Sunday, 31 May 2015

Second review of Paniq Room's Abandoned Military Bunker - this time as a co-Game Master...

My sister, her husband and their 2 friends tried out Paniq Room's The Abandoned Military Bunker on the Rocks in late May 2015.  This was their first ever escape room experience.

Given that I had already tried both rooms at Paniq Room, the owners Akos and Martina kindly invited me to come back and watch my sister's group try to escape from the Bunker, this time sitting behind the desk and acting as their co-Game Master. 

So this won't be my usual kind of review.  Instead, I'm going to try and give some insights into the kind of work that goes on behind the scenes at a true escape room outfit. 

From my seat, I could see two monitors that showed the video feeds from several cameras in each of the 2 escape rooms - Supercell had a group of 2 people (also first-time escapers) and my sister's group of 4 first timers were attempting the Bunker room.  We also had an audio feed so we could hear exactly what was being said in the rooms (Akos and I were looking after the Bunker room and Martina was looking after Supercell 117).

What I learned from this experience is:

  • there is a HUGE amount of work that goes on behind the scenes during an escape.  You really do need a dedicated game master for each room, to watch every step and to guide players if they are heading off track;
  • based on the hundreds of groups that have previously escaped the rooms, Akos and Martina know precisely when to give hints (eg they know which step players need to be at at different times on the clock if they are going to be able to escape in time, and they time their hints accordingly);
  • it is so much fun to watch people trying to escape - listening and watching them trying to figure out clues, watching their excitement (and frustration) as they try to solve puzzles, watching them bravely walk into dark spaces, watching different personality types and how they work together and of course watching their excitement and the pure adrenalin rush as they manage to escape a room (in my sister's case, with just 2 seconds left on the clock!).  It was really exciting right down to the wire.

It was almost as fun watching as it was to try to escape these rooms myself!  I can imagine that as an owner and designer of a room, it must be very rewarding watching players try to escape the room that you have crafted from scratch.

Many of the other escape rooms in Sydney do not have dedicated game masters for each room.  Sometimes they have one game master for 2 or 3 rooms, and other times I have experienced game masters too busy doing other things to bother to pay attention to players in a room.  Several times I have escaped a room only to find nobody in reception - at other times, I have called for a clue only to have the phone ring out several times because there is nobody on the other end.  

Thankfully, there are some escape room outfits (like Paniq Room, The Enigma Room and ParaPark Sydney), which are true" escape room outfits, who I think realise that their primary purpose is to provide a fully-immersive, well-designed escape experience with a good mix of puzzles and led by great game masters who know how to ensure that players have a fun time (and who know how to adapt hints to the relevant level of experience of each team).  At the end of the day, it's simply good business to provide escape rooms that players love - they will keep coming back and will spread the word.

In fact, if you look at my 15 reviews on this blog to date, you will find that those outfits that score 4.5 or higher for a room all have dedicated and skilled game masters.  After 15 escape rooms, I think I can call myself an experienced escape room player.  What I have learned (for what it's worth) in those rooms is that the best escape room outfits provide:

  • clever puzzles, with a mix of high tech and low tech (and novel or home-made and designed puzzles are always the best)
  • a mix of tricky, mind-bending puzzles and "hunt and seek" fun
  • excellent theming, where the story line, noises/music, props and over all ambience all make sense and create a fully immersive experience (I think escape rooms are just as much an escape from reality as they are an escape from a room)
  • skillful game masters who: 
    • are enthusiastic 
    • set the scene and explain the story line of the room
    • carefully guide players through the room 
    • adapt their hints to the players' experience level (just handing out answers is not enough - subtle hints which allow players to feel like they have still solved the puzzle is much more rewarding than simply providing answers) 
    • celebrate players' success! So many rooms I have been to have been such a let down when we have escaped - either nobody even notices or the game master doesn't seem to care - it's much more rewarding when game masters become engaged and truly share the experience with players)
    • take the time after the escape room to answer questions and explain puzzles (particularly where players were not able to escape in time).  The best rooms allow players an extra 5 or 10 minutes after the clock stops to keep going and to try to escape.

Unfortunately, many escape room outfits in Sydney do not provide a fully immersive experience - they often get one or two aspects of a room right, but fall short on so many others.  I've enjoyed 90% of all escape rooms I have tried, but some are definitely far better than others.  

I had so much fun watching my sister's group escape.  I'm really grateful for the chance to see what escape rooms are like from the other side. 

More details: 

Review of Escapism Strike Bowling – Butcher’s Burrow theme

My group of friends (4 adults) checked out Escapism at Strike Bowling at King Street Wharf in May 2015.  This was our third time there, having previously escaped from their most difficult room, Forensic and their much easier room, The Garden.

This time we tried their Butcher’s Burrow room.  This was our fifteenth escape room in Sydney. When you arrive, you hand over your credit card as a deposit (in case of any damage to the room).  

We were blindfolded and were walked down to our room, where our 50 minute countdown clock began with a slam of the door...  

First off, I'll say what I enjoyed most about Escapism's Butcher’s Burrow room:

·                     the theming was excellent - the props and room were very well detailed and suited the theme perfectly;
·                     this room had a good mix of tricky puzzles and "hunt and seek", which I really liked;
·                     the Butcher’s Burrow room is bigger than some of their other rooms - there was ample space for 4 adults and one child to move around without constantly getting in each others' way;
·                     the quality of puzzles and challenges in the room was also excellent.  Although they were all low-tech compared to other escape rooms in Sydney, the quality was very good (everything worked well); and
·                     we all had fun and I think we all felt like we each contributed to the escape.

Now, for what I didn't like so much:

·                     a previous time we were at Strike Bowling, the staff member looking after us was busy with other things (managing other escape rooms and the bar), and I felt that we were neglected (when we phoned for a clue, the phone rang out twice before I managed to speak with them). I'm glad to report that this time, we didn't have that problem (although to be fair, we only asked for one clue this time).  That being said, we escaped the room and nobody seemed to notice – it wasn’t until a few minutes later that I walked around to the bar and waited in line that the bartender/game master realised we were out.  So I’ll make the same comment that I made in my earlier reviews - they need to have dedicated game masters for each room.  The game master also didn’t bother taking our photo for the wall and seemed pretty unenthusiastic, which was disappointing;
·                     there are fewer puzzles in the Butcher’s Burrow room compared with Forensic, but many more than The Garden.  They rate their rooms (in difficulty) at Forensic 8, Butcher’s Burrow 7 and The Garden 6.  Having done all 3 rooms (and 12 others in Sydney), I think more accurate difficulty ratings would be Forensic 9, Butcher’s Burrow 7 and The Garden 3;
·                     you are allowed up to 50 minutes to escape this room.  We escaped in 34 minutes and 19 seconds, which is a reasonable time; and
·                     the price of the Escapism rooms is steep.  You only get 50 minutes instead of the standard 60 and their weekend rate is $150 per room.  This is one of the steepest rates of all escape room outfits in Sydney.  We managed to get to do this room for free (after I had complained about The Garden not being good value for money, given that we escaped that room in less than 19 minutes, they kindly invited us back to do another room). 

The Manager at Strike Bowling has asked for my feedback on the rooms, so I will give it (the good and the bad)…

All 4 people in our group enjoyed ourselves.   I would recommend this escape room to first time players and experienced players, but definitely not for kids (it’s way too scary).  

Where:                    22 The Promenade, King Street Wharf, Sydney

Duration:                50 minutes

3 themes 

$100 per team (Mon to Thurs) or $150 per team (Fri to Sun)
                                [2 to 6 players] (Watch out for deals on their Facebook page)
Overall Rating:       3.75 out of 5 stars

More details: 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Sydney's newest escape room outfit opening 1 June - NOWAYOUT Sydney, Camperdown

Hi everyone

I've just learned that a tenth escape room outfit is about to open its doors in Sydney.  This outfit is called No Way Out and is based in Camperdown.

They are scheduled to open on 1 June with just the one room to start with, called "The Body Shop".  The description of this room on their website is below:

"Experience the unexperienced. NOWAYOUT presents "The Body Shop", Sydney's most-anticipated real-life escape room. You will find yourself trapped inside the horrid reality of a global organ harvesting operation. You will need to investigate all methods of escape and make use of objects inside the room, in a 60-minute adrenaline fueled adventure. NOWAYOUT delivers a fully-immersive, authentic atmosphere, with captivating storytelling and unmatched realism to create an experience worth trying."

Their method of pricing is a flat rate for the room (for up to 4 players).  Mid-week, the price is $79 and it's $99 on weekends.  However, they have an opening special of just $49 for the month of June.  I'm not sure yet of the quality of the room, but at $49, it's definitely worth a try.

I'll try and get there in the next month or so and will post a review here then.  

I'm checking out Escapism's Butcher's Burrow this weekend, so I'll post my review of that room early next week!

Monday, 25 May 2015

ParaPark Sydney - Gateway 9B Now Open!!

Hi everyone

One of my favourite escape room outfits in Sydney, ParaPark Sydney, have just opened up a second, identical room to their Gateway 9A room (with the second room being called Gateway 9B).

This means that they can now accommodate groups of up to 10 people (or even 12 people on special request) trying to escape the same room at the same time (with each team being split into 2 groups of up to 6).

Gateway 9A is an EXCELLENT room which I think beginners and more experienced players would all love - see my earlier review here for more information.

With the addition of Gateway 9B, they are now perfectly suited to corporate groups.  I can't think of a better room in Sydney that can accommodate 10 (or 12) people - the only other contenders at the moment (that I am aware of) which can offer the same room (or identical rooms) for up to 12 people are Escape Hunt Sydney and Mystery Puzzle, both of which are very poorly themed and well below the quality of ParaPark Sydney's Gateway 9A.

Check them out - you will definitely love it!  I understand that their website is being updated at the moment to allow online bookings for Gateway 9B, but if you'd like to book straight away, either email them at or give Noemi a call on 0415 605 734.

They are also working on the final touches of their new third room, Crime Scene.  I can't wait to check it out when it opens!  I will post another blog update here once it has opened (and of course will post a review too once I have escaped from Crime Scene!).