60 To Escape · Escape Room · Gurnee, IL · Private Room · Reviews

Blast From The Past @ 60 To Escape (Gurnee, IL)

Date played:  Saturday, February 23, 2019
Number of players:  5
Max number of players possible for this room: 8
Public or private game:  Private
Outcome:  Escaped

First Impressions
This company is set up inside Gurnee Mills mall. There’s always a small part of me that feels like an escape room in a mall will be sub-standard somehow, like they won’t have enough space to do it right or it will feel mass produced. That was certainly not the case in this instance. I was impressed by 60 To Escape right away, and pretty much every step of the way.

The main entrance was clean, well designed, and inviting. I liked how the front desk was right in the entryway, perfect for walk-up questions, and that the other part of the lobby was roped off. We checked in easily, and also added another member to our group easily, and then we were escorted beyond the ropes into the bigger area of the lobby. We signed our waivers there electronically and awaited our game master (a wait that was minimal, I might add.) The whole flow of the check in and the layout of the lobby was excellent, in my opinion. Especially with the company placed in a mall, it was a perfect setup to keep the front desk in its own area and to move people through the spaces in an organized way. I also thought just the general decor was simple and chic and perfect for an escape room company.

Let me also not forget to mention: 60 To Escape gives you the option of making your experience private when you’re booking the room, for an extra $2.00 per person. I still think all rooms should be private by default, or that you should get to choose a private experience for free, but this was at least a good halfway point. A ton of companies in the US don’t even offer this as an option, or they make you buy out the whole room, so 60 To Escape is ahead of the game on this point. (Also, the cost per person with the private option – about $31.50 with tax – was still basically the same as what other companies charge without that luxury, so it really wasn’t that bad at all.) Having the guarantee of a private room was a great plus for playing here!

Setup
Our game master escorted us into the room, where we hung up our coats and then watched a video explaining the rules. Even though I never like bringing my items into the room and ruining that part of the immersion, I didn’t mind it as much this time. I thought that the rules video went on for too long, but then again, we just played a room with people who pried open a filing cabinet, so…. I get it. Then the game master left and we watched another video giving us the story of the room. I will admit that I was really not paying much attention to the second video at all. I think I care a lot more about the story if it’s given to me before I enter the room, but once I’m there, I’m much more interested in searching the room and starting to work on solving the puzzles.

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

“A local arcade owner has gone missing and it is up to you to find out what happened. Rumors were all around town that the guy was trying to build some sort of “machine” and then one day – he vanished. The Feds say he was murdered but you don’t buy it. Find out what happened to the owner of the Blast from the Past arcade – who knows you might even be able to save him (and the world!)”

Game Play
I want to start with the very basics of how this room was built. For some strange reason, the walls did not go all the way up to the ceiling! That meant that we got to hear another group yelling to each other loudly for the whole time we were working on the first part of the room. It was really distracting and annoying, and I didn’t want to hear anything about the other rooms because I knew I would eventually probably want to play them myself. That was a big downside. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe they were going for an outdoors feel, since the room begins outside the arcade, but that wasn’t the only part of the room like that. I can’t remember for sure but I think the whole room might have been missing full walls. So that unfortunately added a tally to the set-in-a-mall-mass-produced feel. And immersion is the main thing I’m looking for, so that did not help.

The decor of this room was great and right on theme. It was a nice touch to start outside the arcade, especially since that’s where you receive the rules and the story. So you’re in the room and beginning the transition, without really being “in” the room yet. They had all the old classic arcade games present and they did a good job of making it a realistic environment.

In general I liked the way they used screens to add to the story. I felt like they used the technology efficiently, showing different things on the same screen when needed, and it worked well. On the other hand, I felt like a lot of the puzzles were technology-based and I wasn’t a huge fan of that. I guess that’s to be expected in an arcade room, but pushing buttons and flipping switches isn’t super fun to me. They did include one tactile puzzle that I thought was so fun, and the hint in the room for how to solve it was great.

This might be considered a mini spoiler by some, even though it has nothing to do with any puzzles, but I had to note that one of the best things about this room was that there were multiple rooms within it. The worst thing to me is to have a single room escape room, and even just 2 rooms can sometimes be only ok. The best rooms in my opinion are the ones that have multiple reveals. Even if they only include a kind of “half” room or just a transition space between two rooms, I think the reveal of opening up a new space adds a lot to the excitement. And this room did that better than any other room I’ve played to date.

One thing I thought this room was missing was a puzzle that made you play an old arcade game. I don’t think adding a video game into an escape room would be a great idea, because you’re there to play the escape room and not just a video game, but I would have liked a short side puzzle where you had to beat one round of space invaders or pac man or something. Just a little taste to get to the heart of the room. But oh well.

As a general playing experience, this escape room was one of my least favorites. There weren’t a lot of “a-ha” or discovery moments in the game. There was little to no searching for clues, which removed the fun moment of finding an important piece to a puzzle, and I felt like our group never gained momentum. We would figure something out, move forward a tiny bit, get stuck for a long time, get a nudge, move forward a tiny bit, and then get stuck again. We didn’t get into the fun flow of a game where solving one thing leads to another, so it wasn’t as satisfying of an experience. Looking back afterwards, we thought if we had solved things in a different order, we would have had more information available to us sooner and then the game would have flowed a little better. And with that being the case, perhaps the game master should have nudged us towards solving the puzzles in a different order so as to make the experience unfold in that way. We did still end up solving everything, but it just wasn’t as enjoyable as I think it could have been.

Along those same lines, our lack of momentum also made me feel like I wasn’t contributing anything to the game for long stretches of time. There was lots of poking around and wondering what to do next. I also think having only 4 players instead of 5 might have been more ideal, since there was at least one part of the game where I felt like the group size hindered all of us being able to see/experience/enjoy something. It’s kind of a catch-22 because we might have played even worse with fewer brains working on the puzzles, but then at least everyone could be more involved in everything, so who knows. There was a logic puzzle I really enjoyed working on, so I’m glad I at least had that as part of my experience, but I would have liked to feel like I was contributing more to the whole room.

We escaped with about 5:00 left on the clock. That would never have happened without all the help and nudges from our game master!

Final Touches
Again, our game master was great. Every time we asked for a clue, she was ON IT. The hints were immediately available to us on the screen and they were tailored exactly to our situation. As I stated above, we really needed a lot of help in this game, so this made all the difference. I also liked that the game was set up so that you have access to a new hint every 10 minutes. That’s better than getting only 3 clues for the whole game and it sets up a great balance of trying to solve things on your own and having ample help if you need it.

We went back out into the lobby and were given little pins for escaping, and then we took a group picture. This is so simple but I have somehow not seen it done anywhere else yet – they had a photo booth in the lobby! We were able to choose the frame of our photo to correspond with the game we had played, stand in front of a backdrop with the company name on it, take as many pictures as we liked, and then put in our phone number and have the picture sent to us immediately. Genius! No waiting for the pictures to be posted on a Facebook page, no not being able to see the picture beforehand, just easy picture taking and sharing. The photo area was plenty large enough to accommodate a big group to all be in the picture at the same time, too. I feel silly for praising this so much, but it was just set up so well that I cannot believe that all escape room companies aren’t doing this.

Well done, 60 To Escape! I’m just now realizing that I assumed this was one location at a chain company, but I don’t think that’s actually the case. As far as I can tell, this is their one and only location. That makes the professional look and design of everything even more impressive. I think it also says something that even though my actual playing experience wasn’t my favorite, I’m really looking forward to going back and playing their other rooms. Mystery Manor and Hidden Temple, you are in my hopefully near future!

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You have nostalgia for the 1980s, since that’s a big part of the charm of the room.
-You like technology puzzles.
-You don’t enjoy shopping and the rest of your group is cruising around the mall. 🙂

Skip This Room If…
-You have young kids.
-You have a group with more than 5 people.

