Chicago · Escape Room · Private Room · Reviews · The Escape Game Chicago

The Heist @ The Escape Game Chicago

Date played:  Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Number of players:  4
Max number of players possible for this room: 8
Public or private game:  Private (only because no strangers booked with us)
Outcome:  Escaped

Since we played this room immediately after Mission: Mars I’m going to just skip ahead to the relevant sections.

Setup
Once again, we were shown the intro video while inside the room. We actually picked up an item in the room during the video and were told by the Game Master not to touch anything yet, and it hurt my soul.

The story for this room on the website is as follows:

“Get ready for an exciting challenge of beating a thief at his own game. A famous piece of artwork has gone missing and it is up to your covert team to recover the invaluable masterpiece. If you succeed in your mission you will become national heroes! If you fail, you will be treated as a common criminal by the authorities. Good Luck!”

Game Play
Out of the 3 rooms at The Escape Game that I have played up to this point (Prison Break, Mission: Mars, and The Heist), this room was the weakest in my opinion. I think this was partly because the theme lent itself to decor that ended up being fairly generic. I’m kind of over any game that consists of an office in some way because it just makes for such boring, run of the mill sets. I can go in an office any normal day of my life; what I can’t immerse myself in is a prison cell. Part of the fun of an escape room is finding yourself in a world that you otherwise wouldn’t be in, so that resulted in some points lost for me.

There was one mechanical type puzzle that I liked towards the beginning of the room. I tend to like things that are manual/hands on (as opposed to just intellectual), and they had a puzzle like this that I thought was unique. On the other hand, there was a later puzzle that to me felt more like busy work than fun. I believe at two different points, at least two members of our group figured out what had to be done in a puzzle or mostly figured out the steps, and then walked away from it without doing it. That is not the “Oh, I get it!” fun type of puzzle, it’s the “Oh, we have to do that…” resignation type of puzzle. More points lost.

I listed at the beginning of this post that we escaped this room, which was great; however… we did so by accidentally skipping a bunch of the puzzles. I was checking out a puzzle that needed a specific sequence of 4 for its solution, and there were 10 options available to select from for each part. I need a mathematician to run the numbers for me on the odds of this, but I somehow randomly guessed the correct sequence just by chance. This allowed us to jump way ahead in the game. The other members of my group were working on different puzzles at the time, and we actually thought my solution came from something they had done, so we didn’t even realize what had happened until after the game was over. I of course can’t blame any of this on the company or the game design, because who would ever think that was even possible, but it did make for a confusing game for us. Still, it was kind of worth it just for the story.

Final Touches
Because of the way we escaped, there was some confusion when the game was over. The game had a clear ending that fit the story, but we still had a bunch of puzzles unsolved and things that were still locked. The GM explained to us how we accidentally jumped ahead and walked us through the steps we skipped, which was nice. There was one puzzle in particular involving a piece of the decor that I thought was really cool that I was sad we missed, although I’m not sure we would have even known to look at it/use it without prompting. We again got stickers for escaping the room.

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You really like art?? (This room was so middle-of-the-road to me that even though it wasn’t bad per se, I can’t think of any strong reason to recommend it over other, better games at TEG and elsewhere.)

Skip This Room If…
-You’ve already played a heist theme elsewhere
-You only have time for one room at The Escape Game

Overall rating:  3 out of 5

Company website: http://www.theescapegamechicago.com

Chicago · Escape Room · Public Room · Reviews · Technology-Only Room · The Escape Game Chicago

Mission: Mars @ The Escape Game Chicago

Date played:  Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Number of players:  6
Max number of players possible for this room: 8
Public or private game:  Public
Outcome:  Escaped

First Impressions
My impressions of the building and lobby were not much different from when we played the Prison Break room, so I won’t go into detail about that. One thing I do want to note was something that came up during the booking process on the website. We wanted to play two rooms back-to-back, so naturally I looked for two time slots next to each other that didn’t include the Prison Break room. The booking on the website was not set up for this at all on the day we were going to visit. The 5 rooms were listed in repeating order on their booking schedule in such a way that if you booked one room from 6:00-7:00pm, the room that would begin at 7:15pm would always be that same room you had just played. The only way to play a different room would be to have a large gap between the two. I don’t know how many groups come in to play two rooms at once like we did, so maybe it’s a rare issue that not many people have. It was just a bit of a headache at first. We ended up booking two rooms that had about 30 minutes in between them and it ended up being a perfect break, so all was well. I also looked back at the scheduling on their website today and it seems that not every day is scheduled the way that one was, so it might be easier on certain days to book things back to back.

