Sunday, 9 April 2017

Cairns gets its first escape room - Cairns Riddle Room

Hi all

A quick note to let you all know that if any of you are heading to Cairns, they now have their own escape room.  Owned and designed by Roland, Cairns Riddle Room is a standalone business.

They have opened up with just the one room so far - the summary of the room is as follows:

The Military Hospital

After years of investigating you and your soldiers have finally discovered the identity of the doctor who had been performing illegal experiments on patients at the military hospital. His descent into madness was obvious by the gruesome bodies he left behind.
You finally enter the hospital, ready to apprehend him, when the doors slam shut. You realize you are now part of his mad game, and need to escape before you become his next victims. ..

I happen to be heading off to Cairns next week for a family holiday, so I'll report back here shortly with my review of The Military Hospital.



Monday, 3 April 2017

New escape room in Newtown - Second Telling Missions

Hi all

I was contacted in January of this year by Patrick, the owner of a new escape room in Newtown called Second Telling Missions (STM). 

STM is a little different to any other escape rooms that I’m aware of in the Sydney (or Australian) market so far – their games are based on historical, factual stories and are led by an actor who will form part of your team while in the room. 

They are opening up with just the one room to start with, but a second room is planned to open very soon (they are currently beta testing the second room).  The room summaries are below:

First Room - Rescue the White Rose
18 February, 1943. Hans and Sophie Scholl, members of the anti-Nazi resistance organisation the White Rose, were arrested a few hours ago. A member of the group who has yet to be arrested asks your team, as clean-skins, to go to their basement to retrieve a full list of White Rose members before the police have a chance to search the basement and find it themselves. The group was careful to put some security in place, so your team will have to find ways around it. The fates of the members of the resistance organisation are at stake. (For 2-7 players)

Second Room – Sabotage the Enigma
February, 1943. One of the White Rose’s leaflets called for Germans to sabotage the doomed war effort so that the war could be brought to a close as soon as possible. Your team has been contacted by a resistance organisation and asked to break into a top-secret army communications centre and sabotage the Enigma key-distribution mechanism. There is only a narrow window of opportunity to do it – one hour – but the mission could change the course of history. (For 2-6 players)

I’m uber intrigued by the thought of having an actor in the room with us and how that would work.  The best hint delivery system I have seen to date has been the “voice of God” system, where players simply speak out loud and a response comes over the loud speaker.  Next Level Escape uses a narration style voice of God, where the voice on the speaker is "narrating" the story of the escape room players working through the room, in a tongue in cheek method, to provide guidance and hints– this is the best system I have seen hands down.

However, having a live actor in the room sounds like a whole different level of immersion.  My very first escape room was years ago in Vegas (before escape rooms were a thing) and they had a live actor with us for the entire 4 hour game (which involved traveling by minivan to 4 different sites).  It was awesome – the live actor allows the game master (ie the actor) to see exactly what players are doing, what puzzles they are stuck on, etc.  The only risk with this system I think is that because the game master is there in the room with you, players might bombard the game master with hint requests rather than figure things out by themselves.  Game masters have such a huge impact on players' experience in an escape room, but a game master who is in the room with you would absolutely make or break the experience I think. 

I’m hoping to check out STM’s first room in the next couple of weeks and as always, I’ll report back here with my review.  You can check out their website here.



Sunday, 12 March 2017

New Escape Room in Parramatta - Scram Escape Rooms

Hi all

In February, a new escape room outfit opened its doors in Parramatta.  They are called Scram Escape Rooms.

The owners, Jess, Daniel and Walid, have told me that they are a standalone business and have done all of the design work themselves (ie none of the puzzles or room themes have been purchased from third party designers).  The owners noticed that there were a lack of things to do in Parramatta, and decided to change that by opening up their own rooms.

They have opened just the one room so far, but are currently constructing their second room which is coming soon.  Here are the very brief summaries of the room themes, taken from their website:

The Wizard Chambers

Your rival house team has hidden your wand and locked you in the dorms.  Can you solve their tricks to escape?  (3-6 players)

The Doll House

Will you escape?  Or will you be the puppet on strings?   

Their first room is The Wizard Chambers, which has a definite Harry Potter sound to it.  Jess tells me that the aim with this room was to create an immersive room that delved into childhood dreams.  

They are located in the Parramatta CBD, in a fantastic location only a short distance from Westfield.  

You can check out their website here.

My team will check out their room shortly and as always, I'll post my review on here.  As always, if you have tried their room, post a comment below and let us all know what you thought.



Monday, 6 March 2017

Escape Rooms Central Coast - Review of Espionage

Hi all

I first learned about Escape Rooms Central Coast via another escape room blog last year.  Since then, I have been following the progress of the room build and I got in contact with the owners, Geoff and Wendy towards the end of last year.  They run an enormous laser tag operation in the same complex (something like 600m2 of dedicated laser tag space, which is awesome) and have recently added the escape room side to their business. 

They invited me to come and check out their room, entitled Espionage, a while back but it has been was challenging to find time to head up to the Central Coast.  They are near Toukley/Gorokan, around 1 hour and 20 mins’ drive from Sydney. 

I was up at the Hunter Valley at a work conference a couple of weeks ago and I managed to convince some of my work colleagues to stop on the way back to Sydney and try our hand at Espionage.  So, unlike my usual team of 4 very experienced players, this time we were a team of 5 players - 2 experienced players and 3 newbs.  When we arrived (on a Friday afternoon), there were a heap of school kids there who were playing laser tag for school sport.  I was immediately jealous of them all because laser tag was never on offer at my high school…

We were greeted by Geoff, the owner who took us upstairs to where the escape rooms are (they are on the second level and are quite separate from the laser tag and other gaming areas). 

This was my 52nd room in Australia and my 40th room in Sydney (or surrounds). 

First off, here’s what I liked most about Espionage:

·        the puzzles all worked well and we didn’t have any technical issues or hiccups of any kind;
·        the puzzles are also pretty challenging – we were a mixed team of newbs and more experienced players, but we only escaped with about 9 minutes left on the clock (by memory), which shows that it is a pretty challenging room;
·        Espionage is a “non-linear” room, which means that the various puzzles do not need to be solved in a particular order (ie first a, then b, then c).  The biggest benefit of a non-linear room is that players can break off and solve puzzles separately, whereas linear rooms typically require players to all move together as a team through the puzzles (picture a team of 5 year olds playing soccer and following the ball).  The puzzle flow is done really well at Espionage, where the non-linear aspects converge at one point for the ending;

·        much of the theming in Espionage is done really well – there are some aspects that are really immersive and where the props and set decoration perfectly meet the storyline;

·        there is a nice mix of low and high tech puzzles in Espionage, as well as some fun hunt and seek fun;

·        the owners are passionate about their business.  We were lucky enough to have Geoff as our game master.  He was an excellent game master – he had very good intuition as to when (and more importantly, how) to give subtle hints throughout the game.  They operate the “voice of God” hint system, where players simply speak and the game master responds over a loud speaker – this is the best system for providing hints that I have come across;

·        Geoff also walked through the room with my team after we escaped, explaining each puzzle and the room flow.  This is always nice (as it gives players who might have missed some of the puzzles an opportunity to see how they are solved).  It’s also the sign of a business that cares enough to take the time out to make sure players can ask any questions that they might be sitting on.  We were also emailed a team photo after the escape, which was nice;

·        there was a high tech puzzle at the end of Espionage that I have not seen in over 50 escape rooms, which was awesome; 

·        Geoff and Wendy have included some hidden “easter eggs” within the room and puzzle design, which is always cool;

·        their pricing, which is $35 per head (for teams of 4 or larger) is great value.  Most rooms in Sydney are heading towards the $40 per head mark; and

·        Espionage is a really family-friendly room – it’s not scary. 

Espionage is a strong room and there isn’t much on the negative side to report.  The kinds of constructive feedback I have given to the owners are more along the lines of tweaks or minor improvements – things like:

·        strengthening the back story and tying it together with all of the props and theming throughout the experience, to add to the immersion;

·        consider having some different lock types or mechanisms (to add some more variety); and

·        consider adding some additional elements (such as sound) to further add to the immersion.

