Wednesday, 9 January 2019
Happy new year everyone! I was contacted recently by LeeOnn and Damien, the owners of Expedition Escape Rooms. For those of you who are based in Canberra - firstly, my condolences (a cheap shot, I know). Secondly, you might be aware that Expedition Escape Rooms already have rooms in Canberra. They partnered with Rush Escape Rooms from Melbourne on the room design for their Canberra rooms.
My team has been to Rush Escape Rooms and we have tried 4 of their rooms (and loved them all). They were really fun rooms (and rumour has it my team still holds the record 3 years later for their Mission: Possible room ;-)
LeeOnn and Damien have opened up a Sydney office. At this stage, they have one room (called The Forgotten Son) but 3 more rooms are on the way. The Forgotten Son is their own room design, which is awesome. LeeOnn and Damien are both enthusiasts, who have done over 110 escape rooms between them. They tell me that what sets their rooms apart from the rest of the pack is that they try to integrate puzzles into the room instead of just having puzzles for the sake of puzzles. This is absolutely key in my view - when I think back on my favourite rooms (or my favourite puzzles), they all utilise every day objects that absolutely make sense in a space.
I'm checking out The Forgotten Son tomorrow night so I'll report back shortly with my review.
For more information on Expedition Escape Rooms, click here.
Monday, 17 December 2018
I was contacted by Alex, a film writer and director in October who invited my team to come along and try out a new escape room adventure that he had written.
His room, called The Art of Murder, is located in a quiet street in Marrickville in Sydney’s inner west. Unlike most escape rooms where the objective is to escape a room (or rescue a person/item, break into a room, defuse a bomb, etc), The Art of Murder requires players to solve various puzzles to help gather evidence in a murder investigation. Here is the summary of the experience from their website:
THE ART OF MURDER
An immersive escape room / alternate reality theatre game.
A wealthy old lady has been murdered, her young lover stands accused.
Your small group of investigators enter her magnificent home to build a case.
Lift fingerprints, find clues, pick locks, solve puzzles and locate the bloody murder weapon.
Be warned though, the suspect has a plane ticket to the Carribean in an hour.
You’re on the clock to gather enough evidence before he slips your grasp forever!
The Art of Murder was my 102nd room in Australia and my 72nd room in Sydney.
Here are my thoughts on The Art of Murder:
· when we arrived, we were greeted by the owner Alex and the experience started immediately. We were new police recruits that had been called on to investigate and solve a murder. The Art of Murder is one of very few escape rooms in Sydney where the game master is in the escape room with you. This is relatively uncommon in Australia, with only a handful of rooms in Melbourne and Sydney using live actors as game masters. There are some real benefits and some potential pitfalls to this, but more on that later;
· the building is awesome and the room in which the experience takes place is uber cool. It is a former art gallery and there is a really eclectic collection of art on every surface – this is the first escape room that I am aware of in Australian that is effectively inside an art gallery;
· The Art of Murder is one of those rooms where a lot of consideration has been given to the back story (perhaps unsurprisingly given that Alex is a writer). This really adds to the immersion level of the room (as does the room setting and the artwork);
· there is a nice mix of hunt and seek fun as well as a mix of interesting puzzles to solve. Over all, we finished the experience in about half the allotted time, so I would describe it as being a room best suited to beginners/intermediate players (although my experienced team certainly had a lot of fun). Although the room is about a murder, it is not overly dark and I think it would be suited to younger players (with supervision);
· there are some interesting elements to various puzzles. Alex has clearly tried to incorporate some more authentic police investigation techniques into the puzzle and room design, again really adding a layer of depth to the immersion level. Also, some of the puzzles were unique and of a type we had not seen in over 100 rooms before, which is always really nice;
· as outlined above, the clue delivery system in The Art of Murder is by way of the game master being in the room alongside players. Alex plays the role of a helpful police assistant, providing guidance to our team of new recruits. If you have read my reviews of other rooms where game masters are inside the experience with players, you will see that whilst these can be some of the most enjoyable and immersive experiences, they do lend themselves to a simple problem – the removal of the barrier between players and the game master can sometimes result in it becoming too easy for the game master to provide guidance and hints. In a more typical setting, it is not quite so easy for hints to be provided – game masters are physically removed from the space and normally a system of providing hints is put in place (where typically, players have to ask for hints). This is not the case in an experience where the game master is standing beside you. Respectfully, we found that at times, Alex was a little too quick to provide guidance (which in some instances, took away from our feeling of accomplishment in solving a couple of the puzzles). This was partly our fault as I should have made it clear beforehand that given we are an experienced team, we prefer to try pretty hard to solve puzzles before asking for help. I can appreciate that it is hard as a game master to know the solutions and to have to bite your tongue while watching players, but it makes such a big difference to the overall experience. I think this is something that can easily be improved, perhaps by asking players ahead of time how much guidance they would like. I have provided this feedback to Alex.
Overall, my team enjoyed REALLY our experience at The Art of Murder. I would describe this room as a very immersive and cleverly written experience that is suited to players of all levels and is family friendly.
