Friday, 31 August 2018

A Midnight Visit

Hi all

I have learned of a new escape room/theatrical experience that is coming soon to Sydney.

It is enormous - 30 rooms set over two floors.  It is set in the world of Edgar Allan Poe and will be a choose your own adventure style escape room (which is consistent with most theatrical based rooms).  

A short summary of the experience is as follows (taken from their website):

A Midnight Visit is an indoor experience set over two floors and more than 30 rooms, designed to last 60 – 90 minutes. There are adult concepts, uneven floor surfaces, small spaces, low-level lighting and adventures to be had.

Since purchasing my tickets, I received an email that referred to the fact that indicates that the premise behind the experience is that someone you know has passed away and you are going to meet with a funeral home to make the necessary arrangements (House of Usher funeral services - dignified farewells since 1849)...

I actually learned about A Midnight Visit a while back (and I booked my tickets a few weeks ago).   I didn't post about it on here because the last few pop up, larger scale escape rooms that have come to Sydney ended up either being scams or for whatever reason, they didn't go ahead (some of you might remember the Werewolf and Jack the Ripper events that never took place).  In both cases, it took some work to get a refund, so I was a little hesitant to post about A Midnight Visit.

However, in the past 24 hours I have learned that some puzzles in A Midnight Visit are being put together by The Cipher Room in Newtown.  Marise from The Cipher Room has told me that they have been working on some puzzles for A Midnight Visit, so it is an absolute no brainer to get tickets to A Midnight Visit in my view ;-)  

In fact, given that there are 30 rooms to get through!  

The experience appears to be more of a theatrical experience than a true escape room, but these types of experiences have been some of my favourite escape room(ish) experiences I have done to date.  

You can check out more information and book here.

They have now extended their run through to November, so don't worry too much if you are unable to get tickets just yet...


Saturday, 4 August 2018

Kingp!n Bowling/Cryptology - Review of Hunter's Cabin

Hey all

After having checked out Kingpin’s Sweet Secrets room (you can check out my review here), we moved straight on to checking out Kingpin’s Hunter’s Cabin room.  Here is the summary of Hunter’s Cabin from their website:
Sheltering from a storm, deep in the woods you chance across a warm, lit cabin. Is this deliverance, or have you walked into the hunters trap? Can you figure out an escape before you become his trophy? Available at Kingpin North Strathfield. Cryptofactor: 8/10 (trickily difficult)

Kingpin’s Hunter’s Cabin was our 100th (!!!) room in Australia and our 70th room in Sydney. 

Here are my thoughts on Hunter’s Cabin:
a)     as with Sweet Secrets, I was really pleased with the production value of the props and theming in this room.  This room did not look like a typical commercial office space with some op shop items thrown in – the props were of a really high quality, the lighting was well considered and the theming generally was great;
b)     the room theme is not as novel as Sweet Secrets (in that I have now probably been to over 2 dozen rooms where the bad guy is going to return to kill us within 60 minutes if we don’t escape), but it is well done;
c)     as outlined in my Sweet Secrets review, Kingpin’s clue system is one of the better automated clue systems I have used because they use sensors to track where players are up to (which greatly increases the accuracy and usefulness of the clues given).  As with Sweet Secrets, this room is very linear in design (which typically suits newer players);
d)     I am happy to report that we had a dedicated game master for our room.  The game master needed to get in contact with us at one point and it was nice to know that she was following our every move – this is something that many other escape rooms do not do and it always has a direct impact on the overall quality and enjoyment of the room;
e)     I thought this room was more difficult than Sweet Secrets (even though they both have the same “Cryptofactor” difficulty rating according to Kingpin).  Funnily enough, we escaped this room faster than the other room (we were out of this room in 27 minutes and 24 seconds, compared to about 30 minutes for Sweet Secrets).  However, this was the more complicated room with trickier puzzles;
f)       I think all of the puzzles in Hunter’s Cabin were pretty well done.  There were a couple of puzzles of a type that we had not seen anywhere before (which is something that is very rare these days).  There was one puzzle (a cupboard combination) that didn’t make sense to us (which we ultimately brute forced), but otherwise all of the puzzles worked;
g)     lastly, there is a puzzle that I really like, but which I have concerns about from a safety perspective, particularly for children and drunk people.  I’ll feed my comments back to Kingpin on this particular puzzle. 