And that’s about it.  My team really enjoyed Espionage.  As always, the biggest deciding factor in my room reviews is the fun factor.  I’m happy to report that we all had heaps of fun.  The newer players in my group all loved the high tech aspects of the room the most (which are pretty visually spectacular) – they all want to try more escape rooms now, so clearly they have been bitten by the bug! 

Where:                   Unit 6, 132 Chelmsford Road, Charmhaven  NSW

Duration:               60 minutes

1 theme so far (but several more planned) 

$35 each (4 players) (We played at the invitation of ERCC)

Overall Rating:      A fun, family-friendly room with a nice mix of puzzles and tech

More details: 

Mission Sydney - Review of Lost Mine

Hi all

The second room that my team ever did in Australia was Vampire Castle at Mission Sydney, which we tried back in November 2014.  I enjoyed Vampire Castle, which was my first experience of a high tech escape room.  I also really enjoyed Dr M at Mission Sydney, which we did a little while later.

Now some 50 escape rooms later, my team went back to try one of Mission Sydney’s newest rooms, The Lost Mine.  This was a gift that I received from my wife for my birthday – she knew I really enjoyed their Dr M room when we had tried it about a year before.

We went into Lost Mine with high expectations, based on our previous experiences there.  I remember really enjoying Vampire Castle too, but 2 years later, I think I now have a greater appreciation for things like immersion and theming.  Looking back, Vampire Castle’s theming was better than average but some aspects don’t make a great deal of sense (like lasers or swipe cards) given the vampire theme.  It was still a great deal of fun though.

We were our usual 4 team of players again.  It was our 51st room in Australia and our 39th room in Sydney.  Here’s what we liked most about Lost Mine:

·        the puzzles all worked well and we didn’t have any technical issues or hiccups of any kind; 
·        the puzzles are also pretty challenging – there was a lot of variety of puzzle types in the room, which was cool; 
·        there was one puzzle in particular which had us stumped for about 5 minutes.  When we got a clue, the solution was obvious – I love a good forehead slapping moment; 
·        some of the spaces are really well-themed – clearly a lot of thinking has gone into the puzzle and room design;
·        there were some “wow factor” moments – some of the puzzles and different areas were unlike anything we had seen before, which was really cool;
·        if you’re a fan of high tech puzzles, then Mission Sydney’s rooms are for you.  There were heaps of high tech puzzles in Lost Mine – more I think than any other room we have tried before; and

·        we had a really lovely game master who answered all of our questions and spent some time with us after the escape to explain the back story further, which was a nice touch.

Ok, now for what I didn’t like so much:

·        whilst some of the high tech puzzles are cool, many of them just don’t fit the theme.  Some of the high tech is well concealed, so as to have the appearance of being "magic", which is great.  But laser puzzles in a lost mine didn’t really fit the theme for me;

·        this is the lawyer in me, but even though some of the mechanisms in the rooms are really cool, there are some aspects where I can see people hurting themselves.  Overall the room is reasonably safe, but for small kids or a drunk buck’s night, there are definitely aspects where players could hurt themselves;

·        there’s one puzzle that requires players to weigh items – I can’t really go into much detail on this one without giving spoilers, but needless to say we really didn’t like this particular puzzle – the solution was annoying;

·        my absolute favourite puzzles that I look back on now over the past 50+ rooms have typically been the low-tech, brilliantly-designed puzzles where everyday items that you would expect to see in the room are re-purposed as part of a puzzle.  Some of the high tech puzzles I have done are certainly memorable, but the low tech puzzles are the ones that stick with me years later.  Sometimes I feel that Mission Sydney do high tech for the sake of high tech – a bit more of a mix of simple hunt and seek fun and some low-tech puzzles would really add to the experience I think;

·        the back story is a little too complicated.  We had a lovely game master, but it took some time for us to understand the back story fully after the escape when she explained it to us.  I think the storyline is unnecessarily complicated; and

·        the room was expensive.  It cost us $210 for our team of 4, which equates to $52.50 per head.  In my humble opinion, this is too expensive.  I appreciate that it is a 90 minute room with lots of high tech, but when the average price for rooms in Sydney is closer to $35 per head, you really need to be an amazing room to justify the price difference.  Whilst Lost Mine is a really fun high tech room, I think the pricing is more suited to about the $45 per head mark.  Others will (and have) disagreed on this, but that’s my honest opinion.

