Epic Team Adventures – Mission: TBD – Part 1: Bare Necessities [Hivemind Review]

Note: This game was reviewed at $19.99 per team and has since been reduced to $9.99 per team if you purchase from ClueKeeper directly. You will get the game for free if you purchase a gift card from Epic Team Adventures.

Mission: TBD, Part 1: Bare Necessities is a digital puzzle game created by Epic Team Adventures in Seattle, WA.

4 players looking at a Life Support Control screen.

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Format

Style of Play: light puzzle hunt played through the ClueKeeper app

Required Equipment: mobile device with ClueKeeper installed

Recommended Team Size: 1

Play Time: less than an hour

Price: $19.99 per team

Booking: purchase from ClueKeeper, download, and play

Description

Designed for solo play, this game uses the (free) ClueKeeper app on your phone and built-in AR capabilities to deliver a linear sequence of 3 puzzles. The game is the first in a series of related games, so the story is really “just the beginning.”

Emergency equipment screne.

Hivemind Review Scale

REA's hivemind review scale - 3 is recommended anytime, 2 recommended in quarantine, 1 is not recommended.

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Cara Mandel’s Reaction

Rating: 2 out of 3.

Mission: TBD – The Bare Necessities was a charming, albeit brief, puzzle hunt using ClueKeeper combined with Zappar’s AR technology. The experience was clearly made with a lot of care, but for my taste the puzzles were a bit lacking. I’d recommend this for novice players who are interested in dabbling in new formats and playing with AR technology. I opted to screenshare my experience of this game via Zoom with my escape group to see if collaborative solving would be possible. Ultimately, it seemed this experience would be better served as a solo one.

Brett Kuehner’s Reaction

Rating: 1 out of 3.
  • + Interactions with the game are smooth and fun
  • + ClueKeeper interface makes it easy to partner with a remote teammate
  • + Game is designed for a single player, but teammates can use their own phones to solve simultaneously if desired
  • + Each of the puzzles is a different type
  • + Using the phone as an augmented reality window on a virtual space is more fun than a standard swipe-and-tap interface
  • + Good hint system with gradually more detailed hints
  • +/- Some sections have long audio segments, but some limited exploration is possible while they play
  • +/- Final puzzle was substantially harder than previous puzzles
  • – Not enough content to justify the current price. At a lower price I would recommend it.

The Lone Puzzler’s Reaction

Rating: 2 out of 3.

ClueKeeper-based adventure with a handful of interesting puzzles. Game ran well and was reasonably immersive. Unlike many point-and-click “escape” games online, there were no hard-to-see objects to find or visual blocks. You just had to solve the puzzles. Online hint system was easy to use – although it might take a few hint requests to get to useful info depending on where you are stuck in a puzzle. Fun game, but more of a solo video game than interactive escape room. If you want something fun and don’t have a group to play with, this is worth a play.

4 players looking at the welcome screen fot he TBD Hotel.

Theresa W’s Reaction

Rating: 1 out of 3.

I really wanted to like Mission: TBD – The Bare Necessities, but at the current state of the game and the price point, the experience was lacking. During the experience, the ability to use AR and look around a space was clever for maneuvering around a completely digital game. One area in particular had a long, non-skippable introduction, and minimizing the app caused the introduction to repeat. The game felt quite short with only a handful of puzzles, yet one puzzle was very well executed and unique. Overall, the experience was lackluster, but I have hopes that Epic Team Adventures will be able to learn from this game and improve for the next installment.

Sarah Mendez’s Reaction

Rating: 1 out of 3.

I enjoyed the premise of this game and its efforts to immerse you with humorous descriptions, a thematically-integrated hint system, and fun ways of reinforcing your character. The first puzzling scenario also does a lovely job of approximating the feel of an escape room. However, the other two puzzles offer little entertainment other than their graphics. At three total puzzles, the game feels too light on content, making the $19.99 price a dealbreaker. The game has a strong framework, so if they can align the puzzling with the price, I see a lot of potential for the series!

Disclosure: Epic Team Adventures and ClueKeeper provided the Hivemind reviewers with a complimentary play.

Epic Team Adventures – Vault of the Volcano God, Chapters 1 & 2 [Review]

The island puzzle orgy.

Location: Seattle, WA

Date played: September 2, 2016

Team size: 3-10; we recommend 8-10

Duration: 60 minutes per game

Price: $30 per ticket

We played Vault of the Volcano God’s first two chapters, Break of Day & Burning Noontime, back to back. Unless otherwise noted, everything written in this review applies to both games.

Story & setting

Epic Team Adventures provided one of the most accurate descriptions of their own game that I have yet to see… and it was a good thing because this game was very different.

“The Vault of the Volcano God is an action-packed series of ten standalone adventures. Each adventure offers new areas to explore, thematic puzzles and activities, additional quests and missions, shifting demands from the Volcano God, and more details about the island mythology that can have game-changing impact. This series is not a traditional escape room game; it is similar to a puzzle hunt adventure. Instead of escaping at the first opportunity, your team will complete as many challenges as possible, and to figure out the best final sacrifice that will appease the Volcano God. Don’t think that there will be time to relax by finishing early. Tiki spirits will offer more quests than any team can complete. Only highly functioning teams that work together can succeed in unlocking the mystery of the island and fulfilling the mercurial demands of the volcano god.”

I’ve lost track of the number of times we’ve heard, “this room isn’t like a ‘normal room escape,’ ours is totally different,” and then played the game and it was just like a normal room escape. Vault of the Volcano God really was unusual.

We were put inside of a tropical ruin-themed setting that looked a bit Legends of the Hidden Temple-y. We were tasked with solving a ton of puzzles. Then we had to solve an overarching puzzle to determine how to best appease the Volcano God.

The staging looked pretty good, but it never tried to be an immersive set. The drop ceiling was still present and the trees and animals were made from flat painted wood.

Painted jungle with a parrot.

The only change I would have made to their description are the words “action-packed.”

Puzzles

There was very little action in the Vault of the Volcano God, but oh my were there puzzles.

The game was literally filled with puzzle dispensers that popped out “coconuts” (or brown tubes) of puzzles.

A tiki puzzle dispenser with green glowing eyes.

Each dispenser contained a different type of puzzle. There was a dispenser for every skill set.

These puzzles were generally generic. They ranged from loosely tied to the game’s theme to not at all related.

Our goal, as mentioned, wasn’t to escape; it was to achieve the best score that we could.

The puzzles in Chapter 2 were largely identical to those in Chapter 1, but they ramped up the difficulty. Interestingly, the Chapter 2 puzzles weren’t always harder because our experience solving the Chapter 1 version improved our skills with the puzzle type.

It’s worth noting that the final puzzles in each version were structurally similar, but different in practice.

Standouts

The puzzle vending machines were awesome. I kind of want to own one.

There were so many puzzles. We never ran out of stuff to do… we came close, but never solved everything.

The overarching final puzzle – in both games – was incredibly clever.

If we encountered a puzzle that we didn’t want to solve, couldn’t solve, or thought would take too much time, we could just cast it aside and solve something else. No penalty, no problem. Note, the exception to this was that big end-game puzzle

This was a functional replayable game.

Playing the second chapter immediately after playing the first allowed us to come together as a team, perfect our approach, and kick ass.

Shortcomings

The puzzles were largely divorced from the theme.

We had a recurring tech failure that cramped the completion of a series of puzzles that we otherwise had under control. We also encountered another technical malfunction that occasionally prevented us from receiving our rewards for solving puzzles; this was a more intermittent problem.

There was a key piece of tech that was needed to solve about a quarter of the puzzles. This became an aggressive bottleneck and resulted in a lot of waiting around.

Each player had to put effort into keeping solved and unsolved puzzles organized. A single player’s failure to keep things organized could cost a lot of time or create confusion, especially late in the game.

The puzzles were largely paper-based.

The tubes that contained the puzzles caused some of them to curve in ways that made them far more challenging to solve than they should have been.

Vault of the Volcano God was not particularly friendly to players under about 5’11. Most of the surfaces for people to puzzle on were elevated too high.

Should I play Epic Team Adventure’s Vault of the Volcano God: The Break of Day & Burning Noontime?

The Vault of the Volcano God is a puzzler’s paradise. I’m anticipating that it will grow into one of the more polarizing games out there because those more focused on adventure, scenery, and story aren’t going get it.

The key with Vault of the Volcano God is getting the right team into the room. If you love puzzles and have a bunch of friends who love puzzles, but have different puzzling skills, you’re going to have a blast in this room. We truly did, and we were playing late at night with some heavy jetlag.

This was a fairly new game and Epic Team Adventures was clearly debugging some of the tech and sorting out some of the intricacies of the game. Based on how they seem to be running their operation, I expect that some of the shortcomings I listed won’t be relevant in a few months.

The multi-chapter reuse of the set and reset with different puzzles worked well under these circumstances. While chapters 1 & 2 were fairly similar, Epic Team Adventures has different plans for the subsequent 8 chapters.

The next time I visit Seattle, I plan to play chapter 3.

Book your hour with Epic Team Adventure’s Vault of the Volcano God: The Break of Day & Burning Noontime, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Epic Team Adventures comped our tickets for this game.