Escapology Columbia – Mansion Murder (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $29.99 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Keyed Up, Consulting Detectives

Theme:

From the Escapology Columbia website:

Scottish Highlands; New Year’s Eve, 1999.

You are Robert Montgomerie, the only remaining direct heir to the Kildermorie Estate and the Montgomerie family fortune. You’re attending a family gathering, hosted by your Grandfather, Hugh ‘Monty’ Montgomerie, the 9th Earl of Kildermorie to celebrate the dawn of the new Millennium.

As the guests raise a toast, a scream fills the air…Your Grandfather is found dead in the library – and it looks like MURDER!

Suddenly, you’re bundled into the Drawing Room and the door is locked. Confused, you bang on the door and call for help until it dawns on you… that as the direct heir, all fingers are pointed at you! You realize you’ve been framed! But who would want to kill your Grandfather… and why?

 

First Impressions:

Our final room at Escapology Columbia was Mansion Murder, and we were still jazzed to solve the mystery after five straight rooms! There’s not much more to be said that we haven’t already in our five other reviews, (which you can read here,) so let’s jump right in!

High Points:

The room itself was very well designed, boasting perhaps the best set we’d seen at Escapology, and the décor kept up to that standard throughout. There were several great surprises held within this Scottish mansion, with several points at which triggering a puzzle solution opened up a seamless door or prop. The game flow is an excellent mix of tactile interactions, clever puzzling, and intuitive searching. The mostly non linear game kept our group of four very entertained, with multiple puzzles and interactions available at any given time.

We also enjoyed that there was a particular puzzle that could be solved in a couple different ways, allowing us to stretch our brains a little more than usual. Of course, this came at the expense of us doing it the easier way, and was most likely not the intended way to solve this conundrum, but it was a fun solve in any case. The storyline that evolved throughout the room was a great touch, and continued to evoke an Agatha Christie-esque feel, which if you’ve read our review of Budapest Express, you know we love! It’s so sadly rare for an escape room to remain on theme throughout the experience and truly deliver an immersive story, so it was fantastic that Mansion Murder was able to do so!

Low Points:

One puzzle involves math, which is always a bummer, but this particular one was also entirely too vague for something that demanded such a specific answer. It was one of those that makes sense only after you’ve solved the puzzle as other, more straightforward answers tend to be more reasonable. There was also the issue of a red herring appearing during this puzzle that further threw the flow out of whack, leading to more frustration than enjoyment. We were also able to accidentally trigger the solution to one puzzle from idly playing with one of the larger props, but it’s very unlikely to happen, and was more a result of sheer, ridiculous luck.

Verdict:

Easily one of the best rooms at Escapology Columbia, I highly recommend trying out Mansion Murder for a story based mystery that will keep you immersed until the end! Boasting an excellently built set, mostly smooth puzzling flow, and some great hidden surprises, it’s definitely an excellent time for beginners and enthusiasts alike! Book your time in Grandpa Monty’s manor here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Escapology Columbia provided comped tickets for our team.

Escape Artist Greenville – Classified (Review)

Location: Greenville, SC

Players: 4-5 (This is a hard limit, you must have 4 or 5 ONLY. We recommend 4.)

Price: $30 per person (Always private booking)

Time to Escape: 75 minutes

[REDACTED]

Theme:

I can’t tell you much about the theme of Classified since it’s… well… classified. I mean, I could; we did the room, but that would spoil the fun. Basically, Escape Artist Greenville has a mission for you, and once you arrive, they’ll tell you all about it! (For the skittish, it’s definitely not horror based, as noted on their website,) However, we’ve left some clues in our after room photo:

42883516_1196025120545348_4491205644539396096_o2046949196.jpg

Per the above, Classified must be about a intrepid D.A.R.E. task force who are tracking the Shake-Weight Killer during Mardi Gras using only their wits, fanny packs, and massive machetes. (This is totally not the theme, but now that I write it, I want to play this room.)

First Impressions:

This was our 15th room on a 17 room birthday escape extravaganza, so I had actually forgotten that we were given no clues as to what the theme of the room was until we were just about to start our adventure, which made that segment of the game that much cooler. Our GM came in an explained the mission to us, gave us what we needed to complete it, and sent us on our merry way! I’ll just say I was surprised but very intrigued by what we were getting ready to do!

High Points:

One thing I can say without spoiling anything is that Classified works off of a point system, and even though we were able to obtain the full run of points and make the leaderboard, it was a tough but highly rewarding experience! Though challenging, the room flows extremely well, and the puzzles and connections made between them are intuitive, requiring no logical leaps or mind reading to complete. The experience itself is also layered in ways we were not expecting, allowing the room to open up as we progressed, but doing so in a manner we had never seen before. The masterful use of space added an excellent level of required teamwork to the game that lasted the entire experience. In fact, through this team focused game design, there was never a dull moment for any of us; we kept engaged and immersed for the whole mission!

