An entry level game that starts stronger than it finishes.
Location: Montclair, New Jersey
Date played: June 2, 2015
Team size: up to 8; we recommend 6-8
“United States Senator Franklin Wilson Neuhaus, II has been missing for several months. His son, Franklin, III has discovered through tax records that a secret manor belonging to Senator Neuhaus has not been investigated by the police. Not sure who he can trust, Franklin III has turned to you, a team of expert private investigators, to find any clues inside that may lead to the discovery of his father’s whereabouts. Did he run away on his own or is something more sinister to blame? You have one hour to find Senator Neuhaus before the investigation is taken over by the police. Test your analytical and problem-solving skills in Exit Strategy: The Senator’s Manor.”
Upon arriving, you walk down a stairwell (past one of the strangest bathrooms I’ve ever seen) and feel like you just dove through the looking glass. The ceiling is staggeringly low, the ground is covered in artificial turf, and to your left, the wall looks like a damn house: windows, siding, mailbox, flowers, and a door with quite the knocker. Your game-master leads you to a television and plays a movie that sets the stage for a team of private investigators to search for a missing senator. It also details the game’s rules. Everything oozes quality.
High quality video production
It’s clear throughout the game that its designer has a passion and talent for video production. I’d be remiss if I didn’t call attention to how well he weaves video into this game.
The game is lovingly built, but it falls short of the expectations created by its exceptional exterior. The company puts significant effort into establishing their story. In fact, their website includes bios for the key characters in the narrative. The characters, narrative, and brilliantly produced videos are all woven into the game, but aren’t of much consequence. With the exception of an American flag sitting next to a desk, the fact that you’re looking for a missing senator is almost completely irrelevant to this game. This theme offers many opportunities to explore the private quarters of a powerful man. You could find anything in this man’s home: evidence of an affair, corruption, or some other scandal. Instead, you find out that he has some pretty mundane hobbies. This is a by the numbers escape game.
All roads lead to a lock
Everything in this game ultimately leads to a lock. There are lots of locks. This creates an uncomfortable situation whereby all players are constantly shouting numbers at one another. It’s a reasonably well-executed lock-driven game, but it’s still a lock-driven game.
Later in the game we hit some hefty frustrations. The first was that the Senator’s Manor has a lot of doors and things that are off-limits. Most of these out-of bounds things aren’t really obvious in the moment. We felt like our game-master was constantly chastising us for exploring the space. Without exception, chastisement diminishes fun. The second and more problematic frustration was a safe that locks players out for 15 minutes if they punch in three incorrect codes in a row. 15 minutes is a damn long time in a 60 minute game. It’s even longer when that safe emerges late in the game and becomes an impassable blocker. Furthermore, players must contest with clue placement that creatives ambiguity as to which numbers will actually open the safe. We narrowed the code down to one of three answers, however an incorrect inputting used up a guess, and as luck would have it, the right answer was the last one we were going to guess. With nothing left to do, we tried brute forcing some of the remaining locks, assuming that our game was over. When the contents of that safe were slid under the door, we made short work of the remaining puzzles, but that win literally has an asterisk in our records; no one felt good about it.
Should I play Exit Strategy’s The Senator’s Manor?
This is a solid game produced by a rookie designer. There’s clearly a lot of love poured into it, and I’m betting a ton of lessons learned. I wish that the puzzles had more depth. I wish that the game was crafted so that players could more freely explore the space. And I really wish that it didn’t have that infuriating safe. But mostly I wish that the game lived up to its entryway. If you’re new to escape games, this is a solid example of an entry level room. If you’re a veteran and you’ve played more interactive rooms, then this one isn’t going to wow you, but I am betting that if the folks from Exit Strategy keep at it, they’re going to get there. The basic building blocks are all there. Book your hour with Exit Strategy’s The Senator’s Manor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.