The digital clock is ticking down and we’ve only solved one of the puzzles in a vine-and-rock-lined room that looks like a small clearing in a dark rainforest. But solving that puzzle—a ring may or may not have been involved—opened a secret box filled with replica gold bars. If we can figure out what to do with these bars (and their mysterious etchings), we might open the door to the next room…

As someone who had never been in an escape room before, I had always been a little skeptical of these interactive game attractions. How much fun can you actually have when you’re trapped in a space with only your meager problem-solving skills to help you? But after my girlfriend and I checked out The Prophecy, a Mayan-themed game at Richmond’s hugely popular Time Escape, we were both hooked.

Time Escape stone sentinel
One of The Prophecy's colourful stone sentinels. | Photo: ​John Lee

WHAT IS AN ESCAPE ROOM?

Like an immersive real-life video game, participants are ‘locked’ into a suite of themed rooms where physical (rather than virtual) puzzles have to be solved in order to progress to the next level—usually via a doorway to the adjoining room. If all tasks are successfully completed, the final door is your exit.

Deploying logic, code-breaking, and a bit of mathematical problem-solving, you’re aiming to unlock cupboards or boxes that deliver clues or additional items required to tackle upcoming task. Buttons and keypads are common, while placing found physical items in correct locations can also help you progress.

There’s an aim to each game—in The Prophecy, you’re trying to find a specific item that triggers your exit—but there’s also a clock counting down how long you have left. At Time Escape, you have 50 minutes to complete your game.

Crucially, perhaps, you’re also never actually trapped: each of Time Escape's rooms has a button where you can summon someone to come in and provide extra clues if you get stuck. In addition, the entrance door is never actually locked so you can exit on your own at any time.

Time Escape Mayan Calendar
The Prophecy has a Mayan theme. | Photo: ​John Lee

WHO ARE THEY FOR?

Some escape room attractions are aimed at adults or have frightening horror themes. But Time Escape is family-friendly and doesn’t aim to scare anyone—curious kids and teenagers who love puzzles will certainly enjoy taking part. It’s also a great activity for couples, families or groups of friends—team-building groups often book games here.

Each of Time Escape's games have a maximum group size (it’s six for The Prophecy). But you’re never forced to tackle a game with people you don't know: if there are only two of you, you can have the game to yourself without having to pay extra.

TIPS FOR FIRST-TIMERS

Before we started our game, I asked Time Escape’s onsite director Russell Li if he had any advice for escape room newbies like us. My girlfriend is a crossword nut, I explained, but my own limited puzzling skills mean that I’d need several lifetimes (and an extra brain) to master a Rubik’s cube.

“Everything is logical,” he explained sagely. “But don't overthink it. Pay attention to the details and make sure you communicate and work together.” I nodded solemnly, then smiled when he added that the first few Prophecy tasks are relatively easy—although it can be initially confusing when you enter and start wondering what to do.

WHAT IS IT LIKE?

We were certainly perplexed when the entrance door closed behind us. The small, windowless room we found ourselves in was decorated like a dense rainforest nook but there were also some odd little doors that may or may not have been part of the game.

3 colourful stone sentinels
The Prophecy's colourful stone sentinels. | Photo: ​John Lee

Without giving anything away (just in case you want to tackle The Prophecy for yourself), we eventually matched symbols on some moving tree trunks, discovered how to release a significant-looking item, and finally found out how to open some of the small cupboard doors. The gold bars we found were vital, and we also uncovered a scroll and other invaluable items.

It wasn’t long before we hit a mental wall and ground to a halt, though. But with some called-for help from Li, we eventually unlocked the second door and stumbled into a larger chamber where three stone sentinels gazed down on a sundial. There was also a series of strange symbols studding the walls here.

In this space—and the concluding room we unlocked after some additional help—the tasks were harder and occasionally frustrating. But there was also a great deal of creative thinking as we tried solving puzzles from different angles. And although it was exhilarating to solve anything, we ultimately ran out of time. When an alarm sounded, Li stepped in to point out the solutions and show us how to exit the game.

OTHER GAMES

Explaining that most of Time Escape's games have around a thirty percent successful completion rate, Li added that many players—especially first-timers—usually need some assistance. In fact, he said, the help button is often pressed two or three times during a typical game. I’m not going to say how many times we needed help, but let’s just say we were grateful to see Li’s smiling face more than a couple of times during our game.

But although we definitely needed his clues, we both had a great time tackling The Prophecy. And on the way home, we agreed we couldn’t wait to try one of Time Escape's other adventures.

Open in Richmond for six years, Li has developed a portfolio of 12 original games here—there are typically four to choose from at any given time. Alongside The Prophecy, that currently includes Galactic Warfare, The Sorcerer’s Quest, and Operation Rescue. In the latter game, you have to outsmart an art thief in an abandoned warehouse. That sounded like it would be another great workout for my newly active problem-solving brain.

IF YOU GO

Each Time Escape game costs between $26.66 and $31.42 per person. Booking can be made online here but walk-in spots are often available as well (the busiest times are evenings and weekends). Located at #140 - 3471 No. 3 Road, it’s an easy seven-minute walk here from the Canada Line’s Aberdeen Station.