Insomnia Escape – Dungeon Things (Review)

Location: Washington, DC

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: Varies, see here for details.

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Back to the 80s!

Theme:

From the Insomnia Escape website:

Our newest room “The (sic) Dungeon Things” is inspired by our favorite books of Stephen King. Find your missing friend while fighting with the ancient evil living in the town… Great for kids and adults! A terrible thunderstorm caused a power outage and created a unique opportunity to go back in time, find the missing friend and investigate the mystical disappearance of kids that plagued a small sleepy town of Lindale for decades. You always knew that this town is not like other towns…

First Impressions:

I love Stephen King, and Stranger Things, with its 80s themed D&D horror, is a great entry into the genre as well, so a mashup of the two seemed like an interesting way to set up an escape room. Though rooms that aren’t based on an existing property are usually more creative, I was intrigued to see how Dungeon Things panned out, as the glimpses I’d gotten of the room previously made it look pretty fun.

High Points:

The set design of the room is well executed, and while it isn’t Hollywood level, it certainly gets the job done, evoking the design sensibilities of an 80s home. The game begins spookily, and one of the puzzles to start things off sets the tone well. There is a particular set piece in this game that is really cool, and though the game comes back to the well for this interaction a few times, it’s interesting enough that it does not feel like a repeat and remains fresh for the full run time of the experience. This, along with a few other technical moments within the game, creates a nice sense of supernatural magic and mystery to the journey. There were also some great sound design moments, one of which felt rather real and was paid off well, though it was a subtle addition. The climax, (or what we were able to experience of it, more on that below,) was great, ending with a cool teamwork interaction, though that instance would have benefitted from better cluing overall. The early game was good for larger teams, as it started with a non-linear run of puzzles, allowing us to divide and conquer.

Low Points:

As a huge fan of Stephen King, I can definitely say there’s a couple of nods to Stephen King in Dungeon Things, but the overall room is not really inspired that much by King, but does take heavy inspiration from Stranger Things. To the point that it starts to feel somewhat like a ripoff, which is a shame, as it feels like it could’ve been a cool idea without the need for previously existing properties. This aside, the climax of our game unfortunately sputtered out during what should’ve been a very cool moment due to a technical failure. Luckily, the owners were advised independently by our game master, and they were kind enough refund the cost of the room to us, which we appreciated. While the room is advertised for a maximum of 10 players, even with just five there were some major choke points during parts of the room that became linear, and there was a good bit of standing around for some of our players. As most of the linearity compounded upon itself as we ventured further into the room, this could only have been exacerbated had our group been double the size. As previously stated, there were a few good and subtle nods to Stephen King and Stranger Things, and when they were subtle, they were great, but when they weren’t it was far too on the nose, breaking the immersion. One particular puzzle involving a fusebox was not particularly well explained, and a bit more cluing would help smooth out this interaction.

Verdict:

Dungeon Things has some good ideas, but ultimately there were enough issues that it was only a little better than average. Ultimate tech failure aside, some tweaking to the overall game flow to remove choke points and clarify some logical leaps, as well as a bit of reworking of the story to make it its own thing, would go a long way towards creating a really great room. As of this writing, though, I’d recommend other rooms in the area first. You can book your time going back to the 80s here!

6/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: Insomnia Escape provided media discounted tickets for our game.

Insomnia Escape – The Patient (Review)

Location: Washington, DC

Players: 2-9 (We recommend 2-3)

Price: Varies, see here for details.

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Doctors have loads of paperwork to go through…

Theme:

From the Insomnia Escape website:

Detective thriller in a psychiatric hospital. Investigate the mystery, but don’t lose your mind…The early 1970s. You are a group of journalists sent to investigate strange things that happen around St Elizabeth Psychiatric Hospital…An unsettling atmosphere of a mental asylum and unexpected scenario twists in the new thriller detective escape room The Patient.

