Clue Chase – Ultimate Heist [Review]

You’re going to want to fence that Beany Baby quickly.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 14, 2017

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5 to 7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

It was 1998 and we were burglars attempting to rob a notorious thief and steal the final piece of an artifact. Throughout Clue Chase’s 4 games, we’d been looking for pieces of this precious artifact. Of course, while thieving, we were aiming to rob this guy blind. Because money.

In-game: A locked box featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's smoking pipe.

Our goal was to escape with as much money, in the form of valuable items, as possible. At the end of the game, we received a score based on our plundering.

Ultimate Heist took place in a study/ trophy room: dark walls, heavy wooden furniture, and valuables in glass cases.

Puzzles

Ultimate Heist was packed full of puzzles to solve. The majority were standalone challenges that unlocked stealable valuables.

There was also a series of interconnected puzzles that led to our escape route.

Standouts

The setting worked well. It was just stuffy enough in how it merged “office” and “museum.”

It was 1998 and Ultimate Heist was packed with amusing 90s pop culture references.

Clue Chase structured Ultimate Heist such that it offered an on-ramp to puzzling and then a free-for-all. There was a lot to unlock.

There were a ton of puzzles in this escape room. Our group of experienced escape room players solved most – but not all – of them before we made our escape. We were puzzling the entire hour.

Shortcomings

With a large team doing so many things all at one time, the entire experience was chaotic and hard to manage.

Not all of the clues connected back to the valuables adequately. We burned time trying solutions in multiple locks of the same digit structure. This made portions of Ultimate Heist frustrating.

Our gamemaster was a character in the game. He would appear when we shouted for him… or a couple minutes later. Although he entered the gamespace, he made us ask questions, which meant that if we didn’t ask the right questions, we didn’t receive any guidance from him. He then left us more frustrated than he found us.

The hardest puzzle in Ultimate Heist suffered from a gating issue. One component was available from the initial moments of the escape room, but it wasn’t solvable until later in the experience. When we didn’t make progress with this item, we asked for hints on it, and each time, our gamemaster told us he couldn’t tell us anything about it. This proved incredibly frustrating and burned a lot of our time.

We experienced one broken clue and two reset mistakes. Because of the lack of connections between puzzle components and locks, these had significant impact on gameplay. We only unraveled what had gone wrong post-game.

Should I play Clue Chase’s Ultimate Heist?

The Ultimate Heist had a unique structure as a score-based puzzling theft. In this way, both new and experienced players can get a lot of out of it. If you love to solve puzzles, it’s jam packed.

That said, it didn’t quite come together for us. The lack of connections and subsequent hinting style added a lot of unnecessary frustration.

Clue Chase thinks up interesting concepts and continues to iterate on their experiences. Although they have great ideas, thus far they haven’t quite been able to execute on each concept in a way that we’ve found satisfying.

A dark wood contraption with a ring of metal buttons in the middle.
The final boss.

Since we first visited in January 2016, Clue Chase has added an overarching narrative that ties their 4 escape rooms together. There is even a bonus puzzle after you play all four games. This innovation definitely ups the excitement in their games. We loved the concept, but we didn’t get much satisfaction from the bonus.

We want to love Clue Chase’s games. They have an amazing location next to Bryant Park. They’re accessible to corporate clients and tourists. They have a lot to offer.

We feel, however, that Clue Chase is still iterating. They have lots of ideas and they haven’t quite managed to bring them all together.

While it’s frustrating at times, the Ultimate Heist offers something different. If you want to solve a lot of puzzles, enjoy 1990s pop culture, and try for a high score, give Ultimate Heist a shot.

Book your hour with Clue Chase’s Ultimate Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Clue Chase – Alien Encounter [Review]

The power of an endearing hint system.

Location: New York City, New York

Date played: August 2, 2017 (David) & September 14, 2017 (Lisa)

Team size: 6-12; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

It was the year 2053 and we were making first contact with alien life. They had beamed us aboard a ship and had presented us with a series of challenges to prove humanity’s worth.

In-game: A glowing purple tube of light, in the background is a glowing skeleton.

The set of Alien Encounter was interesting. Designed as a spaceship, it was large by Midtown Manhattan standards. Upon initial reveal it looked impressive, but with up-close interaction, many of the set pieces looked cobbled together and unrefined.

Puzzles

Clue Chase creates puzzle-dense escape rooms and Alien Encounter was no exception. There were a lot of puzzles and many of them had a few layers of complexity. Each puzzle was connected to an early pivotal puzzle.

