River City Escape Room  – Manhattan (Review)

By: Johnathan Byerly

Location: Richmond, VA

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

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes


To grandmothers house we go! But wait, oh no, the ground rumbles and shakes, could it be thunder? For goodness sake! For it is 1940, and the Manhattan project awaits! Not all may make it out alive, what will be your fates? A bomb is dropping and safety you must find! Before the radiation leaves you all behind…

First Impressions

River City is a long-time favorite of ours, so returning felt comfortable. All new faces, but the same comfortable waiting room and staff. Plus all the Halloween candy we could eat! We were excited to try their newest room, having played all of their previous experiences when possible.

High Points

What a beautiful experience! The set design immediately makes you feel like you’re in grandma’s home, and there are lots of set and prop details that both put you in the location and the time. Props were durable and mostly intuitive to use.

The room is almost entirely linear, but the puzzles are designed well for group work, so not a lot of people crowding around a single item in a scramble of hands and thoughts to figure out a solution. The use of locks and tech felt natural, so this isn’t a room just covered in different types of locks for no apparent reason.

There are a few clever reveals that were both tactile and pleasantly unexpected, opening up the experience as we progressed through the puzzles.

Low Points

As beautiful as the set was, it was also easily the room’s largest pain point (literally). Including multiple levels in the standard office space of about 10 ft vertical made for a lot of stooping, bending, and accidentally banging your head. As someone just over 6ft tall, it was not a comfortable experience.

Take their warning of the room being physically active seriously. If anyone in your group couldn’t navigate the average child’s play space at a fast food restaurant or arcade, they’re not going to be able to fully participate. 

There is a transition between rooms that feels outright dangerous and a few of us didn’t feel comfortable using it more than the 1 time required to move to the next space. This room really needs another 3-5 feet of vertical space for comfort and safety. Lack of lighting in the second space amplifies this sense of danger, as well as makes some of the puzzles unnecessarily difficult.

It was also felt that a number of puzzles had been removed or deactivated. Perhaps the initial test runs had proven too difficult? Sadly, the room hasn’t been reconfigured to remove these elements and you’re left feeling like you’re skipping puzzles at some points.

Although the props were spot-on for their era and purpose, it was an odd mix of some that were used and some that weren’t, and not always with the best cluing between function and decoration. At least once we “solved” a puzzle in our first interaction with a prop, not fully understanding what it did. Also, the dreaded “black light for no reason” made a return, but this time with some added physical difficulty of locating the writing.

The biggest letdown was that the final puzzle didn’t have an automated ‘win’ declaration. You feel certain you’ve done the correct thing (and don’t know what else to do), but have an easy 30 seconds of dead air while the GM rushes to the room to manually trigger the last experience. It felt wildly out-of-place for a business with a history of well-hidden and immersive tech.


We can’t recommend this room in its current state, especially with their Alice room being right next to it and easily one of our favorites. Save this one for the completionists and go for the other experiences first.

You can book your experience by clicking here.

4.5 out of 10

Full Disclosure: We received a media discount on our ticket purchases

Rush Hour Live Escape Games – Something Wicked (Review)

Location: Fredricksburg, VA

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: Prices vary, see website for more details

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

…this way comes.


From the Rush Hour Live Escape Games website:

A malevolent evil radiates from Deep Creek Forest. You and your team of paranormal investigators have been called in to find the source of the evil that is inhabiting the forest. People are disappearing without warning, including the first team of investigators called in. You had better be prepared because Something Wicked has moved in to the woods.

First Impressions:

Our final room of our Northern Virginia, 23 room trek took place within a haunted wood, and that’s the kind of theme I’m more than thrilled to engage with! Stepping in, we were treated to a very large, open area decked out to resemble a spooky witch’s wood, and I was excited to get started!

High Points:

Though the theme of paranormal investigation and folks disappearing into a mysterious forest are common horror tropes, I haven’t seen an escape room that takes on these combined tropes in my neck of the woods. The story is pulled off well, and uncovering the mystery of the Deep Creek Forest is a lot of fun, especially due to a couple of great surprises along the way. The set design within Something Wicked is engaging, and the huge room that Rush Hour has placed the experience within serves to ensure that it feels as though you’re adventuring through a huge, open air forest. Lighting is well done, presenting a night time scene without being so dim that it’s hard to see, (and for those darker corners, every player is provided a flashlight,) and the sound track does a great job at ensuring the room doesn’t feel flat, sonically. The whole vibe of the experience gives off a slightly more light hearted Blair Witch vibe, keeping things spooky and mysterious without getting overly scary. Rush Hour has done a great job with sound proofing again, and though other rooms touched the same walls, we’d never know it while puzzling inside.

There are loads of different areas to explore within Something Wicked, and while the room is mostly open, there is a distinct and intuitive puzzle path to begin with. From there, the game becomes mostly non-linear and this, coupled with the immense size of the room, ensures we were all happily puzzling away from start to finish. The puzzles were engaging, and well integrated into the theme, and the puzzle threads all tied up into a great climactic puzzle as well as a satisfying finale. The finale could also lead one of two ways depending on a choice we made during the game, and although we received the “good” ending, both seemed like a lot of fun, and several of us were wishing that we had unlocked the other, based on the description that was given to us. The game flow was very smooth, and the puzzles were gated off well, with all threads connecting nicely to one another, allowing the game to remain immersive, fluid, and intuitive.

Low Points:

One drawback of the set is that there is one area that initially looked like a spooky new place to explore, but was soon discovered to be a storage room that was not fully blocked off. While the ladder inside might’ve “helped” with the puzzles, it was fairly immersion breaking and probably should be sealed off better to prevent the antics of players more mischievous than us. The one exception to the excellent game flow was one puzzle that tied into another and did not actually require us to solve, leading a couple of us to wonder why it didn’t activate anything when we correctly placed the items. Luckily, our GM advised us that we no longer needed this part of the game, but it would’ve paid off better if the interaction was not solvable without this section. One particular puzzle was undirected, presenting us with a prop, and requiring us to just know when and where to use it, coming off as more of a directionless seek and find. We had one moment were we activated a solution, but the tech was a little faulty, leading us to double check our answers several times until the GM realized what had gone wrong. Finally, although we enjoyed the idea behind having two separate endings, the choice to trigger these endings was random, and it would’ve been nice to have more player agency over determining which ending we desired. Perhaps another puzzle or a more directed choice would make this part of the game more impactful than a fifty-fifty shot.


While there are hiccups here and there, Something Wicked was definitely my favorite of Rush Hour Live’s experiences. Blending a huge, spooky set with a Blair Witch lite storyline, we had a lot of fun escaping Deep Creek Forest. I’d definitely recommend this room to connoisseurs of the creepy and players of any skill level. Book your time facing the mystery of the forest here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Rush Hour Live Escape Games provided media discounted tickets for this room.


Escape Room Herndon – Room 213 (Review)

Location: Herndon, VA

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Rest Uneasy Hotel


From the Escape Room Herndon Website:

You’re a team of paranormal investigators who have been requested by a hotel owner to investigate strange happenings inside the mysterious room 213. As soon as you enter the room you can sense that something else is going on. Before you can ask, your host has quickly left the room. As you hear the door lock, you realize you’ve been trapped. Can your team uncover the Mystery of Room 213?

First Impressions:

Escape Room Herndon boasts some of the best rooms in Virginia, and I love a spooky, haunted theme, so Room 213 became more highly anticipated as we adventured through their other rooms! Stepping into the ominously appointed hotel room, I couldn’t wait to see what creepy puzzling was in store for us!


High Points:

As always for a Ravenchase production, the set design of this room is great, encapsulating the theme within its walls perfectly, and oozing spookiness out of every pore. As we delved deeper into the room’s secrets, the set, utilizing the grimily gorgeous design as well as great lighting and sound effects, gradually became even more sinister and ominous. The storyline helps compound this feeling of uneasiness, and the more we discovered, the creepier the experience felt! Several of the larger props hide some real surprises that kept us on our toes until we finally escaped, never sure what was going to pop up next. All of this melded together during the climax, delivering an exciting finish to the room.

The room is very tactile, which I always love, with loads of interesting and theme relevant props to mess around with. Some we initially figured were just set dressing ended up being part of an incredibly creative puzzle that became one of my favorites on the day for its elegant simplicity and intuitiveness. This tactility and streamlined puzzling carries throughout the adventure, and though the room feels somewhat sparser than the other three at this location, it certainly remains an exciting experience to puzzle through! There is just enough technology integrated into the room to give off the spooky vibe via the enigmas within without overdoing it or including technology for technology’s sake, and the few jumps that are included are done expertly. The final bit of tech ties into the story fantastically, and helps cap off things nicely.

ROOM213_2017-10 b

Low Points:

Though the room is sometimes non-linear, it felt mostly linear in our experience, leading to a few unfortunate choke points that stop up the action. At the same time, however, there are a couple moments at which groups can accidentally get ahead of themselves by solving certain puzzles before they are meant to, so a mite bit more gatekeeping in areas could help alleviate that problem. The game flow works well for the most part, but at times, there are some small logical leaps in which the connections break down, muddling the logical waters a bit. We enjoyed the story within the room, but at times, it felt as though the “why?” of the room was lost between the cracks, leaving a loose end here and there. Finally, though the room does ramp up the spookiness well, the puzzles overall don’t feel quite as exciting as some of Escape Room Herndon’s other rooms. However, this is still an excellent experience, which just speaks to how amazing the rooms here are!


Room 213 is an exciting haunted romp to adventure through, and although there are a few small bumps in the road here and there, they don’t detract overmuch from the experience. I absolutely recommend this room, as you cannot go wrong with any room at Escape Room Herndon; they’re all so fantastic! Book your time in the haunted hotel room here!

8/10 (Great)

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


Escape Room Arlington – Glitch (Review)

Location: Arlington, VA

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Care to see how far down this rabbit hole goes?


From the Escape Room Arlington website:

Have you ever had a dream, that you were stuck in an escape room, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream and unable to escape? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the escape room you’re trapped in? Jump down the rabbit hole and find out.

First Impressions:

Escape Room Arlington has some fantastic rooms available, and great rooms always energize us for more. Our only regret was that this was the last room available here during this trip! After a previous “problem in virtual reality” room proved to be incredibly disappointing, I was looking forward to what could be done with this theme when in the hands of such capable designers!

High Points:

The set design of this room is fantastic, with a black and white color scheme inside of a Spartan room that slowly becomes more dynamic, opening up in surprising and interesting ways in order to evoke the feel of breaching new areas of a virtual reality simulation gone wrong. Lighting and sound design work well in this regard as well, and the opening video creates a feeling of ominous urgency that carries throughout. Props are very cool, and many allow players to interact with the room in interesting ways. One in particular is something I haven’t seen in an escape room before, but it’s inclusion is a lot of fun, and gave us an item that was great fun to play around with. The game begins with a great reference to the Matrix, allowing players to make a decision that will affect their gameplay, and the room plays as a homage to the sci fi masterpiece while still remaining it’s own thing.

Glitch is fairly non-linear, and the multiple puzzling paths allow for groups to take a divide and conquer approach to the adventure that generally keeps everyone engaged with the game. The game flow works well and is absolutely chock full of wonderfully abstract puzzling to wrap your brain around. While abstract, the thinking behind these conundrums is generally very logical, and there aren’t any leaps or red herrings to be found within. Everything remains within what could be a very broad theme, but remains tight through an obviously well crafted vision of design.

Low Points:

We came across a particular technical failure that stymied our progress for a while, and it took a bit for everyone to realize that there was a problem, but once it was identified, our Game Master was quick to correct the issue. One puzzle caused a lot of confusion, as even though it was solved at some point, there was no feedback once it was solved, and we kept coming back to it long after we retrieved the items it unlocked as it wasn’t clear that this is what caused the box to open. In fact, there were several moments at which we solved some of the more technical puzzles, and there was very little feedback to notify us what had happened due to our solve. The ending was a little anticlimactic, but there wasn’t much story-wise to build off of, as this ended up being more of a puzzle room than a narratively driven escape, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it would’ve been interesting to have a bit more story injected into the experience.


