Sunday, 15 January 2017

Social Escape Rooms - Paris Review (this time as a spectator)

Hi all

This review is a little different to my recent review of Paris at Social Escape in that this time, I was sitting in (or next to) the game master’s seat rather than as a player.  For my review of this room as a player, click here.

Moments after I finished my solo escape from Paris, 2 members of my usual team set out to escape from Paris.  This was the second time that I have sat on the other side and watched people escape from a room.  It was a very cool experience and it gave me a really interesting insight into the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure a great escape experience for players. 

So, here are my thoughts from the experience:

·        we started by resetting the room after my solo escape.  Mark showed me his Paris room “bible” which went on for several pages and showed precisely the steps needed to properly reset the room.  It took us maybe 10 to 15 minutes to reset the room and to double check everything – we were chatting as we did it, but I learned it is a process that takes time and attention to detail;

·        on that note, I buggered up and didn’t close a suitcase padlock properly.  I was concentrating and doing it slowly, but I still stuffed it up (thankfully, it was one of the easier puzzles so I didn’t give my team too much of a freebie).  Again, I learned that resetting a room is not straight-forward and it can’t be rushed;

·        while we were watching and listening to my friends escaping from the room, Mark showed me his very cool excel spreadsheet that he has designed which sets out every single puzzle aspect in the room.  Each time players locate a puzzle piece or solve a puzzle, Mark clicks his mouse and his spreadsheet records the time and tells him how the current players are tracking compared to average teams.  This is a really important tool because it lets Mark know when he might need to step in to provide some nudges or hints.  This system is incredibly accurate, but it ensures that the game master has to watch your every move, which from a player’s perspective is exactly what you’d like;

·        this data is also used by Mark at the end of the game to provide players with a print out of how they went compared to average teams, on a puzzle by puzzle basis.  It’s incredibly detailed and very cool;

·        I know my team members very well and I know their strengths and weaknesses in escape rooms (just as they know mine).  I was really surprised because at the start of their game, I picked that there would be certain hidden items they wouldn’t find and others they would find immediately – and I was totally wrong.  They attempted puzzles in a really different way than I had done.  Things that I needed a hint to find they managed to find literally within seconds of entering the room, whereas other items I had found took them some time to locate.  So from an owner’s point of view, I can appreciate how cool it is to see how different teams tackle your room – everyone does it differently; and

·        when Mark and I noticed that my friends hadn’t found a particular hidden item, it was really interesting that Mark could then project forward and know which knock on puzzles they would be delayed by as a result of not having found the hidden item.  I also learned how INCREDIBLY frustrating it is to know puzzle answers or where hidden items are but to see teams struggle.

Over all, this experience again showed me the true importance of having dedicated game masters for each room.  Playing escape rooms is not a cheap exercise and according, we players expect to have a fun experience with a dedicated game master ensuring that we have that fun experience. 

Thankfully, Social Escape Rooms are one of those great outfits in Sydney that put the customer experience as their priority.  And accordingly, Mark is bound to be successful. 

Where:                   Level 1, 62 Wyndham Street, Alexandria

Duration:               60 minutes

2 different themes (but 8 rooms planned in total)

$31 to $36 each (for 4 players, depending on time of week) (We played at the kind invitation of the owner)

Overall Rating:      Awesome, family friendly fun for all group types

More details:

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Ask the Experts - International Escape Room Article

Hi all

A little while back, Matt Silver from Escape Room Addict asked me if I'd be interested in representing the Australian section in an online international "ask the experts" article on escape rooms.  I of course said yes.

If you're interested, you can read my part of the article series here.  And the other countries' sections are here, here and here.


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Social Escape Rooms Sydney - Paris Review (as a player)

Hi all

My team and I finally managed to get around to checking out Social Escape Rooms in early January 2017.  I had been trying for a few months to get there and was really pleased to be able to find a time that suited my team over the summer break.

Mark Anton is the owner of Social Escape Rooms Sydney, a software developer turned escape room owner.  He was an awesome host and game master for the morning while the "lite" version of my usual team (just the 3 of us) tried out his rooms.  He was also kind enough to let me try out Paris by myself as a solo player and then allowed me to sit beside him as game master as the rest of my team tried Paris. 

Paris was my 35th room in Sydney and my 47th room in Australia so far.  As always, I'll start off with what I liked most about Paris:

·        what struck me first off with Paris is what a novel room theme it is.  No doubt many of you have tried at least a few escape rooms where you are trying to solve a mystery, or trying to escape before a vicious murderer is coming back for you, etc.  And those room themes are certainly fun, but Paris is a little different – instead, you are holidaying in Paris and have lost your airline tickets and passport somewhere in your hotel room and only have one hour until your flight;

·        something else that was a first for me was that I was genuinely nervous going into this room.  In all 46 previous escape rooms I have tried, I have been excited but never nervous.  When Mark first contacted me about his rooms, he mentioned that Paris has been designed so that it can be played by solo players.  This is also very novel, as I’m not aware of any other rooms in Australia that have been designed specifically for solo players;

·        the solo element was awesome.  Normally, when I play escape rooms with my team, we each know each other’s strengths (eg who is good at maths and logic puzzles, who is good at visual puzzles, etc) and therefore typically I will pass puzzles onto the best person to solve them.  That wasn’t an option in my solo game in Paris, so I was forced to solve them all myself.  And I found that incredibly rewarding, although it did make me nervous going in;

·        the theming of this room is really well done – there is a high level of detail that has been applied to the room theme.  All of the props make sense in the space and they are of a high quality.  All of the puzzles worked first time and there was no ambiguity at all as to their solutions;

·        there is a nice mix of high tech puzzles and low tech puzzles in this room, with many of the high tech elements completely hidden (as they should be).  There is also a really good mix of hunt and seek fun;

·        I would describe Paris as an easy to medium difficulty room.  It is one of the very few rooms in Sydney that I can (and will) recommend to first timers and experienced players alike.  It also has the major benefit of being kid friendly – not only is the theme appropriate for younger children, kids could definitely join in and help solve each of the puzzles in the room;

·        Mark was an excellent game master.  He watched my every move and was available when I needed a nudge in the right direction.  His hint system is among the best I have seen – you simply speak and the God-like voice responds over a speaker.  Mark tracks your every move and at any given point in time, he knows how you are tracking and whether you need a hint to ensure you escape on time; and

·        at the end of the escape, I was given a photograph as a souvenir and a really detailed graph which showed how quickly I had solved every single puzzle in the room compared to the average time of all teams to date. This was really cool and it’s something that no other escape room owners provide (that I am aware of).

On the negative side, I really have nothing to report.  There are a few minor tweaks I have suggested to Mark of ways to slightly improve this puzzle or that, but Paris is a really fantastic room with a unique theme.

As always, the main determining factor in how I review a room is the enjoyment factor.  I had a heap of fun with this room (and so did my friends when they tried this room after me – look out for my separate review as to what it was like watching my friends play this room). 

I’d recommend this room to all group types, particularly families and newer players.  That being said, I think this room is still pretty challenging for teams of 2 (there are a heap of puzzles to solve in this room).  I can also personally recommend this room to more experienced players as a solo player.

Where:                   Level 1, 62 Wyndham Street, Alexandria

Duration:               60 minutes

2 different themes (but 8 rooms planned in total)

$31 to $36 each (for 4 players, depending on time of week) (I played at the kind invitation of the owner)

Overall Rating:      Awesome, family friendly fun suited to all group types

More details:

Monday, 28 November 2016

The Cipher Room adds a second room - The Cabin

Hi all

Just a quick note to let you all know that The Cipher Room have opened up their second room, The Cabin, today. 

The room theme summary is as follows:

You're a detective who's been investigating a serial killer case. One day your team gets a promising lead about someone acting suspiciously. They have been visiting an abandoned old cabin and strange noises have been heard coming from it. You obtain a search warrant and you and your team go in to investigate.
What is inside the mysterious old cabin? Have you finally found the killer? Can you discover their identity?
Suitable for 2-8 people.

Their first room, Espionage, is an absolute cracker.  I have recommended Espionage to a bunch of people and they have all really loved the room. See my earlier review of Espionage here.

I’m hoping to check out The Cabin soon and as always, I’ll post my review here.



Christmas Gift Vouchers for Escape Rooms

Hi all

I have received a number of queries lately looking for escape room recommendations for those looking to buy an escape room experience as Christmas gifts. 

We are lucky that Sydney has so many great rooms to try out (although to be fair, we also have some pretty average rooms too).

So, if you’re looking to purchase an escape room experience as a Christmas gift, I recommend the following outfits (in no particular order – all of their rooms are awesome):

  • Paniq Room - gift vouchers available here;
  • Enigma Room - gift vouchers available here;
  • Next Level Escape - gift vouchers available here;
  • ParaPark Sydney - special "Christmas" themed gift vouchers available here;
  • The Cipher Room - gift vouchers available here;
  • Labyrinth Escape Rooms – send them an email here;
  • Mission Sydney- gift vouchers available here; and
  • Social Escape Rooms Sydney - send them an email here.

As for which rooms suit you best, drop me an email and tell me about the group (how many people, their ages, what themes you think they would like and their experience level) and I can point you in the right direction.

I think escape room gift vouchers make excellent Christmas presents (I’m always happy to receive them). 

It’s also a great way to introduce new people to the awesome world of escape rooms!


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Review of Escape Hunt Sydney - Assassin in the Pub

Hi everyone

Almost 2 years ago, my team and I tried out our first escape room in Sydney.  It was “Murder in the Pub” at Escape Hunt Sydney.  You can read my review of the room here.  

In summary, we thought the room was middle of the pack (and that was before we even knew what the pack looked like).  Looking back some 45 rooms later, I’m pleased to have learned that my instincts were bang on.  Escape Hunt Sydney is a sleek outfit that caters well to first-timers in corporate team events.  That is their market.  The quality of their rooms and puzzle designs are however middle of the pack at best.

I was contacted by Escape Hunt Sydney because in my recent reviews of the escape rooms we tried in Adelaide, I had made the comment that there are only 2 escape room outfits in Adelaide and the choice of which outfit to check out was made easy by the fact that one of the outfits is Escape Hunt Adelaide, which I was happy to miss based on our experience in their Sydney operations.

Long story short(ish), I agreed to come back to Escape Hunt Sydney to try out their latest room in our (shared) hope that their rooms had improved. 

We checked out Assassin in the Pub this time around in November 2016, which replaced Murder in the Pub back at the start of 2016.  We were a team of 3 this time (as my wife was at home with our newborn and kindly gave me a leave pass one evening to head into the city).  This was our 34th room in Sydney and our 46th room in Australia.

As always, I’ll start off with what I liked most about the room:

·        the front of house is up there with the best escape rooms.  It is very professionally run – they offer tea and coffee facilities and really comfortable couches;

·        the game master was really enthusiastic;

·        they use walkie talkies for their hint system – it’s not the best method I have seen, but it is effective and it did work well enough for us;

·        they have had an improvement overall in the quality of puzzles.  When we were last at Escape Hunt Sydney, their puzzles were 90% locks.  There has been an improvement in the variety and quality of puzzles; and

·        Murder in the Pub, which has been replaced by this room, was based around figuring out who the murderer was.  However, it had no bearing on how you escaped from the room, such that we escaped but had no idea whodunnit . This time identifying the assassin was central to the escape, so this was a large improvement.

And now for what I didn’t like so much:

·        whilst the variety of puzzles was definitely better than last time, many of the puzzles just didn’t make sense in the space.  One puzzle, for example, requires you to thread a metal ring around a piece of wire without the two touching in order to turn on a telephone and open a drawer (think of the 1980s game of Operation).  This just made no sense at all (whether in a Pub or anywhere else for that matter);

·        the whole theme didn’t really work well for me.  The concept is that a murder has occurred and from a list of about 7 or 8 suspects, you have to figure out who the assassin is.  A friendly good samaritan has left clues for you throughout the pub.  It doesn’t make much sense to me why a good samaritan would leave clues in various ciphers and codes, nor have access to confidential police dossiers.  Maybe I am being overly picky here (and I have done some really great rooms lately with great theming, which did affect my views on this room);

·        there was an error with one of the puzzles.  Escape Hunt Sydney has 3 different room themes and they have 2 of each of those rooms (so 6 in total).  The rooms are identical so that if you have large groups, you can split and go into identical rooms.  For some silly reason, one of the puzzles in the rooms is slightly different and when resetting the room, they accidentally used a piece from Room A in Room B.  Accordingly, the puzzle failed (it meant that it was physically impossible to solve the puzzle without breaking it, which we did);

·        there were some elements in the room that detracted from the immersion of the experience.  For example, one door mechanism had signs all over it requesting that we seek permission from opening the door (presumably via walkie talkie).  This was just weird; and

·        there was no “wow factor” in this room.  There was one puzzle (or maybe two) that we liked, but the rest were either pretty common amongst escape rooms or just didn’t work in the space.  It felt like some of the puzzles were just there for the sake of it, rather than being tied to the story line.   

I gave the above feedback to Escape Hunt Sydney after we tried Assassin in the Pub.  It’s really difficult to explain simple reasons why one escape room is not at the same level as the competition.  So I asked if they had tried other great rooms in Sydney like Enigma Room, Paniq Room, Mission Sydney, etc.  The response I received was that yes they had tried them – some they liked and some they didn’t.  I found this really surprising because I would have thought that if Sydney Escape Hunt had truly tried a great room in Sydney, they would have had a light bulb moment and realised the shortcomings in their own rooms. 

Escape Hunt Sydney targets corporate teams, which are often full of first timers who have never been to truly great escape rooms before.  I have yet to speak to a single person who has been to both Escape Hunt Sydney and other rooms in Sydney who has preferred Escape Hunt Sydney’s rooms over the others.  Not one.  First timers might give positive feedback (which explains why Escape Hunt Sydney has reasonably strong TripAdvisor feedback), but first time players simply don’t know the quality that exists in other rooms in Sydney. 

For me, each of the rooms at Enigma, Paniq and Mission Sydney (and others, such as Cipher Room, ParaPark, Next Level Escape, Labyrinth, etc) are head and shoulders better than the rooms at Escape Hunt Sydney.  Better theming, better immersion, better puzzles and a more enjoyable experience.

As always, the main consideration for me when reviewing a room is how much fun we had.  My team agreed that Assassin in the Pub was “just ok”. 

Escape Hunt Sydney has the space and the staff that could make for truly great rooms.  They need to not merely target corporate groups and instead invest in great room and puzzle design (perhaps from third parties). 

If they invested more in storylines and immersive game experiences, they would be a force to be reckoned with.  Until then, give them a miss and spend your money instead on one of the many better outfits in Sydney.

Where:                   4/393 George Street, Sydney

Duration:               60 minutes

3 different themes (but multiple rooms of each theme)

$38 each (4 players) (We played at the invitation of the owners)

Overall Rating:      Improved but still very average – give them a miss

More details:

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Next Level Escape - Review of Ex Libris

Hi everyone!

A little under 2 months ago now, my team and I tried out Next Level Escape’s Ex Libris Room.  In fact, we tried 2 of their rooms back to back – both Blitz Room and Ex Libris.  You can check out my review of their Blitz Room here

We had the “lite” version of our usual team this time, in that we were a team of 3 instead of our usual 4.  Both of the Next Level Escape rooms were the first time that I have ever tried a room with a team of 3.  This was our 33rd room in Sydney and our 45th room in Australia.

Ex Libris is quite a novel room theme (pun intended – you’re welcome!).  You and your team find yourself sucked into a portal where literature has broken free and has merged with reality.  Your mission is to escape from and then seal the portal. 

As always, I’ll start off with what I liked about the room:
  • the location is really convenient – they are on the corner of Hunter Street and Bligh Street in a low rise commercial office tower.  The owners greeted us at the door on the ground level, but you might need to call them when you arrive if it is after hours (as I suspect the front door might be locked of an evening).  The absolute best aspect of the location is that it is only a few doors down from the best laksa in Sydney at Malay - (try their king prawn laksa or their skinless chicken laksa).  Frankie’s Pizza, which is next door to Malay is also a good option;
  • I really liked the theme choice.  I don’t want to give too much away, but the theme of “literature” allows them to include various literary worlds within a single escape room, which was really unique;
  • the theming of this room is really well done – there is a high level of detail that has been applied to the room theme(s).  All of the props make sense in their space and the puzzles feel like they have been woven well into the room rather than having puzzles just for the sake of puzzles (as often occurs in other escape room outfits);
  • there is a nice mix of high tech puzzles and low tech puzzles in this room, with many of the high tech elements completely hidden, so as to have a “magical” appearance.  There is also a nice variety of different puzzle types, which should appeal to wide audiences;
  • my team found this room really challenging and a whole lot of fun.  They have another novel concept in this room (yep, pun again ;-) in that you have a few options as a team as to whether to simply escape from the portal, or to push on with a couple of additional puzzles and try to seal the portal behind you (for the good of mankind).  This is an interesting way of tackling the issue that most rooms have in that they are typically either designed for beginners or more advanced players, but rarely both.   This flexibility hands control over to the players who can then ‘choose their own adventure’ and decide whether or not to push their luck…;
  • the game masters are watching and listening to your every move (via cameras and microphones), which is the way all escape rooms should be run.  They also have a couple of awesome easter eggs hidden in the rooms and a fantastic narrator method of providing hints along the way (while taking the piss out of players at the same time).  This was my favourite hint method of any room I’ve been to – again, the literary theme really lends itself to the concept of a narrator; and
  • we had some constructive feedback on some elements of this room (see below for more details) and the owners were truly interested in listening and taking on our comments and suggestions.   I have lost count of how many escape rooms I have provided some constructive feedback to and which was ignored.  These guys instead listened and went one step further and adapted puzzles to take on our feedback; and
  • the owners are really passionate about their business and about ensuring that all players have a great time in their rooms.  In my experience, escape room outfits fit into 3 general categories:  (a)  immersive rooms that are cleverly designed and run by people who care;  (b)  run of the mill rooms that are ok in quality and design but which fall short of competitors’ rooms when it comes to level of immersion and design; and (c)  poor quality rooms that are run by uninterested game masters who ignore you and which typically exist only to make money or are an adjunct to their main business.  These guys clearly fall into category (a).
On the constructive side:
  • there was one puzzle that I didn’t enjoy.  A lot of thought had gone into its design and it totally fit the theme of the room.  Unfortunately though, it was a musical puzzle and I don’t think music puzzles work in escape rooms.   There’s a famous Melbourne escape room that has a simple music puzzle - 3 different notes in a 4 note melody.  I was really surprised to learn that 50% of the 1,200 teams that had gone through that room (as at the time we tried the room) got stuck and needed a hint on their music puzzle.  The fact is that most people are tone deaf.  The other problem with music puzzles is that there is no useful way to provide clues – you either solve it by yourself or you don’t.  My other team members and I didn’t (and still don’t) agree on whether or not the music puzzle could be tweaked to make it work in the room.   Whilst some measures could have been taken to simplify the puzzle, I don’t think it would have been enough.  I honestly think music puzzles are similar to puzzles that require external knowledge or skill – they don’t work in escape rooms;
  • the owners were really receptive to my feedback on this puzzle and in fact, they have now replaced the music puzzle with a completely new puzzle which I think fits the theme of the particular room even better.  I had a couple of other very minor puzzle and room flow tweaks which again the owners have implemented;
  • I’ve seen the changes that they have made and I think they result is that what was a really good room is now a truly great room; and
  • I initially thought that the cost was on the high side (at $48 per head).  Whilst it is still true to say that this is on the high side (compared to the norm which is around $35 per head), I think the quality of the room and the fact that it is a 75 minute room (rather than the usual 60) justifies the price tag. 

Ex Libris is a fantastic room.  There are lots of different puzzles, several distinct themes in the one experience and a push your luck element - all of which are really unique.  

As always, I judge rooms on the fun factor and my team all really enjoyed this room.  It's not an easy room though, so I suggest warming up with their Blitz Room and then tackling Ex Libris!

Location:                    Level 2, 37 Bligh Street, Sydney

Duration:                   75 minutes

Themes:                     2 so far (but 1 other planned)

Cost:                           $192 for 4 adults (but we played at the kind invitation of the owners)

Overall Summary:      Several themes in one – novel, challenging and a heap of fun!

More details: