Charleston Escape Game – Taking Back Charleston (Review)

Location: Charleston, SC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Tally-ho!

Theme:

The British have Charlestowne under siege, and rebel militia are slowly losing ground against the elite Royal forces! If the Americans are to have any chance at keeping the enemy at bay, they’re going to have to pull off something big. That something big is your mission! As a member of the rag-tag Swamp Fox milita, you’ve been tasked with infiltrating a British General’s tent, gaining entry into their munitions warehouse, and blowing it to smithereens! A hit like this will force the Brits to retreat and end the siege once and for all, but you must complete your mission before the General returns, or it’s over for Charlestowne’s resistance!

First Impressions:

Charleston Escape Game is just one of a network of three sister locations. The other two locations, Elite Escape Games, and Break Out Charleston, are excellent businesses in their own right, boasting some really great rooms, so expectations were high regarding the quality of these games. As always, they did not disappoint!

High Points:

The Revolutionary War theme was something that I’d never seen before, and I thought it was an amazing idea! A historically based game in a city steeped in history has the makings of something great. The set design is phenomenal, per usual, and the General’s tent is set up with lighting and sound effects that make you feel as though you’re outside of a pitched battle, having just infiltrated enemy lines! The game flow moves excellently, and though linear in places, has enough non-linear threads to keep a larger group busy. Movement from the tent to the munitions base is excellent fun, and adds a enjoyable moment to something as simple as moving from room to room. The big interaction in the latter part of the game is enormously satisfying to complete, and adds a fantastic element of incremental progression to the game. There are a few larger set piece puzzles that are mind-blowingly awesome to complete, and incorporate elements of teamwork that we really enjoyed completing. There are several basic locks, but none feel out of place, and the technological elements feel appropriate to the theme while still giving that mysterious feel to the room. In all, the room was just amazingly fun to solve from start to finish! It was one of those rooms in which we broke out quickly, but it didn’t feel as if we’d gone all that fast, we were so thoroughly entertained!

Low Points:

One minor puzzle was an underwhelming solve, but is an easy win for new players, so it isn’t much of a complaint, but from the design of the clue, we had expected a slightly more exciting interaction.

Verdict:

Taking Back Charleston is a highly original, enormously entertaining adventure! A great game for beginners and enthusiasts alike, it is a must play the next time you’re in Charleston. I hear that Charleston Escape Game has another original new room theme on the horizon, and cannot wait for our next trip out once it is completed! Try to beat our record while you’re there! Sign up for the Swamp Fox militia and save Charlestowne here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Charleston Escape Game provided Media Discounted tickets for our game.

Unlock! Secret Adventures – A Noside Story (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 2-3

Price: $14.99

Give the mouse his own game!

Theme:

After the events of Squeak and Sausage, evil Doctor Noside has returned yet again to menace the city! It’s up to your team to infiltrate his lair and thwart whatever maniacal plot he has dreamed up this time. Bypass his traps and make sure you aren’t caught, or who knows what Noside will do!

First Impressions:

Unlock! is one of the top escape room at home card games, and we’ve mostly enjoyed the last six that were released, but none of them were quite as awesome as Squeak and Sausage, the cartoony prequel to A Noside Story. When I saw that a new set was releasing, I knew I could wait on the other games, but this one was a must have on day one. (I still bought the other two a couple weeks later. I have an addiction.) Hopefully it measured up!

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The lair of Doctor Noside is guarded by an old friend!

High Points:

A Noside story definitely measures up to it’s predecessor, and includes some fantastic easter eggs and callbacks to Squeak and Sausage for veteran players, while still staying 100% accessible to newcomers to the series. The tutorial ensures that even the more complicated card mechanics, such as machine cards, are understandable and intuitive, and penalties are much less random than previous iterations. In fact, we never saw one due to the game’s excellent flow! Puzzles are mostly linear, with branches from time to time, but with two players, we were always engaged with the game. The cartoon-y cards are bright and engaging, and the many locations are fun to explore! The cartoon nature of the adventure is also present within the game’s logic, presenting outlandish solutions that fit within the theme of the adventure. A Noside Story also innovates beyond the usual mechanics of Unlock!, presenting interactions that will surprise even those grizzled veterans of the last couple sets! Machines are more involved, and present complex interactions that add to the immersion greatly.

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James the mouse, the hardest working animal in the Escape Business. 

Low Points:

The cartoony logic can be a double edged sword at times. I was used to this method of thinking, due to my experience with the previous game, but my partner was used to the more “grounded” logic of the other Unlock! games, so the connections were much muddier to her. One particular puzzle took a huge leap of logic, which newer players will not be used to, and while it is amazingly innovative, it could seem illogical to some players. Although the game box says 1-6 players, I cannot see the game being fully engaging with any more than 3. Too many cooks and all that.

Verdict:

A Noside Story is a worthy successor to it’s predecessor, delivering an even tighter, more engaging experience! I highly recommend giving it a try, and definitely getting your hands on a copy of Squeak and Sausage as well! Pick up the game at your friendly local game store, and return to the world of Noside, James the mouse, and the ever distractable guard pug today! We bought ours at the ever excellent Gamer’s Armory in Cary, NC, check out their online store here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Sleuth Kings – Isaac Case 001 (Bonus Case Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Bonus Case!

Theme:

After helping Sullivan solve four cases, it’s finally time to help with the enigma that is most important to him, figuring out the mystery of his father Isaac’s disappearance! During the epilogues of the previous cases, you’ve received missives from an informant who found someone who might’ve been helped by the vanished detective, but she’s since gone missing, so it’s up to you and Sullivan to figure out where she’s gone, and make sure she’s safe before your only lead goes up in smoke!

First Impressions:

One of the greatest things about Sleuth Kings is that the story continues beyond the initial box, developing the narrative convincingly past your initial solving session. During the previous cases, we received epilogue letters after successfully catching the culprits, each containing a resolution for their respective cases. These letters included an extra puzzle that hinted at new information related to the disappearance of the elder King. Our last case’s epilogue just said that this time, there was just too much to send along immediately, and we’d be receiving another box soon! Not only is this exciting as part of the meta-narrative of Sleuth Kings, but it proves why this subscription delivers the absolute best bang for your buck!

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A free enigma! A freenigma, if you will.

High Points:

Though this is a shorter bonus case, there’s still a lot to unpack, and no expense was spared in delivering quality props for this mystery! The clues flow perfectly into each other, and each adds information to the story, building towards another excellent climax. Solving methods for a couple of the clues are very tactile and satisfying to put together. Some items are appropriately mysterious, but once the proper clues come together, the solving method becomes intuitive, leading to an awesome ah ha moment. Background information continues to be highly entertaining while still providing extra story bits to help flesh out the narrative, even if it is non-essential to solving the case. The meta-narrative is served well by this case, picking up where the many breadcrumbs from the epilogues left off, and revealing the stakes while still giving off a mysterious vibe. The post script for this case includes a fantastic payoff, revealing what I assume to be the next part of the story, giving us something to look forward to after we’ve completed another four cases!

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The mystery deepens even further!

Low Points:

Not only is this case a 100% free bonus that comes with your subscription, there’s very little to talk about in this section! I think the only issue we had was that there was one puzzle that presented a pretty clear solving method, but once we had made it to the end, the words became very ambiguous to read. It’s a very minor problem that we got around quickly, though.

Verdict:

While a shorter experience, this case still provides a fair challenge, and continues to prove that Sleuth Kings is a subscription that provides an excellent value every month! Though you’ll need to solve four cases successfully before you receive this one, you can use the promo code ESCAPEADVENTURE to get $5 off your subscription here! As always, I highly recommend it!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box. (duh.)

Xscape – Bombsquad: It’s All Wired! (Review)

Location: Hudson, NC

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $20 per person Tuesday-Thursday, $25 per person Friday-Saturday

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It’s the bomb!

Theme:

The terrorist known as Omega has rigged up a nuclear bomb in his dingy, hidden apartment, and your bombsquad team has been tasked with making sure it doesn’t go off! Navigate his traps and puzzles to find the nuke, and disarm it carefully so that you can be the heroes of the day, rather than bits of ash at ground zero!

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First Impressions:

Xscape is in Hudson, NC, a town I wasn’t even aware existed until I started a search for escape rooms near an event I was attending with my girlfriend and escape partner in crime. For me, this is a good thing, as any time I find an escape room in the proverbial middle of nowhere, it’s always been this top notch oasis in the middle of the desert. After looking through their website and the many pictures of their rooms they had posted, I was sure this business would be a lot of fun!

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High Points:

Set design inside Bombsquad is some of the absolute best I’ve seen. The location of the room and decor on the outside walls already build a sense of immersion before you enter, and once you do, you’ll be fully immersed within Omega’s world for the full hour! The room is also absolutely brimming with tech convincingly built by a madman! Only two locks are included inside, and every other puzzle is a highly themed technical marvel. There were a few different interactions and enigmas that we had never seen before, and this was my 150th room, so that’s saying something! Videos played during the beginning and different parts of the room are a lot of fun, and well produced, adding a great story element to the production. There is also a type of puzzle I normally despise that is implemented within Bombsquad in such an innovative and excellent way that it became one of my favorite interactions in the whole room! Teamwork is absolutely essential in this room, and focuses on good communication and tight puzzling. The storyline is conveyed wonderfully, and the climax was extremely unexpected, even for escape veterans! Xscape also boasted excellent customer service, before, during, and after our escape! We actually ended up with a major issue which caused us to fail, and they were very receptive to feedback and able to alleviate all of our frustrations! More about that below.

