Dayton, OH · Escape Room · Great Escape Game Dayton · Private Room · Reviews

The Tomb: Pharaoh’s Revenge @ Great Escape Games Dayton

Date played:  Saturday, June 2, 2018
Number of players:  5
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
We chose to play a room at this location because it had some of the best reviews in the area. The company is located in a strip mall and the lobby is nice. I enjoyed seeing that some of the other rooms have costumes to wear, even though ours did not. There is also a “plinko” type game in the lobby where you can play to try and win a free game or other prizes (I think.)

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Setup
The Game Master walked us to the room and went over the general rules outside the door (nice), then let us inside and we placed our personal belongings in there (not as nice as an external area, IMO.) The GM left and we were shown an intro video.

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

“Your group of tomb raiders have been hired to retrieve the riches of the Egyptian pharaoh. After you enter the tomb, the door shuts behind you, and a curse has come upon you because of the powers of the pharaoh. The group of tomb raiders before you has not yet been heard from. Furthermore, the left overs from a past group tomb raiders in the room opposite of the entrance. The only way to escape the curse is to get the treasures of the pharaoh, lest the people in the tomb suffers the plagues of his curse. Hence, you have one hour to find the riches and escape or endure the same fate as the tomb raider group before you!”

Game Play
The clue system for this room was to communicate with the GM via walkie talkie, which, if you read about my recent Sherlock Holmes experience, you know is not my favorite. I was actually kind of surprised that this was the arrangement because it seemed like a more established place that could afford a better setup. I know some might have an issue with immersion, in that you wouldn’t normally find walkie talkies in an Egyptian tomb so it makes them out of place, but I tend to give a free pass to anything related to the clue system in the room in that regard.

Overall I thought the puzzles in this room were very good. There was a lot of variation in the types of puzzles and a lot of creativity in their design. The Egyptian theme was used appropriately in the items and the room was lit in a way that added ambiance without making it too difficult to see. (One person in our group does have very poor vision and struggled a little, but was still able to do many things.) I like tactile puzzles and anything “sensor”-driven, whether by weight or touch or anything else, and this room had it all.

Another thing I liked about this room was that many clues had multiple layers. For example, we had to solve one thing that would give us the order of a different thing that we would then need for a third thing. I suppose that might make it difficult if you were playing with strangers and weren’t communicating well within the group, but that’s the case with any escape room. For our group of 5, there were just enough puzzles to keep everyone busy and involved and working together.

There was one solution in the room that was given in an item that could easily have been moved around and “ruined,” but the room was designed in such a way that you also received the solution another way. As I mentioned with the Sherlock Holmes room, that is the correct way to design your room!

There were only two puzzles that I didn’t enjoy in the room. One involved letters on a piece of material, and I want to give this one the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe I didn’t like it just because I never would have thought of what you needed to do in order to get the solution. However, after we used a hint from the GM to find out what to do, we still struggled for a very long time with it. There was a lot of room for error in the execution of what we needed to do. That makes me think the design of the puzzle should be tweaked, or a hint of instruction should be included somewhere.

The second puzzle I disliked involved needing to come up with a word solution that was not specifically found in the room anywhere. Even though I consider myself a “words” person (and I think I was even the one who came up with the answer for that puzzle), I felt like it was kind of a leap to get from what we had in the room to what the solution was. I also thought anyone who had learned English as their second language might struggle with that puzzle. It just wasn’t as strong as the other puzzles in the room and it stuck out because pretty much everything else was designed better.

There was also one technical thing in the room that could be chalked up partly to our own stupidity, but I think also at least partly to construction. We solved a puzzle that opened something, but we didn’t realize it for probably at least 10 minutes. The way this thing was built, it was not clear where the opening was, so in trying to be careful and not break it we left it closed, even though it had been solved for quite some time. I think maybe some different paint or adding an extra piece to show where the opening was could go a long way. But who knows, maybe other groups get that right away.

One final thing I have to mention: there was a puzzle in the room that made me feel like I was holding a piece of gold, it was so cool. I had not yet seen a puzzle like that in a room and even said “Wow, this is really cool” while standing there with it. After we played the room I Googled it because I was curious, and it turns out that just that one puzzle alone is worth over $300. I’m sure other things in the room cost a lot more than that, but I was still impressed that they had invested that much money into one small piece of the room. I think it’s rare that you come across something in a room that you can feel a high value of in your hands like that, so I give them a lot of points for that.

