- Played February 2020
- Toronto, ON
- 90 minutes
- 9-15 players
- Maybe (please read comments in review conclusion)
- What People Say
Escape Manor (downtown Toronto location) is back at it again with another special event, and this time it’s a pop-up escape room / immersive theatre experience called Practice Drill. Unfortunately it was a limited run production every Monday-Wednesday during the month of February. But we have a sneaky suspicion it might pop up somewhere else within one of Escape Manor’s other locations, so we wanted our followers to hear about our experience at this event!
First things first however, let’s talk about Escape Manor…
Located in Toronto’s entertainment district (383 King St. W, close to Roger’s Skydome and the CN Tower) Escape Manor made a big splash in 2018 by breaking the conventional rules of what defines an escape room company. Instead of providing the standard small waiting area/lobby with a bunch of escape rooms, the team at Escape Manor went all out and decided entertainment comes in many forms, like a full sized bar, a beautiful old English style lounge, axe throwing, and naturally escape rooms! All of this together in one place makes for one heck of a first impression when you walk through their doors. The typical difficulties of finding (and paying) for downtown Toronto parking may be an issue, but thankfully public transit will drop you off almost right in front. Those who are a bit cautious of their belongings may also be uncomfortable with the openly available coat hangers and cabinets used, so we’d advise not bringing too many personal items as you’ll need to carry them with you. But let’s get back to the lobby and the rest of the pre-room experience. ERA’s followers and newer members will often ask us: “Who cares about the lobby or what happens before an escape room? Why is that factored into scores?” In situations like these we often answer: “You haven’t been to Escape Manor yet, have you?” With over 1,100+ escape rooms visited, consulted and/or reviewed by ERA’s members in the past 6+ years, we can honestly say nobody understands the importance of the pre-room experience more than Escape Manor… they’ve even carved an industry identity from it! Yes we know there’s a handful of so-called industry insiders and reviewers who say this has nothing to do with escape rooms, and repeatedly go on social media forums to rally against what they consider ‘meh’ level games, (while demonstrating a lack of knowledge on the nature of psychological conditioning and entertainment). As for us, we can’t ignore the beauty of Escape Manor’s spacious lounge filled with dark wood furniture, leather couches, solid mahogany tables, a brass rail bar, table puzzles and games spread throughout, all set to intimate lighting. Add to it Escape Manor’s pub menu and variety of drinks, and you’ve got one heck of an experience! Practice Drill’s pre-game preparation (where you’ll be assigned a designated name, told the rules, and broken into teams) was also one of the most fun we’ve had in a long time. If ever there was a location and an event to put a person into the right frame of mind, this was it!
The room quality category had our five ERA members debating the most. Practice Drill is a pop-up escape room / immersive theatre experience. It isn’t designed to be permanent, and it’s set up (and taken down) in the back room of Escape Manor’s lounge on the main floor. Typically, using the words ‘pop-up’ to describe an event or escape room experience is an indication the quality of the room materials and props will be cheap, less fitting to the environment, and easily damaged… But what if the game is designed and relies on a ‘campy and cheap’ level of building quality? Do lower quality components all of a sudden become ‘good’ because they were the right choice for the game? What if things were designed to be easily damaged and/or broken as part of the game? These were some tough questions each of us struggled with answering. On the one hand yes, the component and build level was mostly cheap in nature… but on the other hand the game is designed such that higher quality props and furniture would be a bad choice. After our long debate we thought about writing an article entitled ‘’What happens when paper and plastic are better choices?” In the end some of us came to the personal conclusion that room quality scores should reflect the balance of both ‘truths’, while others decided the scores should reflect the quality that was appropriate to the purpose and design of the game. This ultimately resulted in a strong overall score that was the compromise of each opinion, and again, a topic for some fun debate…
Let’s see here, we’ve got interactive theatre + escape room tasks and puzzles + a fun interactive story that is developed within the game + everyone needing to be at their most playful and engaged, and lastly some excellent actors… Yup, it’s official, this event was an absolutely immersive MASTERPIECE! Words can’t describe how much each of us enjoyed the immersion level and design of Practice Drill! The only small drawback was the game’s dependency on two very critical elements that can’t be controlled. First… the actors. We assume Practice Drill doesn’t use the exact same actors in the exact same roles, (and with the same energy levels), night after night. This introduces a certain level of hit and miss dynamics when it comes to the actor’s impact on the game. The actors we had were amazing, funny, engaging, and above all immersive, so for us, nothing but high praise! The second factor outside of the game’s control is the group of participants who come to play. Practice Drill is a ‘large scale’ game that accommodates anywhere from 9 to 15 people at a time. With 5 out of the 15 participants being ERA members, we thankfully had a large influence on the amount of fun, cooperation and openness of the overall atmosphere. This made for some great interaction with fellow participants and the actors, allowing for everyone to enjoy and have fun. The experience would’ve been very different however if the majority of participants were shy, reluctant, or socially closed off to other participants outside of their own friends and family. Simply put, this game is at its immersive best when everyone gets into role playing, socializing, and teamwork.
As we just mentioned, Practice Drill is more a game of teamwork and role playing ‘tasks’ than it is puzzles (although a few simple puzzles are included in the game). None of the puzzles or tasks are designed to be complex, or take a lot of time. You’ll simply move from task to task with your group, with intermissions to learn the results (and consequences) of your actions, then it’s on to the next bunch of puzzles and/or tasks. Again this posed a tough dilemma for our review team. Should puzzles and tasks be scored on how complex and intricate they are, or should they be scored on how contextual they are to the game? In terms of complexity, or ‘wow’ factor, you won’t find any signs of it within Practice Drill. There’s a lot of variety, and well-contextualized tasks to the point where not everyone on your team will be exposed to the same set of puzzles and tasks. The story presented different challenges and we often had options on how to respond and proceed. Depending on your performance you’ll receive a reward (or consequence) which may or may not impact future challenges and tasks… is that vague enough? Good, because we definitely don’t want to give anything away (for the record, we’re dying to talk with those who’ve played this game so we can share with them some of the funnier and interesting moments we had in our experience)! Suffice to say there’s a lot going on here, and you’ll be doing a bunch of different things during your 90 minutes in the game. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing, and most of all, come with a willingness to do just about anything… just like the immersion, you’ll enjoy the tasks and puzzles a lot more more that way!
We’re guessing it’s pretty obvious by now how much we loved this game! It was interactive, made us frequently laugh, the group we played with and the actors were amazing, and most of all it had us fully invested in a campy but fun story. The pre and post room experience of Escape Manor is second to none within the North American escape room industry, and the game itself is well designed as a campy throwback of the cold-war era. Now then, will everyone enjoy this game equally? Probably not. Hard core puzzle enthusiasts, those who don’t enjoy team working environments, lone wolves, and those who fear groups of strangers will probably struggle to have as much fun as we did. All ages are suitable for this game, but please keep in mind that part of the fun is in the interactive role-playing and teamwork, (those with younger children will need to prepare them in advance as they may be required to interact with strangers who are role playing and acting ‘odd’ at times). Aside from that, this is a MUST EXPERIENCE game in our opinion! Although its limited run has ended at the Toronto Escape Manor location, we highly recommend you contact them and ask for it to be put on tour at the other Escape Manor locations throughout North America because it’s a must see! We hope Escape Manor will once again collaborate with local production teams and actors to build off Practice Drill’s success!
We want to hear your thoughts! Be sure to comment in the section below or send us a message via ERA’s email, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or Twitter… As always, happy escaping!