Chicago · Escape Artistry · Escape Room · Public Room · Reviews

Operation G.R.A.N.I.E @ Escape Artistry (Chicago, IL)

Date played:  Saturday, August 18, 2018
Number of players:  8
Max number of players possible for this room: 10
Public or private game:  Public
Outcome:  Escaped

First Impressions
This room was located in the Time Gallery location of EA. There was a full, big lobby area with games and restrooms and a water fountain. This was much more polished than The Railcar location and had the professional front I was expecting.

Setup
We went over the rules in the lobby and were able to lock our personal items in a locker. We were then shown a story video in a hallway before proceeding to the room, and then yet another video played once we were inside the room. I’ve come to realize that I don’t care much for the overall story in escape rooms. Give me a general premise, like I’m escaping from prison, and I’m good. Once I’m there, I just want to play, and not spend time watching videos.

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

“A high-stakes game of espionage and baked goods! Over the (Chicago) River and through the ‘hoods to Grandmother’s house we go. But hurry! The Greater Retired Alliance of National Intelligence and Espionage needs your help!

Game Play
The setting of this game is at grandmother’s house, so the room looked like a house. I tend to prefer fancier settings where I wouldn’t normally be in real life, but as a house it was still very well decorated with lots of attention to detail. Decor spoiler: there is a piano in the room. When I began playing Pachelbel’s Canon on it, our Game Master commended me for it, and that was one of my favorite parts of the experience. 🙂

I thought Escape Artistry did a great job of tying the theme into the puzzles. Pretty much every puzzle was somehow connected to things a grandmother wold like or do or have, and I appreciated that.

The puzzles themselves were great overall. There was lots of variety, some creative things, and plenty to be done. The biggest downside of this room to me was just a general fact that goes along with escape rooms: you won’t get to work on every puzzle. There were 8 of us in the room and everyone was always working on something, which was great because there was enough to do for everyone to be involved, but it also meant that SO MANY THINGS were happening that I had no idea about. I felt mostly sad that I had missed out on seeing most of the puzzles get solved. We did get to ask a few questions afterwards, but to this day I still don’t know what many puzzles in the room were, or how we solved most things. I am someone who plays escape rooms mostly for the puzzles, so for me this room was kind of a disappointment. I enjoy all the other aspects, but what I really like is the satisfaction of solving something. If we had had fewer people I don’t think we would have beaten the room, so I guess it was for the best. But it was not my favorite experience.

Our GM was great at giving hints, and this was done through a speaker. I kind of liked that in lieu of the traditional TV screen. They also make the clue-giving process silly and fun, and that was great even though we were with strangers.

We escaped with ONE minute left on the clock! I happened to be the person who obtained the final answer we needed and we literally shouted it to the other members of our group, who ran to put it to use. It was a great way to end the game.

Final Touches
Our GM answered a few questions and showed us a few things in the room, and then we went back to the lobby for a group picture. We lucked out with a really great group of strangers to play with!

 

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You have a group of at least 8
-You have mostly experienced players in your group
-You don’t mind missing out on puzzles as you work on something else

Skip This Room If…
-You have not played any other escape rooms yet
-You want more unique scenery than just a house setting

Overall rating:  4 out of 5

Company website: http://www.escape-artistry.com

Chicago · Escape Artistry · Escape Room · Public Room · Reviews

The Railcar @ Escape Artistry (Chicago, IL)

Date played:  Saturday, August 18, 2018
Number of players:  8
Max number of players possible for this room: 10
Public or private game:  Public
Outcome:  Escaped

First Impressions
I had heard many good reviews about this room, and I’m glad I had, because otherwise I think I would have been somewhat wary upon arrival. Escape Artistry has 2 locations on Milwaukee Ave, so I’m sure many people get confused and go to the wrong place, even though I think things are clearly explained on their website. (The Railcar room is in one location, and all the other rooms are farther south on Milwaukee.) The group of strangers that were playing with us arrived about 10 minutes late and I think the location was part of the issue.

There is no “Escape Artistry” sign outside the building for The Railcar, and then on the directory in the lobby it’s only listed as “The Railcar.” It’s inside an older building on the third floor with no A/C. (The room where the game was located did have A/C.) The building is a studio arts building so there were lots of different hallways to choose from with artwork displayed. It wasn’t necessarily that confusing to find The Railcar, but it also wasn’t incredibly straightforward either. I think a couple more signs could have helped direct people a little more clearly.

In all honesty, I was expecting the location to appear more polished/professional than it did. I had originally thought that The Railcar was a refurbished old train car, but I learned that it was actually just constructed from scratch. I thought that was pretty cool, so even though I thought the location was a little unkempt for a business, I did feel like it was at home in an artsy building.

Setup
Since The Railcar is the only room at this location, when you arrive, the “lobby” is just the area right outside the railcar. This is where you go over the rules and where you can place personal items in a bin. There is a video shown that provides some background and story for the room.

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

“What starts off as a normal commute quickly becomes a race against time. Can you unravel the mystery, find the clues, solve the puzzles, stop the train, and save Chicago?

Game Play
First of all, the decor in the room was on point. It definitely looked and felt like a replica of an L car, but I wouldn’t say I felt totally immersed. Maybe that’s just because the lobby area was right outside the car, but I didn’t feel like I had stepped into a story. Still, all of the signage and the seating and the construction of the car was done very well.

The puzzles in the room had a lot of variety. Some seasoned players might not enjoy some of the more cliche/overused puzzles that are present in many escape rooms, but they were still executed well in the room. Anything that needed outside knowledge to be solved was given in the room, and in some cases if you happened to know the outside knowledge, you could solve the puzzle more quickly, without waiting to find/open something else in the room that would have provided that knowledge. I think that strikes a nice balance, because you can feel smart and get a leg up on the game if you happen to know the information, but if not, you’ll still have everything you need to solve it eventually.

Because the room had the design of a train car, members of our group could be working on different puzzles at the same time without me feeling like I was totally missing out on what others were doing. This is often a concern of mine, as I always want to be sure I experience the whole room. So in that respect I really liked the layout of the space.

A small note: most of the locks in the room had hints next to them to tell you which puzzle they went with. I thought that was great. Having to try the same combo on 10 different locks doesn’t really add to the fun of a room in any way, so I liked that this room helped you keep track of where you were at.

Our group of 4 adults was paired with a family with 2 adults and 2 pre-teen boys, and everyone was able to contribute to solving things. The youngest boy even solved something that most of the adults were stumped by for a long time, so this game is great for kids!

Hints were provided on a screen inside the car. I don’t remember being given instructions for how to ask for a hint, so most of the time we just kind of yelled. There was no other tech in the room and I was glad, since that meant all the puzzles were pretty tactile things.

We escaped with two minutes left on the clock and it was fun to have things get down to the wire. I always want to be sure that I get to experience the entire game when I play an escape room, so it’s always a little nerve wracking if I feel like clues aren’t coming fast enough, since I don’t know how much of the room is left to go. There were a few times where I felt like we asked for help but didn’t get it, so since we still won the game, I’m going to assume that the Game Master didn’t want to help us too much and have us get out of the room too early. I’m not sure if that’s actually what happened or if we just got lucky, but we won, so I’m not going to question it too much.

Final Touches
We all took a group picture outside of the room and then we were off.

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You have a group of about 8
-You have children in your group
-You’re from out of town and want to play a Chicago-themed room

Skip This Room If…
-You feel you just cannot complete some of the more cliche puzzles out there one more time
-You dislike rooms with a little grunge (it is a train car, after all)

Overall rating:  4 out of 5

Company website: http://www.escape-artistry.com

Escape Room · Locurio · Private Room · Reviews · Seattle, WA

The Storykeeper @ Locurio (Seattle)

Date played:  Monday, July 16, 2018
Number of players:  3
Max number of players possible for this room: 6
Public or private game:  Private
Outcome:  Escaped

First Impressions
I booked our game by communicating with one of the owners, who was beyond wonderful. When she found out we were visiting Seattle from Chicago, she was ready with recommendations and tips for things to see and do. I don’t think you could have a better first impression than the one I had of Locurio as a company.

When you arrive at the location, you call a phone number and they bring you inside a gate to the lobby. I thought the game was going to start then and there somehow, since it felt like the way a spy would enter a secret location, but it was a normal walk to a lobby. So I just have an overactive imagination and was overly hyped for cool things to happen. 🙂

Setup
The lobby was very bare-bones. We signed our waivers and our Game Master told us the rules (while in the lobby, hooray!) Everyone we interacted with there was incredibly nice.

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

“You’ve heard whispered tales of a mysterious book collection and its curator, an elusive figure known only as Jak. Rumor has it that Jak is seeking adventurous souls to retrieve a valuable item, a treasure which Jak claims to have lost in a most peculiar place… Do you dare to answer Jak’s summons and explore the secrets of the hidden library?

This game includes physical activity such as kneeling and crawling. Comfortable shoes are highly recommended. The game also features low lighting in some areas. The game includes a mild “jump scare” style interaction with a character.”

