Escape Hour Austin – Call of the Ancient

Escape Hour Austin – Call of the Ancient

Room Name: Call of the Ancient

Business: Escape Hour Austin

Location: 2113 Wells Branch Pkwy #4300, Austin, TX 78728

Date of Visit: July 21, 2019

Number of Players: 3-6

Our Group Size: 6

Call of the Ancient

Official Description: Welcome to a twisted corner of the 1930s. A group of Freemasons in Innsmouth, Massachusetts have recently roused an ancient, evil being beyond all mortal control. The brothers thought they could control it and harness its immense power in order to rule over humanity. But they were very, very wrong. Terrifying nightmares and portents have lead you and several others to the front steps of their cursed Masonic Hall. You don’t know exactly what happened inside this building, but you do know that your dreams have called you to this place for a reason. You must lock away the evil within before madness consumes both your group and the rest of the human race.

Difficulty (official): This is rated as their hardest room by escape rate.

Difficulty (experience): Challenging. We used all of our time, and then some.

Time to Escape: Not entirely sure (see review).

Call of the Ancient

Review: It’s no secret that we adore the Lovecraft mythos, and when we found out there was an Elder Gods-themed escape in Austin, I just had to go for my birthday. We had heard good things about Escape Hour and were looking forward to having a great time.

Finding Escape Hour was a little difficult as it’s tucked in an industrial park and wasn’t very well-marked. Once we found their unit we were quickly escorted into a large lobby (filled with plenty of puzzles to pass the time) and greeted by our GM, who was genuinely excited to be running the room for us. Her enthusiasm made us look forward to the experience even more. Previous reviews of the game mentioned that the experience included a sanity mechanic which allowed for some roleplaying and added another layer of difficulty to the game, but our game master informed us that this was no longer part of the experience. Nevertheless we were ready to see what the room had to offer us.

Our group gasped as soon as we walked in. The room was intricately decorated and brought us back to the 1930s. All wiring was hidden and we appreciated how even the electronics adhered to the time period (having an analog clock instead of digital for the room timer, for instance). We didn’t have to stretch our imaginations to believe that we were in an old Freemason Lodge for a second. They even included a creative, interactive way of clue delivery that kept us laughing and having a great time throughout the experience.

The puzzles were well-integrated into the game and provided a great challenge. Escape Hour put a lot of thought and creativity when it came to designing the room and tried to stay away from just lock and key puzzles. We were very impressed with the variety of puzzles provided in the room and how well thought out each element was. And even when we understood how certain mechanisms worked, the room and puzzle elements were so well-designed that they maintained the mystical qualities of the theme of the room. Even a year later we still love talking about them (and how we can’t wait to go back once it’s safe)!

We did run into one snag. We fiddled with one lock for at least ten minutes before our GM realized that a clue hadn’t been reset properly, making the puzzle impossible to solve. She ran in and handed us the clue immediately, and also added roughly ten minutes onto the clock (Thank you!). We loved the level of service that we received here, and we’re grateful that we had that extra time, as we still had plenty of room to explore!

If you’re in the Austin area, Call of the Ancient is not a room to miss.

Call of the Ancient

Hints Used: We used a few and its worth it just for their clue delivery system. It is very thematic and well-integrated into the game’s story.

Clue Quality: Very high. No clues were too vague and none were frustratingly difficult (once we had all of the required pieces).

Puzzle Creativity: Extremely high. Each section of the experience was well-thought out and required interesting puzzles to complete them. We saw entertaining usage of familiar mechs, clever design for cooperative solving, and a challenging logic puzzle that remained thematic and was satisfying to solve.

Rating: 5.5 / 5. This room exceeded our expectations.

Fear Factor:  Some spooky themes and a couple of periods of darkness, but no major jump scares or gore.

Things to note: The room requires at least two people to be able to crawl.

Call of the Ancient

Terror DTLA – Son of Sam

Terror DTLA – Son of Sam

Terror DTLA

Room Name: Son of Sam

Business: Terror DTLA

Location: Virtual

Date of Visit: 7/25/2020

Number of Players: 1-7

Our Group Size: 2

Official Description: 

You are trapped inside your home during a summer heatwave. A power blackout has blanketed your neighborhood in fear as a serial killer moves quietly through the darkness. You must work together to solve the mystery and survive the night. Could this terrifying copycat killer of the infamous 1977 Son of Sam murders be lurking now outside your own front door?

Solve puzzles, search rooms, complete challenges, battle evil forces, live the story, and survive the fear! Rated: M for mature. Gameplay Level: Easy. Players: 1-7. Requirements: PC or laptop, headphones, internet connection.

Difficulty (official): Easy

Difficulty (experience): Easy

Time to Escape: About an hour, including a couple of breaks

Review: Note: Terror DTLA gave us complimentary access for this experience.

It’s been over a year since our last escape room and being confined to our homes due to COVID isn’t exactly a fun escape (real life pandemic escape room: 0/10, do not recommend.) We saw several ads for virtual experiences and decided to give Son of Sam a shot. I’m always nervous about horror themed rooms since I hate jump scares, but one in the comfort of my own home? Sign me up (with all the lights on in the middle of the day, thank you!)

Terror DTLA’s core business is centered around providing haunted house experiences in an immersive, interactive experience that have some escape room elements and they seem to want to bring that same encounter into Son of Sam. The company has several suggestions for doing this game as a socially distanced group, including designating other people as readers, physical experience performers, and a designated reporter to take notes and photos. We really appreciated how they strive to provide as much of a ‘real’ experience as possible while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. Doing virtual escapes as a group over internet channels is a newly developing field, and it was evident that Terror DTLA really put in the work to make this as close to a physical room as possible.

The experience really reminded us of 1980s slasher films, down to the pretty girls with twisted ankles. We had a couple of technical issues at the start when we couldn’t find a couple of buttons, but the game is very streamlined and we were able to get back on track with minimal time lost (the game itself is untimed but suggests the experience could take around an hour). The streamlining does work against itself in some cases — in one instance, we found the key to proceeding to the next section right away (without exploring the rest of the area), and missed a couple of items that would have made some things a bit more understandable. The game does allow you to go back and continue to explore an area before moving on to the next chapter but you may experience a couple of (admittedly minor) elements to the game in an order that may not have been intended. We were also a bit irritated at the amount of pixel hunting we encountered during the game. There are several objects that appear to be clickable as they stand out from the rest of the graphics but were red herrings, while others felt a bit more hidden in the game’s artwork.

The immersive aspect was very original! At several points, the game stops and asks for you to perform something physical (such as finding objects, taking photos, etc.) and provides background music to keep the tense, creepy aura throughout. It provided the extra element that made the game go beyond the computer screen. We think that this game may have benefited more from additional ARG elements (such as calling numbers to reach automated messages or getting periodic emails or texts to keep the immersion up.) This was probably our favorite part of the experience.

Terror DTLA stresses that this game is meant to be beginner-friendly, and we agree. The few puzzles presented are simple and provide a good welcome to people new to the escape game genre. This could be a little frustrating to escape room vets, however, who may be looking for a deeper challenge. When interacting with some objects in the game the user is advised they are locked or to keep looking. The game unfortunately doesn’t make use of them later with a key or as a clue to a new puzzle. This is something to keep in mind as experienced players know to immediately open and search through everything. We would have also liked to have seen an additional endgame puzzle or a little less direction from the game for the final puzzle — it felt like our hands were being held through the climax.

Overall, we had a fun time with it! We would recommend playing this with new players, and definitely at night with all the lights off to really push up the atmosphere. Follow all of the instructions, turn  the lights down, get up, and complete the tasks the game asks you to. This is a fun foray into virtual escaping, and we’re excited to see what else Terror DTLA has up their bloodstained sleeve.

Rating: 3 / 5.

Fear Factor:  PG. There’s no gore, but it does keep you feeling uneasy.

Things to note: This is packaged as an immersive horror experience with some light escape room elements and delivers on that promise. You will need to use a computer with working Internet access for this experience. A laptop may be preferred over a desktop PC. Playing with friends remotely is encouraged but you will have to manage streaming the game to your party from your own computer.

Maze Rooms Austin – Spy Safe House

Maze Rooms Austin – Spy Safe House

Maze Rooms

Room Name: Spy Safe House

Business: Maze Rooms Austin

Location: 5555 N Lamar Blvd Suite K110, Austin, TX 78751

Date of Visit: June 23, 2019.

Number of Players: 2-8, we recommend 6 max

Our Group Size: 4

Maze Rooms

Official Description:  The year is 1972, and the United States is in the midst of a Cold War with Russia and the entire Soviet Union. America lives in fear of Soviet spies living among them, threatening the American way of life. The government responds by sending the best of the best investigators to catch these spies and send them packing back to USSR empty handed. It’s an era where tensions were high, trust was low, and espionage was thriving!

Difficulty (official): The staff told us this was their easiest room, they pegged it at a medium difficulty.

Difficulty (experience): Medium-Hard.

Time to Escape: Approximately 58 minutes.

Maze Rooms

Review: Maze Rooms Austin is located in a nondescript building; however being on one of Austin’s main roads made it easy to find, just tucked away in a business park. We were questioning if the GPS had led us to the correct place as we missed any signage as we approached and the building looked closed. But this time, Google hadn’t failed us; we found the logo on the door and were let in as soon as we rang the bell.

We spoke with our gamemaster before the game about other rooms both in the area and in Houston and he gave us several recommendations for rooms for which he had previously worked or escaped. We appreciated the chat and the excitement he brought to our event that day and were happy for the new rooms we have added to our to-escape list.

Maze Rooms did a fantastic job with decorating this room. It felt extremely early 70s without going into stereotypes – no disco balls or shag rugs to be found. The apartment looked authentic which made us feel right at home in our roles as federal agents investigating a clever spy. Wires and mechs were hidden well for the most part, and all of the puzzles were integrated well into the rooms. There were few traditional lock and key puzzles but the ones present fit the theme of the room.

The first big reveal was incredibly clever and we loved how seamlessly it fit into the room’s spy plot. From this point forward we fell deeper and deeper into a world of espionage and deception. We encountered a simple but unique clue in the games middle act that got us all excited at its discovery and were most impressed and engaged in the immersion of the room at the reveal of a historic event which was part of the story and a clever clue. For the most part, Maze Rooms put a unique spin on their puzzles and our group appreciated the variety of tasks we had to accomplish.

We did discover a few drawbacks to the room for our experience. Some puzzles felt more scavenger hunt than puzzle; some pieces were hidden in non-intuitive locations and there was no room guidance for how many pieces we needed to find. Our team got hung up on an audio puzzle that we found difficult to understand and decipher even after discovering the correct key. There was also a puzzle in the room that some in our group felt more like busywork than one that led to the final solution. If the puzzle was reworked or taken out entirely, it wouldn’t detract from the game difficulty, perhaps only marginally from the game length.

Overall, this is not a room to miss while in Austin. We look forward to trying the other offerings from Maze Room in the future!

Maze Rooms

Hints Used: Maze Rooms offers five hints per room, we used four.

Clue Quality : Extremely well done with one difficult exception mentioned above. This room excelled with giving wordless hints.

Puzzle Creativity: High. There are still puzzles in the room that we enjoy discussing months later.

Rating: 4.75 / 5.

Fear Factor:  None.

Things to note: The first act of the room takes place in a small space, however this opens fairly quickly and did not provoke claustrophobic feelings. Some areas of the room are lowlight, and there are two audio puzzles that may be difficult for the hard of hearing. There is plenty of parking in the office and shopping center where Maze Rooms is located.

Maze Rooms

The Exit Game Escape Room – Sherlock Holmes: Parliament Games

The Exit Game Escape Room – Sherlock Holmes: Parliament Games

The Exit Game

Room Name: Sherlock Holmes: Parliament Games

Business: The Exit Game Escape Room

Location: 5720 Bandera Rd STE 23, San Antonio, TX 78238

Date of Visit: May 19, 2019

Number of Players: 4-8

Our Group Size: 4, we recommend no more than 6

Official Description: Sherlock Holmes is on the trail of a member of Parliament determined to continue the work of Guy Fawkes. You are now Sherlock’s only hope to stop England from falling and save the queen. Sherlock has left you to finish his investigation and stop destruction of Parliament. Are you ready? Do you have what it takes? What’s the point in being clever if you can’t prove it? -SH

Difficulty (official): The Exit Game’s difficulty scale rated this game as a 4 out of 5.

Difficulty (experience): Medium

Time to Escape: About 43 minutes.

Review: We had plenty of time to spare after finishing Trapped Below, and our group decided to try out a different room at the nearby Exit Game Escape Room in San Antonio. The staff was very accommodating to our last minute booking, and we quickly found the business on the second floor of a nearby shopping center. Our gamemaster escorted us to the room almost immediately after we arrived, and, after a brief overview, began the game.

We were really excited to give a Sherlock Holmes themed room another go, especially after our experience at Escape Haus left us wanting. Unfortunately for our group, the decor was quite lacking. This was another room where removing the UK flag and a painting would render its design into a generic ‘escape the home office.’ Nothing in the room really screamed ‘Parliament’ to us. But to its credit, most of the furniture was integrated into the room design and puzzles, which we appreciated.  The space did do a good job of eliminating red herrings, but then suffers from being a little empty.

This room had a really fun reveal with a delivery we hadn’t seen before, and we enjoyed the creativity. This is also the first room we’ve been in that had a locker combination lock, but this addition broke the theme a bit. It didn’t really feel like it fit into the space properly. In my opinion, this kind of lock doesn’t really work well in an escape room unless it’s school-themed—and it felt very out of place in a Sherlock room.

The puzzles themselves were fairly standard for an escape room; there were a couple that we thought had a unique solution and kept us puzzling for a bit. However, we skipped one lock designed to open up fairly early into our experience and we didn’t figure out the solution for it until much later. This unfortunately rendered the clues provided behind the lock useless. This was the one puzzle for which we required a hint. Our group searched for some indication for a clue to the lock’s solution but none existed. As a result, we spent too much time trying to figure it out.

The answer to the aforementioned puzzle also required outside information; our group saw no reference material that another party could use to solve this puzzle without possessing this outside knowledge. However trivial this information may seem to a game designer, it should never be assumed that everyone will carry this knowledge into the room with them. This just leads to lots of frustration.

Our group discussed the room’s plotline after the game, and we all agreed the dissonance between the trailer and the actual room was a let-down. We just played yet another room where our resolution came sooner than we expected. Again, after solving the final puzzle we had another ‘that’s it?’ moment. We’re seeing this a lot in rooms in Texas, and I’m hoping that as these businesses grow, they give a more satisfying end to the experience. These rooms often feel more like scavenger hunts and less like puzzle or escape rooms. We enjoyed our time in the room, but felt this was on the easier end of experiences and not as challenging as we had hoped.

The Exit Game

Hints Used: Exit Game only allows a limited number of hints. We asked for one and also received an unprompted hint.

Clue Quality : Some of the clues bordered on the vague side, but overall they were easy to understand in the end.

Puzzle Creativity: We enjoyed the endgame puzzle, but the rest of the puzzles were pretty standard for an escape.

Rating: 3 / 5.

Fear Factor:  None

Things to note: The Exit Game Escape Rooms is located in a shopping center with plenty of available parking. The room is on the second floor with available elevator access near the stairs. They offer discounts if at least four people book at the same time on certain days of the week. This room requires at least one person to be able to crawl a short distance.

Extreme Escape Colonnade – Trapped Below

Extreme Escape Colonnade – Trapped Below

Extreme Escape Logo

Room Name: Trapped Below

Business: Extreme Escape – Colonnade

Location: 9995 I-10, San Antonio, TX 78230

Date of Visit: May 19, 2019

Number of Players: 1-8

Our Group Size: 4, we recommend no more than 4 or 5

Official Description: 

San Antonio’s newest and most interactive Escape Room is here! Trapped Below will push all boundaries as you venture deep below the Earth’s surface in a dilapidated elevator lift where teamwork and use of your senses is needed to try and capture a legendary treasure and escape!

Trapped Below Escape Game can accommodate up to 8 challengers at once. Each team will be given 1 hour to unfold the story and escape in time!

Difficulty (official): Extreme Escape uses several scales to give an official difficulty, including puzzle savvy and intellect. This rated on the medium-high side.

Difficulty (experience): Easy

Time to Escape: 33:02

Extreme Escape Colonnade

Review: While we weren’t terribly impressed with our journey to The Other Side, we decided to give Extreme Escape another chance at their second location in San Antonio and see what would happen while we were Trapped Below. We had seen this room advertised before, and the teaser video made it look intriguing. Our group of four put on our miner’s hats (not really) and began the descent to our newest adventure.

The room begins in the mine elevator for a brief amount of puzzling before moving onto the mine shaft. This time we were more impressed with Extreme Escape’s decorating skills. The dim lighting was immersive and the mine appeared worn and distressed.  To aid in our escape, our party received mechanically powered flashlights. Considering the lack of light in the entire room, however, this wasn’t a great choice. I spent more time powering up my flashlight than I did really exploring and solving puzzles. A lantern or at least one battery-powered flashlight would have been much more useful.

Extreme Escape Colonnade

While the room isn’t devoid of combination and traditional keylocks, there were a few interesting mechs in the room that were welcome. Nothing stood out as out of place or without reason in the room and we appreciated the variety of tasks to accomplish during the escape. Like The Other Side the gameplay is very linear, but we had a few mid-game points where our group worked on separate parts of the room simultaneously.  The puzzles incorporated into the room fit the theme extremely well, but we found they didn’t pose much of a challenge to our group of mostly veterans.

There were a couple of creative clue deliveries, and the beginning of the endgame excited us all. But when we finished the game, there was a ‘that’s it?’ feeling. We escaped the mine and ended up back in the room’s waiting area. Nothing really indicated that we won until we opened the door to the lobby and asked. The members of our group felt disappointed at how anticlimactic the room ended, however, we recommend this one over The Other Side due to the slightly branching gameplay.

Extreme Escape Colonnade

Hints Used: None

Clue Quality : The clues in the room were a lot more like what we have come to expect from the Escape Rooms we’ve completed (including one very clever delivery method). Extreme Escape managed to refrain from using vague clues but also avoided overly specific suggestions. This required our group to expend some effort of creative thought into our escape which we appreciated.

Puzzle Creativity: We don’t really remember any major standout puzzles here (although we did notice a couple of reused elements from our Other Side jaunt). Some puzzles are fun, but they still felt very standard. This room again feels tailored toward beginners or younger players.

Rating: 3 / 5.

Fear Factor: The opening act of this puzzle is in a slightly enclosed area with some surprising physical action, but nothing openly designed to be frightening.

Things to note: Extreme Escape has multiple methods to obtain discounted games including Groupon. Extreme Escape also offers free tickets to first responders and military personnel along with discounted tickets to their family members. Extreme Escape Colonnade is on the second floor of a strip shopping center with elevator access.

Extreme Escape Colonnade

Extreme Escape Stone Oak – The Other Side

Extreme Escape Stone Oak – The Other Side

Extreme Escape Logo

Room Name: The Other Side

Business: Extreme Escape – Stone Oak

Location: 434 N Loop 1604 West ste 1204 San Antonio, TX 78232

Date of Visit: April 7, 2019

Number of Players: 2-8

Our Group Size: 4, we recommend keeping groups under 6

Official Description: Supernatural forces have taken over a small town and you’re their only hope. Venture into a dark dimension in hopes of finding the lost boy, but tread carefully as creatures await your arrival…. will you survive The Other Side?

Difficulty (official): Extreme Escape uses several scales to give an official difficulty, including puzzle savvy and intellect. This rated on the medium to high side on all scales.

Difficulty (experience): Easy

Time to Escape: 50:00

Extreme Escape - The Other Side

Review: Our group was full of 80s babies and Stranger Things fans, so when we saw this one listed on Extreme Escape we were ready! “This is going to be fantastic,” we squealed all the way from breakfast to the room. We were looking forward to something special.

Luckily, the room was close to our breakfast spot. It was easy to find the shopping center but the Extreme Escape sign blended in with the building and it took us a bit to find its location. We were greeted promptly and ushered to our room. The first thing that we noticed was knotty pine and a CRT television for hints. That was all we needed to get into the 80s mood. It wasn’t until the introductory videos ended and the timer started that we noticed how bare the space really was. While I’m not huge on having a space full of red herrings, this room required more decoration to really make it feel lived in.

Extreme Escape - The Other Side

We solved the first couple of puzzles fairly quickly, and soon came to a conclusion: this room was both entirely linear (with only one puzzle to work on at a time) and presented as a task list. As soon as we finished one puzzle we were immediately directed to the next one. We’ve done task-list-type rooms before (Houston, We’ve Had a Problem) but the latter had more puzzling and critical thought required to complete the required actions. Here, however, the room spoon-fed answers to us. One puzzle and clue stood out as incredibly creative, and we just wished that same creativity extended throughout the rest of the game.

Extreme Escape - The Other Side

When we made it into the second act of the escape, we again faced ideas that needed better execution. The puzzles were extremely hand-holdy with not enough to work on simultaneously as a group of four. This room could have benefited from more than just dim light and a couple of “spooky” props to provide an immersive experience. One puzzle could have provided a good fright, but it was quickly resolved. We just didn’t feel much of the urgency that the second act was desperately trying to provide.

This is a good room for beginners and families. This isn’t a room in San Antonio that must be done by enthusiasts, but it is something to check out if you have some free time or are huge Stranger Things fans.

Extreme Escape - The Other Side

Hints Used: Our game master gave us a couple of unprompted hints. These were due to technical failures and a reminder about a missed lock.

Clue Quality : The clues were overly generous. There was really nothing that we had to puzzle over. I was annoyed with one lock because of a spelling error in the solution.

Puzzle Creativity: There was one standout puzzle with a satisfying conclusion, but the rest of the puzzles were standard for escape rooms.

Rating: 2.25 / 5

Fear Factor:  A very mild scare in the second half of the room may frighten younger children.

Things to note: This location is located on the second floor of a shopping center. Elevators are clearly marked if needed and located on the other end of the building from the stairs nearest the escape room. Parking is ample and free. Extreme Escape offers frequent Groupons for both of its San Antonio locations.

Hunt A Killer – Initiation

Hunt A Killer – Initiation

Hunt A Killer

Game Name: Initiation

Business: Hunt A Killer

Location: Game in a Box

Date of Visit: October 2018  – March 2019

Number of Players: NA

Our Group Size: 2

Official Description: Welcome to Listening Friends of America! Our program allows one-way correspondence for individuals who have trouble functioning in the outside world. Rest assured your privacy and safety are among our top concerns. Each package you receive from your friend will be inspected. Any attempt to cause you harm will be removed. You’ve been assigned to a very special patient. He is not like the others. We fear he may not be a good fit for our system. Take your time to understand your new friend. You’re about to begin a very special relationship. Listen well, your friend believes in you. (Video)

Hunt A Killer
A carefully curated box delivered each month. From a serial killer.

Difficulty (official): Unannounced

Difficulty (experience): Varies from box to box, puzzles tend to be on the easy side

Time to Escape: Each box we received provided about an hour of play-time, longer for the initial boxes as we learned to navigate the systems on the website and what exactly we needed to do each month.

Review: We’ve played escape rooms in person and have a couple of escape board games sitting around (we probably should play those sometime soon), so why not try the new-ish format of a monthly escape-in-a-box?

We had seen the ads online and decided to splurge for Hunt A Killer. The mystery on the surface seemed intriguing—we both love Silence of the Lambs—and it’s hard not to feel a bit like Clarice while you’re piecing together the mysteries.

When our first box arrived, we settled into pulling out materials and trying to fit the puzzles together. However, we quickly realized that we were sent one incorrect item and had to log into the HAK hint system to figure out the error. Customer service responded the next day and sent us a PDF of what we needed. The service was excellent, however, we felt a little spoiled on future events due to the error.

Each box contains letters, toys, and other objects which connect to both the puzzles in the box and the larger mystery behind itt. So far we’ve been pleased with how Initiation tells its story, particularly how a certain character is portrayed. However, we had figured out a good portion of the main mystery by the second month.  Despite that we’ve been enjoying the variety of puzzles that the boxes present, and we look forward to seeing the letters that we receive each month.

Hunt A Killer
Each box comes with a variety of letters, folders and an assortment of items related to the story and your killer. Not pictured: spoilers.

The puzzles themselves range from fairly easy to somewhat difficult, however most of that difficulty comes with how the puzzles are presented. We spent over an hour on one puzzle and turned to the HAK forums for help, only to find that the other members believe that the official puzzle solution is incorrect. We also believe this, and it cast doubt on future boxes as to the quality of the rest of the game.

We have heard that the other games that Hunt A Killer offers are better in quality; Initiation is their first game and it does so far show that. With the quality of escape games in a box constantly increasing, we hope that HAK will return to this game and bring it up to a higher standard. As such, we feel that the price point for the game is much higher than we would have liked to have paid for the amount of content and time spent on these puzzles. The overall experience was enjoyable but the formulaic nature of each box and the final solution became repetitive and the novelty of the escape waned by the end of the sixth month.

Hints Used: Due to the nature of the game, the hint system is the only way to confirm if you have finished the entire box each month. So, we used all of them.

Clue Quality : Varies. Some of the clues are quite cleverly put into the materials, others are very vague and require several different angles to figure out what is being indicated. One series of clues presented over several boxes was very clever and enjoyable and other clues were above average for what we have seen in some escape rooms. We would have liked to see more clues referenced between boxes as they relate to puzzles; most of the overarching bits of knowledge were useful in piecing together the story, but only one was ever referenced again for a puzzle.

Puzzle Creativity: HAK has a few moments of brilliance with their puzzles, but it does rely heavily on standard escape room codes and practices.

Rating:  3 / 5.

Fear Factor:  None. A number of the clues and the story at the heart of the game can create some intense moments of dread, but if you’re playing this in the dining room as we did, the scariest thing is the pile of dishes back in the kitchen that you’re ignoring while completing the current month’s box.

Things to note: This experience is comprised of six boxes which are scheduled to be shipped monthly by default. You can ask for the next box to be shipped at any time if you are ready for the next part of the experience. The total cost of the first episode is $180 if you pay $30 monthly; discounts are available off of the total if you prepay for a six or twelve-month Season Pass.

Hunt A Killer

Breakout Games Plano – Runaway Train

Breakout Games Plano – Runaway Train

Breakout Logo

 

Room Name: Runaway Train

Business: Breakout Games – Plano

Location: 2301 N Central Expy Suite 285, Plano, TX 75075

Date of Visit: 3/22/2019

Number of Players: 2-7

Our Group Size: 3

Breakout Dallas

 

Official Description: You’ve booked the trip of a lifetime: a cross-continental journey on The Breakout Express. As the train winds through beautiful countryside, news spreads of an uproar in the locomotive car. Radicals have taken control of the conductor’s cabin, planted explosives, and the train is racing towards a non-stop destination in the heart of the city: Central Station. Gain entry to the conductor’s cabin, stop the train, and free the passengers before time runs out. Can you engineer a last-minute escape?

Difficulty (official): The front desk staff stated that it was on the difficult side, but not the most difficult room.

Difficulty (experience): On the higher side of medium – we don’t recommend this as a first-time escape.

Time to Escape: 50:10

Runaway Train - Breakout Dallas

Review: While in the area for the Texas Pinball Festival, we found ourselves with more time to kill than we had originally planned for—so of course, this was a perfect time for an escape room! We decided on Breakout, which wasn’t that far of a drive from our hotel. The business is located on the second floor of a two-story shopping center and is well-marked.

The lobby was divided into two halves, reception and waiting/post-game photos. While the surroundings were pretty sparse, the staff member on duty was extremely friendly and we spent our wait time chatting with her – she gave some excellent recommendations for more escape rooms the next time we’re in the area. All of the staff members we spoke with were extremely friendly and helpful – no complaints about customer service here.

We were escorted to our train, which was a room divided into the train car and the conductor’s cabin. We were immediately impressed with the attention to detail in the room – there were three LCD screens which displayed different views of our trip through the mountains, and train announcements would go off on occasion over the rumbling sounds of the train on the tracks. There were points where the room really felt like it was moving! There were also plenty of small details that were integrated into the puzzles that fit into the idea of a luxury train through the country. We were especially fond of the conductor’s intercom having its cord cut by the villians – that was probably our favorite small touch.

The puzzles themselves were fairly streamlined and logical, but they had enough processes and steps that while we were usually working on one puzzle at a time, there was enough work to do that it didn’t feel like we were being bottlenecked. There was one particular puzzle which we were warned beforehand could result in several unnecessary steps, which thankfully we realized before too much time had elapsed. That puzzle was actually a clever bit of logic, but it required the same meticulous attention to detail that all of the other ones had.

Overall, we had a fantastic time! We loved the last-minute reveal; the room designers had done a great job disguising it. The room had something for everyone, although I did feel it was a bit heavy on mathematical puzzles. As we wrote earlier, this is definitely not a room for a first-time escape, but veterans will find it enjoyable.

Breakout Dallas

Hints Used: We didn’t need to ask for any, but our room operator did nudge us to locks that we had already discovered the solutions or keys for and hadn’t put them in.

Clue Quality: There were several very clever clues in the room, including ones that we simply thought were flavor until we stumbled across their puzzles. They did a great job at keeping the laminated sheets to a minimum.

Puzzle Creativity: While I still groan at the amount of math, there was a lot of thought put into the puzzles, and I loved the solution to two of them in particular. There were several different types of puzzles to challenge a variety of skills and thought processes.

Rating:  4.5 / 5.

Fear Factor:  Low. No major scares. One intense moment.

Things to note: This business is on the second story of an outdoor strip shopping center. The stairs are near the establishment and there are elevators on the far side of the building.

Breakout Dallas

Lupin’s Great Escape Room

Lupin’s Great Escape Room

Room Name: Lupin’s Great Escape Room

Location: Pop-Up Escape at Ushicon 14 in Round Rock, TX

Date of Visit: 2/16/2019

Number of Players: 10

Our Group Size: 10

Official Description: It would seem that Lupin and his gang have stolen the Heart of Texas Diamond from a local museum and Inspector Zenigata has tracked them down to this hotel. Can you outwit Lupin and gather the evidence needed to put him behind bars before time runs out?

Difficulty (official): Easy-Low Medium

Difficulty (experience): Low Medium

Time to Escape: No official time. We ran right up to the time limit but were given the chance to complete the last puzzle due to prop failure.

Review: Ushicon is a small 18+ anime convention in Round Rock that we look forward to every year, especially to meet up with friends that we rarely get to see. This year, we noticed that there was an escape room on the schedule, which prompted several questions from us – namely, what does it take to create an escape room for one day in a space which cannot be physically modified in any way?

The room was set up in the con suite (a standard hotel suite which was used for some of the convention functions.) Despite the limitations of using the room, the game designers had done a good job of integrating the puzzles into the space (and were even able to hide a puzzle that one of our friends had a blast solving!) A few lockboxes were immediately apparent, but just like any episode of Lupin, we were about to learn that not everything was what it seemed.

Our GM introduced himself as Inspector Zenigata, a character from the show intent on catching the titular thief. He kept his explanations brief – all but one or two of our group had done at least one escape room, so he placed us in ‘hardcore’ mode which resulted in no hints unless we directly asked for them.

The room was divided into sections with puzzles that referenced each of Lupin’s gang members. Most of my concentration was on the Fujiko puzzles, while Moose was focused more on the Goemon puzzles. Each puzzle section started off with a note from Lupin and helped delineate what belonged to which puzzle. We enjoyed the variety of puzzles offered. When we spoke to the game designer afterwards, he told us that he had decided to create puzzles that would allow everyone to highlight their skills, including one physical challenge. Everyone had a chance to solve something, and we were never short on things to do. The puzzles were also fashioned in a way that would give nods to the series, but did not require any knowledge of Lupin trivia to understand or enjoy the game.

We were extremely impressed by the game’s sense of timing. There were just enough puzzles to keep us busy throughout the game, there was no endgame puzzle-loading that we’ve found in other rooms. As promised, our GM only stepped in when we explicitly asked for a hint or when there were some technical issues that were preventing us from completing puzzles after we had found the solutions.

While most of the issues stemmed from prop wear (we were the last group to experience the room), we both agreed that one of the clues was misleading for anyone with some knowledge of the Japanese language, and another puzzle was difficult to decode; which could have more easily been solved by printing it in color. We also ran into an unusual situation where certain props in the room had more than one clue on them being used in more than one puzzle unlike most games which have you remove clues once you’ve followed them to an answer, but once all the pieces were located completing these puzzles was a breeze. Overall, we really enjoyed the room and applaud the designers for making a room with so many constraints!

Hints Used: We were given unprompted hints for an alignment issue we ran into because of a visibility issue given the hotel room lighting and another when we had all but solved the last puzzle that we had overlooked a part of the clue. All other clues requested were clarification on how certain mechs worked or if an item was still needed.