Overall rating:  4 out of 5

Company website: http://www.62escape.com

Chicago · Escape Room · Public Room · Reviews · The Escape Game Chicago

Gold Rush @ The Escape Game Chicago (Chicago, IL)

Date played:  Saturday, December 22, 2018
Number of players:  8
Max number of players possible for this room: 8
Public or private game:  Public
Outcome:  Escaped

First Impressions
We played this room immediately following Prison Break, so I will skip the first impressions. 🙂

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

“For nearly two centuries, the hope of gold has lured people to the hills of Northern 
California. No one was captivated more than Clyde Hamilton, a greedy gold prospector 
who loved to gamble. Clyde made too many bets with the wrong crowd and now he’s 
missing. You’ve been tipped off to where he stashed his gold.. but so has the mob. 
Find it first!”

Game Play
We had some bad luck in that our group of 4 was paired with a group of 4 strangers for this room. Since we had just finished playing Prison Break with a group of 4 newbies that caused some issues, we were again not thrilled at having strangers in the room with us. This group had 2 children in it, and overall things went smoothly with the game play. There were a few moments when I think some people in my group would have liked to have been more involved in something and couldn’t, or would have liked to have completed something and couldn’t, but I’m sure they felt that way at times too. Just another example of why all escape rooms should be private.

I will say right off the bat: this room became my new favorite at The Escape Game, and it made it into my top 3 favorite games overall. I have learned through experience that the main thing I love in an escape room is quality immersion, and this room did a great job of that. I like when puzzles are about average difficulty, or maybe even erring on the easier side. If I can be in a really well constructed space and feel like I’m in the environment, and then have puzzles to solve that aren’t super frustrating but just hard enough to be satisfying to solve, that’s the sweet spot for me.

The room design of Gold Rush is wonderful. It begins “outdoors” near a cabin in the woods, and it’s just fun to step into something that feels so different. I loved how they made the ground with real dirt/gravel, and the cabin with real wood. The puzzles in that first section were cute, and definitely geared more towards beginners, but I loved them. There was a puzzle that used technology in a fun way, something I had done before in other rooms, but it was more enjoyable (and executed much better) in this room.

As we moved through the room, the scene design stayed at a very high level. I loved every space they created. The puzzles also were very good. They used the theme in creative and fun ways, they had things that were easy for kids to do, they had puzzles that required different kinds of strengths/abilities, and they had some really fun effects! I also think The Escape Game proves really well that you don’t need to include any red herrings in a room. Make everything useful, and the room works beautifully, without causing any frustration for the players.

I really liked this room. I wish we had been able to play with only our group of 4, but I was still able to appreciate the game design and the puzzles. We escaped with around 12 minutes left on the clock, which was a little disappointing because of course I wanted to get our money’s worth and use the whole experience. But with 8 people and our level of experience, there was no way it was going to take us the whole 60 minutes. Still, I’m glad we escaped and I think everyone had fun.

Final Touches
Our GM was really nice, and he said he knew we would escape since we had already escaped Prison Break. We looked back at the room and talked for a few minutes, and then we were on our way.

 

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You are new to escape rooms
-You have kids in your group
-You like immersive environments

Skip This Room If…
-You want to solve really complex or difficult puzzles
-You have a large group (I think this would be best for 2-4 players with some experience)

Overall rating:  5 out of 5

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

Chicago · Escape Room · Public Room · Reviews · The Escape Game Chicago

Prison Break @ The Escape Game Chicago (Chicago, IL)

Date played:  Saturday, December 22, 2018
Number of players:  8
Max number of players possible for this room: 8
Public or private game:  Public
Outcome:  Escaped

This review took an extra long amount of time to write, due to an incredibly frustrating laptop that badly needs replacing, and also some slow internet service. Please leave your recommendations for great laptops in the comments!

