Waxhaw Escape – Alice’s Dream (Review)

Location: Waxhaw, NC

Players: 2-6 (We Recommend 3-4)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Curiouser and curiouser!

Theme:

From the Waxhaw Escape website:

Visit a historic room located in the 19th century hotel where Lewis Carroll first told his stories to Alice Liddell, and plunge into that magical world. Meet up with a white rabbit, BUT before you follow him anywhere, you’d better think about how you will get back!

First Impressions:

After the spectacular Train to Nowhere, we were excited to see what Waxhaw Escape could do with the Alice in Wonderland theme! This one promised to put a twist on the usual formula by setting it within the hotel where Lewis Carroll was inspired by the original Alice Liddel to write the whimsical tale of Wonderland. After a quick briefing and transport into the mysterious world of Alice’s Dream, we quickly got to puzzling!

High Points:

Many of the puzzles within Alice’s Dream are hard wired wonderfully into the unlogic of Wonderland. Nothing is nonsensical, but it all tends to follow a dreamlike logic that makes sense while still feeling somewhat surreal. The room lacks any physical locks, relying on well hidden technical magic for puzzles and reveals. This leads to some great surprises when seemingly innocuous interactions help pave the way towards the next part of the room by unexpectedly triggering a new puzzle or opening up the environment in an interesting way. Props are well integrated into the room, and items that are intended to be used are delineated excellently from those that don’t need to be manipulated+. Playing around with one particular prop is a fantastic time, and the way it reveals it’s purpose is executed in a wholly appropriate, Wonderland focused moment.

As Alice’s Dream progresses, the room responds by becoming more bizarre, twisting perspective and encouraging more out of the box thinking as the difficulty curve ramps up along with the non-linearity of the game. While the beginning provides a good on ramp to the experience, the latter half shifts gears and presents a bigger challenge, but does so smoothly, ensuring that the new challenges aren’t jarring to the game flow or overly obtuse. The experience kept our whole team fully engaged, even during the linear bits, as though there was only one specific puzzle to work on to start, the wins came quickly and everyone was able to contribute during each stage of the adventure. During the later, non-linear segment of the game, most puzzles were very original, and encouraged us to work towards the overarching goal by splitting into teams to take on the various challenges. I very much enjoyed how different segments of the room had been played with and twisted in whimsical ways. One particularly interesting puzzle was found in the likeliest of unlikely places, and the interaction’s intuitive unlogic was a pleasure to behold, and a great addition to the Wonderland theme.

Low Points:

The set for Alice’s Dream was good, but not quite as spectacularly decorated as Train to Nowhere, and seemed to become a little more sparse as the game went on. Though several familiar characters showed up, I didn’t quite get that Wonderland feel as much as I’d hoped. The storyline for this experience is fairly light, mostly consisting of escaping, with one other story element added as we progressed. The added story element was an interesting idea, but there didn’t seem to be too much urgency or threat behind the problem we came across, and beyond its announcement, it seemed to fade into the background quickly. Perhaps a more nightmarish, (but not scary, as this is a family friendly room,) set design during the latter parts of the game would help sell this part of the story better. There was a heavy focus on scavenging during a few parts of the game, and one particular interaction was repeated a few times. A particular interaction was unclued, though we solved it quickly, so it wasn’t much of a bother. I can see other groups getting stuck on this choke point, however, so a small hint may have been a welcome inclusion.

Verdict:

Alice’s Dream is a well made traipse through a hotel that has been injected with a bit of Wonderland. Though a few more touches here and there could make this room truly spectacular, the original theme, fun puzzling interactions, and magical technology deliver an enjoyable adventure nonetheless. I recommend checking it out, especially for beginners and enthusiasts who are looking for a lockless escape to challenge them! Book your time within Alice’s Dream here!

7/10 (Good)

Full disclosure: Waxhaw Escape provided comped tickets for our group.

Waxhaw Escape – Train to Nowhere (Review)

Location: Waxhaw, NC

Players: 2-6 (We Recommend 3-5)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Tickets, please!

Theme:

From the Waxhaw Escape website:

Go back to the exciting era of steam engines and mechanical automation. Famed Italian inventor, Giordano Neri, has shocked the world with his newest brainchild – a self-driving train! Rumors of his unorthodox methods and use of humans in his research has forced him to flee to America to continue his work, where he has just put the first autonomous train into action for its initial run. No one could have predicted what would happen on this first ride of the ominous “train to nowhere.”

First Impressions:

I’ve been very interested in a good steampunk room, but so far have been unable to find one. Waxhaw Escape’s Train to Nowhere looked like it could fit the bill nicely, however, and the site’s description was appropriately mysterious, so we were ready to book our train ride as soon as possible!

High Points:

Train to Nowhere is easily one of the coolest rooms I’ve done in terms of concept. The theme is quite original, and the execution creates something really amazing. The set itself really does instill the feel of being on a funky, old timey train and is a joy to explore.¬†The story is great, and tidbits about what is really going on are worked into the puzzles themselves and sprinkled throughout the experience. A great twist during the game ratchets things into high gear by utilizing the set design to create some fun surprises to go along with the reveal. From there on, the experience is a high energy race to right the atrocities committed, and somehow escape! The room includes a bumpy, but very exciting climax that can conclude in one of multiple endings depending on your actions. The room is a smaller experience than some others, but the space is utilized to great effect, and comfortably holds all players within it’s snazzily designed walls. The design of each stage of the game is appropriate, and all the small details and props are brilliantly woven into the theme.

The game flow is also up to the task of including the maximum six players, as the game is mostly non-linear up to the end. One particular capstone puzzle keeps everyone involved with one of the best teamwork interactions I’ve seen. It isn’t a particularly difficult one, but it got our whole team involved and was an exciting way to move forward. All puzzles are highly intuitive, and as we worked through the challenges presented, everyone stayed engaged with the experience. A very high tech experience, the train really does feel like it’s a fully automated, responsive mechanical marvel. The feedback given by the conundrums housed within the train’s walls is fantastic, ensuring that we definitely knew when we were right or wrong about an answer. In fact, one general gripe I have about many escape rooms over using a particular prop is alleviated via the simple inclusion of one particularly elegant fix, ensuring we knew exactly what was going on. The adventure was overall an entertaining steampunk adventure, and delivered exactly what I wanted from such a clever theme.

Low Points:

Though having multiple endings is a great addition, you don’t really know that the final puzzle will trigger an unavoidable final timer until it has already been started, which threw the entire room into chaos for us. A warning note in theme might have been helpful, as once that timer started, we weren’t quite sure of what to do, and being placed on this timer when we still had plenty of time left deflated the end game for us. A couple of moments had us thankful we had a tall teammate in the room with us, I’m not sure we would’ve been able to progress as quickly without his help. There were a couple points at which we needed to hear an announcement being made during the room, but the volume was somewhat low unless everyone stopped and were as quiet as possible, so making these moments just a bit louder would be very helpful.

Verdict:

Train to Nowhere transports you into an amazing steampunk train, and keeps the puzzle solving adrenaline going with numerous surprises and a fantastic storyline. Highly approachable, yet teeming with clever challenges and great storyline surprises, players of all experience levels will find something to love about this room. I definitely recommend giving it a go! Book your time on the mysterious steampunk train here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full disclosure: Waxhaw Escape provided comped tickets for our group.