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

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

The Cell @ Fox In A Box Chicago

Date played:  Sunday, August 20, 2017
Number of players:  3
Max number of players possible for this room: 6
Public or private game:  Private
Outcome:  Did not escape

Note: It looks like FIAB has since changed the name of this room to “The Prison.”

This room receives the special honor of being the very first escape room that I ever played. Normally on this website I will be writing reviews immediately after playing the rooms, but to begin with I am going to post reviews for a few rooms played in the past. This is because I would like to keep a record of all the rooms I’ve played and because I think there is still some value in the memories of these experiences. I will do my best to write this review with a reasonable mix of “how I felt then” vs “how I feel now” and I will try to focus on the things that made a lasting impact.

First Impressions
I chose this company for my first escape room because I wanted to ensure that we had a private booking, and would not be playing with strangers. This is still such a great selling point for FIAB and I wish more US companies would follow suit. (It is maddening that so many other counties have markets with only private bookings!) The website looked professional, the room themes were straightforward, and I felt confident that my group and I would have a good experience.

It was easy to find garage parking just 1-2 blocks away. FIAB Chicago is located in the basement of Dearborn Station. There were helpful signs to point the way and it was not hard at all to find the lobby. It did feel a little strange walking through the long white halls in the basement to get there, but it also made me hopeful that they would have plenty of room for their games down there.

The lobby has fun table games to play, and the tables have signs for each of their 4 rooms. (Their current rooms available to play are The Prison, The Lab, The Bank, and The Bunker.) Given that other places I’ve been to don’t try to help organize groups beforehand, I think this is a nice touch, especially if you happened to be mixed in with strangers. There are lockers that are also labeled for each room and they even had chargers available inside them for everyone’s devices, which was great.

Setup
When we arrived there was one other group there. Both groups were gathered together in the lobby and the general rules were given to all of us at once. This was done by one employee speaking to the whole group. Our personal belongings had to remain locked up in the aforementioned lockers in the lobby. This is my personal preference for an escape room, because I think leaving your belongings behind in a different room elevates the feeling of immersion. Bringing in my coat/purse just reminds me that I’m not really “there” in the story. So points to FIAB for keeping personal items out of the room.

We were also given orange “prison” t shirts to wear. I had no other escape rooms to compare this to, but I thought that was a fun element. There is a part of me that is grossed out by wearing a shirt that has been worn by many strangers before, but after each game I believe they go into a general laundry basket and are not used again until they’ve all been washed. So it’s slightly less gross. If that kind of thing doesn’t bother you, I think it makes the game feel more fun.

The story for The Cell/The Prison on the FIAB website is as follows:
“The justice system is flawed and imperfect. You discover this first-hand having been sentenced to life in prison, without chance of parole, for a crime you did not commit. All requests for appeals have been denied. The only path to freedom is to breakout, but you are in a maximum-security cell and are constantly monitored. Suddenly, a riot erupts in another prison block. Your guard has left his post. This is your only chance for liberty. Are you quick-witted and resourceful enough to escape?”

Game Play
One of my favorite things about this room was the way it began. We waited in the lobby until the Game Master came to get us, and when she did, she had us stand in a line and put on blindfolds. (Afterwards I realized that this was because they needed to walk us through part of the room in order to reach the starting point, and they didn’t want us to see anything until we were in the game. But in the moment I just thought it was a way to add to the hype of the prison game. Even if it was only for practical purposes, I think it went a long way in setting the scene!)

We were marched into the room blindfolded, and when the game began we took them off. I won’t give any spoilers about the actual game, but I do want to say that I thought the scenery/decorations were great. It was dark and there was fog/smoke in the room when we began, which was disorienting in a very fun way. We were split up into two cells that faced each other, and because I had never played a room before, I wasn’t expecting that at all and thought it was awesome. I do think that beyond the actual prison cell itself, some of the decor was kind of basic and not of the highest quality, but it didn’t take away from the game for me.

We had 3 clues available to use, but I won’t go into the hint system for this room because it’s part of the game that isn’t revealed to you beforehand. The Game Master was able to communicate with us over a speaker system, where they could give us extra nudges by talking to us. This felt very personal and effective. I can see how the quality of these kinds of nudges would vary widely based on the GM, but I think we had an excellent Game Master for this room, and that really added to the experience. She knew how to give a vague hint that was helpful without giving things away, and it was great.

As far as the puzzles in the room, I think they were generally very satisfying. There was one puzzle in particular that remains one of my favorites to this day, so that gets them lots of points in my book. This was the first room anyone in my group had ever done, so we were fairly lost at some points, but it always felt enjoyable and not frustrating.

Final Touches
We did not escape in the allotted 60 minutes, which isn’t surprising given that we were all newbies. The GM walked us through the remaining things that we hadn’t solved, which I appreciated. Having played other games since then where we were not given this kind of information, I think it’s definitely a plus when you get it.

We had our picture taken by the GM and received it by email within the next couple of days, which was nice. They also gave us each a postcard with a picture the GM drew of us playing the game, with some action we took during the game called out. We had been asked to come up with code names for ourselves before the game, so these were written on the postcard above each of our pictures. I thought it was a fun touch, although there’s not much to do with it afterwards except throw it away, compared to a sticker or something more useful.

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You want a private game experience
-You don’t mind being slightly more physical when playing (getting on your hands and knees, etc)
-You don’t mind being disoriented (with blindfolds, fog, lighting, etc)

Skip This Room If…
-You think the prison theme is overused
-You want to play solo
-You will be with strangers (as communication is key when you are split up in different cells)

Overall rating:  4 out of 5
Company websitehttp://www.foxinaboxchicago.com