Escape Room Fairfax – 2233: Fighting for the Future (Review)

Location: Fairfax, VA

Players: 2-7 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave… Until you solve a puzzle!

Theme:

From the Escape Room Fairfax website:

You and your teammates are members of a time-traveling resistance group from a dreary future where civilization itself has crumbled due to the rise of an Artificial Intelligence system gone haywire. A.L.I.S.O.N. (Artificial Lifeform and Intelligence System for Optimization of Nations) was created to improve society across the globe, but as it gained power, the system also became self-aware. Your team has arrived in the year 2233 on the very day A.L.I.S.O.N. took control of the arsenal of three global superpowers. She is not happy to see you. With time until chaos and destruction ticking down, will you and your teammates find a way to deactivate A.L.I.S.O.N. before you are short-circuited? The fate of the future is in your hands. Good luck.

First Impressions:

As far as we can tell, for the Northern Virginia area, Escape Room Fairfax boasts the largest amount of rooms in one business. Most of them had some pretty interesting themes, and their two newest rooms came recommended to us from one of our favorite GMs of all time, so we were excited to give them a shot! Our first was a very high tech looking sci-fi room; an exciting way to start! It also didn’t hurt that the evil A.I. was named after one of our teammates, injecting an excellent shot of humor into the experience.

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I always enjoy a well themed entrance to a room, and this one had cool lighting to boot!

High Points:

2233: Fighting for the Future has an interesting theme and set up, pitting players against a hostile A.I., and allowing for competitive pairing with Escape Room Fairfax’s other in-universe room, 1960: History of the Future. Both rooms have the goal of shutting down A.L.I.S.O.N. before she can eradicate humanity, and cross over with each other in interesting ways, filling out the story as you puzzle along. The room is filled to the brim with tech, as expected for a sci-fi story, and it works flawlessly, ensuring the room gives off a highly advanced vibe. There are some really great surprises as well, including a couple of moments where the lab’s time travel theme is capitalized on in a fascinating way! Almost everything within the room serves a distinct purpose, and it is mostly intuitive what goes where, eliminating red herrings from the game flow. The individual areas of the room cross over well with each other, and a couple of meta puzzles are built towards as teams work through all the enigmas, providing a real sense of progress from point to point. After the initial stages of the game, the flow opens up excellently, and allows for some great non-linear solving, with a few good teamwork puzzles peppered in to ensure everyone remains engaged. The climax provides some fantastic hands on interactions to round out the story, leading to an exciting conclusion to our showdown with the rogue A.I.

Low Points:

The game flow worked alright for the most part, but was especially rough during the beginning of the game, with a linearity that caused some major choke points during our experience. The culmination of this choppy initial stage was an escape room standard that was very lightly clued, and one critical part of the solution was completely random, causing us to fumble for a bit, wondering if this was even that kind of puzzle until the GM nudged us to keep following our original train of thought. When we triggered the solution for this one, we were completely bewildered as to how we were supposed to know to do what we did. The story for the room worked well for the most part, but A.L.I.S.O.N. was mostly absent from the proceedings. After the build up in the briefing towards this all powerful, malevolent A.I., we were really hoping to hear more from her, and actually face her down, but this did not happen. The props are nicely tactile, but fairly underwhelming for the theme, consisting mostly of wooden or plastic items that felt more fake than usual. While almost everything is important within the game, there are a few strange stickers around the room that detract from the high tech feel and serve seemingly no purpose.

Verdict:

While there are hiccups here and there, 2233: Fighting for the Future is a solid experience that escape enthusiasts and new players will enjoy. While there isn’t too much that will absolutely blow a veteran’s mind, there’s still some good puzzling fun to be found within the walls of A.L.I.S.O.N.’s lab. Book your time fighting for humanity’s future here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room Fairfax provided media discounted tickets for this room.

 

Escape Room Arlington – Mind Trap (Review)

Location: Arlington, VA

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

The Doctor will see you now.

Theme:

From the Escape Room Arlington website:

The good Doctor has always been a fan of clever games, especially over a vintage bottle of Amarone and an exquisite Foie de Veau painstakingly crafted with… extra special ingredients. After foolishly accepting an invite to one of his prestigious dinner parties, you find yourself trapped inside his dining room. Your task: crack the fiendishly clever puzzle he left behind, before the dinner bell chimes. Bon Appetit!

First Impressions:

The many escape rooms that are a part of the Ravenchase family have been some of our absolute favorite experiences in Virginia, and I have been wanting to visit their Arlington and Herndon locations for quite some time. The expectations were high as we stepped into our first Ravenchase room of this trip, and we absolutely were not disappointed at all!

High Points:

Mind Trap boasts a beautiful set, presenting us with an extremely well appointed dining room fit for someone of such… discerning tastes. As we started our adventure, nothing seemed amiss quite yet, but small hints peppered throughout the room hinted at the horrors that were to come. The dichotomy between that which the Doctor presents willingly and those things he keeps hidden is expertly designed, and this portrayal really benefits the room’s immersion and delivers a great surprise as it is revealed. The puzzles are somewhat non-linear, and kept our team entertained throughout with some fantastic tactile interactions, some of which are strange, but very intuitive. Most also involve some surprising reveal that we really enjoyed. Everything within the room matters, and the challenge in figuring out how to interact with the room is very well implemented. The connective tissue of the room is well signposted however, so we never felt an inkling of frustration while we explored the dingy halls of the Doctor’s madness.

The sinister nature of the Doctor pervades the entire room, and most interactions and puzzles are well designed to portray just how insidious he is. Scares are spaced just far enough to be effective, while still filling the room with enough horror to keep our team on their toes. The climax of the room is superb and totally unexpected, leading to a thrilling escape for the whole group. It’s really quite a simple addition to the room, but it works extremely well, injecting the experience with some fun psychological terror.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle takes some jostling to make sure everything falls together correctly, forcing the solve to become somewhat overlong. A few of the props have started to feel a little worn out, with dents and dings from seeing so many players come through. A couple of the puzzles within can feel a bit random, not really tying into the story quite a well, and feeling somewhat less immersive overall. Though the story is a great set up for the game, it doesn’t quite evolve, and we would’ve liked to find out a bit more about the good Doctor and those who came before and never left. It feels as though there’s just a little bit more beyond the final door that could be explored.

Verdict:

Mind Trap is an excellent room, especially for those that enjoy the sinister and spooky! Approachable for newbies, while still presenting a fun challenge and great surprises for veterans, I wholeheartedly recommend checking this experience out if you find yourself in Arlington. Book your dinner party with the good Doctor here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room Arlington provided media discounted tickets for this room.

Sleuth Kings – Rookie Detective Case 101: The Wolf Among Us (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $15 per box

Alright rookie, I’m putting you on the case!

Theme:

From the Sleuth Kings website:

Dave Talbot’s life took an unexpected turn when he woke up with a strange bite mark and no memory of the night before. A mysterious note claiming that Dave has been turned into a werewolf is his only clue about what happened. Luckily, the note claims that there is a cure for Dave’s new condition, but there’s a catch – it’s $30,000. Can you help Sullivan uncover the truth about the curse and find the cure before Dave is howling at the moon?

First Impressions:

Sleuth Kings will soon be releasing their newest subscription box offering, Sleuth Kings: Rookie Detective. Promising to be a more streamlined and simpler experience for those that would like a quicker mystery at a reduced price, it promises to be a great game for new sleuths, families, and those on a budget. This particular mystery was loosely based on one of my favorite Master Detective cases, Case 013: The Beast Within, a spooky yet silly mystery from last year that we really enjoyed, so we couldn’t wait to dive in!

With that in mind, this review has been written strictly keeping in mind that this is a specifically targeted experience that may not appeal strongly to those seeking a challenge and the rating has been set accordingly.

High Points:

What has been promised as a streamlined experience has absolutely been delivered on. As an experienced Sleuth Kings player, it’s actually a lot of fun to see how puzzles have been adjusted to clue newer solvers in to how certain codes and solutions work. A lot of old school decoding methods that most enthusiasts have learned to spot immediately are tuned to keep a beginner experience level in mind, and really delivers an intuitive game that leads beginning players towards satisfying solves without holding their hand completely. I feel like Rookie Detective is an awesome way to introduce players to the complicated world of puzzle hunts and more complex subscription boxes, something the market really doesn’t have. This box really is a great stepping stone, and something I wish had been around when I was a baby puzzler! The whole experience still retains that great Sleuth Kings polish, and introduces players to the world without being overwhelming.

The props and printed items are just as awesome as those within the usual subscription, now called “Master Detective,” and though there are fewer items, they still look great as ever. Interactions with Sullivan have remained unchanged, and while there are obviously fewer of them due to the shorter nature of these cases, they are just as well implemented and deliver the story excellently. The whole narrative is light hearted, and very humorous in spots, so it makes for a perfect game for families who want to share their puzzling obsession with kids who may not yet be old enough for the Master boxes, but are old enough to be interested in solving alongside their parents.

Overall, even though we are very experienced with Sleuth Kings and puzzles in general, we found ourselves having a lot of fun solving this box. It was just plain fun to work through, and presents a fun, streamlined twist on the formula that I’m sure the target audience for Rookie Detective will absolutely love as well.

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Return to Club Mannaro, where rubes are tricked into thinking they’re turning into Werewolves!

Low Points:

One particular clue makes reference to a number that doesn’t appear, which becomes a confusing typo to start with. Veteran sleuths who may be looking for more Sleuth Kings in their life will probably blow right through these cases, so master detectives will still have to wait for their once a month boxes to come in. However, this box is squarely aimed at those looking for a streamlined game, so in that regard, there’s very little not to like here.

Verdict:

For brand new puzzle detectives, Sleuth King’s Rookie Detective series promises to be a great time! With that in mind, veterans will want to keep their Master Detective subscriptions in place, but may enjoy this box if they have kids or less puzzle inclined friends who would like to join in! I recommend giving this a shot if most puzzle boxes feel too intimidating or if you’re looking to ease yourself into the world of subscription mysteries! Though this is only the first box in the Rookie Detective line, I absolutely think this is a great stepping stone towards becoming a better puzzle solver overall. You can purchase previous cases from 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!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

Bond’s Escape Room – The Sleepover Slaughterhouse (Review)

Location: Arlington, VA

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

A Tubular 80’s Sleepover!

Theme:

From the Bond’s Escape Room website:

You and your teammates have been triple-dog-dared to spend the night in a TOTALLY spooky mansion that nobody has gone to in a wicked long time. You’re planning a night filled with spin the bottle, ouija boards, and more. Bodacious!When you show up, all seems chill, but the longer you loiter, the less righteous it gets. Abandoned houses tend to be abandoned for a reason. Hopefully it’s not demons or anything like that.You will have just one hour to find a way to reverse the curse you’ve stumbled upon before your party’s slumber becomes permanent.

First Impressions:

For my birthday this year, we scheduled a huge escape room marathon to the Northern Virginia/DC area consisting of 23 rooms and what better way to kick off such a marathon than with a brand new horror room? Our first escape after landing in Virginia was The Sleepover Slaughterhouse, a new room from Bond’s Escape Room that promised to be a spooky good time! 80’s slasher movies are a personal favorite, so I definitely had high hopes!

High Points:

The set of The Sleepover Slaughterhouse is fantastic, with some really cool hand built props that contain some really great surprises! The spooky vibe of the experience was joined together with some great 80’s iconography to deliver that VHS slasher movie experience that we were thrilled to see. The lighting plays an excellent part, evolving with the game flow, and sound design is well implemented also. Many of the puzzles within the room are incredibly clever, and react in ways that are wholly unexpected, leading to some really cool reveals and satisfying moments of revelation. One in particular uses some innocuous and well hidden in plain sight items to pull together a solution that feels like a real win once it has been solved. The subtlety of some of these enigmas are coupled with some great clues that wrap things together nicely without forgoing the challenge, which is a difficult balance. The room seems to take inspiration from several horror franchises, and it’s cool to pick up on these nods. Even better, the room stands as it’s own experience without ripping off any established intellectual property, which is sadly a rarity.

Low Points:

The vast majority of the puzzles within this room are very linear, leading our group of five to hit several points at which there just wasn’t enough to do to keep our group fully immersive and engaged with the room. This, coupled with some hiccups in the connectivity of the game itself caused multiple choke points where we were casting about for what to do next. This became more apparent when there were leaps of logic present in a couple of the puzzles, presenting more frustration than challenge. The beginning of the room, for example, was very rough, as though we had everything we needed to solve a particular puzzle, there wasn’t quite enough of a connection between the clues and the solution to be fully intuitive, especially since there was somewhat of a red herring included with these items, leading us to believe they were for a later puzzle. There is one particular bit of aimless searching that would have been better served as a puzzle, and the method of hiding this particular item led to groans of frustration. A bit of iteration on the sign posting and cluing, however, would alleviate a lot of these issues, as well as help these otherwise very creative puzzles shine.

There were a few great ideas that unfortunately fell somewhat flat, as the promise behind these moments were not quite delivered on. A particular urban legend is referenced a few times within the room, and we expected so much more from this teaser than was delivered. This led to an overall anti-climax when dealing with these puzzles, as anticipation ran high when the room seemed to telegraph an interaction that never materialized. The story itself is set up excellently in the early part of the game, but unfortunately never seems to go anywhere. The latter part of the game is flashy and fun, but we would have loved to see more story included within the game to give our actions more purpose overall. Overall, the later parts of the room just felt sparse, story and puzzle wise, and filling in those gaps would do wonders for this experience.

Verdict:

The Sleepover Slaughterhouse is an okay experience that can definitely become something really great with a bit of iteration and tightening of the game flow. We found the staff to be responsive and fairly open to our criticisms, one of which was fixed soon after we left! The designers at Bond’s definitely care about the quality of their rooms, so I’m sure this one will evolve and improve. Though it didn’t quite blow our minds, puzzle wise, it certainly wasn’t a bad room, and we had a good time for the most part. I recommend giving it a shot if you’re looking to scratch the escape room itch. Book your time in the Sleepover Slaughterhouse here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: Bond’s Escape Room provided media discounted tickets for this room.

 

Can You Rob The Bank? Dallas, TX – Wild West Bank Robbery (Review)

Editor’s Note: Today’s review comes to us from Texas correspondent, Cathy Nanni! Thanks Cathy for another great review, and for making us jealous about this room!

Location: Dallas, TX

Players:  Up to 10 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $28.00 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Get the gold and get out before the white hats arrive!

Theme:

Strap on your chaps and put on your ten gallon hat. It’s time to rob the local bank. Following the footsteps of Billy the Kid, can you and your team of bandits grab the gold and ride off into the sunset before the sheriff catches you?

First Impressions:

Jill, the owner of Can You Rob the Bank?, was incredibly warm and welcoming, and her passion for her business and the hobby of escaping was evident from the minute I walked in the door. If you recall my last review, I experienced one of the worst rooms I’d ever played, (also a Western Bank Heist,) with some friends who were new to the hobby. Jill assured me that we would have a much better time at “Can You Rob the Bank?” so I invited a few of those friends back to join me. I’m so glad I did because we had a fantastic time!

High Points:

In the spacious lobby, there is an interactive wall display of all the various locks used in the rooms at Can You Rob the Bank? As an educator, I appreciate this because many people are tactile learners and would therefore benefit greatly from learning how to use the locks before entering the room. Though several escape rooms do demonstrate how to use their locks during their briefings, having a hands on experience is much more beneficial. It was a small touch but another indicator of how important it is to Jill that her players have fun and aren’t bogged down by mechanical errors.

The room itself was decorated excellently with many “wild west” touches, including pictures of outlaws on the walls, cowboy boots, and wood paneling.  Even though the room contained all the props that I’ve come to associate with a wild west bank themed room, (safety deposit boxes, poker table, and a vault,) the puzzles and clues were so entertaining that it didn’t feel overdone.  The clue delivery system was also on theme which I always appreciate. When a hint is needed, players use an antique wall mounted phone providing a fun and immersive way to interact with the GM. I appreciate it when a room has a thematically appropriate clue system especially when it runs smoothly as this one. The puzzles were fun, intuitive, and on theme. My favorite was one that gave you a chance to test your quick shooting skills allowing you to feel like you truly are participating in a bank heist. The puzzles are also a good mix and easy and challenging. Even with the more difficult puzzles, we didn’t reach a level of frustration that lessened the fun we were having and our party of three felt fully engaged with the room throughout the experience. I appreciated how on theme the puzzles where, as even when looking for codes for numeric and alpha locks, the clues were crafted in a way that ensured everything remained in theme.

Low Points:

There really weren’t any low points for this room, but if I had to be nit picky, I’d say there is one puzzle involving pictures that caused a bit of a time suck due to our team having different interpretations of the clue. My only other low point was that I enjoyed the room so much I was ready to do a second room after, but unfortunately, my friends needed to eat dinner. Next time, I’ll bring snacks!

Verdict:

My friends and I can’t wait to return to Can You Rob the Bank? to try their other rooms! Jill, the owner and our GM, was a wonderful host and the room was fantastically engaging for veteran players those new to the hobby. If you’re in the Dallas area, I recommend checking out this local business! You can attempt your Wild West Bank Robbery here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Can You Rob the Bank offered a discount and private room to our group.