Decode Ann Arbor – The Minerva Project [Review]

SASS

Location:  Ann Arbor, Michigan

Date Played:  August 3, 2019

Team size: 3-15; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Minerva Project was a brilliant game, especially considering that it’s been around for a few years. Decode Ann Arbor packed in a complete narrative (with good structure), strong puzzles, and appropriate technology. They built it all around an engaging and entertaining character in the form of the AI, Minerva.

In-game: A view of a 3D map of Detroit that is spun out of order.

A few elements of this game felt dated and stale. During our play-through there were components that were out of play because they were coming soon (which was disappointing). That said, this was a delightful game.

This game was one of our rare losses. I can confidently say that it was 100% our fault. We foolishly discarded an unused clue in a silly place.

There was a lot to love in The Minerva Project. If you’re in the area, we strongly recommend it. It isn’t as impressive as Decode’s latest game, The Aurora Society, but it’s well worth the time and money. If we had more time we would have eagerly played the second Minerva game as well.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Good storytelling
  • Plenty of well-designed puzzles

Story

We entered a research lab and met an adolescent artificial intelligence named Minerva. This sassy computer wanted to learn from us through a series of puzzley experiments.

In-game: a "MINERVA Project Access Badge" held up to a scanning station.

Setting

Like Decode Ann Arbor’s other facility in Ypsilanti (I love that name), this location was fully themed: in this instance, around the artificial intelligence experiments of the Minerva Project.

The experience began in the lobby as our in-character gamemaster introduced us to the AI that would oversee our experiment and learn from us. This setup was smart because it justified us entering a fairly traditional and aesthetically unremarkable escape room.

In-game: wide shot of the puzzle room with three set pieces in view.

Now just because the game began in a traditional setting does not mean that things remained old school. This is one of those instances where I’d love to say more, but the experience would be harmed if I did so.

Gameplay

Decode Ann Arbor’s The Minerva Project was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Scanning and input station 1.

Analysis

➕ Minerva was the star of this escape room. Decode Ann Arbor developed a voice for this sassy AI, which remained integral to the experience from the first moments through the conclusion.

➕ The staff at Decode Ann Arbor interacted with Minerva skillfully, developing the narrative.

In-game: Closeup of a "Puzzle Room Door Lock" status indicator.

➕ The story had a beginning, middle, and end (win or lose). We especially enjoyed “the turn” which will likely surprise most teams.

➕ With Minerva, there were additional dynamics to navigate in the game world, beyond solving puzzles. When we had the opportunity to make a choice; it felt meaningful.

➕ The puzzles were varied and usually interactive. They were largely tangible, with buttony buttons and the like.

In-game: closeup of a 10 digit mechanical numberpad with green buttons.

➖ While many of the puzzles were interactive, we also encountered a few too many paper components. Sometimes these involved substantial reading, which we found frustrating… and one of these puzzles recurred in a much more elegant form in Decode Detroit’s more recent game, The Aurora Society.

➕ We enjoyed the local nod to Detroit’s music. Also, the music was great.

➕/➖ We interacted with puzzle stations through keypads. The UI on some stations was intuitive. On others, we wasted a lot of time not understanding how to properly work the mechanism, or how it interacted with a puzzle. We were thrown off by the inconsistency between devices that looked the same, but behaved differently.

➕/➖ Decode Ann Arbor was actively improving upon The Minerva Project. We encountered entire props and puzzles labeled “in development.” These were in the gamespace, but had no bearing on our gameplay. We respect Decode Ann Arbor for iterating; too few companies commit to upgrading in this way. Also, because the game was set in a research lab, they could justify devices that were in development. That said, these props took us out of the game, as we had to stop and comprehend “not in play.” Additionally, this created a weird sense of FOMO; they looked pretty cool. So, later players are just going to have cooler toys to play with.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Decode Ann Arbor’s The Minerva Project, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Decode Ann Arbor comped our tickets for this game.

One thought on “Decode Ann Arbor – The Minerva Project [Review]

  1. Buttony Buttons – I knew exactly what this meant without seeing the photo. Buttony buttons are sooo much more satisfying than digital keypads. Bueno! Paper products…eh…not so Bueno.

    Being a fan of beautiful sets and dramatic decor I can absolutely love a room that appears drab/spartan/ordinary if the game develops magnificently. There is something to be said for exceeding player expectations somewhere along the journey. A room that I may have passed over by looking at photos on the company website is now one I would look forward to playing.

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