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Review: Pirate Plunder

1 Key

RATING: 1 Key         RESULT: Win          REMAINING: 1:56

One of the worst games in the world can only thank the game we played right after it at the same venue for making it look so “good!”


The media has been in a frenzy lately, reporting on the latest antics from America’s self-made billionaire, prankster, and eccentric philanthropist, John Buckingham. Buckingham, who has been known to share his wealth with outrageous publicity stunts (like renting a balloon and dropping millions in his own money over Curtis Hixon park in Tampa), has lately taken to dressing, acting, and talking like a pirate. In a press release, Buckingham claims to have hidden “possibly the most valuable treasure ever”, in an old clipper ship that he has permanently docked near his gulf side mansion. Residents have flocked to take a turn at discerning the secrets to Buckingham’s billons, but so far none have succeeded.

So – a rich guy now thinks he’s a pirate – and hilarity ensues, right?

I wish.

It could be the plot of a decent family comedy flick – but instead, unfortunately all that ensues here are a series of white whale sized logic leaps and puzzle design lazier than a drunken pirate. All this adds up to being one of the worst escape games we’ve ever – ever– played.


Pirate Plunder exists within a single room, leaving little to render a sense of discovery or surprise. The space itself is themed as minimally as one can do to still call itself “themed.” Pirate-ish, sure? Maybe? But not immersive. Not compelling. And most certainly not something even remotely authentic-feeling that would allow us to suspend disbelief and and truly accept that we’re on a ship.

At the end of the day Pirate Plunder scenically feels more like a pirate-themed birthday party being thrown for someone in your office breakroom than it does an immersive attraction – or any type of ship to say the very least. After all, at it’s core little was done to disguise the fact that this “pirate ship” *is* in fact just an office room in the first place.

Could it be worse? Sure; there could be no pirate party decorations at all. It could be a plain white office room, period. But honestly, is that statement really the bar for which we should be striving these days?


Gosh, where to even begin this time? There is literally *so much wrong* with Pirate Plunder. From top to bottom this game is just an all out design fail. Giant logic leaps the likes of which we’ve perhaps never see. Puzzles so illogical, that when asking for a clue and being told how to work through it, our reply was not “Oh, I get it!” but rather “WHY WOULD YOU THINK ANYONE WOULD DRAW THAT CONCLUSION?” Logic leaps so big that they’re quite literally offensive.

Complete and utter disregard for the storyworld they (barely) tried to create. You’re supposed to be on a pirate ship now, right? Then why are there puzzles that involve the pirates’ CD collection *and* separately the pirates’ DVD collection (which is naturally solved using the pirates’ mini DVD player, of course.) It’s just lazy, and frankly it’s insulting. It’s as if the venue doesn’t think their players are smart enough to recognize the difference between what makes sense in a storyworld and what has no place. Oh – and of those two puzzles? The CDs were a ridiculous logic leap, and the mini-DVD player basically didn’t work. That’s right kids – life really can get worse.

How about everyone’s favorite escape game puzzle? That’s right folks – this pirate ship has a CROSSWORD PUZZLE to tackle, because yo ho, and what not. But here’s the thing — the crossword puzzle is even wrong! How many crossword puzzles that you’ve picked up at the Walgreens check out line have you putting single letters in some boxes, yet multiple letters in other boxes? You should just *know* that’s how this one works. Groan.

And that’s another crucial point here – the “escape” of an escape game is escaping reality, not the room. To do that, you really need puzzles and activities that cannot just be done in one’s own living room. Here’s a pretty simple rule of thumb: If I can buy the puzzle at my local Walgreens for $1.50, I don’t want to pay you $30 to play it in an attraction. No one does. It’s utterly lazy – and that’s even when you use it the right way.


Sometimes it’s fun to review the bad games. It allows us to get a little snarky and crack a few jokes along the way. You’ve no doubt noticed that was not the case in this post – and there’s good reason for that. Pirate Plunder is bad enough that it‘s not even worth making a joke out of it. Pirate Plunder simply has no redeeming merit to make it worth a visit. The game is utterly terrible – and sadly it’s entirely clear that the bare minimum effort was put into its design and construction. No care is put into the guest experience. At all.

The puzzles are equally utterly terrible, and to make matters worse those bad puzzles put zero effort into existing within the storyworld. Nearly every step is a puzzle for puzzle’s sake. While I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never actually hoisted the Jolly Roger, here’s an assumption I’m willing to mark with an X: Four things I’ll never be doing if I set sail as a plundering pirate are sorting my CD collection, watching a DVD, anything involving a jigsaw puzzle or a crossword puzzle. I’d be loading the cannons. I’d be sharpening my sword. I’d be tending to the rum. I’d be rummaging through my treasure (which, by the way, players cannot do in this game’s large treasure chest thanks to an 8.5” x 11” laminated sheet of paper that says “DON’T TOUCH THE TREASURE, IT’S NOT A PUZZLE.” Come on.) To successfully immerse players into a themed world, you first need to believe that world is real. Pirates Plunder several times over makes no effort to do so, which to me brings into question whether this game is about the guest experience or simply selling tickets.

Unrelated to the gameplay, it also needs to be mentioned that  in the preshow videos there was talk of *selling* extra clues to players. What is that about? That’s not a good strategy at all. That feels like a cash grab to a player, and will really turn people off big picture. This wasn’t mentioned to us at all by the staff –but I have heard about it from two of the three readers who wrote in to me about Make A Break Escape that it was pushed upon them during their visits. In their cases, I’m told that it was made clear that you must buy your extra clues up front, and if you don’t need to use them, you do not receive a refund for them. It feels dishonest. Even if it’s not at all intended to be. And honestly it’s even worse when this tactic is conveniently left out when the invited reviewer is in the game.

At the end of the day the one thing I learned from my visit is that things really can always be worse. After our successful (in terms of victory but very much NOT in terms of enjoyment) escape from Pirate Plunder, we went across the hall to the venue’s newest game, Black Site – hopeful that it would show Make A Break Escape had learned from the tragic design flaws exhibited in this earlier game. I don’t want to spoil an upcoming review, but here’s some food for thought- Black Site became only the second game out of – at the time – the roughly 300 I’ve personally played so bad that we literally walked out – and frankly, Pirate Plunder has Black Site to thank for even receiving a 1 Key score. Because kids, it really can get worse.

Venue Details

Venue:  Make A Break Escape

Location: Largo, Florida

Number of Games: 5


Duration: 60 minutes

Capacity: 6 people

Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.

Cost: $28 per person

EAR Disclaimer

We thank Make A Break Escape for inviting us to play this game. Although complimentary admission was generously provided, that in no way impacts the opinion included within this review.


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