thinks of the other as a bunch of no good, lyin’, cheatin’, son of a gun scoundrels, and now that the nuclear apocalypse is on its way, they’ve got an excuse to blow them to smithereens! As a member of one of the colorfully named families, it’s up to you to arm your dynamite and blow up the other team before they can do the same to you! Then you should probably take cover in your fallout shelter. You know, on account of the bombs!

First Impressions:

I always love it when an escape begins outside of the room itself, and though this one is only technically “outside,” it’s still a lot of fun to start by breaking into your own fallout shelter! While we elected to do this room together rather than compete against ourselves in a 2v2 experience, we can definitely see how fantastically chaotic this initial breaking in sequence could be for competitive groups!

High Points:

The set design is great, giving off the feeling of being deep underground, ready to endure the coming nuclear fallout, while still giving off a somewhat goofy vibe via the competitive theme. The set up of the game allows for plenty of interaction with the other team, socially. Progress can be tracked easily between the two, and with the main room being shared by both teams, I’m sure you’ll hear about it from the opposing family! The game flow is fairly non-linear to start, which makes sense for a head to head escape, allowing the team to frantically divide and conquer in order to beat the clock and the other team. We stayed engaged throughout due to this, and when the game did slim down to the linear climax, we were still immersed within the puzzling flow. The climax to the fight between the Redfields and Bluefords is excellent, and I’m sure with the addition of another team to blow up, it’d be even more awesome.

Puzzles themselves are a great mix between code breaking, brain teasing enigmas, and tactile interactions, including a pretty large dexterity game to tackle. Bits of the room come together to become bigger interactions intuitively, and allow for a fair few ah ha moments throughout. Clues are hidden well around the room itself, and are challenging without being unfairly hidden or too obtuse in their presentation. Though the theme of the room is blowing up an opposing family while the nukes fall from the sky, things stay light hearted and fun the whole time, which kept the experience enjoyable.

Low Points:

Once we were in our fallout shelter, it was a pretty standard escape experience from there. The room itself wasn’t too surprising, and what we saw was mostly what we got from then on. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the potential for hidden stashes or another bunker (or toilet,) via a secret room would’ve been a nice surprise. A particular dexterity puzzle was a large frustration for a couple of our teammates, as while we worked on a different puzzle, they were trying to mitigate bad luck and timing that was required on top of the dexterity. While they eventually got it figured, it was expressed that they wished there wasn’t so much luck involved with parts of the interaction. We were able to skip one puzzle entirely due to our experience in previous rooms with a particular technical item, which confused us. It’s always sad to miss out on a puzzle, even if you solve it in a non-standard way!

Verdict:

While The Fallout is a fun game for a solo group, a duel would definitely up the stakes, making things more intense and exciting. Beginners will definitely enjoy this room, as the competitive nature allows for a large group of friends to face off while still enjoying the thrill of escape. For enthusiasts, this one will feel a lot more standard, but everything is still presented within a great game flow and enjoyable set. You can book your time as the warring families here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Escape Artist Greenville provided media discounted tickets for our team.

Finders Seekers – Mont Saint Clair (October Box Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players: We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

Theme:

Each month, Finders Seekers invites you to accept a mysterious mission from the head seer. These “finds” are located in cities around the world and involve high stakes, cryptic puzzling, and shadowy societies! You’ll need a clever mind and some google-fu in order to piece together the puzzles and complete the find! And when you do, you might even receive a reward! This month takes place on the island of Mont Saint Clair in Normandie, France! A site of great historical importance and geographical interest, it seemed like this would be a very interesting visit.

First Impressions:

I was a little disappointed to see that the props within this month’s box were quite a bit less involved and immediately engaging as those we received in last month’s superb Mexico City box, but since Finders Seekers had markedly improved from month to month recently, I wasn’t too worried. Then we started the first puzzle, and it all went mostly downhill from there.

High Points:

There’s one excellent and intuitive puzzle near the end that plays with perspective a bit, and is set up cleanly while still presenting a challenging interaction. Another puzzle dealing with perspective allows for a fun solve that also provides the only tactile prop within this month’s box.

Low Points:

Where to start with this? Of the usual eleven puzzles presented within this box, I enjoyed only 2. Usually, there’s a vague and/or frustrating puzzle within a Finders Seekers box, which is a symptom of having so many puzzles, but it’s easily overshadowed by the abundance of better puzzles and tactile interactions. Here, it seems like every other puzzle is built to frustrate through vagueness and artificial difficulty that is clearly the vast majority of the 4-5 hour recommended solve time. We took a little over 3 hours to solve this box, and unfortunately, most of that was wandering off to play with our cats because the hunt just could not hold our attention or interest for very long. By the end, I don’t think either of us cared any longer, because we left the last puzzle unsolved due to a combination of frustration and complete boredom with the whole thing. The hint system continues to prove subpar, and this boxes attempts at hints were a complete disaster when we needed them.

The initial puzzle I previously referred to is presented without any real context, and the solution is mind numbingly insipid. It’s a difficult one to figure out, but only because it breaks the usual conventions of a Finders Seekers Find, and gives you no reason to expect that it would. Further on, there’s an algebra puzzle of the type we’ve seen several times before and still groan upon uncovering, a maze filled with inexplicable red herrings, (and I actually like mazes,) a banal word puzzle of the sort one would find within a variety puzzle book for five bucks, and enough anagrams to fill an extremely boring lifetime. The box as a whole just feels like so much filler in order to pad the gameplay, and never really engages the player in any meaningful way. If anything, this experience is an exemplar of the fact that quality does in fact trump quantity.

20181031_0811397457657916721867327.jpg

Longest advertised solve time, lamest puzzles.