Given that as a team of 3 we escaped in less than half of the permitted time (a new record we were told), I think the room would benefit from an additional 2 or 3 puzzles (to make it more suitable to experienced players).  Given the theme, I do not think this room is aimed at families or children, but there is nothing particularly scary in the room so kids should be fine in the room.

As noted in my Sweet Secrets review, I had doubts going to Kingpin, given my poor experiences in the past at their main competitor, Strike Bowling.  But I am pleased to say that whilst we had awful customer service at Strike Bowling, we had great customer service at Kingpin Bowling.  The staff members were really enthusiastic and accommodating.

As always, the biggest test of a good escape room for me is whether or not we had fun.  Although we were out very quickly, Hunter’s Cabin was a challenging room with really high production value.  My team of 3 really enjoyed ourselves. 

Where:                                    3-5 George Street, North Strathfield

Duration:                                60 minutes

Themes:                                 2 themes

Cost:                                       $100/$150 per room (depending on time of week)

Overall Summary:                 A quick but challenging room with high production value

More details:                

Kingp!n Bowling/Cryptology - Review of Sweet Secrets

Hey all

A couple of months back, I was scanning online looking for any new escape rooms that were coming to Sydney (which is something I do pretty often).  Much to my surprise, I learned that Kingpin Bowling had already opened up 2 rooms in North Strathfield.  I am usually across most new rooms in Sydney, which was why I was so surprised that 2 had opened up without me knowing.  I asked around on an escape room enthusiasts group on Facebook whether anyone else had heard about Kingpin opening rooms in Sydney and it seemed like nobody else had heard either.

So I contacted Kingpin to let them know that word hadn’t travelled about their rooms to the enthusiasts community and I offered to come in to review their rooms (to help get the word out).  They accepted and we went in in early July to check out their 2 rooms, Sweet Secrets and Hunters Cabin.

We managed to get street parking only a few hundred metres from Kingpin (no doubt because we went mid-week), but there is also a paid multi-storey car park nearby.  I wasn’t able to easily get a babysitter, so my wife sat these rooms out and it was our “lite” team version of just the 3 of us.

Kingpin’s rooms are a partnership by Kingpin and a company called Cryptology.  Here is the summary of Sweet Secrets from their website:

High in the Swiss mountains, you've made your way into the factory known to make the best chocolate in the world. Are your senses acute enough to switch on the machine and steal its secret recipe? Available at Kingpin North Strathfield. Cryptofactor: 8/10 (trickily difficult)

Sweet Secrets was our 99th room in Australia and our 69th room in Sydney.

Here are my thoughts on Sweet Secrets:
a)     I was really pleased with the production value of the props and theming in the room.  This room did not look like a typical commercial office space with some op shop items thrown in – the props were of a really high quality, the lighting was well considered, and the theming generally was great
b)     the room theme is pretty novel, which is always nice.  I can’t remember before doing an escape room where I had to steal a secret chocolate recipe!
c)     Kingpin’s clue system is one of the better automated clue systems I have used.  There is a tablet in the room that players use to get clues.  I am always doubtful of these automated systems because I have used similar systems in the past and the automated clues have often related to aspects of the puzzle we had already solved (which can be very frustrating).  Also, a downside to these kind of systems is that they typically require a very linear room design (which is not my preferred room style).  That being said, the clever aspect of Kingpin’s system is that each puzzle has a sensor that can tell which aspect of the puzzle has been solved already, which greatly increases the accuracy of the clues given;
d)     I am happy to report that we had a dedicated game master for our room.  When we needed to get in contact with the game master at one point, they responded immediately;
e)     this room would suit newer players who like high tech lock mechanisms rather than more traditional padlocks.  I do not recall there being any padlocks in this room;
f)       there were a couple of puzzles that were a little inelegant – one had a few possible combinations but we had to work through each of the possible combinations because it wasn’t clear which combination was correct.  We also had an issue at one point with a magnetic lock not releasing an item (even though we had tried the correct solution a number of times).  Both are minor criticisms.

By memory, we escaped in about half the permitted time.  As a result, I would describe Sweet Secrets as an easier room more suited to newer players.  I think the room would benefit from an additional 2 or 3 puzzles (to make it more suitable to experienced players).  The room is also very children and family friendly, which is a plus.

That being said, it is a strong room for newer players, given the quality of the props and theming. 

I had doubts going to Kingpin, given my poor experiences in the past at their main competitor, Strike Bowling.  But I am pleased to say that whilst we had awful customer service at Strike Bowling, we had great customer service at Kingpin Bowling.  The staff members were really enthusiastic and accommodating.

As always, the biggest test of a good escape room for me is whether or not we had fun.  Sweet Secrets was a fun room. 

Where:                                    3-5 George Street, North Strathfield

Duration:                                60 minutes

Themes:                                 2 themes

Cost:                                       $100/$150 per room (depending on time of week)

Overall Summary:                 Great props and theming, but best suited to newer players

More details:                

ELUDE Escape Rooms - Framed Review

Hi everyone

My team first went to Elude in December 2017 soon after they first opened.  You can check out my review of their first room, Perpetual Motion, here.

My team had been really looking forward to returning to Elude ever since we tried their Perpetual Motion room, which we really enjoyed.  We returned in June to try our luck at their second room, Framed. 

As a warm up to Framed, we checked out Elude’s Beat the Box challenge.  You can read all about it in my separate review, here.

The room summary from their website for Framed is as follows:
A world famous Private Investigator has been called in to help police solve a mysterious murder, which so far has not revealed any suspects. The private investigator is renowned for finding evidence that has Eluded all other crime scene investigators. Having followed the private investigators success in the media, you have become suspicious of their investigation methods and decide to try to uncover the truth
Duration of game: 75 minutes

Framed was our 97th escape room in Australia and our 67th escape room in Sydney.

Here’s what we really liked about Framed:
  • there are so many puzzles packed into this room!  We were kept very busy for the entire escape room experience – there is no time to sit on your hands in Framed!  In fact, at the time that we tried Framed, owners Julia and Darren weren’t sure what time limit the room should have.  After we escaped in a little over 60 minutes, we gave them our feedback that the room as it currently stands should have a time limit of 75 minutes.  Julia and Darren agree and the room is now a 75 minute room; 
  • so many aspects of this room remind me of a more traditional Hungarian-style room (as does their Perpetual Motion room in some respects).  Whilst there are clever tech elements in the room, the star element of both rooms is simply the room design and the quality of the puzzles therein.  Framed is not a gimmicky room with nothing but electronic locks and high tech puzzles (which more and more rooms seem to be in recent times).  Instead, with Framed you get a really well-designed space and a heap of clever and unique puzzles; 
  • as with Perpetual Motion, Framed is a family-friendly escape room – there is nothing scary or dark at all about the room.  The room itself is large and could accommodate larger teams of maybe 6 or so (although as always, my personal view is that all escape rooms I have tried have been best suited to a team of 4 – Framed is no different); 
  • the room design in Framed is quite different to Perpetual Motion.  I do not want to go into too much detail for fear of spoilers, but let’s say the room design itself is kind of its own puzzle.  This particular “puzzle” was probably what slowed up my team the most.  At its core, it is a communication puzzle which requires focus and collaboration and unfortunately, we didn’t attack it as well as we could have.  We got there in the end though and we then started to gain some momentum, but this is certainly a challenging room.  I can’t remember for sure, but I don’t think we asked for any (or many) hints – we generally prefer to persevere and to try and solve things ourselves (although not in a blindly stubborn way).  But we did scratch our heads at times trying to figure out some of the trickier puzzles; 
  • the room is non-linear (in that teams can break up and do different puzzles separately).  There are points of convergence where players have to come together to progress to different stages and then again non-linear aspects where players can split up again.  This kind of non-linear room really suits our team (and more experienced players generally); 
  • there were some puzzle elements in this room that we had never seen before.  It is really nice to see some creative puzzles, which is increasingly rare for my team given the number of rooms we have now been to; 
  • as always, my measure of a room is how much fun my team had. I am really pleased to report that as with Perpetual Motion, my team all really loved Framed.   

