Time Traveler Escape Games – Dr. Trott’s Apothecary (Review)

Location: Charleston, SC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

A bit of heroin for your cold will fix you right up!

Theme:

It’s 1867 and the rain has been falling in Charleston, SC for four straight days. Citizens are beginning to worry that Dr. Trott is the reason for all their woes, due to the fact that he’s captured a mermaid within his apothecary and refuses to set her free! The unprecedented storm threatens to bury the whole city underwater unless you can find the mermaid and set her free. Dr. Trott returns in an hour, though, so you’d better act fast!

First Impressions:

Dr. Trott’s Apothecary is based on a local legend that you can read about here! It’s really quite fascinating that people truly rioted outside of a pharmacy because they thought that the owner was holding a mermaid hostage, but that’s the 1800’s for you. An escape room based on the hidden legends of Charleston really sounded like a fantastic idea, so we were very excited to give Time Traveler Escape Games a visit during our most recent trip out!

High Points:

Dr. Trott’s Apothecary is well decorated, housing some excellent tech, lighting, and sound effects to simulate the storm, as well as other hidden surprises to assist with the immersion factor of the game. Though there are a few trick puzzle boxes and locks, generally a huge escape room sin, they are clued cleverly and justify their inclusion by being more than just a box purchased online and sat in the room for no thematic reason. The game flow runs nicely, and is non linear for the most part, with a subtle clue to start off the room’s puzzling threads. Each section of the apothecary feels like it’s own level of sorts, with all the threads coming together to unlock the next segment, leading to another challenge that repeats the process. We are big fans of this video game like style of escape room puzzling and are glad to see it catching on in Charleston!

Connections within the room are intuitive, and the meta puzzles for each step work smoothly, with the original and sometimes room spanning puzzles keeping our group of five engaged with the story throughout the entire adventure. When we needed a hint or two our GM provided clever clues that gave us just the right amount of push without giving the answer away outright, which is always appreciated. There’s quite a few props to play around with, and all of them are integrated well into the theme of a sea loving, (perhaps too much,) pharmacist from the 1860’s.

Low Points:

One puzzle failed spectacularly on us, and it seemed like there was no backup to overcome the technical problem. Though we eventually were able to force it to finally trigger, it burned a lot of time off of our clock. From behind the scenes looks of other tech heavy rooms I’ve done, I’ve noticed most have a program of backups in place should a puzzle be solved and the prop not trigger, so that might be worth looking into for Time Traveler Escape Games. Though light on hidden objects for hidden objects’ sake, there is one that felt overly well hidden, and without a puzzle or clue to help find it, it feels like a random scavenger hunt rather than an exciting solve. One early puzzle was interesting, but involved a fairly large leap of logic, coupled with searching for a small marking that just blends in with its surroundings, leading to some early frustration on our part. There’s also no timer within the room, which adds to the authenticity, but can make marking your progress within difficult, so this could really go either way based on your preferences.

Verdict:

Dr. Trott’s Apothecary is a fun room for first time players and enthusiasts alike, delivering multiple stages of puzzling fun. Though there are a couple points at which the room failed on us, these seem to be isolated cases of bad luck and I still recommend checking this one out in order to delve into the hidden history of Charleston for an hour, and commend Time Traveler Escape Games on coming up with such an excellent idea. Book your rescue mission here!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Time Traveler Escape Games comped our tickets for this room.

Escape Artist Greenville – The Lift (Mini-Adventure Review)

Location: Greenville, SC

Players: 2-4 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $20 per group

Time to Escape: 10 minutes per episode

Cherie Berry would not approve.

Theme:

For The Lift, you choose from one of two different capers, The Gambler and The Pickpocket. For your chosen adventure, you’ve chased a notorious criminal into a nearby elevator, but they’ve turned the tables on you! Having rigged the elevator to rise to the tenth floor before plummeting into the basement, you have only ten minutes to figure out how to escape before disaster strikes!

First Impressions:

The Lift is installed within a side room of Escape Artist Greenville, and is apparently mobile, allowing the business to take this experience on the road for shows and events. We were impressed by the craftsmanship and versatility of this room, and were excited to try out our first mini-escape adventure! For each trip into the elevator, our GM handed us a piece of evidence recovered from our respective criminal, hit the button to start our journey, and left us to puzzle our way out of the elevator.

High Points:

Taking place over only a few short minutes, The Lift’s two episodes perfectly capture the frantic final moments of an escape room for the entire experience! From the second you begin, the lights flicker for every minute spent, announcing the current floor and slowly heralding your demise. There’s nothing quite like that frantic last few minutes within a well designed room, and the adrenaline these adventures provide is perfectly thrilling. The games themselves are short, containing two to three puzzles and satisfyingly tacticle interactions, but the length of each puzzle is appropriate for a ten minute room and each one is intuitive and connects well to the theme. We found The Gambler to be a great fit for a warm up game or for new players, with a simple game flow and some neat surprises to be discovered. The Pickpocket will cater to those seeking a more difficult challenge, having almost bested our team, who escaped with mere seconds left on the clock!

The sets are well implemented and excellently designed for versatility between games as well as a streamlined puzzling environment that will comfortably hold the maximum four players during the whole experience. Though simple, the sound and lighting design elevate the adventure into a pulse-pounding mission that is sure to keep even the most hardened escape veteran on their toes!

Low Points:

With such a short period for escape, the game definitely leaves you wanting more, which is certainly the point, but after finally experiencing a good elevator game, we’d love to see what could be done by expanding on this idea into a full 60 minutes!

Verdict:

The Lift is a great add-on challenge to any of the rooms at Escape Artist Greenville, so if you’re looking for a warm up or extra dessert challenge, definitely try out The Gambler or The Pickpocket while you’re there! You can book your rise to glory, (or sudden drop,) here!

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

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!

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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.