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/

Escape Room · Mastermind Escape Games · Public Room · Reviews · Schaumburg, IL

Lost In Time @ Mastermind Escape Games Schaumburg

Date played:  Sunday, January 14, 2018
Number of players:  7
Max number of players possible for this room: 10
Public or private game:  Public
Outcome:  Escaped

First Impressions
The company is located on the second floor of an office building. I didn’t see any elevator, or any instructions for an accessible entrance on the website, so I wondered what people would do if they couldn’t use the stairs. Maybe there was another way to the lobby that I didn’t see, but there didn’t seem to be one.

There were a lot of people in the lobby when we arrived, and not many places for them to go. There were a few benches to sit on, but mostly it was just a big crowd of people standing around. It did look like there was some sort of puzzle game on the wall of the lobby for people to do while waiting, but I was never close enough to it to get a good look.

Setup
The employee checking everyone in when they arrived gave one speech to the large group of people in the lobby about the general rules, and then she walked groups to their rooms one by one. There was no organizing of groups beforehand, so when our room was called, it was a surprise to see who else in the lobby came with us to be part of our group. (It ended up being our group of 3 adults and 4 young/pre-teen boys.)

When we were let into the room, there were cubbies for us to stuff our jackets and personal belongings into. That was the first time I had encountered that setup in a room and I was not a fan. I don’t think there was any intro video, so even the act of putting away our personal items felt like we were cutting into the room playing time.

The story for this room on the website is as follows:
“An object from the future has slipped back through time and landed in the distant past. You have volunteered to be a part of an extremely dangerous task force that will be traveling back in time to discover the origin of this horrendous event. You have one hour to find the missing object and return it to the correct time period, or the course of human history will be altered forever!”

Game Play
The room begins in the wild west, the “distant past” mentioned in the storyline, and I was less than impressed with the decor. I might be jaded, but when I know the ol’ west is going to be used as a setting, I tend to think companies chose it because they think they can get away with cheap decor and still be on theme. There was wood paneling and wooden props, but all of the scene setting was very simplistic. I was in an office building with basic western decorations, and it felt like it.

The clue system in this room was my least favorite of those I have seen so far. We were given a tablet and could access clues at any time, but it would add extra time to our game. There were also two levels for each clue that we could select from, an easy hint that would almost give us the answer, and a difficult hint that would be more vague. The easy hints cost us more time. It was a little confusing, and having a big group meant that mostly just one person could look at the clues at a time, and that one person mostly just made the decisions on what clues we would get (sometimes that person was me, I’ll be honest.) It was much more complex than I think a hint system needs to be, and maybe the only benefit to the company was that the GM is basically not directly involved in the games and is free to do other things. Either way, I think this really does a disservice to their company. The GM can make an experience more fun for a group and that lack of involvement feels like a big gap in customer service.

The puzzles in the room were okay, maybe nothing spectacular but also not terrible. I did feel like some of the clues were kind of grubby, which wasn’t great. Holding some of the laminated clue cards made me think all too much about how many people had handled them and how they had probably not been wiped down at all. But the game play was alright.

Final Touches
When the game ended, there was no wrap up. I was allowed to take a picture of our game time on the screen, but I’m not sure that was necessarily encouraged. There were no special customer service touches that made me feel warm and fuzzy towards the company, and no trinkets given as a reward for our success.

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You have a coupon
-You want to play a room hint-free
-You don’t care if the GM is involved or not

Skip This Room If…
-You want high-quality scene setting
-You haven’t played any other rooms yet
-You don’t like the wild west theme

Overall rating:  2 out of 5

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

Escape Room · Public Room · Reviews · Royal Caribbean

Escape The Rubicon @ Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

Date played:  Saturday, December 30, 2017
Number of players:  11
Max number of players possible for this room: 12
Public or private game:  Public
Outcome:  Escaped

This escape room was located on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas cruise ship. I was excited to see that this was something offered to guests, since to me it’s a perfect idea to have an escape room on a cruise ship. It was also only about $9.00 per person, which is a steal compared to all other 60-minute games I’ve seen.

First Impressions
We booked our spots in the escape room through the RC website, where you can book all of your on-board activities. There wasn’t a lot of information provided, but I of course knew I wanted to play regardless of what the scenario was.

The room is located next to the kids’ club area, which worried me a little. I was afraid it would be too simplistic to be enjoyable if they were catering to a very young crowd, but there was at least some age limit listed when booking. (I don’t recall what the cutoff age was.)

Setup
The Game Master met us in the lobby area outside the escape room and went over the general rules, and then walked us inside. We had one person in our group who was in a wheelchair and they had an accessible entrance for them. There were no rules against taking pictures/videos inside, and we were able to bring any personal belongings with us (although most people didn’t have much, given that it was on a cruise ship.)

I have no recollection of reading any storyline on the website when booking the game, or of the GM giving us much to begin with. Thanks to http://www.cruisecritic.com I am going to share the apparent storyline below, but I honestly had no clue what the plot was while we were playing and could never have told you what it was even afterwards. The story for this room is as follows:

“Four to 12 people “board” the steam-powered starship, the S.P.S. Rubicon, which very quickly experiences a power outage, leaving it tumbling in space dangerously close to the sun. Participants have 60 minutes to get the power and navigation back up by solving a variety of puzzles and finding necessary props.”

Thank you again to http://www.cruisecritic.com for this content!

Game Play
The first thing I was not a fan of was the fact that the GM was in the room with us the entire time. To me, nothing kills the feeling of immersion more than this. I understand that in this setting it probably makes more sense for them to operate this way, since most people playing on a cruise ship have likely never played a room before and they need to make extra sure that nothing gets damaged. But it was not my cup of tea.

I will also admit that my experience was dulled by having such a large group, and one that included some enthusiastic teens. This is not technically a fault of the room, except for maybe the fact that they don’t cap the room at a smaller group size, but it did affect my experience. I was not about to wrestle a puzzle away from anyone, so it meant that I ended up only getting to participate in 1-2 puzzles during the game. I am in the camp of people that enjoys escape rooms more for the puzzle-solving experience than the social experience, so the games I enjoy most are the ones where I feel I get to DO a lot of stuff, and in too large of a group, that’s just not possible.

I don’t remember if we were given a set number of clues to use or not, but I don’t think it really mattered. With the GM in the room, people basically ended up asking for guidance regularly. He was good about not being too specific most of the time, but in general it just felt like too much of a crutch to have him in there the whole time giving even small pointers.

The puzzles themselves were pretty good. They stayed at about a medium level of difficulty and they were logical and fair. There was one puzzle that took a few seconds to “register” once it was solved, so the GM had to step in and make sure we didn’t keep fiddling with something once it was correct so that it would work properly, but other than that things ran smoothly.

Final Touches
There was no real wrap up to the game, other than getting a picture taken. We solved everything, so there was no walkthrough needed, and they didn’t give out stickers or anything. My feeling when leaving was basically a shrug of the shoulders.

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You have some time to spare
-You can keep it to a small group
-You don’t mind a lack of plot/storyline to the room

Skip This Room If…
-You want a very high-quality escape room experience
-You want a challenge
-There’s no line at the buffet

Overall rating:  3 out of 5

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