Imagine you and your team are on a quest for treasure in a deep, steamy jungle seemingly forgotten by time.
In the clearing, you spot a hidden temple, but before you can get to it, local tribes people lock you in a primitive cage and head off to find their high priest to decide your fate. You don’t have long to find a way out, so you can get to the temple, find the treasure and escape before they return.
That’s what you’re up against at Napa’s Grape Escape’s newest escape room — The Temple of Razum — where players are immersed in a jungle environment, complete with appropriate background noises, textures and music, for an exceptional immersive, interactive experience, owner Shannon Johnson said.
“We encourage people to explore the room like you’re a child,” Johnson said of all three escape room games operating on the site that opened in 2019 and had to shut down less than a year later because of the COVID pandemic. The business reopened in June 2021.
“Touch things. Look under things. Figure out how things correlate," she said. "Push buttons. Find items, and figure out how they fit in.”
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An escape room is one where you are given a goal and are tasked with completing the mission by finding clues, and solving a series of puzzles and riddles, Grape Escape’s website says.
“The puzzles challenge your brain and sometimes your motor skills but will also require some teamwork that allows you to have some fun with friends, family, and co-workers,” the site says. “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to complete our rooms as they are made to challenge you but not stump you as we want you to have a fun time during your experience.”
All three of the venue’s escape rooms — Uncle Tick-Tock's Circus, The Kraken Casino, and The Temple of Razum — are family friendly “and will get your teens off their phones and communicating directly with you even if only for an hour,” according to the website.
One of the three original escape room themes, created before the COVID-19 pandemic, was about an evil scientist who plans to unleash a deadly virus but gets infected. Considering the curveball humanity was thrown in 2019 with COVID, it seemed appropriate to dismantle that room and replace it with the Indiana Jones-style Temple of Razum, Johnson said.
“We felt that people had had enough of the idea of escaping a deadly virus in real life, so at great expense, we added Razum. Aesthetically, it’s the highest production room we’ve done,” she said.
Though Grape Escape took off like a rocket, Johnson said the pandemic “really knocked the wind out of our sails.” The couple hopes people will see the value of the experience and check it out.
“We really need the support of the community,” she said.
Johnson, 51, and her husband of 24 years Rick, 60 — longtime Napa residents and owners of a local window business — work with a St. Louis-based game design company they found during their research phase, she said. That company designs scenarios mostly for mobile escape room operators.
“We fell in love with their production and themes. And the games sort of morphed, and we fell in love with the process, and we improved upon them with our own creativity,” she said. “We were the company’s first brick-and-mortar, and they’ve been growing with us. A brick-and-mortar allows more production value — more of the wow factor.”
By summer’s end, though, the Johnsons hope to add a mobile option as well, for business team-building events, birthday parties, special events at wineries and more.
It’s the firm’s Napa wine country location that inspired its name – The Grape Escape.
“If you’re looking for things to do in the Napa Valley, you can add us to the list,” the company website says. “Napa Valley’s only escape room gives you the chance to prove just how skilled you are. Navigate through a series of mysterious puzzles in an environment filled with secrets and awe. Grab your friends, family, or coworkers and together decipher codes, solve puzzles, and collect your prize… That is, if you can escape in 60 minutes.”
The Johnsons' grown son and daughter help with The Grape Escape’s operation, Shannon Johnson said.
“This was our side passion project, and we want it to become our retirement thing because we enjoy it so much; the creativity and the joy that it brings is really our motivation,” she said. “People love it. Just walking in, you know something cool is happening.”
Company officials have not forgotten about the ongoing COVID situation and sanitize everything in each room between games and make sure social distance is maintained between groups, she said.
Most of the games are best with six to eight players, and are a fun experience for a variety of events like bridal parties, birthday parties, business team-building events, anniversaries and more, she said.
“We’ve even had marriage proposals,” she said.
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Having experienced the escape room concept in other cities, the Johnsons felt it was a perfect fit for Napa, Shannon Johnson said.
“We raised kids in Napa and there’s not that much for families to do,” she said. “Though this is not for very young kids — though we do have games for younger groups — it is best for about age 13 and up. Our goal is for people to play together intergenerationally — grandparents to teens — put down their cell phones and work together.”
The firm can host up to 20 to 22 at a time, using all three rooms, each of which are six-to-eight-player games, though the Tick Tock Circus can be played with two, she said.
None of the missions are physically tiring, requiring “some tactical skills, a little aiming, a little coordination and an interest in game-playing and bonding with family, friends or colleagues,” Shannon Johnson said. There are also some hints available if a group gets stuck, she said.
“Different people see things differently, and it takes all kinds of minds; all kinds of thinking, to get through the room,” she said. “It creates conversation later, and people analyze and reflect on how each participant solved what they did. One of my favorites is when things pop up in the rooms, and the surprise and excitement of the unexpected. It’s great to see full grown adults get excited like little kids.”
You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 707-256-2218 or firstname.lastname@example.org