Julia and Darren are true escape room enthusiasts.  They have travelled through Europe and have tried about as many rooms as I have tried here, so they bring a large amount of experience and new ideas to the Sydney market.  We again sat down with Julia and Darren afterwards and spent a lot of time discussing their room, providing our feedback and escape rooms generally.

Julia and Darren have already begun constructing their third room, which sounds completely different to any escape room I have seen before.  You can read more about it here.

At the time of (finally) writing up this review, I have now been to 100 escape rooms across Australia.  I am so very pleased to report that both Framed and Perpetual Motion from Elude rank up there among some of my favourite rooms.  

Don’t be put off by the location – Galston is not that long a drive and you and you can now do both rooms back to back.  Given the quality of both rooms, it is ABSOLUTELY worth the time investment.

Where:                        11e Mid Dural Road, Galston, NSW

Duration:                    60 minutes

Themes:                      2 (and 1 other under construction)

Cost:                           $45pp for a team of 4 (but we played at the kind invitation of the owners)

Overall Rating:           Brilliant room design and a heap of unique and very clever puzzles!

More details:    

Monday, 23 July 2018

Virtual Room - Review of Chapter II

Hi everyone

My team had previously been to Virtual Room to try their first Adventure room (called Chapter I).  You can check out my review of that room here.

Virtual Room has recently released a second VR room, called Chapter II.  This was the third VR room that my team had tried.  Virtual Room is one of 3 VR companies (that I am aware of) that have opened in Sydney recently.  I have been intrigued ever since I heard about VR rooms hitting Sydney – how would they compare to a real world experience?

Virtual Room is located on George Street in the city (in the same building as Escape Hunt Sydney).  We were again unable to get a babysitter for this escape, so my wife sat this one out and it was the 3 remaining members of my usual escape room team that tried out their room.

This was our 68th room in Sydney and our 98th room in Australia. 

Here’s what I enjoyed most about Virtual Room's Chapter II:
  • Virtual Room use HTC Vives for the experience.  I’m not really up to speed on the various virtual reality tech that currently exists, but I can say that the headsets were very comfortable.  When we each spoke I could easily hear my teammates.  And lastly, the quality of the graphics was excellent.  I wear glasses and I am happy to report that I wore my glasses during the experience without any issues;
  • Virtual Room have a dedicated room for each player.  I think our rooms were about 3m x 3m, with the headset being connected to the ceiling in the centre of the room;
  • the game masters at Virtual Room explained that their games are designed with a real focus on ensuring that players don’t feel nauseous or get headaches.  This is achieved through the design of the game and the fact that when you physically walk within the room, you also move in the VR space.  As Virtual Room explain on their website “Games are also played standing up so your brain and your body are always working together just as they would in the real world”;
  •  as a result, I’m pleased to report that nobody in our team felt nauseous at all, either during the experience of afterwards.  Since trying their Chapter I room, my team had been to another VR room in Sydney where players are strapped into chairs (rather than walk around freely within a space).  In that other VR experience, we all felt nauseous (and I remember feeling off for a number of hours afterwards).  I'm really pleased to report that both times I have been to Virtual Room, none of my team members suffered from any nausea;
  • Chapter II is very similar in style and graphics to Chapter I.  The main difference is that the puzzles are harder and a little more complex;
  • that being said, the game design was very clever.  Much like Chapter 1, the design in Chapter II allows Virtual Room to display the various kinds of worlds that could be applied to an escape room in a VR experience;
  • there were also a number of puzzles that could not be solved without working together as a team.  Each player is in their separate physical room, but can see and interact with each other in the VR world.  The puzzles were designed to require interaction (and they were also a lot of fun);
  •  the controls were all very intuitive (and they felt very natural).

