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:

Monday, 2 July 2018

Social Escape Rooms - Bank Heist Review

Hi all

My team returned to Social Escape Rooms in May 2018, having last been there in January 2017 when we did both their Paris Escape and Baker Street rooms back to back.  You can check out my reviews of Paris and Baker Street here and here.  

The last time we were there, I tried Paris as a solo player and then the "lite" version of my usual team tried Baker Street (in that we were a team of 3 rather than the usual 4).  This time, all 4 of us were on hand to try the formidable Bank Heist room that we had heard so much about (and for so long).

I had booked the room about a week or so out.  Then, on the day of our escape, I saw on Social Escape Rooms' Facebook feed that Mark (the owner) had also invited Ana and her team from Lock Me If You Can to try out Bank Heist on the same day as my team (in fact, Ana's team was trying Bank Heist and then immediately after, it was my team's turn).  Little did either Ana I know that Mark had decided to run a poll on his Facebook feed to see who everyone thought would win between Ana's team and my team.  He had pitted us against each other as long-term rivals (even though, for the record, Ana and I weren't and aren't).  I am a regular reader of Ana's blog and always enjoy reading her thoughts on rooms I have tried (and looking for recommendations from her in relation to rooms that I haven't yet tried). 

When we arrived to do our room, Ana and her team were literally walking out of the Bank Heist room and into reception.  It was great to finally meet her and her team.  I tried to find out whether they had escaped the room or whether they asked for any clues, but they wouldn't say.  The pressure began to build...

So without much waiting around, we said goodbye to the Lock Me If You Can team and we headed into our briefing for Bank Heist.  Little did we know that Ana was going to stick around and watch our team try to escape from Bank Heist via the game master's desk...  

Bank Heist was our 95th room in Australia and our 65th room in Sydney.  As always, I'll start off with what I liked most about Bank Heist:

·        the room is very well designed.  The room flow is excellent - it is a really nice non-linear room with logical points of convergence.  My team members and I were VERY busy during the entire escape - the fact that the room is largely non-linear meant that we could split up and attack different puzzles solo or in teams of 2, rather than all 4 of us working on the same puzzles together;

·        the theme is great.  Who doesn’t enjoy a mission impossible style bank heist?  The quality of the props and theming was great.  The craftsmanship that went into various elements of the room was also really impressive; 
·        on reflection, there was not a huge amount of hunt and seek in this room.  My team’s weakness has always been the hunt and seek element – many times we have been slowed down by not finding a hidden key, puzzle piece etc that is more often than not hiding in plain sight.  So the relatively small amount of hunt and seek in this room suited my team pretty well; 
·        those who love tech will love this room.  Whilst there are some older style locks, there is a lot of tech in this room too (some of which is on display and some of which is well concealed); 
·        this room is on the difficult end of the spectrum.  There are three main reasons why this room is so difficult:
o   simply put, there are a lot of puzzles to get through in the 60 minute time limit;
o   the secondary challenge; and
o   the hints rule (with respect to the secondary challenge);

·        on the first point, as I mentioned earlier my team was VERY busy during our escape.  There is no time to sit down and relax in this room – it is pretty full on;
·        on the second point above, for those who aren’t already aware, there is an “opt in” additional challenge in Bank Heist.  The primary mission is to retrieve a diamond.  The secondary mission is to retrieve both the diamond and a wad of cash in the bank vault.  The first team to escape within 60 minutes with the cash and diamond will get to keep the wad of cash, which totals $500 [Note – in the month or so it has taken me to write up this review, the cash has now been won (by a very clever 4 person team).  I think though that Mark is considering putting up another $500 for the next winning team]; 
·        the third and potentially hardest aspect is that players who would like to go for the cash prize are not allowed to ask for a single hint.  The very second that players ask for a hint, they are not able to attempt to go for the cash prize (very cleverly, the game actually changes and the cash prize is literally (and figuratively) out of reach);
·        my team was able to get to the diamond at about the 45 minute mark, which left us 15 minutes to try for the cash.  I had been warned by some other escape room owners who had tried this room that it is best to focus on the primary objective before attacking the secondary objective of going after the cash prize and I think in hindsight that was good advice; and
·        despite our best efforts, we were unable to get the cash in time.  We were down to the final puzzle but it wasn’t to be.  [Our hats are off to the team that subsequently escaped with the cash – it was not easy at all so congratulations to them!].

On the negative side, I really have nothing to report.  There was one puzzle that we managed to solve without a vital puzzle element (much to Mark’s surprise!).  I will suggest a tweak to Mark on this puzzle, as well as a couple of other minor prop/theme tweaks – all minor stuff.

This was a fantastic room.  Our team really enjoyed ourselves, even despite the added competitive pressure imposed on Lock Me If You Can and our team by Mark (thanks Mark!). 

I’d recommend this room to all group types (although more experienced players will no doubt find that they have a much greater chance at going for the cash prize).  It’s also one of the few rooms in Sydney that is not scary at all and is therefore suitable to families too.

Where:                   Level 1, 62 Wyndham Street, Alexandria

Duration:               60 minutes

3 different themes (but 8 rooms planned in total)

$33-$38 ea (4 players), but we played at the kind invitation of the owner

Overall Rating:      A fun but challenging room full of great puzzles and theming

More details:

Thursday, 24 May 2018

BMW X-Cape Pop Up Escape Room Review

Hi everyone

On the Australia/NZ Escape Room Enthusiasts Facebook page, I learned about a pop up escape room that BMW had arranged over a 2 day period at the Sydney Opera House (thanks Craig Whitmore!).  Tickets were free and were all snapped up very quickly.

I managed to secure a time slot for 6 people on the opening day.  The room is based on a space theme where players need to find a missing second moon.  For this escape room, I brought along 5 of my work colleagues (only one of whom was an experienced escape room player - most though had never been to an escape room or at most had been to only one or two rooms).

The escape room had been constructed beneath the Sydney Opera House.  To get there, we walked down some "secret" corridors near the Opera Bar.  It was really cool and it assisted in setting the scene.  I didn't appreciate how cool the corridors beneath the Opera House are - they are largely cut straight out of sandstone.  Similarly, the pre-game briefing area was a room with a bar in one corner and sandstone everywhere.  Below is a photo of the hidden corridors:

This was my 94th escape room in Australia and my 64th room in Sydney.

I went into this escape room really not knowing what to expect.  I have been to some fantastic pop up escape rooms (Jetpack Theatre's Art Heist was a great example). I was hopeful that this would be a decent room given that it was being put on by BMW (who aren’t exactly short of money), but you never really know. 

Before we went into the room, we were offered free drinks and were given some puzzles to play around with.  Then, when it was our turn, we were taken into the rooms.  The experience had been created inside an area surrounded by curtain walls.  There were 3 separate rooms in total.

I normally don’t give any spoilers in my reviews, but given it was a pop-up that is not to be repeated, BMW were happy for us to video the whole thing and to tweet about it.  So I will go into detail a little more than I normally would…

The background to the room is that players are trying to find a second moon.  We had an actor with us for the whole experience.  His role was some mysterious, not-of-this-universe character who didn’t say much.  And this guy was VERY into his role.  I suspect an aspect of his role is to also provide non-verbal clues to players, but we were out so quickly that he didn’t get a chance.

Over all, there were probably only about 5 or 6 puzzles in the experience, which was set up into 3 separate rooms.  The first room required players to find and place three coloured rocks in a specific order on plinths.  Rather than have any Arduino or Raspberry Pi going on in the background, the actor simply yelled “Zanthos” when we had solved the puzzle (the only word he seemed to know) and the door to the second room magically opened.

A standout puzzle for me was in room 2.  There was a tree with a bow and arrow with a note that said something about "taking a bite".  There was also a wall that was covered with black velvet with a small hole in the middle.  When I put my hand in the hole, there was a hidden figure on the other side of the velvet wall who grabbed my hand.  Eventually, the mysterious figure handed me a golden apple through the velvet hole.  I managed to convince one of my team members that she should take a bite out of the mysterious golden apple (which we later learned was some sort of gold and vanilla paint job that was indeed edible).  The second she bit into the apple, “Zanthos” and the next door opened.  It was a cool puzzle and officially ticked off my bucket list of having an escape room puzzle that requires players to consume food.

The last room was the most visually spectacular.  There was a sunken section in the middle of the room that was lined with a mirror.  So, when we all leaned over, round globes hanging from the ceiling looked like a light and dark moon (which was of course our mission – to find the second moon).  See picture below of what I’m talking about:

The final puzzle related to a clock with roman numerals.  By memory, we had to figure out the time on the mysterious second moon.  I ignored all that and remembered that this escape room had been designed to advertise the new BMW X2, so I pushed the clock to midnight (or XII) and “Zanthos”, we were out.

