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We spent almost all of our 24 hours in beautiful San Diego locked in giant puzzles. Regrets? None.
It’s a fun, puzzley escape room market. It has a surprisingly different feel from Los Angeles, considering how geographically close they are.
Here are a few of our favorites broken out by category.
You are always welcome to contact us if this recommendation list doesn’t answer your specific questions.
There’s something precious in this mine.
Location: Park City, UT
Date Played: January 8, 2018
Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-6
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $37 per ticket
Mine Trap started off strongly and escalated to an explosive conclusion. While it dragged in the middle, the beautiful set design kept us engaged.
We were on a tour of Park City’s old silver mines when a tunnel collapse sealed us in. Could we find the tools and information necessary to find daylight before running out of air?
We entered a surprisingly detailed mine shaft filled with wood, stone, and tools. With the notable exception of some carpeting, the set looked phenomenal.
I wish that I could show you a photo or two, but they were forbidden. Don’t let the logo fool you… Escape Park City’s Mine Trap had a set worth seeing.
Mine Trap had three acts to it.
The first act was a basic search-and-puzzle beginner’s on-ramp. It was smooth, well-designed, and approachable.
The second act was pure puzzles and combination locks. Escape Room Park City played with interesting concepts, but due to some design decisions, the Mine Trap dragged here.
The final act brought in a little physicality and a ton of innovation. Come for the set, but stay for the third act.
Mine Trap opened gently with a puzzle onramp. While it was more challenging than Escape Room Park City’s other game, Travel Room (review to follow), the approachable start opened it to players of all experience levels.
With Mine Trap, Escape Room Park City leveled up their set design. This set would look great in any US escape room market. It’s especially impressive in a city without competition.
We enjoyed the final act. The puzzles were inventive, thematically appropriate, and well-clued.
The conclusion blew us away.
I cannot overstate how much I respect Escape Room Park City’s approach to pricing. Mine Trap, cost twice as much as their other game, Travel Room. It was worth it. Mine Trap was twice as interesting, twice as complex, twice the size, and more than twice as detailed.
At any given moment, we confronted a lot of locks, primarily of the same digit structure. While it eventually became apparent why certain codes went to certain locks, for much of Mine Trap we felt like a solution could go anywhere. Dropping 4-digit numbers into half a dozen locks quickly became boring.
We found one common escape room prop far too early. We had to use it senselessly from that point onward. Escape Room Park City’s bandaid for this problem was a rule that they declared before the game, “Don’t turn off the lights, it won’t help you.” We still lost a lot of time and fun on this prop. A better solution for their gameplay problem could be MacGyvered using some of the existing items in the room.
A few of the puzzles involved pixel hunting. We had to find nit-picky details with minimal clueing to derive solutions. While these puzzles were fine, when mixed with the aforementioned digit structure and prop, the game simply dragged when it could have roared.
There was carpeting in the middle of our silver mine, which was confusing.
Book your hour with Escape Room Park City’s Mine Trap, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” -Sherlock Holmes
Location: at home (in our case, a hotel) in Salt Lake City, UT
Date Played: January 5, 2018
Team size: 1-8; we recommend 2-4
Duration: 60-90 minutes
Price: $45 per crate for a 24-hour rental; plus a $50.00 fully refundable deposit (per crate)
Lockbox Mysteries crammed a ton of gameplay into a crate and briefcase. We’re always a little cautious when approaching a new game format, and Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade made us believers. While we wished that the props felt just a little more of the era, Lockbox Mysteries delivered excellent puzzle content. We loved playing this game from the comfort of our own
home hotel room and the price could not be beat.
It was 1910 and Scotland Yard was stumped. With a dead woman and no leads, they hired the greatest detective in history, Sherlock Holmes, to crack the case. Wearing the hat of Mr. Holmes, we explored evidence and interrogated the behavior of a number of suspects, puzzling and deducing our way to a conclusion.
We drove out to a Salt Lake City suburb and retrieved a large box and a briefcase and brought them back to our hotel room.
When we opened the box we were greeted by a binder that explained the game in careful detail. This included everything from what an escape game is, to the hint system, to basic lock functionality.
