Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Room Eight - Review of Entombed


Hey all


My usual team of 4 went out to Manly in March 2018 to check out the 2 escape rooms at Room Eight.  They are based at the end of The Corso at Manly.  We parked at the nearby Council carpark on Whistler Street (first 2 hours are free).


Room Eight is owned/run by Steve, Rafael and Stephane.  Steve was there on the day and we had a long chat with him about the process of designing their rooms and then constructing them.  


After having escaped from their “Indisposed Escape from the Aussie Dunny” room (the review of which is here), we then tried their “Entombed – The disappearance of Dr. Smith" room.  The theme of the room (from their website) is as follows:


Amidst the dry arid deserts of Egypt a lone building stands. It was once the study of renowned archaeologist Atlanta Smith, who has been missing and presumed dead for several months, in his quest for the treasure of Khufu. Your search for answers has taken a turn for the worst, and you're going to need to draw on all your investigative nous and powers of deduction to solve this mystery, evade an ancient curse and escape this room alive...


Entombed was our 91st room in Australia and our 61st room in Sydney.


Here’s what I liked about Entombed:


a)     much like Indisposed, Entombed is a really fun room.  Whilst the theme of Entombed is not quite as original as Indisposed, it was done well (and who doesn’t like an archaeological mystery)…;
b)     the clue system and room flow are quite unique.  The room is largely linear in design and the clue system matches this.  Rather than compete for the best time, at Room Eight players are competing for the best score.  Players start with 200 points and then points are deducted for each minute that players take to escape (as well as for any hints provided).  The hints are automated – the first hint for each puzzle is free and then players can ask for a second or third hint (but each comes with a higher point penalty).  There is also a dedicated game master watching your team, who will step in and provide guidance where needed;

c)     I am generally not a huge fan of linear rooms, given that they often create bottlenecks (with some players standing around watching because they can’t break up and attach different puzzles at the same time).  However, this room had a good flow and there were a number of puzzles that could be attacked in any order.  At no point did any of us feel like we were just standing around watching;

d)     the theming and props are nicely done – all of the props work well in the space;

e)     there were a couple of puzzles in Entombed that we had not seen anywhere before - this is always such an awesome thing (and after 90+ rooms, it is becoming more and more of a rare occurrence);

f)       there is a nice mix of hunt and seek fun in this room, together with a nice mix of low and high tech puzzle elements throughout;

g)     as with Indisposed, the owners have done a good job of integrating humour into the introductory video;

h)     both Indisposed and Entombed are well suited to families and kids.  I’m often asked to recommend family-friendly rooms and I can now add both of the rooms at Room Eight to that list; and

i)       Room Eight have designed both of their rooms as multi-lingual rooms – Steve mentioned half a dozen or so languages that this room can be run in.  It is quite unusual in Australia to have rooms that are suited to so many languages, but again given their touristy location I think it’s a great idea.


I have two minor criticisms of this room.  The first is that I think my team escaped in about 32 minutes or so (our score was 168 points), which is generally a sign that a room could do with another puzzle or two. That being said, I understand from Steve that given their location, the vast majority of teams are new players and many teams do not escape within 60 minutes.  This is something faced by all escape rooms – the difficulty of designing a room that newer players can escape from and which challenges enthusiasts.


I think both Entombed and Indisposed are “easy to medium” level rooms which are therefore best suited to newer players.  Given the touristy location of The Corso at Manly, I agree with Steve that this difficulty level is well-suited to the bulk of their customers. 


My only other criticism of the room is that it utilises black light (UV torch) in one particular puzzle.  From an escape room enthusiast’s perspective, my view is that  whilst UV light puzzles are very common in escape rooms, they are not strong puzzles (in that they are typically pretty inelegant and are not satisfying to solve).  All of the other puzzles suit the room theme really well (and the theming is great).  


We really enjoyed ourselves in Entombed – the treasure hunt mystery theme was great fun (who seriously didn’t enjoy Indiana Jones (at least the first 3 anyway) or Goonies (which was clearly the best film ever made)….  I’m also happy to report that each room at Room Eight is quite different to each other, which is great (particularly if, like us, you do their rooms back to back).  


As always, the biggest test of a good escape room for me is whether or not we had fun.  Entombed was great fun.  We will be back in the near future to try their third room, Targeted, once it opens.


Where:                                    2B, The Corso, Manly

Duration:                                60 minutes

Themes:                                 2 themes (and 1 more currently under construction)

Cost:                                       $40 per person ($160 paid for our team of four)

Overall Summary:                 Another fun, high quality, family-friendly room from Room Eight

More details:                          https://www.escaperoomeight.com.au/

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Twitter account




Hey all

I have set up a twitter handle (@escaperoomsyd).  Each time I post a new entry here on my blog, I’ll post a link to it there.

So, follow the blog on twitter if you’d like.

Thanks
Scott

Monday, 2 April 2018

Room Eight - Review of Indisposed



Hey all

My usual team of 4 went out to Manly in March 2018 to check out the 2 escape rooms at Room Eight.  They are based at the end of The Corso at Manly.  We parked at the nearby Council carpark on Whistler Street (first 2 hours are free).

Room Eight is owned/run by Steve, Rafael and Stephane.  Steve was there on the day and we had a long chat with him about the process of designing their rooms and then constructing them.  

We started out with their “Indisposed Escape from the Aussie Dunny” room.  The theme of the room (from their website) is as follows:

Trapped in the outhouse of famous, if somewhat deranged Aussie celebrity Huge Axeman, can you free yourself before the Axeman returns. In an Escape Room like no other, you'll need to think and act quickly as a team to solve puzzles and challenges as the clock ticks down. Even if you can escape the Dunny, you'll still need to survive the Australian wild, and contend with an array of deadly Australian fauna.

Indisposed was our 90th room in Australia and our 60th room in Sydney.

Here’s what I liked about Indisposed:

a)     it’s a really fun room.  I always enjoy a unique room theme and escaping from an Aussie outhouse certainly is original;

b)     the clue system and room flow are quite unique.  The room is very linear in design and the clue system matches this.  Rather than compete for the best time, at Room Eight players are competing for the best score.  Players start with 200 points and then points are deducted for each minute that players take to escape (as well as for any hints provided).  The hints are automated – the first hint for each puzzle is free and then players can ask for a second or third hint (but each comes with a higher point penalty).  There is also a dedicated game master watching your team, who will step in and provide guidance where needed;

c)     I am generally not a huge fan of very linear rooms, given that they often create bottlenecks (with some players standing around watching because they can’t break up and attach different puzzles at the same time).  However, this room had a good flow and at no point did any of us feel like we were just standing around watching.  There was also one puzzle that we were able to work on early (and which we solved ahead of time);

d)     the theming and props are nicely done – all of the props work well in the space;

e)     there is a nice mix of hunt and seek fun in this room, together with some primarily low-tech puzzles with little bits of tech throughout;

f)       they have done a good job of integrating humour into the room (and into the introductory video);

g)     Indisposed is one of the few rooms in Sydney that is very well suited to families and kids.  I’m often asked to recommend family-friendly rooms and I can now add Indisposed to that list; and

h)     Room Eight have designed Indisposed as a multi-lingual room – Steve mentioned half a dozen or so languages that this room can be run in.  It is quite unusual in Australia to have rooms that are suited to so many languages, but again given their touristy location I think it’s a great idea.

My only minor criticism of this room is that I think my team escaped in about 37 or 38 minutes (with one non-free hint) - based on that timing, I think the room could probably do with another puzzle or two.  That being said, I understand from Steve that given their location, the vast majority of teams are new players and many teams do not escape within 60 minutes.  This is something faced by all escape rooms – the difficulty of designing a room that newer players can escape from and which challenges enthusiasts.
I think Indisposed is an “easy to medium” level room which is therefore best suited to newer players.  Given the touristy location of The Corso at Manly, I agree with Steve that this difficulty level is well-suited to the bulk of their customers. 
The room theme is really novel, there are some nice laughs throughout and the overall quality of the theming and puzzles is strong.
As always, the biggest test of a good escape room for me is whether or not we had fun.  We certainly had a lot of fun in Indisposed.

Where:                         2B, The Corso, Manly
Duration:                     60 minutes
Themes:                      2 themes (and 1 more currently under construction)
Cost:                            $40 per person (although we played at the invitation of Room Eight)
Overall Summary:       A fun, well executed, family-friendly escape room on the easier side
More details:                https://www.escaperoomeight.com.au/

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The Last Great Hunt - Review of Monroe & Associates


Hi everyone


Back in January (on my birthday actually), I managed to check out an immersive theatre-meets escape room experience by the name of Monroe & Associates.


Spoiler alert - I enjoyed this experience so much that I went back a couple of weeks later to watch my wife try her hand at Monroe & Associates (and I also recommended it to many other people who also attended and were blown away by the experience).


Monroe & Associates had about a 3 or 4 week run during the Sydney Festival in January 2018.  It was run at Carriageworks in Eveleigh along with a number of other artistic productions.

Monroe & Associates was created by Tim Watts, a performer, director, puppeteer, improvisor and animator based in Perth.  Tim's shows have won various awards and are currently touring all over the world.

I was lucky enough to have Tim as my game master/actor on the day - it was fantastic having the creator run my experience.  When my wife had her experience, another fantastic actor named Arielle Gray was her game master/actor. 

According to The Last Great Hunt's website, the backstory of Monroe & Associates (M&A) is as follows:

A theatrical role-playing game for one. 

You've woken up in Sunset City Hospital. You have no memory of who you are or how you got there. All you have is a black hat, a key to a caravan, and a name: Frankie Monroe - Private Detective. Over the next hour you must unscramble the past by solving puzzles, making phone calls and investigating an office full of secrets. But with every step you take you sink deeper into your own dastardly fiction. 

M&A was 72nd room in Australia and our 59th room in Sydney.  
Here's why I liked M&A so much:
  • from a design perspective, the set up is incredibly well considered.  Monroe & Associates is run out of a caravan.  You start the experience with a briefing outside of the van, where you are handed your hat and key and the rest is up to you.  What they have created inside an old caravan is so clever (and it is of course portable);
  • the room isn't a true escape room.  There are escape room aspects such as hunt and seek fun and unlocking locked items, but it is much more about the interactive "choose your own adventure" storyline.  The main mechanic used throughout the experience is a telephone.  You can pick up the phone and the operator will connect you with anyone in the world - you really are limited only by your imagination;
  •  the story is incredibly well-written.  There are a number of aspects that you can investigate and you really do control the experience.  I have spoken with 5 people who have all tried M&A and all 6 of us had very different stories and endings;
  • going into this experience, I was nervous for two main reasons.  The first was that it was all on me - I wasn't with my usual team, so if I got stuck on puzzles or situations I would have no help at all.  The second reason was that I am not an actor and the possibility of having to act freaked me out a little.  I was wrong on both counts.  The game master will absolutely help you get through the experience and on the acting front, you can do as little or as much as you like;
  • I really enjoyed this room from the second it began, but when I started to get into the role of Frankie Monroe, the level of fun ratcheted up so quickly.  There were a couple of sections where Tim had me laughing so hard I couldn't speak.  He plays so many different characters in this experience and he is an expert at voices (so much so that at the end of the experience, I asked him where the other cast members were and he said it was all him).  His character (Sister Jansis) from the orphanage was my favourite!
  • as usual I won't be giving any spoilers, but I think I can talk about a couple of aspects of my experience without ruining the storyline.  The best aspect of this experience for me was that Tim is an improv actor and could therefore completely adapt the story to me.  In one particular "scene" of the story, a person on the phone asked me if I would give a donation to her cause.  I begrudgingly agreed but I gave her a fake name (I told her I was "John Smythe" rather than Frankie Monroe).  Later in a completely different scene, I telephoned a hospital and wouldn't you know it, John Smythe was working on reception at the hospital that particular day and he took my call.  I then played around with this character a few more times during the experience.  To me, this was the clearest example of how live actors can add immersion to an experience.  It was very clever and hands down the most immersive element I have been part of in an escape room (or an escape-room like experience such as this); and
  • going back and watching my wife play the role of Frankie Monroe was so much fun.  I watched her via a number of video feeds and I managed to chat with Arielle throughout.  It was fascinating seeing how different her storyline was from mine and how she approached challenges.  Her ending had me in fits of laughter ;-)
I had previously tried one other immersive experience with actors at Jetpack Theatre's Art Heist (as well as a handful of escape rooms that contained live actor elements).  You can see my review of Art Heist here.  I really enjoyed Art Heist, but I think Monroe & Associates was more layered.  