Our Game Master was an integral part of the experience, giving story beats and popping in to be generally hilarious from time to time, and the way he interacted with our group was top notch. All of our experiences with GMs at Escape Artist were awesome, but our adventure through Classified was made even more amazing through his efforts. The puzzles themselves are highly varied, and allow for some great tactile challenges, many of which we’d not seen before in other escape rooms. In fact, this game held some of the most highly original designs we saw on our weekend trip, making this easily one of, if not the, top games we played during this outing!

20180930_151744784655698.jpg

We had to take a picture because we did all of these rooms on the last day of September! Oh, our fleeting leaderboard glory!

Low Points:

We aren’t the biggest fans of process puzzles, (puzzles in which you devise a method of solving and must then enact the method,) and there’s a huge one we spent a large chunk of time on in Classified. Running through the steps over and over began to become frustrating, and though we knew how to solve the puzzle, hitting all those steps just wasn’t interesting overall. However, that’s just one puzzle of many within this excellent room!

Verdict:

Save for one section of Classified, this room is flawless! With an amazing flow, great storyline, and excellent variations on the usual escape room theme, Classified is one of my favorite rooms in South Carolina. I’d expect players would like to have a room or two under their belts before booking Classified, as it is a challenging experience requiring excellent teamwork, but I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in the area. And if you need some recommendations on that first room to get warmed up, why not try out Dr. Fratelli’s Cabin, also at Escape Artist? Book your top secret mission here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Escape Artist Greenville provided media discounted tickets for our team.

Escapology Columbia – Th3 C0d3 (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $29.99 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Hack the World!

Theme:

The notorious hacker Nitr0 is plotting something big, and as a team of rookie FBI agents assigned to the case, you’re looking to bring him down! You’ve recently stumbled across what you believe to be his current location, and in a mad rush to make a name for yourself, you rush to the scene in order to take him down! Unfortunately, this was all an elaborate ruse, and you’ve been locked inside by Nitr0, who tells you that he has alerted your office to “Nitr0’s” whereabouts and will be framing you for his crimes! With only an hour to escape, you’ll have to beat the hacker at his own game and escape!

First Impressions:

We were jazzed for a high tech hacker themed room, and couldn’t wait to see what was in store within Th3 C0d3, leetspeak aside. Other rooms promising high tech themes had ranged from disappointing to awesome, so I was eager to see what Escapology could do with this theme. Imagine my surprise when we entered Nitr0’s lair and it was… a dorm room with Dorito wrappers strewn about. Obviously we’d yet to reach the inner sanctum, so we got to puzzling immediately!

High Points:

It was super obvious that Nitr0 was evil, due to his University of South Carolina Gamecock decorations! (Go Tigers!) Kidding aside, it was fun to see that an evolving, if light, story was told through our timer. Every so often, we were interrupted by our hacker “friend” for a nice round of taunting, reminding us of how little time we had left, and how close the FBI was to finding us. It was an interesting twist on a basic item you’ll find in almost every escape room. A couple of puzzles stood out from the norm, with one excellent tactile one surprising us with its simple, yet elegant conveyance of a code. The puzzling itself was fine, if a little basic, and tended to work well for the most part. The use of a news broadcast also added a fair amount of flavor to the room, and kept us immersed in tension!

Low Points:

There was a distinct absence of many tech based puzzles, which is ok in general but for a hacker themed escape room, this feels like a missed opportunity. I understand that a hacker might be distrustful of utilizing too much technology in his lair, but the theme would be better served with more ubiquitous technical wizardry about. The set was ok, but was a far cry from what we expected, since our foe’s lair was a college dorm room. The set itself really improved as we progressed, but unfortunately, when it got really cool, we were moments away from the end. Quite a few logical leaps abounded, with tenuous connections stalling the game flow and leaving us wondering how we were supposed to intuitively come up with some of the answers. Overall, the game flow would’ve benefitted from more robust connective tissue between puzzles. There were moments of nonlinearity, but overall, there just wasn’t quite enough for all four of us to keep entertained for the full experience, and by the end, one person was responsible for halting the evil schemes of Nitr0. This ended up being a very bland climax, which could’ve been made so much better if the choice that seems to be presented through audio clips was a true one, or if the puzzle itself wasn’t so very banal.

Verdict:

Th3 C0d3 has an interesting theme, but unfortunately the puzzles and set don’t quite do it justice. Still, the room is competently made, and newcomers will more than likely  find it engaging. Enthusiasts will have seen a lot of the challenges inside before, so I recommend trying out Mayday or Budapest Express instead. You can book your time matching wits with Nitr0 here!

6/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: Escapology Columbia provided comped tickets for our team.

Escapology Columbia – Antidote (Review)

Location: Columbia, SC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $29.99 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Not quite the cure for boredom

Theme:

It’s a tale as old as escape rooms. Mad scientist meets deadly toxin. Mad scientist falls in love with deadly toxin, and devises a way to trigger the apocalypse with deadly toxin. Mad scientist sets a plan in motion, but accidentally tips off the authorities. You are said authorities, stop the deadly toxin! It’s not a terrible theme, but it isn’t overly imaginative, and as we’ve seen recently with Room 5280’s The Experiment, there are ways to implement a scientific theme while creating something wholly new and exciting!