Verdict:

Mont Saint Clair was bad enough that the poor quality of the game experience, coupled with the notice Finders Seekers put out stating that over the next two months, they would be rereleasing older boxes instead of new content, I cancelled our subscription. For 30 dollars, the experience just doesn’t hold up this month, and it’s bad enough to erase the good will built over the last few months. I don’t recommend this box, and would be wary going forward. If you want to subscribe regardless, you can order your next adventure here. If you sign up through our link, we’ll earn credits towards a free box, and can bring you more content! You can read the rest of our Finders Seekers reviews here!

3/10 (Poor)

Adrenaline Entertainment Center Columbia – Federal Bank Robbery (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $17.50 (advance booking) or $25 (walk-in) per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Money, Money, Money, Money!

Theme:

Donald Trump has decided it’s high time his face be immortalized on a new banknote, and of course, it must be a one thousand dollar bill. (Weird, right?) Your group of thieves have decided that it’s high time you quit your nine to fives, so you’ve hatched a plan to steal the plates used to make the bill itself before the release of the money, ensuring you have plenty of time to crank out enough counterfeit bills to keep you comfortable for life.

First Impressions:

We were led into the main area from the huge entertainment center, and just like when we entered Riddle High, the sounds of shrieking children immediately faded away, leaving us in the dark environs of the Federal Reserve. After a quick briefing, we began scouring the room for our way in!

High Points:

There are some very interesting puzzles and interactions peppered throughout the game flow of Federal Bank Robbery that we hadn’t seen before, and even though some were quite simple, they still were a lot of fun to complete! A lot of great tactile interactions come into play, and moving around the thematically fantastic props really helps you feel the part of a thief raiding the Reserve. Many puzzles rely on technical solves, using that magic to create excellent challenges throughout the room, and ensure that surprises are well hidden until they are needed. The later part of the game really ramps up with a few of those surprises, and stays fairly intense from that point to the ultimate climax of the game. Though the storyline is fairly light, the movement through the game is intuitive and each gate along the mostly linear path provides a sense of ongoing progress throughout your heist.

Low Points:

The theme itself centers around Donald Trump, a highly divisive politician, and it’s weirdly jarring to have that be the basis of an escape room based on a heist. While it’s one hundred percent believable that he’d want to plaster his face on a new thousand dollar bill, it just seems weirdly out of place within an escape room. One puzzle in particular involves an ambiguous trivia question that requires outside knowledge, nothing that most Americans won’t already know, but outside knowledge is still unacceptable at any rate, especially at this location, which is geared towards families and kids. One puzzle’s solving method is fairly straightforward, but the trigger is fairly well hidden, and there’s no prompt to let you know that the solution worked until you see it, causing lost time and a small amount of frustration. The concept overall, however, is very cool once you notice it. For the Federal Reserve, the main area feels pretty sparse, as the set design is quite Spartan for the most part.

Verdict:

Playing Federal Bank Robbery was fun, though admittedly the inclusion of Trump throughout was fairly weird. Jarring nature of that addition aside, the game itself provides a fun, family friendly challenge that beginners and enthusiasts can enjoy. If you’re craving further escapes after your trampoline or VR adventure, you should definitely begin your Federal Bank Robbery here!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Adrenaline Entertainment Center Columbia provided comped tickets for our team.

Escapology Columbia – Under Pressure (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $29.99 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Pressure, Pushing down on me, pressing down on you, no man asked for…

Theme:

You and your team are sailors aboard the Steel Shark, a submarine tactically important to the United States Navy. You’re holed up in your bunks when suddenly, an alarm sounds and you notice that the oxygen levels are dropping at a dramatic rate! Luckily, there’s about an hour of air left for you and the crew. On the other hand, the whole area seems to be on lockdown! It’s up to you to discover the saboteur, find the oxygen tanks that have been removed, and return them to their proper place before you all sink to a watery grave!

First Impressions:

Entering the (possibly) doomed submarine was fantastic, as the initial set design of the first room presented a convincing bunk area of a submarine. We were disappointed that there was no Queen/Bowie music, but the room itself and our briefing got us excited to begin our escape!

High Points:

As mentioned, the bunk room is highly immersive and uses lighting, tech, and in theme props to transport you to 1944. The puzzling is also up to the task, presenting tactile challenges and historically appropriate interactions that work well within the game flow. Most of the game is linear, with a slow build of collecting various pieces for late game puzzles helping mark your progression organically. Teamwork is crucial within this room, as many puzzles require two or more players to pass information back and forth efficiently. Perception based interactions are fair, and don’t fall into the cliché trap of hiding things in out of the way places just to artificially increase the difficulty. The build to the final meta-puzzle is fantastic, and the ah ha moment we received upon solving it led to an appropriately climactic conclusion.

Low Points:

Though the initial set design is awesome, the further we delved into the submarine, the more basic the environs became. Unfortunately, by the end, the immersion was struck dead as I no longer had the feeling that I was in a submarine, but rather in the final room of a fairly basic escape room.  The solution to one of the codes comes across very strangely, as the method to solve would suggest full words, but we ended up confused for a while before trying what seemed to us to be a random amalgamation of letters. This was a one off deviation from the norm, so it was extra strange to find. One puzzle interaction is one we experienced within another room at Escapology, and it was a fairly basic one we’ve seen several times, so it ended up being a fairly bland interaction overall.

Verdict:

Under Pressure is Escapology’s most difficult game, and it presents an enjoyable, if sometimes flawed, challenge! The historical nature of the room, as well as the initial set design are more than enough to entice anyone interested in the nautical World War II theme. I’d recommend experienced groups giving it a shot, though beginners should do a few rooms first in order to get a feel for how escape rooms work. Book your time in the Steel Shark here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Escapology Columbia provided comped tickets for our team.