Mastermind – Bank Heist [Review]

A puzzling withdrawal.

Location: Atlanta, GA

Date played: April 2, 2017

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

Our notorious crime syndicate was robbing another bepuzzled bank.

Our goals were to steal as much money as we could within an hour and escape.

The set looked like a bank: a bland lobby and teller counter, along with a vault, which was absolutely the highlight of the set.

In-game: a closeup of a bank teller's window with the FDIC insurance sticker in the foreground.
Nothing says “cool” quite like an FDIC sticker.

Puzzles

The Bank Heist was tangled with puzzles and locks. There were plenty of puzzles to solve, but it wasn’t always clear what was a puzzle.

Additionally, once a puzzle had been solved, it wasn’t easy to determine where to input the solution as there were many similar input mechanisms.

Standouts

There was one well designed, dramatic moment.

One repeated interaction was lifted straight from banking hardware and protocol. This was a clever puzzle-esque design.

Something that originally seemed trivial, even out-of-place, turned out to be useful in a particularly satisfying way.

Shortcomings

There were a lot of numbers and all numbers led back to a lock. These locks were almost all identical. It was a lot of similar information to keep track of.

Much of the puzzling in Bank Heist was accessible before we’d derived all of the necessary cluing or components. Strategic puzzle-gating would save teams from spinning their wheels attempting to solve without complete information.

In one area, the puzzles weren’t well distributed across the space. We spent a lot of time tripping over each other in one small corner of a rather large set.

One critical piece of tech was worn and badly beat up. It needed refurbishment.

Bank Heist had a self-service, QR code-based hinting system that was immersion-breaking. Because the QR codes were beside input mechanisms, not puzzles, we had no idea which puzzle a clue would hint at.

We never understood whether it mattered how much money we stole in our heist.

Should I play Mastermind’s Bank Heist?

Bank Heist had a number of great and satisfying moments. It also had a lot of damaged props and weak use of space. It made nearly no effort to help clue players towards the correct input mechanism for solved puzzles.

This was a game that had promise, but was ultimately too choppy.

While there are a number of moments to enjoy, I think that beginners would find themselves pretty lost in Bank Heist and experienced players will be frustrated by its seemingly incomplete execution.

As I reflect back on the game, parts of it make me smile. Other aspects make me wish that Mastermind had seen this design all the way through to something special. It has the potential and I hope that they get there.

Book your hour with Mastermind’s Bank Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Mastermind provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Big Escape Rooms – Outbreak [Review]

We have another puzzle outbreak.

Location: Atlanta, GA

Date played: April 3, 2017

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

A government super soldier program went wrong and unleashed a horde of zombies. We had to find a cure for their mindless rampaging before they broke down the door to our lab and ate us.

Set within a stark research facility, the aesthetic ranged from mundane doctor’s office to grim lab.

Big Escape Room's maze logo. Captioned, "Can you escape?"

Puzzles

Outbreak was search-heavy with clumsy puzzling.

Many of the puzzles ultimately came together in laborious processes that didn’t require so much reasoning as they did working through tasks.

Standouts

Big Escape Rooms created a humorous introductory video to set the stage for Outbreak. 

In one instance, we encountered an error-tolerant design adaptation of a puzzle trope that is frequently misused. It was refreshing.

Shortcomings

One unfortunate side effect of the implication of this puzzle was that it caused some team members to have mild allergic reactions to the environment.

When the cluing was particularly tenuous, the rest of the props quickly became distracting red herrings.

The set wasn’t particularly interesting. It was a large space, but not purposefully designed or well used.

Should I play Big Escape Rooms’ Outbreak?

If you don’t care much for setting, there are a few thoughtful and fun puzzle designs in this escape room. Outbreak is a generic early escape room design from a company that is learning the ropes.

While we think there is a more fun and interesting game in Clownedif you’re looking for something different, or you just don’t like clowns, you could do far worse.

Book your hour with Big Escape Rooms’ Outbreak, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Big Escape Rooms provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Time to Escape – Escape from Alcatraz [Review]

Swimming not included.

Location: Atlanta, GA

Date played: April 2, 2017

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

As Alcatraz inmates in 1962, we found a series of clues left by escaped convict Frank Morris. We had to follow his footsteps to freedom.

The set was the star of the show. Time to Escape built a compelling prison.

In game: A heavily weather concrete wall with a metal door.

Puzzles

Time to Escape worked hard to build the puzzling interactions into the set and props. This worked with varying degrees of effectiveness.

Some puzzles felt like they truly belonged in the narrative; others felt like escape room puzzles that had been bolted onto a prison set.

Standouts

The set design was outstanding. Time to Escape’s attention to detail was evident in the custom construction, complete with detailed weathering.

In game: A heavily weather concrete wall with a metal door. A light hangs about them.

At their best, the puzzle / set integrations were exciting.

Shortcomings

In contrast to the set itself, some of the props felt cheap. While the set felt artfully designed, many of the props deflated the environment. Additionally, there was a significant anachronistic prop that wouldn’t have existed in 1962.

One particular puzzle needed stronger cluing. It seemed rather ambiguous.

In another instance, where order preservation was necessary, a team could mess with the props such they would render a late game puzzle impossible.

Should I play Time to Escape’s Escape from Alcatraz?

If you’re looking for a set-driven adventure, then Escape from Alcatraz is absolutely worth a visit. Time to Escape built a beautiful set and it was fun to play within it.

If you’re looking for an escape room that is rooted in puzzling, you should go in knowing that the puzzling is a little uneven.

Beginners and experienced players alike will be able to find just about equal enjoyment in Escape from Alcatraz, as the room itself is the driving force behind the entertainment.

Book your hour with Time to Escape’s Escape from Alcatraz, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Time to Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Mission: Escape Atlanta – The Study [Review]

I was surprised when I learned how old this game was.

Location: Atlanta, GA

Date played: April 3, 2017

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per ticket

Story & setting

A billionaire stole the most coveted jewel on Earth and our team of detectives had to break into his estate to steal it back.

The set was essentially an office, but it was a bit more atmospheric than most of the office-based escapes rooms we’ve encountered; it had a noir-ish feel about it.

A staged image on the set of a desk in front of many books. Props are staged on the desk.
Those books are painted on the wall. They aren’t red herrings.

Puzzles

The Study was a puzzle-centric game with a fair amount of searching and limited use of technology.

The puzzles were well clued without being too easy.

Standouts

This was a room escape from early 2015 that continues to play really well 2 years after Mission: Escape Atlanta opened it.

There was excellent flow because the puzzles were well clued.

The puzzles were tangible and worked into the set pieces.

There was a reality TV-style confession camera.

Our gamemaster read the skill level and mood of our team and interacted with us accordingly. He was an entertaining part of our experience and had some fun with us when we did something that was comically dumb.

Shortcomings

The puzzling included some more tedious and obscure searching, as one would expect from an early 2015 room escape design.

While it was a spacious, well-decorated study, the space was still an office setting.

Should I play Mission: Escape Atlanta’s The Study?

The Study was good fun. It was an entertaining and well-rounded escape room.

Upon our exit, I learned that this was Mission: Escape Atlanta’s first room, and I found that impressive. I have to imagine that I would have loved this room escape in early 2015 when it opened.

The Study was an approachable game that would make for a excellent first escape room.

While it has aged a bit, it’s a more than worthy opponent for experienced players as well.

Book your hour with Mission: Escape Atlanta’s The Study, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Mission: Escape Atlanta provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Time to Escape – Al Capone’s Speakeasy [Review]

A game served with a twist.

Location: Atlanta, GA

Date played: April 2, 2017

Team size: up to 14; we recommend 6-8? (more on this below)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

Set in a Chicago speakeasy in 1929, we were on the hunt for evidence to put Al Capone behind bars.

The set was awesome. It looked like we had stepped into a bar. I would have happily sat on one of the stools and enjoyed a drink.

Time to Escape - Al Capone's Speakeasy

Not only was the set compelling, but there was an in-game actor playing the role of the bartender. He delivered clues, hints, props, plot points, triggered events, and generally bantered with us.

Time to Escape’s promo video for the game accurately depicts the set, as well as the actor’s delivery (although we had a different actor).

In addition, each player was given a secret and unique role to play within the room. The roles impacted each player’s game in 3 different ways:

  • Each player had a one-time use power within the game.
  • Each player had a secret win condition that, if achieved, would guarantee that they won (regardless of whether the team succeeded or failed the overall mission).
  • The actor would interact with each character in a completely different manner based on who they were.

This was one of the most ambitious games we’ve ever seen.

Puzzles

The puzzling was mixed throughout the game. While most of the puzzling components were available from the start, many of them required an additional component or piece of information that was triggered by the actor.

These trigger points frequently felt like cinematic cut scenes in a video game. The gameplay would stop and we would watch or interact with the actor. Upon the conclusion we’d have what we needed to make the next progression.

Standouts

Time to Escape crafted a beautiful, detailed, and spacious speakeasy for this adventure.

The puzzling came in all forms including interpersonal interaction, audio, visual, and more hands-on experiences. We had to think in many different ways.

The bartender was engaged and engaging. He was both a character and the gamemaster. When a swing tune came on the radio, Lisa and I started swing dancing in the middle of the room and he rolled right along with it.

We too were characters with our own influence and motivation.

Shortcomings

Al Capone’s Speakeasy was trying to be a lot of different things all at once. While it did a lot well, not everything played well together. We weren’t always sure how we should be spending our time – in puzzles or in more of a theatrical experience.

It wasn’t always clear when we had enough information to even bother solving a puzzle. Looking back, we burned a silly amount of time focusing on things at the wrong time.

Even the objective was confusing. We each had our own side quests, some of which seemed to give incomplete information. We didn’t entirely understand how they fit into the overall mission or narrative.

These side quests were not even, in terms of intrigue or difficulty. One player can end up solving one of the most challenging puzzles practically alone. Others quests barely involved actions. The fact that solving the side quest triggered an early win for a player regardless of the team’s overall performance created the opportunity for hollow victories.

Should I play Time to Escape’s Al Capone’s Speakeasy?

Al Capone’s Speakeasy was a complex experience that had a lot more going on than most escape rooms.

In so many ways, it was a truly wonderful escape room. The set, actor, roleplay, and puzzles (to a lesser extent) were great game components. The challenging aspect was that these often collided with one another in awkward ways. This is the nature of ambitious games. Incredible concepts create new problems.

  • The character roles need more balancing.
  • The individual win conditions should only be applied if the team wins.
  • The puzzling needs a mechanism to help players determine what is in play when.

If Time to Escape can crack these nuts, then this will be a breathtaking room escape.

In its current state, it’s still pretty damn impressive.

Al Capone’s Speakeasy won’t be fun for everyone. For some people, this will feel more like theater than puzzling. Furthermore, it’s theater that you have to participate in. You must embrace interacting and role playing to enjoy it.

If a combination of roleplay, theatrics, environment, and puzzling sounds appealing, then I think you should speak the password to Al Capone’s Speakeasy.

Book your hour with Time to Escape’s Al Capone’s Speakeasy, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Time to Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Mastermind – Escape the Air Raid [Review]

Sound the alarm. It’s a puzzle raid.

Location: Atlanta, GA

Date played: April 2, 2017

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

Our squad had received warning of an enemy bomber raid and we had to puzzle our way through our own equipment to trigger the air raid siren and warn the nearby city… The story didn’t make a ton of sense.

The set’s quality was strangely uneven. Some set pieces looked great, while others were simply puzzles and army surplus gear bolted to the floor. The aesthetic, much like the story, lacked logical cohesion.

In game - A wall of sandbags and barbed wire with a rifle.

Puzzles

Escape the Air Raid was loaded with puzzles. Most of them weren’t overwhelmingly challenging, but they were numerous and many were entertaining.

Once again, as with the story and set, the puzzles didn’t come together to form anything beyond a large collection of military-ish themed puzzles.

Standouts

Some of the set design was interesting and well-used.

In game shot of a weathered metal door and corrugated aluminum walls.

There was a lot of content in Air Raid. It was loaded with puzzles.

Shortcomings

The puzzles didn’t fit into a narrative; some of them barely fit the theme. It was simply a mess of puzzles of varying quality. Much of the content was uninteresting. It felt as though it were simply there to fill space.

Late in the experience, we had to contend with poor lighting. It wasn’t clear how to focus ourselves towards turning on the lights, which meant we spent a lot of time frustrated by the environment.

Mastermind relied on a tablet & QR code-based self-service hint system. In this way, you could easily call for a hint that penalized you without giving you any additional information. While this style of hinting reduces gamemaster duties and is probably efficient from a business standpoint, it also results in weak game oversight and completely shatters any immersion.

Should I play Mastermind’s Escape the Air Raid?

If you’re looking for a military-themed room escape filled with puzzles, Escape the Air Raid is just what the commander ordered. It’s a straightforward, by the numbers escape room.

It’s a perfectly solid game for newbies, so long as they aren’t too reluctant to take hints. They will likely be pleasantly surprised by a few moments.

Experienced players should also be able to enjoy Escape the Air Raid, so long as they aren’t expecting to be blown away by anything.

Book your hour with Mastermind’s Escape the Air Raid, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Mastermind provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Mission: Escape Atlanta – The Hotel [Review]

You can check out any time you like… but you have to leave after an hour.

Location: Atlanta, GA

Date played: April 3, 2017

Team size: 4-9; we recommend 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per ticket

Story & setting

We checked into rooms at the Grandjestic Atlantan, where the hotel’s lonely proprietor sought to trap his guests forever.

Split into three different hotel rooms, we had to communicate well in order to escape.

Thematically, The Hotel was a hotel, with rooms branching off a main hallway. The rooms themselves didn’t attempt realism. Rather, they were small, hotel-inspired escape rooms.

In-game: A hallway of hotel room doors.

Puzzles

Communication was our primary opponent in The Hotel.

The puzzles required teamwork across hotel rooms.

Standouts

Mission: Escape Atlanta went out of their way to design a backstory for the hotel proprietor. It was a solid backdrop for thematic puzzling. It also explained away any need for realism in set design. It was a hotel-inspired fantastical situation that worked.

The puzzles forced teamwork. It was challenging to figure out which pieces connected to what and to whom. It was rewarding when hotel rooms accomplished goals together.

The Hotel created an exciting, almost frantic energy as we raced to make connections between puzzling items we couldn’t necessarily even see. For players in the primary communication roles, the setup fostered a feverish race of puzzling.

Shortcomings

The players who were not in the communication roles sometimes didn’t feel the same sense of excitement.

Not all hotel rooms were created equal. Some were more fun than others. Additionally, if any hotel room’s team members couldn’t pull their weight in puzzles, the entire team would be in for a rough ride.

One particular unclued puzzle relied only on trial and error. The effects of this were amplified by the room that this challenge was placed within.

Should I play Mission: Escape Atlanta’s The Hotel?

Mission: Escape Atlanta crafted a unique and intriguing hotel-themed escape room. Instead of realistic and dramatic, it was lighthearted and imaginative.

The Hotel was unbalanced. Some players focused on communication while others explored the surroundings. Some players found their hotel rooms more intriguing than others did.

However, the puzzling happened through teamwork, the culmination of which was incredibly satisfying.

If you’re a newer player, not well-versed in how escape room style puzzles fit together, The Hotel will be a serious challenge. Please play at least one room escape prior to attempting The Hotel.

If you prefer to experience an entire escape room from start to finish, The Hotel is not the escape room for you.

If you bring a team that cannot communicate well… good luck to you.

In most other circumstances, The Hotel will be a joy to check in to. It was full of good puzzles and lots of fun.

Book your hour with Mission: Escape Atlanta’s The Hotel, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Mission: Escape Atlanta provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Big Escape Rooms – Clowned [Review]

Not for the coulrophobic.

Location: Atlanta, GA

Date played: April 3, 2017

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

“Happy on the outside and sad on the inside,” a circus clown executed the other circus acts before he started to kill off the guests. We were trapped in his circus of tricks and puzzles, trying to escape before becoming the next victims.

Clowned was nominally set in the circus. Apart from a large and brightly colored mural, the gamespace felt more like a room of puzzles than a larger-than-life circus experience.

Big Escape Room's maze logo. Captioned,

Puzzles

Our clown-captor attempted to thwart our survival with standard room escape puzzles and props.

A few puzzles made great use of physicality and space, while others felt a little too paper-y for an escape room.

Standouts

While the puzzles were pretty typical, we particularly enjoyed two puzzles: one cast a familiar puzzle in a different light, while the other put a new spin on a standard puzzle trope.

The introduction to the room was exciting and humorous.

Shortcomings

Clowned suffered from a lack of grand-scale. At times, it nodded to the circus through the decor, but it didn’t ever feel like a place that was a part of the circus.

It wasn’t clear that we should be watching the introductory video. If it was important – either for puzzles or ambiance – we missed it entirely in our eagerness to begin our escape. The sound was so quiet that most of our team didn’t even know a video was playing.

The puzzles occasionally needed additional refinement for improved game flow. There were a few instances of solution ambiguity that should be eliminated. In one such instance, the correct answer seemed weak in comparison to at least one of the other solutions we thought up.

Should I play Big Escape Rooms’ Clowned?

We enjoyed ourselves but weren’t blown away.

Clowned was an old school, entry-level escape room; it consisted of puzzles in a lightly themed setting. Given this, Clowned would be approachable for novice players. The puzzles weren’t too challenging or too involved.

Experienced players should bring a small group and expect to move swiftly.

So long as you’re not afraid of clowns, you can have fun in this escape room. If you don’t like clowns, consider this a warning to stay away.

Book your hour with Big Escape Rooms’ Clowned, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Big Escape Rooms provided media discounted tickets for this game.