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