Escape Authority

In-Depth Escape Room Reviews

Review: The Ringmaster’s Den

RATING: 0 Keys          RESULT: Win          REMAINING: 8:57

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! The Greatest Show on Earth…. will unfortunately be preempted today so that we can instead bring you a visit to The Ringmaster’s Den. So Hurry! Hurry! Step right up – and right out the door before it locks leaving you to have to play this game with us.

Story

You have spent a magical day at the Circus, but as you are leaving, you notice a circus tent that you have not yet explored. The tent covers a hidden trailer with a sign outside the entrance that says “Do Not Enter!” Being the curious person that you are, you and your group of friends secretly step inside while no one is looking.  The trailer door slams behind you…

You have just entered the Ringmaster’s Den.  Can you escape before the Ringmaster catches you and transforms you into ​one of his circus freaks to be part of his show forever?

So that’s the story. You’ve been kidnapped by The Ringmaster, and he plans to turn you into home-made freaks. And how do we know this? The clearly home-made preshow footage that appeared to be filmed on someone’s cell phone told us so.

Here’s the thing about first impressions: you can’t take them back. An embarrassing excuse for a professional introduction video instantly tarnishes any hopes you may have of a positive experience in The Ringmaster’s Den. Or aptly sets up accurate expectations for the quality of the  hour ahead.  Pick your poison.

Unfortunately I left my poison at home, so I had to endure the entire game – none of which had anything to do with the (barely) established story, or, you know, anything circus-related in the first place.

Scenic

Well, the walls are painted with red and white stripes, and there’s sort of a half built gypsy cart in one corner. So yeah. “Circus.”

While I certainly appreciate the fact that this isn’t simply a square box white office with drop panel ceilings (though it *is* a square box office and it *does* have a drop panel ceiling clearly evident despite the few streamers tacked to it (because “Circus.”)) this room’s scenic decor remains barely just north of bare minimum. Barely.

It’s no secret that I’m a big believer in the added value that quality scenic can add to a game’s overall experience, I also recognize that sometimes there isn’t a Hollywood blockbuster budget behind a venue making that not always as easily possible. And here’s the thing – that’s actually ok. Modest scenic *can* be over-looked by storyworld continuity and puzzles that exist to further that very storyworld.

Unfortunately The Ringmaster’s Den has neither of those points going for it.

Puzzles

Have you ever read an Escape Authority review before? I’m certain that you have. So think about the worst things we’ve mentioned encountering across the hundreds and hundreds of games that we’ve played to date.

They’re. All. Here.

You like worksheets? Of course you don’t – and too bad, because we’ve got several to do!

Tedious time-sink busy work? No problem – we’ve got plenty of that!

Puzzles for puzzles sake, that have no logical connection to why we’d be doing them in the storyworld (assuming the storyworld existed beyond someone’s iPhone camera album?) Ohhh boy, do we have those!

Logic leaps? Why, you’ll be flying higher than the man on the flying trapeze!

But wait. There’s much more. What if I told that none of these fatal game design flaws were the straw that broke the circus camel’s back? (That’s right – this circus features camels; What? Surely you’re not surprised. You already knew it wasn’t a very high quality production.) That’s right boys and girls – it gets much, much worse.  This tedious, busywork homework game that might have hoped to garner a 1 Key rating shoots its own chances of ever even seeing a single Key at all right out of a cannon, over the audience – and clearly over its own head – with the inclusion of puzzles that literally require prior knowledge for players to continue game play – prior knowledge which to be explicitly clear, is in no way, shape or form available in the room at all to reference.

There is no scenario where requiring PLAYERS TO HAVE prior knowledgE is acceptable game design – and any game that attempts such an unforgivable tactic will instantly receive a 0 Key score, period.

 

Normally we’re firm on never including spoilers, but if Breakout thinks its acceptable to simply expect players to know all the themes, lyrics and titles to literally SEVEN FULL PAGES of pop songs from the 70’s and 80’s, we feel it is our duty to notify you in advance to allow you ample time to study. After all – your experience within The Ringmaster’s Den is far more homework than gameplay to begin with, so requiring studying oddly seems almost appropriate.

Overall

Here’s the uncomfortable truth – Breakout’s staff – and owners – have been completely welcoming and completely friendly to us on our visits to their new Orlando venue. It’s never fun to slam someone who has personally treated you well. That being said, my duty when reviewing a venue is to review it honestly – and no amount of kindness can excuse how utterly inferior these games are. Breakout’s games feel the very definition of “bare minimum;” A sort of “do just as much as we need to in order to start selling tickets – but nothing more” design philosophy.

And a bigger problem the venue faces with its sub-par stab at scenic attempt is its very location – Orlando, Florida – just down the street from some of the most high quality attractions on the planet – not to mention a few really great competing escape games. This sort of “bare minimum effort” could perhaps be overlooked in the venue’s original location at their small home town in Michigan, but in this environment, with its proximity to greatness in quite literally all directions – it becomes impossible to disregard. This fact is only exponentially amplified when you consider that Breakout is actually one of Central Florida’s newest venues — meaning all of these venues with their vastly superior products were here long before Breakout even picked up their keys (or in the case of this review, forfeited those keys entirely.) This isn’t even a case of “well they’ve been here forever, and the industry evolved around them.” Nope. These guys are brand-spanking-new to this market, but you’d never guess it from how their games look or play.

Another massively glaring issue with Breakout are their game capacities. TWELVE people are crammed into The Ringmaster’s Den (and an even more offensive FOURTEEN are packed into Zombie Roadhouse!) I’m not even going to get into the discussion of how no game with that many people in it will ever be a quality guest experience. Instead I’ll point out something that might actually be worse – there is simply not nearly enough to do at a given time in any of Breakout’s games to merit that many people tackling them at the same time. Our team of three – THREE – and to be clear, I will now do something it’s no secret that I’m entirely against and MATH TO PROVE A POINT — our team of NINE LESS THAN THE ROOM’S CAPACITY were told that it was quote “literally not possible to win with that small of a group.” In an awkward coincidence, we then proceeded to win the game with nearly NINE MINUTES REMAINING.

We spent a decent amount of time after our escape sharing honest, valid feedback personally with the owner — not just what was wrong but offering feasible, affordable suggestions on how to correct the many problems that plagued this game. Most of our suggestions were dismissed by being reminded that our group size was too small, and, I kid you not, that “it was never possible for us to win the game” because of that fact. When we reminded the owner that we did, in fact, win – and with approximately 9 minutes to spare, we were again told that was impossible and essentially that it never happened. I. Kid. You. Not. This type of dismissive attitude when experienced players attempt to give you respectful feedback is alarming, and frankly when you consider that these experienced players were *your* invited guests, here *specifically* to review the product makes the behavior terrifying.

Since playing, I’ve tried my best to give Breakout the benefit of the doubt in any way I could. I even made the time to return to play their other two games – Zombie Roadhouse and Game of Espionage. I’ve personally reached out to the owner several times offering feedback, including several attempts to stress the critical, unforgivable flaw of requiring prior knowledge in *every single one* of his games. Unfortunately, I was essentially told that I was wrong, and that his games are among the very best in the industry.

Except that they’re not even close.

If you’re looking for a game to play in the Orlando market – Breakout is simply one we cannot ever send you to. There are only a handful of venues out there so inferior that they actually create a detriment to the industry that we love – souring expectations and giving all other escape rooms around them a bad name to a less experienced player. That is a list we’d put Breakout on in a heartbeat.

Venue Details

Venue:  Breakout

Location: Orlando, FL

Number of Games: 3

GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:

Duration: 60 minutes

Capacity: 12 people

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

Cost: $32 per person

EAR Disclaimer

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

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Breakout - The Ringmaster's Den
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