Much like Chapter I, I would describe Chapter II as being more of a multiplayer gaming experience than a true escape room experience.  That being said, there is no doubt that many people who enjoy escape rooms would also enjoy this kind of VR experience.

Virtual Room now have 2 VR rooms open, but have plans to design and open many more rooms in the future. The biggest shame of course with a great (physical) escape room outfit is that they are limited in the amount of space that they have, so once you have tried all of their rooms, that’s it.  Given the cost of setting up a room, they generally don’t take them down and replace them with new ones (or at least very few have done that so far in the Sydney market over the past 4 years).  The allure of a VR experience is that they could have a large library of themes to pick from – there really is no limit given it’s as simple as running a different program on the computer system.

For the escape room enthusiasts out there, I would certainly recommend Virtual Room's rooms as a nice twist on the more traditional escape room experience.  It was a lot of fun (all 3 of us really enjoyed ourselves) and we were challenged.  We had a slight technical glitch towards the end of the experience, but this was quickly resolved by our game master.

Based on both experiences we have had at Virtual Room, I'm really excited to see what the future has in store for VR escape rooms.

Where:                   Level 5, 393 George Street, Sydney

Duration:               45 minutes

Themes:                 2

Cost:                       We played at the kind invitation of Virtual Room

Overall Rating:       Another really fun, challenging interactive VR take on escape rooms 

More details:

Room Eight Escape Rooms - Indisposed Review (this time as a game master)

Hey all

When my team went to Manly in March 2018 to check out the 2 rooms at Room Eight, we got lucky and managed to get the best times for the month of March for both rooms.  You can check out my reviews of their Indisposed and Entombed rooms here and here.

The reward for getting the best times in a month is a free pass to come back.  Given my team had already completed both of their rooms, we decided to gift our free passes to newbies who had not played an escape room before.  My wife's aunty and uncle had expressed interest in trying an escape room, so they went along at the end of May with their 12 year old daughter and my then 5 year old daughter to check out Indisposed. 

We timed our return to Manly poorly, as the escape room coincided with Taste of Manly (which sees scores of people hit Manly for a food and wine event for one weekend a year).  We planned ahead and ended up taking the ferry to Manly (rather than driving there and fighting for a car park).  It was the first time our girls had been on a ferry, so that was cool.

I had picked Indisposed for this group because I think it is a really great room for beginners (and kids in particular).The theme of Indisposed (from their website) is as follows:

Trapped in the outhouse of famous, if somewhat deranged Aussie celebrity Huge Axeman, can you free yourself before the Axeman returns. In an Escape Room like no other, you'll need to think and act quickly as a team to solve puzzles and challenges as the clock ticks down. Even if you can escape the Dunny, you'll still need to survive the Australian wild, and contend with an array of deadly Australian fauna.

It was quite interesting returning to Room Eight.  I have played the role of a game master a few times before at various escape rooms in Sydney - it's always interesting seeing how a different team approaches a room (particularly a team of first-timers).  Some of my other thoughts:  

a)     Indisposed is a really fun, largely linear room with a unique theme;

b)     the clue system also worked really well for this team of first-timers (as players get a free hint for each puzzle);

c)     the theming and props are nicely done – all of the props work well in the space and there is a nice mix of hunt and seek fun;

d)     this team of first-timers all had fun and enjoyed the puzzles and props.  I think they took a little longer than the full 60 minutes to escape, but they had fun and now have a much better understanding of what an escape room is; and

e)     my daughter was chuffed that she managed to find some of the hunt and seek elements (and could therefore add value to the team).  

