Business Profile ShadowLand Laser Adventure Centers

Facility for a competitive outing

Laser games feature teams of all ages using lasers to tag other players

December 27, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the Sun

Laura Khoury's birthday is Dec. 23. She likes to do something extra-special for her big day so it doesn't just become part of the overall holiday festivities.

This year, for her 10th birthday, Laura opted for a party at ShadowLand, the laser adventure center in Columbia.

She had gone to ShadowLand for a friend's birthday party, she said, and had really enjoyed it, even though her team didn't win the laser tag game.

"It was really fun," she said. "I was in last place, but I really liked it."

So her parents, Mike and Polly Khoury, booked the party, which took place Saturday, her birthday.

"It's nice and different," said Polly Khoury. "It's not your usual birthday party."

"The kids have a great time," said Mike Khoury. He said he liked scheduling his daughter's birthday party at ShadowLand because it was so easy.

"You come with your credit cards and a cake, and you're set," he said.

ShadowLand, which opened about 10 years ago in Columbia, has four locations, two in Maryland and two Virginia. It's a popular spot for birthday parties but also attracts customers for walk-in play, corporate outings and even church, Scout and school events.

The minimum number of people needed for play is two, and the maximum is 30. The minimum age is 6. General manager Dan Thompson said parents often drop off their kids and come back in 90 minutes.

Participants divide into teams to play taglike games in a 6,000- square-foot, dimly lit space, using beams to tag their opponents. The arena has an array of little alleys and corners and continually shifts with different lighting and fog.

Players wear vests and carry "phasers" that let them tag their opponents. They also can tag special "game enhancement modules" that give them powers such as invisibility (so they can more easily escape opponents) or change the point structure to their advantage. At the end of the game, the team with the most points wins.

Laura's party, like others, began with about 20 minutes of play in the center's arcade. Then the party participants assembled in the "briefing room," where they learned the rules of their game, called Mission One Team, from Drew Rivera, who has worked at the center about four years.

Rivera explained how the phasers work and showed the participants how to read their handset, which would show them how many points they had, and how many credits (gained by tagging an opponent), which could be used to purchase special powers.

He asked the group if anyone was new to ShadowLand, and one youngster raised her hand.

In this game, the ammunition would be unlimited, and players were in no danger of running out of lives, a condition that would terminate the action for that person. Special powers would last one minute, Rivera explained.

Rivera also explained the rules of conduct, which included no physical contact, no running and no foul language. The participants went into a second room to get their gear and then into the arena to play.

After a half-hour game, they would take a break for snacks in the "party room," then return for a second game that is more difficult.

ShadowLand employees devise the games and frequently introduce new ones, Thompson said.

ShadowLand also has locations in Gaithersburg and in Chantilly, Va., and Springfield, Va. Over the years, Thompson said, the technology has advanced, with lighter packs and more sophisticated tagging systems being introduced. But the basic structure of the game remains.

Laura's brother, Jim, who is 16, said he has played many times, and he never gets bored because the games always change. His strategy for winning at his younger sister's birthday party? "Go after the little kids," he said.

The Columbia ShadowLand Laser Adventure Center is at 9179 Red Branch Road. The phone is 410-740-9100, and the Web site is at www.shadowlandadventures.

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