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  • Writer's pictureMike Wilson

Review: Black Hills Escape Rooms Rapid City

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Today I visited Black Hills Escape Rooms in Rapid City, South Dakota with my wife and two of our friends. We only did one room (Haunted Deadwood B&B) this time, but this is the second time I’ve been to this location. Last time we did Zombie Prairie Dog.

Black Hills Escape Rooms had a great lobby with a very photo fun post-game photo area. It’s in a great location downtown Rapid by some great restaurants. For the size of town, the rooms are good, but the rooms could not compete with many of the big chain and big city rooms. The rooms are creative, and they use good generation two (electronic) locks. I applaud them for that, but the room designs reveal one of the few (but common) weaknesses of generation two locks. In these rooms, when you complete a puzzle, a lock is unlocked. When that happens, you might hear a quiet click that tells you something in the room opened, but more often then not, there is no feedback at all, and you don’t know if you successfully completed the puzzle or not. Consequently, you’ll have to regularly check locked doors, drawers, etc. to see if you unknowingly correctly completed a puzzle. If this happens multiple times in a room, I almost always have a feeling of disappointment at the end of the room. I recently realized that‘s because the room didn’t have enough climactic celebration moments. Good escape rooms have multiple break through moments when a puzzle is solved, a door is opened, etc. Those small celebrations combine to make the final celebration more exciting. When you solve puzzles without knowing you solved them or recognize a door unlocked without knowing how you unlocked it, celebration moments are replaced by confusion moments. I have seen designers counteract this problem by adding lighting/soundtrack changes when a puzzle is solved or by adding springs that make the door open more forcefully. Black Hills Escape Rooms need more celebration moments.

The worst thing about the rooms at Black Hills Escape Rooms are the red herrings. They’re everywhere, both intentionally and unintentionally, and they aren’t just unnecessary items in the room. They hide red herrings in locked drawers with other legitimate puzzles.

Their rooms have very small openings between the first area and the second area, and there is no way to make the opening larger or open a secondary door after you get into the second area. Consequently, you have to squeeze back and force between the two areas multiple times.

Instead of getting hints through a mounted speaker or walkie talkie, you call the game master on a Facebook portal (or similar device). Then the game master actually comes to the room to give you a hint. The good thing about that is that you can more easily understand the hint. The bad thing is that if there was any feeling of immersion, that ends when someone who is out of character walks into the room.

With all that said, I think Black Hills Escape Rooms’ next room is going to be awesome. The game designer is getting better and better, and if they would give up on the red herrings, they could add a few puzzles to each room to make them some of the best rooms in the upper midwest.

Zombie Prairie Dogs

Mike’s Difficulty Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Their Difficulty Rating: 3 (out of 5) Zombie Prairie Dogs was a good room. The theme was fun and funny. We had a large group, and there were plenty of tasks for the less experienced players. There were also difficult tasks for the more experienced players. We made it out with only a few seconds left on the clock, but I do have to point out that we spent 5 or more minutes confused and wasting our time because there was a puzzle that was set up incorrectly and eventually the game master had to come in and fix it so that we could complete the puzzle. There were a few red herrings (totally pointless puzzles) in this room that really frustrated me.

Haunted Deadwood B&B Mike’s Difficulty Rating: 1 (out of 5)

Their Difficulty Rating: 2 (out of 5)

I have a lot to say about this room (good and bad), but first I have to complain. There are red herrings everywhere! This room doesn’t actually have very many locks, but when you walk in it feels like there will be just because of the huge number of red herrings. Since we’ve already done a room here, we knew how to recognize them, and we were only a minute away from beating this room’s record. We bypassed so many puzzles (red herrings) that when we finished the room we thought we had skipped some steps in the room. On the good side, I loved the use of technology, and it all worked! I won’t give too much detail here, but I even had that “this can’t actually work” feeling when they used a piece of technology in a way I’d never seen it used before. There were almost no generation (traditional) locks in this room. The room and associated story was creative and unique. I even felt immersed a time or two, and some of the word clues were really clever. There’s another creative design element that surprised me that has more to do with the room layout, but I won’t spoil that.

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