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Low Points:

Unfortunately, our GM was very new, and provided hints that were out of order, which drained a lot of our time during the end game, leading us to waste a lot of time unable to progress because though we were doing the right thing, we were doing it out of order. This also caused us to fail the room, though we are certain we could’ve made it out, had the clues been ordered correctly, which was frustrating. Luckily, however, we contacted Xscape about this, and they immediately let us know how sorry they were that this happened, and assured us that they would make the adjustments to ensure this didn’t happen again. We were invited us back to try their Egyptian Tomb room, as well as play through Bombsquad again with the adjustments made, as they agreed that we should’ve made it out. However, Tyler was an excellent GM otherwise, and provided great customer service throughout our experience, that one hiccup aside. There were a couple points at which there was a fair amount of hunting around that could’ve been better served through non-scavenging puzzles, and lesser use of a certain escape room cliché. The final parts of the room felt less tightly designed, which could be due to the cluing issues detailed above, but also could’ve benefitted from some better gating of puzzles.

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Verdict:

Bombsquad is an excellent room, and though we experienced a few issues, we definitely recommend checking it out. Bombsquad absolutely provides an escape adventure that is worth your time and money, and boasts challenging puzzles that veterans may have never seen before! Newer players might want to have a couple games under their belt before taking on this more difficult experience, but it is definitely accessible as a first time room. Book your time in Omega’s lair here!

7/10 (Good)


Note: Though I don’t normally add a note to score, I wanted to emphasize that throughout this room, I was thinking that this was one of the best rooms I’d done lately, and would at the least be a 9/10. I’ve scored it a couple points lower due to issues that cropped up during our experience, but after speaking with the owners, I heartily believe that those issues will be sorted soon. Xscape seems absolutely dedicated to a fantastic customer experience, and I wanted to make sure this point was clear!

Full disclosure: Though we paid full price for our tickets, Xscape provided a private room for our team.

Breakout Greensboro – Hostage (Review)

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

Price: $25.99 per person

Players: 2-7 (We recommend 3-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Where’s Sully when you need him?

Theme:

You were on an international flight when the cabin suddenly depressurized, sending you into unconsciousness. Rather than wake up in the middle of the Hudson River, you find yourself handcuffed to a bench in the dark! Looking around, you find that you must be in some sort of hijacker’s lair. Luckily these terrorists have left loads of puzzles around for you to solve in the meantime, so figure them out and escape!

First Impressions:

The airplane hijacking theme is definitely a risky subject to take on in an escape room, and it definitely wasn’t our first choice, but we had to reschedule one of our other escapes due to a booking hiccup, and we decided we’d just try it out rather than reschedule everything. Breakout’s other rooms are great fun, however, so at least we knew the puzzles would more than likely be a good time.

High Points:

The theme of the room is more of a kidnapping, keeping overt references to airplane hijacking to a minimum, which I thought was better than the alternative. Our GM was fantastic, and provided humorous and conversational hints when we needed them. There was one great puzzle that used a part of the room that you usually don’t see implemented as a prop, allowing for some interesting solving. There weren’t a lot of standout moments beyond this, but the game itself was otherwise mostly average and non-offensive.

Low Points:

One technical interaction involved way too many red herrings for it to be introduced so early, leading us to hyper-focus on it entirely too much. Blessedly, our GM let us know we shouldn’t worry about that yet. Two particular puzzles include my least favorite escape room trope, inputs that lock out for a time if incorrect answers are entered. Luckily, we didn’t suffer from that issue, but there should never be the possibility of dead time within a room. There is a specific instance of a puzzle being destructible state, meaning that if you move certain objects, it could render a section of the room unsolvable, which tied in with the red herring issue as well, frustrating us greatly. Again, we thankfully had an amazing GM to help us out unprompted when he realized something had gone wrong. One moment of the room that should feel really climactic and open up a new mystery fell completely flat when all we were given was a bank of locks, the lamest of escape room items. The story flow ends immediately upon the end of the introduction, making this more of a puzzle room, and unfortunately ensuring that the climax never feels like much of a payoff other than the escape itself.

Verdict:

Hostage was a very basic escape game that may be alright for beginners, but does little to impress for those that have a few games under their belts. With five other games to choose from at Breakout Greensboro, you can definitely do better than Hostage, however. If you’ve run out of other games, though, it’ll do the job, just don’t expect anything too exciting. You can check out Hostage at your local Breakout here.

5/10 (Mediocre)