Standouts

Clue Chase created a really smart hint system for Alien Encounter. It brought personality to the gameplay. It also enabled the gamemaster to subtly focus us on critical steps, which was important in the large gamespace.

I truly enjoyed the way that Clue Chase tied nearly all of their puzzles together. The room may have been a collection of largely unrelated puzzles, but this one act made them feel cohesive.

The finale was fun.

The initial feeling that I had when stepping onto the set was otherworldly.

Shortcomings

I wish that the otherworldly feeling that the set instilled had continued throughout the escape room. It fell apart when I started to touch things and could easily identify the hacked together hardware that Clue Chase used to built the set.

While many of the puzzles played well, one of them could easily be interpreted in multiple different ways. We found ourselves having to systematically yet blindly try different approaches… and when we stumbled upon the correct solution we weren’t even sure why it worked. The explanation that we received post-game was that we had to use “non-human logic.” This could have been ok with adequate clue structure. Plus, there were plenty of puzzles that did use typical human logic.

Alien Encounter cannot accommodate 12 people. While there was physical space for 12 and then some, there wasn’t enough gameplay. At multiple points, Alien Encounter was entirely linear. The hint system exacerbated this design decision. While newer teams will likely want a larger group, 12 is a few too many.

Should I play Clue Chase’s Alien Encounter?

Of the 4 escape rooms currently available at Clue Chase, Alien Encounter was the most interesting. It had personality and fun game mechanics that I haven’t seen before… and they worked.

It was not a perfect game, but with some set design improvements as well as refinements in puzzle flow, this could be a truly fantastic game.

Experienced puzzlers will find Alien Encounter a challenging opponent. Regardless of your level of experience, don’t be afraid to experiment or take a hint. Not everything was thoroughly clued.

One last note on team size and booking: You physically need 4 people at one point in the game and Clue Chase advertises the minimum at 6 people. I call this out because a few people have written in mentioning that Clue Chase cancelled their reservations near the last minute. This happened to us twice when booking Alien Encounter, even though we always met the minimum number of people. In over 400 games, this is the only company that has ever canceled on us multiple times.

If you’re looking for a challenging game with interesting design decisions, Alien Encounter is a solid choice. I hope that if you choose to book with Clue Chase, they will choose to honor your booking.

Book your hour with Clue Chase’s Alien Encounter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Clue Chase – Egyptian Tomb [Review]

Pharaoh! Let my teammates go!

Location: New York, NY

Date played: August 15, 2016

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

In the Egyptian Tomb, we found ourselves trapped inside the puzzle chamber of a dead pharaoh. Beyond the staging and setup, the story didn’t factor heavily into the game.

The set, however, contributed a lot. Clue Chase constructed a beautiful, detailed, and solid tomb environment for this room escape.

A wall-mounted sandstone sarcophagus surrounded by hieroglyphs

Puzzles

This was a puzzler’s escape room.

Clue Chase has whittled away a lot of the frustrations from The Lost Spy  and zeroed in on a clear thread of gameplay composed of puzzles that count.

Be prepared for puzzles that layer as you work your way through this archeological exploration.

Standouts

The puzzles in the The Egyptian Tomb presented a fair, fun challenge.

The set included some incredible props and excellent, original construction. Clue Chase’s hard work delivered some great moments.

Our gamemaster delivered a light-hearted introduction about not “angering the gods” by destroying game elements and the like.

The ancient Egyptians created the first locks and Clue Chase built a brilliant homage to this.

Shortcomings

There were many locks in this tomb with similar digit structures. At times, there were a lot of possible places to input a potentially correct answer.

In some ways, the Egyptian Tomb felt uneven. While much of the design and decor created the stellar atmosphere, other locks and props didn’t seem to belong in the space. Some of the environment and game components could use additional refinement to bring them to the level of the rest of the experience.

Should I play Clue Chase’s The Egyptian Tomb?

In the months since we last visited Clue Chase, they’ve come a long way. They removed the tedium and extraneous material and refined their game mechanics.

We brought a highly experienced team to this game and powered through in record time, while still enjoying ourselves. That said, this isn’t an easy game. The puzzles will present a challenging obstacle to newer players.

As Clue Chase continues to refine their designs, we hope to feel more of a narrative from their future puzzle adventures.

Clue Chase is learning and iterating rapidly and we’re excited to see what they produce next.

Book your hour with Clue Chase’s The Egyptian Tomb, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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.