Mission Sydney effectively owns the “high tech escape room” market in Sydney, as they have for some time.  It has proven a very popular market too, given that they are voted number 1 on TripAdvisor.  There are no traditional locks in Mission Sydney at all, which is their point of difference.

If you are the type of player who likes wow factors and high tech puzzles, then you should definitely head to Mission Sydney and check out their rooms.  For mine, I really enjoyed Lost Mine, but personally I have come to prefer a more rounded experience with a nice mix of high and low tech and some truly immersive, intricately themed spaces.  I don’t think Mission quite hit the mark on that front for me, but Lost Mine is still a great room.  

As always, the true test of a great room for me is whether or not we had fun.  We absolutely had fun in this room, so it was a success on that front.

Where:                   Suite 301-303 Pitt Street, Sydney

Duration:               90 minutes

4 themes

$52.50 each (4 players)

Overall Rating:      The highest tech room we have tried – great fun but could be more thematic

More details: 

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

New escape room TV show - Geek & Sundry

Hi all

Some of you may know of Geek & Sundry already - they are a website who describe themselves as the "epicentre of gaming and lifestyle for pop culture fans".  They also have a YouTube channel, where they host various geeky shows including the web-series TableTop (with Wil Wheaton), where famous (or more accurately, semi-famous) people sit down and play boardgames and teach you how to play.  It's awesome.  [Side note - my escape room team and I are also avid boardgamers - we have something like 130 games in our collection...]

Geek & Sundry have just started airing a new escape room style show, where celebrities (again, semi-famous celebrities) are placed into a room and need to solve puzzles in order to escape.  

The host seems uber annoying, but it's otherwise fun to watch. 

You can check it out here.  This is the second show of this type that I am aware of - you can see my earlier blog entry on the Race to Escape TV show here.  Still no word on whether there will be a second season of Race to Escape...


Note -  It seems that only the first episode is available at the above website.  To see the rest, you need to get an account with "Alpha" in the USA.  I signed up for a 30 day trial, have watched all of the episodes and will cancel my account within the first 30 days and not be charged anything.  All of the TableTop eps are there too, so I think it's good value if you do stay on (less than $10 per month)...  

Monday, 6 February 2017

Exitus - Shutdown Review

Hi all

My team were invited by Exitus (Strike Bowling) to come and check out their new Shutdown room back when it opened in Melbourne.  We weren’t able to get down there, but I was really pleased to hear that they had opened the same room at Entertainment Quarter in Moore Park late last year. 

We have had some really mixed experiences at the Strike Bowling rooms in the past.  Some of their rooms (Forensic and Butcher’s Burrow) were really strong, well-themed rooms.  However, we weren’t fans of some of their other rooms at all and we have never had great service at any of their venues.  I have made the comment before on this blog that we always felt like the escape rooms were an “add on” to Strike’s main business of alcohol sales.  In our other experiences, we phoned for a hint and nobody picked up the phone, several times we had escaped and the game master had no idea, so we had to line up at the bar and wait our turn before telling them, etc.  The service was poor.  Oh, and there was that one time at Macquarie where the game master spoke to us like we were something she had stepped in – that experience still ranks as my absolute worst escape experience to date.

Despite our earlier experiences at Strike, my team went into this room with an open mind.  After all, this room was designed by Cubescape (rather than Exitus or Strike) and we had never before tried an Artificial Intelligence run room.  These are “next gen” rooms where each experience is different because AI is running the show – it can adapt to each team’s experience levels, provide hints where needed, etc.  It’s also a cool room theme – a company’s AI computer system has been taken offline by a disgruntled employee, so your team is deployed to get the computer back up and running…

We checked out Shutdown in early January 2017.  We were the “lite” version of our usual team (just the 3 of us).  It was a milestone room, my 50th so far.  Here’s what we thought.

On the positive side:

·        the tech in this room is cool.  The theming style reminded me very much of other Strike rooms (in that the quality of the props and general theming is really strong – they have that Hollywood set kind of feel to their props and wall/floor finishes);

·        the puzzles were also interesting and varied.  Many of the puzzles were high tech or computer based puzzles.  There were also some old-school puzzles thrown in for good measure (and a little bit of simple hunt and seek fun); and
·        some aspects of the artificial intelligence running this escape room were cool – like hints that were provided via video.

If the whole room had been at the same quality that we had experienced in the first 15 minutes, then my review would have been much more positive than it unfortunately is.  So, without further delay, here is what I didn’t like in the room:

·        there are flaws in the some of the artificial intelligence aspects of this room.  For example, at one point, we had apparently taken too long to solve a puzzle (we were busily working on other puzzles as guided by the main computer in the room) but suddenly the AI decided we had taken too long and simply released the item.  There was no guidance that we had to prioritise this particular puzzle ahead of others – rather than telling us to work on this puzzle (or giving us a hint in relation to the puzzle), the AI simply released the item and solved the puzzle for us.  This was unnecessary and annoying;

·        sounds and music can really add to the theming and immersion of a room.  However, the sounds and effects in this room were uncomfortably loud at many points (and their volume only seemed to increase throughout the experience).  Throughout this experience, there is dialogue coming from 2 difference sources – at a few points, it was impossible to hear any of the dialogue over the bangs and other loud noises;

·        one puzzle relies on UV/blacklight.  I hate UV/blacklight puzzles – my view (and it’s a widely held view amongst escape room enthusiasts) that UV/blacklight puzzles are used when game designers can’t come up with something better.  There are very few rooms where UV light would suit the theme (maybe a spy room?) but it was so out of place in this room, which prides itself on being high tech;

·        by far the biggest issue was had with this room was the game master (or more correctly, his lack of training).  We were up to the final puzzle, which we solved with about 15 minutes left on the clock and then…..nothing happened.  We got on the phone and asked the game master for some guidance.  He was very vague with his hint.  My other team members called him as well and also asked for a hint and he repeated the same vague hint verbatim.  I even told him “repeating the same words to me isn’t helping”, so he clarified and told us what we needed to do escape and he confirmed that we had the right code for the final door keypad and we should just keep trying it.  So then spent the next 8 minutes trying the code over and over again until the time ran out.  When the game master opened the door, we asked him what was going on and he said that if we try the wrong code too many times, the keypad stops working.  He then told us it was a shame we didn’t escape because we were going so well right up until the end…..

·        fast forward about a week or two, when I give Strike/Exitus my feedback on the room and a manager there gets back to me and explains that the game master had given us a bum steer.  What we thought was the final puzzle was in fact the final puzzle, which should have opened our exit door.  The instructions the game master had told us about finding a code and entering it into the keypad was completely incorrect – it’s not how you exit the room at all.

Needless to say, I was even more annoyed then than I was on the day of our escape.  The game master clearly had no clue as to how players escape the room (not only did he have inadequate training, I would bet any money he has not even tried the room himself).  This is pretty disgraceful, particularly at an outfit which charges up to $165 for this room, which I think makes it about the most expensive room in Sydney (given it’s only a 50 minute experience).    

My feedback to the relevant Strike/Exitus managers was simple – until they get back to basics and have a properly trained, dedicated game master watching players and guiding them through a room, they will continue to provide a lower quality product than the product on offer from many of their competitors.

If you read through escape room Facebook groups and TripAdvisor reviews on Strike/Exitus, there is a clear theme that customers are not happy with the poor level of service that they are consistently receiving from this business.  Strike/Exitus recently changed most of their rooms to use QR codes for hints (where you scan a code in the room and you are given an automatic clue, which is sometimes helpful and sometimes not).  The approach they should have instead taken was to increase the game master interaction with players, rather than effectively removing any interaction entirely.

These guys don’t do the simple things well – until they do, I do not consider them to be a real escape room outfit.  One positive thing I will say is that since trying Shutdown, I have been in contact with 2 managers who have been open to receiving my feedback.  Whether or not they implement changes and listen to their customers remains to be seen…

Where:                   Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park

Duration:               50 minutes

3 different themes

$41.25 each (4 players) (We played at the invitation of Exitus)

Overall Rating:      Really frustrating and disappointing – their service is still lacking

More details: