Escape Room Live DC -Back to the 80s! [Review]

Hints? Where we’re going, we don’t need hints (unless something breaks).

Location: Washington, DC

Date played: January 8, 2016

Team size: 8-12; we recommend 6-8

Price: $28

Theme & story

Back to the 80s! is like totally 80s!

We were sent back in time to find the greatest mix tape ever made. Every prop was an 80s pop culture reference and the soundtrack was also incredibly 80s (in a good way).

A boom box cassette player/radio

The storyline was paper thin, but it didn’t matter. Back to the 80s! is a walk down nostalgia drive… Or a trip to “the olden days” depending upon your perspective.

What if I wasn’t alive or don’t remember the 80s?

Escape Room Live DC’s website states:

“Knowledge of 1980s trivia is not necessary to escape the room (but it sure may make it easier!). All information needed is inside the room.”

I’ll second this statement. Observant players will be able to get out without hints or knowledge of the 1980s.

If you’re going in without knowledge, don’t be afraid to ask for a hint here and there. Some elements of the game are incredibly intuitive if you’re in on the jokes.

While I got all but one reference (that I was aware of), I left the room feeling like I would have been baffled by some of the puzzles if it weren’t for my understanding of the references.

That said, the New Kids On The Block reference was hilarious… Escape Room Live has mastered puzzle puns.

Three shelves with a variety of toys, clothing and movies from the 1980s
Even the Care Bears were invited to the party.

Playful puzzles

The overall mix and quality of puzzles in Back to the 80s! was stellar.

There was something for everyone and the playfulness of the puzzles themselves was the standout quality of the game. Escape Room Live DC did a wonderful job of turning the toys, music, and references into a string of delightfully campy games.

Watercolor painting of an unsolved 3x3 Rubix Cube
I am happy to report that we did NOT have to solve a Rubik’s Cube… But we brought someone who could have if we needed to.

Groundhog Day

Thus far I’ve played four games with Escape Room Live and I was surprised to see a couple of puzzles that were effectively repackaged from some of their other games.

They were cool puzzles and one of them was executed better in Back to the 80s! than it was in the game where I first saw it, but it was disappointing to know the solution to a puzzle because I had already seen it before.

And yeah… Groundhog Day came out in 1993. Close enough?

Bad setup

Like Oliver North… We had a bad setup, and it cost us our game.

We were rocking the 80s when our game came to a screeching halt. One of the critical props in the room had two tiny pieces missing that cost us somewhere in the realm of 7-10 minutes, which is very significant in a 45 minute game.

Our puzzlemaster wasn’t aware of our struggles because when we asked for help, he hadn’t realized how deep into the game we were.

The two missing pieces (which were probably stolen by the previous team) burned down so much time that the clock was expiring as I accessed the final puzzle. I knew what I had to do to win, but didn’t have the time to execute.

Like the sudden demise of Atari, it was disappointing.

Escape Room Live DC - Back to the 80's! Team Shot
Tragically, Lisa’s giant cell phone was cropped out. We were calling each other.

Should I play Escape Room Live DC’s Back to the 80s!?

Yeah… Back to the 80s! is a rad game.

The setting was a blast, the puzzles were fun, and the overall experience was about as playful as escape rooms get.

The self-plagiarism of puzzle design in Back to the 80s! was a disappointment, and the bad setup that we experienced really put a damper on our night (bad setups are a very rough way to go down), but we had fun nonetheless.

Whether a room full of 80s props and references is a museum or a memory, Back to the 80s! is a game worth playing.

Book your hour with Escape Room Live DC’s Back to the 80s!, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

I’ll be back.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Live DC comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Room Live Alexandria – Sherlock Holmes: A Matter of Time [Review]

“There is nothing like first-hand evidence.”

-Sherlock Holmes

Location: Alexandria, Virginia

Date played: November 1, 2015

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-6

Price: $28 per ticket

A serious Sherlock Holmes escape room

There are many Sherlock Holmes room escape games. They are usually a generic detective mystery, and have elected to use the name “Sherlock” as a synonym for the word “detective.”

Sherlock Holmes: A Matter of Time is the first Holmes themed room I’ve encountered that suggests that the designers may have read a book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The story felt right.

The room looked right.

And the props were of the right era (with the notable exception of a modern mass transit map).

221B Baker St. is the address of Sherlock Holmes. It's the details that count.
221B Baker St. is the address of Sherlock Holmes. It’s the details that count.

Puzzles

Brace yourself for the greatest puzzle solution pun ever. I’ve never seen a whole team love the answer to a single puzzle the way we all loved this one.

Each segment of this game offered a unique challenge and an unexpected solution. And they were all a ton of fun, with the notable exception of one puzzle that had the two people solving it wishing that real life had a Ctrl+F function built in.

Escape Room Live does great work with sensors and electronics. Some of them didn’t feel quite at home in a Holmes game. There were moments in the game that felt a little bit too magical. This feels like a strange criticism, but this room was at its best when it was making us feel like Victorian detectives.

Escape Room Live Alexandria - Sherlock Vice

Hinting

Similar to the The Wizard’s Apothecary, Sherlock Holmes: A Matter of Time offered a hinting system that felt like it belonged in the game. It wasn’t as jaw-droppingly cool The Wizard’s Apothecary, but it worked just as well with the theme.

More mystery

In Sherlock Holmes: A Matter of Time we found ourselves trying to unravel a mystery. Escaping the room was not the goal.

To that end, I would have loved it if the final puzzle lent itself more to deductive reasoning. The puzzles themselves were great. However, the final puzzle kind of hit us in the face with the solution in a way that wasn’t anywhere near as satisfying as the steps that led us to it.

Escape Room Live Alexandria - Sherlock Desk

Facilities

Escape Room Live Alexandria offers the most elegant facilities we’ve encountered in an escape room.

Their website [used to] contain a (somewhat dizzying) 3D walkthrough that provides a look at their overall space as well as detailed glimpses into their Sherlock Holmes room and their Professor Morarity game (which we didn’t have time to play).

Should I play Escape Room Live Alexandria’s Sherlock Holmes: A Matter of Time?

This decision is elementary, my dear reader. This is a must play game.

It was beautiful, fun, and exciting.

Escape Room Live Alexandria - Sherlock Victory

At 45 minutes, it ran a little short, but it didn’t have much fat on it. There were times where the game itself felt so modern and polished that it knocked my suspension of disbelief for a loop, but these were infrequent. The errors came from too much polish where they usually come from a lack thereof.

I love the way Escape Room Live Alexandria handled the Holmes theme. I loved the creativity and passion that they poured into the puzzles. And I just love the way they minded the details.

As Sherlock Holmes himself said in The Man with the Twisted Lip, “It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles.”

Book your session with Escape Room Live Alexandria’s Sherlock Holmes: A Matter of Time, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Live Alexandria comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Room Live Alexandria – The Wizard’s Apothecary: ​The Power of the Rings [Review]

There’s magic in Alexandria, Virginia. Go experience it.

Location: Alexandria, Virginia

Date played: November 1, 2015

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Price: $28 per ticket

REA Golden Lock-In Badge
2015 Golden Lock-In Winner

Production value

From the moment we exited the elevator, we entered the world of Escape Room Live Alexandria.

That world included a reception area and a spacious, styled, and decorated lounge and function room. The space was comfortable, inviting, and designed unlike any other escape room we’ve encountered.

The lounge was themed better than most average escape rooms... And far more massive than this photo suggests.
The lounge was themed better than most escape rooms… And far more massive than this photo suggests.

This production value and styling extended to the The Wizard’s Apothecary: The Power of the Rings. The set was remarkable and believable, in so much as wizardry was believable.

Story

The King’s wizard is missing and only you, as the wizard’s apprentice, have the skills necessary to find him. You have 45 minutes in his study for this task.

Escape Room Live Alexandria is not legally allowed to lock players in rooms. Thus, they created a win condition completely divorced from escape. The game didn’t suffer because of this.

Magic

As one would expect from a wizard-themed game, puzzles unfolded in unique, magical ways. The uses of sensors to create moments of magical happenings were clever, creative, and exciting.

Escape Room Live Alexandria - Wizard's Apothecary - Spellbook

Hints

This game also had a magical hinting system through one of the props in the room. Thus the fiction was sustained throughout the entire experience.

This technique made requesting a hint fun (which is impressive because asking for a hint is decidedly not fun).

Choke point

The Wizard’s Apothecary had one massive choke point in its gameplay. There was a single prop that affected so many puzzles that it created multiple bottlenecks as various members of our team vied for it to solved different puzzles.

This didn’t wreck our experience, but it forced us to stand around waiting… Which isn’t awesome when the timer is ticking down.

45 minutes

The games at Escape Room Live Alexandria are only 45 minutes long.

Normally I find 45 minute games too short. In this case, however, it was 45 minutes without much fluff or tedium. It worked because all of the puzzles were strong… But I would have loved to see a few more challenges and an extra 15 minutes of play.

Escape Room Live Alexandria - Wizard's Apothecary - Magical Items

Customer care

Before the game started, a staff member quickly delivered the game set up and walked us through a poster of “don’ts” in a lighthearted, but serious manner. It was well performed.

The staff at Escape Room Live Alexandria were all exceptionally welcoming. They even opened early for us and then held our suitcase in their closet while we went out to lunch. They earned a lot of appreciation from a pair of weary travelers.

Should I play Escape Room Live Alexandria’s The Wizard’s Apothecary: The Power of the Rings ?

Absolutely.

A magical room calls for magical solutions. Escape Room Live Alexandria’s brilliant and seamless use of sensors elevates the gameplay to a level that few escape rooms rival.

The Wizard’s Apothecary felt like another world with its own physics and logic. The puzzles were creative and challenging.

Escape Room Live Alexandria minded all details: the décor, rules, hinting systems, gamemasters’ performance, and even the hilariously hidden camera. All of this added up to a fun, inviting, and worthwhile destination.

Escape Room Live Alexandria is an hour on the metro from Washington DC’s Union Station, or 20-30 minutes by Uber, but it is worth the trip if you can spare the time. Plus, downtown Alexandria is adorable. You can round out a half-day excursion with eating, drinking, shopping, and general site-seeing.

Every member of our team enjoyed this game. In fact, one player mentioned that her only disappointment was that she didn’t get to solve all the puzzles because they happened while she was solving something else.

Book your session with Escape Room Live Alexandria’s Wizard Room, and tell them the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Live Alexandria comped our tickets for this game.