Escape Room RVA – Genie’s Lamp (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

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

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

I dream of Genie

Theme:

During your travels, you’ve come across a lamp similar to that described in the 1001 Arabian Nights, and on a lark you rub it to see what will happen. Much to your surprise, the lamp begins to emit a smoke, coalescing into the form of a wish djinn! Unfortunately for you, the tricksy djinni has had millennia to devise a way to twist your wishes, and he’s trapped you inside his lamp so that he can go free. The magic is unstable, though, and if you can determine a way out within the hour, you can reverse the curse! If not, you’d better get comfortable.

First Impressions:

Genie’s lamp is the newest room at Escape RVA, and is yet another in a string of highly original ideas coming from the folks that brought us Unicorns vs. Vampires, one of my favorite theme ideas of all time! In fact, this is the room that replaced those, so upon entering the genie’s lounge, there was a slight bit of nostalgic familiarity to the room. The colors were bright and the set design was alluring, so we immediately got to escaping!

High Points:

Though Genie’s Lamp felt familiar to us because of our adventures as Unicorns and Vampires last year, Escape Room RVA ensured that the experience felt fresh by flipping the script in several places. We enjoyed reminiscing about spots we remembered, while still being served up a fresh set of puzzles and loads of new surprises that wowed us. One particular interaction was highly unexpected, and had me grinning while I completed the task. Another highly interesting part involved a door I had loads of fun unlocking, becoming a puzzle in itself, which is an idea I’ve only seen a couple times before and think is a wonderful, outside the box way of presenting this sort of enigma. The bright and beautiful atmosphere is a welcome respite from the usual run of dark and dreary horror themed games, and though we love those, its always nice to have something a bit more light hearted and colorful. The climax was appropriately engaging and was an excellent way to end the escape, with a few tactile puzzles and one that played with perspective in a fun way.

Low Points:

On the whole, Genie’s Lamp felt disjointed. There were a lot of puzzles to complete, but they mostly felt disconnected from the theme, feeling somewhat less like the home of a powerful djinn, and more like the lounge of a Hollywood actress with some slightly Arabian Nights inspired decorative tastes. One puzzle along those lines felt weirdly out of place, shoehorned in randomly, and feeling more like filler than an engaging interaction. Another contained a superfluous interaction that we never quite understood, despite figuring out the code. The connective tissue during the game flow never quite took hold, and rather than feeling as though we were playing through a tightly knit adventure, the experience was more like floating from point to point without a real story or goal beyond get out of the room. While that usually isn’t that bad of a thing, we’ve come to really enjoy Escape Room RVA’s objective based games that involve a little more story.

Verdict:

There are some really great ideas within Genie’s Lamp and the basic premise is ripe for an inspired experience, possibly because the game is still fairly new, it doesn’t quite hold us to the usual standard of excellence that Escape RVA has set for Richmond. However, having escaped 5 other fantastic rooms at this company, I know that they can iterate this one to make it truly shine. That said, it isn’t a bad game in any respect, just not as amazing as their others. Newer players and those who care less for theme and story will have a lot of fun in this more puzzle focused room, but enthusiasts will probably enjoy their other offerings, Cake or Death and Vanity, much more. You can book your time escaping the lamp here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

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

Warehouse 29 – The Dark Raven Museum (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Players: 3-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 90 minutes

Our biggest escape yet.

Theme:

From the Warehouse 29 website:

Come explore the mangled heart of the Dark Raven Museum. An institution that once stood at the forefront of machine learning technology, has now fallen to chaos in the wake of an unforeseeable event. The museum’s custodial AI, a meticulous recreation of Edgar Allan Poe himself, has become infected with a madness much like that of his namesake. He has escaped his programming, seized control of the museum technology, and taken his creators hostage. So far all attempts to shackle the AI and restore order have ended in disaster. We are counting on you to succeed where everyone else has failed: face Poe, and restore the Dark Raven Museum to its former glory.

First Impressions:

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Warehouse 29, as we’ve heard many good things, and the site promises something truly unique. Further, it is a collaboration between Escape Room RVA and River City Escape Room, our two absolute favorite escape room businesses in Richmond. It’s putting it mildly to say that we had very high expectations for this game. To begin our experience, we met at Legends Brewery, where we were instructed to be ten minutes before our start time. Luckily, we were there very early and were able to enjoy lunch at the Brewery before our game, and I highly recommend it. At the appointed time, we gathered at the meeting point, and the adventure started with a highly immersive bang!

High Points:

After making our rendezvous with the agents of Warehouse 29, (and being denied our usual $100,000 upfront fee for these kinds of things, which we are still waiting on,) we were introduced to Warehouse 29 and the Dark Raven Museum itself. The experience itself takes place within a 7,000 square foot area, and upon glimpsing the initial areas, we knew that none of that space would be wasted at all. After an excellent in-character briefing, we set to work by donning our VR packs and jumping in! The Dark Raven Museum uses VR for about a third of the game to bring the experience to life in an incredibly unique way. The implementation is superb, and the whole experience benefits from it; allowing your team a full range of motion over a large area that’s fully part of the virtual space. This part of the game is very smooth, and involves some great interactions and wildly immersive puzzles and atmosphere. It truly is something that has to be experienced, and I look forward to seeing what can be done with this burgeoning tech in the future.

As we moved to the next part of the experience, we were once again greeted by an actor who definitely added to the experience while still allowing us the freedom to continue puzzling and cracking jokes. At this point, we were inside what felt like a more traditional escape room, but on a much larger scale. The whole thing is filled to the brim with amazing set design and well thought out enigmas. This area on it’s own would be a crown jewel in a traditional escape room, and it is only another third of the experience! While large, it didn’t feel junky or full of red herrings, and everything we found felt important to the over arching experience. The game flow was non-linear enough to keep our team engaged, and I can definitely see the maximum of eight players getting their money’s worth as well. All of the puzzles and interactions played well into the theme, and there were several points at which we were appropriately wowed by the design. On top of all that, fans of Edgar Allen Poe’s work will be very pleased to see that the game is saturated with easter eggs based on his many stories and poems. These are well placed and feel like loving homages rather than items placed without purpose.

We’d only been through about two thirds of the game at this point, but we were still having the time of our lives with the awesome game flow, fantastic signposting of clues, and particularly great storyline. When we finished up with this area, we were once again treated to what felt like a live action, interactive cut scene from a video game, and yet another large area was introduced, along with another great game mechanic that truly ratcheted up the tension. This part of the game tied in very well, and brought up some hanging threads that had been hinted at during the earlier parts of the game. These surprises were insanely fun, and the final puzzles and the climax of the adventure were some of the best story telling I’ve seen in an escape room. Honestly, everything about this adventure knocked it out of the park. I’ve never quite experienced something so full of action, adventure, and interactivity beyond a video game, and Warehouse 29 is much, much more than a game, it’s a phenomenal escape adventure!

Low Points:

The only thing I’d say would’ve made our experience better is if the actors were a little more improvisational with us. We’ve had games in the past where the live actors read our group and adjusted to fit our, admittedly weird, sense of humor, and those moments really shined for us while still immersing us in the story. While the actors did a fantastic job overall, especially during the beginning, where they did respond to our input well, there were a few parts in the middle section where we could tell they weren’t quite sure what to do with us, (mostly me, really,) so they stuck to the script. Overall, not a bad thing, but really the only “low point” that sticks out to me at all.

Verdict:

Warehouse 29 is a wholly unique event that is truly second to none! The marriage of VR, live action interactive theatre, and escape rooms works perfectly, and this adventure is something any escape enthusiast or thrill seeker should absolutely experience! Beginners and veterans alike will find something new and exciting here, and I cannot recommend The Dark Raven Museum enough. If you only have the time to visit one escape room while in Richmond, make it Warehouse 29. You can book your time battling rogue AI Edgar Allen Poe here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Warehouse 29 provided media discounted tickets for this room.

River City Escape Room – Alice in Wonderland (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-6 )

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Down the Rabbit Hole

Theme:

From the River City Escape Room website:

Sliding into Wonderland trapped and all Alone…The steps you take are perilous with clues not easily shown.Your Reality is different than ours, as time employs its wrath. Whether growing big or shrinking small, follow the un-logical path.All we know of this MAD world is the Queen rules the day. She must be pleased to leave Wonderland or else you ALL must stay!

First Impressions:

We’ve only done one other Alice themed room, and while fun, it is unfortunately closed. Another of those themes that seem like it’d be amazing for an escape room, but woefully underutilized, I was excited to embark on another trip to Wonderland. With a total of four difficulty levels ranging from Easy to Impossible, we were also interested to see how the room would challenge us. For this adventure, we chose the difficulty tier just under impossible, hard. Impossible just sounded too, well… impossible. We were briefed on our mission, and down the rabbit hole we went!

High Points:

To start, our game master Rachel was by far the best, most personable game master that we have ever had the pleasure of working with. It was obvious from the start that she was passionate about escape rooms and really loves what she does. It is not an exaggeration to say that the whole experience was made even more exciting and fun because of her efforts. The room itself is a wonder to behold, with a colorful and engaging set that is absolutely full of glorious references to the Disney classic. The theming is based more on the whimsical nature of that influential film, rather than the darker live action version, and I think the room benefits from the more light hearted feel. The use of space throughout the experience is amazing, with twists, turns, and dips immersing us within the story and making us feel as though we were growing and shrinking like Alice herself!

One immediate thing we noticed about this room, was that there was a complete lack of locks, and all interactions were technical, and not technical puzzles that just replaced locks, like keypads; this room was completely creative in its presentation of a lockless room! The puzzle flow itself was fantastic, with a couple non-linear paths that wove back towards linearity for the most part, but kept our group of five engaged throughout. Kudos to River City Escape Room for building a room that houses 2-6 players comfortably space and game flow wise, and sticking to that maximum. As hinted at by the introduction and theme, there is a trail of “unlogic” to follow throughout the room, and this is true of several of the puzzles. Don’t worry, however, it is all based within the theme of Alice in Wonderland, and isn’t a game that is completely illogical for the sake of difficulty. In fact, I feel like for a group of enthusiasts, the hard difficulty was just right. The climax of the room is highly interactive and is an appropriately entertaining ending for such a wonderfully creative adventure!

Low Points:

There were a couple of points where lighting came into play and made the game more difficult because we couldn’t properly gauge colors or read a certain excerpt of text. A small spotlight to help ease this difficulty might be nice while still allowing for the trippy Alice in Wonderland colors to liven up the rooms.

Verdict:

River City Escape Room really blew our minds with this amazing experience, the creative and engaging theme, excellent game flow, immersive set, and perfect game mastery combined to deliver an experience truly worthy of Wonderland. I cannot recommend this one enough, and the different difficulty levels are sure to engage all players new and old! You can book your trip down the rabbit hole here!

9/10 (Excellent)

 

Riddle Me This Escape Rooms (Formerly Room Escape USA) – Rock Star (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

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

Price: $25 per person, Private Sun-Thurs or any day with a 4 player/$100 minimum

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Swan Song

Theme:

From the Room Escape USA website:

Dean Waylon is the front man of the band, Us, Them, Or Dean. Tonight, they will be performing the last show of their concert run but Dean is nowhere to be found. As private investigators, your backstage passes give you access to his private studio.  They are set to take the stage in 60 minutes. Find the clues and solve the puzzles that lead to his whereabouts before that time.

First Impressions:

I’ve only done one musically themed room before, and it was pretty excellent, so I was excited to see another during our trip to Richmond. With a more mysterious and objective based theme, it seemed that Rock Star would be an excellent adventure! On top of that, this room is advertised as Room Escape USA’s most difficult room, and we always like a good challenge! We were given our backstage passes and immediately went to work.

High Points:

The set for Rock Star is compact, but believable, with excellent props and a great sound track to get you in the mood for musical meditation on myriad mindgames. It was really immersive to be able to interact with the wide range of instruments and sound equipment, some of which looked nice enough to prompt one of our teammates to ask if we were truly allowed to touch all this stuff! Though there are a lot of fantastic props decorating the entire experience, at no point does the game feel cluttered or messy, and everything felt as though it was important to the mystery or the slowly but surely evolving storyline.

The game flow of this adventure is solid, if highly challenging. The difficulty, however, never feels unfair or obtuse, rather, everything is embedded within the game cleverly, requiring excellent perception, teamwork, and attention to detail. Puzzles flow from point to point well, with each signposting towards the lock they’re meant to open in excellent ways. Interactions within the room were varied, ensuring everyone on our team of five remained engaged, while allowing us to shine individually when a puzzle within our wheelhouse was discovered. Clues emerged naturally as well, popping into our heads during solves as a clue triggered remembrance of something we may have thought was a throwaway decoration or random tidbit included for immersion’s sake. These surprises kept up during most of the room, and it was always fun to find a new ah ha moment during each step of the game.

Low Points:

A lot of clues were presented via paper, which isn’t necessarily a poor choice overall, but can sometimes feel as though puzzles are more from a coffee table book than from the green room of a rock band. One particular puzzle can feel somewhat arduous without at least a small bit of musical background, as even though the knowledge is somewhat basic, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that some groups may be unfamiliar with this enigma’s specific tells. I also feel the room/game flow would be fairly cramped with more than 6 people, especially since the difficulty caters to a more experienced crowd.

Verdict:

Rock Star was my favorite room at Room Escape USA, and absolutely a great challenge to take on with an experienced group of escape enthusiasts. Beginners should get a few rooms under their belts before taking this one on, or be willing to take a clue here and there to keep things rockin’. You can book your time facing the music here!

8/10 (Great)

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

Escape Room RVA – Cake or Death? (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $25 per person, (All experiences Private Monday-Saturday, four person minimum to book)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

No, I do believe I’ve changed my mind, I’d like the Cake, please.

Theme:

From Escape Room RVA’s website, since their theme description is fantastic:

When the circus closed, tensions grew and the drinking got out of hand. Krinkle the Clown did not take it well, and spiraled to a dark place. To support his habits, he started booking gigs at children’s birthday parties which proved to be his undoing. One dark night, he came back to the shuttered fun house, where he and the other Carnies lived. He was stark raving mad and screaming about cake. Apparently, no one remembered his birthday….it’s up to you to solve the madness. Do you have what it takes?

First Impressions:

Escape Room RVA was the crown jewel of our previous trip to Richmond, housing the enormously creative, yet unfortunately retired, Unicorns vs. Vampires rooms. With a couple more extremely original themes having gone live since our previous visit, we were excited to return to make our choice between Cake or Death. Unfortunately, we were not greeted by Eddie Izzard to start, but no game is perfect, I suppose!

High Points:

Horror themes, especially those regarding crazed killers who’ve kidnapped your group, are fairly ubiquitous in the escape room industry. I have a soft spot for them, but it is always nice to see a unique take on the genre from time to time, and Cake or Death is absolutely that! Housed within a run down funhouse, the clashing pops of lighthearted color and evident dismemberment mix together to create a creepy atmosphere and immersive set. The way that the experience physically twists and turns kept everyone on their toes throughout, and though we had played a room in this same area and recognized some of the spaces, overall, it felt like an entirely unique set. The icing on the cake is the interactions with our GM, Krinkle himself. While not physically inside the room, his presence is always felt, a humorous, yet subtly (and sometimes not so subtly,) threatening figure that brought a whole new level of immersion to the game.

Puzzles themselves are wildly creative for the most part, with the vast majority of them involving some sort of tactile interaction to solve. The props themselves are tied well into the theme, and belong in the run down fun house home of a band of down on their luck carnies. Two big items in particular worked in clever ways to provide solutions that were hidden in plain sight and provided enormously satisfying ah ha moments when solved. The game’s progression is non-linear and can keep a larger group fully engaged with the adventure throughout. The progression is also blissfully free of any overlong or tedious choke points, allowing for each culmination of a puzzle thread to come to a conclusion elegantly and without frustration.

Low Points:

Escape RVA’s website noted that there would be a bit more climbing and crawling than usual in this room, but even that felt like an understatement after the amount of bending, ducking, and climbing we did. The spots that required climbing could’ve benefitted from a stepstool, as at average height, I was still having trouble safely getting over what I needed to. I don’t mind physicality in rooms, but a misstep would’ve been slightly more dangerous than usual here. Some cluing could be cleaned up a bit, as there are moments of vagary that tend to cause the logical progression to stall in places. The final climax of the room is a good finish, but to trigger our escape, we had to contend with some fairly finicky tech.

Verdict:

Cake or Death is a unique take on the Serial Killer/Killer Clown genre of escape rooms. While the game flow does hiccup here and there, it’s still a solid horror themed room that we had a lot of fun messing around in while we solved Krinkle’s challenges! If you’re a fan of horror and aren’t too skittsh about the crazy clown theme, I’d definitely recommend checking out this funhouse of horrors! You can book your time at Krinkle’s birthday party here!

7.5/10 (Good)