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story.lead_photo.caption John Fandrey, creator of Atropine, and Kayla Smith, vice president of marketing for Karst Games, demonstrate how to play Atropine. (Courtesy of John Fandrey.)

Jefferson City residents and visitors looking for a unique way to explore the downtown area, see the sights and escape from a fictional toxic nerve agent at the same time are in luck — there's an app for that.

Atropine gives players an escape room-type experience — but instead of being inside, players explore downtown Jefferson City.

The basic story line of Atropine is that a deadly nerve agent has been released and is blanketing Jefferson City. If players want to escape "death," they have to listen to instructions given by a fictional scientist in the app who is responsible for the nerve agent disaster.

"Don't hang up. Just listen. Don't speak. Just listen," the scientist says in the opening video. "The air in Jefferson City is toxic."

The game takes players on a 2-mile adventure, exploring local landmarks and solving puzzles as the scientist gives instructions in order to escape the city.

Game developer John Fandrey said the adventure should take about an hour and 15 minutes to complete, with around 20 minutes of walking. Players can use a vehicle if they need to, Fandrey said, but the game is designed to make people active.

The game begins at Lafayette Street near the Missouri State Penitentiary and ends in a different location in Jefferson City. Points of interest are marked on an in-game map.

Brittany Wade played the game with a group of coworkers in April under the team name JCNR1.

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"The app was a great way to explore downtown Jefferson City and see historical landmarks that you've walked or driven past all your life and never really paid any attention to," Wade said.

The map also includes "hot zones," or areas where the concentration of the nerve agent is stronger. In these areas, players need in-game items they find along the way to help them survive, Fandrey said.

Some of the puzzles provide clues to lead players toward certain locations. Others use a player's surroundings at certain locations as elements in the puzzle.

Fandrey said he felt downtown Jefferson City was a good area for this type of game.

"Jefferson City has a really cool downtown with a lot of things that can serve as the basis of puzzles, so that made it an attractive place to make one of these games," Fandrey said.

Players don't need anything but their mobile phones to play, and Fandrey recommends they have a well-charged phone. The game can be played in groups of any size, but Fandrey said it was developed with groups of four in mind.

The website states the game is intended for players ages 13 and older.

At the beginning of the game, the application gives players an option to add phone numbers of the other players. The game then uses these phone numbers if players request additional clues. The app will randomly choose a phone number from the list and send the clue via text message.

"The reason for that is so that everyone is given an opportunity to fully participate," Fandrey said. "So you have someone in the group who's maybe a little bit more introverted, if they're the one that gets the clue texted to them, now they have a piece of information that they can share with everyone else, and they're participating more fully than they otherwise would have."

The game is designed to be played once, Fandrey said, because the application includes a score leaderboard. Scores are calculated by the time it takes players to complete, the number of extra clues they request and how they do in the hot zones.

The app has been downloaded around 360 times, and there are currently 19 scores on the leader board, Fandrey said. The top score of 1,207,944 belonged to Team Red Frame Team as of Friday. Wade's team is currently No. 6.

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The app was developed by Karst Games LLC, a local app development company created by Fandrey, and it is the first of what the company calls "Mobile Knots" — mobile from the method of playing and knot representing the challenge of a puzzle.

Fandrey said the inspiration for Karst Games and Atropine came after he visited a friend in Seattle in 2017. The friend took him to several escape rooms, and Fandrey said he enjoyed them but ended up spending a lot of money.

"I thought, 'What if we could take this and do it outside using landmarks and things that already exist, using an app on the phone, and have a similar but different experience for a much lower cost?'" Fandrey said.

In 2018, Fandrey and his wife moved to Jefferson City from Minnesota, where he had been practicing law. He decided this was his opportunity to make that idea a reality.

Fandrey started making Atropine in January, and it launched on the Apple App Store in April.

The app is only available in the Apple App Store, but only one player in a group needs to have the application downloaded and the text message clues can be sent to any mobile phone.

Fandrey said Karst Games hopes to continue developing similar applications and partner with local businesses to develop applications for them.

Wade said she looks forward to playing any similar games created by Karst Games.

Karst Games has three main objectives, Fandrey said: to provide experiences that are social, affordable and physically active.

"My favorite part was being able to get out and do something fun and active with my friends while being challenged cognitively," Wade said.

Currently, the Atropine website includes a request that, due to storm damage, people avoid playing the game until the downtown area is safe.

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