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: 

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: 

Friday, 25 January 2019

CT Adventures - The Virus review

Hi all

My team checked out CT Adventures’ The Virus room in December.  We had been to CT Adventures twice before – the first time to check out MU-T (which was a great room) and their Gotcha! Room (which was less great).

CT Adventures is one of those outfits that have high tech rooms without the immersive, layered experience.  I think MU-T is their strongest room, with the best variety of puzzles. 

The theme of The Virus is as follows (taken from their website):

The newest high-tech computer system has been created recently by our research institute and the Doctors named it “LYU”.
However, a computer VIRUS “X” has hacked into our “LYU”System and controlled it all. Please try to enter the control room ASAP and fix all the system. Restart “LYU” and find the way of clear the Virus ......Good Luck!

So in a nutshell, there’s a virus that players have to identify and fix.  It’s not the most unique of storylines unfortunately…

The Virus was our 105th escape room in Australia and our 75th escape room in Sydney.  Here are my thoughts:

·         there was a mix of mostly high tech puzzles, with a few old-school Hungarian style puzzles.  Many of the high tech puzzles were high tech for the sake of it – given this was a computer virus themed room, it did kind of suit the theme I suppose;
·         the hint system was by way of a walkie talkie – this was effective but not nearly as strong as the more common Voice of God hint system that is common in most rooms these days;
·         there wasn’t too much hunt and seek fun in the room – it was 95% about the puzzles;
·         the theming was ok – certainly not in the same ballpark as some of the stronger rooms in Sydney or Melbourne;
·         this room had replaced the earlier Pokemon-themed Gotcha room, which my team had tried.  Unfortunately, the room layout is identical to the previous room – this was disappointing and a little lazy on the room owners’ part;
·         some of the puzzles were not exactly logical or clear – we had to ask for a hint at one point because we didn’t understand what we were supposed to do with the techy puzzle elements;
·         in the end, we didn’t understand the storyline and whether we had achieved in our quest (although I had kind of got bored by that point and had lost interest in the quest itself).

I would describe this room as being pretty lack-lustre.  We escaped in less than half of the permitted time – it felt like we were running through the motions without a single wow moment or fun element.
As always, the true test of a room for me is whether we had fun.  We didn’t have fun in this room.  The other measure of a room, at least for me, is how well I remember the puzzles.  For my favourite rooms, I can tell you in detail each puzzle in the space 2 or 3 years later. 
With this room at CT Adventures, it has been less than 2 months and I can barely remember any of the puzzles.  Give it a miss.

Where:                                        61 Market Street, Sydney
Duration:                                     60 minutes
Themes:                                      3 themes
Cost:                                            $40pp
Overall Summary:                      Not unique, fun or enjoyable – give it a miss
More details: