The Void is a large puzzle crate. It is available to be rented for a day, delivered to anyone in the Seattle, Washington area.
We had an opportunity to play The Void remotely. Creator Roy Leban (Librarian’s Almanaq & Conjurer’s Almanaq) guided us through the experience over camera. With the exception of one puzzle, that worked remarkably well, especially considering the tangible nature of puzzle elements within the crate.
The incredible elegance of the puzzles and their solutions really stood out to us. We always knew what the puzzles were. They flowed smoothly – even when they were challenging – and came to definitive conclusions. Moreover, the puzzles transformed over the course of the experience; this felt like magic.
There wasn’t much story and there was little spectacle in The Void, but the light narrative that was there felt… of the current era. This was simply a joyous puzzling experience.
Note, although we played The Void remotely, it is not being sold as a remote-play experience. The Void is only available via delivery in the Seattle area.
A Moment of Self-Indulgent Personal Reflection
If you visit The Void’s webpage, you’ll find our enthusiastic quote recommending this game:
“When puzzles are designed as elegantly as these are, it’s easy to miss their brilliance. Each puzzle in The Void solves smoothly and concludes definitively. It’s a magic that’s easily taken for granted.”
That quote is sitting under recommendations from two amazing escape room and puzzle hunt designers Summer Herrick (Locurio) and Brent Holman (Palace Games, Shinteki, and ClueKeeper), as well as Ken Jennings of Jeopardy fame and Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic The Gathering… a game that has been a powerful presence in my life since 1996. That last one is a bit of a trip for me.
[At the time of this review, Quest Factor was called Conundroom.]
Most shall pass.
Location: Seattle, WA
Date played: September 4, 2016
Team size: 2-8; we recommend 2-4
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $90 for a team of 2-3, $120 for a team of 4-5, $160 for a team of 6-7, $180 for a team of 8
Story & setting
The Castle took place in a room that looked and felt like a storybook castle. Conundroom designed and constructed a magnificent and fun environment. It was almost entirely handmade by people who clearly knew what they were doing.
Our mission took place in that castle, using castle-related props. During the game, we fully experienced the environment. If there was a story, however, it wasn’t present.
Unlike all of the other escape rooms we played in Seattle, The Castle was not a puzzle-heavy game. Not at all.
The game consisted primarily of tasks. We had to discern how to manipulate the props and the castle set.
Neither these tasks, nor the few interspersed puzzles, were particularly challenging.
From the moment we entered the room, we were captivated by its castle-ness. The set was the highlight of the game. Conundroom designed and constructed the environment themselves.
Hidden technology drove The Castle’s magical moments. These moments enhanced the ambiance of the entire experience.
Our gamemaster was on the ball. He realized when the in-game cluing had lead us astray and brought us back from the unrecoverable.
The setting was begging for a cohesive story, which wasn’t present.
This was amplified by unclear game setup. At the outset, we weren’t 100% sure what we were trying to accomplish. Because of how Conundroom designed one of the late-game puzzles, they had trouble communicating objectives without spoilers. They need to either rework this puzzle or rethink how they present the game.
A few of the props fell short of the high standards set by the game’s overall construction.
The Castle included one prop that was, itself, a puzzle, and not a fair inclusion in a timed escape game. We own this particular puzzle and it took David many weeks to figure out how it worked. It really didn’t belong in a room escape.
Should I play Conundroom’s The Castle?
The Castle was a lot of fun. We enjoyed exploring the set and its props. It was exciting to make everything fit together.
This wasn’t a challenging game. The majority of Seattle’s escape rooms – at least those we’ve visited – were formidable opponents, even for seasoned players.
The Castle offered a different experience: a task-centric exploration of a different world.
This design made The Castle approachable for newer players, for whom it set a high bar for set design and magical moments. It would be an ideal choice for players looking for adventure over challenge.
If you play escape rooms for a solid hour of puzzling, then The Castle isn’t for you.
The game needed additional refinement, mainly in communication: story, setup, and occasional in-game cluing. That said, the world constructed for this game demonstrated talent and potential. We look forward to seeing more adventures from Conundroom.
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.
The only change I would have made to their description are the words “action-packed.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
In Ninja Escape’s second mission, Black Lace, we found ourselves in a battle of wits against a villainess creating a bio-weapon. We had to complete a series of missions within her lab and escape before the facility detonated.
Tiered win conditions
Ninja Escape presented tiered win conditions for Black Lace. These can be thought of as easy, medium, and hard victory.
These were specifically (1) find specific files – 30% success, (2) find the bio-weapon – 20% success, and (3) escape the facility with everything – 10% success.
This nifty feature enabled a non-binary win/lose situation. It allowed Ninja Escape to keep the game challenging without making everyone feel like a loser.