Final Touches
There were no trinkets given for beating the room, but the GM was very friendly and took our picture for us. And I will say that I enjoyed the ending of the game; it was cute and fun, especially for a group. 🙂

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You want a wide variety of puzzle types
-You have a large or small group (I could see this working for 2-8 people)

Skip This Room If…
-English is not your first language and/or you struggle with the language at all
-You have poor vision and can only play in very brightly lit spaces

Overall rating:  4 out of 5

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

Escape Room · Escape Story Chicago · Lisle, IL · Private Room · Reviews

Sherlock Holmes @ Escape Story Chicago

Date played:  Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Number of players:  8
Max number of players possible for this room: 6
Public or private game:  Private
Outcome:  Escaped

The Escape Story website lists this room as having a max capacity of 6 players, but by calling and booking the room over the phone, they allowed us to play with 8 people total. I was fairly concerned about exceeding the maximum number, knowing that sometimes the highest capacity listed is already too many people in the space, but luckily this was not an issue. There was ample space even for 8 people to move around in the room, and I was relieved.

First Impressions
Escape Story Chicago is located on cute Main Street in downtown Lisle, IL. Although the downtown section is only a couple of blocks long and there isn’t tons of parking, we didn’t have any trouble finding spaces for multiple cars.

The company is situated on the second story of a strip mall type of building. The lobby is fine but not fancy; it looks like a converted doctor’s office (which is very possibly what it is.) It set the expectation that the rooms probably weren’t going to wow us with their super high quality decorations, but I kept an open mind.

Setup
Before beginning the room, we put all of our personal belongings into a wardrobe that we locked. I of course always think it’s a nice touch to keep things in a separate room, so I took this as a good sign. The Game Master also went over the general rules in the lobby.

The story for this room on the website (copied and pasted verbatim) is as follows:

You were at your third sip of the afternoon Earl Greys’ when the phone rang. There is something particular in the way it rings when Scotland Yard needs you… Always with a bit of anxiousness, you answer and hear the famous line: “Holmes, we think we’ve got something for you!”

Eccentric painter, Lord Byron has vanished. The circumastances have a strange odor. You don’t even have to hear it, you know that there is a will that brings wealth only to a distant cousin, yet there is a close nephew who claims that the will has been forged. There MUST be clues that can lead to an original will! You know that there is always a way of sniffing those clues! Will you take the case? Do you think that one hour before the will is executed will be enough for you to find the truth?”

I want to stop for a moment to talk about how terribly this plot setup is written. There are rampant grammar mistakes (“at your third sip”), spelling mistakes (“circumastances“), punctuation mistakes (“Eccentric painter, Lord Byron“), shifts of tense… it is just BAD. Escape Room owners: if writing is not your strong suit, PLEASE hire someone to do this for you. It makes a difference! Send it to me – I have a degree in English and would love to write or proofread something like this! It is the first thing your potential customers see and it sends the first message about how professional (or not) your company is. The details matter.

Before we entered the room, the Game Master also relayed a shortened version of this plot in person. It may not be the most exciting plot, but at least it fits well into the Sherlock Holmes theme.

Game Play
The clue system for this room was my least favorite design: walkie talkies, with one in the room with our group and the other with the GM in the lobby. Even though I don’t like rooms where the GM stays inside with you the whole time, I think I would have even preferred that to this method. The walkie talkies broke any feeling of immersion, not only because we had one with us in the room, but also because every time we communicated with it, we could hear the echo of the chirp on the other device mere feet away outside our room door, in the lobby. It just felt kind of silly.

Other negatives to walkie talkie usage: it can be hard to understand someone, there’s no reminder anywhere how many clues you have used, once a clue is spoken, it’s gone, with no way to reference it except to ask for a repeat, and it generally makes the company look cheap. I understand that a company who is just starting out might not have the means to create a more sophisticated clue system, but I think laminated paper clues would be just as cost-effective, less confusing, and possibly less frustrating. I hope that plans are in the works to move to a different clue system here.

