December 17, 2017

Mindtrap: Gold Rush & Conspiracy (Temecula, CA)

Gold Rush & Conspiracy
Written by Matt Neal: A weekend trip out of town for us almost always means exploring escape rooms outside our normal playground. On this trip, it meant a drive to explore what San Diego had to offer. San Diego has some great rooms to play, but can be overshadowed by the quality and quantity of experiences to be found in Los Angeles and Orange County.

As we hopped in the car to leave San Diego, that feeling persisted. We had a great time but we weren’t satiated by what we had seen. Our drive home took us through the small town of Temecula, known mainly for their wineries. On several occasions, I have been given recommendations for MindTrap in Temecula but have always been hesitant to make the trip to try it out. In my experience, rooms in small towns, isolated from a competitive market, are great for small towns. The market doesn’t support a lot of investment and the customers don’t have much experience with escape rooms, so you see a lot of no/low-tech rooms, common puzzle types, and nothing but lock boxes.  These rooms can still be wonderful, especially for beginners. It’s the format that initially got many of us hooked on escape rooms. Competition in dense markets, however, has pushed the boundaries as to what an escape room can be, leaving these rooms in the dust. So, on a long drive, passing through a small town, I was fully expecting to find a room great for a small town. MindTrap did not deliver on that expectation.

The two of us went to MindTrap to try our hand at Gold Rush, their beginner/intermediate room for up to eight. From their website:

"Can you feel the fever?! El Dorado county is hiding the richest secrets of the country right below the surface. Kanaka Jack is rumored to know the location of a hidden mine – finding it will make you rich beyond your wildest dreams! This is an escape game with an explosive secret that will bring the whole family together. Raid Jack’s cabin, unlock the entrance to his hidden mine, and blast your way out!" 

Long before we blasted our way out of the room or unlocked the entrance to the hidden mine, we went to the wonderfully themed way of asking for hints to address a far more dire problem. We needed to book the second room and we needed to do it now. That second room was Conspiracy, their intermediate/expert room, also for up to eight.

"Conspiracy is a mystery based escape room centered around some of the greatest conspiracies of our time. Players are tasked with linking together the lies of the New World Order, The World Economy, Assassinations, The Moon Landing, Fluoridated Water, Lizard People; the list goes on. With less than an hour to uncover the grisly details before mysterious agents arrive on scene, the players must piece together clues and connect the dots to solve the biggest mystery of their lives. Sharpen your investigative skills, grab your tin foil hats, and see if you can unravel the conspiracy." 

Puzzles, Technology & Set Design 

Gold Rush

When we started Gold Rush, I was expecting a low-tech room, common puzzle types, and nothing but lock boxes, and initially, I thought all my expectations were confirmed. The set design starts out completely convincing, the cabin looks like a cabin. The props have a hand made feel to them that is perfectly appropriate for the old timey, back woods setting. A few boxes with locks on them are placed conspicuously and there are playing cards strewn about. My expectations felt confirmed; a very pretty, single-room escape room without any evidence of any tech to be found. Once we solved a puzzle or two, and started to find the rhythm of the room, my expectations were proved to be very wrong. The tech is so masterfully hidden in the room, I had convinced myself it didn’t exist. At one point, I was careless in precise prop placement because I said to myself, out loud, “there’s no way they’ve hidden a sensor or anything here, so it’s not going to trigger anything.” It triggered something. I pulled the prop back from where I placed it to try to find where they managed to hide the RFID or magnet or however else they triggered it. I failed. If you’ve run out of fingers and toes to count the number of rooms you’ve played, then the puzzles in this room start out a bit common; but like the rest of the room, the deeper into the room you get, the more it sets itself apart. The difficultly level of the puzzles is low, but some are very satisfying, even for the experienced. The quality of the set design is highlighted in two major ways here. You start in a gold rush-era cabin and everything feels right. Even the tech, when it triggers events in the room, has a mechanical clunkiness to it that reinforces where in time you’re meant to be. I’m sure there’s a hidden mag lock here or solenoid there, but what you experience as a player are the thuds and bangs of mechanisms appropriate for the time.

Conspiracy

Conspiracy has a completely different feel to it than Gold Rush. Instead of hiding the tech, it is worn on its sleeve. Many of the puzzles involve interacting with the tech in unique and interesting ways. These are far removed from the puzzle tropes we’re used to seeing in a room, and generally work quite well. The puzzles are more difficult than what Gold Rush gave us. These puzzles are more about deep thought, figuring out what you need to do. This gives a very different satisfaction when finding the answer than the quick cascade from puzzle to puzzle in Gold Rush. Set design is a bit more challenging to address with conspiracy, mainly because the theme of the room does not allow the set design to shine. It’s perfectly convincing as a lab-type room used for looking at evidence. Never once does it even hint at being a converted office space or any of the typical short comings of rooms with poor set designs. It doesn’t magically transport you to a different place in time like Gold Rush does such a good job with, but it wouldn’t make sense for the theme if it did. The tech in Conspiracy is just as seamless as Gold Rush, but it doesn’t need to hide. It’s tied into the hint system and nearly every puzzle in an effective, fun way. One particular prop left me with mixed feelings; it’s incredibly effective and satisfying with what it does when the puzzle is solved, however, I didn’t feel that it felt quite right aesthetically with the rest of the room. The room is better for it being there, but a little set dressing could take it to the next level.

Memorable Moments 

The final puzzle of Gold Rush is executed so beautifully. The first time I tried to trigger the puzzle it was not completely solved, so I got to see it partially activate. That little teaser was perfect for explaining what was needed to finish solving the puzzle, but it was visually interesting enough that when it came time to solve the final puzzle for real, I made sure to step back, say “watch this!”, and just take it in. Room For Improvement We got out of Gold Rush in about 30 minutes, making this room rather short and sweet. I was not ready for it to end. I know it is their beginner room, but I wasn’t ready for the magic to be over. Conspiracy is a great room, but it doesn’t have quite the same magic spark as Gold Rush. 

Overall Thoughts

It took way too long for me to come check out MindTrap. This wasn’t the first time I’ve driven through Temecula, even after seeing recommendations for MindTrap. I made unfair assumptions about the quality to be found here because of previous small-town experiences. MindTrap isn’t great for a small town. It’s just plain great and very much deserving of being a destination on a trip instead of just a stop along the way.
  • Set design: Fantastic Difficulty: Easy (Gold Rush), Medium (Conspiracy) 
  • Price: $30/person 
  • Number of players: 8 max (recommend 2-3 for Gold Rush, 3-4 for Conspiracy), public 
  • Duration: 60 minutes 
  • Overall Rating: ★★★★★ (Gold Rush), ★★★★½ (Conspiracy)
See their site here: https://mindtrapescaperoom.com

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