Glitch is a fun room that combines clever tech, hidden secrets, and some fantastic Matrix references in order to deliver an adventure that’s densely packed with puzzles! While there are a couple issues here and there, I think this is a great room for veteran players who are looking for challenging puzzles, and new escapists who are looking for a cool  way to start off their escaping career! You can book your time within the simulation here!

7/10 (Good)

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


Escape Room Fairfax – Molly’s Horror Room (Review)

Location: Fairfax, VA

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

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Who you gonna call?


From the Escape Room Fairfax website:

Molly loved songs, and dolls, and teddy bears just like any other girl. Then two years ago, little Molly disappeared…Her room looks exactly as she left it, untouched (by the living). Lately, Molly’s parents have noticed strange and frightful disturbances. First, only bumps in the night. Now, Molly’s parents fear for their lives. They keep Molly’s room locked tight, to keep-in whatever (or whoever) is haunting them.You and your team are from the Department of Paranormal Investigations, and you’ve been invited to investigate Molly’s room. Unfortunately, you, too, will have to be locked-in. Will you uncover the secret of missing Molly? You’ll have to rely on wit, courage, and the clues you find hidden throughout Molly’s room. This cold-case will be hard to crack, and night-lights won’t keep these ghosts at bay. Can you handle the horror?

First Impressions:

Sometimes after reviewing a business several times, it becomes hard to give a first impression, as we’ve already had several impressions. So far, Escape Room Fairfax had proved to be serviceable, with average to good, if not great rooms. However, I really enjoyed their mural for Molly’s Horror Room. I have selected my favorite part, and shared below for your viewing pleasure.


All shall love me and despair!

High Points:

Molly’s Horror Room stood out to me as a very enjoyable haunted room. It wasn’t overly flashy, but subtle touches created a great spooky ambiance. The storm brewing outside, coupled with a growing sense of unease as we worked through the adventure, developed a great atmosphere for horror themed puzzling, and I really loved how crazy the set became the further we delved. There were some cool sound design touches that evoked the theme in an immersive way, and a few good surprises kept us on our toes but didn’t overdo it with constant jump scares. The storyline was appropriately mysterious, and it was fun to uncover the truth behind the hauntings, which all culminated in a fantastic climax that mostly paid off the story ideas well. The puzzles themselves were a mixed bag, but two larger scale set pieces were a great time to solve using, and provided some fantastic late game moments of revelation. Though the game itself is fairly basic, first generation fare, there are a few spots of tech that do an excellent job bringing a sense of the supernatural into the game.


I always love when a business spices up the entry doors to their rooms. It doesn’t even have to be all that elaborate, a little bit goes a long way.

Low Points:

On a general note, if you’re going to have a dark room, please provide a one to one ratio of flashlights to players. This room does not, and it’s generally frustrating, especially if you’re one of the folks doing without. As previously mentioned, the game here can be somewhat basic, and while escapes like this can be excellent, this one was mostly average, puzzle-wise. The room was also somewhat older, with a few of the props showing some real wear and tear, especially on some of the more tactile props we used. The connective tissue of the game was rather loose, and a few times, the puzzles made little sense between clues and solutions. Two in particular have some very weird logic that only sort of makes sense, and even then, only when you already know the solution. One more egregious example makes little sense at all, and has a solution that just feels completely random, even after the lock is open. Cluing overall is somewhat ambiguous, and it takes a lot of guess and check from time to time just to figure out what items are trying to say. The room doesn’t need to be made easier, but a bit of intuitive signposting would greatly help this room from having as many choke points as it does. As the room is supremely linear, this problem can compound quickly, and a larger group is definitely going to have a few folks waiting around for something to do. Finally, though the room does have a really engaging story and atmosphere, a little more closure during the climax would be nice, as a few story threads remain dangling at the end.


Molly’s Horror Room is certainly the spookiest room at Escape Room Fairfax, at least of the ones we experienced, though the puzzles are fairly basic and the game itself isn’t quite as exciting as the atmosphere and storyline. As an adventure, I recommend checking it out if you’re a fan of the supernatural and macabre, but as an escape room, it’s just ok, so I’d advise looking into other rooms if you’re seeking a more complete experience. Book your time exorcising Molly’s Horror Room here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

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