An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: Seattle/Vancouver and Final Thoughts
Today was the last day of our vacation. It has been an intense three days and felt more like three weeks. We played 16 escapes in just over three days. Although we are tired we have sworn to make this an annual thing.
EDIT: If you are interested in our thoughts in audio form, check out the podcast we recorded on the trip!
Since I am back in Canada, and used to BC, I am no longer a bumpkin! The only thing of note is we practically threw our loose change at the poor game master on our last Seattle room in an attempt to get rid of our American change.
On to the escapes!
On our friend Emile’s advice, we decided to check out the National Treasure room at Quest Factor, a franchise facility. Our game was bright and early at 10:30am. Lizette was worried about being joined by randoms again, but being such an early game on a weekday we were pretty much guaranteed to be the only ones there.
There were a lot of elements to like in this room: nice set, some fun tech, a few decent puzzles. We were fully prepared to walk out of the room thinking “That was pretty fun”.
But then came…the lockout safe computer.
I do not know if you know my opinions on lockout safes. If you are reading this and you are an enthusiast, it’s pretty safe to say you hate lockout safes. If you are new to escapes and you do not know what I am talking about, a lockout safe is a safe that locks you out after you attempt too many incorrect passwords. It is horrible and awful and should never be in any sort of design.
But here we were, presented with a computer needing not one, but four passwords. We had three attempts to get it right or we would be locked out for two minutes. If we did it incorrectly again and were locked out again, the lockout time would increase.
It is a very unfair thing to do to players, but would not be so bad if the answers to the passwords were certain. However, one of the passwords worked out to be a number. Did we need to type the digit? The word? Roman numerals? It was not clear. Another password required a name. Was it first name and last name, or just last name? We did not know.
The worst contender though was when we had to choose between two objects. We wondered if there was some sort of clue that would lead us to the correct object as the password. It turns out, no, there was not. We simply had to pick one and hope it was right.
I cannot describe how much this made our heads explode. We gave up on enjoying the room at that point. Our gamemaster was good humoured and took our criticisms in his stride. We were happy to leave and felt bad that an otherwise okay room was marred by a stupid lockout safe.
Luckily the rest of the day was more positive. We headed back to Vancouver to try out Pandora’s Locks. They had some neat rooms with clever puzzles. First up was Becky’s Room, a 1980’s themed room. The narrative was an interesting one although of course I will not spoil it. There are things I would do to tweak it, but it’s fun when I can merely tweak something in my head rather than decimate it.
There was one puzzle I did not like, though my friends were less concerned about it. It is essentially a destroyable puzzle. When we talked with Brian, the owner, a few days prior I remember him mentioning the puzzle and talking about all the opportunities players had to get the answer before it was no longer possible. However, considering my knowledge of the topic was not that great and I have a tendency to zone out background noise when I am focusing on other things, I do not think it’s fair to no longer make the clue available. Then again, maybe the majority of players get it, so who am I to judge?
The next room was another Alice in Wonderland themed room. As far as theming, I enjoyed this more than the Epic Team Adventures version. Lewis Carroll was all about nonsensical wordplay and this room did a good job of evoking that atmosphere.
This was another room in which you are presented with almost all of the puzzles at once. I will admit, I was overwhelmed. I think in the moment I was grumpy because I was not solving a lot and what I did solve were the couple of simple, beginner puzzles. In hindsight though there was a lot to appreciate about the room.
For one, even though we had a ton of puzzles presented to us, there was a way to track our progress. It was a huge relief after the overwhelming nature of other open path rooms we had done. There was also a physical aspect to the room that gave good feedback when we solved a puzzle.
The most fun part for myself was the timer. Without spoiling too much, it involves a video feed and I was pretty impressed they filmed a scene for over an hour just to get a timer for an escape room. It added to the atmosphere greatly though.
There was also an incredibly clever puzzle I had not seen in an escape yet, but of course I will not spoil it here. It might be walking the line of being unfair, but it was such a fun answer we could not help but marvel at the cleverness.
Finally, it was on to The Vault. This was probably the second most frustrating experience of the day. Don’t’ get me wrong, there was a lot going for this room: a more mimetic puzzle style, some fun humour, a few fun puzzles, and a great set.
We were dragged down though by our first puzzle. There was some ambiguity and unclear signposting that absolutely zapped our motivation for the rest of the room. The low lighting did not help. We did not all get flashlights, so it only added to our frustration as we all tried to snatch flashlights away from each other to solve our respective puzzles.
If it had not been for those first ten minutes of frustration, I think we would have had a fine time. This is the newest room from Pandora’s Locks, so I can imagine it being adjusted in the future as they get more players through it. It is definitely worth checking out if you would like to see examples of more mimetic puzzles.
The west coast was so worth the trip. Of the places I have visited so far, these are definitely some of the more puzzle centric games I have played. In general, Seattle seems to have a consistently higher level of difficulty. This makes sense as the west coast has a much bigger puzzle community.
We did not get to play Puzzle Break (it was tough to schedule) but from what I have heard of it, it seems that other facilities are following in its footsteps of open path puzzles. It was refreshing to play this style more. As an enthusiast, it is rare I get to play more difficult puzzles. I was glad to see the unlimited hints especially for newbies in the area who might want to try escape rooms out.
The rooms also tended to be on the longer side, which surprised me. Our average room was 65 minutes long. The longest one was 75. It was a welcome change for an enthusiast, and one I am curious about from a business perspective.
The highlight was of course Locurio: a facility that puts an emphasis on both narrative and puzzles, weaving them together into an incredibly smooth gameflow. The closest comparisons I could draw were the top tier rooms I played in the Netherlands. I hope I get to play more like it in the future.
This trip was also very much about the people. I got to connect with old friends, make new ones, and eat enough food to make me consider lettuce for the next two months.
We would definitely return to the area to see more of what it had to offer. Thanks to my travel mates: Errol, Margaux, and Lizette. Lizette planned pretty much everything from our escapes to our hotels. The trip would also not have happened at all had she not had a kid in camp for a week. Errol and Margaux continue to be two of my favourite gaming people and also have the patience for my occasional nervous bouts.
Justin and Julie Nevins also did a huge part in helping to plan the Seattle portion of our trip and provided much entertainment with our many hang-outs!
Emile and his wife Michelle were two new companions and were so much fun to play escapes with!
Jon, Dina, and their son Evan were simply awesome to play with! We really relied on the energy of a kid to get us through one of the longer rooms!
Thanks to all the owners for accommodating us: Jennifer of Epic Team Adventures for not only letting us play on a day she is normally closed but letting us order in take-out to eat! Brian of Pandora’s Locks for providing us with entertaining games and a three hour lunch of nerding out! Seth of Hourglass Escapes was incredibly nice even though we were late to one of his games (sorry!). Christine of Escape Artist who taught us you don’t have to be a theatre major to be into theatrical intro deliveries. Summer of Locurio who was not there but helped us co-ordinate our time.
And all our awesome GM’s! The names of the ones I remember: Amber, Jessica, Giselle, Russell, Harrison, Nate, Tad, Mike, Kyle…I think Kyle…oh no…ahhh….all our GM’s! You guys were awesome (even when we ranted).
Until the next trip!…which might be next year….my wallet is so empty.