Monday, 1 June 2020

The Escape Bus - Fallout Bunker and Alcatraz reviews

Hi everyone

My wife and I went to Penrith in January 2020 to check out The Escape Bus.  The Escape Bus is affiliated with Unreal Mini Golf in Penrith, which is putt putt on steroids.  We had a quick look through the mini golf and the theming was the best I had seen anywhere for putt putt. 

The owners of Unreal Mini Golf have a bus permanently parked in the carpark right outside of Unreal Mini Golf.  The bus is split into 2 halves, each with a differently-themed escape room.  We did both rooms back to back.  The space is quite small and has been designed for 2 players (although could probably be played by solo players as well).

The first room at The Escape Bus that we tried was Fallout Bunker.  The room summary from their website for Fallout Bunker is here:

The government had decommissioned a series of experimental nuclear power sites where research for alternative power generation had been undertaken. Due to a national security risk all power sites have been recommissioned. You have been recruited to operate Bunker 2750 and restore the security network provided by the Unreal Atomic Energy Agency (UAEA).

We then went back to back and played Alcatraz.  The room summary from their website for Alcatraz is here:

You and your gang have been arrested and sentenced for 10 years for robbing a gas station for $16.23. Your holding cell on the Rock once held Al Capone who hid a plan to escape, which included his ledger... If you and your gang can escape you will be set for life!

Fallout Bunker and Alcatraz were our 137th and 138th rooms to date and our 89th and 90th rooms respectively in (or around) Sydney.  

Here is what we thought of Fallout Bunker and Alcatraz:

·         the theming in both rooms is really nicely done. The attention to detail is off the charts.  The designer/game master spent some time with us after each room discussing how the room had been designed so as to be as historically accurate as possible (and it shows);

·         we had some technical issues with Fallout Bunker (there is quite a lot of tech in the room and unfortunately, some of it failed).  The game master decided to reset the room after about the first 10 minutes so we effectively started again, which was the right call to make.  Part of our frustration with this was that we had called for a clue (or help) but the game master was dealing with players in the other room, so he didn’t hear us.  We also had some audio issues throughout the entire Fallout Bunker experience;

·         the back story and props in both rooms were great.  The puzzles made sense in the space and the objective of each room completely fit with the theme;

·         there were some issues that I had with some of the puzzles in both rooms.  There was one puzzle in particular in Fallout Bunker that was an absolute chore.  I won’t give any spoilers, but it required players to listen to a long audio track on a loop while solving a puzzle by what felt like pure trial and error.  This was a really inelegant puzzle and we didn’t enjoy solving it; and

·         similarly, there were puzzle elements in Alcatraz that we didn’t love.  One that I recall is a puzzle that required a lot of deciphering which was ultimately for nothing.  It wasn’t quite a red herring as much as it was a time waster and as a result, this felt really unsatisfying to solve.

Of both rooms, I think Alcatraz was the better room – it felt like it had a better game flow and better quality of puzzles than Fallout Bunker.  I think the owners are incredibly good at theming a room – their props and room finishes are the quality you would expect to see on a movie set (as is their mini golf for what it’s worth). However, I really feel like their rooms are let down by the puzzle design.  The technical issues that we had didn’t help at all (as it really coloured the experience we had), but first and foremost I think the main issues were due to puzzle design.  I think these rooms are both examples of rooms that would benefit from a puzzle designer helping with room flow (and to remove or improve some of the puzzles that do not work well).   

I also think that at $45 per head, they need to have a dedicated game master for each room.  It is not good enough to share a game master across both rooms.  This issue is something I have gone on and on about here on my blog, but it’s something that many escape room businesses do badly. 

There are few things more frustrating in an escape room than calling for a clue (sometimes over and over again) and getting no response.  Unfortunately that happened to us while in Fallout Bunker more than once… 

Where:                         Unit 10, 69 York Road, South Penrith

Duration:                      60 minutes

2 themes 

Price:                            $45 each (2 players)

Overall Rating:             Brilliant theming but let down by several puzzles and tech issues

More details:      

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Labyrinth Escape Rooms - CirCurse review

Hi everyone

Back in January, on my birthday, my team returned to Labyrinth Escape Rooms.  My team has been to Labyrinth several times in the past, having tried their Insane Asylum, Mexican Cartel and Japanese Horror rooms (and really enjoying all of them).  

I bumped into Joan and Frank, the owners of Labyrinth Escape Rooms in Melbourne at PAX last year, which was awesome (we hadn't seen each other for a couple of years).  They mentioned that they had opened CirCurse and they invited my team to come and check it out.  We finally got around to heading back to Labyrinth in January 2020.  We had a long chat with Joan and Frank about how they had relocated their business (and the amount of work that clearly went into the move).  

On the other side of Victoria Road from their new premises is a Coles with an attached underground secure parking lot (not overly expensive).  We parked there (and took the opportunity to grab some ice-creams from Coles for sustenance)…

CirCurse was our 136th room to date and our 88th room in (or around) Sydney.  Here is the room description, from their website:

The great Hyde Circus was once an exciting and jaw dropping show but now, there are no ticket sales, crowds or queues. As the new Director, you’ve heard rumours of foul play so you sneak into the performers trailer to find out what could be going on. Is the circus cursed or will you uncover a secret the performers have been trying to bury all these years?

Here is what we thought of CirCurse:
  • the theming is really nicely done and quite unique.  While playing the game, I remember thinking that we felt like we had been completely transported out of Parramatta and were in a circus.  I thought the props, lighting, sounds, etc were really nicely done and really added to the theming and immersion;
  • some of the props were beautifully made, with a lot of attention to detail.  Joan told us that they engaged a painter to create some of their amazing props, which really look beautiful;
  • the puzzles in CirCurse are a true mix of hunt and seek fun and some nice high tech puzzles (that are very well-concealed).  This added to the magical feeling of the room.  The puzzles throughout CirCurse really fit the theme – at times bright and colourful (as you would expect for a circus) and at other times a little ;
  • there are some dark sections within CirCurse - I think my 7 year old would have been fine but my 3 year old might not (it obviously depends on your children), so keep that in mind.  There are no jump scares at all – just a section where it gets dark for a short period;
  • there were a couple of puzzles that were really unique (and of a type we had not seen used anywhere else).  There were some really interesting puzzle elements used in CirCurse, relying on different senses and skills.; and
  • the room is rated “hard” on their website.  I can’t recall how quickly we escaped, but I felt like we had a bit of time up our sleeves.  But we were kept pretty busy during the entire escape. 

As always, my team really enjoyed our time at Labyrinth Escape Rooms.  Joan and Frank have a great escape room business with awesome rooms.  This was our fourth room at Labyrinth and I can again confirm that we have consistently had a great time. 

We were lucky enough to debrief with Joan and Frank after our escape (it’s always fun to talk with genuine escape room enthusiasts).  We even managed to get a sneak peek at some other rooms they are looking to open in the near future ;-)
Where:                         1B Victoria Road, Parramatta
Duration:                      60 minutes
Themes:                       3 themes (but others currently under construction)
                                       Price:                           $43 each (4 players) (but we played at owners’ invitation)
Overall Rating:             A beautiful, challenging, well-themed room
More details:      

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Narrow Escape Rooms - The Inheritance review

Hey all

Firstly, I should apologise to Narrow Escape Rooms for taking so long to write up this review.  This year has been hectic and I’m sure I’m not the only one that has had their hands full with juggling work, home-schooling and life in general.

We went and checked out Narrow Escape Rooms’ second room, The Inheritance back on my birthday in January.  Every year I always try to leave a couple of rooms to do on my birthday that I have heard great things about and The Inheritance was at the top of our list. 

This was our second time to Narrow Escape Rooms – the first time having been a couple of weeks earlier with our kids where we checked out Launch.  You can read my separate review of Launch here.

This time we brought our usual team of 4 adults.  We again spent some time before The Inheritance chatting with Shelley and Craig and we also got to meet Kit, another owner.  I always love a family-owned and run escape room, particularly where the owners design their rooms themselves.

The Inheritance was our 135th room to date and our 87th room in (or around) Sydney.  Here is the room description, from their website:

You receive word that your Aunt May has passed away.
She was fun, loving and RICH!
She was your favourite Aunt & she wants YOU to inherit her FORTUNE!
But first you must find her will!

Here is what we thought:

·        this room was so very well-designed.  The flow is really nice and they have managed to include linear elements together with sections where players can break off in pairs (or solo) to complete puzzles.  I think The Inheritance is similar to Launch in that regard;
·        however, The Inheritance is significantly more challenging than Launch.  Whilst Launch is aimed more at newer players and families, The Inheritance is not as simple a room.  My team has been to many rooms to date and we found elements of The Inheritance quite challenging. The room has a 4/5 difficulty (according to their website), which I think is about right.  I don’t recall how quickly my team escaped from The Inheritance, but I recall feeling like we had plenty to do the whole time.  There are a lot of puzzles to get through in the 75 minutes allowed time;
·        there was a really nice mix of puzzles in The Inheritance.  As with Launch, we found some puzzles that we had not seen used before, which is always awesome.  There is a great mix of hunt and seek fun, together with some really unique and challenging puzzles.  There is again a nice mix of high tech and low tech puzzles;
·        there are no scary or dark sections of the room, so it is fine for younger players.  I would describe this room as being at the trickier end of the spectrum though, so if you’re new to escape rooms, I suggest warming up with their Launch room before tackling The Inheritance.  And don’t be deterred from trying The Inheritance if you are a new player – the owners are very experienced and can help guide you along with some nudges and hints when needed;
·        I don’t remember asking for hints during our experience (I don’t think we did?), but I recall from our time in Launch that Narrow Escape Rooms use the "voice of God" system for communication, which is the best system available;
·        the theming in The Inheritance is really nicely done.  All props and puzzles pieces are completely appropriate to the theme and are really well integrated.  There are few things better in an escape room than having a back story that makes sense (why are there puzzles there for players to solve in the first place?), and having puzzles that are designed from items that you would expect to find in the space.  Narrow Escape Rooms has again done this really well.  This really steps up the immersion of the room;
·        the back story to the room is well-considered and the strong storyline continues right throughout the experience; and
·         Shelley, Craig and Kit took us through all of the puzzles in the room after we finished and explained different aspects of the puzzles, how they came up with puzzles ideas, how they had adapted puzzles over time, what additional puzzles ideas they have, etc.  I really enjoy debriefing with game masters after a room and hearing about how they came up with puzzles or how their puzzles have evolved over time.

The Inheritance is a truly awesome room.  

As always, the true test of a great room is whether we had fun.  My team raved about The Inheritance for some time afterwards – not only was it a well-designed room that had us scratching our heads a several points to try and solve their very clever puzzles, we also had a heap of fun along the way. 

I also know from speaking with other experienced players who have tried The Inheritance that they absolutely loved it as well.  

It really is a fantastic room.  My team cannot wait to head back out to Narrow Escape when they open more rooms.

-Team Shah ;-)

Where:                    Suite 4, First Floor, 2 Castlereagh St, Penrith

Duration:                75 minutes

2 themes 

Cost:                            Price:                     $45 each (4 players)

Overall Rating:      One of my favourite rooms to date – challenging and fun! 

More details: