Escape the Estate – The Hideout [Review]

Those mobsters and their puzzles.

Location: Syracuse, NY

Date played: January 20, 2017

Team size: up to 4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 20 minutes

Price: $15 per ticket

Story & setting

In a cabin behind the Hotel Whitmore (the fictional setting of all Escape the Estate games), Prohibition-era mobsters have hidden their loot. We had 20 minutes to find the valuables before the police or the gangsters returned.

The set was a small wood cabin in the back of the Escape Estate’s former Petco retail space. We had to break into the cabin and then puzzle our way to the loot.

It was an adorable, little space.

In-game: The exterior of a wood cabin. The door is chained shut, and the window blackened. A sign reads,

Puzzles

While The Hideout was a short game in a tight space, it required a surprising amount of searching. It was amazing how much could be hidden in such a small area.

There were only a few puzzles, but one of them took a little bit of doing.

Standouts

The Hideout, like all other games at Escape the Estate , was gamemastered by an in-character and in-costume bellhop. Our gamemaster was never in the way. The character was used to introduce the game and as a general presence outside of the cabin, adding a wonderfully whimsical flavor to the experience.

Breaking into the cabin to get the game going was an excellent way to start the adventure.

The exterior of the cabin looked great.

Escape the Estate managed to do a lot with a small space.

Shortcomings

The Hideout was a little heavy on searching and light on puzzling for my taste.

The technology used in the game telegraphed some of the puzzle solutions. While this won’t be evident to newbies, experienced players and techies could reverse engineer some puzzle solutions.

Some of the important props lacked heft and felt like toys in an environment that was otherwise robust. Granted, given their original location in the cabin, more heft might have been dangerous. I’d recommend reworking one segment so that The Hideout‘s props can all feel like they belong there.

Should I play Escape the Estate’s The Hideout?

I love when an escape room company looks at a small corner and decides to turn it into an intimate little game.

The Hideout was small, but dynamic. It had two sets, searching, and puzzles. It looked good. While I think a small space is more conducive to a more puzzley experience than a searching one, I cannot argue with the results.

Escape the Estate’s The Hideout was small, challenging, and fun. I wouldn’t visit them explicitly to play it, but if you’re already playing one of their other full-length games, you’d be wise to tack on this 20-minute adventure.

Book your session with Escape the Estate’s The Hideout, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape the Estate comped our tickets for this game.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

Escape the Estate – The Gamble [Review]

Our night was on the house.

Location: Syracuse, NY

Date played: January 20, 2017

Team size: up to 10-12; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $23 per ticket

Story & setting

We arrived at Hotel Whitmore and stepped into the 1920s. Our bellhop led us to the manager’s private gaming parlor where we needed to escape with evidence of the sinister behavior taking place there.

Escape the Estate repurposed a former Petco in the Shoppingtown mall into its Hotel Whitmore attractions. Guests were greeted at reception and escorted back to the gaming parlor or any of the hotel’s other attractions.

The Hotel Whitmore’s gaming parlor brought us back in time with its wallpapered walls, framed artwork, and old furniture. While The Gamble’s staging – including walls reaching almost to the ceiling – did not quite remove us from 2017, the props and puzzles were captivating enough that we could suspend our disbelief for the hour of gameplay.

In-game: A scrabble board sitting on an animal pelt table cloth. A bellhop stands beside the mantle in the background, hands folded in front of him.

Puzzles

The Gamble offered a lot to puzzle through. These included words, numbers, ciphers, and perspectives, among other challenges.

While most puzzles led to a lock, some also included more tech-driven interactions.

Standouts

Our experience in the Hotel Whitmore began even before our time did.

Our bellhop greeted us in character and remained in character throughout our experience. When we rang for their services, the bellhop would appear and deliver appropriate hints without ever intruding on our game. The bellhop character was a wonderful and intriguing part of The Gamble.

These gangsters had no shortage of secret hiding places. These were surprising and fit in the Prohibition-era setting.

Escape the Estate got their start in haunted houses. While The Gamble wasn’t scary, the designers found ways to lean on their haunt skills to add depth to the room escape without derailing the experience. It worked well.

There were some great puzzles and a memorable moment or two in The Gamble.

Shortcomings

Some of the puzzles overstayed their welcome.

There were too many boxes – even if most were luggage – and it quickly got old to check multiple possible inputs with similar digit structures each time we derived a solution. Furthermore, we would have loved to see more antique keys rather than modern combination locks.

One puzzle seemed riddled with red herrings. We spent a long time working through it, only to have the solution become clear immediately upon a late game reveal.

The ending didn’t live up to the drama of earlier parts of the experience.

Should I play Escape the Estate’s The Gamble?

The Gamble was Escape the Estate’s first room. They played to their strengths in experience design to build the world of The Hotel Whitmore that extended beyond the timer for any one game. The delightful and unobtrusive gamemaster navigated the intersection of theater, immersive experience, and puzzles.

The Gamble was a puzzler’s room escape, but an approachable one. There was a lot to unpack, but it flowed smoothly. Both new players and experienced players should find the puzzling enjoyable.

While much of this room escape was by the books, Escape the Estate brought their own point of view and charm to the overall experience. Check in to Hotel Whitmore and…

Book your hour with Escape the Estate’s The Gamble, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape the Estate comped our tickets for this game.

The next Room Escape Conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, NY from May 1-3, 2017. The conference organizers sponsored our trip to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to play this game and others in the region. We strive to help conference attendees visit the room escapes that are best for them.

5 Wits – Deep Space [Review]

220px-HAL9000.svg
“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Location: Syracuse, New York

Date played: August 31, 2015

Team size: 2-15; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 30 minutes

Price: $17.99 per ticket for one adventure, discounted if you play multiple adventures

Theme & story

“After no contact for years, and assumed destroyed, there’s been a distress signal from the starship Nebulous! You have just 30 minutes to teleport aboard the craft, figure out what happened and get back safely. But be prepared to battle an asteroid storm, rewire the engines, refuel the power supply and stop an evil Artificial Intelligence in time to save the world!”

This game was equal parts Star Trek, Portal, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

We were repairing a failing starship with a psychopathic AI “helping” us. The AI was basically one joke about your weight away from being GLaDOS.

GladosAs a sci-fi puzzle nerd, the setup couldn’t be more my speed.

Staging

As with the other games we’ve played at 5 Wits in Syracuse, the 5 Wits production quality was in full swing here.

From start to finish, the look and feel of this game was staggeringly cool. There was a moment early in this game that made me forget I was in a game; that doesn’t happen often enough.

Captain’s chair

There was a captain’s chair on the bridge. I confess that sitting in it filled me with joy.

Bugs & prompting

During our playthrough there were buttons and puzzles that didn’t work.

This is 5 Wits’ newest game (we saw it under construction during our visit in May). While the game looked exceptionally polished, it was buggy.

In two separate instances, we know we solved puzzles correctly, but our solutions didn’t register with the system.

Then there was the puzzle where we had no idea what to do. Maybe our team missed something, but I don’t know what was expected of us during the “refuel the power supply” portion of the game. We needed more prompting.

5wits-deep-space

Should I play 5 Wits’ Deep Space?

5 Wits is just as much a playground as it is a puzzle game. The spaces that they have fabricated are such a pleasure to inhabit.

It is worth seeing the automation, engineering, and care that went into building Deep Space. Even if I had known it would be a buggy experience, I probably would have played it anyway. 5 Wits creates a wonderful escapist experience.

This is billed as the most challenging game 5 Wits has to offer and it is. But in its current state, some of that difficulty is likely derived from bugs and minimal instruction.

5 Wits Syracuse’s three other games, Drago’s Castle, Tomb, and Espionage are stronger games, so if you need to choose among them, skip Deep Space for now. But if you have time, it’s well worth the $3 extra dollars it costs to tack this one on.

Book your time with 5 Wits Deep Space, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 5Wits comped our tickets for this game.

5 Wits – Drago’s Castle [Review]

From start to finish, this is 5 Wits’ best creation.

Location: Syracuse, New York

Date played: August 31, 2015

Team size: 2-15; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 30 minutes

Price: $17.99 per ticket for one adventure, discounted if you play multiple adventures

Theme & story

The game started with a video projected onto a colossal story book; the characters came to life and so did the game. The intro was equal parts impressive and fun.

It's all animated!
It’s all animated!

Drago’s Castle was impeccably themed from our initial interaction with the game through the dramatic conclusion.

Physicality

Characteristic of 5 Wits’ games, Drago’s Castle was fully interactive. We pulled, pushed, and placed large game elements. As we moved between the rooms of this castle, we unlocked gates, opened imposing doors, and crawled through a passage.

This felt like a real life Zelda game, and based on the wonderful and not-so-subtle Zelda reference, the game designers knew it.

It'sDangerousToGoAlone

Teamwork

5 Wits designs their games around teamwork, but in this game a few puzzles actually required multiple players. Mostly, more players sped these puzzles along. But in one instance, the additional people participating were an added challenge. I’m confident that anyone of us could have solved the puzzle quickly on our own, but as a group we intellectually tripped over one another. This variety was interesting.

Set design

The set design was out of this world. Literally. We were in a castle chasing a beast.

In all seriousness, the rooms and their puzzles were thematically appropriate with awe-inspiring theatrical production value.

Climax

As the story reached completion, Drago’s Castle delivered a dramatic climactic moment that wowed us. We were all grinning. Young players might be scared. It was surprisingly exciting.

5wits Drago's Castle logo

Escape room genre

Of the four games 5 Wits offers in Syracuse, Drago’s Castle was the most like a traditional escape room.

The puzzles drew on different intelligences  – spacial, logical, pattern based, observational – and were of the type found in a more traditional escape room. They were more challenging than many other 5 Wits puzzles, but children will still be able to engage with them.

Automatic reset

Through ingenious set design, this game continually reset itself after we completed each puzzle. Half the fun is trying to figure out what’s different for the next team to pass through.

Should I play 5 Wits’ Drago’s Castle?

You have to appreciate the 5 Wits style of game to truly enjoy Drago’s Castle. It was physically interactive and less intellectually challenging than a traditional escape room. It transported us into a fairy tale and the set created the magic.

I recommend Drago’s Castle to families. But I also recommend it to adults; our team of four adults had a great time.

Furthermore, I recommend it to players interested in theatrics and engineering. The production value far exceeded industry standards.

Book your time with 5 Wits’ Drago’s Castle and tell them the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: 5Wits comped our tickets for this game.

5 Wits Syracuse – Espionage [Review]

An enhanced playground experience.

Location: Syracuse, New York

Date played: May 15, 2015

Team size: 2-15; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 30 minutes

Price: $17.99 per ticket for one adventure, discounted if you play multiple adventures

Plot

“The Fate of the Free World Depends on You!

Time is ticking and everything is on the line when the evil CABAL Corporation threatens the world. Do you have what it takes to infiltrate an enemy base and disarm the missiles before it’s too late?

Dodge lasers, crawl through vents, defuse a giant missile and stop a madman from triggering a world war in this action packed spy thriller! Every puzzle you solve, challenge you conquer, and mistake you make will change the outcome, so stay sharp, move fast-and don’t get caught!”

espionage-logo

Espionage

You are the team that has been tasked with disarming a missile to save the world. A kid-friendly agent personality leads you through a series of puzzles culminating in this task. Espionage is the most physically involved of the games that 5 Wits offers in Syracuse. Players feel that they are infiltrating high command.

Puzzle difficulty

The puzzles in Espionage are less cerebral than those in their other game, Tomb. They are significantly less intellectually challenging than those in traditional room escape games.

The challenge derives from their physicality. Crawl precisely; hit the buttons quickly. They rely on nimble teamwork.

There's a laser-grid that is larger than most escape games!
There’s a laser-grid that is larger than most escape games!

The experience

The game feels like you’re infiltrating an enemy base. As with the Tomb, it’s kind of nuts. The look, the feel, and the sounds are all on-point.

For a more about the 5 Wits experience, design and production value, see our aforementioned review of Tomb.

The environment

There is an intensity to the environment in Espionage that pushes the game forward. The scale and variety in the game are  impressive. The setting greatly elevates the puzzles.

Still, Espionage has a playground feel that is unlikely to intimidate a child. In fact, I imagine children will want to loop through these puzzles again and again… I know that I would have.

Like a playground, it is infinitely re-playable for children (less so for adults).

5 Wits Espionage Image 3

Should I play 5Wits Syracuse’s Espionage?

If you were a playground kid, you’ll love how 5 Wits integrates that rush into the escape room experience.

If you have kids and want to incorporate mentally stimulating games into a physically interactive environment, this room is a must.

If you have trouble with mobility, this isn’t the game for you. But you could still accompany children or friends to experience it from the sidelines. At the very least, you’ll have quite a sight to watch.

If you’re an escape game designer looking to create more physically involved puzzles or understand the possible scale of environment, you should play. 5 Wits sets the bar incredibly high.

If you’re focused more on the intellectual puzzle aspect of games, this isn’t the game for you. However, I recommend you try one of their other games just to experience the production value. If you are in the area, you should play, just for comparison.

You don’t go to 5 Wits to test your mind, and you especially don’t play Espionage for that reason. But there are other reasons to play this game.

No need to book in advance, just head over to 5 Wits Syracuse and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Images via 5 Wits Syracuse

5 Wits Syracuse – Tomb [Review]

An awe inspiring game, with Disney-level production value and family friendly puzzles.

Location: Syracuse, New York

Date played: May 15, 2015

Team size: 2-15; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 30 minutes

Price: $17.99 per ticket for one adventure, discounted if you play multiple adventures

Plot

Prove your worthiness and survive to tell the tale!

Enter a 3,000 year old tomb with only a flashlight and your wits to guide you! At an archaeological dig, you find yourself deep in an Egyptian tomb… face to face with the spirit of an ancient Pharaoh! Are you brave enough to make it out alive?

The only way to survive will be to best the Pharaoh at his own game and prove your worthiness… but watch out for traps along the way! Test your skills in this amazing adventure thousands of years in the making!

tomb-logo

Tomb

Tomb is an Indiana Jones-esque crypt raid where you disturb the ghost of a dead pharaoh who puts you through a series of challenges. This is billed as the more cerebral 5 Wits offering, and has more mentally challenging puzzles than their other games. Still, escaping the tomb isn’t difficult.

5 Wits Syracuse Tomb Photo 3

The experience

The game feels like you’re in a pyramid. It’s kind of nuts. The look, the feel, and the sounds are all on-point.

I have to imagine that the experience must be intensely cool for children (and maybe a bit too much for sensitive kids).

Literally every single puzzle is physically involved.

The game has a production value that is a few orders of magnitude greater than anything we have seen from any other escape game company.

5 Wits Syracuse Tomb Photo

Automation

A team of 2-15 players will begin with a recorded briefing (with solid, kid friendly acting), and advance into the first room. Everything from this point in the game is fully automated; the game mechanics push the team into each of the subsequent three rooms. Each team completes the game in 20 – 30 minutes.

The game mechanics are designed so that players reset the room for the next team. This allows 5 Wits to have a team in each of the four rooms at one time. It’s impressive. It is designed such that teams can’t butt up against each other.

The ceiling actually drops!
The ceiling actually drops!

Should I play 5 Wits Syracuse’s Tomb?

Yeah, you probably should.

If you’re an escape game designer, and you want to understand how high the bar is set for production value, go to 5 Wits.

If you have kids and want to do something fun and mentally stimulating with them, then you must go.

If you’re a live action puzzle enthusiast, this isn’t going to present a serious challenge to you, but I think you should see it if you’re near one of their locations (Syracuse, NY, Foxboro, MA, and they will be opening in West Nyack, NY soon). However I wouldn’t recommend rounding up a whole team and traveling specifically to play Tomb.

If you’re going to 5 Wits looking to test your mind, you’re profoundly missing the point. This is about the experience, family-friendly fun, and the brilliance of a fully automated escape game that reset itself.

No need to book in advance, just head over to 5-Wits Syracuse and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Images via 5 Wits Syracuse