Bull City Escape Holiday Gift Guide

Does your family love tackling escape rooms together? Do your friends plan their vacation itineraries around escape games? Here are some fun gift ideas for your Sherlock-obsessed, puzzle-addicted, room-escaping loved ones!

NOTE: Bull City Escape is not receiving any compensation for this post. These are just games that we enjoyed and want to recommend to others.

Escape the Crate

Escape the Crate is a series of "escape room in a box" games. The materials have a homemade quality to them, but the puzzles are clever and entertaining. The series follows a villain through time to stop him from altering history. Each game (or chapter) focuses on a different time period and does a great job of integrating historical facts. Perfect for puzzle-loving history buffs!

$29.99 + shipping. Games can be purchased individually or through a subscription.

Unlock!

Unlock! is a card-based game series. Games involve a combination of cardplay and entering information into an app. You won't destroy any of the materials during gameplay, so you can easily repackage it and give it to someone else (er, not that we're condoning regifting...). Affordable and compact, these games would make great stocking stuffers as well. 

We enjoyed Squeek & Sausage, The Formula, and The Island of Doctor Goorse. There are 3 newly released adventures (The House on the Hill, The Nautilus' Traps, The Tonipal`s Treasure) that we haven't played yet, but are on our Christmas list!

$15 per game. There are 6 different games available. 

EXIT THE GAME

Each Exit: The Game contains a journal, decoder wheel, "strange" items, and 3 stacks of cards. This game does not require a separate app or website - everything you need is provided in the game box itself. Gameplay involves manipulating and partially destroying game pieces, which is fun but also means you can't easily repackage the game for multiple uses. We were impressed with the puzzle design, artwork, hint delivery system and method of progression. 

Of the three games we played, we recommend The Abandoned Cabin and The Pharaoh’s Tomb. We did not enjoy The Secret Lab and do not recommend it. 

$13-16. There are 6 different games available.

Journal 29: Interactive Book Game

Journal 29 is a "unique book game where you can solve riddles and puzzles and submit your answers online to get the keys and move forward" which is an accurate (if staid) description. We were surprised at how much we enjoyed this book. It's full of strong, clever puzzles that make innovative use of the book format. Some of the puzzles require searching for answers on the internet, which opens up every imaginable possibility, so it really pushes you to think creatively. The biggest downside is the lack of a formal hint system.

$16. There are 60+ puzzles packed in this book. While they do connect to each other, the book does not need to be completed in one sitting.

Think fun: Escape the room

We played Dr. Gravely's Retreat which is more story-driven than the games above. The story was well-written, intriguing ... but waaaay too wordy. Still, the artwork was beautiful and it included some clever physical puzzles. It was fairly simple to reset and did not involve destroying any of the game pieces. The box says its for 3-8 people, but we recommend it for 2-4 players. 

$22. There are 2 different games available (Secret of Dr Gravely's Retreat and Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor).

Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment

Confession: we have not actually played this game yet BUT WE REALLY WANT IT (::hint:hint::). This game launched on Kickstarter in 2016 ... and immediately sold out. It was then picked up for production by Mattel ... and immediately sold out again. Fingers crossed that a new batch will arrive in time for the holidays. 

$30. See full reviews: Room Escape Artist, Opinionated Gamers, The Room Escapist

an ESCAPE ROOM!

You can gift a real-life escape room experience, of course! The escape room industry has hit the US full-force and there is likely to be one near your loved one's hometown. See if you can purchase a gift certificate or (even better) plan the excursion. Create a fun, unique, and memorable experience with your family and friends!

Bull City Escape Earns 2017 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence

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Travelers come to TripAdvisor to plan and book the perfect trip. Certificate of Excellence celebrates the accommodations, attractions and eateries that make these perfect trips possible.

Now in its 7th year, the Certificate of Excellence designation recognizes establishments that consistently earn great TripAdvisor reviews from travelers.

The Certificate of Excellence accounts for the quality, quantity and recency of reviews submitted by travelers on TripAdvisor over a 12-month period. To qualify, a business must maintain an overall TripAdvisor bubble rating of at least four out of five, have a minimum number of reviews and must have been listed on TripAdvisor for at least 12 months.

Bull City Escape Named 2017 IndyWeek Best of the Triangle Finalist

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INDY Week's Best of the Triangle is an "annual reader-guided tour through 353 of the best things—restaurants, bars, people, places, activities, doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, yoga studios, hiking trails, bike shops, auto repair shops, florists, basically anything and everything that you could possibly be looking for—in the area. This is, bar none, the most comprehensive guide to the coolest local stuff out there, imitators be damned. And that’s because it pulls from the collective wisdom of tens of thousands of readers casting hundreds of thousands of votes."

Bull City Escape was named a Finalist in the "Best Place for Indoor Fun" category - the only escape room to ever be named a Finalist in INDY Week's Best of the Triangle! 

Players Can Escape Technology and The World For an Hour at Bull City Escape (North Carolina Homes)

By Pamela Sosnowski

In today's tech-heavy society people seem to prefer looking down at a screen versus interacting with others. Bull City Escape, however, offers a chance for players to set aside the mobile devices for an hour and use their wits and work with each other to escape a room instead of relying on Google. The Durham-based business currently offers two game scenarios with a third one on the way, and is proving popular with participants of all ages.

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"Our escape rooms are fun, challenging, and immersive experiences," owner Alice Cheung said. "They're sort of like real-life video games; in fact, escape rooms evolved from online point-and-click games. However, rather than passively absorbing entertainment form a screen, players actively engage with their team members and the environment around them to achieve a shared goal. They must search for clues, manipulate objects, and solve a series of puzzles, all while a countdown timer looms above, adding an element of pressure to the game."

The current escape rooms to choose from are Lunar Lockdown, where players must escape their crashed spacecraft before it automatically self-destructsand A Study in Murder, which is the tougher of the two games and requires players to solve a whodunit murder mystery. The two games are most suitable for ages 12 and up and must be booked online in advance. Bull City Escape costs $25 a person and is open from Thursday through Sunday and upon request for private groups

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Unless a group is large enough to fill up a game, there's a good chance players may be paired with strangers, which means new friendships get formed at Bull City Escape. Each room is designed like a Hollywood movie set and full of clues such as codes, riddles, and combination locks. Lunar Lockdown is set up like a spaceship's control room while A Study in Murder is set in a Victorian-style parlor. A third game, called Enchanted Kingdom, is scheduled to be unveiled later this year.

Cheung has always loved puzzles and was inspired to bring the concept to Durham after participating in an escape game herself. "When I played my first escape game, I knew it'd be a perfect fit for the Triangle and its creative, intelligent population," she said. "In June 2015, Bull City Escape launched in a small, underground room. Word-of-mouth spread like wildfire and within a month, we expanded to a larger location with windows and enough space for 3 escape rooms. We are proud to call Durham home and so grateful for this supportive community."

Bull City Escape isn't just for families and groups of friends. It's been booked by couples and offices for team building exercises. The business has also welcomed student organizations and university employees. If you're looking not just to escape a room but also escape technology and the world for a while, book an hour of engaging fun at Bull City Escape.

"Escape" from everyday routine at Bull City Escape (Daily Tar Heel)

By Neecole Bostick

When Chrissy Lemmons' family first began their adventure at Bull City Escape, they were running around, yelling at each other and trying to find all the clues at once.

But then each family member fell into their role. Her brother, a natural leader, kept them on time and on task. Her engineer sister focused on solving puzzles. Lemmons, a UNC student, became a facilitator with the walkie-talkie, connecting the puzzles and making sure everyone knew how their work fit together. 

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With that kind of teamwork, the Lemmons family escaped the room with 24 seconds to spare. They beat the odds — only 30 percent of groups get out of the room within the one hour limit. 

“We all think through things very differently in my family; I am a big picture person, but my sister is very detailed,” said Lemmons, who has done at least 15 other escape rooms. “A lot of the time we would look at a puzzle, solve it at the same time, and come up with two different answers.”

Bull City Escape is part of a growing trend of entertainment rooms that challenge the brain and group dynamics. Groups of two to eight people are locked in a room for 60 minutes — the only way out is to find and solve a sequence of clues that leads to the final combination. The concept started with online games, then evolved into interactive, real life rooms.

“It’s what you would do with a date or a group of friends,” said Jarrett Saia, a Bull City Escape customer and UNC employee. “It's a completely different experience, and when you know the people well, it's a lot of fun.”

Bull City Escape has three rooms, all with 30 to 39 percent success rates. A Study in Murder tops the charts as the hardest, its room resembling a Victorian parlour. Lunar Lockdown is a spaceship setting, and The ‘90s Room depicts quintessential ‘90s pop culture, Beanie Babies and all.

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“I’ve done a lot of escape rooms around the Triangle,” Saia said. “Bull City (Escape) is my favorite one because they go the extra mile to make it seem like you’re in a different place.”

Bull City Escape founder and owner Alice Cheung has a background in psychology and education. She designs each room with the player in mind. She knows people have different types of intelligence, and therefore can approach tasks differently.

“It's good to have a variety of backgrounds among your group,” Cheung said. “Different perspectives foster creative thinking.”

