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

Bonus Fun Time Game Show Challenge @ Escape Factor Forest Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In conclusion…

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

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

Overall rating:  4 out of 5

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

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

Special Ops @ The Escape Game Chicago

Date played:  Friday, June 15, 2018
Number of players:  4
Max number of players possible for this room: 8
Public or private game:  Private (only because no strangers booked with us)
Outcome:  Escaped

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In conclusion…

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

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

Overall rating:  4 out of 5

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

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/