REPOD S4E9 – Ukrainian Resilience: Tasha Tarkhanova, creator of Project Avatar, Ukraine

In Season 4, Episode 9, we share stories from Ukraine. We talk to Nataliya (Tasha) Tarkhanova of Hypno Dive, creator of the Project Avatar series of virtual escape room games. Project Avatar is an incredible virtual experience that plays like a live-action video game, where you are directing a live actor (the Avatar) through an enormous abandoned warehouse. With stylish, acrobatic moves and impressive special effects, tech and visuals, Project Avatar was a high point in quarantine-era virtual escape rooms.

Then war happened. On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine in a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, which began in 2014. This episode is a bit of a departure for us, but we wanted to share Tasha’s story. We begin with discussion of Project Avatar and escape rooms, but in the second half of this episode, we dive into how the invasion has turned Tasha’s life upside-down. It’s a heavy episode. It’s not graphic and there are no explicit depictions of death or violence, but Tasha candidly shares stories of the upheaval in her life and business. There is an emotional story of the war’s impact on her daughter that brought both David and Peih-Gee to tears.

woman with blue makeup and tribal like facial markings next to a stylized logo for project avatar. titled Ukrainian Resiliance: Tasha Tarkhanova, creator of Project Avatar, Ukraine

The stories that you’re going to hear are tragic and hilarious and kind of off-the-wall. Tasha is resilient, creative, and captivating. We think that this is a really important story to tell.

We are donating all of REPOD’s income from this episode to Direct Relief, earmarked for the crisis in Ukraine. If this episode touches you, scroll to the end of the show notes and click the button to donate.

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Great Escape of Central Texas – Back to the Fourth Grade [Review]

It’s elementary…and that’s okay!

Location:  Killeen, TX

Date Played: August 31, 2022

Team Size: 2-7; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

As a former elementary school teacher, Back to the Fourth Grade felt like a homecoming of sorts. I recognized the floor tiles, the desks, the posters… heck, I probably even bought some of those posters once in my life. In both its decor and activities, the room captured the core essence of a classroom. It successfully made a school-day fun.

This was also the sparsest of the three rooms we played at Great Escape of Central Texas and showed a bit more wear than the others. Here, the minimalism hid some clever mechanics in plain sight, making their discovery that much more exciting. However, players looking for a richer environment should play Mobfather or Lost Tomb of Anubis.

Puzzle-wise, the room offered a good balance between straightforward activities for younger or newer players and a few trickier challenges. One puzzle suggested more patience than it ultimately deserved, but otherwise everything was well-clued and fair. Experienced players will likely fly through much of this experience but may still enjoy the nostalgic interactions here. I did.

After lamenting the scarcity of good family games in the Austin area, I brought my kids (ages 6 and 9) back to play this room with a couple of their friends. They loooooved it. They were able to make most of the puzzle connections without too much help, and they were delighted by the set interactions and surprises. I had already enjoyed this room with my enthusiast crew, but seeing it from my kids’ perspective made me appreciate its extra charm for fresh eyes.

Back to the Fourth Grade was an endearing room that is highly approachable for families, including a couple of clever ahas to delight enthusiast chaperones. Families in the Austin or Killeen area should definitely check it out.

Wide view of a 4th grade classroom.
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PanIQ Room – Wizard Trials [Review]

Where there’s a wand there’s a way

Location: Austin, Texas

Date Played: August 28, 2022

Team Size: 2-7; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $39/player for public game, $45/player for private game

Ticketing: Both Public and private options are available

Accessibility Consideration:  At least one player must use a step.

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical

REA Reaction

Wizard Trials was an average puzzle game wrapped in an impressive set but marred by some peripheral design issues. Puzzle-focused enthusiasts likely won’t find enough substance here for the price, but newer players might be justifiably delighted. I’m actively considering bringing my kids back to play this.

The game offered an enticing thematic package: a convincing set, voice-acted hints and nudges, a fair amount of tech-driven “magic,” and a satisfying payoff to the story. Wands also played a persistent role in the room, an interaction that I’d been waiting to see come to Austin. This cohesive and fanciful ambiance was the main draw for the game.

The puzzles were straightforward, with the wand mechanic adding whimsy to otherwise common designs. Although the puzzles were generally approachable for a broad audience, a couple had questionable discoverability for newer players. Also, some set wear made another puzzle more enigmatic than likely intended.

The game’s most pervasive flaw centered around its imprecise use of sounds for cuing, cluing, and confirming. Bells, whistles, and wizardly advice were common throughout the experience, but it was hard to distinguish whether these things were focusing our attention, nudging us in a different direction, or just letting us know we did something right. This was more distracting than harmful.

If viewed as a starter game for newer players, Wizard Trials had a lot to offer. It would be a fine choice for local families (ages 8+) looking for an opportunity to puzzle together.

A wizard's study with a large desk surrounded by books
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REPOD S4E8 – Expansion & Hospitality: Mark Flint, CEO of The Escape Game, USA

In Season 4, Episode 8 of REPOD, we return home to the United States for a chat with Mark Flint, CEO of The Escape Game (TEG). With over 26 locations in 14 states, TEG is positioned to offer a shared American experience. Many of their locations have the same games as locations in other cities, all with consistently high quality rooms, accessible venues in high-profile shopping centers, beautifully decorated sets, and friendly customer service.

Mark operates his company with a businessman’s brain and an escape room enthusiast’s heart. The emphasis on hospitality lies at the heart of The Escape Game experience. Their mission statement is Every Single Guest, and Mark shares insights on how he incorporates their mission into every location and experience.

escape room decorated to look like a moroccan marketplace, with image of smiling man in a suit, titled Expansion & Hospitality: Mark Flint, CEO of The Escape Game, USA

With their commitment to warm and welcoming customer service, well-maintained, clean lobbies and games, and an eye towards rapid expansion, The Escape Game reflects American values. Mark emphasized their in-house leadership training program, and in chatting with him, it was clear that his strong vision and leadership is reflected through his company.

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Breakout Games – CLUE [Review]

It will be __ in the __ with the __

Location:  Indianapolis, IN

Date Played: September 24, 2022

Team Size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $24.99 to $44.99 per player depending on player count

Ticketing: Private

Game Breakage: One element was out of commission, but was clearly marked and handled well.

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Breakout Games’ CLUE was a fantastic implementation of the original board game, keeping true to the slapstick humor and deduction we’ve loved for years. With incredibly family friendly nature, CLUE delivered an experience true to the original mechanics by implementing an overarching deduction meta-puzzle to stop the murder from ever happening.

Breakout threw everything but the kitchen sink into this experience, with numerous callbacks to the board game and great set design. The attention to detail and the high tolerance for alternate puzzle solutions shined. With the high quality of many of the puzzles, interactions, and characters, there was only one run down and out of place puzzle that could easily be swapped for something more charming.

The space felt larger than it was due to placement of doors within the set as well as the narrative incorporation of other rooms within the vast mansion. This space was decadent until it wasn’t – CLUE showed us inaccessible parts of the mansion that were much more lush and polished than the game space, making the set feel worse in comparison.

Door art reads: "Clue Presented by BREAKOUT"

We’d like to think that every time someone wins Breakout’s CLUE, someone doesn’t open the board game, as we, the players, have stopped the murder from actually happening in the first place.

CLUE is a great option for a family fun experience at the Breakout locations that offer it in their lineup.  

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