When we arrived, we learned that the air conditioning in the building was broken. So we had the unfortunate circumstance of playing in un-airconditioned rooms on a day with temperatures in the high 80s. I wanted to note this because it did affect my enjoyment of the games and some of my review might reflect that, but I also want to say that when I reached out to The Escape Game afterwards about it, they could not have been any kinder and their customer service was amazing. I think that kind of awesome service is part of what has made their company so successful – it definitely made me return and I’ll go back until I have played all of their rooms (2 more to go!) It’s impressive that they were able to take a less-than-positive experience and get a happy customer out of it. I know I’ll be spreading good word of mouth about them for years because of their great games and customer service.

Setup
Our group of 4 played with 2 strangers who had never played any escape room before (why does this keep happening to me?? USA, please transition to private rooms by default!) We walked into the room and placed our personal items in a bin on the floor, then we were then shown an intro video while the Game Master stood in the room with us and then asked if we had any questions. As always, I wish all of this had been done in a separate room, but I did like that there was a “real” point to watching the intro video. It outlined 3 objectives we would need to complete in the room, so I appreciated having that stated up front.

The story for this room on the website is as follows:

“You’ve just landed on the red planet for an exploratory mission, but your spacecraft experienced some major damage on the descent. Unfortunately, there is a larger problem at hand: a fatal amount of cosmic radiation is heading towards Mars, which will cause serious damage to the control systems, making it impossible to get back home. You have exactly 60 minutes to repair your ship and launch if you ever want to see Earth again.”

Game Play
As with their Prison Break room, The Escape Game made sure that this room had a detailed scenic setup that really placed you in the environment. It really looked and felt like we were on a spaceship. There was plenty of room to move around in and cool effects added into the game. Even though space themes aren’t normally my first choice for a game, I marveled at their design and especially enjoyed the non-spaceship part of the room. The clues were given to us on a screen and the Game Master did a great job of helping with extra nudges when needed.

Mission: Mars is advertised and priced as a “premium” room. This is because there are no combination/directional/manual locks in the room – everything is digital or uses technology in some way. This was the first room I had played in this style and I found that I enjoyed it less than “regular” rooms. Manually twisting a dial and feeling something open with your hands is much more satisfying to me than touching a button on a screen. It’s like Jerry Seinfield’s joke about the difference between hanging up on someone in the old days by slamming down a receiver, and doing it on a smartphone where you gently press a spot on the display. It’s not the same. I’m hopeful that technology-only rooms will not become the standard for premium/gen 2 rooms. I think in this theme it made sense, but I still enjoy a good old fashioned combination lock more.

The puzzles in the game were of high quality overall. There was only one that I felt was frustrating due to what I considered semi-poor logic. It’s very hard to describe without giving away spoilers, but we essentially solved the puzzle in its opposite form, because it made more sense for an action to be taken when something was “off” instead of “on.” Logically I just don’t think there was anything to lead us to believe that we should proceed the way the puzzle solution was designed, and we had to be told to do the opposite of what we were doing. I know that might just be the way that my brain works, and maybe most people have no problems with that puzzle, but to me the correct solution just wasn’t logical. I did very much appreciate the GM stepping in when he did to advise us on how to change our actions, since I don’t know that it would have ever occurred to us to do things the other way.

We did find a tennis ball in the room that turned out to not be part of the game, which we didn’t learn until afterwards. It was an accidental red herring that shouldn’t have been in the room at all. Part of me thinks that the GM should have put up a sentence or two on the clue screen to let us know that it wasn’t part of the game, but then the other part of me thinks that this might have broken the immersion more than was necessary.

I liked how the outline from the intro video was executed, and how there was no question about whether or not we had solved certain things. A few things in the game change as you go along and it made it feel more real. There was also a nice surprise thrown in that added some fun to the game.

Final Touches
The Game Master gave a nice wrap up at the end of our game, coming in to talk to us about a few things even though there was nothing to explain, as we had escaped. We were given an “I escaped” sticker and the staff was more than happy to take a few pictures for us. Again, great customer service and great employees working there.

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You want high-quality scenery
-You have a large group
-You have younger kids in your group

Skip This Room If…
-You prefer manual combination locks over screens/technology
-Their A/C is broken 🙂

Overall rating:  4 out of 5

Company website: http://www.theescapegamechicago.com/

Chicago · Escape Room · Private Room · Reviews · The Escape Game Chicago

Prison Break @ The Escape Game Chicago

Date played:  Monday, March 26, 2018
Number of players:  3
Max number of players possible for this room: 8
Public or private game:  Private (only because no strangers booked with us)
Outcome:  Did not escape

As of June 2018, this room is the reigning champ for my favorite room that I’ve played so far! I still had positives and negatives to discuss, but overall I thought this room was fantastic.

First Impressions
The Escape Game is a national chain, so it’s no surprise that their website was professional and easy to use. There was garage parking within a few minutes’ walk on Ohio Street for $10, and several other options nearby. There is another escape room company right next door on Ontario St called Escape House, which I’m sure has confused many customers. I wonder if whichever company opened first minds that the other company opened right next door… but as a customer, I kind of like it. If I ever wanted to play games at both places on the same day, it would make it very easy for me.

The lobby was a little smaller than I would have expected, but not too bad. There were a couple benches and chairs to sit on, merchandise for sale, and the front desk, but not much else.

Setup
When it was time to play we were walked back down through a long hallway to our room. For this game, teams start out by being split into two different cells where they can’t see each other, so we entered through two different doors. I was alone in one cell and the other two players were in the other cell.

This was another room where we brought our personal belongings in with us and used hooks on the back of the door to hang things. That was disappointing to me because I want as much immersion as possible in games, and that takes away from it. I was really surprised that such a professional and national company wouldn’t have a separate locker or coat area.

The Game Master came in the room with us and once we were all situated in the cells, he stood so everyone could see him and went over the rules. He also stayed in the room while an intro video played. I had a really hard time with this setup because generally once I’m in the room, I just want to start playing! I would MUCH rather leave my belongings in a locker, go over the rules and be shown a video in the lobby, and then be released into the room to start playing. Standing in the room and not being able to play goes against the whole nature of the game (and every fiber of my being.)

Also, this is a small detail, but once all of those introductory pieces were taken care of, the GM then exited back through my cell into the hallway… taking away one more slice of the immersion for me and providing another reminder that it was all “fake” before the game even began. I know these are small details, but adjusting this setup slightly could add so much more to the game. When I compare the beginning of this prison game to the one I experienced at Fox In A Box, there’s no question as to which company set up the game better. At FIAB I took off a blindfold to find myself already in a dark, foggy, locked cell, with the clock counting down. SO much more exciting! Hopefully The Escape Game will find a way to improve these small pieces to get things rolling in a more interesting way, since the rest of the game is very good.

The story for this room on the website is as follows:

“The year is 1955. You’ve been wrongfully accused of a crime, and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Your new “home” is a cell that once belonged to an inmate who disappeared without a trace…or did he? Some claim he escaped. Others swear he was murdered by the infamously cruel warden. But no one actually knows…can you escape before you suffer the same fate?”

Game Play
We had 3 clues to use throughout the game, which we asked for by hitting a button in the room and which we received on a screen. We actually forgot about the button at first and asked for clues verbally, and thankfully our GM was paying attention enough to help us out and then remind us of the button.

First and foremost, the scenery/decor of this room was impeccable at every stage. I love that I live in a world where there are companies with enough money to devote solely to making very realistic-looking live action games like this. 🙂  Everything looked and felt like a real jail cell – the toilets were even taken from a real penitentiary, which is cool but also, ew. I loved the surprises they had in store along the way and was so, so impressed with all the detail they gave to everything. To think that someone’s job was to get to design all of that with probably not much of a limit on the budget, to have the funds to take an idea and really make it that cool, I am definitely jealous. It was basically everything I would want an escape room design to be.

One thing that may or may not have been a malfunction in our game: the intro video they showed us mentioned a thunderstorm, and how it would help cover the sound of our escape. I also thought I had seen a promo somewhere that showed special lighting effects in the room. Our room did not have any sound or lighting effects happening to make it seem like a thunderstorm was going on outside, and I thought this might have been something that normally happens but didn’t during our game. Or maybe that’s just something they say in the video that isn’t actually part of the game. Either way, it put the idea in my head and made me think about how cool it would have been to have those extra effects going on while we played. If that’s not something that’s normally part of the game, they should definitely add it!

UPDATE: After speaking with some other players, I confirmed that we WERE supposed to have sound and lighting effects in the room to make it seem like a thunderstorm was happening outside. I’m sad that we missed out on that because it would’ve been so cool!