It is hands down the most immersive experience I have tried and I enjoyed every minute of it.

After my experience I got to chatting with Tim about how much I enjoyed the experience and I asked whether he planned to come back to Sydney with any other similar shows.  He said that his company, The Last Great Hunt, has put on some other similar immersive experiences.  So fingers crossed they will be back in town again soon.

Where:                        Carriageworks, 245 Wilson St, Eveleigh NSW

Duration:                    60 -90 minutes

Themes:                     1 theme (pop-up)

Cost:                           $89 per player (single player experience)

Overall Summary:     Superbly written, next level immersive experience

More details:              http://www.thelastgreathunt.com/monroeandassociates

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Cipher Room - Review of The Marlowe Hotel


Hi all

Finally, I'm writing my review of The Marlowe Hotel by The Cipher Room!  Marise and David kindly invited my team to check out their much-anticipated third room back when it opened in late November.  It took me two months to make it happen and we finally got there in mid January 2018.  [Special thanks to Suzanne and Jim for babysitting our girls in the 40 degree heat while we escaped this room!] 

You can read my reviews of The Cipher Room's other rooms, Espionage and The Cabin, here and here.

Before I jump into telling you all about this room, I'll first set out the room summary for The Marlowe Hotel from their website:

Step into your own black and white, film noir adventure! You are a private investigator in 1950's New York. One day you receive a letter from Betty McGee - a singer at the notorious Marlowe Hotel. She informs you that the gangster kingpin and hotel owner, Eddie Marlowe, is trying to blackmail her with incriminating material. She needs you to break in and retrieve the documents. You know Eddie is bad news, but you agree to take the case.
What secrets await you inside the hotel? How will you locate the photos? What do you really know about Eddie Marlowe? 

The Marlowe Hotel was our 71st  room in Australia (and our 58th room in Sydney). 


And now for what I liked about The Marlowe Hotel:

  • everything.
I could end the review here but I suspect you might be curious and want some more details.

Ok that's fair, so here goes:
  • I have not found an escape room in the country that has better craftmanship than at The Cipher Room.  This was certainly true of their Espionage and The Cabin rooms but The Marlowe Hotel is just off the charts.  It took Marise and David a long time to put this latest room together - the level of detail in every space shows why;
  • I don't think I'm giving any spoilers when I reveal that The Marlowe Hotel is a purely black, white and grey room.  As part of the film noir theme, players are placed into their own black and white adventure.  In fact, The Cipher Room recommends that players wear black/white/grey clothing to this room to really add to the immersion.  As suggested, my team came dressed appropriately;
  • when we opened our eyes at the beginning of The Marlowe Hotel, we were all amazed at what we saw.  My team had been to around 70 rooms at the time and there aren't too many things in escape rooms these days that make us stop and say wow.  But this room did.  It is hard to describe, but it was as though we were in a room from which someone had sucked all of the colour.  It was truly mesmerising - not only were we transported to another place and time, it was almost like our eyes were deceiving us given the lack of any colour;
  • the puzzles in the Marlowe Hotel were all fantastic.  They were primarily low tech puzzles as well as a little tech mainly used on hidden lock mechanisms that resulted in doors magically opening.  The puzzles were all do-able but challenging.  And consider this - if you were a puzzle designer about to design puzzles for a room, imagine your client telling you that you can only use black, white and shades of grey (and no other colours).  Think of how limiting that is from a design point of view - how many puzzles have you tried in an escape room that would work without colour?  Not only has The Cipher Room provided a full room of puzzles, they are all really varied and interesting, and they embrace the colour limitations;
  • as always with The Cipher Room's rooms, the backstory to the room makes sense and is quite layered (and fun);
  • my team escaped in record time (although the record has probably been broken again in the past month since we were there).  But I didn't feel like we were rushing at a mad pace - the puzzles were all logical and after doing 2 other rooms at The Cipher Room, I think we are now in synch with the room designer :-)  My team is also pretty strong at dividing and conquering (we split up and play to our strengths rather than all working on one puzzle together at a time).  We also stopped a few times just to admire the quality of the theming in each of the spaces and the puzzle design;
  • Marise and David design their own rooms from scratch and then they build them themselves from scratch.  The quality on all fronts is unmatched in the market - it is truly amazing (particularly given that they have young children, David has a full time "day job" and that they had 2 other escape rooms running throughout the design and build phases of Marlowe).  I have figured out their secret - they mustn't sleep!; and  
  • as always, Marise took us through the room after we escaped and explained all of the puzzles, the room flow, design aspects, easter eggs, etc.  It is a really nice touch to have the game designer personally explain how the puzzles came to be, where they sourced different materials from, etc.  

I adored this room - it is truly magical and another work of art from The Cipher Room.  At the time of writing this review, I have now been to 90 rooms around Australia.  Marlowe Hotel is my favourite of any room I have been to in Australia.  All of my team mates also agreed that Marlowe is their favourite room to date too.  

As I said to Marise at the end of our time in The Marlowe Hotel, I was really genuinely sad that it had to end - not only that we had finished Marlowe, but that in finishing Marlowe, we were finishing the third of the 3 rooms that The Cipher Room has on offer. 

I don't think I can give any higher praise than that.  

Where:                        640 King Street, Newtown

Duration:                    60 minutes

Themes:                     3 (so far...)

Cost:                           $156 for 4 adults (but we played at the kind invitation of the owners)

Overall Summary:      My favourite room in Australia (of 90 tried to date).

More details:              http://www.cipherroom.com.au/

Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Cipher Room - The Cabin (from a game master's perspective)


Hi everyone

The "lite" 3 person version of my team checked out The Cabin back in early January 2017 at The Cipher Room in Newtown.  I absolutely loved the room - it was so well themed and the puzzles were really varied and interesting.  It was an artwork.  You can read my review of The Cabin here.  

Almost exactly a year later, my wife (who couldn't come the first time around) came back to check out The Cabin for herself with friends.  I had told her that I thought The Cabin was the most immersive room in Sydney so she REALLY wanted to see it for herself.

Marise, one of the owners of The Cabin, was kind enough to let me come back and watch my wife's team from the game master's perspective.  Actually, my friend Nic (one of my escape room team members) and I both were able to check out how they went.  

We had Shahmen and Marise as our game masters, who showed us how The Cipher Room's game masters roll...

We were given an iPad and given that there were no other teams at the time waiting in reception, we sat in reception during The Cabin experience.  The Cipher Room use a voice of God system so that if players need help, they simply need to speak and then game masters can respond.  Alternatively, game masters can jump in if they feel that teams need help.

One of the trickiest aspects of being a game master I think is in how and when to give clues.  Some players are very stubborn about not wanting to receive any clues, whereas others are happy to be fed clues the whole way.  The Cipher Room accommodates this really well by firstly getting a feel from players upfront as to whether they want clues, and then secondly if a clue is needed, the game master will ask players if they would like a hint.  This therefore enables players to make a decision about receiving a clue, rather than simply being given one whether they like it or not.

I have sat in the seat of a game master a few times now. It's a really different experience to that of a player.  It has also been a year since I played The Cabin myself, but I was surprised at how many puzzles I remembered (as well as almost all of the room flow).  

The AV system used on the iPad was really cool.  It had 4 high definition video feeds that we could zoom in on and hear the audio of each space.  This allowed us to track players easily and to listen to their reasoning with various puzzles.  We found ourselves cheering at some points and at other times, I was trying to get into the players' minds and guess which puzzles they would breeze through or get stuck on.

I absolutely loved The Cabin when I tried it.  One of the nicest aspects of watching my wife's team do this room was that I got to enjoy The Cabin a second time, albeit in a slightly different way.  When my wife's team escaped, Marise kindly allowed us to be on the other side of the exit door to congratulate the team on their escape.  I then took the opportunity to walk back through the room and once again marvel at the quality of theming and workmanship.  I also got to listen to Marise walk through each of the puzzles, easter eggs, etc.  

