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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Great Escape of Central Texas – Lost Tomb of Anubis [Review]

Sand, sarcophagi, and more!

Location: Killeen, TX

Date Played: August 31, 2022

Team Size: 2-8; we recommend 2-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Lost Tomb of Anubis was an absolutely beautiful room with fair, interactive puzzles and fun reveals. Although a couple aspects suffered from tedium, the general feel was adventurous and lavish. We were active, we explored the space, and we earned our escape.

Like many tomb games, we had to overlook the dim lighting. It was haunting and lovely, but also frustrating to navigate when deciphering ancient symbols whose details mattered. As always, more flashlights or at least one well-lit spot would have gone a long way.

The puzzles were generally tactile and satisfying, allowing us to interact with every set piece of interest. The room made good use of a large space and benefited from teamwork. However, the game lost some momentum near the end when a few puzzles felt a bit too similar.

Ultimately, though, this was a solid puzzling experience within a believable environment that we didn’t want to leave. Along with The Mobfather, it’s another reason that Great Escape of Central Texas is worth a short side trip for Austinite enthusiasts.

An ancient Egyptian tomb with elaborate hieroglyphics carved onto the walls, and a sarcophagus and an elaborate pull system of some sort.
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Great Escape of Central Texas – Mobfather – “Brains” Path [Review]

Brains, brawn, or both?

Location:  Killeen, TX

Date Played: August 31, 2022

Team Size: 2-9; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical

REA Reaction

The Mobfather was defined by an unusual “Choose Your Own Adventure” mechanic that I hadn’t seen elsewhere in central Texas. At several times during the game, we were asked to choose between the “Brains” path and the “Muscles” path. Our combination of choices determined what puzzles we played and ultimately what ending we earned. With that description, we were prepared for some level of FOMO.

Remarkably, the FOMO didn’t bother us as much as we expected. It was indeed hard to bypass many set pieces knowing that we might not get to play with them. At the same time, knowing that everything in the room had SOME purpose in SOME timeline gave a feeling of depth to the room. We enjoyed the puzzles we did get to play along the “Brains” path, and just seeing many of the untouched items was enough to imagine what some of their purposes might have been. I left feeling like I had experienced enough of the world to be satisfied.

That said, the design wasn’t a complete win for players. Less experienced groups might have a harder time following the clue trail between puzzles, making the set pieces from alternate paths more of a red herring risk for them. Also, the game offered no information with which to weigh our adventure choices. The room was advertised as having three specific endings. However, the in-game choices bore little connection to those destinies, making the overall outcome feel random. Lastly, some puzzles repeat among paths, which is somewhat of a deterrent to playing again.

Generally speaking, though, we were surprised at how well this design walked the line between giving us a substantial experience without frustrating us too much at the roads not taken. For me, the room was definitely worth playing once, but that was probably enough. Great Escape of Central Texas has enough quality games to justify a short trip from Austin to Killeen. Include The Mobfather on that list.

A restaurant and deli with a counter filled with meat and a soda fountain.
Image via Great Escape of Central Texas
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Escape Hour – The Crypt [Review]

The dead don’t talk…usually…

Location:  Austin, TX

Date Played: September 1, 2022

Team Size: 3-7; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 70 minutes

Price: $40 per player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: At least one player must climb and crawl

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

At its heart, The Crypt was an adventure game. It’s big, it’s bold, and it’s intense. As such, it wanted us to feel its urgency, and it wanted to keep us moving. With that in mind, it’s fitting that its puzzles weren’t complex and were often explicitly telegraphed. This wasn’t a game of many ahas. It was a game of action…working quickly to move the quest forward.

We had a ton of fun with the whole thing. An exciting use of space, a creative take on gamemastering, and varied physical interactions made this game quite different from most in the Austin market. We finished with a fair amount of time to spare, but in the context of a dense 70 minute room, we still got a lot more gameplay than in most standard experiences.

Our quibbles with the game were minor. Most notably, a mid-game sequence could become a bottleneck even for smaller teams, and it wasn’t entirely clear how we were allowed to interact with each other during that time. However, in the grand scheme of things, these were minor.

This was a riveting room with rare features for central Texas. If you’re in the area, go play it.

An assortment of bones and a full skeleton.
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