There were also some GREAT puzzles in this room! I love, love, loved how they incorporated pieces of the set into the game, and how some puzzles were truly just challenges of physical skill/dexterity. To me those really made it feel like a true prison break, to not just be opening a combination lock but to really have to work at something with your hands. I don’t want to give any spoilers away but I just had so much fun with this room and the things they came up with. There were also a few puzzles where I felt that they had you think outside the box in cool ways, and I was just very impressed overall with the the things we had to solve.

Final Touches
The ending of our experience involved the only real issue I had with the game. We did not escape within 60 minutes, but we were close. After the time ran out and the GM came in to get us, we of course had some questions, but we were told that they couldn’t walk us through the remainder of the game. I was surprised, since I had never heard of an ER operating that way before. It made for a very abrupt ending, to go from working hard to try to solve things one minute to then just leaving the room without answers the next minute. The only plausible explanation I can come up with for this is that they thought there was a chance we would come back and play again in order to finish it, and if they spoiled everything, then we wouldn’t have to. But how many people would really pay to play the exact same room again, especially if they almost completed it the first time? That’s something I don’t believe I would ever do, even as an enthusiast! Is there another reason I’m overlooking? Do other escape rooms do this too?

There was no offer or opportunity for a group picture, but they did give us stickers that said “I almost escaped,” so that was nice. There could have been a little more done at the end of the game to wrap things up, but I still left feeling very excited about the game and the company.

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You want high-quality scenery
-You want an extra-challenging scenario
-You’re prepared to walk away without answers if you don’t escape

Skip This Room If…
-You want to play alone, as this is not possible in this room

Overall rating:  4.5 out of 5

Company website: http://www.theescapegamechicago.com

Chicago · Escape Room · Fox In A Box · Private Room · Reviews

The Lab @ Fox In A Box Chicago

Date played:  Saturday, March 10, 2018
Number of players:  4
Max number of players possible for this room: 6
Public or private game:  Private
Outcome:  Escaped

Note: Fox In A Box restricts this game to people 15 years old or older, even when accompanied by an adult.

We played this room immediately after playing The Bank, so I will skip ahead to only the sections about this particular game. You can read my post about The Bank here.

Setup
Before entering the room, we were all given lab coats to wear. It added to the experience in a fun and simple way, and gave us all pockets to hold our locks/keys/clues! (I wonder how often Game Masters need to search the pockets of these coats for things players accidentally leave inside…)

The story for this room on the FIAB website is as follows:

“A lethal, man-made virus is turning healthy people into bloodthirsty, emotionless creatures. Spread through a single bite, the virus has infected most of the planet and humankind is at the brink of extinction. Only a few people have managed to elude infection. Among them is a team of brilliant Russian scientists trying to create a cure, but recently all contact with their laboratory was lost. No one knows what happened for certain, but the worst is feared. Your team comprises the world’s last remaining sane and lucid technicians. Your assignment, if you accept, is to travel to The Lab and complete the antidote. It’s a race against time; “zombies” are quickly closing in.  (please note: there are no zombies actually in the room with you.)”

Game Play
The hint system in this room is the same as it is for The Bank, which you can read about by clicking the link at the beginning of this post.

There were definitely some cool puzzles that made it feel like we were really scientists in a lab, and I appreciated that. I also like any escape room that has multiple rooms better right off the bat, so that was a plus. The things that we struggled with were all our own fault, so I would say the puzzles were well-designed and that the game can run smoothly.

The one downside I felt this room had was the decor. I suppose a lab that has been isolated and has possibly had zombies inside it wouldn’t be pristine, but it felt kind of icky inside to me. There was fake blood on the walls and that was fine, since I knew I wouldn’t have to touch it, but I also felt like I didn’t want to touch much else either. It made searching around difficult because I didn’t like the gross feeling of the items in the room. That could just be chalked up to this theme not being the right fit for me, but by comparison, a prison scenario is also by nature somewhat rundown and dirty, and I didn’t feel that way when I played their prison game at all. So who knows.

I also felt like the decor was a little too simplistic, like the theme was chosen as a way to save money on decorating (similar to my feelings about wild west themes.) I guess I haven’t been inside many science labs in real life, but I would hope for them to be more than a white room with some equipment inside. I just felt like we were in a plain room with a few pieces of furniture and equipment and fake blood on the walls. Maybe more lab counters would have sold the setting, or maybe I’m just being too picky. They did have a fake cadaver in the room, after all!