It was a VERY quick experience.  I think we were out within about 7 minutes all up.  It was still a lot of fun and as always, I enjoyed the opportunity to introduce new people to the world of escape rooms.

Over all, the theming was well done - the props were all pretty high end.  The mirrored puzzle and apple puzzle were the highlights.  It was also cool that they used a live actor for the experience (which is still a pretty rare thing in Australia).

I really like that companies are starting to use pop up escape rooms to advertise their wares.  I have seen this happening more and more (particularly overseas), so it’s cool that Australia is getting on board.

Where:                    Beneath the Sydney Opera House

Duration:                30 minutes (but more like 7 minutes)

One pop-up theme

Cost:                       Free

Overall Rating:       Nice theming with a live actor but too short!

More details:


Monday, 21 May 2018

Labyrinth Escape Rooms - Mexican Cartel Review

Hey all

My group of friends (4 adults) checked out Labyrinth Escape Rooms’ Mexican Cartel room in April 2018.  After not having been to Labyrinth since September 2015, soon after they opened, we came back to do Japanese Horror and Mexican Cartel back to back.  You can read my reviews of Insane Asylum and Japanese Horror here and here.

The summary of Mexican Cartel is below (taken from their website):

You’re a high ranking member of the powerful Mexican Cartel but when a deal goes south, the rival Cartel starts kidnapping your men.  Your boss sends you back to his house to get his passports to move his family and all flee the country.
As you arrive, you get ambushed and locked inside. You over hear their leader will get there in an hour to execute you, so you need to break free from the handcuffs, find your way around the house to get the passports and escape without getting caught!
Will you outsmart the rival Cartels before it’s too late?

Labyrinth has now been open for more than two and a half years.  They previously had a Mad Scientist room, which we didn’t manage to check out before they replaced the room.  They currently have three rooms open – Insane Asylum, Japanese Horror and Mexican Cartel. 

Mexican Cartel was our 93rd room in Australia and our 63rd room in Sydney.

First off, I'll say what I enjoyed most about Mexican Cartel at Labyrinth Escape Rooms:

a)     we had a lot of fun.  There were some parts that had us running around like crazy people, and others where we had to be quite dexterous - all aspects were a lot of fun;
b)     the theming is pretty strong – the props look really good.  There are some dark spaces in this room and some aspects which aren’t suitable for young kids (I personally wouldn’t bring my 5 year old to this room).  But I think this room would suit older kids (say 10+) who are mature, with supervision;
c)     as with all Labyrinth rooms, there is a great mix of high tech and low tech puzzles.  Some are fiendishly simple – the type that make you want to give yourself a forehead slap when you figure out the solution.  Others require more than one step and are certainly more detailed;
d)     all 3 rooms that I have tried at Labyrinth have elements that remind me of more traditional Hungarian escape room style puzzles – these typically involve lower tech puzzles that are quite manual and visual.  There are two puzzles in Mexican Cartel in particular that require players to be quite dexterous.  This kind of puzzle might not suit all teams, but I personally enjoyed them a lot;
e)     there were two aspects in Mexican Cartel that I had never seen used before in an escape room.  It’s hard to talk about them in detail without giving any spoilers, but one related to a method of finding drugs and another involved using a common kitchen appliance as a puzzle.  The second was a real stand out for me in this room;
f)       Labyrinth use the voice of God system for communications between players and the game master.  We asked for one hint for the final puzzle and the voice of God system worked very well for us.  I think this system is the best form of communications in escape rooms (except perhaps for those few rooms where the game master is an actor inside the room with you, but these are currently very rare).
As for some of the improvements that could be made to Mexican Cartel, there isn’t much to report here.  There are a couple of puzzles, which although being really cool, don’t 100% fit the theme of the room for me.  Although they look great and are a lot of fun, these puzzles really are just puzzles for the sake of puzzles that could have been used in any room theme (rather than one specifically relating to a cartel).  Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed these puzzles, but they weren't a perfect fit for the room.

I also had feedback from one of my team members that she felt like there were a couple of bottlenecks in the room design.  There are a couple of manual tasks in the room that require only 1 or 2 players to complete.  This particular player felt like she was standing around watching others complete those tasks and this detracted from her enjoyment of the room. 

We managed to escape in around 35 minutes and 55 seconds, which was 3 minutes off the record.  Based on this time, I think the room could afford to have an extra puzzle or two (or perhaps a more in depth final puzzle).    

Mexican Cartel is a fun room.  It is a little dark for young kids but the quality of the theming and puzzles is very strong.

Where:                    Suite 3/85-93 Victoria Road, Parramatta

Duration:                60 minutes

3 themes

$38pp (or $152 for a team of 4)

Overall Rating:       A very strong room with fun, dexterous puzzles (but not suitable for young kids)

More details: 

Monday, 30 April 2018

Labyrinth Escape Rooms - Japanese Horror Review

Hey all

My group of friends (4 adults) checked out Labyrinth Escape Rooms’ Japanese Horror room in April 2018.  We hadn’t been to Labyrinth since September 2015, soon after they opened, when we tried their Insane Asylum room (you can read my review of that room here).

The summary of Japanese Horror is below (taken from their website):

Many moons ago, it is rumoured that four Japanese Kogal girls were kidnapped and murdered in the home of a depraved and sinister ghost. Decades later and the girl’s bodies remain, overcome by the evil spirit who captured them and tormenting all who enter.

As darkness takes over, it’s up to your team to brave the house of horrors. Outsmart the wicked and release the girl’s bodies from evil before you too are trapped inside. The Kogal are waiting, will you deliver them to peaceful slumber?

Labyrinth has now been open for more than two and a half years.  They previously had a Mad Scientist room, which we didn’t manage to check out before they replaced the room.  They currently have three rooms open – Insane Asylum, Japanese Horror and Mexican Cartel. 

Japanese Horror was our 92nd room in Australia and our 62nd room in Sydney.

First off, I'll say what I enjoyed most about Japanese Horror at Labyrinth Escape Rooms:

a)     we had a lot of fun in Japanese Horror;
b)     the room design is well-considered.  They have managed to fit a lot of puzzles into a relatively small space;
c)     the theming is strong – the props all look good in the space and lighting/audio all help to set the scene.  I would describe Japanese Horror as spooky or eerie, rather than incredibly scary.  For those who are worried about rooms being too scary for them, I can report that there are no jump scares in this room.  By contrast, I have been to some truly scary rooms (one in particular in Melbourne comes to mind) – I can report that Japanese Horror will not make you need a change of underwear.  However, it is definitely not suited to young kids;
d)     I think Labyrinth are very clever at including a great mix of high tech and low tech puzzles.  Some are fiendishly simple – the type that make you want to give yourself a forehead slap when you figure out the solution.  Others require more than one step. Some of the puzzles in Japanese Horror (and in all of the Labyrinth rooms) have elements that remind me of more traditional Hungarian escape room style puzzles – these are typically lower tech puzzles that are quite manual and visual.  They were a lot of fun and there were a couple of elements that we had not seen used in escape rooms before, which was cool; and
e)     Labyrinth use the voice of God system for communications between players and the game master.  We didn’t ask for any hints during our game play, but the voice of God system is the best form of communications in escape rooms in my view (except perhaps for those few rooms where the game master is an actor inside the room with you, but these are currently very rare).

As for some of the improvements that could be made to Japanese Horror, there isn’t much to report here.  There was some automated audio that we couldn’t quite understand at one point (it was a little muffled) but it didn’t affect our game in any way (we guessed what was being said and we were right). 

We managed to escape in around 37 mins 20 secs, which meant that we broke the then current record by about 11 minutes.  I understand from Labyrinth that this is their hardest room with a very low escape rate and I can see that it is a harder room than most escape rooms in Australia.   I especially enjoyed reading all of the comments on a Facebook from Labyrinth about our beating the record – so many players who hadn’t been able to escape didn’t believe our time (or said that it must have been our second attempt).  Even though the time was good, I didn’t feel like we rushed our way through. We enjoyed the puzzles and plodded along.  I expect that the record will be broken again in the future – I can absolutely see a team rushing through and escaping in around 30 minutes. 

Japanese Horror is a great room.  I am often asked for room recommendations and Japanese Horror ticks many of the boxes that most people are looking for – dark/eerie theme, great puzzles, good storyline and challenging puzzles.  Go and check it out and see if you can beat our record!

Where:                    Suite 3/85-93 Victoria Road, Parramatta

Duration:                60 minutes

3 themes

$38pp (or $152 for a team of 4)

Overall Rating:      An eerie room with great puzzles

More details: 

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Room Eight - Review of Entombed

Hey all

My usual team of 4 went out to Manly in March 2018 to check out the 2 escape rooms at Room Eight.  They are based at the end of The Corso at Manly.  We parked at the nearby Council carpark on Whistler Street (first 2 hours are free).

Room Eight is owned/run by Steve, Rafael and Stephane.  Steve was there on the day and we had a long chat with him about the process of designing their rooms and then constructing them.  

After having escaped from their “Indisposed Escape from the Aussie Dunny” room (the review of which is here), we then tried their “Entombed – The disappearance of Dr. Smith" room.  The theme of the room (from their website) is as follows:

Amidst the dry arid deserts of Egypt a lone building stands. It was once the study of renowned archaeologist Atlanta Smith, who has been missing and presumed dead for several months, in his quest for the treasure of Khufu. Your search for answers has taken a turn for the worst, and you're going to need to draw on all your investigative nous and powers of deduction to solve this mystery, evade an ancient curse and escape this room alive...

Entombed was our 91st room in Australia and our 61st room in Sydney.

Here’s what I liked about Entombed:

a)     much like Indisposed, Entombed is a really fun room.  Whilst the theme of Entombed is not quite as original as Indisposed, it was done well (and who doesn’t like an archaeological mystery)…;
b)     the clue system and room flow are quite unique.  The room is largely linear in design and the clue system matches this.  Rather than compete for the best time, at Room Eight players are competing for the best score.  Players start with 200 points and then points are deducted for each minute that players take to escape (as well as for any hints provided).  The hints are automated – the first hint for each puzzle is free and then players can ask for a second or third hint (but each comes with a higher point penalty).  There is also a dedicated game master watching your team, who will step in and provide guidance where needed;

c)     I am generally not a huge fan of linear rooms, given that they often create bottlenecks (with some players standing around watching because they can’t break up and attach different puzzles at the same time).  However, this room had a good flow and there were a number of puzzles that could be attacked in any order.  At no point did any of us feel like we were just standing around watching;

d)     the theming and props are nicely done – all of the props work well in the space;

e)     there were a couple of puzzles in Entombed that we had not seen anywhere before - this is always such an awesome thing (and after 90+ rooms, it is becoming more and more of a rare occurrence);

f)       there is a nice mix of hunt and seek fun in this room, together with a nice mix of low and high tech puzzle elements throughout;

g)     as with Indisposed, the owners have done a good job of integrating humour into the introductory video;

h)     both Indisposed and Entombed are well suited to families and kids.  I’m often asked to recommend family-friendly rooms and I can now add both of the rooms at Room Eight to that list; and

i)       Room Eight have designed both of their rooms as multi-lingual rooms – Steve mentioned half a dozen or so languages that this room can be run in.  It is quite unusual in Australia to have rooms that are suited to so many languages, but again given their touristy location I think it’s a great idea.

I have two minor criticisms of this room.  The first is that I think my team escaped in about 32 minutes or so (our score was 168 points), which is generally a sign that a room could do with another puzzle or two. That being said, I understand from Steve that given their location, the vast majority of teams are new players and many teams do not escape within 60 minutes.  This is something faced by all escape rooms – the difficulty of designing a room that newer players can escape from and which challenges enthusiasts.

I think both Entombed and Indisposed are “easy to medium” level rooms which are therefore best suited to newer players.  Given the touristy location of The Corso at Manly, I agree with Steve that this difficulty level is well-suited to the bulk of their customers. 

My only other criticism of the room is that it utilises black light (UV torch) in one particular puzzle.  From an escape room enthusiast’s perspective, my view is that  whilst UV light puzzles are very common in escape rooms, they are not strong puzzles (in that they are typically pretty inelegant and are not satisfying to solve).  All of the other puzzles suit the room theme really well (and the theming is great).  

We really enjoyed ourselves in Entombed – the treasure hunt mystery theme was great fun (who seriously didn’t enjoy Indiana Jones (at least the first 3 anyway) or Goonies (which was clearly the best film ever made)….  I’m also happy to report that each room at Room Eight is quite different to each other, which is great (particularly if, like us, you do their rooms back to back).  

As always, the biggest test of a good escape room for me is whether or not we had fun.  Entombed was great fun.  We will be back in the near future to try their third room, Targeted, once it opens.

Where:                                    2B, The Corso, Manly

Duration:                                60 minutes

Themes:                                 2 themes (and 1 more currently under construction)

Cost:                                       $40 per person ($160 paid for our team of four)

Overall Summary:                 Another fun, high quality, family-friendly room from Room Eight

More details:                

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Twitter account

Hey all

I have set up a twitter handle (@escaperoomsyd).  Each time I post a new entry here on my blog, I’ll post a link to it there.

So, follow the blog on twitter if you’d like.