First Impressions
Since I’ve been to this location several times already, I had no new impressions of the company or lobby. I would like to mention that we used Spot Hero to reserve a spot in the parking garage at 33 W Ontario and we only BARELY got a spot. We drove through the whole garage several times and saw no empty spaces (even though we had prepaid to reserve a spot) and we were in very real danger of missing our game time. We saw 2 cars that looked like they were about to leave, and when we circled back around, someone was already taking one of those spots. We just happened to luck out that the other car was also leaving and we were able to take that spot. But needless to say, I would not recommend that garage to anyone coming to this location. In the past we have parked in the garage at 50 E Ohio and have always had plenty of spots to choose from there.

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 still think it would be better if they did this in another room or in the lobby, but maybe space is just limited at the Chicago location.

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
This was a new experience for me, in that it was the very first time I ever played the same escape room twice. I previously played Prison Break back in March 2018 (blog post here) and it became my top favorite game at the time. I never, ever expected to revisit the same room again, but I had such a great time playing it that I really wanted some of my friends to experience it too. And the first time I played this room, it was one of only 3 rooms to date that I did not escape from, since we only had 3 people playing and the other 2 had never done an escape room before. So there were some things that I hadn’t gotten to do before, and it seemed worth it to play it again. (I had some fun reading my previous post about this room, where I said: “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!” I guess you can never say never!)

This game begins with players split up into 2 different cells, and I made sure to ask that I be placed in the “left” cell, since that was the one I had not been in the last time. After now having played in both cells, I can definitively say that the “right” cell is more fun. 🙂

My team of 4 played with a group of 4 strangers. None of them had ever done an escape room before, so you can imagine how we felt going into the game. We decided to split up and put 2 of us in each cell and 2 of them in each cell, which I think was the best thing to do. I just have to repeat my constant refrain again: escape room companies in the US: PLEASE make all your rooms private! PLEASE! Don’t make customers have to pay to buy out 4 extra spaces just to have a private experience. Don’t be greedy. Those new players that don’t know what they’re signing up for? They will choose another open date and time and come back, and they won’t know any different. The first group of 4 that booked will LOVE that they get to play by themselves and it will make their experience, and their view of your company, SO much better. There is just nothing worse than finding out that a group of 4 newbies has added themselves to your room, especially when you know it’s not their fault. They saw 4 open spots and didn’t realize what that meant. (Why people don’t read more information and try to book their own private experience, I’ll never understand.) But please, for the sake of the customers and the experience they are paying for, MAKE ALL ROOMS PRIVATE.

Okay. Now that I’ve gotten that out.

The first part of the game was just ok for us. I loved being able to compare and contrast between my 2 experiences playing the room, because some things were solved in vastly different ways and it was fascinating to me. You are able to pass items between the two cells, and we realized afterwards that our cell gave away too many things. Because of this, the other cell solved a few things and we were kind of left doing nothing. I’m glad that I had played before and knew that it didn’t have to be like that, otherwise my idea of the room would have been very different. But the beginning wasn’t great for our cell.

The intro video for the room mentions that there is a thunderstorm going on, and that it will help cover your sounds as you escape. When I played back in March, I thought that those effects weren’t working, since we had normal lighting and no sound. I confirmed beforehand that the effects would be working this time, but they let me know they were very subtle. I’m glad they said that, because this time I realized that the effects had been working before too, they are just basically nonexistent. It’s a shame because it could have been REALLY cool to have lightning effects and thunder crashing and the sound of rain, but the lights stayed normal and the only sounds we heard were prison noises like alarms. A missed opportunity for cool sound immersion, I think.

There were still the same cool puzzles I had enjoyed before, and I was happy to get to experience more of them this time around. I tried very hard not to give away things that I already knew or to say too much, but I don’t know how successful I was. I think there were a few moments that I probably could have stayed quieter, but overall I hope everyone else still felt like they got to experience the game as normal.

We had another problem with our group of strangers, where they wrangled a clue out of a location that was still locked. They kept referring to it and trying to solve it, even though we weren’t there yet. Our group tried fruitlessly to tell them to ignore that for the time being (or better yet, to just put it back where it belonged until we accessed it like we were supposed to), but they didn’t really get it. I know as new players you don’t really get what’s going on all the time, but that seemed over the line to me. They also stood on the furniture at one point, reminding me that Game Masters go over those seemingly ridiculous rules for a reason.

We escaped with I think 2-3 minutes left on the clock. I knew right away that this would no longer hold the spot for my top favorite room, and I was kind of sad that my friends hadn’t gotten to have the great first experience with the room that I did back in March. Having to play with strangers that didn’t know what they were doing definitely affected the whole experience for them, and for me. I had already been reconsidering my top 3 rooms for awhile, but this experience confirmed for me that I had to do some rearranging. Check out the Hall of Fame page to see the new rankings!

Final Touches
Our GM was really nice about answering questions after the room was over. The ending had happened so quickly that I had missed seeing some things, so I appreciated him taking the time to explain things.

 

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You can arrange to have a private experience
-You have a group of 4-6 people. I think 2 people per cell is ideal, but 3 could work.
-You like very immersive, realistic environments

Skip This Room If…
-You are a beginner and have not played any escape rooms before
-You will be playing with younger kids (I think Gold Rush would be a better fit)

Overall rating:  4 out of 5

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

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

The Timekeeper’s Trapped! @ Escape Factor (Forest Park, IL)

Date played:  Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Number of players:  4
Max number of players possible for this room: 10
Public or private game:  Private (only because no strangers booked with us)
Outcome:  Escaped

First Impressions
I had been to this location back in June to play the “Bonus Fun Time Game Show” room (review here) and my impression of the lobby space was still positive. I did think it was a little strange that there were random airline seats in the locker/storage area, which they called the airplane room but I think must just be prop storage for an upcoming room? But otherwise it was great.

Setup
Our Game Master was Dan and he explained the rules in the main lobby. He was really, really great at his job! He just had the perfect combination of professionalism with a sense of humor, he connected with the group, and I really felt like he loved his job. Big kudos to Dan!

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

“You have been summoned to the lab of the Official Interplanetary Timekeeper. An evil group has been bending time for their own benefit, placing your colleague in extreme peril. Using your group’s unique blend of skills and teamwork, you and your guests must work together to free the Timekeeper. Can you complete your quest in time?”

Game Play
This room was definitely on theme with “time.” I thought the decor was well done and that there was a nice style to the room. The above story line didn’t really ever come into play at all, but the puzzles were all nicely tied into the time theme. I personally don’t usually need much in the way of story, and while playing the room I wasn’t thinking about the story at all, but a little more story line would have added to the overall experience. When I compare this room to rooms that DO integrate the story into the whole room (like Locurio), I realize how much can be added to the experience by really feeling like you’re immersed in something with a more narrative arc.

I felt like 4 people was the perfect amount for this room. (I feel that way about most rooms.) I think up to 6 wouldn’t have been too bad, but any more than that would have just been too much. I suppose if it was a group of all new players, then more people could be helpful, but 4 seemed just right. We all got an equal chance to complete different puzzles, without feeling like we missed out on the rest of the room.

I liked the puzzles in this room, and felt very in-sync with the creators. Sometimes puzzles are written or created in ways that just don’t make sense to you, and sometimes you are right there on the same wavelength with them – this was a same-wavelength room for me. An explanation on a clue would click with me right away, or the setup of a clue would make absolute sense to me as to what I should do with it. There was just the right amount of difficulty, nothing that was frustrating or tedious, no red herrings, no outside knowledge needed, and variety while remaining in the time theme. Maybe I was just having a good puzzle day, but I also felt like I just “got” the room and the style of the clues. (There was one thing in the room that I took much too long to figure out how to interact with, and it wasn’t even something hidden, I just wasn’t looking at it and paying attention to what I was seeing I guess. So maybe that supports the theory that it wasn’t just a good puzzle day for me, or maybe it makes me an over-thinking enthusiast, or maybe it just means I need to get my eyes checked for awareness.)

