Fort Collins, CO: ConTRAPtions – Plight of the Margo Part 1

May 11, 2019 – On our most recent trip to Denver, Christina and I wanted to hike a little. There’s no shortage of options around Denver for this, but we had heard from Brian at Rabbit Hole Recreation Services that the Fort Collins area had some great escape rooms in addition to its natural wonders, so we headed in that direction.

We headed toward Horsetooth Falls Trail, taking the back roads as much as we could to see more of the area. The area leading up to Horsetooth Mountain is already more scenic than anything we have in northeastern Illinois, so our cameras were always out.

The trail itself was easy enough to hike- gradual ups and downs winding through the territory that made it easy to pause and marvel at the area.

Unfortunately, we never made it to the top of the mountain. After making it about a mile in, the rain started pouring, and we made a judgment call to head back for the car and find something to do indoors. I made a mental note to revisit this trail again the next time we’re in town; though there are many options for hiking in the area, it’s going to bother me if I never get to see the top of this particular mountain!

Back in the car and on our phones, we searched for nearby escape rooms and made a startling discovery. Plight of the Margo- 90 minute escape room, part 1 of 2. At the 90 minute mark, the group’s progress is written down so the group can resume from that point for another 90 minute session. A THREE HOUR ESCAPE ROOM???

I’ve written before about how I’m instantly drawn to rooms with time limits longer than one hour for a number of reasons, primarily because it implies the escape room owners must have designed something pretty cool to justify the logistical headaches of a nonstandard timeslot.

The downside was that the room could only be attempted by groups of 4+, and Christina and I didn’t have anyone in the area we could call. VERY fortunately, we checked availability and the next timeslot had a group of four already registered. We called ConTRAPtion and they asked the team of four if they’d like to join up with two strangers, and they welcomed it. So the cards fell just right and we signed up to play Plight of the Margo.

The room was the best-looking sci fi spaceship set I’ve seen in an escape room, and I’ve seen some good ones. The room was filled to the brim with customized sci fi gadgetry, and everything had its own logical rules for operating.

One of the things we had to adapt to was how the room was driven by the story rather than by solving puzzles as they become available. Since everything in the room is interactive, it was very easy to get caught up in playing around with the tools to see if anything would unlock. But even though we could interact with the engine drive or the transporter, the room’s plot driven design meant that we probably shouldn’t be touching those if there wasn’t a story reason for it. I think that’s a big part of why the room was 90 minutes – to give players some time to explore the setting and play around with all the gadgetry without having to use hints to keep on pace.

Our objective was a search & rescue mission. The Margo is a missing spaceship the team’s own ship is tasked with hunting down, and step 1 is to find the Margo somewhere in the galaxy. The team has a working FTL drive but space is vast, so you need to first figure out where to look and how to contact the Margo.

Once we got the hang of the story-driven nature, we started to make serious progress and unlock new tools and areas. I was impressed by a lot of the narrative touches and how it impacted how the environment developed around us. ConTRAPtion did a good job integrating the story in such a way that the plot could develop without having to pause and read a message for a minute- the environment was very dynamic and the story was told through viewscreens, audio logs, and physical changes to the setting. It’s the closest I’ve come to feeling like I’m on an episode of Star Trek.

The plot has a few twists and turns, increasing the scope of the mission and building a big hook for teams to return and conquer the second half of the story. ConTRAPtion advertises there are multiple endings, as well (I’m wondering how many of those involve having to sacrifice at least one player, if not the whole team, to complete the mission…).

Also, the family we attempted the room with may have been the absolute best team we’ve ever partnered with in an escape room. I’ve been paired with many a stranger over the course of my approximately 350 escape rooms solved, and many of them have been good. This family still awed me with both their puzzle proficiency and communications skills. Every ten seconds someone was finding something important and calling it out to the group. Everyone was bouncing ideas off each other and coming up with new theories. For anyone who is hesitant about getting paired up with strangers in escape rooms, I recommend giving it a shot. Not every experience will be as wonderful as this one was, but I always find observations on teamwork are one of the most valuable takeaways I have from escape rooms.

We cleared the percentage of completion threshold ConTRAPtion uses to determine if part 1 is counted as a win or a loss and are sitting at just about 50% completion. I’m really intrigued where the story will go from here and am looking forward to trying the next chapter (and hoping we can either bump into this family again or have an exception made to tackle part two with a smaller group).

ConTRAPtion has built something very unique with the Plight of the Margo. Even calling it an escape room seems a little oversimplified; it’s really an interactive puzzle-driven story. I wouldn’t be surprised if places like Disney and Universal Studios try something like this in the future, though I’m not sure if an amusement park would be able to justify an attraction that is occupied by a single group for 3 hours. As of now ConTRAPtion is the only place I’m aware of that has designed an experience of this manner, and I definitely recommend checking it out.

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