Sleuth Kings: Case 020 – Blood PI (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Crime and Crucifixes

Theme:

Rosalyn Neal, star of the hit vampire detective show, Blood PI, is being hounded by a mysterious and sinister stalker, and she’s reached out to Sullivan King to help discover who is behind the increasingly threatening letters she’s been receiving. Before Sullivan can make much headway, Rosalyn is shot during the filming of a new episode and police are working to keep him away from the crime scene! Sure that their prime suspect is being set up, Sullivan enlists the help of Celest St. Clair in order to gain access to the scene and the evidence within. Use the scattered clues to piece together who is behind the shooting before they can strike again!

First Impressions:

Sleuth Kings is always at it’s best when exploring more outlandish themes, and an obsessed fan/wannabe vampire and a vampire detective show, (that I desperately want Netflix to pick up,) are excellent ideas for this case. I absolutely could not wait to see how everything unraveled, so as soon as we had a chance, we jumped on the case!

High Points:

I feel like it isn’t just a coincidence that this case has a fun call back to a previous favorite, Case 013: The Beast Within. Not only does this mystery feel like a spiritual sequel to that case, it is just as extremely well put together and fun to complete! The story is as out of the box and engaging as the blurb promised, and weaves spectacularly through the game flow, with new narrative threads popping up throughout to keep things exciting. Though the case could end up being rather dark based on the theme, the subject matter is handled excellently, keeping things light hearted enough while still presenting the urgency of the matter as you make your way through the clues. The included props are great, and the Blood PI promotional material feels just camp enough to make me wish this show actually existed. The ending was delivered via a nail biter of a climax, and I could not wait to see how things resolved via the epilogue letter.

The game flow itself is superb, with several interlocking puzzles winding through the experience. The difficulty curve works well, building from more up front enigmas and towards more layered and involved interactions as the case evolves. Each step of the way feels significant, and the myriad moments of revelation and clever solutions rewarded our engagement throughout. The way each clue builds upon one another is a hallmark of Sleuth Kings cases, but this one in particular feels especially natural to me, as this adventure felt extra rewarding! My favorite puzzle was a joy to solve, combining tactile interaction with another clue we had uncovered to deliver the reveal of yet another hidden piece of evidence. Overall, this case is really something special.

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Low Points:

Unfortunately, there aren’t any actual vampires in the Sleuth Kings Universe and Blood PI isn’t a real show. Woe!

Verdict:

Blood PI is easily the best case Sleuth Kings has created yet! Once again taking a fantastically original premise and melding it with an astoundingly great game flow and colorful cast of characters, this mystery absolutely knocks it out of the park! We recommend this adventure one hundred percent. You can purchase it when it arrives on the Sleuth King’s archives here, and if you’d like to subscribe to upcoming adventures, you can use the promo code ESCAPEADVENTURE to get $5 off your subscription here! You can also read the rest of our Sleuth Kings reviews here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

Timed Out – West (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

For a Few Clues More

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

We’re going back to the days of the Wild Wild West partner! There’s valuable family land at stake and your posse will have to race against the clock to prove you’re the rightful heir! But don’t be dadgum fool and blow yourself up with dynamite while you’re at it! Keep a lookout for five special gold nuggets in this adventure that’ll have you scratchin’ your noggin at the local sheriff’s office, sittin’ around a poker table for a spell, and maybe even tickling the ivories of a mysterious old piano at the town saloon. Cowboy boots, chaps and spurs optional.

First Impressions:

Having already wowed us on multiple levels with Illusion, we were excited to travel back in time with Timed Out’s Wild West themed room! After an exciting introduction, we were set loose on the old town intent on finding our family’s gold!

High Points:

Special shout out to our Game Master, Carlos! Timed Out has some great GMs, and he was no exception, giving great hints and customer service throughout our experience. The set was spectacular, with several different areas to explore in the old West town. Each segment of the game contained several awesome set pieces that contained a puzzle or two that were well integrated into the theme of the room. The majority of the props within the room gave great feedback whenever we had solved a conundrum, and there was even a particular prop that we enjoyed triggering incorrectly due to the amusing feedback it provided as well. The story itself it light, but develops naturally throughout the course of the game, giving a believable impetus for our adventure. The game flow is non-linear, allowing our larger team to split off and still have plenty to interact with during the course of our escape. All these puzzling threads wove together throughout the room to culminate into an exciting and climactic conclusion that ended the room with a bang!

Low Points:

One particular puzzle was iffy on some of the cluing, presenting an otherwise interesting riddle that needs a bit of a logical jump to fully arrive at the solution. Some labels and laminated papers take a bit a way from the immersion, though the inclusion is understandable. The doors to each room are somewhat narrow, resulting in several near collisions between teammates, perhaps a way to keep them open might help alleviate the issue. One puzzle is interesting, and culminates into a nice reveal, but the searching and process of putting everything into order drags a bit. Without a larger group, this one puzzle could become overly tedious.

Verdict:

West is a fun, beginner friendly room that is an excellent adventure for players of any experience level. While the room may be somewhat easier than Timed Out’s other offerings, there is no shortage of surprises and clever puzzling to be found within this Wild West romp! I recommend giving it a shot, especially for families that are seeking an escape room that’s perfect for all ages. You can book your search for the gold here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.

Exit: The Game – The Sinister Mansion (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $14.99

Guess who’s back, back again?

Theme:

From the Thames and Kosmos website:

You are invited to be a guest at a palatial mansion, but upon arrival, you find yourselves forced to take part in a macabre game. The clock is ticking, and there is not much time left to solve the puzzles. Can you escape the mansion before it’s too late?

First Impressions:

Exit: The Game is easily my favorite at home escape game series, as none of their products have yet to disappoint. When I bought the newest set of games, none excited me quite as much as The Sinister Mansion, as I can’t resist an old, spooky, possibly haunted setting!

High Points:

Exit games always appear to have only a few props, but explode into giant adventures as you progress, and The Sinister Mansion is no exception. Utilizing almost every item in the box in increasingly clever ways, there is much more than meets the eye to this game. Per usual, the mystery involves around ten puzzles of varying difficulty, and for the most part, each one is clearly solvable using the items as presented, though some may take a fair bit more pondering than others. The initial puzzle is a great start, and provides a perfect moment of revelation as part of the solve, without being so simplistic that it feels like a gimme. From there, the puzzles continue to be fairly devious, challenging the players to think outside the box during every step of the way. The game flow is astounding, and involves a lot of tactile steps, keeping everyone engaged with the mystery. Though it is linear, at points, we had to ensure we knew what exactly we needed to be working on at any given time, adding to the challenge as we parsed through what we had been given.

While the storyline isn’t quite at the forefront as in The Sunken Treasure, this game is a sequel to previous games, The Abandoned Cabin and The Forbidden Castle. While those are not required to play this game, I recommend giving those a try first to keep chronology in order. (And they’re great fun to boot!) However, if you decide to Tarantino the storyline, you won’t miss anything super important. There are also nice little callbacks to other Exit games, and it’s always fun to think back to previous adventures. The revelation about your mysterious captor is an enjoyable payoff to years of Exit games, and keeping with tradition, the adventure ends on another cliffhanger that teases another sequel!

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Your ever spooky captor has given you another set of props! He’s too kind.

Low Points:

One early stage puzzle doesn’t quite give enough hints to remove the guess and check elements from the game, requiring us to fiddle around to figure out which answer is the most correct. This feels like either a puzzle that hasn’t been tested quite enough, or a cheap way to pad the play time. For new players, there’s also fairly little to clue one into some of the more eccentric ways an Exit game is tackled, so this may end up being much more difficult for folks who aren’t used to the way these games are played. Playing through an earlier game or two should alleviate this problem, but the barrier to entry is a mite bit higher than usual for The Sinister Mansion. Finally, the linearity of play may limit how many players you’ll want to have around the table, and since this experience can only be played once, that could diminish the value for people that like to play with a larger group.

Verdict:

The Sinister Mansion is a great addition to the Exit series, and I look forward to meeting the evil escape room master behind these stories again soon! Veterans of the Exit series will absolutely love this entry, though newer players should be warned that this one does rely on a fair familiarity with some of the more unconventional solving methods of Exit games, so a run with another game might be helpful. Buy your copy from your friendly local game store today! We recommend checking out Atomic Empire in Durham, NC, check out their online store here!

8.5/10 (Great)

No-Da Escapes – Jurassic Bone (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Boned.

Theme:

From the No Da Escapes website:

A team of modern archaeologists have found the remains of a Giganotosaurus inside an old gem mine. The Giganotosaurus is one of the rarest types of dinosaurs and is related to the T-Rex. A mole has worked their way into your group and has stolen a piece of the skeleton for personal profit. The stolen bone is believed to still be hidden in the cave where the dinosaur’s skeleton was found. Your mission is to retrieve the stolen bone and return it to the head archaeologist. The problem is, you only have 60 minutes before the cave collapses and you are sealed inside forever.

First Impressions:

After the terrible Dracula’s Lair, it was time to take on No-Da’s more recent creation, Jurassic Bone. We didn’t exactly have high hopes after what we’d just experienced, but perhaps some lessons had been learned along the way to make Jurassic Bone more palatable? The theme certainly was original!