As always, the main test of a room is whether my team had fun and we certainly did have fun. Subject to some tweaks to the hint delivery (which is something that could be very easily improved), this is a great, truly immersive room in a fantastic space.
Some players love high tech locks and automation (above all else) in escape room experiences. Others, like my team, would prefer a low tech room with high immersion and a strong backstory. This is definitely our kind of experience.
Where: 111 Chapel Street, Marrickville
Duration: 60 minutes
Themes: 1 theme
Cost: $40pp (although we played at the invitation of the owner)
Overall Summary: A fun murder mystery in an awesome space
More details: https://www.blackprinceproductionscom.com/
Friday, 14 December 2018
I recently found myself in Newcastle with some of my extended family members (who I haven't seen for years in some cases). It was all very last minute, but I thought I would try and get into Unexpected Exit, an escape room outfit I had been trying to get to for over a year without success.
I called and the very kind game master offered to stay open after their closing hours to accommodate my team.
We were a team of 4 - me, my sister (who had tried 3 rooms), my cousin (2 rooms) and my older cousin, who had never been to an escape room before.
Given that our team was largely full of newbs, I asked to try Unexpected Exit's simplest room, The Deranged Scientist. Here is a summary of the room from their website:
Professor Skoda has finally been captured – the mad genius behind the deadly outbreak of Virus X. In just under 100 days the virus has claimed millions of lives across the globe, with a cure still yet to be found. With the location of the Professor’s lab now known, your team has been selected to search the lab for the antidote. When your team arrives and enters the dimly lit room, the door closes and locks behind you. A plume of gas fills the air and a taunting note from the professor reads – “Enjoy your last 50 minutes on Earth…” This room is an excellent starting point for those new to escape rooms or an enjoyable challenge for the more experienced.
This was my 101st room in Australia and my 71st room in (or around) Sydney.
Here are my thoughts on The Deranged Scientist:
· the room is a big space and immediately upon entering, there is a lot to see and do;
· as far as the quality of theming goes, I think this room was about on par with the average room in Sydney. It was clearly a commercial office space that had been reused for a science-themed room (but which could have just as easily been any other themed room). The theming was left mainly to the props rather than to the wall treatments, etc;
· the room theme of a deranged scientist, whilst not an entirely novel room theme (a similar theme has probably made up about 10% of the 100+ rooms I have tried to date), was fun. The newbs in my team enjoyed the room theme and puzzles;
· speaking of puzzles, there was a nice mix. Some were a little “inelegant” (in that they were a little rustic and not 100% perfect), other puzzles were really strong. There was one puzzle in particular that I can think of that was unlike anything I had seen elsewhere, which was great;
· the room uses black light in a couple of puzzles. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am not a fan of black light UV torches in rooms (because they almost never suit the room theme – I generally find it lazy puzzle design). That being said, the new players in my team didn’t care the slightest and they enjoyed the puzzles like any other (maybe I should get over my issues with black lights (although at this stage, it seems doubtful…));
· there is a nice mix of hunt and seek as well as puzzle solving. I was surprised that this room was pretty tricky – our team only just made it out in the 50 minute time limit. Whilst this was largely due to our team not finding one particular hunt and seek piece, I do think that this room should have a 60 minute time limit rather than 50 minutes. This room is clearly aimed at a beginner level (and given it is the only current escape room outfit in Newcastle, I think they are right to aim for the new player market with at least one of their rooms). The extra 10 minutes would greatly increase the escape (and reduce the number of hints required for newer players);
· the clue delivery system isn’t great in this room – you ask for hints and a piece of paper is passed under the door with the hint scrawled on it. This kind of thing breaks the immersion of a room and whilst this was more common when escape rooms first came out in Sydney, most now utilise the voice of God system (or other methods that are even better suited to the theme). By memory, teams are entitled to 3 hints in The Deranged Scientist;
· the most interesting props in the room were unfortunately not really used (and were more window dressings). This was a little disappointing; and
· this room is child friendly – there are no scary aspects at all. There is also a lot of space in this room, so although I would recommend a team of 4 players, you could probably go as many as 6 players given the space.
Overall, my team enjoyed our experience at The Deranged Scientist. I would describe this room as a solid beginner room, suited more to new or younger players. The quality of the theming is not on par with some of the magical rooms that we have here in Sydney (and many in Melbourne), but this is something that newer players are unlikely to care too much about.
A nice touch is that at the end of the experience, you get a small polaroid photo of your team which you then get to stick anywhere in the premises that you like.
As always, the main test of a room is whether my team had fun and the answer was that yes, we definitely had fun. I look forward to taking my more experienced team back to try Unexpected Exit’s other three rooms, which I understand are much more difficult.
Where: Level 1 Suite 1/810-820 Hunter Street Newcastle
Duration: 50 minutes
Themes: 4 themes
Cost: $30 per person
Overall Summary: A solid room suited to beginners.
More details: http://unexpectedexit.com.au/rooms/
Friday, 31 August 2018
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
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:
IT WAS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!
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: https://www.kingpinbowling.com.au/
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:
IT'S TOO SWEET...
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: https://www.kingpinbowling.com.au/
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
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: http://www.eludegames.com/