Clue Quality: Some clues were direct and led us to the solution to a lock or portion of the escape. Other clues were hidden in interesting places with a number of different methods for revealing them and were very thematic. Some classic and some unique; for a home-brew game this was quite good.

Puzzle Creativity: There were some unique puzzles for us to complete in this room including one with a working cell phone and additional hardware that we had not seen done before. We did have a logic puzzle which admittedly was fun and fit the theme, but almost felt like just a worksheet that need to be completed. There were some common types of puzzles, but they were implemented in interesting ways particularly in a pop-up room.

Rating:  3.75 / 5. For a pop-up room there was a good variety of clever puzzles and an entertaining experience.

Fear Factor:  Outside of the horrors one would expect of an adults-only anime convention, none.

Things to note: This room was for a single event and may return in a future year, but may be different if implemented at all. The room this year was free with purchase of membership for the event.

Cipher Escape Rooms – Captive

Cipher Escape Rooms – Captive

Cipher

Room Name: Captive

Business: Cipher Escape Rooms

Location: 1735 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77098

Date of Visit: October 21, 2018

Number of Players: Up to 12

Our Group Size: 4

Official Description: He said he’ll be back in 60 minutes. That’s when your game is over, and his “game” starts. He’s even started a timer to torment you. As you watch the last hour of your life slowly tick away, your mind races as you ponder all of the horrifying things about to happen at the hands of this…person, this…monster. How are you are going to spend the time you have left? You can cry. You can pray. You can write a goodbye letter. You can scream for help. Or you can ESCAPE!

Don't Be Scared

Difficulty (official): Our operator told us this was their most difficult room.

Difficulty (experience): Medium

Time to Escape: Around 55:00

Review: The Houston Arcade Expo had come and gone, and our group wanted one last hurrah before heading back home – so why not do an escape?

Cipher’s signage wasn’t easily seen from the road, but the building is pretty easy to find thanks to the bright yellow artwork on the exterior. The lobby area is large, but was pretty empty compared to the other escape businesses that we’ve visited previously.

Cipher Entrance

The staff members were all quite friendly and helpful, and our room operator gave us a very detailed explanation of what to expect in the room and was happy to answer all of our questions. We went into the room, handcuffed and in high spirits—

—and then we walked into the dungeon that would seal our fate.

The room is divided into two sections—the jail cell and the torture chamber. Cipher clearly had a lot of fun devising the decor in both areas, and filled the room with props that made the room feel more real, such as items belonging to different victims. The jail cell encompassed a small area of the room, and while it wasn’t crowded in the room with just the four of us there were just enough puzzles in there to keep us all occupied until we managed to open the second area. Had our group been much larger, though, this area might seem a bit spare with tasks to accomplish and could begin to feel claustrophobic if the upper room limit of 12 players is met.

My memory gets a little fuzzy with the torture chamber, as two of us were focused on one time-consuming puzzle while our other two team members solved most of the new area. They did report that there were a couple of particularly clever puzzles, and one particular prop interaction fit perfectly into the room’s atmosphere. We were disappointed that the puzzle that we were attempting (which required two people to complete) took up so much time, and our room operator told us afterwards that puzzle was a sticking point for most groups.

This was the first time we had a room operator deliver hints in-character—the creepy Madame DuBois would call into the room regularly to taunt us or offer advice to help the room move along. She had an impeccable sense of timing and never gave us much of a hint unless we asked for clarification. She did, however, easily dispense insults and aggravation onto our group.

Ultimately, we were able to reason out one clever and well-integrated puzzle to make our way out of the serial killer’s lair before we met our demise.

Leaderboard
We didn’t quite make the board this time…

Hints Used: We called in for hints on two occasions. Our hints were clear and easy to follow, but didn’t include so much information as to spoil the puzzles.

Clue Quality : The clues were delivered in very creative ways, and it gave us an insight into Madame DuBois’s twisted mind. There were a couple of clues that felt too vague, but then fit nicely into the solution. Many revelations in the room brought excitement to our group despite the macabre tone of the escape.

Puzzle Creativity: The puzzles had many elements that we hadn’t seen before – no worksheets or overly-complicated direction puzzles were present. While we did get stuck on one puzzle for a very long time, the execution of it was very creative and one prop interaction in the room is delightfully twisted.

Rating: 4.5 / 5.

Fear Factor:  Mildly intense themes, includes a few moments that could be upsetting for young children. We recommend participants be at least thirteen.

Things to note: There is no dedicated parking lot for Cipher and the escape room is across the street from an extremely popular cafe making parking on the main street difficult. Parking is allowed in the neighborhood around the business but may be hard to come by, especially during brunch hours on the weekend. Plan to arrive early just to ensure you can park and walk to Cipher on time.

Are You Game