Overall I would say this was a solid room with good puzzles. If I had to give it a downside, I would say that there wasn’t really much “wow” factor to it. Some parts of the decor were very plain, and there wasn’t anything over the top in the scenery or clues. It makes me want to recommend this room more to beginners because it’s a fine room with good puzzles, but enthusiasts might want something a little extra.

Dan asked us beforehand if we wanted nudges, and I appreciated that. I always want to at least get to the end of a room, even if we don’t beat it, so at first he gave us almost too many nudges and I wanted time to struggle a little more. But we escaped with 2:36 left on the clock, so I think he just wanted to make sure we got through all the puzzles.

Final Touches
I like that Escape Factor asks if you want to see their other rooms while you’re there. We peeked at the game show room, for those of us who hadn’t played it before, and then we also got to see their brand new about-to-open Tree House room. I think more companies should do this, because it does get you interested in coming back to play them, and it doesn’t really give anything away.

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You have a group with beginners
-You mostly like solving puzzles in an escape room and don’t need many frills
-You have 4-6 people in your group

Skip This Room If…
-You want a game with a “wow” factor
-You like a detailed story line that integrates heavily into the game play

Overall rating:  4 out of 5

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

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

5 Wits · Immersive Adventure · Private Room · Reviews · West Nyack, NY

The Tomb, Deep Space, & Drago’s Castle @ 5 Wits (West Nyack, NY)

Date played:  Thursday, July 26, 2018
Number of players:  2
Max number of players possible for this room: 12 (I think)
Public or private game:  Private (only because no strangers booked with us)
Outcome:  Escaped / Did not escape

This is my first review of what is technically a non-escape room experience. According to the website, 5 Wits is a “live action immersive adventure” and I think that’s probably the best way to describe it.

First Impressions
I had varying impressions of 5 Wits before I went. First, I heard rave reviews and it made me want to check it out. Then I heard that it was more geared towards kids and I wasn’t sure. I watched a promo video on their website and it seemed like it would be pretty neat, so in the end I decided to go for it. There’s nothing else really like 5 Wits around the Chicago area so I figured if I was going to be in NY, I should take the opportunity to see what it was all about.

The space in West Nyack is inside a nice mall, the Palisades Center. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived but the entire mall is huge, so 5 Wits definitely wasn’t hurting for space, and it looked clean and enticing.

Setup
We were allowed to bring our purses into the rooms (I assume, because the employees offered to keep our things in a cubby if we wanted.) We both opted to leave our items in the lobby with them.

Groups are admitted into the rooms on a rolling basis, so every 10-15 minutes they will let in a new group waiting in line. There are multiple rooms inside each adventure, so as soon as one group advances to the next room, they will start any waiting group in the first room behind them. My main concern was that we would be able to play alone, and luckily we were able to play all 3 rooms privately.

Before entering the rooms, we were given a short breakdown of the rules (outside the rooms, always a plus) and we were shown an intro video to start the stories, also done outside the rooms.

Game Play
I’m going to start with my overall comments about the experience, and then I will provide specifics about each separate room.

First, the immersion in the rooms is top notch. This to me is what all escape rooms should be. When you enter the tomb, it feels entirely like a tomb. There are high ceilings and everything looks and feels like stone and it’s not just a regular room; it was clearly built to be exactly that. I would say this was the best thing about 5 Wits. You step into these worlds and the immersion is pretty total, and it’s great.

Second, the puzzles. 5 Wits is definitely designed for kids around ages 8-12. The puzzles are easy in design, but not always in execution. There were only 2 of us playing and it would certainly have been much easier at times if we had at least 4 people in our group, if only because some of the puzzles had us literally running around like crazy. But in general, most of our difficulties came from a lack of time/manpower, and not from problems figuring out the puzzles. Still, even with “easy” puzzles, we enjoyed completing them. I did keep thinking about how much I would like to bring my nephews there to play, because they would love it, but as an adult it was still plenty fun.