High Points:

Jurassic Bone is rather large, so a bigger group won’t feel smushed into the room, though there wasn’t as many activities as there was room for. There are a few interesting ideas around, with a water based puzzle that we enjoyed working through, as well as a couple out of the box items we hadn’t seen used in quite the way they were here. The room did a good job of connecting puzzles to locks on the whole, though there were a few repeats, but on the whole didn’t overlap during the game flow. The theme itself is a great idea, though it isn’t fully capitalized on.

Low Points:

Jurassic Bone is a really large escape room, but at many points during the game, it just feels empty. “Big to be big” was the general sentiment of our group. For a game that has a maximum of ten players, it just doesn’t have all that much to do, and a mostly linear game flow does not help matters any. The experience itself also feels rather static, as the puzzles and interactions are generally mildly interesting, but don’t really feel like they add to the room or theme in a dynamic way. Solving them allowed us to move forward, but didn’t really trigger much excitement, or carry a greater impetus for why these actions were important. One particular puzzle had a creative and out of the box idea behind it, but it’s inclusion felt random, and it was extremely finicky to boot. Though I had performed the correct action, it didn’t trigger, causing me to leave it behind before someone else tried it in a slightly different way, popping the obstinate lock.

One of the major selling points listed for this room is that it takes place underground. Technically it does, but it is like a half basement in that it still opens up to the outside and never really feels truly underground, nor does this partial underground-ness really add anything. Parts of the room also feel unnecessary, as we were able to trigger a late game puzzle’s solution without properly placing certain bits, leading to a weird anti-climax that wouldn’t really have benefitted much from us placing those bits anyway. The big reveal at the end it laughable, with one of the poorest looking props we’ve ever seen in the giant foam bone. Unfortunately, this was also the only part of the room that really stuck to the Jurassic theme we were hoping for as well.

Verdict:

While a marked improvement from Dracula’s Lair, Jurassic Bone just doesn’t quite measure up to the other rooms available in the Charlotte area. On the whole, it’s just an average experience and I would recommend checking out one of the many other rooms in the area long before this one. If you’d like to try your hand at retrieving the big foam bone, however, you can do so here.

5/10 (Mediocre)

Full Disclosure: No Da Escapes provided our group with Media Discounted tickets.

Timed Out – Illusion (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Now you see me…

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

For years the world has been wowed by the unique and unexplainable magic of “Angelica Steele”. She started just like any other magician, obscure and unknown, until one day, her act changed. From that day forward she was the best of the best. Her rise to fame and years of domination in the magic industry did not gain her friends, but did give her a lot of enemies. You and your team received an anonymous tip that the magician is in fact a fraud! With the promise of good fortune, your team has been tasked to uncover the truth by gathering information and learning the secrets behind her magic.

First Impressions:

Timed Out was one of those escape rooms I stumbled on while planning one of our usual escape marathons. It’s always exciting to see a new business pop up, but even more so when the website has all the hallmarks of a good spot, and this one even had a really awesome blog to boot! We’d been bamboozled before but still, Timed Out definitely seemed as though it would be awesome.

High Points:

Timed Out has some great Game Masters, so I want to start by thanking our GM Chris for his excellent work giving us great hints and feedback during our game! The room itself is one of the most tightly integrated to the theme I have seen in recent memory, with so many excellent illusions and magical interactions peppered generously throughout. There are rooms that are themed as magical, and then there are rooms like Illusion, where the experience actually is magical, and it’s really quite amazing. The items found throughout the room continually deliver surprising reveals, and rather than just being random magic trick props, they are key parts of the puzzles themselves and bolster ah ha moments into moments of awe. The set design is great, and is at the same time a magician’s lounge, a storeroom of tricks, and an elegant parlor for an intimate magic show. Truly this room is a creative marvel, and it doesn’t end with the props and set design!

The puzzles within Illusion are very intuitive, even when many involve some sort of magic trick. Care has been taken by the designers to ensure that no outside knowledge is needed to manipulate these props, and many times, it feels as though they perform their own slight of hand as they are being examined. The room is very non-linear, and though we had a larger group of six, there was always something to do during our game. The story is engaging, and though the focus is on the magical puzzles and interactions, the enigmatic Angelica Steele remains a figure we were very interested to learn more about.

Low Points:

Many lock types repeat during the room, ensuring that there will be a fairly large amount of guess and check to be done after solving puzzles, which could be remedied with clearer connections between the puzzles themselves and the locks they are meant to open. This lack of connection made the game flow a bit more choppy in parts, as several puzzles also tended be fairly stand-alone; their threads terminating at the moment the lock was opened.

Verdict:

Illusion is absolutely one of the most well themed games in Charlotte, with an emphasis on ensuring that each puzzle is magical rather than just magic themed and a bevy of tricks up its sleeve, it is an engaging adventure for escapists of any skill level! Book your time investigating the illusions of Angelica Steele here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.