Escape Chambers Chicago: The Job

Escape Chambers Chicago: The Job

THE STORY

You have to break into the office of a snitch to recover a thumb drive before the police and escape without being caught.

THE DETAILS

Location: 4906 W. Irving Park Rd. Chicago, IL.

Time: 60 minutes

Capacity: 12. I recommend 4. Our group of 5 was too large.

Price: $30.00 per ticket

Franchise: Yes

Parking/Public Access: Limited, metered street parking

Escape: Of course!

THE EXPERIENCE

Located in a busy, but shady neighborhood, this place was a little hard to find. It was poorly marked as well. When we arrived, we could not open the front door. The gamemaster informed us she keeps it locked because of the drunk, homeless man outside who keeps trying to come in. Yikes! Then she went outside for a smoke break.

The decor in the front…pretty sure this used to be a dog groomer/vet/doggie day care. What gives it away? The astroturf in the window and smell of dog urnine permeating the place. There wasn’t enough seating for our group of 5 and we arrived early so we stood around awkwardly. To alleviate this situation we all opted to use the bathroom, which turned out to be decrepit and in the back of a creepy hallway.

Things only got worse. We had a Groupon but were informed that we had to pay taxes now. We had no idea there would be additional charges and that was not OK. But we paid and were pumped to play.

The gamemaster started prepping us to go in the room. The length of the intro was perfect. She had a baby monitor hanging in her cleavage so she could listen to the other room that she was running while she was talking to us. She was super nice, but c’mon, in your cleavage? I know you work in a crappy neighborhood in a stinky building, but let’s try to class it up just a little.

Once in the room we all had to shed our belongings onto the floor. The coats and hats and gloves and purses took up a lot of floor space.

This room uses an iPad to give clues and you need to use a QR code at points. Which is fine if you know what you are doing. We didn’t. We actually needed help on this and she had to explain it mid-game.

THEME, SET, AND PUZZLES:

Steal something from an office and escape…not an original theme.

Standard goodwill furniture fills the office. That is fine except for a couple of things…the desk is HUGE and takes up too much space. We couldn’t pull the chair out from the desk all of the way because it hit the table behind it, severely impeding our progress. This room has a max capacity of 12 (!!!!!) but we could only fit 2 people behind the desk at a time. I honestly have no idea how they shove 12 people into that room. Six, maybe 8 if you really like each other, but not 12. One piece of furniture had missing knobs missing and stuck doors so we thought we would find missing parts. Nope, they just bought cheap, broken furniture. Don’t get me wrong, most places get their furniture on the cheap and I have no problem with that…but make sure that it works!

They distributed the clues clustered together and accessible to only a couple of people at a time. Or worse, once you had the clue it was something that only one person could work on at a time. Frequently in our team of 5, 3 people just hung about…one even completely disassembled the coatrack out of sheer boredom.

I did like that there were a lot of smaller rooms to access BUT each room was smaller than the last, so eventually there was only enough room for one person at a time. Again, that left people out of the game.

No puzzles stood out as innovative or different. In fact, the only standout was my surprise at having read a number of the books in the room.

At the end of the day, The Job presents standard fare material in a sub-standard way. They had the opportunity to do something great because they had a lot of space to work with but dropped the ball.

TECHNOLOGY

Minimal. We used an iPad in the room to ask for clues and some magnetic locks. Everything functioned properly.

SHOULD I GO?

Skip it. I didn’t like this one. There are a lot of escape rooms in the area, try one of those instead…even if you Groupon it like we did. Newbies may be impressed with some of the hidden puzzles, but seasoned vets will not be impressed.

Fox In A Box: Bank

Fox in A Box Chicago: Bank

THE STORY

You and your band of thieves seize a 60-minute break in the alarm system to steal diamonds from the bank manager’s office.

THE DETAILS

Location:  47 W Polk Street, Ste L5  Chicago, IL 60605. This place can be hard to find. Once you locate the train station, go inside, down the stairs, and follow a loooooooooong hallway to the very back. You will think you are lost, you will think you should turn back…but keep going…it is worth it!

Time: 60 minutes

Capacity: 5

Price: $ 33.00-49.50 per ticket

Franchise: Yes

Parking/Public Access: Limited metered street parking

Escape: Of course!

THE EXPERIENCE

I almost missed my game because I was nervous about walking down that long hallway. But once I finally made it to the end I buzzed to be let in (they keep the doors locked) and was greeted by a super friendly gamemaster. The reception is spacious, modern, plenty of seating and looks great. They have everyone put their belongings into a container that is then locked in a closet.

Pro Tip: You pass the bathroom on the way in, but, (fun!) you have to go get a code to punch in the lock to get inside. This location was made to house an escape room!

The gamemaster then takes you down the hall and walks through the rules while demonstrating wth little lego men pictures the dos and don’ts. This intro seems just about perfect, it keeps your attention and is just the right length. The rules allow players to ask for hints whenever they want, but there is a ten-minute timer between hints.

Then they let us loose in the room and we were off! Except for a few puzzles noted below I thought they had designed a smooth flow where we really had to work on some puzzles, but we could find the solution.

THEME, SET, AND PUZZLES:

A bank heist is not an original theme, but the designers did a great job incorporating it into the puzzles and the set. There are a few lapses where some props just would not be in a bank manager’s office, but overall there is a strong adherence to the theme.

The designers put a lot of effort into setting the stage. There is a variety of art on the walls, a beautiful vault door, and a spacious floorplan. Where Fox in A Box shines is making people work together. While individuals could solve some puzzles, one specifically REQUIRED 2 people. I love the cooperation involved as it only adds to the fun. A series of puzzles at the end were so simple yet so much fun to do.

I really loved this room at first, but a few lapses in puzzle design dropped this room from a “must do” to a “give it a try”. One thing I strongly believe is the solution to a puzzle should never require an actual tool or disassembling in any manner. It just makes it problematic at all of the other escape rooms when people are disassembling furniture.

We never did solve one puzzle. After asking for a regular clue we remained mystified so we actually spoke with the gamemaster through a speaker system and still couldn’t figure it out. Our team ended up just solving enough to outsmart the lock. When experienced players can’t figure it out even with the help of a gamemaster the puzzle has a problem. Another one we sort of figured out, but only through a process of elimination. A clue had highlighted sections that, when used in conjunction with a previously retrieved clue to find the answer in the room. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch this because the highlighted clue and the object didn’t match closely enough. The Gamemaster had to give us a nudge there.

There was a fun surprise in the middle of playing the game to make it really feel like we were a band of thieves.

TECHNOLOGY

This room made me feel like I encountered a lot of technology. But looking back, technology was minimal, it just felt more exciting at the time.

However, the countdown clock was malfunctioning so we did not have any idea how much time had elapsed.

SHOULD I GO?

Yes! While this isn’t a must do, it is a very high go for it! While there, try some of the other rooms.

The price is fairly steep if you don’t gather enough players, but really, it is more fun to go with more than 2 people anyway. Newbies and veterans alike will enjoy their time there. Veterans will recognize some typical escape-room puzzles, but there are interesting twists to keep everyone interested.

 

D.O.A. Room Escape: The Basement

D.O.A. Room Escape: The Basement

THE STORY

HH Holmes was a serial killer at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. You need to learn his secrets and escape his lair before he finds  you.

THE DETAILS

Location:  1450 W. Fullerton Avenue, Unit A in Addison, IL. D.O.A. is super easy to find at the intersection of Fullerton and Lombard.

Time: 60 minutes

Capacity: 8

Price: $ 29.50 per ticket

Franchise: Yes, this is the parent location

Parking/Public Access: Tons of parking in the free parking lot.

Escape: Not even close.

Pro Tip: The theme of this room is horror so if you have young/impressionable players go to another escape game.

THE EXPERIENCE

After easily finding this place we walked in and the gamemaster cheerily greeted us. The lobby looks a bit worn, but this place has been open for a while and they do a brisk business so I’m fine with that. As I recall, the owners provided no seating. While getting ready to play, you place your belongings in a closet that the gamemaster then locks. However, all of the players share this one closet, including players in other rooms. I prefer to have the groups at least separated out. I don’t know that anyone has ever had anything stolen, but it makes me uncomfortable. Still better than bringing it into the room though!

Once everyone had stashed their things, signed their waivers and used the bathroom we headed to the door. I cycled through excitement, extreme excitement, annoyance, and a readiness to nap because of the length of the intro. The rules took a long time to go over. Unnecessarily long. Then when you think the game will begin and get all hyped up again…the gamemaster reads PAGES of historical information about Holmes. Don’t get me wrong, I like history. But I wanted to go play! And as it turns out, the information didn’t help in the rooms anyway.

Once inside, we tried to go about the usual ransacking only to discover very few props. I initially liked the uniqueness of this. That quickly turned to frustration when we realized that only a couple of people could do anything at a time.

One of the first puzzles took us a very long time to solve. So long in fact, that we begged the gamemaster for help which we did not receive. We experienced a high level of frustration and some players even considered walking out. Eventually the gamemaster showed us the clue and we moved on to the second room. I’m sure that lots of people figure that clue out and I’m not annoyed that I couldn’t get it; I’m annoyed that when I couldn’t get it the gamemaster let us struggle for so long.

After exiting the first room, you have to cross a hallway and head to the second room. In the second room we proved no better at solving these puzzles and did not get anywhere near to finishing the room.

THEME, SET, AND PUZZLES:

The theme of the room is totally original. “But wait!” you say, escaping a serial killer isn’t original. I would argue for this room, it absolutely is. One of the earliest in the Chicago area to create an escape room AND basing it on a real, local serial killer makes this an original.

The designers clearly spent a lot of time on the set, but instead of mimicking Holmes’ actual abode they went the creepy haunted-house route. More reality and less fake gore would have had a far more chilling effect. Also, why they didn’t change the footprint of the building so we didn’t have to move from one office across the hall to another office is beyond me.

So I love the theme and I liked the set, but the puzzles…wow. And not in a good way. The extreme logical leaps and inconsistencies make me wonder how anyone ever escapes.

In the second room, everyone kept busy because of the number of objects, but painfully bad clues dampened our enthusiasm. The designers wrote one riddle on a background that made it so difficult to read the gamemaster had to recite it for us. We just could not solve one clue. And of the 40-45 people I have since shown it to NOT ONE has ever figured it out. I do not like gamemaster-dependent puzzles. I want the high of the team solving it. The goal of one riddle was supposed to lead you to an object with a clue on it. Except we found another object in the room that also answered the riddle and also had a clue. That exasperates players and shows lazy design. We cannot have been the first ones to have had this happen to us.

In the end we not only didn’t escape, but we left grumbling. I did this room with people who had completed more than 100 escape rooms. I did this room with people that own escape rooms. We all agreed this was the worst room we had ever done.

TECHNOLOGY

Nope. Not even a countdown clock!!!!

SHOULD I GO?

No! I played so many better games in Chicagoland in one weekend. I honestly do not know how this place stays open. Had this been my first ever room, it would have been my last.

Optimal group size is 4-6. The first room doesn’t have enough to do and in the second room the 8 of us kept bumping into each other.

I don’t know who will be more frustrated by this room. Newbies who don’t know the exhilaration of playing a great game will be frustrated by the poor clue and puzzle quality. Veteran players who do know the exhilaration of playing a great game will be frustrated by the poor clue and puzzle quality.

 

Escape MSP: James Bomb

Escape MSP: James Bomb

THE STORY

Captured by terrorists, your team of MI6 agents has 60 minutes to deactivate the bomb and escape the room.

THE DETAILS

Location: 701 Decatur Ave Suite 102, Minneapolis, MN 55427. The building is easy to find, the entrance…not so much.

Time: 60 minutes

Capacity: 10. I think 8 is optimal for the number of puzzles.

Price: $29.95 per ticket

Franchise: Yes

Parking/Public Access: Plenty of parking in the parking lot. I didn’t see any public transportation.

Escape: Sadly, no.

A couple of interesting puzzles that I didn’t expect made this room a lot of fun to do. Newbies will definitely feel the “wow!” factor, but seasoned roomies will not be as impressed. The theme is standard and not really adhered to in the room, so this more just an amalgamation of puzzles than a quest to the finish. That said, I had a lot of fun and would happily return to Escape MSP to try another room.

THE EXPERIENCE

Escape MSP was rather difficult to find. Not because we couldn’t find the address, but because the door that you see from the parking lot isn’t the entrance. Our first task upon arriving was to work with the other people already huddled outside just to get in.

Once inside, everyone gathered in reception. The designers put absolutely no effort into the decor here. This plain office space is decorated with just a conference table and chairs. Bonus points for not only having sufficient space for the large group, but actually having enough seating as well. Everyone put their stuff into a single locked trunk. I am not a huge fan of mixing belongings but it is sooooo much better than taking it into the room with you!

While waiting, one of the players read the rules aloud at the request of the gamemaster. Then the gamemaster came out in character, rounded everyone up  at “gunpoint” and sent us into the room where we had to cuff our hands behind our backs. It was a pretty exciting beginning, and to tell the truth, even knowing it is a game I still felt a twinge of anxiety. But that just makes it more fun.

Fast forward 20 minutes and the cuffs remain on. This was becoming considerably less fun. Only a couple of people could access the location of the hidden key at a time. The sheer number of people in the room meant that most of us stood around while the first people searched that area of the room – but not THOROUGHLY. And because we didn’t all know each other, communication became a problem. Pro Tip: if your hands are cuffed behind you, you can step through your arms to get them in front of you.

After that, most of the puzzles went rather smoothly. I do not like red herrings, and a considerable number of them were in the room. The designers did it to occupy the large number of occupants in the room. But is there anything more frustrating than spending time on a puzzle for nothing? I think not. Come up with puzzles that require more people, or come up with two puzzle paths that players can follow simultaneously!

THEME, SET, AND PUZZLES

The theme of the room, disabling a bomb, is a pretty standard scenario so nothing original there. The set didn’t follow the story. Supposedly locked in the basement of a building, we saw bookshelves and a desk and a typewriter and signs and…  basically, this did not look at all like a basement. If you disregard the mismatch between the story and the actual room, the set worked. It had some props that didn’t fit the room either as a basement or as an office space because the designers included them as a part of a random puzzle. That means that the puzzles aren’t always on-theme either. Despite not having Hollywood-level decor, the designers used their apparently tight budget to really decorate the room – including the walls.

The way the designers divided up the physical space became one of my favorite parts of the room. The floorpan kept us interested and engaged. Hidden features did not reveal themselves until players went looking for them based upon solutions, so no one would randomly stumble upon them…although the gamemaster hid some things a little too well for us to find.  One puzzle that I really liked involved an unexpected way of looking at things and made everyone go “Wow!” There was another one that was totally original and unique to my experience but completely unrelated to the theme. There were a few original adaptations of traditional puzzle props which I also enjoyed.

The designers of James Bomb have some kinks to work out. First, the spacing of the clues needs some work. With most items stashed in a single area at the beginning, 8 of us milled around while 2 people searched. We then slowly cycled through as everyone took a turn. FOR 20 MINUTES! It made for a less than exhilarating third of the game. The final puzzle has a high level of difficulty because people experienced with the prop will have trouble adjusting to a new way of seeing it. We had to just try all of the numbers in varying sequences.

TECHNOLOGY

This room has a good grasp on simple technology and incorporated it in the room well, even if none of it was difficult or mind blowing. We didn’t experience any failures.

SHOULD I GO?

With an official capacity of 10 the physical space can certainly hold that number, however, I think the number and flow of the puzzles works better for 6-8 people maximum. Red herrings engaged people so they did not just stand there bored, but no one wants to find out that they wasted their time.

If you go with a smaller than capacity group, both newbies and veterans alike will enjoy this room. While low-tech, it has some interesting and enjoyable puzzles. This started as an immersive experience, but quickly became just a random grouping of puzzles. Despite this, I still think of this room as in my top 5 for most fun. Kudos to Escape MSP!

Escape Factor Chicago: The Timekeeper’s Trap

Escape Factor Chicago: The Timekeeper’s Trap

THE STORY

The Timekeeper has lured you into his trap and you have 60 minutes to escape.

THE DETAILS

Location: 711 South Blvd. Suite 2, Oak Park, IL 60302. Just off the beaten path. This is HARD to find people. It is in an office building and with a tiny sign on the door. The manager has incorrectly listed the suite inside as well.

Time: 60 minutes

Capacity: 10. There are plenty of puzzles to go around.

Price: $32 per ticket

Franchise: No

Parking/Public Access: Limited, metered street parking. The building is right across from a train stop and is near several restaurants.

Escape: Of course!

Pro Tip: If you take a picture and post it to your Instagram account they will print off a photo of your group for you.

THE EXPERIENCE

The Timekeeper’s Trap is in a nondescript office building with a teeny, tiny sign in one of the doors making it easy to drive past. Once we found the building, we then had to find the correct office suite. Escape Factor Chicago has multiple offices in the building and the second one we approached turned out to be reception. Reception was tastefully done and has some additional entertainment but it is TINY. If you had 10 people waiting you would definitely spill into the hallway. Pro Tip: They have riddles and brainteasers but no ANSWERS. If you are easily frustrated don’t look at them.

The gamemaster was cordial and once everyone arrived proceeded with the usual intro. Then they walked us across the “courtyard” to another suite. Once inside, we walked behind a curtain and were in a room filled with…clocks! Typical for escape rooms, there was no where to put our stuff so everything was unceremoniously  dropped on the floor – it did get in the way of solving a later puzzle. Then the gamemaster turned on a screen and the Timekeeper addressed us. I love that touch!

After the video ended, they let us loose to search the room. Because of the mix of seasoned veterans and newbies, our first pass at the room left a lot of important clues still in drawers/hiding places. This definitely slowed us down in the long run.

THEME, SET, AND PUZZLES:

The general idea of escaping the room is still there, but we meet a new villain in the Timekeeper so I like the originality. Unfortunately, used furniture and decor fill the drab room. This looks like a budget set-up. BUT they went all out on the clock theme.

The designers carried the clock theme throughout the room well and they integrated it not just in the decor, but also into the puzzles. I had never seen some of these puzzles before and thought they were original and fun. I like coming across something and thinking, “great idea!” The designers incorporated new and original clues so two thumbs up. The originality of the puzzles and the designers’ ability to stay on-theme make up for the drab decor.

I didn’t like that the things on the walls of the room are covered in “no touching” stickers except one that a player must move. I would never have found that (I can lack attention to detail at times) because once I saw those stickers on the majority of items I just tuned them out.

TECHNOLOGY

Their use of technology is almost non-existent except the intro video. The technology that they did have was a bit difficult to work out and really needed some sort of clue. Maybe if we had all known each other we would have figured it out faster. In addition, it didn’t seem to be working 100% correctly. After hitting a button nothing happened and we had to be told to hit the button harder. If you are a techno-fan, this room is not for you. But if you enjoy it old-school, you will love it.

SHOULD I GO?

Larger groups (8-10) have found a place to go in the Timekeeper’s Trap. There is always something to do and plenty of puzzles to go around. In fact, there are so many puzzles that you will leave thinking “How did that open? Where did that key come from?” Control freaks may not enjoy this room, but if having groups work multiple puzzles simultaneously gets you excited, you will LOVE it. This room may challenge small groups (4 and under) to complete everything in time.

Newbies will enjoy this room. It is a great introduction to puzzle rooms. More experienced players may also enjoy it, but compared to some of the more “Hollywood-style” rooms out there, this one could use a sprucing up. Regardless of how many puzzles you have done, I think you will like this room. It is a Must-Do for anyone in Chicagoland.

 

 

 

 

Xtreme Escape Game: Cell Block M

Xtreme Escape Game: Cell Block M

THE STORY

You have 60 minutes to find evidence in the prison to prove your innocence and escape.

THE DETAILS

Location: 909 North Collier Boulevard, Marco Island, FL

Time: 60 minutes

Capacity: 10. Optimal for 4-6

Price: $29.50 + tax per ticket

Franchise: No

Parking/Public Access: Right on the main road on Marco Island. If fully booked I could see parking becoming a problem, but we had our pick of locations.

Escape: Of course!

Pro Tip: Xtreme Escape does not provide storage for your belongings. We had to bring everything in with us, which of course ended up on the floor. We put everything on the bed after discovering REAL cockroaches scurrying around – unfortunately covering up a clue that we later could not find because no one wants to touch a stranger’s purse. Not super happy about that.

THE EXPERIENCE

Located in a strip mall, we found Xtreme Escape Game easily. The designer went all-out decorating the front room. It is gorgeous! I expected a great set after seeing the amount of effort that went into the front room and I was not disappointed. However, the lobby needs more seating, as three rooms means it is a high-capacity business.

As we pulled into the parking lot, we received a text that we needed to think up a team name prior to arrival. I can’t remember that happening before. It was a little odd, because we received it right before we arrived and didn’t have time to think of one. Once inside, the gamemaster informed us that we must bring our cell phones in with us as we would communicate by text. That is exactly the opposite of most locations. I’m still not sure if I liked that. I don’t know if it was done to save money, minimize the number of employees (no one listening or really watching) or as a communication experiment. Regardless, sometimes it took a while to get a response which is not OK when racing the clock.

Another group started a different room at the same time, so the gamemaster told everyone the rules, then told us our background info and into the room we went while the other team waited. The intro was pretty typical, nothing super exciting but on the other hand, it wasn’t too long.

We walked in and began ransacking the room. We had trouble with a few clues, but for the most part it was pretty easy to follow the puzzle path.

THEME, SET, AND PUZZLES:

If you are looking for a dime a dozen theme, a prison break is right up there. This room adds a little twist though. The goal is not simply escape, but finding evidence that exonerates you.

The designer made the set immersive and theme-driven.  Most of the clues were challenging but solvable. Three clues in particular need some work. The very first clue I disturbed by moving items. I don’t think an initial puzzle should be dependent on not moving something. The initial ransacking of the room made the puzzle unsolvable without help. Should I have been more careful? Absolutely! Would I make the same mistake again? In a heartbeat! The final clue also required a level of detail that was beyond me as again we required the gamemaster’s assistance. Maybe this says something about how detail-oriented I am, but I’m guessing most groups struggle with these clues as well. The third clue required blacklights and was impossible to solve without assistance because the writing on the wall had worn off and we just couldn’t make out the characters.

That said, I enjoyed most of the puzzles. I cannot recall any “wow” moments as the designer used pretty standard puzzles, but they held my interest.

Pro Tip: Watch your head. Cell Block M has a door that lifts up. Don’t worry, I’m not revealing anything, as anyone walking in will spot this obvious feature.  However, it doesn’t move completely out of the way and all of us almost hit our heads. This is a serious safety hazard.

TECHNOLOGY

None.

SHOULD I GO?

This place has great decor. Not Hollywood level, but they definitely did not just go raid the local Goodwill and call it a day. It impressed me. Newbies will love this room. It is fun, it uses a lot of the standard tricks of escape rooms, and ultimately, isn’t that difficult to escape. If you are vacationing on Marco Island it is worth a visit despite some problematic clues. Veteran roomies may find themselves disappointed. No clues or puzzles have a “wow” factor. Even the hidden doors aren’t hidden. However, if a veteran sets their expectations for a classic room escape, this fits the bill. I certainly wouldn’t go with 10 people. You never need more than 2 people per puzzle, so people will definitely stand around if 10 people go in.

Chicago’s Room Escape Conference

Transworld Presents Chicago's Room Escape Conference

My very first post is not about an escape room at all. But it is tangentially about the Room Escape Conference that just happened in Chicago. I cannot think of a more perfect weekend than groups of highly skilled roomies going from escape room to escape room reducing previous records to ashes.

This is important news to you because I now have done a TON of escape rooms in Chicago. For a little while you will see that reflected in my reviews. I want to reiterate that I’m writing my reviews out of order so that owners cannot identify when I visited their location or try to figure out who I am.

Pro Tip: Keep in mind that some owners and escape room enthusiasts have played well over 100 rooms. They have some serious experience under their belts and they put it to good use setting incredibly fast records.