In general, we did not enjoy the timed experience of 5 Wits as much as an escape room. There are multiple rooms inside each themed experience and the rooms will usher you along after a certain amount of time, regardless of whether or not you have completed the tasks set to you. We had at least one moment of being seconds away from completing a puzzle, only to have the room “solve” it for us to move us forward, and it was SO unsatisfying. I think I would have rather had a set amount of time to get through all of the rooms at our own pace… but then there was at least one point where we could not find what we needed to finish one puzzle, and without hints we could have been stuck there the whole time. The rooms did offer automated hints along the way, and I thought that was really great. I just wish there would have continued to be more and more hints until we were able to solve things ourselves. I’m sure more escape rooms would love to set up automated hints this way too.

Another downside to the timed experience/rolling basis of the rooms was that at one point we could very clearly hear a group behind us. Not their voices, but the sounds as they worked in the room we were just in. That took away from the immersion aspect of things, because it reminded me that my adventurous quest was being played over and over again and that it wasn’t just for us. Also in that same themed experience (this was in Drago’s Castle), we were sure they would be able to hear OUR room when we were further along, and we both said it would stink if you were in that group and possibly had something spoiled for you beforehand, just by hearing the group ahead of you experience something first. I understand why it makes sense for them to operate this way, especially on very busy days, but it would be so much nicer to have enough time allotted to be able to do the whole experience with no one else adjacent to you the whole time.

A few minor details: the audio in all the rooms was VERY loud. Not so much that it hurts your ears or anything, but definitely enough that it is pretty much impossible to talk over (and sometimes even think over.) I wouldn’t have minded having the volume turned down at least a little… but then again, maybe that volume added to the immersion, with the sound literally filling up the whole space. I think it might be giving 5 Wits too much credit to say that they designed things this way on purpose, to make the rooms more challenging as you try to communicate and solve puzzles over the noise, but that did factor in for us at times.

Another minor detail: the temperature in the rooms. We were there in July and it was a very humid day outside, so that affected things. For the bulk of the experience it wasn’t an issue, but there were distinct times during The Tomb and Deep Space that I wished the rooms had A/C. ESPECIALLY with Deep Space. Even before doing anything, I walked into a room in The Tomb and immediately wished it was cooler. But this obviously depends on the outside weather and may not be an issue at all for people if they visit at different times of the year.

We did encounter at least one glaring technology issue with a puzzle that just wasn’t working correctly. There was a button we needed to press in order to make something happen, and we would press the button over and over again with no result, and then eventually for no reason, one time it would work. So that was frustrating, especially because it would make us complete the puzzle incorrectly when it didn’t work.

And now, the rooms themselves…


THE TOMB
We decided to start with The Tomb. The story for this room on the website was:

“Prove your worthiness and survive to tell the tale!

Enter a 3,000 year old tomb with only a flashlight and your wits to guide you! At an archaeological dig, you find yourself deep in an Egyptian tomb, trapped, the ultimate escape room… and face to face with the spirit of an ancient Pharaoh! Are you brave enough to make it out alive?

The only way to survive will be to beat the Pharaoh at his own game and prove your worthiness… but watch out for traps along the way! Test your skills in this amazing adventure thousands of years in the making!”

I really liked this room a lot. One of my favorite memories from all 3 rooms happened at the beginning of this room, and I still feel like I can’t get over how cool it was. I don’t know how it was done, but it was surprising, exciting, and just GREAT. Especially since it was the first room we were playing, it floored me. That’s it – that’s the experience you play these games for. When a room can create an experience like that, they’ve done it.

I liked the setting of the tomb and I liked the puzzles a lot. We beat this room and successfully escaped.

 

DEEP SPACE
The second room we attempted was Deep Space. The story:

“Ever teleport to an abandoned starship?

After no contact for years, there’s been a distress signal from the abandoned starship, Nebulous! You have just 30 minutes to teleport aboard the craft, figure out what happened and get back safely.

But be prepared to battle an asteroid storm, rewire the engines, refuel the power supply and stop an evil Artificial Intelligence in time to save the world!”

