I usually woundn't be found in a place like this, and certainly not on a Thursday night. But my friend had thrown around the words "escape room", "puzzles" and "80% fail rate", and sure enough, the four of us had worked up enough excitement to make a spontaneous booking after dinner.
So we sit, at stools that are slightly too high, trying to ignore the fact that we were not ordering drinks in a bar. Down the corridor, there is a clatter of bowling pins and the smell of pizza wafts towards us.
The bartender approaches us at last. She reads aloud a long list of rules before locking our phones in a box and exchanging them for blindfolds before ushering us out of the bar.
The prep room is a cramped square of space behind a bright red door dressed to look like the reading room of Auguste Dupin. She reads us our scenario, and with one last smile, tells us to put on the blindfolds.
I feel excitement grip me as I pull the fabric over my eyes. This is my first escape room.
Escapism is the latest addition to King Street Wharf's Strike Bowling Bar, creating an impressive list of available activites that includes bowling, karaoke, laser tag, arcade, drinking and dining. Being attached to a bar and a bowling alley, Escapism does feel at first like an afterthought. However, being part of a franchise has its benefits - it is polished, clean and the staff are efficient (if not a tad distracted).
They offer three rooms:
- The Garden: touted as the easiest of the three, this room is suitable for beginners of all ages.
- Butcher's Burrow: of medium difficulty, this room has a rumoured failure rate of 80%.
- Forensic: the hardest room. Less than 5% of groups complete Forensic.
Noobs we were, but ambitious we were also. We elected to do Butcher's Burrow, eager to prove that we could do what another friend could not only a few days ago. We are "kidnapped", provided a cursory story and locked in.
The room is bewildering to begin with, and once we get our bearings, we find that it's not particularly structured. Our inexperience, coupled with its non-linear game style results in calling the front desk for three hints during the hour - as well as one one complaint: Escapism provides you with a wireless phone handset to enable staff to provide hints without invading your game and ruining the atmosphere. However, no one ever seems to be on the other end. At one point, the phone rang out twice and we abandoned the attempt to ask for help, wasting precious game time.
We finished the room with 6.5 minutes to go, stumbling through the last puzzle gracelessly. The joy of escaping, however, has us hungry for more.
Escapism: Butcher's Burrow Summary
While the puzzles will not melt your brain, the non-linear structure of its escape route may cause confusion. The focus of this room is hunt-and-seek style clue gathering, punctuated by simple logic and reasoning. If you prefer a clear objective and sequential progression, it may be best for you to try the other rooms that Escapism offers. Be prepared to stretch your arithmetic skills with plenty of numbers. With what was presumably a reasonable budget, Escapism's rooms are surprisingly low-tech, relying mostly on visual, inbuilt puzzles and long, wordy laminated clues.
Escapism work hard to create atmosphere - and unfortunately ruin it by playing very loud doof-doof in the bar that you can hear through the walls of your room. While the theme is consistent in the environment as you progress through the room, they could have incoporated it a little more into the puzzles themselves.
Friendly and perpetually busy, the staff are lovely to talk to and do their best to help, but being obviously understaffed means that there are no dedicated personnel to run the rooms at all times. As mentioned, while asking for clues, our phone rang out a few times, and we were left to quietly despair as time trickled by and we were stuck on a puzzle.
Quality and Venue: 6/10
Clean, professional and mostly well-maintained. It did bother me a little that some of the clues were worn from overuse and laminated cards were dog-earred and peeling, but Escapism provides that feeling that this place will give you just enough, and no more than what is necessary. I do wish that it wasn't directly attached to a bar.
One taste had us hooked. Despite the circumstantial difficulties and shortcomings, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
What We Did:
Asked for 3 hints
Finished with 6.5 minutes to spare
Duration: 50 minutes.
Child-Friendly? Yes, with adult supervision.
Price: $100 per team (regardless of number of players) on Monday to Thursday; $150 per team on Friday to Sunday.
Bookings: Simple. Available online or by phone. They will ask for full payment in advance.
Strike King Street Wharf
22 The Promenade
King Street Wharf, Sydney
1300 787 453