We had traveled back in time. It was Aug. 7, 1876. We were in Deadwood.
I and six of my friends were special agents recruited by the Space-Time Investigation Agency to time travel to Deadwood, South Dakota, at the peak of the Black Hills Gold Rush.
Our mission: Recover one of three fragments of a dangerous alien device from the safe in the sheriff’s office before he returned. We had 60 minutes.
Of course, my friends and I didn’t actually time travel to the Wild West as SIA agents: We were playing an escape room game at the new Escape Scene in Everett.
If you love playing games that require you to search for clues to solve puzzles and riddles, then you’ve gotta try this: Play an escape room.
Escape rooms, which first gained popularity in Japan, are inspired by “escape-the-room”-style video games such as “Zelda,” “Myst” and “Crimson Room.” Players are locked in a room and must work together to solve puzzles to escape — before time runs out.
About a dozen escape rooms have popped up in the greater Seattle area in the past five years, as entrepreneurs cash in on the growing popularity of immersion entertainment.
The latest is Escape Scene, which opened April 29. It’s the only escape room in Everett and the second to open in Snohomish County.
“It’s basically bringing video games to life,” owner Diane Collison said. “Gamers really like it because you use all the same sort of skills. It took that trend and turned it into another.”
While I have played “Myst,” I like to think of escape rooms as a cross between Nickelodeon’s “Legends of the Hidden Temple” and Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code.”
Unlike most escape rooms, Escape Scene’s games don’t have players solving puzzles to escape a locked room. Instead, each of the games involves completing an SIA mission in another era.
It fits with the business tagline: “Escape the past, the present and the future.”
“Since it’s very new to this area — pretty much everybody we talk to doesn’t know what an escape room is yet — we made it an objective as opposed to actually locking the door,” Collison said.
Deadwood is the first of four escape rooms that continue a save-the-planet storyline: A former SIA employee name Al Havoc went rogue after he found out that the device special agents destroyed was his alien father’s.
He has since time traveled to different eras and assumed different identities — including the sheriff of a mining town in 1876 — in his effort to reconstruct the device and avenge his father by taking over the planet.
The second mission takes players to Cairo in 1930. The third to Munich in 1945. The fourth and final mission has players battling wits with Al Havoc in the present.
Escape Scene is a family business.
“We did [an escape room] as a family and fell in love with it,” said Collison, 39, who worked for Boeing for nine years before recently taking a voluntary layoff. “I had been looking for a business idea, and I was like ‘I can totally do this.’ ”
The family’s flagship escape room opened in August in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Her brother owns that business and runs it with his three sons — but Collison, of Marysville, designed all of the puzzles and her sister-in-law and two nieces established the alien storyline.
As they were waiting for their flights back home, Collison and her niece decided they needed to open their own escape room here.
“The idea is to turn this into a chain,” she said. “It’s the beginning of our entertainment empire.”
Escape Scene was my third escape room. I’ve also tried Puzzle Break in Seattle and Conundroom in Redmond. While only some of my friends had played before, they all like to play board games. I figured it would give us an advantage. It did.
Although I’m not allowed to share exactly how we did it — you have to sign a waiver promising not to spoil the fun — my team of special agents set a record by about 9 minutes. We opened the sheriff’s safe in 45 minutes and 57 seconds. The time to beat had been 54:10.
That’s not to say we didn’t need a hint or two from the game master: We called the SIA for help after trying wrong combination after wrong combination on the safe.
Collison explained that the rooms get more difficult as you continue with the series: The estimated success rate for the Deadwood room is at 50 percent, while Cairo’s is at 40 percent.
She also noted that players can book a room more than once, if you’d like another go at it. Or if you want your friends and family to try it out, even though you’ve already done it, the game master will invite you to watch the game progress in the control room for free. Most escape rooms don’t allow that.
Some tips: When you find a key that opens a lock, leave the key in the lock so you don’t try to use it again. You’ll be armed with blacklights — they are your most helpful tool for finding clues. Delegate tasks so that no more than three players are working on a puzzle at a time. There is a lot to investigate and figure out in just 60 minutes. Above all, communicate with your team. You don’t want to waste any time working on a puzzle that has already been solved.
We had a ton of fun playing the Deadwood game, so we’re already planning to come back for our second mission. Al Havoc — you don’t stand a chance.
You Gotta Try This is a column by Features Editor Sara Bruestle which runs periodically in The Herald. Contact her at 425-339-3046; email@example.com. Twitter: @sarabruestle.
If you go
Escape Scene, 1313 Hewitt Ave., Everett
Each game is for 2-8 players. Admission is $30 per person.
Book a room at www.escapescene.website. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 425-512-8032 for more information.