Hour to Midnight – The Secrets of Nibiru [Review]

Masked history.

Location: Portland, Oregon

Date played: May 21, 2017

Team size: 6-10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

William Elshoff, a globetrotting adventurer, had disappeared after supposedly finding the key to Nibiru. We entered his last known location in search of him: his study.

Among the heavy wooden furniture, display cases, and shelves of books we found beautiful artifacts from his worldly travels.

In-game: Shot through a chess board, a beautiful full wall book case.

Puzzles

Most of the puzzles and interactions in The Secrets of Nibiru were born of the set and props, relying heavily on keen observation skills and decipherment.

Standouts

Hour to Midnight built a story that unfolded over the course of the escape room. It was grounded in myth, but reimagined for this medium.

The set pieces and props in The Secrets of Nibiru were hefty, detailed, polished, and cohesive. They made sense in the space, added intrigue, and supported the narrative.

In-game: A wooden club next to an intimidating black fanged mask.

The Secrets of Nibiru used technology to great effect. The room’s responses felt magical and helped sell the adventure. These technological interactions also brought drama.

Hour to Midnight included a lot of props that could easily have become redherrings, but they built the set in such a way to greatly limit confusion.

The puzzling culminated late in the game, integrating the narrative and the different puzzling threads, and involving the entire team. The Secrets of Nibiru followed well-designed puzzle flow.

Shortcomings

One puzzle overstayed its welcome. Once we knew how to solve it and had all the pieces, it still took substantial time and effort to complete.

Despite the narrative resolution, due to a set design decision, the ending left us wanting more. This could have been avoided with a little reworking.

Should I play Hour to Midnight’s The Secrets of Nibiru?

Yes.

The puzzles, set, and story were all fun in their own rights and wove together neatly into a cohesive group experience.

For newer players, The Secrets of Nibiru will be a serious challenge. Bring a larger group and communicate well.

For more experienced players, if you plan to tackle The Secrets of Nibiru with a smaller group, work quickly and efficiently.

Whether you play room escapes for the puzzles, stories, technology, or the artistic creations that bring these together, there’s something for everyone in The Secrets of Nibiru.

Book your hour with Hour to Midnight’s The Secrets of Nibiru, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Hour to Midnight comped our tickets for this game.

 

My Escape Club – Judgment Day [Review]

“Come with me if you want to live.”

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Date played: May 6, 2017

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: €22-40 per person depending upon team size

Story & setting

It was 2029 and humanity was losing a war to the machines. We were sent back in time about 10 years to end the threat before it was born.

Staged as a covert raid of a military complex, Judgment Day felt like a bunker. With all the concrete and metal, the set was plenty convincing.

In game: A metal and concrete bunker with a large computer terminal.

Puzzles

Judgment Day was a cinematic mission; all of the interactions told its story. As a byproduct, the room escape wasn’t particularly puzzley. We used deduction to determine next steps, which took effort, but there weren’t pure puzzles.

Standouts

My Escape Club made great use of the set throughout the escape room. The set created some fun and surprising moments.

There were some excellent big moments.

Judgment Day carried a consistent and cohesive narrative from start to finish.

There were a few interactions that were well designed to encourage teamwork between 2 or 3 people.

Shortcomings

Parts of Judgment Day bottlenecked, as there were interactions that only a couple of players could take on.

Judgment Day had a slow and subdued start.

Judgment Day was light on puzzles.

Should I play My Escape Club’s Judgment Day?

If you like your escape rooms to make you feel like the hero of your own movie, then this is exactly what The Governator ordered. Judgment Day was pure adventure with some deduction and lateral thinking.

If you’re looking for a puzzle-driven room escape, this is not the droid you’re looking for.

Regardless of experience level, if this type of adventure sounds appealing to you, then you should suit up to take down the machines.

Book your hour with My Escape Club’s Judgment Day, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: My Escape Club provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Rad Kwikset Key Blanks

An interesting key can make opening a mundane lock into something special. These three keys made by jeweler Erica Weiner are pretty damn nifty.

Three gold keys, one that looks like a middle finger, an all seeing eye, and a crescent moon.
These could also make for super creepy Airbnb door keys.

All three fit Kwikset (KW1) locks, which are probably the second most common door lock in the United States next to Schlage. These blanks could easily be cut by your local hardware store.

(via BoingBoing)

Escape Room Netherlands – The Lab Room [Review]

When a lab setting isn’t boring as purgatory.

Location: Bunschoten-Spakenburg, The Netherlands

Date played: May 8, 2017

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from €99 per team

Story & setting

Trapped in a mad doctor’s lab, we had to escape.

The Lab Room was dark and bright, clean and dirty, polished and ragged. While not horror, per se, it kept us on edge. All of the set’s contradictions created an emotional ride. It was the most intense lab scenario we’ve encountered to date.

In-game: Image from the security camera of a menacing lab with a work table, and a cage surrounded by barbed wire.

Puzzles

We puzzled linearly through The Lab Room. With each successive solution, new information and triggered events opened to us.

Much of the puzzling was tech-driven. Props didn’t necessarily open in the manner one would expect.

Standouts

Escape Room Netherlands’ use of set, lighting, and sound design in The Lab Room was brilliant. It both kept us on edge and also functioned as clue structure. More than in most room escapes, lighting was an integral component of the experience.

Not everything was high-tech. There was a great low-tech puzzle that fit well with the laboratory theme.

The technology was well-hidden and seamlessly integrated into the escape room. This wonderful execution drove much of the experience.

The Lab Room was full of surprises. Even when I knew a surprise was coming, I still jumped whenever the room reacted to us.

Shortcomings

The narrative didn’t really come through. The drama was environment and technology driven, but didn’t tell a story in the way that the Girl’s Room did.

Given how well thought-out most of The Lab Room’s details were, some of the puzzles seemed a bit random.

The ending happened abruptly and didn’t really feel like an ending.

Should I play Escape Room Netherlands’ The Lab Room?

The Lab Room was the first escape room in The Netherlands. It set the tone for many of the thrilling adventures, detailed sets, and impressive technology we experienced in our weekend of 10 Dutch escape rooms. Despite its location about 50km outside of Amsterdam, Escape Room Netherlands had a profound impact on the growth of the industry throughout the region.

With this original escape room, Escape Room Netherlands leaned into the set, crafting a gamespace that would elicit reactions from players. They integrated technology masterfully to create the emotional roller coaster of The Lab Room. 

It’s thrilling, but once you know what Escape Room Netherlands did next, it’s rudimentary. For a truly integrated experience, with puzzles, narrative, set, and story, play The Girl’s Room. If that’s too much to handle, emotionally or physically, play The Lab Room instead. It’s older, but it’s on a higher level than many newer escape rooms you’ll find.

Ideally, play them both, in the order in which Escape Room Netherlands created them. You really have to go out of your way to visit Bunschoten-Spakenburg. It’s not the easiest place to get to, but it’s so worth it.

Book your hour with Escape Room Netherlands’  The Lab Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Netherlands provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Komnata Quest – Heir To The Throne [Review]

When you play a game of thrones you win or you run out of time and mope.

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Date played: June 19, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $38 per ticket on evenings and weekends, $28 per ticket on weekdays

Story & setting

Our great house had fallen to invaders and we found ourselves chained up in our own dungeon. We had to escape… and set things right.

In-game: A metal and brick dungeon wall.

Designed in clear homage to Game of Thrones, parts of Heir To The Throne pulled directly on George RR Martin’s fantasy world and most of it alluded to the source material. Komnata Quest sent us on a journey through a surprisingly expansive and generally compelling castle dungeon adventure.

Puzzles

As with many of Komnata Quest’s escape rooms, Heir To The Throne was an adventure experience. It was, however, decidedly more puzzley than most of their escape rooms.

The puzzles required more physicality than those in most escape rooms.

Standouts

The large set just kept going. We’ve gotten out of a lot of Komnata Quest’s room escapes pretty quickly and this one had three moments when we thought we were finished.

While some segments looked better than others, the set generally looked good, and some portions looked fantastic.

There were plenty of fun and unexpected interactions.

Shortcomings

For a portion of the game, our team was chained together. The restraints were cumbersome and uncomfortable with no safety releases. The mechanism that was used to release the restraints was equal parts interesting and cheesey… which is a strange statement that you’ll only understand after experiencing it.

Heir To The Throne had some questionable props and interactions from a safety standpoint.

I was expecting a more dramatic climax to the narrative.

Should I play Komnata Quest’s Heir To The Throne?

Komnata Quest lives on the edge and Heir To The Throne is a prime example of their style of game design. It was an intense, unusual, adventure that was at times uncomfortable and a little unsafe.

If you struggle with mobility or do not feel comfortable being restrained, then you should skip Heir To The Throne.

If you’re a newbie or experienced escape room player looking to feel like you’re escaping from the dungeon of Winterfell, you’re probably going to have a pretty good time.

Not every decision made in Heir To The Throne was 100% sound, but that’s life in Westeros.

Book your hour with Komnata Quest’s Heir To The Throne, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Komnata Quest provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Escape Room NJ – The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls [Review]

New Jersey Necronomicon.

Location: Madison, New Jersey

Date played: June 12, 2017

Team size: 4-18; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

After finding refuge in a cabin in the woods, we learned that we needed protecting from our shelter. The only way out was to find the Book of Souls and use it to break an enchantment.

From the walls to the ceiling, Escape Room NJ designed a compelling and spacious cabin. The dim lighting, coupled with the enchantment, made it feel just a little bit haunted (but certainly not scary).

In game: A bull's skull hangs on a wood cabin wall, with a window and rocking chair in the background.

Puzzles

The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls combined traditional locks with tech-driven interactions.

The puzzles wound their way through every set piece and prop in the gamespace.

Standouts

With The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls, Escape Room NJ vastly improved their set design. They built an intriguing, compelling cabin set, complete with the exterior details, visible in the lobby.

Escape Room NJ embedded a lot of tech in this cabin. The room’s response to our actions contributed to the eerie atmosphere and worked well with the theme.

The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls contained many excellent puzzles with satisfying solutions. There was a lot to explore. Furthermore, the puzzles lent themselves to teamwork.

Shortcomings

There were, however, a few far-fetched connections. One puzzle in particular seemed unsolvable without a hint… or in our case, an outside knowledge bypass.

There was a moment in this escape room that deviated completely from the otherwise thematically cohesive experience. If Escape Room NJ wants to use that type of interaction, they should rework how this setting produces it. In this room escape it felt silly.

While Escape Room NJ built an excellent set, it didn’t feel quite to scale. It felt too big for the story and the props within it, which in turn made the otherwise nifty interactions feel small.

Should I play Escape Room NJ’s The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls?

When we entered Escape Room NJ’s newer Madison location (we’d previously visited them in Hackensack), we were immediately impressed with their commitment to the theming. They had designed the outer walls of each escape room, which were visible in the lobby. When we entered The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls, we entered an enchanted forest-cabin puzzle adventure.

The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls was a puzzle-centric room escape in a fun environment.

Note that the environment was a tad eerie, but certainly not scary. In that sense, it’s fit for all audiences, except for little kids who are afraid of the concept of ghosts.

The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls would be a challenging escape room for beginners, but approachable. Experienced players will move faster, but will still find The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls a worthy puzzle opponent.

Book your hour with Escape Room NJ’s The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room NJ provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Questomatica – Wake Up!

I didn’t hit snooze for a change.

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Date played: May 7, 2017

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: €85-120 per team depending upon size

Questomatica was formerly known as Claustrophobia in Amsterdam. 

Story & setting

We had to traverse the dreams of a young girl to help her wake up.

Set within the dream rendition of Matilda’s (not the famed character) bedroom, we had to puzzle through the strange challenges that her young mind could throw at us.

The set was compelling and cleanly constructed with an eye for the most minute of details.

In game: the bed and nightstand of a girl named "Matilda." Her name appears on the wall above her bed.

Puzzles

Tech-driven, with some of the finest implementations that I have encountered to date, the wear, seams, and sensors were shockingly well hidden.

There was a good variety of puzzles. They all made great use of the set, creating fun dream-like scenes that worked well within the game’s loose narrative.

Standouts

In tech-driven rooms, I frequently solve at least some of the puzzles by looking for wear, wiring, seams, or other flaws in construction. That was simply impossible in Wake Up! The construction was immaculate.

The dream narrative of the room escape was reinforced by many of the interactions throughout Wake Up!.

The lighting was well executed.

The final puzzle was substantial enough to engage our full team.

Shortcomings

There was a lack of feedback from some of the puzzles. In one instance we solved something and didn’t know that we had. Many of us kept returning to it to try and make it work. Stronger action / reaction for each individual puzzle would improve the experience.

The music got a bit repetitive and clashed with one of the puzzles.

Wake Up! had dramatic moments, but it lacked adventure.

Should I play Questomatica’s Wake Up!?

It’s rare to encounter an escape room that is so perfectly constructed and maintained. It’s so rare that this is literally the first time I’ve seen execution on this level in over 300 escape rooms. That in and of itself is a massive accomplishment.

Questomatica also did a wonderful job of telling an abstract story through the room’s interactions.

Wake Upis a great and approachable game for players of all skill levels, so long as you have the ability to crawl from time to time.

It’s not the most intense, adventurous, or puzzley game, but it more than makes up for that with wonderful technology and the cleanest execution that I have seen to date.

Book your hour with Questomatica’s Wake Up!, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Questomatica provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Room Adventures WNY – Escape from The Raven’s Room [Review]

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” – Edgar Allan Poe

Location: North Tonawanda, NY

Date played: April 30, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $22.50 per ticket

Story & setting

It was 1849 and Edgar Allan Poe had just passed away. We snuck into his home to pay our respects and found ourselves locked in his office. Could we escape his final project and puzzle our way to freedom, or remain trapped forever more?

Staged within Poe’s office, the set was simple yet elegant.

In-game; A writing desk set in front of a fireplace.

Puzzles

The puzzling was a series of ciphers and literary references-turned-puzzles, all of which were more than at home in a Poe-themed room escape.

Standouts

Escape Room Adventures WNY did a beautiful job of translating a number of Poe references into puzzles. One early interaction was exceptionally inventive.

The ending was similarly brilliant.

Shortcomings

There was a run of tedious puzzles in the middle of Escape from The Raven’s Room that did not live up to the excitement and innovation of the early- and late-game interactions.

There were too many locks with similar digit structures. This made it occasionally difficult to tell which answers went where.

Should I play Escape Room Adventures WNY’s Escape from The Raven’s Room?

Escape from The Raven’s Room had some of the most elegant literary references-turned-puzzles that I’ve seen to date. There were some brilliant moments within this escape room that I absolutely loved.

That said, Escape from The Raven’s Room also felt incomplete. It left me wanting more of the magnificent literature-inspired puzzling that I know Escape Room Adventures WNY is capable of creating.

If you like Poe’s work, it’s absolutely worth giving Escape from The Raven’s Room a playthrough, regardless of your skill level.

If you aren’t familiar with Poe, you’ll still be able to appreciate some of Escape Room Adventures WNY’s design decisions, but you will miss things.

If Escape Room WNY were to bring the middle section of Escape from The Raven’s Room up to the level of the opening and closing, it would be a truly magnificent experience. I hope that they do it.

Book your hour with Escape Room Adventures WNY’s Escape from The Raven’s Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Adventures WNY comped our tickets for this game.

 

Locked.Amsterdam – The Submarine [Review]

And that button over there will blow up the city.

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Date played: May 8, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: €70-120 per team

Story & setting

We were searching for a lost Soviet submarine before its nuclear cargo fell into the wrong hands. We started in an office thought to have information about the sub’s whereabouts and proceeded into the depths of the ocean.

With each subsequent stage in this adventure, the set became increasingly more exciting. We progressed from a mundane office to inside a dark and distressed submarine.

In-game: a close up of a valve on a compelling submarine set.

Puzzles

The sets, props, and puzzles worked together to drive the mission forward.

The puzzles in The Submarine required visual, auditory, and dexterity skills, along with observation and the ability to make connections between gadgets and functions.

Standouts

Locked.Amsterdam designed and constructed a compelling maritime set. The interior of this beat-up submarine was especially impressive.

As we journeyed toward the climax of the adventure, the set, props, and technology became increasing more complex and exciting.

A unique hint delivery mechanism fit neatly into the story.

Shortcomings

The hint delivery system was unfortunately placed in such a way that it was difficult to reach.

If we didn’t succeed at a puzzle on the first try, The Submarine could become frustrating. This took a number of forms:

As we progressed through The Submarine, we left information behind. It wasn’t always possible to revisit important clues, which led to wasted time and effort.

Because of the tech-driven props, when we made a mistake, we couldn’t simply try again. In one case, we needed to wait for a prop to reset. In another instance, we needed to go back more than one step to get a prop to trigger again. In a timed adventure, this became frustrating.

We also experienced one technical failure, unrelated to a puzzling mistake.

Should I play Locked.Amsterdam’s The Submarine?

The Submarine was an exciting and dramatic adventure. As we progressed through the narrative, the stakes escalated along with the environment. This was impressive.

While we enjoyed the puzzle and set integration, at times this tech-driven design caused unnecessary frustration.

The Submarine was a game of puzzling precision; it punished screwups. So observe carefully and be precise.

The Submarine would be best for experienced players seeking an oceanic adventure; it’s a gorgeous escape room.

Book your hour with Locked.Amsterdam’s The Submarine, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Locked Amsterdam provided media discounted tickets for this game.

In & Of Itself [Review]

Profound magic.

Location: New York City, New York

Date played: April 20, 2017

Team size: Book individually, it’s theater

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: $53-148 per ticket, depending on seats

Story & setup

Over the course of 75 minutes, closeup magician Derek DelGaudio used storytelling and magical performance to take us on a journey exploring the nature of identity: his as well as our own.

The show was produced by Neil Patrick Harris (yes, that one) and directed by Frank Oz (as in Yoda, Frank Oz). While it was absolutely a magic performance, In & Of Itself was about our collective attempt at building identity and finding meaning in life.

A wall that says, "In & Of Itself" covered in individual cards that read "IAM" and have a variety of labels.

Interaction

While this was largely a magic and storytelling performance where the audience sat in the seats and the performer resided on stage, every audience member made at least two decisions that affected the show. A few people played far more in-depth roles in the performance.

Standouts

Derek DelGaudio’s performance was calmly magnificent.

The storytelling and idea exploration ran cohesively through the entirety of In & Of Itself.

DelGaudio used magic not for its own sake or for spectacle; he used it to make points, advance his story, and instill feelings into his audience.

Shortcomings

A few audience volunteers play critical roles in each performance of In & Of Itself. Your mileage will vary depending upon the chance encounters of who ends up on stage. In our show, these audience participants were not particularly engaging. Under different circumstances, however, I could easily imagine these show segments being among the most moving moments of the performance.

Should I visit In & Of Itself?

I love magical performance, but I rarely enjoy it for its own sake. Magic is a powerful tool for telling stories, underscoring points, and engaging an audience in dynamic ways. Derek DelGaudio did this so beautifully. His performance was refined and executed perfectly. It moved us.

As we walked out of the theater and onto the streets of New York City, we wandered with purpose, contemplating what we had seen and seeking to satisfy a curiosity that DelGaudio had instilled in us… He didn’t let us down. We’re still reflecting on what we saw and we’re thrilled that we had the opportunity.

In & Of Itself has been extended through September 3, 2017 and you should seize the opportunity to see it before it vanishes.

Book your showing of In & Of Itself, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.