First Impressions:

We’d had a fun time in Escapology’s three previous rooms, so even though the theme here wasn’t the most original, we were excited to see how they approached it. After turning down the option to play this one as a competitive room, (Our team sticks together no matter what! Keyed Up for Life!) we were led into the lab and set upon our goal of stopping the virus!

High Points:

There is one enjoyable interaction that involves performing specific actions to sterilize the room before moving on, and with just a bit more theatrics, could help this room stand out a little more. The game flow makes sense on the whole, and though the room does have a couple points at which it becomes non-linear, the mostly narrow path through the room’s puzzles is a good start for beginner groups, which we were advised Antidote was designed for as it is Escapology’s easiest room. The props are fun to play around with, and a couple of highly tactile interactions make for a satisfying few moments.

Low Points:

Unfortunately, the experience on the whole is very basic. The set looks like your run of the mill lab, and doesn’t do much to excite, executing the bare minimum to qualify as a mad scientist’s lair. After the elaborate first rooms of Budapest Express, Under Pressure, and Mayday, it was a bit of a let down to enter what felt ultimately like a repurposed office space. One puzzle demands teamwork, but is next to impossible to line up correctly due to the way it is set up, and though we had our tallest member manipulate the half of the puzzle that seemed to demand height, we never quite got it to work properly. It’s a good idea, but a lot of adjustment needs to be made, as we eventually puzzled out the answer via different means than what was intended. Overall, almost none of the puzzles stand out, with one seeming to correlate to a different solution due to the vagary of its cluing, and so many relying on laminated pages in a notebook to present the riddles. It’s never really that bad of a room, just overall stark and plain, with puzzles all but the newest escapees will have seen before.

Verdict:

Antidote isn’t a bad room, but it never really becomes good, with a banal run of puzzles that lead toward the escape. Very new players might have a good time with it, but any level of experience will more than likely make it a paint by numbers experience. Sadly, Antidote is the most average experience I’ve had with an escape room, which isn’t necessarily horrible, but very forgettable. If you’d like to check it out, though, you can book your time stopping the deadly toxin here!

5.5/10 (Mediocre)

Full Disclosure: Escapology Columbia provided comped tickets for our team.

Escape Artist Greenville – The Inventor’s Enigma (Review)

Location: Greenville, SC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $27 (Public Booking) or $30 (Private Booking) per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Great Scott!

Theme:

You’ve been invited to the workshop of one of the greatest inventors of our time, and his apprentice is here to give you the grand tour! There’s a couple of things he’ll need to take care of before he can safely take you around, so you wait for him in the main workshop. After he falls into a wormhole, however, (occupational hazard, pretty standard really,) it is up to you to find some way to get him out before the portal closes up for good!

First Impressions:

Escape Artist Greenville has some incredibly good set designers on their hands, and as we stepped into the Inventor’s Enigma, we were definitely not disappointed in what we saw! Furthermore, the upbeat and in character GM continued to prove that the staff here were 100% committed to delivering excellent experiences!

High Points:

One of the most stand out parts of Inventor’s Enigma is how tactile the whole room is. Almost every puzzle involves at least a light bit of moving or manipulation of props, and it fits extremely well with the theme. Nothing overly physical, but when in an inventor’s workshop, it’s always fun to be able to play around with their tools! This room also contains one of the best hidden surprises we’ve seen in a while, taking us by surprise almost 200 rooms in. That’s no easy feat! As usual for Escape Artist Greenville, the set is amazing, and highly immersive, providing more than just a room of puzzles and truly bringing you into the world of the story. The GMing here is great too, with hints and interactions being on theme throughout the experience, allowing the game to stay in universe throughout the experience. As you progress through the game, puzzles bounce between rooms, and bread crumbs you discover will provide satisfying ah ha moments as you come back to a puzzle that stumped you before. Some very simple, yet innovative pieces of tech bring this quirky room to life in unexpected ways, challenging the group to think outside the box throughout the escape.

Low Points:

Inventor’s Enigma felt like a different room that had been upgraded into a newer theme and “remastered” a bit, and our Game Master confirmed that that is exactly what had been done. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but we were a little confused about how this inventor had invented a wormhole that the whole story revolved around, but it seemed pretty much all he engaged with inventing was cars. Apparently the previous room had been about a racecar driver, so that cleared a lot up. The theming would’ve benefitted from less focus on cars and more on fantastical steampunk inventions to be more in line with what we were expecting. The cluing overall needs work, as some things are hidden around the room for the sake of being hidden, and while we found them, it is always much more fun to find items based off a puzzle rather than because they were just hidden somewhere. A late game puzzle was a great idea, and very tactile, but the clues themselves were either extremely direct or incredibly vague, frustrating us during  one of the most climactic moments of the game.

Verdict:

Inventor’s Enigma is a good room that could use a bit more adjustment to the flux capacitor in order to make it really great. It’s an upgraded older room that would really benefit from further distancing from it’s previous incarnation to become it’s own entity, but a good room nonetheless. If you like Escape Artist Greenville, I definitely recommend checking this one out! You can book your time saving the Inventor’s apprentice here!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Escape Artist Greenville provided media discounted tickets for our team.