The Partnership behind Level Games in Los Angeles [Interview]

Doggy Dog World has been adopted! 🐶

Two Los Angeles escape room companies, Escape Chronicles and Arcane Escape Rooms, have teamed up to create Level Games, a new company taking over the space that formerly housed ESCapades LA. We were thrilled to hear about this collaboration, which brings so many wonderful creators together.

We recently caught up with Andrew Cefalo and Spencer Beebe, Co-founders/ Designers of Escape Chronicles, and Matt Tye, Founder/ Designer of Arcane Escape Rooms, to learn more about this partnership.

Spoiler… we’re excited about it!

In-game: an oversized doghouse.
Doggy Dog World

How did this partnership come about?

Level Games: Escape room owners in Los Angeles are generally friendly. The community has set the right conditions for a partnership like this. We all respect each other’s work.

We started sharing ideas for our future games and we got really excited about what we could accomplish together. We all wanted to spin traditional game narratives in future projects. The more we talked about it, the more we knew this would be really fun!

Since we are all tackling similar issues by teaming up, we decrease the overhead of running the business so that we can focus on the games.

In-game: a rolltop desk beside a stack of crates and an artest palet.
Escape Chronicles

What inspired you to take the Escapades LA space?

We were all already discussing sharing a larger space and working collaboratively when the ESCapades LA space became available. We took a tour of the space and it was love at first sight. The space is huge and really freaking cool! The fact that we get to adopt Doggy Dog World and Disrupted Decades for a little while is a big bonus.

What’s your plan for the current games, especially the beloved Doggy Dog World?

Doggy Dog World is the fan-favorite so we don’t want to make any big alterations. We’ll only make minor tweaks to adjust game flow and better protect props and electronics from players. If you’ve played the game before, we haven’t changed it enough to warrant a reply.

We’ll continue running Disrupted Decades as well. We bolstered the charm of the room with some tasteful tech, new and tweaked puzzles, and a new narrative on top of the original foundation. Our playtest groups are loving the revamped Disrupted Decades!

If you’ve played Disrupted Decades before, you could play it again. The updated version is about 70% brand new content. We actually added too much and we really liked all of it… so we made it a 75-minute game!

In-game: a dog's view of a wood fence.
Doggy Dog World

We plan to keep Doggy Dog World and Disrupted Decades for at least six months. We’ll aim to build out new rooms to fill in the unused areas of the space before closing down Doggy Dog World. We haven’t purchased the games from ESCapades LA; we are just borrowing them for a while… Doggy Dog World could pop up somewhere else in the future.

Who is designing the new experiences in the space?

The Level Games experiences are all based on ideas that each company had dreamt up individually. Each team’s eyes lit up as they heard the others ideas! When we started pooling our creative efforts on the projects, everything just clicked.

Each project will have its own lead, but everyone will be designing puzzles, gameplay elements, story elements, etc. Since we all have different strengths, it’s working out really nicely. Although these started as individual ideas, they have all already become joint ventures.

In-game: A wooden wall with pipes and a big red valve mounted to it.
Arcane Escape Rooms

What is your timeline for new experiences?

We’re spending every waking moment working to complete the designs and construction of the new games and loving every minute of it! Most likely, you can expect to see 1-2 new Level Games experiences in 2019. That said, even though we’ve done a lot of work already, we don’t want to feel pressure to meet dates for no reason, so please don’t hold us to that.

Is anything changing at Arcane Escape Rooms and Escape Chronicles?

Matt: Arcane Escape Rooms is absolutely staying where it is. The Hideout and The Agency are still running and we just opened our new game The Ghost of Mentryville in October. There will be at least one more game from Arcane Escape Rooms in the future.

Andrew & Spencer: We’re out of space to build new games at Escape Chronicles, but our current games Smugglers Tunnels and Testing Facility are still going strong. If we get the sense that interest is falling we’ll most likely look into replacing the rooms with something new, but hopefully that’s a ways off. Right now our creative efforts are focused on Level Games and we have our hands full. Plus, it’s really great to build collaboratively!

How is your vision for Level Games different from that of your other escape room companies?

Level Games intentionally does not have “escape” in the name. In addition to building escape rooms, we will try some riskier ideas that depart from the escape room formula.

We’re working to change the fundamentals of how the “escape room” works. For example, we’re developing a game that we ourselves can play and have the same experience and challenge as new players.

We also plan to make Level Games a place for the community to hang out. We plan to host tabletop games – we love board games! – and large party games in the space. We want to share lots of kinds of games with the community.


The Great Escape NJ – The Garage [Review]

Escape & BBQ

Location:  Wharton, New Jersey

Date Played: January 22, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $29 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Created as a side project from the people behind the 2-time Golden Lock-In winning company 13th Hour Escape Rooms, The Garage was a themed puzzle game in a fun setting. We were in a garage trying to get the garage door to open.

The Garage exemplified how escape rooms don’t require a complex, epic story to be entertaining and compelling. The substance of The Garage existed in the thematic props and their associated puzzles. It was lovely, challenging, and fair.

In-game: Wide angle shot of The Garage, a small motorcycle sits in the middle of the room, a car door rests on a workbench in the background.

If you’re in the region and enjoy puzzle-driven games in a unique environment, we strongly recommend driving through The Great Escape NJ. The Garagewould be approachable and fun regardless of experience level.

Additionally, The Garage is for sale along with its lease (and, I believe, space for another game). Feel free to contact The Great Escape NJ for details.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • Fans of 13th Hour escape games

Why play?

  • Great puzzles & flow
  • An elegant set with an unusual theme
  • Attached to a BBQ restaurant

Story

We had 60 minutes re-open the old Hot Rods Garage.

In-game: the heavily weathered garage door with a digital keypad beside it.

Setting

The Great Escape NJ’s The Garage looked as the name advertised. The entire room was built around tools and cars. The puzzles, props, and interactions were rooted within the theme.

Created as a side project by 13th Hour Escape Rooms, The Garage was imbued with their aesthetic and level of detail… without the creepiness of their other rooms.

In-game: Wide angle shot of The Garage, a small motorcycle sits in the middle of the room, and a work bench and large set of cabinets sit in the background.

Gameplay

The Great Escape NJ’s The Garage was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Closeup of an unusual weathered electronic component.

Analysis

➕ The garage setting was an unusual and welcome theme. The Great Escape NJ’s execution was solid. It felt right.

➕ We had an objective. We didn’t miss the presence of a deliberate story.

➕ The Great Escape NJ made excellent use of automotive props in general, incorporating them into clever, layered puzzles.

➕ The hint system was triggered by beeping the horn on a steering wheel. It was a great detail.

In-game: closeup of a steering wheel.
“Beep” for a clue. We forgot to do it.

➕ The Garage contained a searching puzzle that was legitimately fun. We took turns doing it. When we had reached a point where we could have brute-forced the last digit, we elected not to. We wanted to complete the puzzle naturally.

➕ The Great Escape NJ turned 1-person interactions into full-full team moments.

In-game: Closeup of a large electrical safety switch locked up a directional lock.

➖ While The Garage made good use of traditional locks, we had access to a few too many 4-digit locks at once, creating situations where we had to try solutions in too many places.

The Garage included non-traditional inputs, in addition to 4-digit locks. These added a lot to the puzzle-solving.

The exterior entrance/ exit for The Garage. A weathered door and garage door surrounded by car parts.

➕ The Garage gave feedback whenever we solved a puzzle. We always knew whether we were on the right track, or needed to u-turn.

Tips For Visiting

Book your hour with The Great Escape NJ’s Garage, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Great Escape NJ comped our tickets for this game.

Our Talks & Plans for Escape Room City in St. Louis this March

TransWorld’s Halloween & Attractions Show in St. Louis includes Escape Room City, an area dedicated exclusively to the room escape and adventure game industries.

We will be speaking as part of the Escape Room City seminar series.

Show Details

  • March 21-24, 2019
  • St. Louis, MO
  • America’s Center (701 Convention Plaza)

Seminar Details

We have two sessions at this show, both of them are free (included with your ticket).

Panel:

The Elephant in the Room: Escape Room Ethics – the Good, the Bad, the Ugly and How We Can Come Together to Change It!

I will be moderating this panel of escape room industry veterans:

This is a free early-bird seminar.

  • Thursday, March 21
  • 9am – 10am
  • Room 267

We believe that escape room owners and operators can come together to address topics such as safety, intellectual property, and competition. Through collaboration, we’ll grow a more sustainable escape room industry for the future.

Talk:

Setting Expectations for Escape Room Design in 2019

We will provide context and recommendations for anyone opening or operating an escape room business in 2019.

We will cover how haunted attractions owners have raised the bar and pitfalls they need to look out for. We will also address strengths and weaknesses of industry players from other backgrounds, painting a picture of where this industry has evolved from and where it might go.

This is a free early-bird seminar.

  • Friday, March 22
  • 9am – 10am
  • Room 267

We believe there are many opportunities for creating escape rooms in 2019. Join us to think about out how you fit into the bigger picture.

Early… but Free

We will be on stage first thing in the morning two days in a row. We promise not to book too many late escape rooms the nights before these talks.

Escape Room Mixer

We will be attending the Escape Room Mixer on Saturday night. Find us there!

  • Saturday, March 23
  • 5:15pm – 7:15pm
  • Holiday Inn, Broadway/Washington Rooms
  • Free to all conference attendees
  • Cash bar

Visiting in St. Louis

This will be our first year attending TransWorld’s Halloween & Attractions Show and Escape Room City. We are excited to see the show, play escape rooms, and meet new people.

Recommend an Escape Room

This is our first trip to St. Louis.

Do you own or operate an escape room in St. Louis and want us to visit? Do you have a favorite escape room in St. Louis that we should visit?

Please contact us with recommendations.

Meeting Up

We will not have a booth at this show… but we’re still happy to meet up with folks.

Let’s schedule a time and a place to get together and talk escape rooms… or other things. Please contact us to schedule a time to meet at this show.

We look forward to seeing you at Escape Room City!

Houdini’s Room Escape – Game Room [Review]

Puzzles from games.

Location:  Cincinnati, Ohio

Date Played:  December 28, 2018

Team size: 2-14; we recommend 3-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

Game Room was a solid puzzle room with a lot of content.

It felt like a game from an earlier era of escape rooms – and it was – where the puzzle content was affixed to the setting rather than integrated within it.

That said, it was approachable and generally flowed well.

If you’re new to escape rooms, Game Room would be great introduction to the concept. For the more experienced players, it won’t be a novel experience, but it was still a fun playthrough.

In-game: An old parlor with large antique furniture, deep red walls, and large framed paintings.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  •  Accessible puzzle game with a lot of content
  • Cozy environment

Story

The great Harry Houdini was seeking an apprentice, but only the cleverest of applicants could earn the position.

We entered Houdini’s test and had to solve our way to finding his favorite props in order to earn his approval.

In-game: closeup of a cigar humidor.

Setting

Game Room was staged in a red living room and office with antique-style furnishings. There were some large and elegant set pieces.

The space felt regal. There were, however, gaps in the design, such as a fireplace that lacked detail and felt unfinished.

In-game: A large couch in the parlor.

Gameplay

Houdini’s Room Escape’s Game Room was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ Game Room offered a lot of puzzle content in an approachable way. Game Room flowed well. It pleasantly rolled along, from puzzle to puzzle, with plenty for everyone to work on.

➖ Some of the puzzles could have benefited from additional cluing. One in particular felt like a throwaway that players will see immediately or never see, dropped in entirely without clue structure. Another puzzle required outside knowledge, without which this puzzle could only be solved with substantial hinting.

➕ The period-esque parlor with heavy wooden furniture and a deep red hue was a comfortable setting. It added ambiance to the puzzle game. We especially enjoyed the thematic embellishment to the TV monitor hinting.

➖ The gameplay felt bolted on amidst the old furniture and solid set pieces. Houdini’s Room Escape filled the room with locked boxes, paper clues, and paper puzzles. Much of this paper was affixed with tape to the boxes or other set pieces. There was room to integrate the puzzle game more seamlessly into the set.

➖ Game Room included multiple locks with similar digit structure, all in play simultaneously. Whenever we derived a code, we needed to try it everywhere, which diminished the momentum of the solve.

➕ Houdini’s Room Escape had at least one nifty trick hidden up its sleeve. It worked beautifully.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend La Grassa for nearby Gelato.

Book your hour with Houdini’s Room Escape’s Game Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Houdini’s Room Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Room Escape Problems Interviewed Lisa: Travel Tips, Tour Logics, and Best Cupcakes

Room Escape Problems launched an interview series this month as part of their mission of “connecting escape room players one problem at a time.”

Blue tinted images of Terry Pettigrew-Rolapp, Yolanda Chiu, Lisa Spira, & Nick Moran. Lisa and Yolanda are both holding ice cream cones.
Nick & Terry… where are your ice cream cones? Up your profile pic game.

David and I enjoy the Escape Room Problems’ memes.

Interview Topics

When they asked for an interview, I was happy to chat!

Life Before Escape Rooms

Escape rooms are a pretty recent phenomenon. Before escape rooms I solved other puzzles… like where to get the best cupcakes in New York City.

Escape Room Travel Tips

We discussed my top 5 escape room travel tips… accumulated by booking almost every one of our 700 escape rooms played to date and all the corresponding travel arrangements.

Planning Escape Room Tours

We also talked about planning escape room tours. David and I have made the ambitious choice to run Escape, Immerse, Explore twice this summer. We’ll bring a tour to Palace Games in San Francisco in June and another to New Orleans in July. That’s twice the logic puzzle… but twice the fun!

REP’s Other Interviews

We’re looking forward to reading your conversations with Terry Pettigrew-Rolapp of Hatch Escapes in Los Angeles, Yolanda Chiu of Asia Escape Game, and Nick Moran of Time Run and Sherlock: The Game is Now.

Thank you, Room Escape Problems. I’m honored to be part of your interview series.

Talking Escape Rooms on Top of Mind with Julie Rose

I spent 20 minutes on BYU Radio speaking with interviewer Julie Rose about escape rooms.

Top of Mind with Julie Rose banner features their logo and a black and white image of the interviewer.

Julie asked some of the best questions that any interviewer has ever raised. She even had me momentarily stumped when she asked a question that no one has ever asked us before.

Top of Mind with Julie Rose – Measles Outbreak, Escape Rooms, Food Preferences, Llama Nanobodies

As usual, we’ve timestamped the entire interview for your comfort.

Interview Timestamps

19:10 – Intro

20:05 – Why did I start reviewing escape rooms?

21:00 – What’s my favorite escape room? (Man From Beyond)

21:30 – What is an escape room experience like?

22:40 – What’s the history of escape rooms?

23:45 – How has the definition of escape room changed over the years?

25:30 – How do escape rooms vary across countries and cultures?

27:00 – What kinds of themes do you commonly see in escape rooms?

28:15 – What makes for a good escape room? I low-key mention Bill Chang.

29:00 – How do escape room creators come up with their games?

30:25 – Where do escape room creators get puzzle ideas from?

31:20 – What kinds of challenges show up in escape rooms?

32:40 – What the most creative puzzle that I’ve ever seen? …I’m momentarily stumped.

33:40 – How do escape room creators tune the difficulty of a game?

34:50 – What safety precautions should be taken when designing an escape game?

36:00 – We talk about the tragedy in Poland.

37:15 – Outro

Red Herrings in Escape Rooms [Design]

Red herrings are one of the oldest and strangest debates in escape rooms.

This is an unusual hot-button issue because unlike the public vs. private ticketing debate, there isn’t even consensus as to what constitutes a red herring in an escape room.

A big red fish viewed from head on. It has an intense gaze.

Competing Red Herring Definitions

In my experience, it seems like there are 3 different red herring camps:

  1. Anything not directly related to a puzzle is a red herring.
  2. Red herrings require intentionality.
  3. Anything that is misleading is a red herring.

Camp 1

I don’t think the first definition holds up to any level of scrutiny. This basically suggests that the set is only there as a container for the puzzles. I don’t think that is true or advantageous.

Camp 2

I also don’t think that intentionality can be the measure because nearly every escape room has some non-deliberate interaction in it. If a red herring must be intentional, then an aloof designer – whose game has little intentionality behind it – could never have red herrings.

Camp 3

That leaves us with the definition that anything misleading is a red herring… so let’s play with that idea for a bit.

A school of red fish near the surface of the water.

Types of Red Herrings

Let’s look at a few types interactions that are misleading, intentionally or otherwise.

Fake Puzzles

A fake puzzle is an actual puzzle that resolves to dead end.

One example is a decipherment that translates to an answer along the lines of:

  • “You just wasted your time.”
  • “You should work on something different.”
  • “Unhelpful solution.”

We’ve seen this type of thing a few times .

Fake puzzles are demoralizing. They beg the question: why didn’t you just integrate this into the game?

Ghost Puzzles

Ghost puzzles are any props, writing, or other markings that are left over from a broken or removed puzzle.

These remnants transform into a point of confusion. We’ve written more extensively on the subject.

Puzzle LookAlikes

Sometimes something looks like a puzzle, acts like a puzzle, and quacks like a puzzle… but it isn’t a puzzle.

Maybe this puzzle lookalike was placed there to intentionally mislead or maybe it was a complete accident. Regardless of the intent, if something irrelevant is regularly suckering players into thinking its a puzzle, it’s a red herring.

Escape rooms should not punish people for exploring interesting things in the gamespace. That’s a good way to make a player leave feeling like they wasted their time.

Irrelevant Cool Objects

The red herring that I have really grown to resent most is the really cool but irrelevant object.

When I walk into a game, I’m there for an adventure. I’m there to play. When I look around any given gamespace, my assumption is that the most eye-catching and fun objects in the room will be integrated into the gameplay.

If there’s a periscope in a submarine, I expect that I will use it for something. If that isn’t the case, first I will be distracted by it as I try to use it for a puzzle… and then I will be disappointed by the lack of an interaction. (An inconsiderate player might break the thing.)

A red fish viewed from the side.

Our Definition of Red Herring

The more I think about red herrings as they pertain to escape room design, the more I think that “anything that’s misleading is a red herring” is the correct definition… but that is only half of the issue.

Once something is misleading, the follow-up question should be: is it detrimental?

Fake puzzles, ghost puzzles, puzzle lookalikes, and irrelevant cool objects are almost always detrimental to gameplay.

Additionally, when the majority of teams require the same hint to solve a single puzzle, that puzzle is harming the experience, regardless of whether it is a red herring that causes the teams to falter. This kind of content is junky.

In the end, my feelings aren’t that a red herring = 😡.

My anger is directed toward spending my time with junk content instead of quality content. Unfortunately, red herrings frequently mean junk content.

Eliminate the junk and have your players grapple with quality gameplay.

“It’s Supposed To Be Hard Bro”

The most common red herring defense is, “we put it in there for the challenge; it’s supposed to be hard.”

I like a difficult game as much (or more) than the next puzzle nerd. If a game is going to be hard, however, I want it to come from challenging, interesting, and clean puzzles.

Anyone can make a game incredibly hard by hiding multiple tiny components in obscure places. Difficulty has no inherent value, especially in absence of quality content.

Closing Thoughts

Two years ago, we had dinner with puzzle designer Eric Harshbarger the night before competing in his puzzle hunt Eric’s Puzzle Party 17. At one point in the meal, he told me something that I think all puzzle designers should apply to their designs:

“I never design with red herrings. The players will create their own.”

Escape Hotel Hollywood – Escape Room Movie Experience [Review]

Escape the Escape Room escape room.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: January 9, 2019

Team size: Up to 6 (we recommend 2-4)

Duration: 30 minutes

Price: Free (limited run ended January 2019)

Ticketing: Choice of public or private booking

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Escape Room movie live-action experience was a fitting entry point into the world of escape rooms for people whose interest may have been piqued by the movie.

Playing the Escape Hotel Hollywood version after watching the movie could have been a bit of a letdown, since the real-life puzzles were necessarily less cinematic than their movie counterparts. But the live-action experience was effective as an appetizer for the film, and it was entertaining to see a prop or puzzle in the movie and be able to say, “I did that!”

In-game: an old study-like environment with books, paintings, a large red leather chair, and a maze.

We appreciated that this escape room didn’t feel like an overly branded marketing tool. On the other hand, we would have liked to see a bit more of the atmosphere and gameplay drawn from the movie.

The set and puzzles were fairly conventional and there wasn’t much in the way of story. Still, despite a couple of time-consuming puzzles that broke our momentum, Escape Hotel Hollywood fit a good amount of content into this half-length game.

Who is this for?

  • Fans of the Escape Room movie
  • Adventure seekers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A taste of the Escape Room movie in real life
  • Escape Hotel Hollywood’s atmosphere and special effects
  • It was free

Story

We were locked in an amalgam of the different rooms from the movie Escape Room. We had to solve all the puzzles in order to escape with our lives.

In-game: two paintings next to a shelf with bottles containing liquid.

