Try to get out alive

The concept behind the escape room is simple. Locked in a room, your group must uncover clues to solve puzzles and codes while racing against the clock. With three escape room companies all having opened in Winnipeg within the last six months, the Manitoban visited each one to see if they live up to the hype that surrounds them.

Enigma Escapes, the city’s most recent addition, opened last month off Sterling Lyon Parkway and is already ranked first place on Tripadvisor for city activities. They currently offer two different rooms, each with their own theme and sets of clues and puzzles. In “The Lost Jewel of Zanzibar” you are in 1930s Africa trying to find a mystical gem that’s been hidden from a warlord who is hunting both you and the jewel. “Prohibition – The Lucky Duck” profiles the 1925 prohibition in which you are a team of investigators trying to identify the leader of a criminal organization before a bomb destroys all of the evidence.

The other two companies, the Real Escape Canada and Epic Escape Winnipeg, both opened in November. The Real Escape presents “The Nuclear Meltdown,” where a power plant tour goes wrong and system failure triggers an emergency lockdown. Epic Escapes’ scenario has you trying to escape being mysteriously locked in a New York City loft.

All three locations boast tremendous popularity and are routinely booked solid on weekends. Alexander Shannon from Epic Escape recommends booking at least three weeks in advance if you want a room and Laura Hawkins from Enigma Escapes suggests the same. Megan Schmidt at the Real Escape usually needs a month’s notice if you are hoping to snag a Friday or Saturday night.

The different venues were exciting and surprisingly dissimilar from one another. Each has its own quirks and charms. Four guys who met through the Asper MBA program run Epic Escapes. Their New York game was the most challenging by far and my group was unable to escape this one. Unlike the other games, which offer the possibility of unlimited hints, Epic only allows a maximum of two.

To request a hint, you press a buzzer in the room and your guide (that has been watching your group via security camera) comes in to offer help. This was my least favourite system, compared to Enigma’s wall-mounted television screens that ask if you want hints and Real Escape’s method of sliding hints under the door.

What makes Epic shine though is the challenge rating of their game. With hints being limited and the nature of the clues more difficult, when tasks are solved it feels more rewarding. When you complete a puzzle, you know it is because of your own ingenuity – a great ego stroke.

Epic is also unique in that it offers “duelling rooms” that allow two teams to compete against one another. This is perfect for larger groups because the recommended number of people per room is three to five.

The New York theme runs through August with another game being unveiled early this summer. Come September, they will introduce another duelling room as well. The game room is also fully accessible.

Comparatively, Real Escape’s puzzles were moderately challenging and the most intuitive.

This game room is the city’s largest, allowing for the biggest group – up to 10 players. If you have a larger group of friends interested in the activities like I do, not being forced to exclude people is a big draw.

The meltdown game ends April 12, so if you want to catch it before it is gone, you better hurry. It will be replaced by a new game called “Escape from Death Row” starting April 23.

A family who has played rooms across Dublin, Athens, Paris, Toronto, and Las Vegas runs Enigma Escapes. Their experience is obvious, as they offer the most diverse variety in puzzles. They also get my vote as the most beginner and cross-generational-friendly.

Because of their hint system, the staff can more easily tailor the game to players’ skill levels and preferences. Enigma’s games offer the best cohesive and immersive narrative. This location is on the main floor and also features handicap-accessible rooms.

There are currently two more games in development at Enigma. “Blackbeard’s Brig” will have you held hostage by an evil pirate captain, while “Cypherspace” will be a sci-fi adventure where you must find co-ordinates to a wormhole or be forever lost in space.

Although Winnipeg may be late to jump onto the escape room trend, the city now offers many ways of trapping yourself in a room with your friends and family.