There was one part of the game play that I had mixed thoughts about, which I will share here because it was explained to us before entering the room (and thus I don’t consider it a spoiler.) There was a blacklight used in the game and we were told ahead of time that it would be used twice in the room. Should players be told this explicitly before playing? Part of the puzzle of playing the room is discovering things and trying different things out and figuring out when to use the tools at your disposal. To be told exactly how many times you will need a certain tool takes away from the fun of that mystery and discovery. On the other hand, if most clues in a room will be used only once and never again, is it wise for the GM to try and preemptively avoid frustration and time loss by giving a heads up that this one thing in particular will be used again? Maybe instead they could have not said anything but then given a small nudge to use the light again, if we weren’t trying it at the appropriate time. I think I would have preferred to not know ahead of time that there would be a blacklight, simply because that robbed us of any small delight or surprise in finding the item.

Overall the puzzles in the room were okay. Nothing over-the-top cool but mostly fine, logical puzzles. There was one in particular that our whole group had an issue with and that must be noted here, with no spoilers, as always. We had figured out what needed to be done to solve this puzzle and our entire group of 8 was clustered together, focused on it. The layout of the puzzle was easy to understand and there should have been absolutely zero room for error… yet we stood there and were stuck on this puzzle for at least 6-8 minutes. This was not 6-8 minutes of finding the puzzle or figuring out what needed to be done, which could have been understandable. This was 6-8 minutes of standing there after we had figured everything out and trying to input the solution, but not being able to move forward because of poor puzzle quality. The fun of the game is NOT in working at something that has been poorly designed and is frustrating for quality reasons, it’s in the figuring-out stage of solving a puzzle. The most maddening thing about this was that it would be extremely easy to remake that puzzle with much higher quality. I am not exaggerating when I say that I (or anyone with a smartphone) could do this in less than 5 minutes. There’s no excuse for a low quality puzzle like that. And sadly, I think in general that would have been a pretty neat puzzle, if it had just been designed better.

The only other thing I wanted to note was that there was one clue in the room that could only be solved if players didn’t move around items in a certain area – items that could very easily be moved around. We had moved these items from their original spots and so we had to have the GM give us what would have been the answer to that clue via the walkie talkie. I think if you’re going to need something to remain in a fixed position in order for a clue to work, then you need to force it to remain in that position yourself with glue, a sign saying “do not touch,” a glass cover, etc.

Final Touches
Even with the issues we encountered, we escaped with lots of time to spare. The GM was very nice and explained certain things to us afterwards and answered all our questions. There were no trinkets for our success, but we were allowed to have a group picture taken in the room. Even though I felt the overall room quality was lacking in certain areas, I did think that the customer service was good, and the GM especially was kind and friendly.

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You have a large group
-You have younger kids in your group
-You’re in the area and don’t want to travel far

Skip This Room If…
-You want high-quality scenic rooms
-You have played many rooms and would be bored by a more “basic” setup
-You dislike receiving clues via walkie talkie

Overall rating:  2 out of 5

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

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/

DOA Room Escape · Escape Room · Public Room · Reviews · Villa Park, IL

The Basement @ DOA Room Escape Villa Park

Date played:  Saturday, April 14, 2018
Number of players:  6
Max number of players possible for this room: 12
Public or private game:  Public
Outcome:  Did not escape (barely)

A note about the room capacity: 12 people would have been way too many for this room. Even 6 people was pushing it. My advice is to play with a group of 4 or less.

First Impressions
This company has at least 2 locations, one in Villa Park and one in Wisconsin Dells, so they must be doing alright. Their website looks professional and we booked with a coupon easily.

The company is located in a small building in an area of Villa Park that’s kind of run down. We pulled up feeling a little unsure, but inside everything seemed okay. There was nothing fancy about the lobby or interior; just some Halloween-themed decorations and paint on the walls. Everything seemed pretty basic.

Our group of 4 played with 2 strangers that had booked with us, neither of whom had ever played an escape room before (aka an enthusiast’s worst nightmare.) While we were waiting for them to arrive, we stood around near the front desk that was oddly placed farther back into the building and not near the front door. Some of the employees were talking to each other at the desk and one complained about how much of a pain The Basement room was to reset, while eating a bag of Cheetos. Not the most professional look for the company, and definitely poor customer service, making the customers feel like they were creating a burden for anyone. Thankfully, the employee doing the complaining did not end up being our Game Master.

Setup
We placed our coats and personal belongings in a closet near the front desk, and I was of course happy that they remained outside of the room. We came up with a team name, wrote our own nicknames on name tags, and then were brought into a side room to go over the rules and watch an intro video. It was a plus that this was done in a room separate from our game room, although apparently the intro video was made up of clips from a Netflix documentary or something similar.

We specifically wanted to play this room because it was based on HH Holmes, and the three of us that had read Devil In The White City were fascinated. The story for this room on the website is as follows:

“During the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, criminal mastermind and first documented serial killer H.H. Holmes built and operated a labyrinth-style hotel on the corner of South Wallace & 63rd Street. It was designed as a killing trap, whereby his guests became murder victims – allegedly over 200. The basement of that hotel was where most of the killings, torture and burials took place. Do you have what it takes to match wits with the evil Doctor Holmes? The secrets of his dark and foreboding lair need to be discovered before you become his next medical experiment!”

Game Play
In this room the Game Master remained in the room with us the entire time. Normally I wouldn’t prefer having the GM in the room while playing, but in some ways I actually felt like it spurred me to try and do better, like someone was actually closely watching every success or failure and my pride was more at stake. 🙂  We still only had 3 clues to use, and I felt he did a good job overall of not giving us extra nudges or hints just because he was physically there.

As for the puzzles in the room, my thoughts are all across the spectrum. On the one hand, this was one of the most enjoyable rooms I’ve played to date because I felt like a lot of the puzzles matched my personal strengths. I felt like I was just on the same wavelength as the puzzle designer and was able to personally solve a lot of things in the room, and it made the experience really exciting and fun for me. I had some great a-ha moments and it makes me happy to think back on how thrilling it was to figure things out like that.

On the other hand, there were a few things about the room that really annoyed me. First of all, it was dark. I can appreciate setting the tone and atmosphere of a room with low lighting because it does make a big difference in the overall feel of a room. I get that. But I think there should have been at least one area with a little brighter lighting that we could have used when we needed to see something a little more clearly. There was one whole section of the room where I felt basically useless because I don’t have great vision and just could not see details on things well at all, and that’s no fun.

Another sticking point for me was that we had blacklight flashlights to use at one point, but there weren’t enough for everyone in the group. There were 4 flashlights and 6 of us, so we had to keep asking to use them from someone else (which is even harder to do when you’re playing with strangers and want to be polite. Although our groupmates were super nice and chill and a pleasure to play with, so there were no issues there. But just imagine if there were actually 12 people in that room!) In theory, I suppose you could make the argument that almost all puzzles in escape rooms are set up so that only 1-2 players will get to solve each one, so maybe only allowing some people to use a flashlight follows that same setup. But when a blacklight flashlight is used to search a room, then I feel like it falls under the “searching” category of clues, and that’s normally something all players in the room can do at the same time. In that scenario, whenever you’re someone not holding a flashlight, you’re somewhat excluded from the game. It might not be the worst thing, but it did cause some frustration.

One of the puzzles was taken word for word out of a Harry Potter book, and I recognized it the moment I saw it. Besides that just not being cool because they stole from the book, it’s lazy. Take a few minutes, write an original clue, and replace that ASAP.

Finally, this room had a LOT of red herrings. These were not pieces of decor that we created puzzles out of in our minds, they were things that matched real clues exactly and just didn’t end up being needed. The fun in an escape room comes from finding and solving a puzzle, not finding a puzzle and wasting time on it before realizing it’s not even a part of any solution whatsoever. I am of the belief that red herrings have no place in a good escape room. If you build your room and design your puzzles well, that’s all players need. They’ll create their own diversions anyways. 🙂

We technically did not beat this room, but for the record, all we had left was to insert the key in the lock and open the door. It’s crazy that we came that close and lost in the very last seconds of the game, but it also makes for a good story.

Final Touches
I felt like our Game Master had really been rooting for us, which was nice. He had us put our nametags with our nicknames on the wall with all the others, and then was more than willing to take a few pictures for us. We also all received a plastic cup with the company logo on it, which was nice. (If we had escaped we would have received a t-shirt.) He was very friendly and I appreciated having him as our GM.

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You have an interest in HH Holmes
-You don’t mind having the GM in the room with you

Skip This Room If…
-You don’t like scary/horror themes
-You have more than 4 people in your group
-You have poor eyesight

Overall rating:  3 out of 5

Company website: http://www.doaroomescape.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