That said, knowing that we found the files and the bio-weapon but still got exploded felt like a hollow victory.
We’re rarely surprised by the interactions within a room. Black Lace had some moments that truly caught us off guard, in a good way.
The game space wasn’t massive, but Ninja managed to squeeze quite a bit into it.
Ninja Escape clearly worked hard to tell a story and develop the nemesis in the game. This was admirable, but the story was told heavily in prose. When mixed with the many text-based puzzles, we found ourselves reading far more than was enjoyable in a timed escape room environment.
In Ninja Escape’s first mission, Hack Attack, we knew when we had solved a puzzle. In Black Lace, we had a hard time determining exactly what the puzzles were, so we just tried a lot of stuff, and were pleasantly surprised when things worked.
This challenge was compounded by the volume of similar locks. It was frustrating to try possible solutions repeatedly in different locks.
Topnotch customer service
The staff at Ninja Escape was among the most engaging, friendly, and confidence-inspiring that we’ve encountered. We raved about them in our review of Hack Attack and everything we said in that review holds equally true for Black Lace.
Should I play Ninja Escape’s Black Lace?
For the first time in a long time, we felt like new players; this wasn’t a good thing. We spent a lot of time guessing at what the puzzles were, and then where to put the solutions. I lost track of the number of times I put a combination into a lock with nearly no confidence that it would work.
When things did go our way, we were usually rewarded with more confounding puzzles. From beginning to end, Black Lace felt like running on a treadmill; we ran hard and stayed put.
When all was said and done, we couldn’t remember what puzzles we had solved 15 minutes after playing the game. The experience was a blur.
Ninja Escape understands the value of different experiences. They built their second game, Black Lace, in a different style from their first game, Hack Attack. This was an admirable endeavor, but Black Lace needed additional refinement.
At this time, we recommend Ninja Escape’s first game Hack Attack (which we played after Black Lace) over the newer Black Lace.
Full disclosure: Ninja Escape comped our tickets for this game… They also gave us a pair of t-shirts with their awesome logo on it.
“Your team of Ninja puzzlers are dropped into the office of Mr. Hancock – a rogue member of The Kraken – our ancient enemy. He has stolen billions of dollars from our client. Can you solve the mysteries, recover the account, and escape before The Kraken return? Yes you can, if you are Ninja enough. ”
Ninja Escape had a charming 1980’s action flick vibe. They play 8bit video game tunes as lobby music. The story was bit campy. They also had an unusual and refreshingly tongue-in-cheek “our players are ninjas” thing going on that mocked the faux reality of escape rooms, while still presenting a serious game.
Hack Attack’s puzzles contained a mix of lock and key and technologically driven interactions. The challenges themselves offered a mix of your more typical escape room puzzles and cyphers, but presented them in a fun, compelling, and ultimately intense manner.
The name of the game was Hack Attack; it lived up to the name.
The “steal the files” techno-thriller story notwithstanding, Ninja Escape embraced puzzle circumvention in a player-friendly manner.
We were allowed to use our phones (not that they were a huge help) and when we defeated their puzzles in unexpected ways, they praised it in our postgame (instead of getting indignant as some escape room companies do).
They even told us how some other teams have creatively circumvented the game’s challenges.
Their “it’s 2016, everyone has a phone, of course you can use it” attitude was really levelheaded and pleasant.
Bugs and Fixes
During our play-through, the computer we were “hacking” experienced some difficulties of the non-responsive variety.
This should have been a big problem, but it wasn’t because Ninja Escape’s gamemasters were incredibly attentive (and engaging). Our gamemaster appeared immediately with backup materials in-hand. We never even had to call for assistance.
It was a disruption to the flow of the game, but it wasn’t a disaster.
There came a point in Hack Attack when we entered a dusty locale. It seemed deliberate, and part of the ambiance, but for me, Hack Attack swiftly became Allergy Attack.
Should I play Ninja Escape’s Hack Attack?
In Hack Attack, Ninja Escape has created a strong escape game. Early on it came across as simplistic, but as the game progressed, it revealed a deeper complexity than we had anticipated.
The gamemasters at Ninja Escape truly elevated the player experience. They were fun and funny, but also commanded respect. They zeroed in on safety and they didn’t burden us with unnecessary rules and regulations.
Hack Attack wasn’t a mind-blowing game. The technology, puzzles, and story didn’t push boundaries, but everything gelled well.
I can’t help but look back on the game and feel that it was far more than the sum of its parts.
Book your hour with Ninja Escape’s Hack Attack (and save $5 with the promo code “NINJASTAR”), and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: Ninja Escape comped our tickets for this game… They also gave us a pair of t-shirts with their awesome logo on it.