Tuesday, 23 July 2019

ELUDE Escape Rooms - Magician's Lair Pop Up Review

Hi all

Julia and Darren, the owners of Elude Escape Rooms told us a little while ago that they were running a pop-up 20 minute escape room experience at Rhodes Waterside Shopping Centre during the July school holidays.  

When tickets were released, we jumped on them.  In fact, we booked tickets to coincide with our eldest daughter's 7th birthday (at 7 years of age she has been to more "adventure rooms" as she calls them than the vast majority of adults)...

The theme of the room was "Magician's Lair" - it was an homage to magicians of all eras.  Each of the puzzles in the room were designed around the central theme of magic.  Elude had created the room twice, so that players could go head to head in teams for bragging rights. 

My family of 4 split up into separate teams - I took the 7 year old and my wife took the 2 year old.  Magician's Lair was  our 122nd escape room to date (worldwide) and our 79th escape room in (or around) Sydney.

Here's what we liked about Magician's Lair:

  • we enjoyed everything about this experience;
  • the room design was incredibly clever.  They had designed a mechanism to ensure that the room was largely linear, which is great for newer players, as it provides focus and a logical order in which to solve puzzles;
  • there was a great variety of interesting puzzles.  None of the puzzles were incredibly difficult (although the spacial awareness puzzles had us scratching our heads for a few minutes).  I think the difficulty level of the puzzles was perfect for the experience, which was largely aimed at newer players; and
  • the quality of the craftmanship in the puzzles and room design was exceptional (and consistent with what we have come to expect from Elude over the past couple of years).

I am told that our 2 teams were neck and neck the whole way.  Certain puzzles that tripped us up weren't a problem for my wife and youngest daughter, and with other puzzles the reverse was true.

And it's really not important who won.  What's important is that we all had fun and that our 7 year old daughter enjoyed this special birthday experience, which she absolutely did.  But for the record, the birthday girl was on the winning team ;-)

Magician's Lair is not currently running.  Darren did tell me that he thinks it will be up and running again in the future at another Sydney shopping centre.  I'll report back here when the location and dates are confirmed.

If you have the opportunity to check out Magician's Lair, you ABSOLUTELY should.  The variety of puzzles, craftmanship and room design were exceptional.

As always, the test of a great room is whether my team had fun.  Every one of us, from the 2 year old to the adults, absolutely loved this room.  Our 7yo couldn't stop talking about the experience for days!

Where:                        Rhodes Waterside Shopping Centre

Duration:                    20 minutes

Themes:                      3 rooms (plus corporate and pop up experiences)

Cost:                           $10 per room (for up to 4 people)

Overall Rating:           An exceptional pop-up escape room experience

More details:              http://www.eludegames.com/

Monday, 22 July 2019

Elude Escape Rooms - Yin Yang Review

Hi everyone

My team first went to Elude in December 2017 soon after they first opened.  You can check out my reviews of their earlier rooms, Perpetual Motion and Framed, here and here.

We returned to Elude in May 2019 to check out their third room, Yin Yang.

The room summary from their website for Yin Yang is as follows:

Yin Yang
The principle of Yin and Yang is a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy and culture. All things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites. Everything has both yin and yang aspects. For example, shadow cannot exist without light. This is a more tranquil adaptation of an escape room but is still guaranteed to stretch your skills.

Yin Yang was our 121st escape room to date (worldwide) and our 78th escape room in (or around) Sydney.

Here’s what we really liked about Yin Yang:
  • a lot of thought has gone into the puzzles and theming.  Almost all of the puzzles relate to elements of Chinese culture and they therefore fit the theme completely; 
  • as with Perpetual Motion and Framed, I would describe Elude as a more traditional, Hungarian-style escape room.  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.  There are still Gen 1 style locks throughout all 3 rooms at Elude – they are not a gimmicky outfit with nothing but electronic locks and high tech puzzles (which more and more rooms seem to be in recent times).  Instead, with all 3 rooms at Elude, you get a really well-designed space and a heap of clever and unique puzzles; 
  • as with Perpetual Motion and Framed, Yin Yang is a family-friendly escape room – there is nothing scary or dark at all about the room.  I think the space is best suited to a team of up to 4 people.  I would describe Yin Yang as a medium to difficult room, but newer players can of course ask for some more help from the very experienced game masters; 
  • there was a nice mix of puzzles throughout the Yin Yang experience – both high and low tech, but all were fun.  As is the case with all rooms we have tried to date at Elude, there were puzzle elements that we had not seen before;
  • the room is largely 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); and
  • 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 and Framed, my team all really enjoyed Yin Yang.   

Julia and Darren are true escape room enthusiasts.  They have travelled through Europe (more than once!) and have tried about as many rooms as I have tried, so they bring enormous 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 chatting about escape rooms generally. 

Julia and Darren have already begun constructing their fourth room, Torquay.  At the time that we met up with Julia and Darren, they were also about to open up a pop-up 20 minute escape room at Rhodes Waterside Shopping Centre during the July school holidays.  My wife and I took our daughters there and spoiler alert – it was fantastic.  My separate review of that pop-up room, called Magician’s Lair, will be up soon.

At the time of writing this review of Yin Yang, I have now been to 3 full length rooms, a 20 minute pop-up room and a “Beat the Box” corporate-style experience designed and constructed by Elude.  I am happy to confirm that Elude is one of the best escape room outfits in Sydney – no gimmicks, just great quality puzzles and design.

As I have mentioned in my earlier reviews, don’t be put off by their location – Galston is not that long a drive from the city.  My tip is to make a day of it and if you haven’t been to Elude before, do 2 or 3 rooms back to back and grab lunch or dinner nearby (ask Julia and Darren for recommendations on where to eat nearby).  Given the quality of their rooms, it is ABSOLUTELY worth the time investment.

Where:                        11e Mid Dural Road, Galston, NSW

Duration:                    75 minutes

Themes:                      3 rooms (plus corporate and pop up experiences)

Cost:                           $50pp for a team of 4 (but we played at the kind invitation of the owners)

Overall Rating:           Another fun room from Elude - jam packed with interesting puzzles

More details:              http://www.eludegames.com/

Thursday, 18 July 2019

California Escape Rooms - Summary

Hi all

So, I'm now back from my trip to California.  My wife and our 2 daughters took a 3 week trip to California, where we travelled to Los Angeles, San Diego and Anaheim.

I was really lucky and managed to find a team of experienced escape room players that were kind enough to let me join them on 5 rooms across LA and Anaheim (which I did of an evening when my girls were in bed).

I also managed to get into The Basement (a famous LA escape room business) where I tried a couple of rooms with some strangers (who were not very experienced at all).  And lastly, my wife and I also took our girls to a total of 6 escape rooms across California.

I don’t propose to provide full reviews of all 13 rooms in detail, but in case any of you are planning on heading to California, I thought I might give a quick summary of each room.

So, here is the list (in the order that we did them), together with a summary of my thoughts:

Los Angeles
Hatch Escapes - Lab Rats
Maze Rooms LA – World of Illusions
Evil Genius – Chapter 1 Occam’s Apartment
Evil Genius  – Chapter 2 Norcross Art Gallery
The Basement – The Study
The Basement – The Courtyard
Evil Genius – Chapter 3 The Morgue
Stash House
Quest Room - Red Giant

Cross Roads – The Fun House
Mission Escape Games – The Ultimate Bank Heist

San Diego
Steal & Escape – Mysterious Stranger
The Puzzlarium - The Parlour

Hatch Escapes – Lab Rats
This was a fun room, where the tables are turned and we found ourselves being the humans in a cage with rat masterminds being our leaders.  This room reminded me a lot of the game Mouse Trap – we were kept very busy with a lot of puzzles and a lot of hunt and seek fun.  The theming was excellent, the puzzles were all varied and interesting.  This is a family-friendly room (our 2 and 6yo daughters came with us), but there are some dark areas and flashing lights to be aware of.  This was an excellent room with great theming and puzzles.  It was definitely one of the better rooms we did in California.  You can check out Lab Rats here.

Maze Rooms LA – World of Illusions
At the time that we did this room, it was the best room we had done to date with kids.  It was so cleverly themed, the puzzles were all interesting, multi-faceted, engaging and incredibly fun.  My 6yo in particular loved the magic theme.  So many aspects of the room relied on well-hidden tech, the result being many “magical” moments.  This is a fantastic room for kids and adults alike.  It definitely rates in my top 10 rooms to date.  You can check out World of Illusions here.

Evil Genius – Rooms 1, 2 and 3
These rooms were fun.  I did them with an experienced team and had a great time.  The first 2 rooms can be done back to back (with a really seamless connection between the 2).  Great puzzles, some fun “games to do” and some great theming.  I read recently that unfortunately, they are closing down Evil Genius soon, which is a real shame.  They were some of the best rooms I did in LA.  Their website is here.

The Basement – The Study and The Courtyard
I have wanted to check out The Basement’s rooms for years.  I saw a video online of celebrities playing a room at The Basement and I was hooked.  I managed to book in with a team of strangers but about an hour before the room, I got call telling me they had cancelled and I now had no team to play with.  Luckily another team was playing a little later that night so I joined them.  We played The Study first, which was really enjoyable.  There were scary elements and the live actor in the room really added to the immersion.  We had such a great time that we all then played The Courtyard.  The theming in that room was up there with The Marlowe Hotel (my favourite room to date, based in Sydney).  The puzzles were varied and interesting, the live actor element was great, but the immersion and theming were simply off the charts.  This was my favourite room in LA. 

There are 2 other rooms currently at The Basement, which I desperately wanted to check out (but I couldn’t find a team).  I’ll definitely be checking them out on my next trip to LA.  You can check out The Basement here.

Stash House – Stash House
I did this room with the experienced players in LA.  It is probably the latest time of day I have ever been to an escape room – we started at around midnight and kept going into the early hours of the morning.  It was a truly thematic room with so much detail, a heap of puzzles and some really clever aspects I won’t soon forget.  It’s not children appropriate at all and is best suited to more experienced players.  I really enjoyed this room.  You can check out more about Stash House here.

Quest Room - Red Giant
This was the last room we did in LA on our final day before flying home.  We did this room with our girls and with extended family, who were second time escape room players.  There is some nice tech in this space and some high production value props and theming.  I didn’t think the puzzles were as good as the majority of other rooms we played in LA, but we still had fun.  The room ending was also a cracker.  This room is kid friendly and best suited to newer players.  You can check out Quest Room here.

Cross Roads - Fun House
This is my new favourite children-friendly room that I have done to date.  The theme is a funhouse/circus.  The puzzles are varied and fun, the theming is incredibly strong, but the live actor element is the best I have encountered to date.  The game master is a famous magician who is in a painting on the wall.  The magician provides hints throughout the experience by listening to you and speaking back.  Our game master was fantastic – he made jokes with our girls, he listened to their jokes and there was also a side challenge to find 10 hidden coins within the room – the magician spent a lot of time helping our girls find the hidden coins (so they felt very much involved and felt like they were helping).  This was a truly fantastic room for families and children.  It is located about 20 minutes from Anaheim.  They also have what I hear is a fanastic multiplayer room (where each player is based in their own room and players need to work together to solve puzzles to escape), but because players only ever see the one room, players can come back and re-play the game in the other rooms.  You can check out Cross Roads here.

Mission Escape Games – The Ultimate Bank Heist
I played this room with the experienced LA-based team.  There were 7 of us in total.  There was a nice mix of low and high tech puzzles in this room.  It didn’t “wow” me, but it was a solid room.  We managed to break the record on this room, despite having taken an age to solve the final puzzle.  I think this room is probably better suited to newer players (and definitely not 7 experienced players).  I found that the majority of the puzzles were solved without me knowing much at all about the puzzles or solutions.  I did manage to add value on a couple of puzzles though, which was cool.  You can check out Mission Escape Games here.  They are within walking distance of Disneyland.

Steal & Escape – Mysterious Stranger
We played this room in San Diego with our girls.  It was an anti-terrorist room (but it wasn’t scary or too dark, so it was family-friendly.  The quality of the puzzles was pretty good.  I didn’t love the theming – it was solid but by no means impressive.  The overall game play was ok but there were no real “wow” moments.  We had fun though.  You can check out Steal & Escape here.

The Puzzlarium – The Parlour
Unfortunately, this was my least favourite room in the USA (and it would rank among the bottom 5 experiences I have had to date in escape rooms worldwide).   I liked the theme – you are in a parlour and you have to solve various puzzles to earn currency (and the way out of the room is to score enough currency to buy the final key).  Some of the puzzles were interesting, but where the room fell down (and it REALLY fell down) was with the live actor in the room.  There is an incredibly high level of interaction with this room, and accordingly the room lives or dies with the actor.  We had a really bad actor/game master.  I have come to learn that the biggest challenge of having a live actor in the space with players is that they can become a crutch – typically players might not ask for hints or clues in an escape room until they are stuck.  But this guy was very quick to “assist”, but at no point did he really provide any valuable assistance.  He annoyed me by the end of it and although he did try to engage with our girls to get them involved, it was an epic failure.  I didn’t enjoy this room and I suggest you give it a miss.  You can check out The Puzzlarium here.

So that’s about it for the summary of the rooms on our LA/Anaheim/San Diego trip.  I had selected the above rooms after doing hours and hours of research, so hopefully it might be a useful starting point if any of you are planning on checking out escape rooms over there.

If you have been to any of the above rooms, let me know what you thought in the comments.


Sunday, 7 July 2019

Hi all

I am back from the United States and I am still working on short reviews of each of the rooms we checked out over there.  Watch this space.

I also recently checked out Elude Escape Rooms’ third room, Yin Yang.  Watch this space for a review (hopefully later this week).

The reason for this post is to let everyone know that Elude Escape Rooms is running a pop up escape room at Rhodes Shopping Centre these school holidays.  The room, entitled Magician’s Lair, runs from 8-21 July.  It is a 20 minute room and they have created the same room twice, which means that players can get into 2 teams (of up to 4 people) and can go head to head for bragging rights.

The price is a flat amount of $10 per room, which is incredible value. 

For anyone who wants to try an escape room (or anyone who has family or friends interested), now is your chance. 

You can book here. We are taking my eldest daughter there for her birthday this week, so I’ll report back here with a review.


Monday, 8 April 2019

Off to California...

Hi everyone

I will be radio silent for the next few weeks.  My wife and I are taking our girls to California for a holiday.  In addition to doing 100 theme parks, I've also managed to include a few escape rooms on the trip (4 or 5 kid-friendly rooms and about another half a dozen non kid-friendly rooms (that I'll team up with strangers on of an evening)).

I'll report back here in a few weeks with some comments on how the California rooms compare to those here in Oz.


Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Expedition Escape Rooms - The Forgotten Son Review

Hi all

I was contacted by LeeOnn and Damien, the owners of Expedition Escape Rooms with an invitation to come and check out their new room in Redfern. 

This is Expedition’s second location, as they already operate rooms in Canberra.  Whilst the Canberra rooms are largely based on rooms designed by Rush Escape Rooms in Melbourne, the Redfern rooms will be designed by LeeOnn and Damien.

We checked out Expedition Escape Rooms’ room, entitled The Forgotten Son, on my birthday, having tried out Mission Sydney’s Unstoppable room beforehand with a quick dinner in between the rooms. 

We were our usual 4 team of players.  The Forgotten Son was out 107th room in Australian and our 77th room in Sydney. Here's the summary of The Forgotten Son from their website:

The sun is low on the horizon on your return trek in the High Country. As the cold starts to bite you notice a faint smell of wood fire lingering in the air and a flickering flame can be seen between the haze in the distance.

Seeking shelter you make way towards the light where you come upon an old wooden, rusty, tin house. The sounds of a sobbing child emanate from within. In sensing its distress and unable to leave the child you look for a way in.

Here’s what I thought:
  • owners LeeOnn and Damien are fellow escape room enthusiasts – they have escaped from over 100 rooms together.  I think I can pretty much always tell when owners are true enthusiasts – it generally shows;
  • the theming was really strong in The Forgotten Son.  The storyline is well-considered and continues throughout the experience (with some twists and turns).  I always appreciate attention to detail in the backstory (and this is something that many escape rooms don’t invest much time in);
  • the quality of the props was fantastic.  For much of the experience, we all felt like we were in the middle of the bush and 1,000 miles aware from suburbia.  This is not easy to achieve in a commercial building on a busy road – the owners have cleverly utilised lighting and sound to great effect;
  • the room flow is really well-designed.  There is a natural flow to the experience;
  • The Forgotten Son is one of those rooms that does high tech very well. Many rooms in Sydney have targeted the “high tech” segment of the escape room market, with much of their high tech very much on display.  The problem I have with this is that the majority of room themes don’t suit showy high tech.  The better rooms know how to utilise high tech elements in a seamless fashion.  The Forgotten Son contains several high tech puzzle and other elements, but the tech is all well-concealed;
  • in addition to the very strong theming, I think the greatest strength of The Forgotten Son is its puzzles.  There is a really nice mix of high-tech puzzle elements, together with some more traditional puzzle elements (what I perhaps incorrectly refer to as “traditional Hungarian” style puzzles, that are typically hand-made, low tech and quite visual in nature (often utilising special awareness skills).  I was really impressed with the puzzles in The Forgotten Son – they worked really well, both individually and on the whole;
  • there were a couple of puzzles in The Forgotten Son that were of a type that we have not seen before.  After 100+ rooms, this is becoming rarer and rarer; and
  • the voice of God system is utilised for communication between players and the game master in this room.  It is among the best methods of communication and for delivering hints and it worked well on the day.
We had a long chat both before and after we escaped from The Forgotten Son with Damien, one of the owners and our game master for the evening.  He took us through each of the puzzles and was very interested in receiving our feedback.

I am not sure now of our exact time, but I think we escaped in about 45-50 minutes, which indicates that this was a pretty difficult room.  We did get stuck on one particular puzzle, but we managed to get through the balance of the experience pretty quickly.  I would describe this room as a reasonably challenging room.

As always, the best measure of a great room was whether my team enjoyed it.  We very much enjoyed The Forgotten Son. 

Where:                   11A Cope Street, Redfern

Duration:                60 minutes

Themes:                 1 theme (but more on the way)

Cost:                       $46pp (but we played at the invitation of the owners)

Overall Rating:        An immersive, well themed experience with great puzzles

More details:           https://www.expeditionsydney.com.au/

Monday, 28 January 2019

Mission Sydney - Unstoppable Review

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.  My team also enjoyed The Lost Mine at Mission Sydney, which we did about a year ago at the time of writing this review.

This time we were invited back by the owners to check out their brand new room, Unstoppable.  A year ago to the day, we had tried their The Lost Mine room.  I know the date because it was my birthday.  Now, a year later, again on my birthday, we checked out Unstoppable.  

We were our usual 4 team of players.  Unstoppable was out 106th room in Australian and our 76th room in Sydney. Here's the summary of Unstoppable from their website:

You are special forces code-name Skyfall from the Australia National Security Agency. There is a secret mission for you:
A terrorist has placed bombs containing a mutated virus on a train departing from Sydney. With limited clues, you must find the train and defuse the bombs as soon as possible.
The bombs are in place, and the train is about to leave. You must act quickly to prevent a tragedy.

Here’s what I thought:
  • spoiler alert - it was a frikkin' awesome room;
  • the theming was SO well done.  So many details were really well considered and well designed;
  • I have always enjoyed Mission Sydney rooms – they own the “high tech” corner of the escape room market in Sydney (and always have).  Although I have really enjoyed all of their other rooms, I found that at times, whilst really cool, some of the high tech elements didn’t always completely suit the theme;
  • I am truly delighted report that his is not the case with Unstoppable at all.  Even though Unstoppable is completely full of high tech puzzles and design elements, they all support the storyline and make sense in the space;
  • it feels to me like Mission Sydney has really appreciated the importance of a strong back story with this room – in many ways I think elements are more subtle and more natural than its earlier rooms.  The storyline is really strong and the puzzles completely work for that storyline;
  • the game flow is also really well-considered.  I really enjoy clever puzzle design – this includes individual puzzles of course, but also elements between multiple puzzles and spaces that work together.  They had built-in fail safes in the room design, that were very cleverly-designed.  It’s obviously really difficult to go into any details here, but suffice it to say that I was very impressed with this aspect of Unstoppable;
  • the quality of the props and theming in this room was unbelievably strong.  Unstoppable does not feel like you are in a commercial building in George Street.  They have spent a lot of time (and no doubt a lot of money) in building this room and it shows;
  • there were several puzzles that were of a type that we have not seen before.  After 100+ rooms, this is becoming a rare thing indeed;
  • they utilise walkie-talkies in their rooms.  Although not as good as the voice of God system that is quickly becoming the industry standard, it worked well;
  • this room is family friendly – there are no dark rooms or scary elements.  I would suggest children over about 8 years old would be fine if supervised.
After escaping from Unstoppable (which from memory we did in about 60 mins of the allowed 80 mins, we were lucky enough to speak with the owner and room designer (who I remembered from Vampire Castle 4 years earlier).  It was really cool to have the opportunity to discuss puzzle elements and room design with an experienced owner/designer.  We all congratulated him on such a wonderful room.

For those of you who have been to Mission Sydney before, you know that they are the kings of high tech – much of their advertising refers to items like “padlock free”, as a point of difference.  Now imagine you have a room that is completely high tech, but with the tech woven into a great storyline with theming and props that rank up there with some of the best rooms in Australia.  That is Unstoppable.

As always, the best measure of a great room was whether my team enjoyed it.  Well, we very much did – in fact, I was raving about this room over dinner to my team for an hour afterwards ;-)

******NOTE that Mission Sydney currently has 2 different locations.  Unstoppable is at their new George Street premises*******

Where:                   Suite 502, 724 George Street, Sydney 

Duration:                80 minutes

Themes:                 5 themes

Cost:                       $45pp (but we played at the invitation of the owners)

Overall Rating:        High tech with brilliant theming and execution

More details:           https://www.missionsydney.com/