Prison Break: Thrown in jail for a crime we didn't commit (again?, this seems to happen to us a lot), we had to find a way to free ourselves from the joint.
Pros: When we arrived at Zscape in San Ramon, after a long day of escape room adventures in Northern California, we were surprised to find a simple, no frills type of escape room establishment. The gamemaster greeted us warmly and helped orient us to our game. We (along with a few bewildered and frightened first-timers) were escorted into our cell and condemned to a life in prison. The room was basic as one would expect a prison cell to be. The props were sparse but the set design helped set the "locked-away-in-hell" kind of feeling. Once the timer started, we immediately began searching for a way to free ourselves. The puzzles proceeded logically and after searching the room thoroughly and locating the necessary items, we were able to make our break. We needed only one hint from the gamemaster (much to my chagrin) as a result of our own failure to thoroughly search the area.
We have played a LOT (and I do mean A LOT) of games and, dear readers, you know that what the Escapeologists (speaking in third person now so you know we are serious) appreciate most is solid puzzle design. We found the puzzles exceptionally logical in Prison Break and the game flow on-point. This is a great game for beginners and enthusiasts alike. We definitely recommend you take a trip to San Ramon to check them out. We look forward to the opening of their next games and hope to visit again very soon.
P.S. We loved their awesome logo!
Inheritance: Tesla's inheritance awaited us if only we could solve his final puzzles.
Conspiracy Theory: A room of mysteries reveals the biggest conspiracies in history. We had to solve the biggest one.
Pros: The waiting room at Off the Couch was super cool. There was so much space and lots of games to play while you wait. The gamemasters were enthusiastic and clearly enjoyed their work. They did a great job telling the rules and introductory story lines. We were excited to get started playing the games. First we played Conspiracy Theory. We struggled through most of the puzzles and required lots of hints and intervention from the game master. Some mechanical difficulties coupled with less than logical puzzles impeded our game flow. We successfully escaped only with constant hints from the game master. Luckily our experience in Inheritance was quite the opposite. We loved the set and the puzzles. We moved through the game relatively effortlessly requiring only one major hint. The game flow was excellent ant the puzzles were all aligned to the game.
Cons: See comments above. The complexity of Conspiracy Theory could be improved with a few guideposts to lead players to the puzzle solutions. The first room also contained a lot of distracting stimuli that slowed our game play.
We definitely recommend you play Inheritance if you visit Off the Couch!
Quest for the Crown: Two brothers in competition for the throne in the ultimate showdown to see who will be the next king.
There is a new kid on the block (or should we say a new jester in the court?) in the East Bay escape room scene! Welcome Exit 2 Escape! They opened their doors a few weeks ago and are ready to get this royal ball started with one room up and running and two more on the way. This review covers the Quest for the Crown but we hope to play their other games soon.
The owner/gamemaster was absolutely delightful. She greeted us and immediately prepped us for our gameplay by introducing us to the story of the jilted elder son of the royal family. By the time she was done telling us the story we were ready to don our armor, wield our swords, and begin fighting our way through the castle.
We played in a group of 8 which was a bit large for our royal tastes but turned out to be manageable in this room. The set was appropriately decorated to theme and the puzzles likewise matched the medieval storyline. The linear flow of the game helped keep us on track though we required a hint or two to keep our carriage rolling forward. We were stumbling through the last puzzle when the clock struck midnight and we turned back into paupers rather than the royalty we had hoped to become. We gathered up our pumpkins and mice and limped our way, a few glass slippers short, back home. But alas not every story can have a fairytale ending.
We are looking forward to trying out their next rooms when they open. In the meantime, we definitely recommend you go and play Exit 2 Escape!
Wild West: Locked up in the local jail, we had to make our escape before the sheriff returned.
Asylum: The inmates are running the asylum and our goal was to get out fast.
Perfect Crime: Like the board game Clue only better. Who done it? When? With what weapon? Where? We had to figure it all out.
PanIQ San Jose is a welcome addition to the San Jose escape room scene. They had only been open a week when we played all three of their rooms. We are happy to report that the experience was top-notch from start to finish. The waiting room was neat and tidy. All of the gamemasters were efficient and friendly. We started our day in the Wild West room and were immediately impressed with the quality of the set design. This room and the other two rooms were perfectly decorated to theme. The sturdy construction made for a great user experience. There was enough searching to make the game fun, but not so many props and so much furniture to prove overly distracting. The game play proceeded smoothly in a simple linear fashion. We did not easily escape, but the puzzles were logical and relatively straight-forward. We completed each game with ten minutes or less to spare and struggled a bit as a result of our own mistakes. The game master helped guide us with hints to keep our game perfectly on pace. We really enjoyed the mix of mechanical, kinesthetic, logic, deductive reasoning and symbol puzzles.
Honestly we loved PanIQ room and will highly recommend it to all of our friends. We have played so many poor or middle of the road escape rooms lately that we were pleasantly surprised by our overall awesome experience at PanIQ room. Go play here!
Ghost Ship: Trapped on a ship with a ghost (or maybe it was a ship that was a ghost), we had to discover its secrets to make our escape.
Pros: The game master greeted us warmly and then proceeded to clearly articulate the rules and expectations for our gameplay. Once we entered the escape room, we discovered a relatively average set that was decorated with a few scattered props aligned to the theme. The puzzles were similarly average with some of them being clear and logical, a few overly complex or convoluted, and one or two that seemed to defy logic or explanation. In the end, with lots of help from the game master, we escaped and were happy to depart from the group of annoying strangers that the fates had unfortunately assigned us to play alongside.
Cons: Logical fallacies are always annoying and therefore we wish to repeat our admonition to puzzle designers and game masters: if players consistently get stuck on a specific puzzle, then the problem is the puzzle design, not the players. Please do not assume that it is simply a very clever puzzle that challenges players to the extreme. Worse yet, do not assume that players just do not understand the "logic" of it. If one or two teams here and there need a hint on the same puzzle, then there is no problem. But clearly if most every group needs help, then there is a problem and you should fix it.
Reader Warning: You are approaching a long-winded side-note. Feel free to cease reading this review here or at any point if you are feeling queasy or uncomfortable.
While we are on the subject of things that frustrate us, another common annoyance is the continued trend of pairing people with strangers. I know it is a financial incentive for owners to pack rooms to capacity. However, please think about the player experience first and foremost. If we get paired with a great group of strangers, then all is well in the universe. On the occasions when we get paired with children, teenagers, drunk people, a fraternity/sorority, or a group of generally annoying people, then we quickly find ourselves very much regretting the ordeal. A bad experience playing an escape game may mean that customers never want to return to your establishment (or any other) to play again. For $30-$50 a person, a bad experience seems like a colossal waste of money (and time). The customer is also less likely to recommend escape rooms to others. So we recommend that you allow teams to play games with their own group. If you must therefore require a minimum number of players to book the room privately, then so be it. But, please stop grouping us with random strangers.
Side-note over. K thanks!
Escape from the Madhatter: We found ourselves caught in the Madhatter's twisted game to keep us trapped in Wonderland.
Pros: Escape from the Madhatter introduced us to a whole new approach to the escape room concept. Our team could compete against up to three other teams in this intense intellectual exercise that had us scurrying from one room to the next every five minutes. Our goal was essentially to successfully solve four individual puzzles in each of the four rooms before the other teams completed the same four puzzles. The trick was that we had to rotate from one puzzle to the next every five minutes and avoid leaving hints for other teams to pick up on. Sounded like a great idea in theory, right?
Cons: The problem was with the reality. We loved the concept, but found the process extremely frustrating. Essentially it was like working on a multilinear room with multiple puzzles at once but being interrupted and forced to move to another puzzle and then back again every few minutes. This was challenging for the brain and frankly mostly ridiculous at times. The process was even further complicated by the game master who interrupted frequently to give us answers and hurry us along. We found ourselves rushed, distracted, confused, and angry especially by the end of the game. We "successfully" escaped but felt it was more a result of the free answers provided by the game master than by any success on our part. As the primary puzzle solver in each of the four rooms, I left feeling like my brain was in complete meltdown mode as a result of overuse. This was one of those rooms that had us shouting to escape room owners again: "Enough with the gimmicks already! Just focus on creating good, logical puzzles and we promise we will have a great time!" Time to take the madness out of this Madhatter game.
Wonderland: Having successfully fled Wonderland and entered back into the real world, we find ourselves undergoing psychiatric evaluation. The doctor thinks we have gone mad. Time to find our way back to Wonderland.
Pros: The set design was basic but solidly constructed which was much appreciated since flimsily constructed rooms often delay progress. This room was less about searching for items and more about solving puzzles. The puzzles were all logical and tied into the Wonderland theme. Although, we often found ourselves scratching our heads trying to figure out the complex puzzles, successfully solving them made it worth it in the end. The game master was helpful and offered hints every ten minutes.
Cons: Because the game master would physically enter the room every ten minutes to ask if we needed a clue, we frequently found ourselves distracted. However, it turned out that we needed to take these clues because there were too many puzzles for our two-person team to solve. In the end, we felt that a few of the puzzles were overly complex. With two more solid players, capable of working on their own to solve individual puzzles, we may have been closer to breaking out. Overall, we recommend you take a team of four expert players to attempt this escape room if you want a remote chance of escape. More people than that will most likely be too many. Paradox escape games is one of the best escape games in San Jose/Santa Clara area. But compared to larger markets, such as Los Angeles, that is not a huge compliment. Still, we recommend that when in the South Bay, visit Paradox Escape Room first.
Trapped in the Circus: Scholomo was a circus clown who designed a room of puzzles and riddles for J. W. Kite's Circus. After Scholomo's untimely death, the circus decided to honor his memory by allowing guests like us to try our hand escaping his puzzle room.
Pros: The storyline was very unique and had us amped up to take on the circus clown's challenge. The game master emerged in character and ready to escort us into the circus. We really enjoyed the enthusiastic opener. The puzzles in the room were relatively straightforward and all tied into the storyline and theme. The game master was in the room and provided necessary assistance throughout the game.
Cons: The game master provided too much assistance. Although she was well-intentioned in her desire to keep us on track and definitely helped us to identify which puzzles to solve first, the help was much more than we needed. If the concern is to ensure that everyone escapes on time, then we suggested they allow the normal 60 minute escape time rather than 40 minutes. Perhaps then the game moderator will feel less pressure to move people through the puzzles faster. The puzzles could also have been improved by a few modifications to help lead the players to a more logical conclusion and thus to solving the puzzle. This would also free the game master from feeling compelled to provide so many hints. The decorations and set-design were minimalist and really in need of some major improvements to add to the experience of the players. A few small changes to the decor could make a dramatic difference.
Psycho: A psycho serial killer had locked us in his apartment. We had to escape before the sadistic psychopath returned to kill us.
Geek: As employees of a tech company we found ourselves locked in the office. Our boss had lost his mind and determined to end it all with a bomb. We had to find the bomb before it detonated.
The Prison: Our group of jailbirds were locked in opposite cells. Together we had to work out a plan to breakout of the joint.
Pros: The waiting room was nice and large with a variety of games and opportunities to socialize before our escape game began. The game rooms were nicely decorated and clearly tied to the storyline. Each room had a good introductory story that helped set the tone for the game. We really liked the setup of the prison room and the separation of the groups was a nice added element that enhanced game play.
Cons: These were the most expensive rooms we have ever played. We do not mind paying for high-quality games and since this is a chain we expected high quality rooms. However, we definitely felt like it did not live up to the hype. The game moderator was unenthusiastic and monotone. While we were waiting to play, we could hear him giving hints to the group that played before us. We all had to try to not hear what was being said. When it was our turn to play, we quickly found that we needed help. When we requested hints during the game his responses were delayed and condescending. Rather than giving hints, he gave full answers. At one point, we pointed out that we were unable to solve a puzzle because the information on the hint did not match the lock. He insisted we were just doing it wrong and did not come into the room to check it out. At the end of the game, he looked at the lock and insisted that it was indeed the wrong lock (and therefore the puzzle was unsolvable). Rather than apologize, he simply insisted there was "problems with management." Similarly one of the hints provided to another puzzle was completely wrong and when we pointed this out he simply dismissed it. Our concern was that he would do nothing to fix the problems for the next groups.
The puzzles in all the rooms were not tied to the theme of the rooms. They were both too simplistic (crosswords, sudoku, simple mechanical puzzles) and yet overly complex and time-consuming. We felt more like we were doing homework than playing a game. Not our favorite experience.
Castle Escape: Trapped in a mysterious castle, we had to locate four magical symbols in order to discover the secrets of the castle and find our way out.
Pros: This was a great theme for an escape room. The puzzles were relatively easy to solve. So easy in fact, that we never broke a sweat and escaped with 20 minutes to spare. This would be a great room for children or escape room newbies. Kids would especially enjoy the Harry Potter type theme. Game moderators were helpful and friendly. Best for groups of 2-4.
Cons: The set design was very cheap and poorly laid out. We felt like we had to be very careful so as to not to break any of the props or furniture. Cheap puzzles, locks, and containers added to the flimsy, low-budget feel of the whole experience. Storyline was basic to non-existent. Puzzles were simple and not very challenging.
Cover photo taken at Countdown Live .
We are escape room fanatics who have played over 370 games in the U.S. and Europe. We love the art of escapology and we wanted to share our adventures in playing room escapes with you!
Rooms Played: 370