We started the included timer and investigated the initially available evidence. From there on it was all puzzles and locks.
Our Lockbox Mysteries experience essentially played like a low-tech escape room without the set. There were lots of locks sealing all sorts of boxes and bags shut. There were even more puzzles.
We needed to deduce the particulars of the murder case before us and rule out suspects. Each suspect had their own branch of puzzles that provided a piece of the overall picture.
All of this culminated in a final deduction puzzle that emphatically punctuated the game with a challenging, creative, and elegant conclusion.
Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade played like an escape room. It was less immersive than (most) on-site escape rooms, but more physically interactive than (most) at-home escape rooms that come in the mail. It straddled these subgenres. More importantly, it played well.
Lockbox Mysteries surprised us. With each open, we uncovered substantial game pieces… and more puzzles.
Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade had a lot of puzzle content and the puzzles flowed well. They also broke into parallel plot threads. There was a lot of game and it branched such that it could keep a large group entertained.
The hint system worked. It didn’t give away too much, unless we wanted to get to the solution. Then we could see the solution.
We understood the characters, story, and mystery without working at it. We took it in by way of solving the puzzles. Consequently, the puzzles felt purposeful and the sleuthing felt natural.
The mystery wanted to be solved. It didn’t resolve to some crazy unforeseeable twist. We could play along like detectives, making hypotheses and working towards a conclusion.
Everything was self-contained. We didn’t need an internet-connected device to facilitate the game.
Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade leaned heavily on decipherments. A few of these overstayed their welcome. Long after the aha moment, we were still deciphering the information.
While we appreciated the many tangible locks in this play-at-home escape room, we would have liked more varied digit structure. At times we’d derive a code that could have unlocked any one of a number of locked items.
Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade was aesthetically uneven. Some props felt of the era, while others felt far too modern or geographically incorrect.
Book your rental with Lockbox Mysteries’ Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Disclosure: Lockbox Mysteries provided a media discounted rate for this game.
As we write this blog, we continue to meet new people who love escape rooms and other types of puzzle adventures and entertainment.
Our hope with this event is to help our most avid escape room players find fellow teammates.
We are looking forward to hosting our first NYC Room Escape Fan Shindig!
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
7pm – 10pm
Shades of Green Pub (125 East 15th Street, New York, NY between Irving Place and Third Avenue)
Last week we had to change the venue, unexpectedly, as our original venue permanently closed its doors. Luckily, Shades of Green Pub is happy to host us instead!
We encourage all escape room fans in NYC to come, hang out, and purchase your own food/ drink there.
Please RSVP so that we can provide a headcount to the venue.
RSVP on Facebook or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For more information, read the FAQ.
If you’re looking to meet potential escape room teammates, give/ get escape room recommendations, or just talk about these games, we hope you’ll join us and many of our friends on March 7th. We look forward to seeing/meeting you there!
We won… and we’re glowing.
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Date Played: January 4, 2018
Team size: 4-20 (2 copies of the room, each for up to 10 players); we recommend 4-5
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $22 per ticket
Reactor Room had a great set as well as dramatic and memorable moments. Getout Games could refine this experience by improving the puzzle flow and eliminating some unnecessary confusion that inflated the difficulty of an already challenging escape room. This was a fantastic escape room for experienced players; it wasn’t a yellowcake walk.
With Salt Lake City’s nuclear power reactor in meltdown, our crew was summoned to stop the chain reaction before we crossed the point of no return and all would be lost.
Reactor Room was a lab setting built around a glowing reactor. Glass walls and doors made the space feel large, while restricting movement and adding intrigue.
Lighting, practical effects, and hilarious sound cues made Reactor Room feel like it had stakes.
Reactor Room combined heavy searching with substantive puzzles. It was a challenging escape room.
While most of the gameplay centered on searching and puzzling, a few aspects turned up the adventure. These made Reactor Room memorable.
One prop transformed… This was a reaction we’d never seen before. It was nifty.
Our gamemaster delivered an amusing introduction. It set the tone for the escape room.
Throughout the Reactor Room, we received timing updates by way of hilarious bits of story.
Detailed set and effect considerations elevated the drama of Reactor Room.
As we entered the room, we were warned not to move a particular prop because it could be messy. Thus we approached this item too cautiously. It turned out to be perfectly safe – and even recommended – to move it.
At one point, we had to search a large space for faint clues. While this worked conceptually, it was frustrating to play though. Getout Games could refactor this segment to deliver a more fun and dramatic reveal.
The puzzles in Reactor Room almost flowed. At times the escape room lacked clue structure. In these instances, our gamemaster readily provided hints. We recommend that Getout Games determine which hints they give most often and incorporate additional cluing for these into the environment.
One prop felt all too random considering the well-themed gamespace and the story of the escape room.
Book your hour with Getout Games’ Reactor Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
It was great to be back at the New York Puzzle Party yesterday. We spoke about the state of escape room in 2018.
Please note the venue change for our NYC Room Escape Fan Shindig on March 7th. This event will now take place at Shades of Green Pub.
From our trip to Salt Lake City in January:
Prison Bus Escape at Alcatraz Escape Games took place on an actual bus.
Dracula’s Castle at Mystery Escape Room had an off-stage and in-character gamemaster.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures was a wonderfully challenging tabletop mystery game.
Trapology in Boston is running an immersive puzzle event set at a wedding, entitled Keep Up Your Garter on April 29. I wish we could attend this one.
Our friends over at No Proscenium have an interesting post on consent in immersive experiences.
We’re trying something new: highlighting an absolutely fantastic comment.
This comment is from J Cameron Cooper on our post ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS: Patent Troll?
In the post we look into one company’s claim that they have filed a patent for mobile escape games and examine the legitimacy of such a move.
J Cameron Cooper added:
“Prior to patent issuance, a third party (“3rd party”) can anonymously (1) submit prior art in the form of a preissuance submission, (2) file a protest of an application, or (3) request a public use proceeding.” http://www.bskb.com/news/articles/documents/MAA_ETP_JPAAArticle-AttackingaUSPatentorApplicatio.pdf
While whatever claims one is likely to make in such an application are likely laughable, the Patent Office is in a pretty laughable state and has approved stupider things. Anyone with an interest in this should look carefully at a Preissuance Third Party Submission (37 C.F.R. § 1.290) to inform the examiner of prior art. Even that should be done carefully, however.
I have searched published US pending applications and there is no such thing among them. You can go directly to the USPTO (http://appft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/search-bool.html), but https://patents.google.com/ is pretty handy. Since it isn’t yet published, anyone interested should set up an alert at https://www.uspatentappalerts.com/index.php
It’s not particularly my business, but I’ve set up an alert for this one just because I hate patent trolls.
Oh, and if anyone else is interested, “Die Hard” is a 20th Century Fox property, “Twilight Zone” appears to be CBS, and “Da Vinci Code” is Dan Brown. Large properties don’t seem to care much for enforcing their rights against escape rooms (I think they’re too small) but perhaps one of them would like to hear of this company.
This was a fantastic addition to what we wrote. Thank you, J Cameron Cooper.
In the future, we’ll continue to feature comments on our posts that spread knowledge and drive discussion.
Professor Holmes’ final exam.
Location: New York, NY
Date Played: January 29, 2018
Team size: 2-5; we recommend 2-4
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $40-$50 per ticket (depending on team size) on weekdays; $50-$60 per ticket (depending on team size) on evenings and weekends
In the beginning, Sherlocked struck all the right notes. However, Komnata Quest’s interactive style vanished in the latter half of the experience, fizzling into a paper-based observation-and-deduction exam. What started off fun turned into an agitating and frustrating mess.
A politician has been murdered and our dear friend Sherlock Holmes has been framed for it. We broke into the legendary detective’s home at 221B Baker Street in search of evidence to exonerate him.
The flat of Sherlock Holmes was a bright Victorian study. Parts of it felt lived in; other areas seemed sterile and staged. Most of the critical props and set pieces showed signs of wear.
Sherlocked’s set was unusual for Komnata Quest because it was well lit.
Sherlocked felt like two games in one escape room.
Initially we played a traditional escape room filled with searching, puzzles, interesting interactions, and a lot of reading.
When we reached the final puzzle, the tone and gameplay shifted.
The final challenge was a multiple choice test regarding the facts of the case. The correct answers would secure our freedom as well as that of Mr. Holmes.
The opening puzzle sequence struck a chord with us. It was well clued and soundly executed.
The early detective work. The interactive investigating was pretty nifty.
The first portion of Sherlocked, which included about 75% of the gameplay, flowed really well. These puzzles were a ton of fun.
The final 25% of gameplay felt like a standardized test. The gameplay moved away from the environment onto a few sheets of paper. There was far too much to read and some of the questions had ambiguous answers or observational nitpicks. This wasn’t conducive to escape room-style gameplay and it wasn’t fun.
The culminating puzzle sequence involved almost no player action and offered no feedback. Our gamemaster had no means to follow our progress. Any help was clunky at best. (This wasn’t his fault; it was due to the game’s structure.)
The set showed a lot of wear, which was amplified by the lighting. We always try to be respectful players, but especially given the state of the set, we played particularly cautiously… and we got burned by that decision.
An incredibly important moment didn’t reveal emphatically. We didn’t even know that we had triggered something. Komnata Quest could make that open pop so that players don’t miss the moment.
One puzzle invited MacGyvering… but only as intended by the game designer. We were chastised for finding another similar “tool” within our environment.
Sherlocked cost between $40 and $60 per ticket depending upon team size and day of the week. For an escape room with maintenance issues and a lengthy, weak finale, that was too much money.
Book your hour with Komnata Quest’s Sherlocked, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you using the coupon code escapeartist to receive 10% off.
Disclosure: Komnata Quest comped our tickets for this game.
The Sherlock Holmes game we deserve.
Location: at home
Date Played: 2017 / 2018
Team size: 1-8; we recommend 1-4
Duration: 60-120 minutes
Price: $40 for 10 cases
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures was the finest tabletop mystery game we’ve played to date. It was easy to get into, but an intellectual commitment to complete. It was seriously challenging, but still lighthearted and humorous. We wished the scoring system felt more sensible, but it didn’t really matter as we could judge our own improvement. If you’re seeking a difficult tabletop mystery series, this is the game to play.
Each chapter cast us as members of the Baker Street Irregulars, child informants working for and learning from Sherlock Holmes. We would team up with a familiar character from Holmes’ canon like Wiggins (the leader of the Baker Street Irregulars) or Dr. Watson.
Each episode presented us with a case. We followed the leads wherever they took us in order to solve the case… and any other mysteries that arose along the way.
The game components were impressively simple and streamlined. They included:
Rulebook / Informant Information
The rulebook was especially lean and the game easy to learn. Once we knew how to play, there wasn’t any reason to return to the rules. The rules weren’t nuanced.
The back of the rulebook listed recurring informants whom we could visit during gameplay for records, investigative details, rumors, and the like. These characters were important for solving cases and added continuity to the world.
10 Case Books
(4 Books for the Jack the Ripper campaign and 6 Individual Cases)
Each case book provided:
The 4-part Jack the Ripper campaign had a unique game map, special informants, and a connected narrative.
Every other episode stood alone.
Each case had a corresponding newspaper filled with assorted information including obviously relevant tidbits, well-hidden details, and plenty of color.
The map of London was divided into districts with each building and block numbered. The map allowed us to understand the proximity of places. It also occasionally allowed us to make deductions regarding leads as well.
The directory was the interface. It listed every citizen and legal business in London with corresponding codes to look them up in the case books.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective was a prose-based mystery adventure. With the exception of the map, all components were written… and well written at that.
One player would read the introduction, while another would take notes on people, places, and evidence.
From there, we took turns deciding where we’d visit next. We’d look the location up on the map and in the directory, find the corresponding passage in the case book, and read what happened upon our arrival, taking notes all along the way.
We repeated this process until we either felt confident in what happened with the case or the trail went cold and we decided to see how much of the mystery we had solved.
After answering the questions at the back of the book, we’d read the Holmes’ monologue to determine what had happened and how he solved the case.
The stories were interesting and unexpected. They twisted in odd directions, but the twists felt grounded.
The cases didn’t feel like a mediocre version of Sherlock Holmes, or a kids’ edition, or dumbed down deduction. The mysteries were smart, challenging, and well written.
By casting us as the Baker Street Irregulars, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective spared us one of the common storytelling problems in many Holmes-themed escape rooms: who the hell are we supposed to be? Are we collectively Holmes, or Watson, or some random friend? This character choice allowed us to be us and not some hive-mind Watson.
We were allowed to use any information in the game or in our own heads to solve puzzles. Our knowledge of the world was relevant. My favorite example of this was in the Seventh Case, A Question of Identity. At the start of the game, Lisa was reading the newspaper and mentioned to me that there was a column of personals. Without having seen that newspaper I asked, “Is one of them enciphered?” She looked up at me surprised and asked, “How did you know?” It was a little fact that I had picked up about communication in the 1890s from having read The Code Book.
The more we played Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and inhabited that London, the more the world felt natural and real. We got a handle on who the informants were and when we should go to them.
The materials felt great. The paper stock was varied and of high quality.
The game was easy to learn and quick to setup. When we decided that we want to play a case of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, setting up the game took one of us roughly the same amount of time that the other needed to pour a couple of glasses of port.
While the individual cases were not replayable, the box contained 10 different cases and absolutely no reason to write on or otherwise destroy any of the materials. You’re free to share them with friends.
There’s a massive 4-part Jack the Ripper campaign.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective was challenging but fair. This game pushed us harder intellectually than any escape game (real life or tabletop). When we nailed the facts of a case we felt incredibly accomplished. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective had no gimmes.
The cases weren’t of equal quality. Some of them left us feeling unfulfilled, like they weren’t quite complete.
The scoring system was kind of a joke. We mostly ignored it. We acquired points for correctly answering questions about the case. We lost points for each additional lead we followed beyond the laughably low number that Holmes needed. We disliked this scoring system because it discouraged exploring the world and thoroughly investigating the crimes… which just felt wrong.
We found the limited amount of information Holmes ultimately worked with dubious at best. This contributed to our dislike of the scoring system. I worked for a prosecutor’s office for a couple of years and I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking Holmes’ lack of evidence to court. I know he’s essentially a superhero, but when we read Holmes’ deduction process at the conclusion of each case, it felt like a weak and silly conclusion that’s best acknowledged, but not taken to heart.
Disclosure: Asmodee provided a free reviewer copy of this game.
(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)
Antiquing in New England.
Location: Portsmouth, NH
Date Played: December 16, 2017
Team size: 2-10; we recommend 4-6
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $28 per ticket
This was an entry game.
Westower’s Study was a basic escape room of searching, locked compartments, and a few more layered puzzles. It worked well, but didn’t present anything novel or exciting for experienced players.
World traveler and antique dealer Ian Westower had been kidnapped on his latest journey. The kidnappers had demanded a one-of-a-kind necklace from the man’s collection. His family was willing to part with the necklace if only they could find where it was hidden.
Our team of investigators was offered a reward if we could search Westower’s study and find the necklace that could also be the key to its owner’s freedom.
The large room contained antique furniture and a travel trunk. Art decorated the walls. The space embodied the classic escape room study aesthetic.
Westower’s Study was a beginner’s search-focused escape room.
Much of the clue structure was well hidden among Westower’s possessions. Everyone could get involved in searching and making connections between found objects. Most puzzles led to a lock with a few more innovative opens.
We were shocked by one late-game moment that was as surprising as it was low-tech.
Later in Westower’s Study we uncovered more inventive and exciting puzzles.
The puzzles flowed logically to move the escape room forward.
We spent a lot of time searching a rather large gamespace. When we stalled, we were failing to discover an item.
Search was complicated by the many items marked out of play… which could still have a game component tucked away inside them.
Westower’s Study included a few process puzzles: once we knew how to solve them, it still took a bit of time to work out the solution. One of the more involved process puzzles was a one-person task that felt like homework. It appeared late in the game when there wasn’t anything left for the rest of the team to work on. (At that point, everything had been found.)
Book your hour with Portsmouth Escape Room’s Westower’s Study, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Disclosure: Portsmouth Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.