I really enjoyed this experience from the other side watching a team escape from The Cabin, which is still one of the very best rooms in the country.  

And for the record, my wife was very pleased that she finally checked out The Cabin.  She agreed that it was the best themed room she had done in Australia (and she has done about 60 rooms at that point).  

Spoiler alert - about 30 minutes later we checked out The Marlowe Hotel at The Cipher Room, this time with all 4 of our usual team members.  I didn't think we would find a room better than The Cabin in Sydney but I was proven wrong.  

We now have a new favourite :-)  Review to follow shortly.

Where:                        640 King Street, Newtown

Duration:                    60 minutes

Themes:                     3 so far

Cost:                           $156 for 4 adults (but my wife's team played at the kind invitation of the owners)

Overall Summary:      A year later, this room is still "wow".  

More details:              http://www.cipherroom.com.au/




Monday, 5 February 2018

Xcape Sydney - Review of Ching Chiu Palace




Hi there

Ching Chiu Palace was the fifth and final room we tried at Xcape during a single day when we tried 5 of their rooms back to back in December 2017.

The room summary for Ching Chiu Palace is as follows, taken from Xcape's website:

Hidden deep within the holy mountains of Qingqiu, hides the ancient tombs of those who ruled over the Qingqiu palace over more than 5000 years ago in ancient China. Partake in the role of a tomb raider to unravel the secrets within the ancient tombs. Be wary though as the ghosts of those who failed before you shall stalk your every movement. Raid the tomb before others get to it first, a race against time. Only those who dare will reap the profits and escape triumphant.


We were a 3 person team.  Ching Chiu Palace was our 70th room in Australia (and our 57th room in Sydney). 

So, here's what I liked about Ching Chiu Palace at Xcape:
  • again, like most of their rooms, the production value of Ching Chiu Palace was very high.  Some parts of this room are like a movie set;
  • there are some aspects of this room that we had never seen in an escape room before;
  • as with all of their other rooms, there is a lot of tech in this room (and it all suits the theme pretty well);
  • there is one particular puzzle in this room that from a design point of view, I really liked.  It was truly novel and very well done.

Unfortunately, there were a a lot of things in Xcape's Magic Painting room that I did not enjoy:
  • there are some real safety concerns in this room.  There is one particular section that is really cool but my friend nearly lost a finger.  There are also sections of concrete (both above your head and below your knees) that need to be covered in something soft to protect players' heads/knees.  And as a general comment, there are sections of Ching Chiu Palace that I have concerns about from an evacuation point of view - in the event of a fire, I'm not sure how players could easily (and quickly) escape;
  • a pretty major concern I have with this room is that I think it is really only suited to Chinese players (rather than English players).  English players are provided with a scroll which is supposed to help players with deciphering chinese characters throughout the room.  However, many of the Chinese characters in the room are "old" or traditional characters, which are not exactly the same as the new Chinese characters in the scroll.  In my view, this made it impossible to decipher.  It wasn't helped by the fact that there are props with Chinese characters on them that are very poorly lit;
  • we had a number of technical issues in this room.  There were 3 different puzzles that did not work as they were intended to work (and we needed the game master to enter the room to help us).  Part of the problem related to the Chinese characters, but other issues were technical issues.  I know we were beta testing this room, but there was one puzzle that contained a pretty major error (which the owner said he would get fixed);
  • this room is very expensive at up to $60pp.  It is also an 80 minute room, but despite having a number of technical issues and other problems deciphering Chinese characters, we still escaped with a lot of time left over.  

Overall, this was my least favourite room at Xcape.  Many puzzles were just frustrating because we couldn't decipher Chinese characters.  Some of the tech was cool but at times pretty illogical.  The production value was high - many aspects were like a movie set, but this wasn't enough to overcome the various other issues.


Where:                   18 Queen Street, Chippendale 

Duration:               80 minutes

Themes:                 
6 currently

Cost:                       
$50pp (or $60pp on weekends/evenings) (but we played at the kind invitation of Xcape)

Overall Rating:       High tech but only suited to players who can read Chinese characters


More details:          http://www.xcapes.com.au/