How can a plainspoken but ingenious room be more
spectacular than any spectacle?
The best magicians live and die by misdirection. They end their tricks with moments that seem impossible and shocking, but also, somehow, inevitable. This room about a stage magician sometimes seems focused on the behind-the-scenes trade secrets and shop-talk of stage magic, while other times, it seems to follow the surreal logic of dreams. It all adds up, even if it sometimes feels too precocious for its own good. It’s fun, that’s the important thing.
The creators are new to the scene, and it seems like they’ve kept their innocence by creating from few influences. They reportedly went to one escape room before building Strange Magic. Even so, they’re not inexperienced in this kind of thing. The team behind Strange Magic has a background in live educational games, and they know how the dynamics of group puzzle-solving work. With their unfinished aesthetic, they’re presenting the illusion of being absolute newbies, but the plywood is part of the magic. This room wants to be spectacular, and it often is — it just refuses to get there by relying on spectacle.
This ethos is signalled to the audience early on. Even the introductory video uses techniques from zero-budget ARGs like EverymanHYBRID (which pretended to be a series of ineptly made fitness videos) and long-form mindscrew horror like Marble Hornets (which pretended to be footage from a trite student film). The feel of spontaneous DIY is part of Strange Magic’s misdirection. There’s not only more to it than meets the eye, the very theme of the game is things that have more to them than meets the eye. I love this room, I really do, and I welcome the attitude and approach it represents — but it is an apprentice piece.
I guess I have a criticism about its endgame. The room attempts a finale that’s only powerful if you’ve been paying attention in exactly the right way. I didn’t actually get it until it was explained to me — and while that’s not a bad thing on its own, I question whether it’s what they were going for. A magician’s finale relies on everyone expecting the same thing, and being surprised in the same way. The designers made an intelligent final puzzle that challenges us to second-guess the magician — but maybe it should end by letting the players do what an audience member would want to do (Save her! Break the glass! Take that saw away from him!) only to find out that, far from foiling the trick, we’ve played right into its hands. I think the game prizes cerebral processing a bit too highly at the end, but that’s subjective. This is a room created by very, very smart people, and I wasn’t always sure it was made with folks like me in mind. And that’s okay, too.
A breath of fresh air in the escape room industry, Mind Masters CC’s premiere experience Strange Magic lives up to its name. The designers here have done things a little bit differently and the result is an extremely creative room that enthusiasts & novices alike will have a fantastic time with.
Stage magicians often rely on misdirecting their audiences’ attention, a practice that is put to great effect in Strange Magic. Several items included in the room are intended solely to draw the players’ expectations toward the mundane only to surprise them with a mystical effect. An obvious padlock, for example, may have absolutely nothing to do with unlocking the container it’s attached to. There’s a great deal of technical sophistication at work in many of the Awe elements at play here, just like in a stage performance. The lengths mind Masters CC has gone to to hide the technological backbone reminded me of Strange Bird Immersive’s legendary The Man from Beyond.
Veterans of escape rooms should be cautioned, however, as many of the anticipated ‘rules’ of the art form don’t necessarily apply here. For instance, it’s conventional to disregard the components of a puzzle after that puzzle has been solved. But in this room, an item might be used twice (or not). An item that you’re expecting to find, given the apparent nature of a puzzle might not be included in the room at all. Don’t let your first impression of the room’s simplicity throw you off — it’s not a conventional place.
In the way it handles the Teamwork element, I would say this room falls short. Michael and I were able to play this room alone, but one minute this single-stage room left us bumping into each other, another minute, it made us wish we had a larger team. A few puzzles in a row required one skill (like abstract thinking, where Michael excels) and then the next few all required a very different skill (like deductive reasoning, which is one of my strengths); this resulted in me feeling like a weak link for three puzzles and then like the ‘heavy lifter’ for the next three. Because it’s never clear which type we’re in until we’re deep in it, there was no way to divide and conquor by strategizing according to our strengths.
Narratively, players are ‘field agents’ being teleported into different locations for each experience.One innovation that makes me really excited for Mind Masters CC’s next room is their ‘portal arch’. The doorway we entered this room through served as our ‘base camp’ and was a great way to keep all of our essential escape room tools in one place (like our flashlights, clue system, marker boards, emergency exit, countdown clock, item scanner, etc.) This really helped with the room’s over-all realism and immersion. Items weren’t just suddenly available ‘because escape rooms are like that’; either the agency supplied us with a flashlight or we wouldn’t need one. I am really looking forward to seeing how that archway is customized with tools specific to each of our next missions for the agency.
The other innovation I’m really interested in is Mind Masters CC’s unique scoring system. Players earn a secret amount of points for each puzzle based on how long they take to complete it once all the pieces are available. This concept makes ranking teams a lot more objective and, once you learn your score and where you gained/lost points, has the potential to really help you grow as a team by looking at your own strengths and weaknesses as a team while helping you become more familiar with the mindset of the designer behind the experience. This point system might even be the key to replayability that the industry has been seeking for so long.
For anyone looking for something truly novel and memorable, Strange Magic is not to be missed.
Mind Masters CC
453 FL-50, Clermont, FL 34711