Clue IQ – Crane Manor [Review]

Crane Manor is one of the best games in the Metro DC area. Here are our other recommendations for great escape rooms around Washington DC.

Ichabod’s heir

Location:  Frederick, MD

Date Played: October 3, 2021

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: scaled pricing from $50 per player for teams of 2 to $32 per player for teams of 10

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Growing up in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley, the legend of the Headless Horseman was a recurring part of Halloween. I hadn’t seen this story told through an escape room before, and I was pretty excited about it.

The silhouette of the headless horseman on a wall in front of a candle lit alter.

From a gameplay standpoint, we enjoyed Crane Manor. It had interesting, meaty puzzles that weren’t especially hard, but did demand a little more thought than your typical escape room fare. There were some late game puzzle interactions that felt half-baked, but those notwithstanding, it felt good solving Crane Manor.

From a narrative and thematic standpoint, Crane Manor had a bit of an identity crisis. We were never sure whether it was supposed to feel spooky, scary, or simply intriguing? Similarly – and perhaps relatedly – we felt like the set and story weren’t pulling in the same direction. Crane Manor needed to commit to a mood.

Crane Manor had a lot going for it if you have some escape room experience. It was an unusual and puzzley escape game, and well worth checking out if you’re from the area. Newer players should strongly consider playing Clue IQ’s Operation Jingle Bells or Excalibur first.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • For a puzzle-forward game
  • Moody, atmospheric set

Story

Legend tells of a man who fought for the British during the American Revolution, and neither bullet, nor bayonet could kill him. He eventually met his end when a cannon ball removed his head… but he returned as the vengeful ghost known as the Headless Horseman.

Years later, a man named Ichabod Crane encountered the Headless Horseman. Narrowly surviving his encounter, he became obsessed with the Horseman, studying magic to learn how to control the ghost for his own villainous purposes.

It had become our duty to break into Crane Manor and finally put the immortal Horseman to rest.

Continue reading “Clue IQ – Crane Manor [Review]”

Clue IQ – Operation Jingle Bells [Review]

Operation Jingle Bells is one of the best games in the Metro DC area. Here are our other recommendations for great escape rooms around Washington DC.

The HR department saves Christmas

Location:  Frederick, MD

Date Played: October 3, 2021

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 2-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: scaled pricing from $46 per player for teams of 2 to $28 per player for teams of 10

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We’ve generally had a lot of fun in Christmas-themed escape games, and Clue IQ’s take on saving Christmas was one of our favorites.

Operation Jingle Bells had a great aesthetic, and an entertaining mix of smart, joyous, and funny puzzles.

Flight Command in Santa's Workshop.

This game was explicitly designed for large families to enjoy. The large volume of approachable content, blended with the theme and non-linear gameplay, reinforced that design decision. As a result of its non-linear nature, experienced puzzlers will blow through this game. Bring a team size (and mentality) that fits your goals for Christmas puzzling.

Whether you’re new to escape rooms, or you’re just looking to enjoy a great Christmas-themed escape room, check out Operation Jingle Bells if you’re in the DC area.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • You’re feeling the Christmas spirit
  • Great for any experience level, but fantastic for newbies

Why play?

  • A true large-team game
  • For joyous, cheerful fun

Story

While all of Santa’s elves were busy watching the annual Reindeer Games, the mischievous elf Slappy had broken into North Pole Flight Command and made a mess of all of Santa’s systems. It was up to us to restore them and save Christmas.

Continue reading “Clue IQ – Operation Jingle Bells [Review]”

Clue IQ – Excalibur [Review]

Excalibur is one of the best games in the Metro DC area. Here are our other recommendations for great escape rooms around Washington DC.

The trials of the sword

Location:  Frederick, MD

Date Played: October 3, 2021

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 2-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: scaled pricing from $46 per player for teams of 2 to $28 per player for teams of 10

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Excalibur was an amazing newbie-friendly game. We took my aunt to her first escape room (and my cousin and her friend to their third), and I don’t think we could have picked a better first game for her.

Excalibur had a fantastic blend of solid puzzles, ambiance, and magical tech – all set in an approachable environment.

A sword set in a stone, fog lit dramatically behind it.

If you’re an experienced player, there’s a fun game for you here, but I’d suggest savoring it rather than speed running it. There’s a lot to enjoy. Beyond that, I’d encourage you to bring some newbies and play it a little cool. It was a lot of fun watching my family make the right connections and experience the magic.

If you’re in the DC suburbs, check out Excalibur.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Fans of swords & sorcery
  • Great for any experience level, but fantastic for newbies

Why play?

  • To introduce your friends to escape rooms
  • Magical triggers

Story

As King Arthur grew old, he asked his wizard, Merlin to set his mythical sword Excalibur back into the stone from which he’d pulled it so that another who was worthy could lift it.

Generations had passed and no one had been able to pull the sword from the stone. It was our turn to face the Trials of the Sword.

Continue reading “Clue IQ – Excalibur [Review]”

Charm City Clue Room – Edgar Allan Poe Room [Review]

Nevermore?

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

Date played: April 26, 2017

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

It was 1849 and Edgar Allan Poe, the famed poet and cryptographer, had just died under dubious circumstances. We had been granted the opportunity to search his home to solve the mystery surrounding his death.

The Edgar Allan Poe Room had a decidedly old-school escape room look and feel about it. The set was reasonably cohesive, but neither eye-catching nor immersive.

In game: A close up of a raven in a bird cage with a key dangling above its head.

Puzzles

Puzzles were the focus of the Edgar Allan Poe Room. They were largely based on ciphers, which was appropriate for the subject matter.

Standouts

There were some good cipher-based puzzles.

One particular puzzle component was lovingly handmade; realizing its purpose was delightful.

I enjoy when escape room companies pull from local history and culture. In this case, I also liked the way that Charm City Clue Room presented a hypothesis as to the cause of Poe’s death.

In game: A bird cage sitting beside a bookcase.

Shortcomings

The game flow was a little jittery. We were easily able to solve puzzles out of order because we were picking up pieces as we progressed. We had a search fail and missed critical items, but still managed to make it through the game using reason and a little bit of brute-force guessing.

The set was not inspiring.

One inviting late game interaction was available from the start of the room escape. At three different points we approached it and each time we were warned by the gamemaster that it wasn’t in play yet. If this interaction had been unavailable until the appropriate moment, it would have simplified gamemastering and removed a recurring moment of annoyance. The regular wrist slapping, while polite and useful, should not have been necessary.

Should I play Charm City Clue Room’s Edgar Allan Poe Room?

The Edgar Allan Poe Room was a touch too dreary for my taste. The puzzling was fine, but the gameflow needed work.

The space was a dozen shades of brown both literally and metaphorically. I kept waiting for the excitement to show up, but it never did.

Our team had a good enough time together in this room, but as I look back on it, I simply cannot tell whom it was designed for. Beginners will likely find themselves getting caught up in a mixture of gameflow hiccups as they battle to understand how an escape room functions. Experienced players should know that there are far more interesting room escapes out there.

Poe is great subject for an escape room, but this room didn’t deliver on the potential. Nothing was terrible in the Edgar Allan Poe Room, but nothing was fantastic either. In the end, the game felt weak, and upon leaving, I was a bit weary.

Book your hour with Charm City Clue Room’s Edgar Allan Poe Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Baltimaze – Ex Machina [Review]

The ghost in the vault.

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

Date played: April 24, 2017

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28.50 per ticket (adults), $24.50 per ticket (children & students)

Story & setting

During the renovation of an old Victorian mansion previously owned by an eccentric world traveler, a mysterious room was discovered. We had to explore this space and find our way in through the long-sealed vault door.

The setting was essentially a puzzle room in an old house. Parts of it were deliberately unusual, like the vault door, which added an element of adventure to an otherwise standard escape room set.

In game: A big metal, vault door with a series of elaborate mechanical locking mechanisms and strange green weathering.

Puzzles

Ex Machina was a puzzle-driven escape room. It used a fair amount of tech and kept interactions tangible. Some of these puzzles were legitimate challenges and demanded diverse skills including reasoning and dexterity.

Standouts

The vault door looked great. Its handcrafted mechanical locking mechanism was deeply satisfying. We were literally playing with it long after we opened it.

Nearly every detail of Ex Machina had a purpose.

Many of the puzzles were challenging, tangible, and fair. Solving them was satisfying.

Shortcomings

The set was inconsistent. Some portions of the game looked and felt fantastic, while others felt a little rushed.

One of the later puzzles was a blind guessing game that allowed only one player to participate at a time. While I am assuming that many teams breeze through this, we spent 10 minutes watching each other fail with literally nothing else to do. Even if it went smoothly, it wasn’t an exciting or collaborative challenge for such a prominent, late-game interaction.

Should I play Baltimaze’s Ex Machine?

I really enjoyed my visit to Baltimaze. Ex Machina had challenging, yet sensibly designed puzzles that forced us to earn our little victories.

Baltimaze is upfront about the higher difficulty level in this game. Beginners should, without a doubt, take a stab at an easier room or two before battling it out with the puzzles of Ex Machina.

So long as you haven’t already played Ex Machina at Baltimaze’s sister company Escape Rhode Island in Providence, experienced players should test their wits against Ex Machina… even if it’s just to see the vault door… which I wanted to take home with me.

Book your hour with Baltimaze’s Ex Machina, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.