First Impressions:

I always like a good spooky hospital thriller, from abandoned, ghost-infested asylums to the labs of mad doctors, I eat up this sort of theme! I was a little disappointed about the set up of this hospital, however, as it seemed clean and sterile, just the sort of hospital we’ve seen a bit too much of in our escape journeys, but I was hoping that we could peel away this sanitary veneer to uncover the dark secrets beneath!

High Points:

Though the set wasn’t quite what we expected, it is competently designed and does present a doctor’s office fairly well. The most interesting thing about the room, however, is the two patients locked up beyond a couple of cell doors. The technology presented to bring these patients to life is pretty astounding, and interacting with them is definitely the most fun part of the game. The acting is little more than okay, but the tech that brings their actions to life more than makes up for it. The climax of the room is a great finish, and getting there does feel urgent, overall. The room starts out with some very engaging puzzles and interactions, and while it lasts, everything is streamlined. Unfortunately, as clues pile up, even the most organized groups will start to have some issues keeping everything straight. There are some really great ideas housed within The Patient, and it may be worth the price to some players just to see some of these innovations.

Low Points:

The Patient felt more like an at home subscription mystery box, as a lot of the game was bogged down in paper notes and written clues, rather than using the room to it’s fullest. In fact, as an at home experience, I think this could be a pretty great mystery, but as it currently stands as an escape room, it feels very bare on the whole. The game flow is very much mired in piles and piles of paper evidence, and though the technology is cool, the cool factor wears off quite a bit during the long stretches between said interactions. As the room is strictly linear, and somewhat small, the adventure does not support the five players we had, much less the maximum nine that can be fit in the game. I’d say the sweet spot is two or three, and that third player will probably still have a fair bit of down time. The story isn’t well conveyed by the game itself, and though the outline is there, it never really shines like an escape room story should. Most of the revelations are underwhelming and take a leap of logic to grasp.

Beyond the game flow hiccups, the connections between puzzles and inputs leave a lot to be desired, and the inputs themselves can be incredibly fiddly to work with, and with so many red herrings and random rabbit trails to go down, players will end up futzing about with them to the point of frustration. The puzzles themselves, beyond the vagary and overall frustration of their presentation, are eminently forgettable, with no real mind blowing moments at any point. On the whole, the experience just falls flat.

Verdict:

The Patient just fails to excite. While there are cool technological touches here and there, the small size of the room, conjoined with banal puzzling, frustrating amounts of paper, and an overly linear set up, doom the experience to mediocrity. While not a bad game, it certainly needs a fair bit of work to be recommendable. However, with a small team, there is a neat surprise or two, but there are much better games to be played in the area. You can book your time at the St. Elizabeth Psychiatric Hospital here.

5.5/10 (Mediocre)

Full Disclosure: Insomnia Escape provided media discounted tickets for our game.

Insomnia Escape – The Alchemist (Review)

Location: Washington, DC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: Varies, see here for details.

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Keyed Up and the Philosopher’s Stone

Theme:

From the Insomnia Escape website:

Philosopher’s stone, Alchemist’s library and secret manuscripts at the mystical swirl of “The Order of the Alchemists” Room.You are standing in front of an unmarked wooden door and two large windows carved into the aging brickwork of DC’s most eerie library. You and your hopefully reliable companions step into a dimly lit interior where the numerous bookshelves are coupled with gold details and vintage chandeliers covered in a cobweb.

First Impressions:

We had visited Insomnia Escape way back in 2017 to try out their Oblivion room, which we had a good time with, so I’d be hoping to get back one day to try out some of their other much hyped experiences! We started things off with the granddaddy of them all, The Alchemist, one we just didn’t quite have time for during our last trip out.

High Points:

For an almost four year old game, The Alchemist presents a well told story that develops naturally throughout the course of the full game. Each puzzle solved reveals a new tidbit, and allows the players more insight into the evil sorcerer who would bring about the end of the world as we know it. Puzzles are frequently clever, and there are a couple great solves that kept our group engaged with the game, especially during the late stages of the adventure, which delivers most of the well incorporated props. While the experience is mostly a first generation escape room, there are a few nice spots of hidden technology and exciting surprises to be found. Though one particular part of the room could become amazingly cluttered, the gate keeping of the game flow works perfectly to ensure that what at first looks like it will become a slog, works itself toward a satisfying reveal. The final reveal is climactic and delivers a great ending to the game.

Low Points:

The Alchemist starts off within a fairly small and stuffy room, and though we only have five players, three less than the stated max, I could tell we were all starting to feel a bit claustrophobic. I cannot imagine being in the room with a full complement of players, as there simply is not enough room. There would also be a dearth of puzzles for a full house, as The Alchemist is very linear on the whole. Most solves only served to engage three of us, while the others waited, and some only required one or two. While some teamwork puzzles could be found for larger groups, they were few and far between. The later stages of the game open up the room and the game flow a bit, but is overall a much sparser affair, turning the surprise of more puzzles into something of a disappointment. While the ideas are really fantastic for the time, escape rooms have definitely evolved as a medium, and The Alchemist simply hasn’t evolved with the times. In fact, it has started to show a good bit of wear and tear, not just metaphorically, but literally, as the room shows a fair amount of dents and dings throughout.

Verdict:

The Alchemist is an alright game that was really great for when it was built in 2016. Not many updates have been made, it seems, and while it remains a serviceable game for new players, it’ll be somewhat underwhelming for veteran escapists. Still, it’s not a bad time, and folks who are looking to see what a previous award winning room is like will find something to like here. If you do give it a look, just keep in mind that it is definitely a product of its time. Book your time saving the world from the sinister Alchemist here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: Insomnia Escape provided media discounted tickets for our game.

Insomnia Escape – Oblivion (Review)

Location: Washington, DC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: Varies, see here for details.

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

I am Computer. Do you love Computer?

Theme:

A brilliant scientist has recently created the most advanced AI the world has ever seen, ELIZA! After fully integrating ELIZA into his lab, however, he has mysteriously disappeared, and it is up to you and your team of investigators to find out what happened! Power up the AI, and with her assistance, you may be able to unravel the case! But something seems a bit… off.

First Impressions:

Insomnia came highly recommended to us, and their new theme promised a unique experience, so we were definitely looking forward to how they implemented Virtual and Augmented Reality into the room. Insomnia’s friendly Gamemaster provided us with a briefing on the room, and our first clue, which delivered a bit of the backstory in a much more immersion friendly way than delivery via GM, after which we were ushered into the powered down laboratory.

High Points:

The entire room, due to it’s technical theme, was extremely high-tech and futuristic feeling. In fact, during the game, the entire room responds to your actions, which is fantastic for getting you more and more immersed in the story. Many times, the room responded to us personally in ways we absolutely did not see coming, and it was an amazing treat have the room itself interact with us. Puzzles are easy to find, and solving them is incredibly satisfying, due to their technical nature and great feedback. VR is handled well in the room, and does not overstay it’s welcome, and remains a tangible challenge that involves the whole team instead of being a one-person puzzle, which is highly commendable. The story is delivered in a fun way, and though the acting is not taken too seriously, it works, and builds to a climax that is worthy of such an ambitious room.

Low Points:

For a room filled with tech, we were wary that something might go haywire to derail the game, but luckily, we only experienced one malfunction, and it was extremely minor. The room is vastly linear, so a much larger group may have members feeling left out.

Verdict:

Oblivion is an original idea that shoots for a lofty goal, and hits on almost every mark. Gameplay is well balanced with the story, and should be exciting for beginners and enthusiasts alike. I highly recommend you try it out, as this is one of the best games we saw while visiting DC! Book your time with ELIZA here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Insomnia Escape provided media discounted tickets for our game.