Game Play
First things first: the immersion in this game was amazing. It’s going to be hard to write this without giving anything away because I just want to gush about things, but I won’t include any spoilers. This room, to me, is what all escape rooms should be in terms of its design/decor. It was a fully immersive environment and it really made you feel like you were stepping into that world. The lighting, the sounds, and everything you see around you all has lots of attention to detail to add to the experience.

This room was 70 minutes long and it made me feel like all escape rooms should be at least that long. With only 3 people playing we needed every second, but I also think for the amount you generally pay for a room, that 70-90 minutes would just feel like a better experience. Even though this was only 10 minutes longer than an average escape room, to me the experience felt much longer, in a good way. I also really appreciated that the clock stopped once we had “won” the game, but that we then got to do a little bit more that was untimed. It made me feel like we got even more out of our experience without the stress of the the timer running out!

Without giving anything away, I thought that the way the room began was pretty magical. I loved the different elements that were brought in to make you feel like part of the story. Similar to The Cell at Fox In A Box, the beginning set the tone for the whole room, but in a very different (yet equally intriguing) way. In my opinion, both kids and adults would find this beginning fun and exciting.

The clue system used in this room was the best I have seen so far in any room. You have an iPad with you and the clues are delivered as part of the room experience, in the most perfectly immersive way. It fit with our room theme so well that I wonder how this is handled in their other room, The Vanishing Act. I absolutely loved that there was no “clue limit” given beforehand, because isn’t that just for show anyways? A good Game Master will give you as many clues as needed in order to help you along to your escape, in my opinion. If there is a limit of 3 clues and you use them all, they wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) just let you stand around perplexed, because that would be almost no fun at all. So why even bother giving a pretend limit? I am kind of surprised looking back that no one in my group thought to even ask about the clue system while we were going over the rules in the lobby, and I wonder what we would have been told if we had. I wish that all escape rooms followed Locurio’s example with their clue system, because I really thought it was ingenious.

Their website mentions a minor jump scare in the room, and I will admit that this made me hesitate a little. I don’t like scary themes much and wouldn’t seek out that kind of experience, but I knew I had to play this room since it had such good reviews. I am very glad I did! If you’re like me and you tend to avoid scary experiences, don’t worry at all. I did jump at the jump scare, but it was fun and mild, like they describe. The character interaction they mention was some of my very favorite parts of the room, and it was done extremely well. I cannot over-emphasize how great I thought this was, and how many kudos I want to give to their employees.

The puzzles in this room were overall very good. I would say this room had a higher difficulty level than most others I’ve played. We definitely needed help, and at some points a lot of help. I think this is a combination of a few different things. First, there were only 3 of us playing. If there had been 4-6 people in our group, as Locurio recommends, I think we would have figured a few things out more quickly and we would have moved past other parts more easily. Second, I think we just weren’t playing as well as we have in the past. Maybe we were too much on vacation mode, or we were just having an off day, but there were things that we struggled with that normally I think we would not have. Looking back on the room now that I know how to complete the puzzles, there are things that I’m surprised we didn’t figure out more quickly. And third, I do think there was one puzzle that was not super intuitive to any of us. Even after we had received help from our GM, we just could not make sense of how to do it. Eventually we got it, with a little more help, but I don’t know if I would have ever figured it out if left to my own devices.

Even though some puzzles were pretty difficult, I really, really liked them. There was one in particular that I did on my own while my teammates worked on something else, and I just think it was such a cool puzzle. It involved listening carefully to something, and while it was challenging, I thought it was a perfectly designed puzzle. I wish I had been able to figure out where to start more on my own, but the GM did a great job giving subtle hints to prod me along and not just give things away. It was really fun to do and I think that’s going to stand as one of my favorite puzzles in a room, going forward. They had a wide variety in the types of puzzles too, with logic, tactile items, searching, etc.

Another thing I want to rave about is the use of technology in this room. There was one part in particular where we were able to manipulate something in the room using sensor technology, and it was just done SO well. That is my favorite type of tech in a room – not screens where you’re punching in numbers, or laser beams angled to hit something, but sensor-triggered things that feel like magic when you do something a certain way. Outstanding.

There was one small hiccup during our game, and that was that an object had not been reset in its correct location. We solved a puzzle, but instead of being rewarded with an item, we were rewarded with nothing. The GM at first thought that we hadn’t seen the item, but we figured out quickly that it just wasn’t there at all. We lamented some time wasted searching for something that was never there, but our GM handled the situation expertly. He directed us to another puzzle that was still left to complete, and then had a replacement item appear in the room. We never saw him and nothing broke the immersion at all, so it was truly the best way he could have solved the issue. That kind of thing really reveals how awesome the staff at Locurio is, to be able to fix something in the moment!

We escaped with 1:09 left on the clock, and we all admitted later we thought it was a lost cause at one point. In those situations I always feel worried because I just want to be able to experience the entire room. I don’t care as much if I don’t win, but I want to know that I saw everything there was to see or attempted all the puzzles. Our Game Master helped us out at the end and we were still able to escape, which I was very happy about. I think every group should get to win their room, as much as possible, and that it should only differ in how much help you receive. It’s always fun to win a room with so little time left on the clock, too!

Final Touches
The game had a nice ending and we had our picture taken, and then we were on our way. We were in kind of a post-game haze upon exiting the room, and made our way to the lobby only to realize that we had no need to return there. I also think maybe the experience was so cool that it felt weird to just leave abruptly and stumble back out into the world. I could have played several more rooms back to back, but that’s always the case. 🙂

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You love literature and those types of themes
-You love very immersive environments
-You want to experience a great combination of puzzles, technology, acting, and scenery
-Seriously, just PLAY THIS ROOM!

Skip This Room If…
-You have a small group (I think Locurio’s recommendation of 4-6 players is perfect)
-You don’t enjoy any kind of jump scare, even a very minor one
-You haven’t played any other escape rooms yet (but then come back to this one later!)

Overall rating:  4.5 out of 5

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

Escape Factor · Escape Room · Forest Park, IL · Private Room · Reviews

Bonus Fun Time Game Show Challenge @ Escape Factor Forest Park

Date played:  Saturday, June 30, 2018
Number of players:  6
Max number of players possible for this room: 8
Public or private game:  Private (only because no strangers booked with us)
Outcome:  Escaped

First Impressions
The website is professional looking and easy to use, and it was easy to find parking even though Forest Park is on the outskirts of Chicago. (Just make sure your parallel parking skills are up to snuff!)

Escape Factor has a nice, clean lobby. They have a side room with lockers (free of charge) to keep personal items in, and some fun brain teaser games to play while you wait. No seating, but otherwise everything you would need in an ER lobby.

Setup
Our Game Master went over the rules in the lobby, before we entered the room. This is best practice, in my opinion – get all the other stuff out of the way first, and then when you get in the room it can all just be excitement.

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

“As a contestant on this vintage game show set, you’ve made it to the final round and have just minutes to win the grand prize!  The plot thickens, however, in a bizarre turn of events.  Can you channel your inner game show contestant and solve your way into the winners’ circle?”

Kudos to the designers on the very creative and original theme of this room, and also on the name!

Game Play
In this game, the Game Master stays in the room with you the whole time and gives you any clues that you might need verbally. I am normally not a fan of having the GM in the room, but in this case I think it fit the theme and worked out well. Every game show needs a host, right??

The game starts by having all players work together on one thing, and then it opens up after that. I had never played a room with that kind of format before and I actually really liked it. It was fun to have everyone work on the same puzzle without having to feel guilty for clustering around something. 🙂

The decor of the room was spot on with the theme. It didn’t feel as immersive to me as, say, a prison room, but I think that’s just the nature of the theme. It definitely was well done and different from any other escape room I’ve seen. I’m sharing this picture here since it’s already a public photo online:

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We had 6 people in the room and it didn’t feel cramped at all. Even 8 people would have been fine.

I will say that if your preference is for discovery, there is not really any of that in this room. As you can see from the photo, the room is pretty straightforward. It’s not the kind of room where you search and find hidden items. At least one person in our group noted that they would have liked more of that, and after thinking about it, I realized that I enjoy doing that in rooms too. As frustrating as it can be to get stuck because you haven’t found something, it does provide excitement to uncover something hidden somewhere. I don’t think it’s necessarily a negative that there was no searching to be done though – lots of people dislike searching for items, so it all comes down to personal preference.

The puzzles in the room were great. Everything flowed logically, everything made sense, there was no outside knowledge needed, and everything worked well. There was a great mix of tactile puzzles, riddles, mental work, and reasoning. There were also no “technology” puzzles – meaning no entering numbers on a screen to unlock something, etc. I always prefer putting numbers into a combination lock over using a screen, so to me this was a big plus. There was also a nice amount of things for everyone in our group to be working on at once. I don’t think anyone was ever just standing around watching because there was always something to do, which was excellent. There were a few times when we were all able to gather around something and work together, and that was great too.

I thought our Game Master (Amanda) was fantastic. She stayed in character the whole time, and her prompts/hints had the perfect level of vagueness – just enough to prod us in the right direction without ever giving anything away. We only used 2 hints and she did a great job with them.

We completed the room with 9:49 left on the clock. The ending of the room was a little anticlimactic, and that’s the one thing I think could be improved. It would’ve been fun to have something really “game show-y” happen, like balloons falling from the ceiling or a screen where you watch yourselves win with a big flashing dollar amount at the bottom. That would just be a nice extra touch to the whole thing. I think the ending, and the lack of searching, are the only reasons I would not give this room a 5/5 though. I guess this means I want a little more adrenaline in my gameplay. 🙂

Final Touches
Our GM took our picture before we left (in addition to taking one beforehand with their camera) and was also very nice about answering all our questions after the room was over. The customer service here was top notch!

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You’re looking for a unique theme
-You want a wide array of puzzle types without lots of technology-based things
-You’ve always wanted to be on The Price Is Right

Skip This Room If…
-You dislike having the Game Master in the room with you
-You want to be able to search and discover items in the room

Overall rating:  4 out of 5

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

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

Special Ops @ The Escape Game Chicago

Date played:  Friday, June 15, 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

First Impressions
Having been to this location several times already, my “first impressions” were the same as before, but I will say that they always have a neat and clean lobby and very friendly staff members. 🙂

Setup
The rules explanation and the storing of personal items both took place inside the room, as is always the case with The Escape Game. I will say that I like when companies incorporate the rules into the intro video, as was the case in this room. It’s a fun way to tell players not to break anything or use excessive force, but to do it “in character” and make it seem like it’s because of a reason related to the story.

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

“It started as a routine operation. As the closest team of agents in the area, your group has been asked to investigate the Ansar market. The market is closed for the evening and is not known to be a criminal hotspot. However, your “routine check” ends up taking a quick turn and suddenly, the fate of the world rests on your shoulders. With no time to send backup, can you rise to the occasion and save the day?”

Game Play
I want to start off by saying that any kind of military-themed room is usually not my first choice, so I will admit that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the story in this room. I still understood everything that happened and knew how the game connected to the story, but this kind of theme doesn’t interest me greatly and so my review comes from that bias.

As the story on the website hints at, there are two parts to this room: the setting at the beginning and the setting after the “quick turn” they mention. Because of that description, I was actually expecting something big to happen, something that would ignite some adrenaline and really feel like a “quick turn” where “suddenly” things have changed. That was not the case, in my opinion, and so I felt a little deflated. If I could, I would reword that description to something more like “During your routine check, you find that something bigger is at stake.” Just to set appropriate expectations, in case anyone else reads the stories as closely as I do. 🙂

Everyone in my group agreed that we all liked the first setting of the room best. The scene setting and decor were both great, as always with TEG. I really liked the puzzles in this part too – they had a few different tangible type of puzzles that were really enjoyable to do. Our Game Master even complimented us afterwards on how quickly we solved a few things, which was so nice. I felt like everyone in our group was able to contribute using different strengths and solve things at the same time, which was perfect.

There were also more technology-based puzzles to solve, and those are never my favorite, but I didn’t mind them too much. I think I enjoyed them more because they were paired with other puzzles too, and it wasn’t a tech-only room.

One thing that I dislike anytime it comes up in a room: only 1 flashlight for 4 people! Why? Why must this be the case? Is it to purposely make it frustrating or to make players use up more time by not all being able to see things at once? Would it really be that bad for everyone to get to use their own flashlight? I don’t have great vision so I might be more sensitive to this than other players, but I just don’t see valid enough reasons for not having one for each player to use. At one point, we actually ended up without a flashlight to use and the GM popped in for just a second to bring us one. I thought that was fantastic. I know it might break the immersion for some people and they might see it as a negative, but I think it was exactly the right call. Again, maybe this is just because I rely on flashlights to help me see more than other people, but I felt like our GM was really looking out for us and wanted us to have the best experience possible. A gold star for service from me!

We escaped with 1:26 left on the clock, which made the ending of the game pretty fun. I think there were a few moments when all of us thought we probably weren’t going to make it, so it was exciting to end with so little time remaining.

Final Touches
Our GM was super nice and talked to us about the room a little afterwards, and even allowed us to go back and review a puzzle at the beginning that we wanted to. (I had solved something different at the time and was curious about the puzzle I hadn’t been involved in solving.) She gave us our “I escaped” stickers and then we were on our way.

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You have a group of about 4 people (I think even 6 people would be too many)
-You like a mix of tangible and technology puzzles
-You’re into military themes

Skip This Room If…
-You have poor vision and would want a flashlight to yourself the whole game
-You only have time for one room at TEG (I recommend Prison Break instead)

Overall rating:  4 out of 5

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