Wednesday, 8 February 2017

New escape room TV show - Geek & Sundry

Hi all

Some of you may know of Geek & Sundry already - they are a website who describe themselves as the "epicentre of gaming and lifestyle for pop culture fans".  They also have a YouTube channel, where they host various geeky shows including the web-series TableTop (with Wil Wheaton), where famous (or more accurately, semi-famous) people sit down and play boardgames and teach you how to play.  It's awesome.  [Side note - my escape room team and I are also avid boardgamers - we have something like 130 games in our collection...]

Geek & Sundry have just started airing a new escape room style show, where celebrities (again, semi-famous celebrities) are placed into a room and need to solve puzzles in order to escape.  

The host seems uber annoying, but it's otherwise fun to watch. 

You can check it out here.  This is the second show of this type that I am aware of - you can see my earlier blog entry on the Race to Escape TV show here.  Still no word on whether there will be a second season of Race to Escape...


Note -  It seems that only the first episode is available at the above website.  To see the rest, you need to get an account with "Alpha" in the USA.  I signed up for a 30 day trial, have watched all of the episodes and will cancel my account within the first 30 days and not be charged anything.  All of the TableTop eps are there too, so I think it's good value if you do stay on (less than $10 per month)...  

Monday, 6 February 2017

Exitus - Shutdown Review

Hi all

My team were invited by Exitus (Strike Bowling) to come and check out their new Shutdown room back when it opened in Melbourne.  We weren’t able to get down there, but I was really pleased to hear that they had opened the same room at Entertainment Quarter in Moore Park late last year. 

We have had some really mixed experiences at the Strike Bowling rooms in the past.  Some of their rooms (Forensic and Butcher’s Burrow) were really strong, well-themed rooms.  However, we weren’t fans of some of their other rooms at all and we have never had great service at any of their venues.  I have made the comment before on this blog that we always felt like the escape rooms were an “add on” to Strike’s main business of alcohol sales.  In our other experiences, we phoned for a hint and nobody picked up the phone, several times we had escaped and the game master had no idea, so we had to line up at the bar and wait our turn before telling them, etc.  The service was poor.  Oh, and there was that one time at Macquarie where the game master spoke to us like we were something she had stepped in – that experience still ranks as my absolute worst escape experience to date.

Despite our earlier experiences at Strike, my team went into this room with an open mind.  After all, this room was designed by Cubescape (rather than Exitus or Strike) and we had never before tried an Artificial Intelligence run room.  These are “next gen” rooms where each experience is different because AI is running the show – it can adapt to each team’s experience levels, provide hints where needed, etc.  It’s also a cool room theme – a company’s AI computer system has been taken offline by a disgruntled employee, so your team is deployed to get the computer back up and running…

We checked out Shutdown in early January 2017.  We were the “lite” version of our usual team (just the 3 of us).  It was a milestone room, my 50th so far.  Here’s what we thought.

On the positive side:

·        the tech in this room is cool.  The theming style reminded me very much of other Strike rooms (in that the quality of the props and general theming is really strong – they have that Hollywood set kind of feel to their props and wall/floor finishes);

·        the puzzles were also interesting and varied.  Many of the puzzles were high tech or computer based puzzles.  There were also some old-school puzzles thrown in for good measure (and a little bit of simple hunt and seek fun); and
·        some aspects of the artificial intelligence running this escape room were cool – like hints that were provided via video.

If the whole room had been at the same quality that we had experienced in the first 15 minutes, then my review would have been much more positive than it unfortunately is.  So, without further delay, here is what I didn’t like in the room:

·        there are flaws in the some of the artificial intelligence aspects of this room.  For example, at one point, we had apparently taken too long to solve a puzzle (we were busily working on other puzzles as guided by the main computer in the room) but suddenly the AI decided we had taken too long and simply released the item.  There was no guidance that we had to prioritise this particular puzzle ahead of others – rather than telling us to work on this puzzle (or giving us a hint in relation to the puzzle), the AI simply released the item and solved the puzzle for us.  This was unnecessary and annoying;

·        sounds and music can really add to the theming and immersion of a room.  However, the sounds and effects in this room were uncomfortably loud at many points (and their volume only seemed to increase throughout the experience).  Throughout this experience, there is dialogue coming from 2 difference sources – at a few points, it was impossible to hear any of the dialogue over the bangs and other loud noises;

·        one puzzle relies on UV/blacklight.  I hate UV/blacklight puzzles – my view (and it’s a widely held view amongst escape room enthusiasts) that UV/blacklight puzzles are used when game designers can’t come up with something better.  There are very few rooms where UV light would suit the theme (maybe a spy room?) but it was so out of place in this room, which prides itself on being high tech;

·        by far the biggest issue was had with this room was the game master (or more correctly, his lack of training).  We were up to the final puzzle, which we solved with about 15 minutes left on the clock and then…..nothing happened.  We got on the phone and asked the game master for some guidance.  He was very vague with his hint.  My other team members called him as well and also asked for a hint and he repeated the same vague hint verbatim.  I even told him “repeating the same words to me isn’t helping”, so he clarified and told us what we needed to do escape and he confirmed that we had the right code for the final door keypad and we should just keep trying it.  So then spent the next 8 minutes trying the code over and over again until the time ran out.  When the game master opened the door, we asked him what was going on and he said that if we try the wrong code too many times, the keypad stops working.  He then told us it was a shame we didn’t escape because we were going so well right up until the end…..

·        fast forward about a week or two, when I give Strike/Exitus my feedback on the room and a manager there gets back to me and explains that the game master had given us a bum steer.  What we thought was the final puzzle was in fact the final puzzle, which should have opened our exit door.  The instructions the game master had told us about finding a code and entering it into the keypad was completely incorrect – it’s not how you exit the room at all.

Needless to say, I was even more annoyed then than I was on the day of our escape.  The game master clearly had no clue as to how players escape the room (not only did he have inadequate training, I would bet any money he has not even tried the room himself).  This is pretty disgraceful, particularly at an outfit which charges up to $165 for this room, which I think makes it about the most expensive room in Sydney (given it’s only a 50 minute experience).    

My feedback to the relevant Strike/Exitus managers was simple – until they get back to basics and have a properly trained, dedicated game master watching players and guiding them through a room, they will continue to provide a lower quality product than the product on offer from many of their competitors.

If you read through escape room Facebook groups and TripAdvisor reviews on Strike/Exitus, there is a clear theme that customers are not happy with the poor level of service that they are consistently receiving from this business.  Strike/Exitus recently changed most of their rooms to use QR codes for hints (where you scan a code in the room and you are given an automatic clue, which is sometimes helpful and sometimes not).  The approach they should have instead taken was to increase the game master interaction with players, rather than effectively removing any interaction entirely.

These guys don’t do the simple things well – until they do, I do not consider them to be a real escape room outfit.  One positive thing I will say is that since trying Shutdown, I have been in contact with 2 managers who have been open to receiving my feedback.  Whether or not they implement changes and listen to their customers remains to be seen…

Where:                   Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park

Duration:               50 minutes

3 different themes

$41.25 each (4 players) (We played at the invitation of Exitus)

Overall Rating:      Really frustrating and disappointing – their service is still lacking

More details:

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Cipher Room - The Cabin Review

Hi everyone!

Back in early January, I checked out The Cipher Room’s second room, The Cabin.  My usual team of 4 play-tested their Espionage room back in August 2016 just before they opened to the public.  You can read my review of Espionage here.  After having tried and loved Espionage (which I described as the best themed room in Sydney), we went into The Cabin with very high expectations. 

My team this time was the “lite” version of our team, in that we were just a team of 3 (my wife was really bummed not to be able to join us).  This was our 37th room in Sydney and our 49th room in Australia.

The Cabin is a thriller room, where your team play the roles of LAPD officers who get a tip off that a serial killer is hiding out in a cabin in the woods of California.  Armed with your search warrant, you arrive at the cabin in the middle of the night and try to track down the killer and bring him/her to justice.

As always, I’ll start off with what I liked about the room:
  • their website is first rate, as is their location and their style in general.  They have a really cool, curiosity-inducing window display that sets the scene beautifully for what’s to follow.  Their front of house is equally mysterious, old-worldly and charming, as is their hallway that seems to go on forever;
  • the theming in their Espionage room is truly awesome.  But the theming in The Cabin is just off the charts – as escape room enthusiasts, we spent a considerable amount of our time in the room simply admiring the theming and the props.  Within minutes of entering The Cabin, we felt like we were transported to a cabin in the woods and were a million miles away from King Street in Newtown.  The sounds, the lighting, the set decoration and props were all so well-considered and clearly SO much work had gone into not only their design, but the craftsmanship of all of the aspects of this room.  All of these aspects were hand-made by Marise and David themselves, which is incredible.  The Cabin is the best themed room in Sydney hands down in my humble opinion (narrowly beating The Cipher Room's other room, Espionage, which takes second place).  Clearly these guys know what they’re doing);
  • the theming was so good in fact that at one point, we were enjoying the theming so much that we were distracted from the story of the game (and some of my team missed a vital part of the story line);
  • there is a truly great mix of puzzles in this room.  They are all hand-made and there were many puzzles throughout the room that were of a type that we had never seen before (and after 50 rooms, that is getting pretty rare these days).  There is also a really nice mix of low and high-tech puzzles and really cool mechanisms within the room;
  • this is not a children-friendly room – if you are after a great family-friendly room, definitely check out Espionage rather than The Cabin.  The Cabin is definitely eerie and creepy, but there are no “jump scares” at all.  I think we escaped in about 40 minutes or so (and I don’t think we asked for any hints by memory), which puts it towards the more challenging end of the spectrum.  It’s definitely not impossible, but there are certainly some challenging puzzles in this room;
  • owners Marise and David are truly enthusiastic about their business, which shows from the amount of work they have put into it.  They have set out to create a truly immersive experience and this is certainly again the case with The Cabin. 

There's nothing at all to report on the negative side.  

I would describe this room as a pretty challenging room - I suspect most teams might need a hint or two to escape within 60 minutes.  The game masters at The Cipher Room are always at hand to help guide players, so don’t be put off on trying this room if you’re an escape room newb. 

As always, the number one factor that I consider when reviewing a room is how much fun we had.  This room was incredibly fun, but it was more than that – it was a work of art.  There is so much attention to detail in this room – the flow is just right, the variety of puzzles is just right and the craftsmanship is better than any other room we have been to in Australia.  It’s an utterly charming room (which sounds weird for a serial killer themed room, but it’s totally true).

I have no hesitations at all in recommending this room.  I suggest doing both of their rooms back to back – start off with Espionage, maybe grab lunch or dinner in between and then hit The Cabin.  You are going to love them both.   

Where:                        640 King Street, Newtown

Duration:                    60 minutes

Themes:                     2 so far (but 1 other planned)

Cost:                           $152 for 4 adults (but we played at the kind invitation of the owners)

Overall Summary:      Wow.

More details: