Story Room by Two Bit Circus
Escape Rooms are a hot new entertainment trend popping up all over, the way cupcake shops did a few years ago. They may be a fad that won’t last, but for those of us who are fans, there’s a wealth of options right now. Part of the fun is trying different companies and seeing the different approaches as they all try to stand out from the crowd. For my latest attempt, I checked out the Story Room by Two Bit Circus.
First, a bit of background on Escape Rooms, for those who aren’t yet familiar with the concept. A team of people, usually 4-6, is given a brief background/thematic setup and then literally locked into a room. Around the room will be clues, artifacts, puzzles, and some red herrings. Your goal is to work together, assemble the disparate pieces of information, and figure out what your mission is and how to escape before something terrible happens in a certain amount of time (usually an hour). The themes and difficulty cover a wide range, so this is an activity that can be enjoyed by anybody regardless of previous experience.
Two Bit Circus is an entertainment content company with a focus on technology. In their own words, they “engineer entertainment that is imaginative and interactive, blurring the line between physical and digital playgrounds to create a new world of social amusement.” Their current entry into the Escape Room genre is called Cosmic Contagion. As you may guess from the title, the theme revolves around a dangerous alien artifact that your team has to deal with.
True to their mission statement, Two Bit Circus has integrated technology in several fun ways. I’ve done Escape Rooms with no technology anywhere, using locks and codes and keys, and those are perfectly viable. Cosmic Contagion, though, integrates technology into all aspects of the experience. Some of it works better than others, of course, and I don’t mean functionally. All the technology works as intended, but sometimes it may not be the right choice for the puzzle. Still, they do push the envelope on that front, and much of it works well, so I applaud them for that.
Another innovation that I liked was that they seemed to have devised a way for teams to experience the entire story even if they get stuck on a puzzle. Other rooms have an associated risk that if you get stuck, you’re out of luck–you can’t access the rest of the puzzles and your experience is unfortunately cut short. Story Room looks to have created a way around that, which is a wonderful idea if true. I can’t be 100% certain because my team never got fully stuck–but we did only partially solve a puzzle and were able to move on anyway. I cannot say what would have happened if we didn’t even partially solve it–perhaps a complete whiff does in fact cut the experience short. Hopefully not.
The third thing I really liked is that one of the sections requires everyone working simultaneously as a team. It might be technically possible to do with as few as 3 people, but it’s really designed for 4-5, which is much appreciated. Often the rooms can be solved by 1-2 people if they really know what they’re doing. This mandatory team event, though, goes a long way to making the room the social experience that it should be.
There are a couple of drawbacks, as with anything. I thought the flow was a bit uneven. One section was too hard, in my opinion, and even more discouraging was the fact that the room operator couldn’t explain it when asked about it afterwards because he didn’t design that piece. Hopefully this is only because the Story Room is new, and as it goes longer, the operators will be able to answer questions about all the sections for teams that want to know. It’s probably too late to adjust the difficulty of that particular puzzle though. On the flip side, there was one section that was too easy (again, in my opinion!) It felt a bit anticlimactic to have this section require so little thought given the other pieces we’d gone through. It happened to be their main technology showcase though, so I understand that’s where the focus was.
Overall, this is a welcome addition to the Escape Room genre. It might be best suited for newer participants, who haven’t done this type of entertainment before. The technology will get its chance to shine, the overall experience will be a lot of fun, and the easy section may come as a relief instead of a frustration. Story Room is for ages 16 & up. They are currently relocating the Story Room to be in the same spot as their main offices, which will make it easier to find. The downside is that they will be closed in June for the move, with shows resuming in July. Their website is here, so make sure to check back soon to see the new showtimes!