Friday, 13 March 2015

Review: The Escape Club - 7th of November

I stare at the soft, fluffy blindfold in my hands; it stares back with the cartoonish eyes of a cute panda.

Panda eyes. 

Our game master instructs us to put our fluffy panda eyes on and I hear the door creak open.

“Step forward slowly, I’ll guide you. When I stop, I want you to sit on the ground and then wriggle forward until your feet touch the wall. Then lie flat on the ground.”

These unusual instructions intrigue me and I wait for my friend to be situated before reaching out for the game master’s hands. For a moment, I feel like I’m situated in a void. I don’t know how large the room is, and as I lie down on the cool linoleum floor, apprehensive thoughts creep into my mind.

Beside me, my friend bumps my elbow. I feel less nervous.

“Okay, that’s all of you. When I close the door, you can take off your blindfolds. You have fifty minutes. Good luck."

There is a click and a rattle. As one, we pull off our panda eyes and blink as our vision adjusts to the light.

"What the hell."

The Escape Club was one of the first permanent escape rooms to open in Sydney and their Kingsford rooms appear to be a duplicate of an incarnation somewhere in Asia. While I'm not certain of their origin nor its success, I can certainly say that the process of transferral hasn’t quite properly translated to Sydney and one might describe their quarters as being… incomplete. They currently offer several rooms, and they continue to add new ones regularly:

Ghost Maze: Intended for larger groups, work together to save the world from restless spirits.

Tomb Raider: Also for larger groups, hunt for treasure that someone's father once discovered in a pharaoh's tomb.

Virus: Someone is messing around with incurable viruses. The FBI screw up. You and up to twelve of your friends have to clean up the mess.

7th of November: Made for smaller groups, you find yourself in a room. Some thing's definitely a bit off, though...

Prison Break: It's time for your group of four to six people to escape (Wentworth Miller not included).

The Curse of Hogwarts: Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs - all four pay a visit to the famous British School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The Escape Club Sydney website is truly a sight to behold: paragraphs of broken English and jarring graphics overlaid on a clashing background. With inconsistent descriptions leading to a genuine lack of understanding, you may find yourself not knowing what a room is actually about, how difficult it is, or whether you'd be interested in it at all.

Fear not – that’s what I’m here to do.

Facing a busy main road, The Escape Club is easy to miss, located between a run-down second-hand white goods store and a Thai massage parlour. Once we announced our booking, we were directed outside, to the right of reception, where a worn set of steep, grey carpeted stairs lead us up to an unlit, slightly unnerving collection of corridors and rooms that might have once been residential.

Wooden bannisters, fading linoleum at our feet, it’s all there. With every door shut and no light fixtures, it’s guesswork until we reach a claustrophobic hallway, where another set of stairs winds downwards and away to The Escape Club’s more famous, larger rooms.

Today, we are doing 7th of November, a room about what seems to be about... I'm not sure, actually. Read the description and decide for yourself:

Fell behind the second time of opening the door, a fading shadow, combination, projection, reversal, numerous and endless.

The truth engraved behind the door, which is the whinny of silence. Never let you go within my heart, never embrace me with your love.

The website tells me it's a "Chimera" room, although you can be assured that there are no talking dogs with long black hair.

There's no briefing, no backstory. If you're so inclined, you may wish to read a short description of the room taped to the wall outside the entry with an few lines crediting the original creator. The room itself feels a little bit like a well-used toy. You're never certain if applying too much pressure might break something, and when nothing is happening, only guesswork can determine if that's because nothing is supposed to be happening, or if it's actually because something has run out of battery and your game master was simply too distracted to inform you.

First impressions aside however, I found the experience to be mostly enjoyable. Even with disinterested staff, crumpled, unintentionally obscure clues and a frustratingly fiddly final puzzle, my friends and I were impressed by innovative use of tech and the undeniably admirable ability to stretch what was obviously a limited budget to cover a theme and preserve the design of the original room.

The Escape Club: 7th of November Summary
Difficulty: 3.5/10
Staff have informed me that this is the easiest of their six rooms. It's a great room for beginners, and with about five rooms under our belt at that point, we managed to move through it so quickly that we had a worried member of staff asking us if we'd used the backup key and what our emergency was.
Theme: 7/10
The best way to describe this room is clever. Clues had continuity, telling the story of a desperate man trapped, alone and confused, although this faltered a little when it came to the actual puzzles. Credit given where credit is due, however - whoever made this room applied genuine effort to their attempt to incorporate the props and puzzle tools with the overall theme. Unfortunately, indifference towards details break the immersion - there is no locker in the foyer for your bags; you are invited to dump your belongings on the floor of the puzzle room, and for safety reasons, you are handed an emergency key upon entry. Knowing that there is a key in an envelope just sitting in the corner of room at your disposal does curb the urgency to escape somewhat.
Staff: 4/10
I think it's safe to say that the staff at Escape Club are over-worked and have been in the business for a little too long. While polite and friendly, they do tend to be inevitably jaded, willing to cut corners and incredibly weary of providing assitance. It may explain why their hint system is a cumbersome arrangement of having to call the often unmanned front desk from your own mobile phone.
Quality and Venue: 4/10
The building is old, and there is little that within their limited budget that staff can or seem to want to do about this. Wear and tear are unavoidable consequences of having customers pass through the place, but when you've been standing and doing nothing for five whole minutes because you cannot for love of all that is good figure out what this clue is even supposed to say, then something needs to be fixed.
Overall: 6/10
Shortcomings and all, we still managed to have a lot of fun. A few puzzles in particular were memorable and continue to be some of the best examples of interesting tech that I've seen in an escape room.

What We Did
4 Players
No hints
Finished with about 30 minutes to spare.

7th of November
Players: 3-4
Duration: 50 minutes
Child-friendly? Yes
Price: Members - $18 per person Monday to Friday; $22 per person on Friday to Sunday. Non-members - $26 per person Monday to Friday; $30 per person on Friday to Sunday.
It's not difficult to become a member - you can sign up on the spot and receive instant benefits! Escape Club vouchers enabling entry at $15 per person are currently a permanent feature of Groupon, and occasionally, Scoopon.
Booking: Online, on their website. Please be aware that they do not take bookings by phone, and they require a payment of $30 as a refundable deposit. Full payments are made onsite. Do not be fooled by their listed opening hours, and do not attempt to make a booking on the same night you intend to do a room. It simply won't happen.

The Escape Club
24 Gardeners Road
Kingsford 2032


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