The Escape Game: Mission: Mars (Spoiler Free)

Establishment: The Escape Game
Location: Minneapolis
Room: Mission: Mars

The Escape Game is a chain of escape/puzzle rooms based out of Nashville, with locations across the country.  We recently reviewed their Prison Break room in Cincinnati, they have a board game which Dale has reviewed previously, and a subscription puzzle service which we’ll be reviewing soon. 

The company offered I could check out the Minneapolis location during a trip I was making, and while I was at first hesitant, because I didn’t want to spoil a room that I could play at home with my friends, the Minneapolis location had one room that we don’t have in Cincinnati: Mission: Mars. (According to our host in Minneapolis, this room may not be for long. It is a more tech-heavy experience, and the support it requires may be too much; the room isn’t being added to any locations that don’t have it now.)

As with last time, today I’ll give you an overview as best I can of escape/puzzle rooms in general and towards the bottom you’ll get my thoughts on this one.  Of course, I don’t want to spoil any of the fun, so no need to fret on that front; I won’t discuss anything too specific.

One of the things I love about The Escape Game locations is the broad variety of operating hours –you can book from 8AM to Midnight! A few years ago for my birthday I tried to schedule as many rooms as I could in a day, and those kind of hours would have come in handy.

This specific location? Is inside the Mall of America – a shopping extravaganza with more than 550 stores, an aquarium, an indoor roller coaster, etc. Escape rooms don’t usually require much from their landlords as far as specific facilities go, and, at least so far, there doesn’t seem to have been a need to place them in high traffic commercial areas. Which is partially to say, I’m use to having to poke around a little to find where one is: in an abandoned office building, in a dark alley. This was like that but the opposite: many people around and helpful building directories, but still a mini puzzle to find the location. (That place was huge! and the drawback of the hours was that the various ice cream places were closed by the time we got out.)

When we went to the Cincinnati location, I meant to take a picture of how the rooms are labelled in the hallway leading back to them, as there was some nice artwork labeling each one, but I didn’t. This location stepped it up a bit and had these souped up extruded room icons indicating the theme of the room that lays just behind the door.

In short, you and your friends will be “locked” in a room for 60ish minutes solving puzzles.  Some establishments might have mixed groups, allowing parties that don’t know each other to play together, and others block off any additional capacity once someone has booked, so you’ll only be solving with your own group. The websites for various rooms will typically list maximum capacities and a suggested number of attendees, but I would usually half those numbers or more.  My preferred experience is 1 or 2 people, as I enjoy the increased pressure. With larger groups (6+), you experience less of the puzzles, and while I don’t need to be involved in each puzzle, I like to at least know it existed, and that can be tough with big groups.

There usually aren’t “rules” per se, other than don’t break things or climb on things. Some locations will place stickers on components that are structural or mechanical to the room and not part of the experience, and others do not.  Most locations will have a game master of sorts who is watching and listening in a remote room and who can help guide you through the process. Typically this person will keep your group on track, offering clues if you’re falling behind a baseline pace, or you can often ask for clues if you feel stuck.  Each establishment has their own stance on if, how many, and which types of clues affect your score/time. (My preference is for the rooms that say “ask for all the clues you want; we just want you to enjoy the experience and aren’t concerned with leaderboards for time.”)

So…what will you actually be doing? Um, solving puzzles?  At their most basic, rooms consist of a series of locks: number combinations, letter combinations, directional, or keyed.  Various clues in the room will lead you to think that information you find in the room can be combined to open a lock. One of the differentiators to me between the rooms that I enjoy less and the rooms that I enjoy more, are how such locks are implemented.  Is there a thematic reason to combine the information? Is there a thematic or any other reason to try that answer in this lock rather than the other possible locks in the room? Some rooms label information, and you’ll know that pieces to this puzzle will be labeled with a red dot, and clues for that other part will be labeled with a yellow square.  I’ve also done a room that had no locks or keys, but relied heavily on magnets and electronics.

You’re essentially on your own to determine how to get out.

For most rooms you won’t see a photo of the inside.  You’re generally forbidden, and won’t need to, use your phone during the experience, and to avoid spoilers you won’t see much on company websites. 

But, um, The Escape Game posts trailer videos that show you the room! (I’ve watched the video below, and after having done the room, I think it shows slightly more than I would have, but I’d feel free to watch.)  It really is a nice touch to give you a feel for what you are getting yourself into.

There are sort of three prongs to the experience: the quality of the puzzles; the quality of the production; and the customer service, for lack of a better term, of your game master.

This room was heavier on “locks” than I usually prefer, but I like the way it was implemented. Thematically, the players need to get several systems on their space base up and running to get off of Mars in a hurry. Rather than physical locks, in this room the players will have codes that they need to enter into tablets or other screens around the room. This isn’t always my favorite system, as electronic locks that freeze after a certain number of attempts, or require instructions about hitting “#” afterwards can be un-immersive, but that wasn’t the case here. The lock interfaces were intuitive, and it made sense why I was putting this code into that lock to accomplish this task.

As was the case with the room we did in Cincinnati, this room also included several types of puzzles I had not seen before. In the case of one of these, the interface was quite particular, and it was a little disappointing that we knew how to solve the puzzle, but needed to set the mechanism precisely right to proceed. It was more exactness than would be ideal to require. (There were also two puzzles that _felt_ like a work around to a specific puzzle that was not operable at the time, but the folks assured me that was intentional; those were a little disappointing.)

The Escape Game continues to impress me with the set design and ambiance of their rooms. I haven’t exactly been on a space base before, but this fit the archetype in your mind! The walls, the screens, the beeping.

Atlee, our host, was great.  She was happy to discuss the room and our experience afterwards, and the clues felt “just right” throughout our time. I didn’t mention it in the Cincinnati room post, but since it happened here again, both of our hosts have been good at highlighting the keywords in a clue when we’re just not getting it and could use a further hand.

I guess a 4th prong, maybe the 3.5 prong, of a room is their photo wall. All but one room that I’ve done has you take a picture in front of some sort of wall for posting to social media and what not. They usually have props of some kind for you to hold, that often show which room you did and if you were successful.

The Escape Game: Minneapolis has the best photo wall! I’m in no way saying our photo is the best, but this glossy black brick wall with the neon? I love it!

The Escape Game currently has locations in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Jacksonville, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Pigeon Forge, and San Francisco.  

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