The Conundrum Box – Sleepy Hollow Part 3: The Headless Horseman

Kara’s Note: This review comes to you from me!

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

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From The Conundrum Box website:

SAVE THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AND SAVE YOURSELF FROM THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN

This three part series takes place during American Revolution and afterwards. General Washington’s life is in danger! He has tasked you to help stop the most recent assassination plot. Your leads have led you to the small village of Sleepy Hollow where you meet the townsfolk, and soon discover their dark secrets. The second and third adventures in this season get weirder and darker.

First Impressions:

As the last box in the Sleepy Hollow series, I was excited to see how the story would end. Given the interesting twist and cliff-hanger of Part 2, there’s no telling where this one would lead!

Yay Points:

The story drops you in the middle of a predicament, and it’s not long before you’re able to escape and get some clarity on the situation. You are soon tasked with multiple sub-goals to help you toward your larger goal, and fortunately, you’re provided with a document to keep track of each one you’ve achieved. This is immensely helpful since this box is jam-packed (in a good way!) with puzzles of varying difficulty levels and a lot of satisfying solves.

The clues interacted with each other in many interesting ways. In particular, there was one set of deceivingly simple clues that played a helpful role in a couple of the puzzles, and we really enjoyed deciphering them. We had some good lightbulb moments when making connections, and also some ‘ohhhh’ moments when catching ourselves overthinking. On a potentially unrelated note, if you’re like us, please remember to look on the front and back of everything. 😀

It was pretty clear what we needed from Parts 1 and 2 to help us solve some of the puzzles, with a lot of good callbacks to them. (Side note: Though it’s taken me 3 boxes to finally learn, I will also be a little better at notetaking when I make a solve or notice something in a box series that doesn’t seem to be used in the current box.) I also really liked how one set of clues built upon a prop from a previous box to make for a new interaction, and more tactile players will benefit by having another figure to help you visualize this puzzle.

In the previous box, I noted how one of the color puzzles was tricky as I had a hard time telling some of the colors apart. I’m happy to report that it wasn’t an issue in this box!

As with all The Conundrum boxes, we really appreciate the incremental hint system that the website provides. It’s really helpful in making sure you’re on the right track, and also helps you figure out how solve it so you can learn and understand the process.

Pondering Points:

While my husband and I both agreed that this box started and ended great, the middle can be a little rough for players who don’t enjoy longer process puzzles. (Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Kara for having much more patience than I for process puzzles. My disdain for them has been well documented.) One of the puzzles involved a challenge that I found satisfying to solve, but can definitely be an exhausting experience for many players to repeat the process so many times (especially since even if you know what to do, it’s not always an easy find).

There was also one puzzle that I really relied on the hint system to help fill in the blanks on what I need to do with it to make the solve. I may have missed it, but perhaps a little more direction in the puzzle would be helpful.

We liked how one puzzle gave us an easy/hard option to choose from. However, we were a little disappointed when we found out that none of our possible solutions to the hard puzzle worked because one of the clues seemed to contradict the accepted answer (though, giving a shout-out to the hint system for instant-gratification to help us figure this out). This should hopefully be an easy fix, though.

Verdict:

This box had a lot of great puzzles that were fun to solve, though there were a couple longer ones that may be a hit or miss with players. It certainly was an interesting end to the series, and provided a surprising foreshadowing of a future box. Subscribe to The Conundrum Box here! You can get $5 off your first box with our Promo Code ERA5OFF!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: The Conundrum Box provided a complementary review copy.

 

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.

Escape Room Herndon – 8-Bit Escape (Review)

Location: Herndon, VA

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Totally Tubular!

Theme:

From the Escape Room Herndon Website:

Your friends have come over to play your newest video game; however once you get to the basement you see your mom has locked up all your gaming gear until you finish you homework. You and your friends have 60 minutes to find all your gear and put it back together before your mom kicks them out and they all go over to Wade’s house.

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First Impressions:

I have to say, as a child who grew up on the NES, 80’s and 90’s movies, and sitting in front of giant box TVs on grandma’s shag carpet, 8-Bit Escape was absolutely calling my name, as it called most of our team. I try to go in to rooms without big expectations, but the pull of nostalgia from this one was hard to resist, and I was giddy to see what wonders were in store during this escape!

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High Points:

There are several pictures in this review that show the amount of detail that has gone into making 8-Bit Escape a truly convincing blast to the past, but these pictures alone cannot describe the absolutely amazing feeling of stepping into the room for the first time. The experience is truly brilliant, with a set design that stays one hundred percent faithful to it’s gloriously creative theme. Sound design was amazing as well, and hearkened back to the NES era of chiptune earwigs that I still cannot get out of my head decades later. The story is simple, but effective, and calls to the kid in us; it does a fantastic job to frame the adventure, but doesn’t need to be overly complex, as the main draw here is the immersion within the old school theme of the room. The first thing most folks will want to do upon entering is get their hands on some of the fantastic, true to life props and just start playing around, and in some cases, there are items within the room that are marked as simply that, games and toys to play around with while you explore the room. this touch is fantastic, and though they may not further the puzzle flow, they do add to the immersion of the room, and allow players to indulge their nostalgia to their heart’s content.

8-Bit Escape is a room that’s just enormously fun to be in, but there’s still an escape game to play inside, and it is just as exciting. The game flow is fantastic, with a non-linear run that ensures big groups with have plenty to work on when they aren’t playing around with the Atari or He-Man figures. Every single puzzle within this room is integrated perfectly into the theme, and there are so many superbly creative interactions, some of which we’d never seen before. One early puzzle rewards a bit of outside knowledge without requiring it, and gives a rush of satisfaction to those that can solve it early without breaking the game flow by skipping ahead, which is great. One of my absolute favorite parts of the room involves a full scale arcade cabinet, and an interaction that expanded the room in a way I did not expect. There are further surprises in the late game that are beautifully done, and during this climax, there are some absolute full-scale gems that are just joyous to work through. All in all, this room is a pleasure through and through, and I cannot say enough good things about the experience. It goes without saying that I recommend booking a slot here, no questions asked.

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Low Points:

We had to eventually leave. Seriously, though, that was kind of a bummer. We could spend all day in this room if you let us, I’m sure! Honestly, the only problem I personally can think of is that there are a few props that feel a bit worn. Beyond that, I really can’t think of much that I could write here.

80s

Verdict:

Only one other escape business I’ve visited has ever received more than one ten out of ten review from us in three years, but Escape Room Herndon absolutely deserves to be just the second business to receive this honor. 8-Bit Escape is an escape room that is elevated from merely a simple game to an experience that is a pure joy to engage with. The set design, nostalgia, clever puzzling, and great easter eggs come together to deliver a room that absolutely deserves the title of must-play! Book your time in mom’s 80’s basement here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room Herndon provided comped tickets for this room.

 

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Jester (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

It’s all a barrel of laughs until Steve from Accounting gets murdered

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

In medieval times, most kings had a court jester to entertain and amuse them. On the night of the annual Masquerade Ball, King’s Court Technologies discovers it has its own jester. While most of the partygoers are dressed in masquerade attire complete with mask and beads, one mysterious character is seen dressed in a fool’s motley and a jester’s cap with bells. However, this jester’s purpose is not to entertain but, rather, to exact revenge on the king’s behalf. Who is this jester and why have they murdered three company employees on the roof? What has really been going on at King’s Court Technologies? Unmask The Jester and find out!

First Impressions:

Hot off the heels of the phenomenal The Dark and Stormy Night, we were thrilled to see yet another incredibly creative theme in The Jester. The Deadbolt Mystery Society has come up with some very interesting stories thematically, and the puzzles don’t slouch on the job either, so we’re always interested to see what new crime has landed on our doorstep each month.

High Points:

The Jester is definitely one of the more challenging boxes we’ve done, and though some of the long run time of this mystery was taken up by our quest for a particular office supply that had gone missing, it still took us a bit longer than usual to crack this mystery. This is not a bad thing however, as this box is full of mind bending conundrums and perplexing enigmas. One of my favorite parts of this case is the sheer number of suspects. There are quite a few more than the usual Deadbolt box, and this mechanic is handled fabulously, starting out as a seemingly overwhelming number of possible murderers, and paring down intuitively as the case progresses. The story itself is subtle, with clues slowly revealing what is really going on, and the slow burn of discovery is excellently paced out. The mystery of it all was beautifully captured, and the climax and denouement of this adventure were perfect.

The game flow is pretty great, and there are multiple avenues of investigation to head down, allowing for a non-linear solve that’s great for solo or group play. During a couple points, we split up to solve some of our favored puzzle types, and whenever we were stuck, there was always something else to explore in the mean time. There are loads of clever puzzles hidden within the evidence of this box, and it is all presented in the usual excellent fashion of a Deadbolt mystery, with a couple of great new styles of presentation that lent a sense of authenticity to the props. Several of these puzzles are also deceptively well layered, with subtle hints signposting how they connect with each other, and the use of one central item was brilliantly done. One of my favorite puzzles was a real conundrum, but was presented simply, and provided a wonderful moment of revelation once the simple, yet effective clue came into focus, shattering all the theories we developed while over thinking things.

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Low Points:

Though we really enjoyed the expanded suspect list, the experience lost that close up examination of the suspects themselves, and therefore we never got to enjoy the wild personalities that show up in many of the Deadbolt cases we’ve worked. While the epilogue delves into the personality of The Jester themselves, I missed getting a look into the mindset of the suspects during the case. One particular puzzle can be rather confusing, and needs a little more cluing in order to allow players to sort out what’s important, what isn’t, and how what is important should be organized. This particular puzzle eventually made sense, but only after a fairly big logical leap was made. The same goes for a particular code that is explained in fairly vague terms, necessitating a fair amount of guess and check before we landed on the most correct answer.

Verdict:

The Jester opens The Deadbolt Mystery Society’s 2020 slate of boxes fantastically, and continues to set a great tone for the mysteries of Valley Falls. As usual, I am looking forward to their next mysteries, and cannot wait to see what this year of sleuthing brings! The Jester is a challenging box, sure to test veteran Deadbolt detectives, but is imminently approachable for new players as well, leaving subtle clues to direct players along in their investigations. I definitely recommend checking it out when you can. 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!

8.5/10 (Great)

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

NC Escape – Alien Escape (Review)

Location: Durham, NC (Also available at Green Light Escape Room in Wilmington, NC)

Players: 3-8 (We Recommend 3-5)

Price: $26 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Revenge of the Aliens!

Theme:

From the NC Escape website:

You and your team awaken in what appears to be a cryogenic chamber… cold and confused in this dark space you must find your way to the control room before your captors realize you’re missing. This room is designed with experienced escape room players in mind.

First Impressions:

We had played the previous incarnation of this room at Green Light Escape in Wilmington, NC Escape’s sister location, and had a great time. Now two years later, we were interested to see how this room had evolved when it made its debut in Durham. After our previous two trips to the new and improved NC Escape, we were certain we were in for another exciting romp!

High Points:

The previous owners had housed the wholly disappointing Dreamscape within this room. What a difference new management makes, however, as the room is now completely unrecognizable, as well as leagues better than that game. In fact, compared to the original Alien Escape in Wilmington, this adventure is even cooler than the last, with updates to technology, scenery, and the addition of brand new puzzles. Though we had played this game a couple years ago, it didn’t feel like a retread, and whenever a puzzle we remembered came up, it was easy to pass it off to someone who hadn’t done it before and move to another interaction, as the non-linear experience is absolutely filled to the brim with puzzles. I’ll admit, there was one puzzle I didn’t get to do last time that I remembered thinking looked really fun, and I’m glad I was able to literally give it a whirl this go.

The set design has been updated, and looks even nicer than before, with some crazy props and tactile puzzles that work beautifully within the world of this escape. One particular large scale set piece has been upgraded quite a bit from the original, and it looks  absolutely amazing now. We really enjoyed how interactive the room felt, melding physical pieces with well hidden technology to ensure that the game was as immersive as possible. Sound design and lighting play a great part as well, and though I think Brewery Heist is the coolest set in the Durham area, Alien Escape certainly doesn’t slack off in this regard. In terms of puzzles, this room continues to be incredibly creative, and some of the new puzzles strike that great balance between seeming overwhelming at first, but becoming increasingly intuitive as we interacted with them. One puzzle in particular gave nothing away via a very minimalist presentation, but evolved into one of my favorite interactions in the room by the end. This puzzle, as well as a few other very clever enigmas, deliver some of the best ah ha moments I’ve had lately, and overall, they are just a blast to work through. The game flow is effortlessly smooth, and is paired up with some fantastically subtle signposting to ensure our group of five remained fully engaged with the adventure from start to finish.

Low Points:

There was one particular puzzle we came across that, for us, was easily hackable. In fact, we solved it in a way that it had not been done before, but we weren’t clear at all on how it was supposed to be solved until we inquired about it afterwards. The puzzle in question didn’t have a wholly intuitive way to solve in room, and could use a bit of cluing to ensure the usual method of solving makes more logical sense.

Verdict:

Alien Escape is a great adventure, and I’m glad that it has made it’s way to Durham! Even better, this game isn’t just a retread of what we played in Wilmington, but an updated and still immensely entertaining escape that was absolutely worth another look. I highly recommend checking out this room, as well as the others at the new and improved NC Escape. I cannot wait for their next creations! Book your time in the alien spaceship here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full disclosure: NC Escape provided comped tickets for our group.