Dale Yu – Review of Playground – An IRL Escape Room by The Escape Game

Playground

Players: 2-10 (4 in our case)

Time: no more than 60 minutes (44 minutes in our case)

Location: the Cincinnati location of the Escape Game (one of 20 possible locations!)

Difficulty: 6/10 

Link: https://theescapegame.com/cincinnati/

playground

So, we have a lot of escape room fans here at the Opinionated Gamers. We’ve done our fair share of escape rooms, remote escape rooms during the pandemic, board game versions of escape rooms, and countless board game versions (EXIT, Deckscape, Decktective, Escape Tales, Escape Room in a Box, Unlock, Escape the Room, Unlocked, and many others)…

We were pretty pumped to get an invitation to try out one of the newest escape rooms at The Escape Game.  They are a national chain with TWENTY existing locations, a number under construction now, and a robust setup for remote adventures – where you log in via Zoom and an employee in the physical room runs around with a GoPro on his/her head and acts as your eyes and ears.  The company actually has two new rooms (to me), Playground which we have here in Cincinnati and a Rugrats themed room (which is not here).

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The story for this room: “Summer is here! Well, almost… If you and your friends are going to leave for summer vacation, you’ll need your final report card. Here’s the problem, you haven’t finished your work and these assignments are unlike anything you’ve encountered in a classroom before. Luckily, you’ve got a great squad and everyone brings something different to the table. Band together to ace the ultimate group project. Pass or fail, you’re in this together!”  You start the room in your fourth grade classroom, and you have a number of tasks to finish in order to make it to the playground…

(Note – normally pictures are not allowed in these escape rooms, but we were given express permission to take spoiler free pictures for the purposes of this review)

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In case you’re not familiar with the idea- let me borrow this description from James Nathan’s review of the Mars adventure (From the same company):

 

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 and 3D room photos 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.

https://theescapegame.com/cincinnati/escape-rooms/playground/

—  

 

For spoiler purposes, we won’t talk about any of the specific puzzles – but there is a nice balance of easy/difficult, mental/physical, etc.  I have always found the Escape Game puzzles to be constructed well, offering a good challenge to veteran escape room solvers but still being accessible enough for those who are doing one for the first time.

 

In this room, the staff is not physically with you in the room, but you are constantly monitored via camera.  There is a TV monitor in each room which shows you the timer, but also can be used by the staff to give you hints as needed, or perhaps redirect you if you’re doing something unhelpful (or possibly damaging to the room!).  If your team really gets stuck, there is a big red button in each room that you can hit to ask for help.

 

The escape room is somewhat linear.  You don’t get much instruction on what puzzle(s) are to be completed first, but you will eventually figure it out because certain things won’t appear, doors won’t open, buttons can’t be pressed until you solve a particular puzzle.  It’ll likely be the only puzzle that you have all the pieces for; and then when you solve it, something happens which gives you pieces to some of the other puzzles.  There is a report card on the wall which does let you know how many puzzles you still have to complete…

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The number of puzzles is pretty high, and because of this, I’d recommend at least 4 players for most of their escape rooms.  There is plenty of work to be split up amongst your fellow solvers, and frankly, it’s nice sometimes to have an extra set of eyes to look at a puzzle differently to unlock the solution.  In this room, there were about a dozen puzzles to be solved, and while none of them presented a new type of puzzle to me, they were all well constructed.  We were able to partially short circuit two of the puzzles (thru some mild brute forcing). The pacing was good, and the overall structure was nice as well.

 

Of course, the more people that you have, the more likely that it is that you won’t see all the puzzles… but you only have 60 minutes to solve them all, so you’d be pretty pressed for time if the group tried to do all the puzzles together as a group and not divide and conquer.  What  often helps in our group is to have one person try to coordinate efforts to keep things on track.  The team often gets puzzles in piecemeal over the course of the hour, and it is helpful to have a person in charge of tracking what puzzle bits are out there and try to assign them together so that they can be solved.

 

The great thing about the Escape Game is that the host (time permitting) is always willing to stand around and chat afterwards, and they will take the time to explain any questions you might have and/or give you time to look around and see the things which you missed.

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So, about the escape room experience – we were pleased to be back in person.  The location was fairly busy, and they did have a few people pop their head in to take in a “sneak preview”.  I think that this is a great idea – you’re allowed to poke your head in the door of one of their escape rooms just so you can see what it looks like . It’s not quite the same as trying out a puzzle, but I think most people would be pretty impressed by the appearance/quality of the rooms at first glance. I know that I am always impressed.

 

This newest addition to the Cincinnati location is a wonderful addition, and it is in line with the quality and production of the others.  I have now done four out of the five at this location, and I have enjoyed each very much.   I was very comfortable with the setup, and I like the fact that all the rooms are private to your group and that each is cleaned between each use.  We had a great time, and I would give this a 3 Slides out of 3 Rating!  In OG terms, I love it!

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Also, if you like this idea, you can try The Escape Game’s take home series of games – we are partnered with them to offer you the first installment of the series FOR FREE!

Players will go to https://TEGUnlocked.com and enter “OpinionatedGamers” as the activation code. Once logged in they will have free access to Unlocked Volume 1: Chasing Hahn.

This offer is limited to the first 500 uses of the code, but at last check, there were still at least 100 activations still available!

 

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

James Nathan: The rooms from The Escape Game continue to set the bar for me on production value and fun. The logic and whatnot behind the puzzles themselves have been fairly classic, but it is the implementation that sets the experience apart. 

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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