Bull City Escape attracts families, groups of friends, tourists, companies, mystery and puzzle addicts for celebrations, fun, and bonding.

Groups tend to start in a state of chaos of finding clues and exploring the room for the first five minutes, but eventually members break off, taking on different kinds of roles depending on the dynamic of the group. Players tend to gravitate towards roles that adhere to their strengths to help the team get to the next step.

“The first time I went was with five coworkers,” said Alyson Zandt, a Bull City Escape customer and UNC graduate. “It was interesting to see how we worked together and how we all thought of it more as a group project. It was a great way to build trust, and reassert our willingness to work together.”

What role will you take on in 60 minutes?

Coordinator

The coordinator takes on a leadership position, making sure they’re aware of what each member while keeping an eye on the countdown timer. They might take notes, and they'll need great listening skills so they can understand what different groups of people are doing around the room to connect clues. The coordinator keeps the group cohesive and efficient.

“In Lunar Lockdown, I was the one keeping track of what everyone was doing,” Zandt said. “I helped keep up communication because that becomes difficult along with the time restraint.”

Investigator

The investigator takes on an action-oriented role by finding and identifying different puzzles. They try everything out at least once, and delegate different tasks to members. They don't get stressed easily, so they help keep the group calm.

“Communication is a part of it,” Saia said. “It’s easier to know the dynamic of the group so you can divide tasks up and look for clues.”

Puzzle solvers

The three rooms present a range of challenges, but some types of puzzles emerge more often than others, rewarding specific types of skills. Here are a few:

Codes and Ciphers: If you’re into Sudoku, these puzzles may be the most fun for you.

“Puzzles with a lot of numbers I give to my sister,” Lemmons said. “We divide puzzles with what we know how to do, and it bonds the group together.” Code-breakers think like Indiana Jones: they read the signs and numbers to find deeper meanings, solve combinations and open locks to get to the next step.

Spatial Reasoning and Awareness: These puzzles require players to navigate and analyze three-dimensional images and environments.These challenges may involve noticing details around the room that seem mundane at first, but ultimately work together to solve the puzzle.

Logic: Here, a sleuth must observe and draw associations between different elements in the room to help solve clues. The puzzles require you to be able to distinguish between clues and distractions.

“You’re never 100 percent sure what’s a clue and what’s a decoration because all things seem like they mean something,” Saia said.

Bull City Escape is open Thursday through Sunday, and upon request for private groups. To book a game, visit its website

One Tank Trip - Bull City Escape (Fox 8)

Tom, Emily and Bree recently took a one-tank trip to Durham to take on Bull City Escape.

If you love puzzles, this is for you!

Gather some friends, co-workers or complete strangers who look really smart, and tackle this real-life escape game. You will be locked in a room together. You have to hunt for clues, solve puzzles and use teamwork to find the key that will lead you to freedom. You only have 60 minutes and will be allowed three hints.

We found this game is great for tweens to adults.

If you are interested in booking a game, visit Bull City Escape’s website for more information.

ESCAPE GAMES: New Business Offers Interactive Puzzle Challenges (The Herald Sun)

By Cliff Bellamy

The Herald-Sun | Bernard Thomas

The Herald-Sun | Bernard Thomas

DURHAM — Remember the 1990s? Knowledge of the decade might help you navigate the first problem-solving game at Bull City Escape, but immersion in the decade is not necessary to participate in the game, said Alice Cheung, owner of the business that opens Friday, June 5 at 711 Iredell St. in the Ninth Street business district.

Teams of two to six people get 60 minutes to search clues, solve puzzles and look for codes to the key that will allow them to escape from the room. The theme of the first game is the 1990s, and the space has paraphernalia from the decade — Furbies, calendars and magazines from the decade, posters of Boys II Men and the Spice Girls, and videos of “Independence Day,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and other movies from the era.

Bull City Escape (bullcityescape.com) describes itself as “an interactive, real-life escape game,” recommended for families, companies and groups, and puzzle enthusiasts. Participants can solve the escape puzzles as a team-building exercise, or just for fun.

The Herald-Sun | Bernard Thomas (L. to R.) Briles Johnson, Melissa Terrell and Zaina Robinson are looking for clues that will allow them to escape, at Bull City Escape.

The Herald-Sun | Bernard Thomas (L. to R.) Briles Johnson, Melissa Terrell and Zaina Robinson are looking for clues that will allow them to escape, at Bull City Escape.

Cheung played her first escape game about a year ago, and “I loved it immediately,” she said. She has played games in spaces in different cities, all with varied themes — a pirate theme in San Francisco, an office theme in Philadelphia, a warehouse theme in Birmingham.

As she played the games, she began wondering, “If I designed it, what would I do differently?” and the idea for Bull City Escape emerged.

Cheung keeps a notebook with her in which she brainstorms ideas for puzzles and future themes. Future escape room themes might be a mad scientist scenario, or a combination murder mystery with a “Downton Abbey” feel, Cheung said.

Cheung, who will mark her second year in Durham this summer, thinks Durham is an ideal fit for this kind of business and activity. There’s “such a quirky and brainy population here. They’re so open to new ideas,” Cheung said. She has lived in different cities, but “no place has felt like home quicker than Durham.”

She mentions The Scrap Exchange as one example of Durham’s creativity. She also credits American Underground for nurturing entrepreneurs, and the city’s support for small businesses.

The Herald-Sun | Bernard Thomas

The Herald-Sun | Bernard Thomas

Before opening the business, she attended seminars on small businesses at Durham Technical Community College, and worked closely with the non-profit Women’s Business Center of North Carolina-Durham, which she called an “incredible” resource for new businesses.

Bull City Escape’s Ninth Street area location was perfect. “I gave up square footage for location,” Cheung said of the space. “I love that we’re surrounded by small businesses.”

Employees at the Women’s Business Center helped her to test the escape room and game. Members of the center also will participate in a group-building game at the Friday opening. The game will be both a team-building exercise and a way to help Cheung grow her business, said Briles Johnson, executive director of the center. Johnson said she had never participated in this kind of game before, “which is another reason why it is very intriguing and exciting.”

Cheung studied psychology and education in school, and brings that knowledge to bear when designing puzzles and games. “All of the puzzles are designed for different kinds of intelligence, so everyone in the group can contribute something,” she said. “The most successful teams are the ones that bring those different kinds of intelligence” to the problems, she said.

People who want to play one of the games can show up individually, or as a group. Cheung recommends reserving a time on Bull City Escape website.

Cheung said she is open to talking to groups about new themes and game ideas. Looking ahead, one of her dreams is to have a larger space, and perhaps multiple themes in different spaces in Durham.

Escape games are “an immersive entertainment,” Cheung said. “You’re not just absorbing something from a screen. … You’re fully present with your team members and you’re working toward a goal” of solving the puzzle.

Escape the Norm (Durham Magazine)

By Lanier Gray

Imagine yourself locked in a room of clues and codes with friends, family members, co-workers or even strangers. You are given an hour to solve puzzles, crack codes and locate the key that leads to your escape. Sound thrilling? The experience is real at Bull City Escape.

Bull City Escape beta test team after a successful breakout

Bull City Escape beta test team after a successful breakout

A popular city attraction around the world, Durham now has its own interactive escape game thanks to Bull City Escape owner Alice Cheung. Motivated by her love for trivia, mysteries and game shows, Alice began to explore escape games around the United States and returned to Durham with ideas of her own.

“When I first experienced an escape game, I knew it would be perfect for Durham,” Alice says. “The local population is young, intelligent and has a sense of humor.”

She relied heavily on the community of people who take pride in local businesses when creating her own. In addition to the encouragement of Durhamites, she credits her support to a small business seminar at Durham Technical Community College and the guidance she received from the Women’s Business Center.

Alice designed Bull City Escape with the player in mind, providing them with a fun challenge and contributing to the development of problem-solving skills, leadership and teamwork.

Bull City Escape, which hosts its grand opening Friday, June 5, is located at 711 Iredell St. Games are $25 per person, but a 20% off promotion code (GRAND_OPENING) can be applied when booking online for the first full month.

Bull City Escape launches an interactive, real-life escape game on Friday, June 5

Your team is locked in a room packed with hidden clues. You have 60 minutes to solve the puzzles, find the key and get out!

At Bull City Escape, small teams of 2-6 people—friends, relatives or strangers—use their wits, deductive reasoning, and problem-solving skills to ultimately find the way to escape the room.

Our inaugural room has a 1990s pop culture theme. Work with your team in a fun, nostalgic setting and share the glory as you crack the codes to get out.

Live escape games are widely popular overseas; top-ranked attractions in major cities in Europe and Asia. They’re becoming a favorite pastime in the U.S., and now the Triangle can get in on the fun.

We offer an extraordinary and exhilarating entertainment experience. Games are developed for families and friends, but make for a great company outing. This exercise provides a way for organizations to build leadership, teamwork, and communication skills.

Bull City Escape is located at 711 Iredell Street, next to Durham’s hip Ninth Street. Open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and upon request for private groups. To book a game, visit bullcityescape.com.

info@bullcityescape.com
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