Brisbane Escapes: “Time Travellers Room” @ Escape Room Oz

Another room down – this time we travelled not only the distance between Brisbane and Caloundra, but also through time to experience the surprising conundrums of The Time Travellers Room.

General Information

Escape Room Oz, Caloundra
60 minutes
2–6 players (at least 4 recommended)
Difficulty: Hard
Website

How We Played

February 2016
2 (yes, far less than the recommended)
Escaped
Hints: Quite regular (related to room design rather than difficulty – see below)
57 minutes and 46 seconds (it was a close one)

The Experience

Escape Room Oz may feel like a somewhat lower budget affair than some of the glossy global franchises like Escape Hunt, but the company turns this to its favour through its passion and ambition. Darren, who is the Grand Gamemaster and ran our game for us, greeted us cheerfully upon our entering the establishment, and talked enthusiastically about the game and his and our prior experiences with escape rooms. While I’ve yet to come across an escape room with unenthusiastic staff, Darren knew the ins and outs of both the escape room scene and his own rooms (because not only has he run them many times, but he designed them – or aspects of them at the very least). Observing that we were tackling their toughest room with only two people, Darren gave us a few pointers to get us started, which was very much appreciated (and was necessary – but I’ll get to that when discussing the puzzles). He also gave us a bit of a run down of the room afterwards, pointing out some things we missed and giving us a quick debrief of how we did. Again, this is not something I’ve been offered before, and I found it really added to the experience of the room, allowing me to feel as though I had a complete experience.

The room itself is very cleverly themed, and manages to do a great deal with somewhat limited resources. The story is integrated ingeniously. A professor at a university has vanished and you are searching his workshop. There is a mysterious time machine in the centre (designed with the perfect amount of DIY gusto and cool-looking doodads to be charming rather than tacky) and you must rescue the Professor and escape the room.

There are a number of really interesting props and trinkets scattered around the room, but this is not a flashy room dressed up as some spectacular location. It feels much as you would expect a university professor’s office to feel. In fact, what is so clever here is that they are able to get away with things like the logos of second hand bookstores stamped inside books (for instance) because there is no reason the Professor couldn’t have purchased the books from that store. What might have been an immersion-breaking cost saving measure in other, differently-themed rooms fits nicely here. The money appears to have primarily gone towards the objects that matter to the puzzle-solving experience, including some particularly nice items of furniture and a few very cool props.

There are also some effective surprises. I was impressed with the method of escape, and solving “the mystery of the room” (I want to be a little ambiguous about this, but it relates to time travel) initiates a fun little sequence (though it does take a little longer than necessary, which had us looking nervously at the timer). The room dressing also gives you pause to think, as there are a lot of red herrings hidden away that need to be sorted from the important clues. Fortunately it became obvious as time continued which clues needed to be followed, but these set design choices are a clever way to distract the unwary puzzler.

Puzzle Design

I was a bit nervous about doing this room with only two people, and Darren’s advice at the start before entering ensured that we were resigned to a loss with this room. That we did in fact succeed (and without losing any sense of accomplishment) was down to the expertly-provided guidance Darren constantly and consistently offered, which pointed us in the right direction and kept us on track without revealing anything too important, ensuring we still experienced that thrill of discovery or realisation. Knowing there was only the two of us, Darren would simply let us know what areas of the room were worth a closer look, or refocus our attention to ensure we didn’t get bogged down in irrelevance. The Time Travellers Room is designed to be quite open-ended, with a number of puzzles running in parallel and many, many things hidden around the room. Props and locations had multiple uses, and they are not kidding when they suggest you need a lot of people. This room really favours teams that are able to divide their attention and follow different parallel paths simultaneously.

For the most part, the room involved solving puzzles based on clues found scattered all around the room. There was a lot of searching, and some extraordinarily cleverly hidden items (finding some of these is almost a puzzle by itself). The puzzles provided codes that allowed further progression. A few of the puzzles integrated props in clever ways, though there was one puzzle that had an answer that I feel required a little more precision than the particular prop it was associated with allowed. Fortunately this was easy enough to brute force once the basic premise of the puzzle was clear. There are a couple of clues hidden in the design of the room and props that you are sure to miss if you don’t pay attention to every detail.

What I really appreciated about the puzzles, however, was that they suited the theme of the room perfectly. In many rooms I have tried the puzzles and theme feel completely separate, but here it makes sense to have a series of padlock codes and hidden puzzles, left by the Professor to aid in your quest. Not only this, but they often integrate objects around the room that, on first glance, appear to be simple set dressing or ordinary items. I really appreciate this kind of environmental clue or puzzle, which allows me to become immersed in the story.

One other clever aspect to the room that I have not seen done elsewhere is that there are a couple of items that may aid in later puzzles but are not actually essential to completing the room. Darren let us know a few items we had missed (which, again, were very cleverly hidden) and what they would have helped with. Fortunately I had some basic knowledge that allowed us to complete the puzzles these were associated with without these items. My partner and I are strongest at the puzzle solving in escape rooms, but are much weaker at searching the room for all the hidden items (we always miss something blindingly obvious). Having these optional items means that teams with top-notch search skills get extra assistance with the puzzles, while teams like ours don’t need to find every single item. And we still got to see where they were hidden at the end!

The Bottom Line

The Time Travellers Room comes highly recommended, and is in fact one of the best rooms I have experienced so far. The puzzles are cleverly tied to the theme and very immersive. A lot has been done with what I suspect were quite limited resources: not only do all the props feel appropriate to the setting, but they still manage to hide some fun low-tech surprises in there. The puzzles themselves make clever use of both the setting and many of the props, and require eagle-eyed participants. I felt the room was pitched at just the right level of difficulty, though Escape Room Oz gives sound advice when suggesting larger groups. Darren provided my partner and I a thoroughly enjoyable experience all around, and we left feeling both satisfied and proud of ourselves.

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