Casa Loma: King of the Bootleggers
I have been to Casa Loma in Toronto twice now. Both of those visits were for escape rooms. One of those escape rooms just happened tonight.
This particular escape room, King of the Bootleggers, is set in the 1920’s during prohibition. You play a team of bootleggers looking to cash in on the lucrative business of forbidden alcohol. Being that the mafia is involved, there are of course obstacles in the way like snitches, guns and far too many bruised egos.
I had already done Escape From the Tower at Casa Loma so I knew the production values would be great. I was not disappointed. The castle itself does most of the work for Company & Co. (the guys who run the escape room). Walking through underground tunnels was thrilling. Knowing that they were tunnels that were actually used for bootlegging in the past was icing on the cake for my own nerdy self.
The actors involved were also great. They had the slang, they had the attitude, they were entertaining. The plot was easy to follow and interesting enough that I wanted to know happened.
I have to admit, it was a thrilling feeling walking through underground tunnels. It was even more thrilling to arrive at a secret door and have a bouncer stare through a slider panel asking for a password to let us in. It made me feel like I was transported back to a 1920’s speakeasy.
There’s also a lot more interaction this time around which thrilled me. I’ve been pushing for a more theatrical experience ever since I started playing escape games so it’s wonderful to see Company & Co. starting to implement more story and character into their experience.
The game is designed for sixteen people. That seems like a large number but in reality the teams are actually split up at the beginning to go into three separate rooms. We had the library and it’s unsurprising that this involved many, many word puzzles.
The puzzles, at least the ones I was involved in, were decent. There was a ton of searching involved which is not my greatest strength to begin with, let alone having to search for random books in a room with wall to wall books. I know if Errol had come into the room with us he would have abhorred it with all of his soul. To me it was a mild annoyance that really ate into our time. Honestly, was it so much to ask that only a section of the library be used for the game?
But there were also some good logic puzzles and ciphers involved. Ciphers always get me excited. I am a big nerd.
There was an issue in bottle necking toward the end. Once we solved all the puzzles the final mystery had to be solved and suddenly sixteen people were all crowding around tiny pieces of paper. I ended up sitting it out because I couldn’t make sense of what was being discussed.
This led to a big communication error which cost us the game alas. I don’t think this is completely a design flaw though. Our teammates were unclear on what they were able to do and did not relay correct instructions.
The good news is that even though we lost we were still told what would have happened at the end and still got to see how it would have played out albeit with a few less bells and whistles. Being able to go through secret passages in a castle was reward enough for me.
All in all it was a good intermediate level experience. I had fun. My friends had fun. We only got to see a small part of the room, but it was a gorgeous room to look at.
It did lead though to a question that was on everyone’s mind at the end of the night: altogether with tax the cost of Casa Loma, King of the Bootleggers was $50. The room was good, but was it $50 good?
It’s becoming an increasingly important question the more escape rooms become popular. We want better escape rooms. Better escape rooms are going to cost more.
There were a few factors affecting our cost. One was Casa Loma itself. I’m not sure what the cost of rent would be there to put on an escape game but I can see the historical location justifying a higher price range.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there are more actors in King of the Bootlegger to give a more immersive experience. All of these actors have to get paid at some point and that adds to your costs.
So is it worth the high cost? Honestly? I am stuck in the middle. On the one hand, the theatrical experience of it is very well done. The story is easy to follow and well paced. The set design and prop design is amazing and period appropriate.
On the other hand when it comes to the puzzles it’s a pretty standard escape affair. The copious amounts of searching put me off slightly. Errol brought up that the Casa Loma series is probably not a good one for escape enthusiasts. Most enthusiasts hate searching and will avoid it at all costs.
When we asked our friends, specifically the newbies in our group, if they thought the price was worth it the answer was a resounding “Eh…”. They thought the escape was good. They loved the scripted pieces. But they still thought it was a touch overpriced for what they got.
One of the big deciding factors was that in the end, you are only really paying for one third of a game. As I said at the beginning the group of sixteen is broken up into three teams. Each group goes to a separate room to solve puzzles and for the majority of the game, you remain there until you go back to the bar to play out the final sequence.
Often in my playthrough I was wondering what the other rooms looked like and was sad that I never got to try them out. Once we finished the escape we were welcome to go back to the rooms and check them out but it’s not quite the same if you don’t get to help solve them.
Don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of puzzles to keep us occupied in the library. But once you were in that room you were trapped with your choice. Each room was themed toward a specific type of puzzle: words, math and…um…whatever the third room was. It would have been nice to have a chance to take a break from word puzzles and switch.
I’m so torn on this question. Was fifty dollars far too much to pay? Should there be a discount? What part of the room would suffer if the price was lowered? Would there be less actors? Less set design? Less fancy looking puzzles? Would there be an escape at Casa Loma at all?
What do we expect out of our price? Actor interactions? High immersion? Casa Loma did that part quite well. Unique puzzles? High tech? In that department not so much but to be fair, there would not be much room for tech in Casa Loma and as an escape room diva there are few puzzles that could surprise me now. The important thing was that I enjoyed them and for the most part I did!
This debate could go on for anther thousand words if need be. But for a debate, you need more than one person, so I welcome comments on this topic!
In the end I tend to judge a room on how it made me feel and Casa Loma made me feel like I was a gangster in a speakeasy in the 1920’s. That alone speaks volumes to me.
So I will end on this: definitely check out the Casa Loma series especially if you are newer to escape rooms and are looking for quality rooms to do. Yes it’s pricey. It might even be too pricey. But if you have that extra $50 lying around there are worse things you could do with your time.