River City Escape Room – Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Lord Byron’s Murder (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

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

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Elementary

Theme:

From the River City Escape Room website:

Scotland Yard has brought you an intriguing case. Eccentric Lord Byron had a feeling his days were numbered, and now he has been found dead under suspicious circumstances. A will that benefits a distant cousin has been found, but his nephew claims it was forged. In his home, Lord Byron has left clues on where to find the original will and how to identify his killer. The judge will execute the forged will in one hour unless you can locate the original. Help the nephew by finding the original will before the greedy cousin claims the estate!

First Impressions:

After the stunning one two punch of Alice in Wonderland and Innocent!, we were raring to take on another room at River City Escape. After debriefing from Innocent! and having a quick chat about the room, we huddled into the briefing room again to get started!

High Points:

For this last River City Escape Room review, (for now, we’re definitely returning,) I would be remiss not to mention the fantastic game mastering done by Rachel and Dennis, our favorite GMs of all time! Thanks again guys for an astoundingly good experience. The room was well decorated, with a roomy set filled with puzzles to engage with, giving off the vibe of a cozy British study. The adventure starts in a non-linear fashion, and there is plenty to work on throughout to keep a larger group occupied. The room does encapsulate the spirit of Sherlock by presenting a game in which all the little details matter, and some of the biggest clues can be found in plain sight, as long as detectives know what they’re looking for! Many times, we would find items around the room that seemed innocent enough, but once we’d solved a puzzle, we’d find that our next step involved these newly identified clues. The mystery was very intuitive due to this, and we always felt like we were right on track, even if the solution was still evading us.

The game flow benefits greatly from the intuitive cluing included within Sherlock. The connective tissue of the game is well woven, and presents many ah ha moments throughout. Most stages of the game included a moment of revelation where everything came together, and the entire experience was an excellent run of satisfying solves. I actually have a difficult time determining what my favorite puzzle was, as the puzzles were constantly keeping me on that puzzler’s high while still presenting a fair challenge to us all. The quality of River City Escape Room is really evident from start to finish, and by the time we were done, we were already ready to return.

Low Points:

The introduction video for Sherlock is a bit silly. The theme it describes and the tone/word choices present the theme less like a Sherlock room, and more like a down home, country murder. This isn’t really a bad thing, it actually sounds like a super creative theme, it just doesn’t jive with the current stated ambiance of the room. It certainly didn’t dull our enthusiasm for the room, but it was fairly dissonant. Overall, the Sherlock theme wasn’t all that present, seeming more to be a light dusting of Sherlockian tropes to get the mystery started, and wasn’t really the main focus of the story. Black light usage was pretty heavy for part of this room, but all of it was properly directed, so this wasn’t a huge problem.

Verdict:

After sleuthing our way through Sherlock, it’s apparent that in terms of great customer service, engaging puzzles, and exciting escapes, River City Escape Room is tough to beat! I absolutely recommend trying out Sherlock, or any other room they offer, as their experiences are a delight. Book your time solving Lord Byron’s murder here!

8/10 (Great)

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

River City Escape Room – Innocent! (Review)

Location: Richmond, VA

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

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

I didn’t do it!

Theme:

From the River City Escape Room website:

The River City is shaken by two ghastly murders. You were just passing through town, having a few drinks at the local bar and someone picks a fight; no big deal, but this time is different. You’re in custody, accused of those murders! You’re booked into the local jail when the police are called away. You have an hour to prove your innocence and escape before its too late.

First Impressions:

Originally, we had only planned to run through one room at River City Escape Room, but after our excellent experience with Alice in Wonderland, our amazing GM Rachel invited us to return the next day. Reasonably sure that the other rooms would be astounding, we gratefully accepted, eschewing the privilege of sleeping in in order to do a couple more rooms at River City!

High Points:

When we returned to River City Escape Room, we were greeted not only by our favorite GM of the weekend, Rachel, but another GM, Dennis, who had come to assist with our rooms as well. I can say, without reservation, after completing 227 rooms, Rachel and Dennis are the best Game Masters we have ever had, full stop. The room itself did not disappoint either. Innocent! is the most challenging room River City has, with an advertised 15% escape rate, but it was a fair challenge. No obtuse, “read our minds” puzzles to be found here! We began by splitting our group into two, one behind bars and the other roaming the police station searching for a way to spring our friends from their confinement! Almost every time our group is split during an escape room, one half, (usually mine,) is in a much duller room and the other half solves way more interesting puzzles, but this was not the case here! There was plenty to do on either side of the bars during our short time apart, and the group came back together at a reasonable point during the game flow.

Speaking of game flow, the flow and connective tissue of the game here are excellent! Our group of five was never fumbling about for something to do, and even when we were stuck, we were actively engaged in the adventure. Further, there was a fantastic puzzle density coupled with a mostly non-linear set-up that allowed for a large group of enthusiasts to always have something to work on. Several of the puzzles encouraged teamwork, and effective communication is rewarded by highly satisfying solves. Every solve also contained some form of feedback, so we always knew where to go next, and all levels of the game were intuitively directed, but in subtle ways, challenging the players to sort out all the little details in order to make their escape! The set itself is well done, and though a police station is a pretty standard room theme, this one is decorated well enough to stand out from the crowd. At no point did it feel as if we were in a boring, converted office space, and the immersion was greatly bolstered by this. There were even a couple of reveals that were huge surprises, which is awesome to see as escape veterans! The story is light, but fun, and fitting for the room, and the final puzzle and climax are great, leaving us basking in the glow of a thrilling break out!

Low Points:

There was a fair few interactions that just required searching about, and those sections felt overly like a scavenger hunt, though luckily our team, notorious as we are for being bad at searching, was able to find these items without burning a hint.

Verdict:

Overall, Innocent! was a highly intuitive, but immensely challenging experience that we really enjoyed. Though newer players may want to get a room or two under their belt before taking this challenge on, just to hone their escape room senses, I think it’d still be a great adventure for any player to take on. Full of surprises and engaging interactions, I absolutely recommend checking this place out. Book your escape from Innocent! here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: River City Escape Room 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)