Skip to content

Escape rooms, board games take over former bank

This week's What's Up Wednesday takes a look at the new South Porcupine business

Anyone looking for a brief escape from reality only has to go South Porcupine to get in on the fun and games.

Marcus Niebler and Julie Evans are the owners of Escape From Reality – Timmins. Their new business is located in the old CIBC building on Golden Avenue. The former bank is now home to a series of escape rooms and a hot spot for board games.

They moved to Timmins from Stratford, where they ran an escape room business for several years and opened a second location in St. Thomas. They sold the Stratford location, but have licensed the name to the new owner.

“When we were looking for a new city to move to, we were looking at a demographic of a population that works and has not much to do and Timmins was number two on the list,” Niebler said. “We looked at real estate and the bank was available and thought this would be a perfect location for what we do.”

“We started three and a half years ago in Stratford,” Evans explained. “We had done a few escape rooms ourselves and we have a background working with children, scenarios like summer camps and day trips, working with school boards and daycares, and I used to run a pool, and background in child development, massage therapy, recreation and astrophysics. We did the first escape room and we thought that was awesome, but we could do it better.”

While Stratford has a lot of activities for tourists, they said there wasn’t much for local residents.

“Stratford needed something,” she said. “There was 40,000 people that needed something to do, in the winter especially.”

They moved to Timmins to open Escape From Reality in mid-October.

“The key to running an escape room (business) is that you have to be living in the area to promote it all the time,” he said. “You’re running around in t-shirts, you’re telling people what you do and once they figure it out, they get the ball rolling and it explodes. People are always looking for fun.”

They want to bring the fun of co-operatively solving puzzles in an adventurous scenario to Northerners.

“A lot of people don’t know what escape rooms are,” she said. “There are a lot of misconceptions out there through movies and other experiences because a lot of escape rooms aren’t put together as well as they could. We all hope that your first escape room experience is going to be through a company that does it well.”

They write the storylines and create the puzzles and riddles for each escape room. They have 25 different escape rooms in their bank, and are in the process of writing more.

“We run each one eight to 12 months on average, unless it’s a Christmas room — it needs to start after Remembrance Day and end before Valentine’s Day,” she said.

They are created for groups of two or more to complete in a reasonable amount of time.

“Most of them are written for an hour,” Niebler said. “After the hour or hour-and-a-half mark, if they haven’t solved it, people start shutting down. Fifty-eight minutes is the sweet spot, because you want to be successful at the end.”

“We don’t what to make it over challenging where it is impossible to solve,” she added. “We balance it so we can make our escape rooms available to the most people possible.”

It is also important that participants don’t feel like they are being rushed.

“We always keep an extra half hour between reservations to allow a few extra minutes to solve it or if you’re a few minutes late, because who knows what weather they are going to throw at us out here,” she said. “We’d rather that you’d finish, even if we give you a hint at the hour.”

Groups that have participants from a variety of backgrounds and interests tend to do very well in escape rooms.

“The most successful groups are multigenerational familied,” Niebler said.

“We find that everyone thinks very differently,” Evans said. “We try to run our rooms with a different focus, so one might be a little more based on a cognitive thinker versus an analytical thinker versus a problem solver versus a non-thinker, who is more of a searcher. They work through the process very differently.

“Children versus adults, we have had some as young as six — under six they usually aren’t as helpful — but we’ve had a group of six-year-olds go in and solve a room. They ask for a couple of hints usually, more often it’s a matter of the mechanics of the locks. That’s why we require an adult to be in the room with them. At about 11 or 12, they’re ready to go in these rooms and tackle them by themselves and they have a lot of fun doing it because they’re thinking. They search differently than an adult does.”

The shop is also a place where board game enthusiasts, such as those into Dungeons and Dragons, can play. The old bank vault is currently being used as a room for board games.

“Tuesday night is open game night,” Niebler said. “Any day of the week, there are games in the back people can just grab and play.”

There are already some regulars coming in for board games. But there is plenty of room for newcomers.

“We are going to start doing some learn-to-play D and D groups on Wednesday nights, probably around mid-November, that will last four or five weeks,” she said. “And then X Wing, which is a Star Wars game, that league starts up on the 21st I believe is the first night.”

They plan to have Magic: The Gathering players come in on Friday nights.

They will also make room for newcomers who may be experienced at a game.

“We’re going to start some of the groups up ourselves, because we’re both dungeon masters (in D and D),” he said.

The shop also sells copies of the board games and components for the games. There are also snacks and beverages available for sale.

The owners are also working on prototypes of their own board games, including one called Shafted where players try to be more successful at mining than each other.

If the early results are any indication, the South Porcupine location should be fine with participants.

“They’ve been coming from all around, Kapuskasing, Cochrane … they are happy they don’t have to go to New Liskeard, North Bay or Sudbury,” Evans said.

“Even in Stratford, we were a destination,” he added. “We had people who would drive an hour after they exhausted their options (for escape room scenarios) in Kitchener or London.”

Escape From Reality – Timmins is located at 90 Golden Ave. in South Porcupine. It is open Monday to Wednesday from 3 to 10 p.m., Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Visit their website, find them on Facebook or call 705-412-7233.