Thriller City – Da Vinci [Review]

Da Vinci is missing something.

Location: New York, NY

Date Played: February 5, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

REA Reaction

Thriller City’s Da Vinci was a harshly difficult escape room with interesting interactions, some great set design, little clue structure, and an inflexible hint system. While there were lots of details to love in Da Vinci, this escape room felt seriously incomplete and in desperate need of improvements that put more of an emphasis on fun rather than frustration.

We’re rooting for Thriller City to succeed, but in its current state, we cannot recommend Da Vinci. 

Who is this for?

  • People who want a challenge
  • Players who don’t mind extensive reading
  • Best for more experienced players

Why play?

  • To try your hand at a game with a less than 5% escape rate
  • The transitions

Story

We were on a quest for the Holy Grail. It seemed that Leonardo Da Vinci knew where the Grail had been hidden and had left a series of clues. With an evil secret society on our tail, we needed to discover the legendary cup before they arrived and used it for their nefarious goals.

In-game: A dark cave with cobwebs and a glowing candle.

Setting

We began our quest for the Holy Grail in a dark cavern lit with a single LED candle. Once we determined how to leave the cave, Da Vinci opened up into a well-lit library environment.

The set was inconsistent. Some portions looked beautiful, creative, and polished; other parts looked unfinished or empty.

In-game: A wooden bookshelf covered in roped bundles of coverless books and glowing candles.

Gameplay

Da Vinci was brutally challenging. The owner of Thriller City told us that the game had about a 1% or 2% escape rate. I got the impression that we were the first or second team to ever win this game. It’s also worth noting that we deliberately circumvented a few puzzles to earn that victory.

While there were challenging puzzles to solve, the bulk of the gameplay centered on detailed pixel-hunt searching, parsing the clues from the red herrings, and figuring out how to operate the game’s mechanisms.

All of this was complicated by a stingy hint system whereby at the 30-minute mark a monk entered the room to provide us with a single hint. With 10 minutes remaining he returned for a second time to complete a task that none of us could figure out. We could not otherwise request hints, clarification, or support.

Standouts

Da Vinci hid its secrets well. It was especially thrilling to uncover transitions.

Thriller City built large mechanical puzzles. These were inviting, exciting, and satisfying.

Some aspects of set design were gorgeous. The opening gamespace transported us to another place and time through detailed construction, down to wall finish. Some of the art within the set was magnificent.

Shortcomings

Da Vinci was composed entirely of interactions. It didn’t include the clue structure. It lacked puzzle flow. It was impossible to latch onto the thread of gameplay.

In-game clueing consisted of many long passages to read off laminated sheets of paper. This was tedious. These clues were at best ambiguous and sometimes entirely opaque. We’d occasionally make sense of a paragraph retrospectively, after determining the intended interaction by other means.

Some of gorgeous wall art was intended to clue a puzzle, however opaquely. Much of it proved to be red herrings. There was absolutely no way to tell the two apart.

The majority of the set was overly spacious and barren. With large, sparsely furnished spaces, the scale felt off and unlike a library, despite the multitude of books.

We spent most of our time fixated on one puzzle that nobody could solve. At any given point, at least one team member was working on this puzzle. We knew we couldn’t move forward without it. Thriller City couldn’t hint this puzzle and with roughly 10 minutes remaining our gamemaster entered the room and solved it for us. Given the time constraints of an escape room, it felt unfair. It wasn’t a trick lock, but the same concept applied.

Thriller City offered one hint at 30 minutes (and eventually the solution to the aforementioned puzzle as well). We spent too much of our time in Da Vinci stalled. I have to imagine less experienced teams grinding to a complete halt. This wasn’t fun.

Da Vinci had a less than 2% escape rate. It didn’t want to be won. Through a mix of escape room experience, half-clued solves, outside knowledge, and two hints, we escaped with seconds to spare. We didn’t feel skilled; we felt lucky. It wasn’t satisfying.

Disclosure: Thriller City comped our tickets for this game.

 

2 thoughts on “Thriller City – Da Vinci [Review]

  1. SUCH a strange experience with this room tonight.

    First, yes – there is a frustrating puzzle that the gamemaster will simply have to come in and complete for many teams. I made zero progress given my couple minutes with it, but fortunately another person in our group solved it right away. I agree it’s not the type of puzzle that belongs in an escape room. It’s a flawed comparison, but it’d be a bit like if you had to solve a Rubik’s cube to gain access to your next key.

    I (nerdily) keep a log of escape room successes and failures, and it’s rare to not definitively know which is the case upon leaving – but that’s where I find myself. Our hinting system was even more haphazard than David’s. The first time our gamemaster walked in the room was with 20 minutes left, showing us something that helped us move forward. The next time he came in was with about 3 minutes left. We were on the final puzzle, having gathered some of the info needed to solve it. He showed us the part we were missing.

    In a way it FELT like a gamemaster coming in after your time has expired, and revealing that last clue you needed that would have gotten you out. That was the vibe. No urgency, as if the game were over, and nothing left to solve. But again, there was still time on the clock – so as we shuffled out of the room, uncertain of what had just happened, the timer on the door was indeed still ticking, now with about a minute to go. I asked, “So was that our second hint?” Him: “I usually only give one.” Me: “The website says this room gives two, I believe?” No response.

    And yes, in fact, of the four rooms on Thriller City’s website, the Da Vinci Room specifically notes with an asterisk: “Competitive – 2 Hints Only.” It’s fairly uncommon to see a hint limit detailed on a company’s website, especially for just one room in particular – so it was particularly odd that our gamemaster seemed unaware of this.

    I was waiting to see if the staff would give us the “WE DID IT” brand of signs or the ‘EPIC FAIL” variety for our postgame group photo, but fittingly enough, we were given neither, as seems is their custom judging from their Facebook and Instagram pages. So who knows. If we escaped, it was an unceremonious one, and to echo David, I wouldn’t use the word “satisfying.”

    1. Congratulations, you won. You had a very similar experience to ours. We weren’t sure that it was over either.

Leave a Reply