Decode Ypsilanti – The Aurora Society [Review]

Not weather dependent

Location:  Ypsilanti, Michigan

Date Played:  August 3, 2019

Team size: 3-15; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Aurora Society was a standout escape game in a market that far exceeded expectations.

The suburbs of Detroit were a delightful place to play escape rooms… and please don’t crack a joke about “Detroit being an escape room.” I’ve heard enough of those over the past few weeks to last me a lifetime.

Decode Ypsilanti struck a balance between adventure, story, puzzle, and technology that all came together into a cohesive world.

In-game: wide shot of the room, a strange game sits on a table in the middle of the room.

If there’s a Holy Grail of words used to describe escape games, “cohesive” might be it; Decode Ypsilanti clearly knows this.

We loved spending a day playing around Detroit and we truly encountered zero duds on the journey. (I’m sure they exist; we just chose wisely). That said, if you only have time to play one game, make it The Aurora Society.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Aspiring wizards
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Good storytelling in a fully themed facility
  • Entertaining puzzles
  • A beautiful set
  • Strong effects that served the story

Story

We arrived as potential new recruits for the magical and mysterious Aurora Society. We had to harness the power of the aurora borealis to earn our place among their membership.

A painting of an aurora.

Setting

As we entered the lobby of Decode Ypsilanti, we stepped into the world of The Aurora Society. We were greeted by in-character staff and addressed in the context of the world.

The hallways, games, and bathrooms were all in-world as well.

When we entered the game, the set was gorgeous. The woodwork, drapes, placards… everything felt like it was part of a cohesive magical world that existed long before we arrived and would continue long after we left.

In-game: A beautiful hourglass, a mape of council positions beyond it.

Gameplay

Decode Ypsilanti’s The Aurora Society was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: a beautiful set of balances containing dangling precious stones.

Analysis

➕ Decode’s Ypsilanti location was fully themed around The Aurora Society. The lobby, the game, and the new game that’s in the works were all set in the same world.

➕  The Aurora Society was warm and elegant. The set had its own aesthetic and felt like it had been there for a long time. All of the set pieces, props, and puzzles looked authentic, like they belonged within this world.

In-game: A collection of candle sticks on a table.

➕ The Aurora Society used a lot of technology, but the technology didn’t steal the show. Decode Ypsilanti integrated it nearly seamlessly into the experience so that it simply felt magical.

➖ In what we believe was an effort to hide anything out of place in the world, Decode Ypsilanti used a mundane construction material and it felt far too subtle for a world of magic.

➕ The gameplay flowed well. We were never wanting for items or things to do. When we solved something, we opened something else. We received in-game feedback to understand our forward progress. This built momentum.

➕ The puzzles fit the world.

➕/➖ We also encountered our favorite escape room Sudoku implementation to date. It was aesthetically beautiful and we had to stop and think to realize this architecture was built upon Sudoku. The downside was that this puzzle was way too similar to a lesser implementation at Decode Ypsilanti’s other location, Decode Ann Arbor.

➖ The Aurora Society lacked an onramp. It started with a challenging puzzle where more minds added complexity, yet there wasn’t anything else to work on.

➕ The hinting came from a beautifully presented character who added depth to the world.

➖ The final scene was dimly lit. While there was some payoff for the low lighting, we struggled to fully appreciate the gameplay in this segment.

➕ The folks from Decode Ypsilanti understand the importance of narrative structure. In The Aurora Society, this took place in its own scene. While the narrative arc may not have been surprising, this playful interlude was unexpected.

➕ Decode Ypsilanti was committed to the world of their game. Upon completion of our mission, they closed an open plot thread. This was an unnecessary detail that most escape room companies would ignore.

Tips For Visiting

  • We found metered parking on the street and in a nearby lot. You’ll need coins to feed the meter.

Book your hour with Decode Ypsilanti’s The Aurora Society, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Decode Ypsilanti comped our tickets for this game.

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