The set up as a game master at Room Eight is very similar to many escape room outfits, in that a voice of God system is used for hints (in addition to the automated hint system).  I co-game mastered their game with a Room Eight employee who was there.  He had a detailed notes sheet that he used in deciding when to give hints (and what types of hints to give).  There were some glitches on my iPad every now and then (due to the wi-fi signal) but the PC seemed to have no issues.  

As always the test should always be whether teams have fun - this team of first-timers really enjoyed themselves at Indisposed!  

Room Eight have recently launched their third room, Targeted, which sounds like another fun room.  

Where:                         2B, The Corso, Manly
Duration:                     60 minutes
Themes:                      3 themes
Cost:                            $40 per person (although we had won our tickets)
Overall Summary:       A fun, well executed, family-friendly escape room on the easier side
More details:      

Thursday, 12 July 2018

ELUDE Escape Rooms - Beat the Box Review

Hi all

My team returned to Elude in June 2018, having previously escaped from their Perpetual Motion room in December 2017.  You can read my review of Perpetual Motion here.

Julia and Darren had invited my team back to try their new room, Framed.  Separately, Elude had recently run an event at Relay for Life, to raise money for The Cancer Council.  The event was a Beat the Box challenge, where Elude had set up a number of large chests which were full of puzzles, with the aim being for players to break into and retrieve an item from the box.

I thought it might be a nice idea for our team to try to Beat the Box as a warm up before trying our hand at Framed.  Julia and Darren were kind enough to let our team try to Beat The Box.  They suggested that we try 2 teams of 2 people (one box per team), but I thought it would be fun for us all to split up and try separate boxes each. 

Beat the Box was our 96th escape room experience in Australia and our 66th escape room experience in Sydney.  As always, I'll start off with what I liked most about Beat the Box:

·         the box is very cleverly designed.  It contains a number of separate sections.  I was genuinely surprised at how many puzzles were crammed into the box;

·         the craftsmanship of the elements of the box is really impressive;

·         as you would expect, the Beat the Box is a linear experience.  I was genuinely impressed with the quality of puzzles, most of which were really unique;

·         I was really impressed with the adaptability of the Beat the Box.  Julia and Darren explained that they had recently run the Beat the Box challenge for a corporate team and they had tailored aspects of the box to suit the particular corporate team;

·         I think the Beat the Box is the future of escape room corporate team building events.  Elude has a heap of Beat the Box boxes, which would allow them to come to a corporate team building day and host groups of 50 or more employees.  I am often asked for recommendations for corporate team building events.  Currently, there are VERY few rooms that I can recommend for corporate team building in Sydney.  Most corporates seem to go to Escape Hunt Sydney, which in my view is a below average outfit and should be avoided.  I really like the idea of the escape room coming to you – it makes logistics so much easier for corporates; 

·         although I was off to a strong start, I ultimately got caught on one puzzle (being a puzzle type that was not my wheelhouse (and which ordinarily I would pass to one of my other team members)).  So I ultimately came in fourth place (of 4).  Impressive I know.  Whose idea was it to play individually rather than in teams of 2 anyway…. ;-)

Beat the Box was was a really enjoyable escape room experience.  We used it as a warm up before we tried our hands at Framed – it was a great way of getting our brains into gear.

I highly recommend Beat the Box to any corporate teams who would like to try an escape room experience, but who would like the escape room to come to them. 

Where:                   11e Mid Dural Road, Galston, NSW

Duration:               15-30 minutes

Themes:                 2 traditional rooms so far (as well as this Beat the Box experience)

TBA (but we provided a donation to the Cancer Council)

Overall Rating:       A great escape room in a box – perfect for corporate events!

More details: