Startup Escape [Review]

Bootstrapping!

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 18, 2018

Team size: 2-12; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $198 for teams of 2-6 players, $33 for each additional player after 6

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Startup Escape was a labor of love that wonderfully captured Bay Area startup culture and packed a ton of puzzle-play.

From the look of the office, to the prop selection, to the hint system, to the jokes, Startup Escape just felt right.

The opening and closing of this escape room could have benefitted from a little more intrigue, but the overwhelming majority of this game offered great puzzle branches.

If you have any connection to or understanding of the startup world, I think you’ll find delight in Startup Escape. Play it for the humor and the puzzles.

If you’re in San Francisco, consider this a strong recommendation for this delightful representation of a traditional escape room.

In-game: An open office with 4 desks.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Techies (or people who know enough about Bay Area culture to laugh at it)
  • Best for players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • It lampoons startup culture
  • Puzzle variety
  • Gadgets-turned-puzzles

Story

Our group of founders had worked our way from our garage to a new open office in the Bay Area. We had taken our seed funding and needed to get our product to market as quickly as possible. Time was ticking; with every passing second, our valuation was dropping.

In-game: a close up of the marketing desk with a mouse, keyboard, and a locked iPhone.

Setting

Startup Escape was primarily staged in a bright Silicon Valley open office. Each workstation had a different assortment of techy gadgets.

Startup Escape nailed the aesthetic and vibe.

In-game: a monitor with Slack open, and our Room Escape Artist account open to receive "help."

Hints were delivered via Slack.

Gameplay

Startup Escape was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, dexterity, teamwork, and puzzling.

Analysis

Startup Escape told the story of our new company attempting to making it big in Silicon Valley. It accurately poked fun at startup culture.

– The opening moments of Startup Escape were a bit underwhelming. They told a clever story, but it didn’t have the heart that the rest of the game had.

+ The hint system was Slack… and it was personalized. This was perfect.

+ Our game clock was our company’s valuation. The longer it took us to get to market, the lower our valuation would be.

Startup Escape followed multiple distinct puzzle paths that all converged in the end. These were clearly delineated and flowed logically.

– There was a moment of bottleneck before the puzzle paths diverged. Additional clue-structure would likely help teams avoid spinning their wheels at this juncture.

– Startup Escape lacked a final boss puzzle. The culmination of the different puzzle paths felt anticlimactic despite the dramatic final interaction.

+ We used a variety of tech to solve the puzzles. We enjoyed playing with these various gadgets in order to solve puzzles.

– Some of the tech in the escape room was too worn. We struggled to get it work well enough to solve the puzzle at hand.

+ The puzzles were well-integrated, humorous, largely teamwork-focused, and fun.

+ Startup Escape landed the look and feel of a startup perfect. From the desks to the toys, it was dead-on.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • We recommend Mikkeller for food/drinks.

Book your hour with Startup Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Startup Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Interesting & Boring Escape Room Themes [Design Tips]

Put too many escape room enthusiasts in one place for too long and inevitably someone asks:

What escape room themes are you tired of seeing?

Recurring themes

There’s no shortage of common escape room themes:

  • Zombie apocalypse
  • Stop the bomb
  • Stop the disease or virus
  • Sherlock Holmes / generic detective
  • Bunker
  • Prison break
  • Spycraft something-or-other
  • Prohibition speakeasy
  • Ancient tomb raid
  • Surprise Satanism

This list can go on, but it doesn’t need to.

In-game a photo of a mundane set with a pair of white dressers. A globe and a lockbox rest atop the dressers.
There was nothing special about this.

Common themes aren’t the problem. There are good and bad executions of all of these themes. A great zombie escape room is still a great escape room even if I’m disappointed with how prevalent and persistent mindless hordes are in popular culture at large.

Eliminate the mundane

The themes that I’ve found inherently disappointing are the easily executed, humdrum, everyday life themes:

  • Apartments
  • Offices
  • College dorms
  • Hotel rooms

These are often themes of convenience and laziness. These themes give a creator license to buy crappy used furniture, tape posters on the wall, dump in a few puzzles, and start charging money.

Do the mundane creatively

If you want to create a dorm, do something creative with it. Build a world. 

Set it in the 1890s. Make it look authentic. Put the players in a secret society initiation where your group must puzzle out how to make an offering.

A shortcut to creating something interesting: combine two different ideas so that you aren’t executing one in a cliched manner. To illustrate the point, think of Star Wars as warrior monks in space.

Drawing of a centaur, half man, half horse.

Dead Air was a rock & roll radio station in the zombie apocalypse. The mixture of two different concepts paired with good execution gave birth to a creative, unique, and fantastic escape game.

Craft an experience

Your players are paying for an experience. Give them one.

Don’t throw them in a space that looks like a regular home. They live in one of those already.

Don’t ask them to pay to play in a space that looks like an office. They just left work.

Don’t sell the mundane priced as extraordinary.

Choose to provide your players with an amazing adventure in a cohesive and exciting world. Mind the details. Your puzzles, set, hint system, and story should all be part of this fantastic world and make sense within it.

Damn near any theme can be made interesting as long as you’re willing to put in the creative effort.

October 17: REA Talk at the New York City Escape Room Fan Shindig

At this fall’s Escape Room Fan Shindig, we’ll be giving a talk! This is a casual gathering for locals to meet each other and chat about escape rooms and other immersive entertainment.

Details

  • Wednesday, October 17
  • Carragher’s 228 W 39th St between 7th and 8th (we’ll be on the 2nd floor)
  • Starting at 7pm; talk at 7:30pm
  • Please RSVP on Facebook on by contacting us.
Two smiley face stick figures carrying the final two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into place.

Speaking

We’ll be giving the short talk we shared in San Francisco and Los Angeles where we:
  • tell stories about some of our favorite escape rooms from our travels
  • discuss trends in escape rooms
  • share perspective on where we think the medium is going
  • unpack what the changes mean for the players
  • take questions from everyone

Food & Drink

This event is free to attend. We encourage everyone to purchase their own food and drinks from Carragher’s. We’re grateful for their hospitality!

We like conversation

We welcome players, creators, designers, operators, bloggers, podcasters… and anyone else interested in escape rooms and other immersive entertainment. Whether you’re new to the format or entirely obsessed, this will be a gathering of conversations you’ll enjoy.
  • Swap stories
  • Meet teammates
  • Find collaborators
  • Give/ get recommendations

RSVP

Please RSVP on Facebook on by contacting us. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Escape City Buffalo – Body Collectors [Review]

“I choose you…”

Location: Tonawanda, NY

Date Played: September 2, 2018

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $28 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

This was very SAW-like.

The folks behind Escape City Buffalo ran a haunt before they opened the escape room. Body Collectors drew on their experience building realistically creepy, horror experiences to deliver intense, uncomfortable, and unforgettable moments. Although at times the gameplay suffered from an over-reliance on searching in low light, Body Collectors successfully combined gameplay with a haunted house in this horror escape room.

If you’re anywhere near Buffalo and you enjoy horror and escape rooms, Body Collectors is a must-play.

In-game: A torture chair behind a cage.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Horror hounds
  • SAW fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A memorable opening
  • Intense moments
  • Masterful horror set design

Story

Locked up in a murder lair, we needed to prove ourselves worthy of life, or we’d become the next collected bodies.

In-game: Bloodied tools and kitchen knives hanging on a wall.

Setting

This dark, gritty murder lair was unnerving. From the blood and bones to the instruments of torture, the set was unsettling. This was masterful horror set design.

In-game: a bloodied, dismembered arm on a baby scale.

Gameplay

Escape City Buffalo’s Body Collectors was a horror escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and in at least one instance, bravery.

A large portion of the difficulty was derived from a combination of low light and fear.

Analysis

+ Body Collectors opened with a visually impactful, intense scene.

+ The set looked great, in a scary way. It was detailed and weathered, creating a grimy, unnerving gamespace.

– Body Collectors required substantial searching in low light. It became frustrating when the escape room bottlenecked around searching. Intensity and momentum diminished quickly at some key moments.

– One prop was too worn to facilitate a puzzle properly, especially in the dim light.

+ Nearly every critical interaction came with a memorable moment.

+ Escape City Buffalo used space well to taunt us. One prop dangled in front of us the entire game.

+ One little detail added a haunting intensity to a late-game sequence.

+ Fans of the SAW movies will really like some of the homage interactions.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • At least one player must be able to crawl.

Book your hour with Escape City Buffalo’s Body Collectors and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape City Buffalo provided media discounted tickets for this game.

THE BASEMENT – The Courtyard [Review]

Release the hounds.

Location: Sylmar, CA

Date Played: August 26, 2018

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $38 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The Courtyard took us outside the home of serial killer Edward Tandy to play a murderous game in his fenced-in courtyard. THE BASEMENT built a spectacular outdoor environment, combining nature with decrepit structures to deliver a sense of continual discovery tinged with foreboding. The set was a work of art.

While aspects of the story detracted from the rest of THE BASEMENT’s overall experience, the sets, lighting, sound, and actor delivered an intense and exciting escape room. Additionally, The Courtyard delivered a brilliant midgame puzzle sequence that we will never forget.

If you’re planning to play one game at THE BASEMENT, make it The Elevator Shaft. If you’re looking to play two (and you should), The Courtyard should be your next choice. They’re both unique and intense.

If you’re anywhere nearby and interested in horror, intensity, actor-driven gameplay, and immersive sets, you should visit The Courtyard.

In-game: heavy wooden doors chained shut.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Horror fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Detailed set design
  • Outstanding actor
  • Intensity of the experience

Story

The Basement’s fourth chapter continued with us having escaped from The Study and fleeing into Edward Tandy’s mudroom. Freedom seemed so close. Unfortunately beyond the mudroom was a walled courtyard and another series of sadistic games and death traps.

Setting

We started The Courtyard in a small, dimly lit, ominous mudroom with the porch and courtyard of Tandy’s house visible in the distance.

In-game: Coats hanging in a dim, creepy mud room.

Within their facility, THE BASEMENT had constructed an outdoor space for the The Courtyard. We were walled in by the Tandy house on one side and tall fences on the others. Lily Tandy’s trailer stood prominently in the gamespace along with a few smaller structures.

In-game: an aged porch with a rocking chair.

The Courtyard’s largely outdoor set was detailed and weathered. It felt genuine. The Courtyard was dim and foreboding with the threat of hounds ever present.

In-game: a small kitchenette and table in a quaint trailer.

Gameplay

THE BASEMENT’s The Courtyard was a standard escape room with a higher level of difficulty in an intense environment.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and interacting with the actor.

In-game: a large top-loading freezer in a decrepid mud room.

Analysis

+/- The Courtyard began with a video introduction… followed by a video introduction. It built up tension, stifled that tension, built it up again… it just droned on and on. This was unfortunate because it the intro was well acted.

+ There was a lot of depth to The Courtyard’s set. THE BASEMENT built indoor and outdoor spaces. These were detailed and convincing, instilling in us an unsettling apprehension, as intended. In-game: the heavily weathered side of Tandy's home. Window with shudders flows brightly.

+ THE BASEMENT used lighting and sound to further escalate the tension in their serial killer’s game environment.

+ This escape room was designed so that most players will spend the majority of their time in the more intriguing portion of the set. If players don’t access it one way, at a set time interval, THE BASEMENT triggers a different sequence to move the team forward. We appreciated this commitment to keeping players engaged and pushing them into the more exciting parts of The Courtyard.

– One of these early sequences left a brutal red herring in its wake. We didn’t use a certain game element early on and its presence was an evergreen element of confusion that ruined some moments. This could be remedied with relative ease.

+ The actor was a pivotal part of experience. He reacted to our words, body language, and in-game interactions. He was outstanding.

In-game: an electrical device mounted to a wall.

+ The actor-player interaction design was insightful. The set kept the actor separate from the players, such that it supported the narrative premise and kept both parties safe from each other.

– The Courtyard required a substantial amount of reading in low light.

+/- The Courtyard delivered many of the longer passages both as written text and audio voiceover. This technique made the story and clue structure more accessible to larger teams. That said, there was a heavy reliance on long passages of exposition.

+ The hint mechanism made sense in the context of the experience. It fit seamlessly into the game. Because of this, however, the hint mechanism was only accessible up until a point. Once we’d solved a substantial portion of the escape room, we could not receive any hint to late-game puzzles. Some may dislike this; we found it interesting.

The Courtyard had some of the strongest puzzles offered by THE BASEMENT. There was a mid-game sequence that was especially inspired, pulling together all of the core elements of the game into a uniquely smart and screwed-up challenge.

+ We especially enjoyed another puzzle sequence that triggered a heart-pounding situation, until we puzzled our way through it.

– The final puzzle sequence took the story in an unexpected direction that made it lose credibility. It didn’t seem to belong in the world of Edward Tandy as it wasn’t grounded in reality. THE BASEMENT missed an opportunity here.

– As with The Elevator Shaft, losing teams will experience a more dramatic ending than we did when we won. Once again, I kind of wish that we had lost.

The Courtyard instilled in us a sense of discovery. The gamespace was genuine enough that we didn’t feel like anything was entirely “used.” It was ominous enough that we remained on edge. This balance kept us engaged throughout the escape room.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with THE BASEMENT’s The Courtyard, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: THE BASEMENT provided media discounted tickets for this game.

All images via THE BASEMENT.

Get the F Out – The Experiment [Review]

Not what I was expecting.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 23, 2018

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Get The F Out likes to produce unusual escape games; they have done this once again with The Experiment. This latest creation was a meta escape room designed for people who love escape rooms. It screwed with our expectations, took longstanding tropes and turned them on their side, and presented a strong collection of puzzles with some genuine innovation in game design.

The Experiment fell short in the fine-tuning. Lighting and sound adjustments would make gameplay less frustrating. The story – which was interesting and thoughtful – was too difficult to understand without explanation.

Get The F Out has a gem on their hands and we’re thrilled we visited The Experiment… but it needs more polish to clarify the gameplay and story.

If you’re serious about playing escape rooms, then I’d strongly encourage you to check this one out. We don’t have that many games designed around players who know their way around an escape game.

In-game: handcuffs looped around a stair railing.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Escape room enthusiasts
  • Best for players with a fair amount of experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • The twist… in the story.
  • The twist… in the puzzles.
  • It’s meta.

Story

The Experiment was a study:

“Looking for all ages, male & female to participate in a psychological study of escape rooms. It will take 60 min of your time. Juice will be served.”

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a lab-coated researcher and lead into The Experiment.

In-game: torn ship's mast.

Setting

The experiment staging, however, was far from your standard lab. Instead of white walls, we found ourselves aboard a ship. The Experiment was structured as an escape room.

In-game: Creepy doll heads in metal contraptions.

Gameplay

Get the F Out’s The Experiment was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and dexterity.

In-game: The Experiment teaser, reads, "The Doctor Will See You Now."

Analysis

+ From the opening moments, The Experiment thwarted expectations. We went from a humorous, in-character lab-like introduction to the high seas.

The Experiment was puzzle-dense. There was a lot of solve. It was highly varied and generally interesting.

– The Experiment had too many locks with identical digit structures. It wasn’t always clear which solution belonged where.

– We encountered misleading signage. While it did deter us from touching more fragile set pieces it also deterred us, as overly caution players, from thoroughly searching our gamespace. This mechanic punished more respectful players.

– The ambient noise of The Experiment competed with any auditory game components, including our hint system. We used walky-talkies to communicate with our gamemaster and struggled to make out our hints over the noise and the whirling fans.

+ Get the F Out presented two puzzle concepts we’ve never seen before in an escape room. These were brilliant.

The Experiment played with perspective on so many levels.

– There were points where we really struggled with dim lighting.

– The story arc didn’t quite work for us. We had a hard time believing the fiction and the resulting character development. It wasn’t immediately apparent, in game, how we got from point A to point B, and only began to make sense upon post-game explanation.

The Experiment was geared toward experienced escape room players. It wasn’t because of the challenging puzzles; it was to deliver a message. It was meta. Your appreciation of this will vary.

+ Get the F Out included bonus content. If you can escape the room and solve the bonus content in 60 minutes, there’s a prize. The bonus puzzle was challenging and worth solving.

+ Juice was served, as promised. It was delightful.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • All players must be able to walk up stairs to access the game.
  • It was brutally hot in the gamespace when we visited in August. Get the F Out knows this and provided bottles of water. Just be prepared.

Book your hour with Get the F Out’s The Experiment, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Get the F Out comped our tickets for this game.

S’Mores, Fire-breathing, and the REDivas Podcast

On our recent trip to Los Angeles, Ariel Rubin, half the duo behind Escape Room in a Box, hosted a s’mores-eating get together at her home. By delightful happenstance, Errol of the REDivas was in LA at the same time… so he recorded an episode.

Errol covers a lot of topics as he bounces between the different guests.

Stash House post game photo promoting the REDivas podcast. Images features, Errol, Brian, Cam, Tammy, Amanda, Lisa, & David.

We talk about the Escape Room & Immersive Entertainment Shindig we hosted in Los Angeles at Hatch Escapes, something we’re excited to bring to other cities in the future.

Tammy McLeod and Errol talk about our team playing Stash House.

Amanda Harris, one of the most experienced escape room players in the world, talks about… well… playing escape rooms.

David’s childhood friend Brian Resler tells Errol how he played an important role in the start of Room Escape Artist. Brian and his wife Cam also talk a bit about playing escape rooms with us.

Sarah Wilson, our new Los Angeles correspondent, talks about writing, video games, and order preservation puzzles.

Ariel paints a picture of how Escape Room in a Box started and her 1-year-old daughter Belle shares her thoughts on the future of immersive entertainment… but Ariel’s husband Mike steals the show, literally, when he emerges with a torch and Errol pauses the podcast recording for the fire-breathing.

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – The Pop Star’s Room of Doom [Review]

New SCRAP On The Block

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 21, 2018

Team size: 4-9; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes … ish

Price: $33 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

SCRAP, the creators of the escape room format, did it again: they created an entirely new 60-minute immersive gaming structure. We found ourselves trapped in a 5-minute actor-driven time loop that kept ending with the death of our neighbor in the apartment across the alley.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was unlike anything we had ever played before. It’s a concept we hope others explore too. The core gameplay was pure genius. Although aesthetically it was subpar and the story left a bit to be desired, it was remarkably innovative and intriguing.

I’m so glad that we played The Pop Star’s Room of Doom and strongly encourage anyone who is interested in gameplay and innovation in the escape game format to check this one out.

In-game: view from one apartment window through another. Across the way is the popstar's blue walled apartment covered in 90s references.

Who is this for?

  • Players who welcome a challenge
  • People who can ignore a weak set
  • Story seekers
  • 1990’s pop fans
  • Any experience level
  • Patient players
  • SCRAP fans

Why play?

  • Brilliant time loop game mechanic
  • Humor
  • Read challenge
  • Wonderfully innovative

Story

So we like, totally lived across the street from our favorite popstar Angel Infinity… and like, witnessed his murder. And like, as soon as he died, we time looped back to Angel entering the apartment again. It was like Groundhog Day and we like, had to save Angel’s life.

In-game: a plain white walled room with a whiteboard and a large fading cassette tape decal on the floor.

Setting

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom played out across two adjacent apartments (rooms) separated by a few feet of “alleyway.” The first room was “our apartment,” a bare, white-walled space with a locked box, a white board, a giant cassette sticker on the floor, and a window that looked out into the other room. The room was barren and worn.

The other room was the pop star’s apartment: a living room filled with Ikea furniture and assorted ’90s geekery. The pop star’s room was essentially a stage with an actor. We never set foot in that space; we could only view it.

In-game: a wooden box locked down to a very beat up table by three padlocks.

Gameplay

Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was an atypical escape room.

A single series of events repeated on loop. With each loop, we could take actions to affect how the events played out. Each decision we made was reflected in the actor’s changed behavior and a change in how he died. We needed to determine which actions to take when in order to save Angel Infinity.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was challenging because the gameplay and strategy were unorthodox… and every choice we made could introduce a new unforeseen variable into the equation.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, attention to detail, patience, coordinated efforts, and repetitive actions.

Analysis

+ The time loop concept was incredible. SCRAP’s earlier game Escape From The Time Travel Lab was essentially an escape room that pulled the time travel mechanic from The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past and reimagined it for an early escape room. The parts of that game that revolved around time travel were brilliant. The Pop Star’s Room of Doom focused entirely on time travel, but did so in a way that was much more akin to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. By putting us in a constant time loop, the gameplay was unique and focused.

– There’s a technical term for the aesthetics of The Pop Star’s Room of Doom… and that word is hideous. This was one of the ugliest escape games that I’ve ever seen. I assume that SCRAP was trying to limit the variables in the gamespace to streamline gameplay, but this could have been done with some elegance and finesse… or the least some upkeep and maintenance.

+ Each time loop took less than five minutes. SCRAP introduced an impressive amount of variability and traps within that brief span of time.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom thoughtfully explored the time loop concept and made us think carefully about what our options really were.

+ The solutions were well clued. While they might not always have been plausible, they followed logically.

– By the time we had solved the game in our 8th loop, we had become so efficient at our respective jobs within the game that we spent a lot of the time waiting. The drama had diminished. This could have been compensated for with a really interesting conclusion, but that never materialized.

– If a team doesn’t follow the early learning curve properly, it’s possible to burn a few time loops with silly early mistakes and ultimately render the game unsolvable later.

+ SCRAP’s team oversaw this game with an impressive level of timing and discipline. Everything occurred on time in predictable ways.

+ The actors were approachable and responsive. They kept in character regardless of whether we were being cooperative, silly or rude. (We experimented a little.)

– The story fell flat for us. There was depth in gameplay, but not in the narrative. This wasn’t initially clear, but by the time we saw the story play out for the 6th time it had become apparent. Story really matters when the same scenario keeps looping.

– The game was set in 1990, but included anachronisms from later in the decade. This seemed like a silly detail to ignore.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was exciting because it felt like the birth of what should be a whole genre of immersive entertainment. SCRAP is a fount of creativity and imagination.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s The Pop Star’s Room of Doom, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Ghost Puzzles: Broken & Disabled Escape Room Puzzles [Design]

Let’s make this really simple:

If a puzzle breaks or you disable it, kindly remove every trace of it from your escape room.

A mastodon fossil on display in a museum.

Remove The Props

If it looked like a puzzle prop when it was a puzzle, it will still look like a puzzle prop after it has been disabled.

It doesn’t matter that it looks cool. Turn it back into a puzzle or remove it. Otherwise it turns into a Ghost Puzzle*, an aggressive red herring that reminds us players that we never had an opportunity to play with that cool thing in the room.

It’s always lame when the most interesting prop in the escape room is a red herring.

Paint Over Clues

If there are markings on the walls from removed puzzles or previous iterations of your game, please paint over them.

Don’t make me turn into an escape room archeologist, determining which pieces are part of the current game and which components are remnants from some long-forgotten or destroyed interaction.

*Thank you to Haley at Immersology for coining to term Ghost Puzzle earlier this week for our Erban Dictionary.

Museum of Intrigue [Summer 2018 Review]

A day at the museum.

Location: Syracuse, New York

Date Played: September 3, 2018

Team size: 1-¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ; we recommend groups of 2-4

Duration: offers 20, 40, & 60 minute games

Price: $15 (20-minute), $25 (40-minute), $29 (60-minute) per ticket or $75 per day pass

Ticketing: Private games in a shared space (see below)

REA Reaction

The Museum of Intrigue was a new, exciting, and brilliant concept: one large space housed a variety of adventures.

In this puzzle- and adventure-filled museum, a collection of unusual artifacts and exhibits and an eccentric staff of characters facilitated roughly 20 games, known as stories. Each story spanned multiple sections of the Museum of Intrigue. The space was always alive and filled with other players.

The Museum of Intrigue had an assortment of entertaining and worthy games. If they can ruggedize their build and mind a few more details, this establishment could be a masterpiece. The potential is there, and much of it has already been realized.

The open-ended artifact theft game The Heist justified the existence of Museum of Intrigue on its own… but don’t make this your first story. You’ll want to have a better handle on things before attempting it.

If you’re anywhere near Syracuse, the Museum of Intrigue is a must-visit. If you’re a serious escape room player, buy yourself a day pass. We’re already trying to figure out when we can return.

The exterior of the sunken ship in the Museum of Intrigue.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Really cool space to explore
  • Each story offers a unique challenge
  • A wealth of secrets to reveal within the gamespace
  • Impressive variety of gameplay options available
  • Fantastic actors
  • Playing our own adventures in a vibrant, shared environment

Story

The Museum of Intrigue was an immersive space that housed exhibits and actors which together facilitated roughly 20 different “stories.” Each purchasable story supplied its own narrative and goals pertaining to the museum.

Depending upon the story we selected, we were investigating a strange phenomenon, seeking a lost, stolen, or missing item, playing a game against one another, or in one unusual instance… robbing the museum in front of the staff and other guests.

The story selection display at the Museum of Intrigue.
The story selection display.

Setting

The Museum of Intrigue was a large museum-like environment containing a variety of different exhibits featuring unusual things. It almost felt like a museum of escape room themes: science lab, tomb, lost ship, rain forest, art gallery, Victorian England, and Medieval Europe, among others.

The level of detail in the set design varied heavily from exhibit to exhibit. Some were incredibly detailed and expansive.

The crypt in the Museum of Intrigue.

Additionally, there were costumed, in-character actors wandering the Museum of Intrigue facilitating games and helping players. These characters were as important to the experience as anything else in the museum.

A Museum of Intrigue mystic character posing in front of the story display.

Gameplay

Museum of Intrigue was a unique puzzle and adventure amusement with multiple games happening simultaneously as different teams explored the museum, solving their own stories.

The level of difficultly varied heavily among the stories, which ranged from simple scavenger hunting (Still Life), to competitive gameplay (Witch Hunt), to more traditional escape room-esque stories (The Lost Exhibit, The Breath of the Maya, The Wandering Knight), to a short and complex puzzle hunt (Enigma).

While stories were categorized by time commitment, this was not an escape room and gameplay was not dictated by a gameclock. We could take our time exploring, strategizing, and adventuring as we played through a story.

Visitors may purchase individual stories or a day pass to play their fill of different stories.

A dinosaur fossil on the wall, and a sandpit with dinosaur bones at the Museum of Intrigue.

Analysis

+ Museum of Intrigue’s actors were phenomenal. Each had a unique look, backstory, personality, and voice. This impacted how the characters interpreted each story and their role within it. We found ourselves seeking out specific characters because of the nature of a given story. The actors accepted any premise we threw at them, no matter how far-fetched, and turned it into a part of the story. This was exceptionally well executed.

A Museum of Intrigue character posing in an antique carriage.

+ The space felt alive. We played while other groups were busy having their own adventures. If someone was in our way (or vice-versa), it was a momentary obstacle that never hindered our experience. The other players piqued our curiosity about the other available stories.

+ The Museum of Intrigue was a brilliant concept. It was smart to build one massive set and fill it with a couple dozen games. They packed so much variety into the gamespace. Additionally, the games could be readily swapped without requiring the company to rebuild entirely new gamespace.

A close up of the ship in the Museum of Intrigue's heavily weathered texture.

+/- A large portion of the set looked beautiful with an incredible level of detail and weathering. At the same time, some of the set looked lackluster. The shifts in quality happened from object to object. I could stand in one place in the museum, look at three different items and see three different levels of build quality ranging from incredible to meh.

The Museum of Intrigue's art gallery with paintings and sculptures on display.

+ The Museum of Intrigue’s stories had us exploring every inch of the space. We picked up on details while doing one story that eventually helped us solve a later one. We loved this.

A view into the Museum of Intrigue's ship, it's filled with nautical artifacts.

– Because of the depth of exploration required for these stories, we often found ourselves looking behind or inside of set pieces where we’d find unpainted wood and exposed wires. The lack of finish broke immersion (and also made it easier for disrespectful players to break components). The nature of these games demanded that every inch be designed or entirely obscured.

– Some of the interactions lacked robustness in their build. Given the throughput model, robust builds were crucial. I wasn’t really looking for it, but it seemed like every hour or two I noticed a staff member hot-fixing something.

Machinery in the lab exhibit at the Museum of Intrigue.

+ There was something for just about everyone: scavenger hunt-style games, pure puzzling, code breaking, competitive play, and others. We had a ton of fun with many different types of stories.

– Some of the stories that we tried (Enigma and Witch Hunt, for example) felt incomplete. In these instances, we felt there was an issue with game flow or a missing game mechanic.

The Museum of Intrigue intern character looking overwhelmed next to a table of props.

– Museum of Intrigue lacked some details that would enhance the player experience and add polish including:

  • an overarching story or meta mystery for the entire facility.
  • a means of keeping track of what stories an individual or team has completed. (We suggest a passport or a stamp card like at Boda Borg.)
  • a better system for hiding some of the props that the actors bring into individual games. (Most were lying out on a table near the front desk.)
  • an elegant way to signal when a game was closed or otherwise out of service. (This was indicated with a piece of red masking tape. “Exhibit closed” or “coming soon” signs would have made the operation look more clean and professional.)

A view into the Museum of Intrigue's attic, a storage space filled with assorted items.

The Heist story was pure genius. The open-ended adventure of artifact-stealing was amazing. This story took advantage of things that escape rooms cannot by making the open set, the other patrons, and the staff into randomized obstacles that could chaotically help or hinder.

+ The Museum of Intrigue was a joyous adventure. I want to go back! I cannot wait to play the rest of the stories and I’m looking forward to their continued iterations on this concept.

Tips for Visiting

  • Serious escape room players should consider a day pass. You will want to play more than one game.
  • If you are paying per story, take your time and enjoy the entire game. There’s no reason to rush.
  • Parking: Destiny Mall has ample parking, Museum of Intrigue is located on the third floor next to the AMC Movie Theater
  • Food: Destiny Mall is loaded with food options. Take your pick. Or head into downtown Syracuse and visit Funk N’ Waffles.
  • Accessibility: Destiny Mall is equipped with elevators. Feel free to discuss other accessibility questions with the staff at the Museum of Intrigue. They will likely be able to accommodate most accessibility requirements.

Book your session with Museum of Intrigue, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Museum of Intrigue comped our tickets for this experience.