Monday, 29 February 2016

Exitus Escape Room Macquarie – Moonshot Review

My usual fellow escape room buddies and I (4 adults in total) tried this room (at the invitation of Exitus Escape Room Macquarie) on their opening long weekend in February 2016.  This was our 25th room in Sydney (and our 35th room in Australia) so far…

Strike Bowling already runs Escapism at King Street Wharf in Sydney (and in other states of Australia as well).  They recently acquired Exitus, an independent escape room operator in Melbourne, which had mixed reviews on TripAdvisor.  The rooms at Exitus Escape Room Macquarie are a mix of rooms designed by Exitus (Moonshot and Injustice) and Escapism (Forensic).  Interestingly, Forensic at King Street Wharf is being replaced soon with Casino Royale, which is supposed to be their hardest room.

My team had already escaped from each of the 3 Escapism rooms at King Street Wharf and those rooms were reasonably good (but the service was below average), so we went into Exitus Macquarie with average/low expectations.

Normally, I set out the pros and cons of a room in my reviews.  However, I really don’t have many good things to say about this room, which was really disappointing for all in my team.

I do however have a very long list of the things that I didn’t like (or which could (and should) be improved):

1.     There was no story in this room.  The puzzles had no bearing to the storyline in any way.

2.     The puzzles themselves were not well designed.  All of the puzzles had been done before elsewhere.  They were clunky – the solutions were not perfect (often requiring additional clues in the form of blacklight text hidden in the room) to solve.  We all found the puzzles annoying.

3.     One of my bigger annoyances with this room is that there is one puzzle in particular that has a fundamental error in it.  I won’t give spoilers, but the only way to solve this particular puzzle is with a clue (because the “answer” is simply incorrect).

4.     The above-mentioned puzzle is all kinds of wrong.  It requires external knowledge to solve (many tourists probably won’t have a chance with this puzzle).  They also use a blacklight marker to provide a clue for players, but they acknowledge that this “rubs off” easily so it really isn’t of any benefit.  There are other major flaws with this puzzle but I can’t go into it any further without providing spoilers.

5.     The flow of the room is poor.  There is no wow factor puzzle or props – they are all just “meh”. 

6.     We had to rush the final puzzle because we were running out of time (in the end we only escaped with 6 seconds on the clock).  I think this last puzzle is probably the only decent puzzle in Moonshot.

7.     Another aspect that I didn’t like is the clue system.  My feedback on Strike Bowling’s Escapism rooms at King Street Wharf was that the escape rooms are an “add on” to Strike’s main business of alcohol sales (together with bowling and karaoke).  Almost every time with Escapism, we called for clues and the phone rang out, or we escaped and nobody knew we had done so (until we lined up at the bar and made our way to the front to speak with the gamemaster/bartender). 

8.     What is Strike’s solution to this?  Make the clue system almost entirely automated, requiring little to no staff member involvement.  That’s right, there are QR codes all over the room and if you get stuck, you can get a clue or an answer to any puzzle (but this costs 5 points and 10 points respectively).  It is still not clear to me what “points” are – I assume they add to your total time to escape, but I’m not sure if one point equals one minute.  I find this really lazy and it does not at all address my criticism that in order to have a great experience, you need a dedicated gamemaster for each room.  Their hint system is even worse than Escapism – instead of having a busy bartender/gamemaster, you now have no gamemaster at all.

9.     Despite the fact that we only just made it out in time, there were not nearly enough puzzles in this room.  There were 5 puzzles in total, which is about the fewest puzzles of any room I can think of (with the exception perhaps of Escapism’s The Garden).  If the puzzles were better designed (and didn’t contain errors), I think players could easily escape this room in half the allowed time.  A lack of interesting, different puzzles is yet another failing of this room.

10.  Another aspect of their automated clue system that I really dislike is that after escaping from the room, you then need to run outside and scan another QR code on the wall to “stop the clock”.  This is poorly thought through.  There is one QR exit code for all of the rooms at Exitus Macquarie.  So what happens when 2 or more rooms get out at the same time – I can see this not working well at all.

11.  Some of you also won’t like the fact that Exitus Macquarie will take your credit card on arrival.  This is to cover your drinks/food purchases but also to cover them for any damage you cause to the room.  They will also make you lock up your phones for the duration of the escape (this always annoys me given we typically have our kid with a babysitter, who can’t contact us in the case of an emergency).

12.  Consistent with Escapism, they also book you in for a certain time and then make you wait 30 minutes (or thereabouts) before going into the room.  This is a not-so-subtle attempt at getting you to buy drinks/food from the bar/waiting area. 

13.  Their prices are too steep for the quality of this room.  Their prices are a flat rate for the room, which is $100 Mon-Thurs or $150 Fri-Sun.  For a standard group of 4 people, this puts their weekend rate at about the most expensive in Sydney at $37.50 per head, and couples at an amazing $75 per head.  The room does not justify anywhere near this price tag.

14.  I have also made this comment with Escapism – I think they are cheap to only offer 50 minutes to escape.  This is again aimed at making money and not at providing a great experience for customers. 

15.  I personally do not think that Exitus Macquarie will be a successful enterprise.  They are a cheap outfit that doesn’t value immersive, customer-centred experiences, but instead have gone for cheap, poorly designed rooms as an “add on” to their main game of drinks sales, bowling and karaoke. I think their King Street Wharf partner Escapism will be more successful because they have the benefit of the tourist trade and busy Saturday nights.  Macquarie Centre, in contrast, is pretty dead of an evening.  In order for escape room outfits to survive out of the CBD and major tourist hubs, they need to rely on excellent word of mouth.  I just don’t see that happening here.

16.  And now, this brings us to by far my largest annoyance with my experience at Moonshot (and which has necessarily coloured my overall experience and my views on the rest of the room, which I accept are pretty harsh).  We had the worst gamemaster we have had in 35 rooms to date by a large margin (and this includes several rooms which had no gamemaster at all).  Any other gamemasters out there, read the below exchange of words between ourselves and the gamemaster and consider it a lesson in how not to speak to customers:

Strike employee:  “So what did you guys think of the room?”

Me:   “To be honest, I didn’t like it.  Can you explain the last puzzle to me?”

Strike employee:  “No, unfortunately because you didn’t escape I can’t tell you about it”

Me (and the rest of my team in unison):   “Um, we did escape – you just met us outside (we opened the door, not you?)”

Strike employee:  “Hold on, you all need to take a breath, it’s just a game” (she says with an unbelievably condescending smile on her face)

* My team and I then just stare at her blankly – none of us quite believing what was coming out of her mouth

And finally, in a yet another poorly-considered move, the Strike employee looks at me in particular and says “sir, you’re still not breathing” (with that condescending smile still very much present)

By this time I had steam coming out of my ears – I don’t like being spoken to like a piece of shit by anyone, let alone by a gamemaster at an escape room where my team has gone to have fun.  I had to bite my tongue so hard not to tell this gamemaster where to go.  She has no place working in customer service (or needs a heck of a lot of training before she should be put in front of customers). I mean seriously?

Thankfully, 2 other gamemasters/employees spoke with us and seemed to genuinely take our feedback on board. 

Simply put, this is a very weak room, with clunky puzzles (some of which contain manifest errors) and there is no story to be seen.

I first read the blurb on this room and thought it sounded fantastic – I was genuinely excited to see what they could do with such a cool subject matter.  I was beyond disappointed with the reality of the room.   

I cannot for the life of me understand why Strike Bowling would want to buy the rights to this room.  Their own rooms at Escapism are far superior in quality, theme and puzzles. 

As always, the major determining factor in how I judge rooms is the fun factor.  We simply didn’t have fun.  And if we had have had some fun, the gamemaster stripped that away in mere seconds.

Where:                        Macquarie Centre (Herring Road and Waterloo Road, North Ryde)

Duration:                    50 minutes

Themes:                      3 themes 

Cost:                           $100 (flat room rate Mon-Thurs and $150 Fri-Sun)

Overall Summary:     Hugely disappointing with a rude gamemaster

More details:     

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Sydney's latest escape room - Exitus Macquarie Centre (Strike Bowling)

Hi everyone

We have a new escape room outfit in town.  A little over 12 months ago, Strike Bowling opened up Escapism at King Street Wharf. 

Since that time, Strike Bowling has bought out Exitus Escape Rooms, which were based in Melbourne.  Based solely on TripAdvisor reviews, it seems that Exitus had a lot of mixed reviews, due largely to poor service.

Hopefully this will improve with Strike Bowling taking over the wheel.  The new venue, called Exitus Macquarie, will open on February 29 at Strike Bowling at Macquarie Centre.

There will be 3 rooms at Exitus Macquarie:

·        Forensic (which is already available in Sydney at King Street Wharf)
·        Jailbreak
·        Moonshot

You can read my review of Forensic here – it was definitely one of the hardest rooms my group has tried.

The summaries of Jailbreak and Moonshot are below:

I really like the sound of Moonshot (which sounds like what used be called "Apollo Mission" at Exitus in Melbourne).  

I’m really looking forward to checking out Sydney’s latest rooms.



Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Escape Room in a Box - The Werewolf Experiment on Kickstarter

Hi all

I stumbled across a new Kickstarter campaign today.  It's an escape room in a box.  The idea is that you purchase the box and then host your own escape room at home!  

They have managed to fit 19 puzzles into this small box, which equates to one hour of fun at home.  

The theme is a werewolf experiment, where upon opening the box you release a toxin which will turn you all into werewolves unless, you guessed it, you manage to unlock the antidote!

It's similar to Breakout EDU in that there is an escape room in a box that you can play anywhere.  The difference with this one is that the game and puzzles have been designed by escape room experts.  The reviews all sound good (see the bottom of the Kickstarter campaign page).

The price equates to about $100AUD, including shipping.  The game can be replayed over and over (by different teams), so if you purchase the game with a group, you can get it at a very reasonable price.

If the Kickstarter is successful, there is a good chance that they will release further themes in the future.

Unfortunately, they are estimating that it will take 12 months to ship out the escape rooms in a box.  This is a long time to have to wait, but in my experience with Kickstarter, it's probably about average.

You can check out the Kickstarter campaign here.