Room: Dr Skinner’s Office
Location: Escapade Puzzle Games, 19 Albert Street, Ballarat VIC
Cost: $35 per player for 4 players
Escaped: Yes, in record time
Overall rating: 33/40
Ballarat’s only escape room is a high quality adventure.
Operating out of Ballarat and aware that there may be limited numbers of new players, Escapade Puzzle Games has chosen to open one room at a time for a limited period (about six months), then close it and create an entirely new room in its place. The room I played, Dr Skinner’s Office, was their first room which is now closed, but there’s a new room to play now – Espionage. After loving Dr Skinner’s Office I was very much hoping to get back to Ballarat to play Espionage, but now I’m not sure that will be possible and I’m very sad about it! I still won’t give much in the way of spoilers for the previous room in case some of the elements have carried over, but if Dr Skinner’s Office is anything to go by, Espionage is well worth taking the trip to Ballarat for.
I played Dr Skinner’s Office with three friends, none of whom had ever played an escape room before, but who have the right kind of minds to be good at it. As it turned out, I was right to put my faith in them. Not only did we make it out of the room, but we had the fastest weekly time and were very close to beating the all-time best score. Needless to say, I think their first escape room experience was a positive one. The walkie talkie hint system wasn’t my favourite, but it worked well with the vaguely Sherlock-Holmes type theming of the room and as we needed very few hints anyway, it didn’t bother me that much.
The props were fairly simple and although the theming was good, I think a little more could have been done. That being said, when a room is meant to be temporary it’s understandable that someone doesn’t want to spend as much money on things like wallpapers or fancy furniture and the room certainly wasn’t lacking in atmosphere. For me, the only real difference between a good theme and great theme is whether the room feels like an escape room or as though it actually exists (Second Telling Missions and escapeXperience are great examples of the latter). Everything that was put into the room worked well with the theme however, and there were a few red herrings which added to the atmosphere as well as fooling us once or twice!
I thought there were a good variety of puzzles in this room, but I’ll admit now I didn’t get to see all of them as we often broke off into two or even three separate groups to work on things. This made us very efficient, but I did get to miss out on some of the puzzles as a result. There were a couple of elements that were incredibly creative and the type of thing that would usually leave me stumped. Fortunately this time, I accidentally ended up doing exactly the right thing with them even if I didn’t realise it at the time.
My only issue was with the use of blacklight, which I hope at this point isn’t too much of a spoiler as the room is now gone. I’m not generally a fan of blacklight – it’s often done poorly and leads to frustration more than anything else. In fact, I tend to groan whenever I see a blacklight torch in a room because I know I’ll be spending the next ten minutes in the dark shining a torch on every single surface trying to find a mystery clue. There are a few rooms that have utilised blacklight in very specific and effective ways, but for the most part I tend to wish an alternative had been used instead. In Dr Skinner’s Office, despite blinds being drawn and newspaper put over the windows there was still a fair amount of light in the room which meant we missed the obvious blacklight writing on the wall because it simply wasn’t dark enough. You had to more or less know exactly where you were looking in order to find it, which was very frustrating particular as it was this puzzle which led to us escaping too late to claim the record.
The above blacklight issue was really the only negative in this otherwise very fun room. Everyone in my team had a fantastic time and I think we were all keen to go back and try the next room together. We all enjoyed the way the puzzles came together and the ending was unexpected and very satisfying. We had to identify Dr Skinner’s next victim and were both surprised and delighted to find a Polaroid of our group marking us out as being next on his hit list. I had wondered why we’d been asked to pose for a group photo before beginning the room instead of afterwards, but hadn’t thought that it would have anything to do with the puzzles themselves!
I am so glad Escapade Puzzle Games exists. The environment was fun and welcoming from the second we walked in the door, and our gamemaster was more than willing to let us go, while still giving us occasional hints towards the end when we were having difficulties.
Overall rating: 33/40
Dr Skinner’s Office was a really fun game and one of my favourite escape room experiences to date. I’m sure Espionage will be every bit as fun and I urge you to check it out if you find yourself in Ballarat.