I did like the TV monitor in the room that was supposed to be showing the exterior of our lab room. As time went on it looked like a zombie was creeping up on us, which was a nice touch. I kind of wish they took that even further and somehow had things happening right outside our door, and I’m not even someone who seeks out scary themes. Either way, it was a fun extra element to add to the room.

Final Touches
When we were ready to leave the facility, the staff at the front desk gave us a sort of punch card. There were four boxes on it, one for each of their games, and once you played all the games and received a stamp for each, you could receive a free t-shirt or mug. Our cards had stamps for The Bank and The Lab on them. I told the front desk staff that we had been there in August and had played The Cell, and asked if we could receive a stamp for that if we showed them our email confirmation/receipt. They told us unfortunately that would not work, since they had just rolled out this new program. It made sense, since that game was 7 months earlier, but it was also a shame because it’s not like we’ll ever go back to re-play a room we’ve already done. So the cards were sadly useless for us. I think it would have been nice for the staff to say something like, “If you come back and play The Bunker, let us know and we’ll see what we can do.” That way they’re not promising anything, but if we really did return and had paid to play all 4 rooms, it would be a nice token of appreciation. Oh well. We did still receive our hand-drawn cards and stickers. 🙂

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You want to play a private room
-You want to play a room with a scary theme that’s not actually scary

Skip This Room If…
-You’re grossed out by fake blood
-You don’t like anything even remotely scary
-You’re looking for a room with a real zombie inside while you play

Overall rating:  3 out of 5

Company website: http://www.foxinaboxchicago.com

Chicago · Escape Room · Fox In A Box · Private Room · Reviews

The Bank @ Fox In A Box Chicago

Date played:  Saturday, March 10, 2018
Number of players:  4
Max number of players possible for this room: 6
Public or private game:  Private
Outcome:  Escaped

First Impressions
My impressions of the building and lobby were the same as when I visited back in August, which you can read about here. The staff was friendly and welcoming, and even understanding when we arrived a few minutes late.

Setup
The story for this room on the FIAB website is as follows:

“You are a professional and well-connected group of thieves. You have learned that the general manager of a local major bank is holding a sizable stash of diamonds in his office safe. In the dead of night, a break in the bank’s electrical system has deactivated all alarms for exactly one hour, providing the opportunity to make your move. If you locate and crack the safe in time, you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams. Stumble, and you will end your career of crime behind bars.”

Game Play
This entire game takes place in the dark, which I thought was a fantastic way to immerse us in the story and make it feel like we were truly robbing a bank. It wasn’t pitch black, and we were all provided with flashlights, so even for someone with poor vision like myself, there was plenty of light. It was the perfect blend of adding an element for the storyline without making it difficult to play the game or solve puzzles.

Another fun point in the game is the addition of a guard “patrol.” I don’t believe this is a spoiler to the game because the Game Master outlines it before you enter the room, so I feel okay sharing it here. We were told that when we heard the music from the theme to Pink Panther, that we should hide because it meant the guard was coming to do a security check. It added a sense of excitement and urgency during the game, and even paranoia, that heightened everything and made it even more fun. I do wonder what happens if a player remains in plain sight though. Does the GM pretend not to see them? Tell them that technically they’ve lost but can continue playing? Dock them some time?

The clue system for this room involved us hitting a button in the room, and then having cards dropped in a mail slot inside the room. This system was okay, but not my favorite. I know that having any hint system at all breaks down the feeling of immersion, but I think I would have preferred to see clues appear on a screen. Maybe there could have been a monitor that looked like one of the bank’s own screens with its logo on it, and the story was that there was someone on the outside hacking into their system to send us information.

As for the puzzles, there were a few that I really liked in this room. Fox In A Box does a good job of making sure that no outside knowledge is needed to solve the puzzles, but if you do happen to know something, it might speed you up just a tad. There was also one particular puzzle that needed to be completed by two people and I thought it was a neat idea (even though I was not good at it!)

Final Touches
We received FIAB’s signature hand-drawn card of each of us during our game, along with a FIAB sticker. We also had a picture taken by our GM.

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You want a private game
-You enjoy games with a little GM interaction

Skip This Room If…
-You don’t want to play a game in low lighting
-You want to play a room alone, as this is not possible for this game

Overall rating:  4 out of 5

Company website: http://www.foxinaboxchicago.com