This is the room I was the least excited about. Something about space themes just doesn’t interest me that much, and it ended up being my least favorite of the three rooms. I think my favorite part of the room was the very beginning, since they incorporated a cool effect, but then I quickly lost interest. There was a lot more technology and more video game type puzzles in this experience and I always want more tactile things. I also felt like the puzzles at the end of the game just went on for FOREVER. This was one part where having only 2 players meant we that we got a legitimate workout trying to solve things, so maybe I was just physically tired, but I also just truly wanted to stop playing at one point because it felt repetitive and boring. I think we might not have successfully “beaten” this room but I can’t even remember.

 

DRAGO’S CASTLE
We saved this room for last because it seemed that universally people agreed that it was the best of the three at this location. The story:

“Your medieval quest begins now!

We’ve opened the drawbridge on Drago’s Castle — an epic live-action adventure! But the dragon has escaped. And the princess needs your help recapturing him.

See if you have what it takes to escape the dungeon, solve ancient riddles, discover secret passageways and chase down the giant dragon! Otherwise, there may not be a storybook ending…”

First of all, the pre-room story for this room is SUPERB. It was magical and charming and has still left me with feelings of “How did they do that??” It’s worth raving about because the things they do are simple but still just SO cool. I want escape room owners everywhere to have to come and see this so that more places can do things like this.

This room made me want to play a really good medieval-themed escape room. Each section of the experience had a cool feel to it, and overall I felt like the combination of rooms was the coolest out of all 3 themes. It’s such a great setting for a themed experience like this and it was fun to see what they created.

They also really went for a “Wow” ending with this room. I don’t want to say that as if I wasn’t wowed by it, but I was confused, and that took me away from the experience. We concluded later that the room must have needed to prod us along too much throughout the experience, and that must have caused us to “lose.” So even though in those final moments it seemed like we had done what we needed to do, we still lost, and it made everything not make sense. While still in the room I said, “That’s not the end… There’s gotta be more…. Is that it?” Before playing the Deep Space room we had seen another group exiting Drago’s Castle and I heard the music playing from the room, so mostly because of that, I realized that our game had definitely ended differently. I think it’s amazing that they even have the possibility of different endings, so kudos to them, but it was not very clear at the time what had happened.

As a side note, if anyone has played Drago’s Castle and won, would you please email me at nothingbutthesleuth (at) gmail (dot) com? I would love to know what happens during the “winning” ending, and since I live nowhere near the area, I may never get to know!

 

Final Touches
Once the games were over that was pretty much it. All of the employees working the front desk area were very friendly, and they answered our questions and talked with us for a few minutes before we left.

My feelings since playing these rooms have fluctuated over the past week. At first, I felt some regret, since we had QUITE a trek taking public transportation from NYC all the way out to West Nyack and I was afraid that it was not worth the experience that was mostly for kids. But as a few more days went by, I felt more like I was glad I had experienced it. There’s really nothing like 5 Wits near Chicago and there are a ton of things that they do really well. I feel hopeful about the future of escape rooms after visiting, and all the things that places could do. And even though I felt that 5 Wits was more for kids, I know we still had fun and had a different kind of experience.

What I really want to will into existence is 5 Wits, but for adults, with longer time limits. If I could take their wonderfully immersive sets and awesome technology, keep their automated clue system but with the volume lowered a bit, and add in harder puzzles with more time for each space, that would be perfect. These experiences are like junior escape rooms, so if they could make harder versions, I imagine they would be super successful in the ER market. It’s exciting to think of what could be!

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In conclusion…

Play This Room If…
-You have a group of at least 4 people
-You have kids around the ages of 8-12 years old in your group
-You appreciate highly immersive scenery over puzzles

Skip This Room If…
-You play escape rooms for the thrill of solving puzzles
-You plan on visiting on a very hot day, as I think it would get too hot inside the rooms
-You don’t have access to a car and would need to take public transportation there

Overall rating:  3.5 out of 5

Company website: http://www.5-wits.com