Clue Chase – The Lost Spy [Review]

Excellence overshadowed.

Location: New York, New York

Date played: January 2, 2016

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 8-10

Price: $24 per ticket

Clue Chase Logo
Clue Chase is packing some brilliant graphic design.

Theme & story

Set in 1963, at the height of the Cold War, The Lost Spy takes place in a room that is truly of the era. The furniture, fixtures, props, and puzzles were all of the 1960, or at least looked like they belonged (with the exception of one puzzle… more on that one later).

A 1960's themed room. It looks very spy craft. Timezone clocks hang on the walls, there is a large desk and conference room.
The room’s decor was on point.

It was immediately clear that the folks from Clue Chase poured a ton of love, work and money into their experience.

We played as CIA agents on assignment to uncover a plot. I’d tell you more, but then I’d have to spoil the game for you.

The room was massive by any standards (except for Texas), and this was made all the more stunning the fact that it was in Midtown Manhattan.

An orange, white, and black image advertising a Cold War themed game. A white silhouette of a man in a fedora sits in the foreground. Images of the Soviet Army and a nuclear explosion appear in the background.

A secure location

Clue Chase is located in the W.R. Grace Building, an imposing office building adjacent to Bryant Park. When I entered their lobby and approached the security desk, I felt like I was going to meet with a client as part of my day job.

Due to building protocol, Clue Chase has the most strict security we’ve encountered at an escape room. We had to submit the names of all players in advance, show photo ID to the guard at the desk, and have our photographs taken so that he could create our guest passes. The whole process took five or ten minutes. Adjust your arrival time accordingly.

Elaborate subterfuge and magic

Clue Chase’s The Lost Spy room surprised me in a great many ways.

I wasn’t prepared for the depth in this game’s experience. There were some wonderfully magical and unexpected moments. The build quality and its triggered interactions were top of the line.

The game was also surprisingly difficult.

A beautiful old dining cart with old glasswear sitting atop.
“‘Shaken, not stirred,’ will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so not to chip the ice. James is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it.” – President Bartlet, The West Wing

We got blown out

We showed up with a small but seasoned team of five, and we were absolutely destroyed by The Lost Spy. We have never lost a room escape this badly. It wasn’t even close.

There were many factors that contributed to our failure.

Team size

We needed more people. There were a lot of time consuming puzzles and we didn’t bring the manpower to complete them in an hour.

It didn’t help that the guy who loves math bailed at the last minute. We could all handle the necessary computation, but we didn’t do with the vigor of someone who loves it.

Distraction puzzles

Unfortunately many of the wonderful puzzles and interactions were lost in a sea of mediocre distraction puzzles.

We opened many locks just to find a tiny piece of another puzzle. All too often solving a puzzle didn’t result in a reward or meaningful advancement. This game faltered because too many components were downright Sisyphean.

Our post game walkthrough was lengthy as even our gamemaster had trouble keeping track of the sheer volume of puzzles.

An old typewriter sits in the foreground. An old rotary phone sits out of focus in the background.

Magic Eye – spoiler alert

Back in the early 1990’s, Magic Eyes were a huge thing. The trouble with Magic Eyes is that you can either do them or you can’t… I can’t see them and neither could any of my teammates.

I stared into this goofy abstract pixel art wondering why it existed in a room set in 1963.

Eventually our gamemaster gave us the answer.

Help from The Man

Our gamemaster gave hints through his assumed role of CIA handler. As a character in our game, his presence was fun, but a bit overpowering.

I think we opened as many locks with help from on high as we did on our own… And we accomplished a lot on our own. This was the first game I’ve played where I felt like I was dragged through it by the gamemaster.

An old lie detector machine.

A controvertible puzzle

One puzzle had many solutions, which transformed it from challenging to frustrating.

The hints we received didn’t help. One of our people solved the thing through force of will, and when we were told the “proper” way to do it in the post game, we all left convinced that our answer made a lot more sense.

Puzzles need to have one incontrovertible answer.

A puzzle that breaks the rules

One of the final puzzles violated the room’s rules. Had we reached that puzzle, we never would have solved it because it required us to plug in a device.

We were told to leave electrical sockets alone; plugging the thing in never would have crossed our minds.

Should I play Clue Chase’s The Lost Spy?

I’m torn on The Lost Spy.

I loved the theme and its execution was stellar. Parts of The Lost Spy were incredible.

I enjoyed how our gamemaster naturally injected himself into the narrative.

However, there was too much to do, and too many of these puzzles weren’t fun.

Clue Chase seemed to operate under the belief that solving a puzzle is inherently fun. Not all puzzles are created equally. Half the fun of solving a puzzle in an escape room is in learning what you’ve unlocked. When the payoff to hard work is a tiny scrap of paper with a smaller piece of a puzzle on it, it can be disappointing. When that happens continually, the game starts to feel like a treadmill.

When we played The Lost Spy, Clue Chase was still iterating on its design (we didn’t know that when we booked). We ultimately review the experience we had (not the one we think future players might have), and from our experience, I can only recommend this game to large teams that want tedious puzzles.

However, I believe that Clue Chase will continue to make changes based on their players’ experiences. They have the chops to build world-class games. But will they get there? I wouldn’t bet against them.

If you have room escape experience and want to see a beautiful and interesting room, bring a big team and give it a shot. If you win, can walk out knowing that you defeated an opponent that obliterated Team Room Escape Artist.

Book your hour in Clue Chase’s The Lost Spy, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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