Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Cipher Room - Espionage Review

Hi everyone!

I’m really pleased to bring you this review, which is of Sydney’s latest escape room outfit, The Cipher Room (TCR).  I first found out about TCR from other escape room owners.  My first impression from their website was that they have a very clear sense of their own style and what they want to bring to the escape room market in Sydney. 

TCR is based in Newtown and is the brainchild of Marise and David, puzzle fanatics turned escape room designers.  TCR is scheduled to officially open its first room, entitled Espionage, on Tuesday 23 August (tomorrow!). 

Marise and David kindly permitted us to play-test their room ahead of the grand opening.  My team this time was the usual team of 4 adults, together with my 4 year old daughter who spent most of the escape watching an iPad with headphones on.  This was our 30th room in Sydney and our 42nd room in Australia.

Espionage is a 1940s spy-themed room, where you take over the role of a spy from another agent who is MIA. 

As always, I’ll start off with what I liked about the room:
  • their website is first rate and I’ve yet to see a better designed escape room logo.  I think both really match their room well and their overall style;
  • the location was really easy to find.  This is one of very few escape rooms in Sydney that has a real street presence on a very busy street.  We found nearby parking easily on Bray Street (only about a 100m walk);
  • TCR’s style and theming begins when you approach their front door and window display on King Street.  They have a really cool, curiosity-inducing window display that sets the scene beautifully for what’s to follow.  Their front of house is equally mysterious, old-worldly and charming, as is their hallway that seems to go on forever, bringing the promise of many more escape room adventures in the future no doubt;
  • the theming in the room (and in fact the theming in the whole operation - the window display, front of house, etc) is the best we have seen to date in Sydney.  I won’t divulge any spoilers, but let’s just say that all of the props make sense in the space, as do the puzzle elements and the room has a real sense of identity as a result;
  • there is a really great mix of puzzles in this room.  Some are fiendishly simple; others require some out of the box thinking.  There is also a really nice mix of low and high-tech puzzles and mechanisms within the room.  Again, it’s a 1940s themed room, so the high-tech elements are completely hidden out of sight, as they should be;
  • the craftsmanship behind the puzzle pieces, the props and other aspects of the room blew us away.  You really get a sense of the vast amount of time that has been spent in designing and then creating all of the elements in this room;
  • I get asked a lot via my blog for recommendations for child-friendly rooms.  I'm pleased that I can add this one to the list.  As is often the case with my wife and I, there are many other adventurers who find it difficult to get a babysitter and instead prefer to bring their young children with them to escape rooms.  I can report that this room is not scary at all and is perfectly suitable for children of all ages.  That being said, if a team of kids (without any adults) wanted to have a go at escaping from this room, I think it would probably suit children of say 12 or older; and
  • owners Marise and David are truly enthusiastic about their business, which shows from the amount of work they have put into it.  They have set out to create a truly immersive experience and they have been very successful in that endeavour.

There's nothing to report on the negative side.  There were a couple of minor tweaks that we suggested (as part of a typical play-testing experience), but we really didn’t have much value to add on that front.

I would describe this room as a medium difficulty room.  We escaped with a bit of spare time, but we were all very engaged and challenged throughout the whole experience.  It’s a non-linear room, which really allows you to break off and solve puzzles separately.  I think this is one of the rare rooms that would suit newer players and experienced players alike.

Their website allows you to book for teams of between 2 and 6.  Based on all of the rooms I have tried in Sydney (and in other states), my view is that the best number of players for each escape room we have tried is 4 (perhaps 5 if some of the players are kids).  In order to have more players, a room needs to have adequate space for 6 bodies and enough puzzles to keep all 6 players fully engaged.  Whilst this room is no exception to my view that 4 players is the right number, this room does comfortably accommodate 6 players on all fronts.

As always, the number one factor that I consider when reviewing a room is how much fun we had.  I’m really pleased to confirm that we had a fantastic time in this room.  The whole experience was great.  Marise and David were kind enough to walk us through the room afterwards to explain the planning and craftsmanship that went on behind the scenes, the easter eggs, etc.  If only all escape room outfits were this good.

I’m really pleased that Sydney’s latest room is a great one.  I have no hesitations at all in recommending this room.  You are going to love it!

Where:                        640 King Street, Newtown

Duration:                    60 minutes

Themes:                     1 so far (but 2 others planned)

Cost:                           $152 for 4 adults (but we played at the kind invitation of the owners)

Overall Summary:      Off the charts theming with old world charm – a must do room

More details:    

Sunday, 24 July 2016

100,000 page views!

Today marks the day that my blog has hit 100,000 page views!

I receive lots of emails and comments each week from people telling me that they have found my blog useful, or asking me for recommendations for their particular groups.

A surprising number of people seem to agree with my reviews on most rooms (and most drop me a line after checking out a room that I recommended to let me know how much fun they had).

An experience in an escape room is VERY subjective - it depends on the group you are with, how much you are into the particular theme, how tired you are at the time of trying the room, etc.  And then there are the qualities of the room itself - the puzzles, overall room design, quality of game masters, whether you like hunt and seek fun or just straight puzzles, whether you like a linear room, etc. 

I therefore don't think there is such a thing as the perfect escape room for all groups.  That being said, there are some rooms that get the fundamentals right and not surprisingly, they are the rooms that consistently impress groups of all types.

I hope to be blogging about escape rooms for years to come.  My true hope is that the:
  • true, authentic escape rooms that set out to provide memorable, immersive and fun experiences for players will continue to thrive and grow; and
  • cheap, poorly designed rooms that seem to be solely aimed at making money leave the market.

Unfortunately, many first-timers try one of the latter rooms and it turns them off escape rooms for good.  It's such a shame!

Thankfully, more than half of the escape rooms in Sydney are great rooms run by really enthusiastic escape room owners.  And with a number of new escape rooms set to hit the Sydney escape room market this year, I'm hopeful that this industry will continue to grow for years to come.

Thanks all for reading my blog!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Another new escape room outfit - The Cipher Room

Hey all

There is another new escape room outfit about to open in Sydney, this time in Newtown.  They are called The Cipher Room.

I've been in contact with Marise, one of the owners of The Cipher Room.  She tells me that they are currently putting the final touches on the build and have begun play testing.  They plan to open with one room to start with, called Espionage.  They plan to launch their second room, The Cabin, later this year.

The Cipher Room is run by Marise and David, Newtown locals.  Like so many escape room owners that I know (and escape room players alike!), their love of escape rooms stems back to their Myst and Riven days.  For me, it goes way back to King’s Quest (and later Monkey Island, Myst, Sam and Max Hit The Road, Day of the Tentacle and the list goes on)…

David and Marise make all of their own electronic, wooden and graphic puzzles, which is awesome.  There are few things better than home-made puzzles in an escape room. 

See below summaries of their rooms from their website:


It’s 1945 and you’ve just been recruited as a spy. You receive an urgent message from another agent. She needs to meet you at a safe house where she's been conducting surveillance. Once you arrive, you discover that she's nowhere to be found. However, before she fled 'Agent M' managed to leave you a series of clues. You need to solve these puzzles to locate the secret she's been protecting.

Where did the agent go? Why did she leave in such a hurry? And what mission does she need you to complete?

The Cabin

You're a detective who's been investigating a serial killer case. One day you get a promising lead about a man from some nearby woodlands. He lives alone in an old cabin and, according to neighbours, he's been acting very strangely. You obtain a search warrant, wait for him to leave, and you and your team go in to investigate.
What is inside the mysterious old cabin? Have you finally found your guy? Can you get the evidence and get out in time?

The rooms sound very cool.  They are located at 640 King Street, Newtown.  Their aim is to make immersive gaming environments, with tactile and authentic puzzles and themes.

I'm very much looking forward to checking out both of their rooms!

For more information, check out their website here or their Facebook page here.


Penrith gets its own escape room outfit - Escape Room 51

Hey all

Penrith now has its own escape room outfit!  I grew up in Penrith and I was really pleased to learn today that Escape Room 51 has opened.

I've been in contact with Holly, the owner of Escape Room 51, who has told me that her business opened in March 2016.  They have made a conscious decision (at this stage) not to provide too many details about the room theme on their website, but from the description that Holly has provided to me, I think it sounds really cool.  

All of the puzzles are home-made and designed and created by Holly and her cousin, who also runs the room with her.  Their room has been designed as more of a medium level of difficulty and so is particularly suited to first-timers or those relatively new to escape rooms (although that's not to say that more advanced players won't have a ball either).  

I'm really looking forward to checking out their room!

For more information, check out their website here.


Next Level Escape - A new escape room outfit is on its way

Hi all

I learned about a new escape room outfit that is coming to Sydney's CBD shortly (thanks Joan for letting me know!).

Next Level Escape is the brainchild of Aaron Hooper and Daniel Thomason, who are putting their tech and creative skills to good use in their 3 rooms, slated to open in August and September.

Here’s a quick summary of each of their rooms:

Ex Libris
Imagine you could visit the world of literature: fight alongside elves and dwarves as you the fate of Middle Earth is decided, travel 20,000 leagues under the sea with Captain Nemo aboard the Nautilus, curtsy to the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland – what fun!
But what if you couldn’t find your way back home…

The Artefact
A mysterious artefact with the power to destroy an entire civilisation, an infinitesimal chance to save the planet and everyone you love from certain death… it couldn’t be more dramatic if we tried! You’re an expert among the elite team of scientists tasked with the impossible. But heck, you know your stuff ­– what could possibly go wrong?

Blitz Room
Join Next Level Escape for a world-first opportunity: our Blitz Room. 15 minutes, 1–4 people, a room that changes every month, and incredible prizes for the best scores – what are you waiting for?!
Our first Blitz Room theme is Game of Thrones. You’ve watched the series, you’ve read the books; it’s time to take part in it yourself! Night gathers and now your watch begins…

The owners seem to share my crazy level of enthusiasm for great escape rooms (and old school PC adventure games), which is uber cool.

I’m truly intrigued by their Blitz Room – I love the idea of having an hour’s worth of puzzles but only 15 minutes to do your best.  Unlike anything I have heard of before.
They are currently hard at work building their rooms, which will be located at Level 2, 37 Bligh Street, Sydney.  

I have a feeling these rooms are going to be awesome.

You can check our more info at their website here.  Also, look out for competitions on their website for the chance to win tickets to their opening VIP room sessions!


Labyrinth Escape Rooms' latest room opens - Mexican Cartel

Hi all

Labyrinth's much anticipated third room, Mexican Cartel, is about to open. 

Here's the summary of their room from their website:

You’re a high ranking member of the powerful Mexican Cartel but when a deal goes south, the rival Cartel starts kidnapping your men.  Your boss sends you back to his house to get his passports to move his family and all flee the country.  As you arrive, you get ambushed and locked inside. You over hear their leader will get there in an hour to execute you, so you need to break free from the handcuffs, find your way around the house to get the passports and escape without getting caught!  Will you outsmart the rival Cartels before it’s too late?

I'm really looking forward to going back to Labyrinth to check out both the Mexican Cartel room and the Mad Scientist room.  I'm hoping to get there in the next month or two.

Also, Labyrinth are planning something very special for later in the year.  I'll post more information here once dates and further details are known!


Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Mission Sydney's third room opens - The Lost Mine

Hi everyone

I have recently learned that Mission Sydney have just opened up their third room (thanks Joel).

I really enjoyed their first two rooms, Vampire Castle and Dr M.  Mission Sydney are known for their high tech rooms and I would bet any money that this third room will be no different.

Here's the summary from the website of The Lost Mine:

While shopping at a Sunday market, you come across a widow trying to sell her husband’s belongings. Out of curiosity, you start up a conversation with her.

Her husband had grown up an orphan and faced many difficulties throughout his life.
Without any experience, he was offered a highly paid job as a worker in a remote mine. Shocked but overjoyed, he threw himself into his work.

One day he returned from the mine with a purple crystal and quit his job. He became taciturn and reserved, refusing to say why he quit. Years later, he fell ill and passed away, leaving a diary and a voice recorder among his belongings. His wife decided to sell them along with the crystal to make some money.

Seeing the crystal’s value, you purchase all the items and conduct research. You discover that this kind of crystal is extremely rare and are sold for a very high price. These crystals were mined by an ancient underground civilization. The people and its ruler have vanished from record and no crystals have been found ever since.

Driven by your curiosity, you travel to the mine he worked, hoping to find more crystals and uncover the mystery of The Lost Mine.

This room is a 90 minute room, which officially makes it the longest escape room experience in Sydney (or Australia as far as I am aware).  The next longest escape room experience is their Dr M room (80 mins).  

According to their website, The Lost Mine is also their hardest room, with just a 15% success rate.  You also need at least 3 adults in your team for this room (and a maximum of 7 players).  
Normally we would wait about a month (so they can iron out any kinks) before checking out this room.  However, their website says that they don't allow children, pregnant women or certain disabled people (presumably due to challenges in the room design or scary elements?).  
My wife is almost 6 months pregnant, so it looks like we won't be checking out this room until after October.  I'd be grateful for any spoiler-free comments from anyone who goes there between now and then though!

The only negative I'll say though about The Lost Mine is the price!  The room is $240 for 4 people, which equates to $60 per head.  Despite the fact that their rooms are of a very high quality, I'm not sure too many people would be willing to part with that much money when there are so many other great escape rooms in Sydney that are around $35 per head. 

I get that this room is (up to) 90 minutes long, but $240 is too much in my humble opinion.   I think $50 per head is probably the absolute limit, and even then I'm going in with VERY high expectations at that price.  At $60, I'm not sure they could meet my even higher expectations.  

Time will tell though...