Setting

We entered through a dimly lit study furnished with the usual escape room trappings. The set design was fairly basic and only thematically related to the movie, but a mid-game transition heightened the experience. Special effects and props reminiscent of the Escape Room movie added tension and excitement.

In-game: a globe and 4 locked boxes.

Gameplay

The Escape Room movie experience was a standard escape room with a linear structure and a low level of difficulty.

The live-action experience recreated a couple of the puzzles from the movie almost exactly, but other puzzles were completely new, or only connected thematically.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, pattern recognition, and dexterity.

In-game: A replica phonograph.

Analysis

➕ The Escape Room live-action experience was enjoyable for a promotional tie-in. The escape room didn’t feel overly branded, but it still gave us a taste of the movie.

➕/➖ The set design wasn’t extraordinary, but lighting and temperature changes added to the immersion.

➕ The cluing was solid. We could almost always piece together what we were supposed to do with the puzzle elements available to us.

➖ We unintentionally bypassed one late-game puzzle by brute-forcing a combination that was easy to guess. Adjusting the gating around this puzzle would have prevented players from accidentally (or intentionally) skipping chunks of the game.

➖ Two different puzzles required prolonged maneuvering of finicky components to move forward in the game. These tasks bordered on tedious.

➖ The most laborious puzzle appeared to have a flaw in its instructions. We knew what we were supposed to do, but this snag (along with the complexity of the task itself) cost us nearly half of our time in the room. If this puzzle had been shorter and/or easier to reset, it would have felt more at home in a 30-minute game.

➖ One puzzle had large, heavy components that slid down quickly, which was startling and had the potential to be painful if our fingers were in the way.

➕/➖ Some of the reveals were telegraphed early on (think visible hinges on a picture frame), but others managed to surprise us, even as seasoned players.

➕ Escape Hotel Hollywood designed the lobby and check-in process to feel like part of the evening’s entertainment. Staff members were in character and added drama to the overall experience. We left feeling like we’d experienced more than just a 30-minute escape room.

Tips For Visiting

The Escape Room movie live-action experience had a limited run and is no longer running.

For free branded escape rooms like this one, get tickets early and consider bringing fewer than the maximum number of players (if allowed) for optimal enjoyment.

Escape Hotel Hollywood’s Escape Room movie live-action experience took place from December 2018 to January 2019 and is not currently running.

PanIQ Room – Jailbreak [Review]

Hard time.

Location: New York, New York

Date Played: January 7, 2019

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [B] Emergency Key

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Split-team and puzzle-focused, PanIQ Room’s Jailbreak was an old-school prison-break game. A few flow jolting moments notwithstanding, it was a clever, traditional, puzzle-focused escape room with plenty to enjoy.

Regardless of experience level, there’s something to enjoy in Jailbreak. If you’re an experienced player, this game won’t show you anything novel.

In-game: A bunk bed in a concrete prison cell.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Designed around collaboration
  • Tangible puzzles

Story

Wrongfully accused and on death row, we had an hour to escape our cells before the warden and his guards showed up to escort us to a tragic end.

In-game: a metal toilet.

Setting

Jailbreak was a split-start prison game where we began split between two prison cells. The set itself was a drab, grey, concrete and metal jail.

The set was fairly small and didn’t have a ton of detail, but it certainly looked the part.

In-game: A cross hanging on a concrete wall.

Gameplay

PanIQ Room’s Jailbreak was a standard split-team escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, communicating, and puzzling.

In-game: flip flops on the floor beside a bench.

Analysis

➕ Jailbreak offered a lot of physically interactive puzzles. We liked the tangible nature of these solves. They were fun and satisfying.

➕ Jailbreak rewarded communication and collaboration. PanIQ Room even included a prop to help facilitate this. Many solves felt like a team victory.

➖ One cell was arranged such that the majority of the early gameplay was obscured by a tangible process puzzle that was accessible from the opening moments of play. By choosing to not interrupt this solve, we lost a lot of early momentum. With a tweak to the room’s layout, this cell would offer a lot more intrigue.

In-game: Close up of the steel bars and keyway on the cell door.

➖ Because one group was freed before the other, the later potion of this game could easily become uneven, with only half the group getting the opportunity to solve some of the more exciting puzzles. The addition of gating so as to more quickly free both cells of players would even out the experience.

➕/➖ Although the puzzles were fun, they didn’t make sense in the narrative. It felt like an escape room set in jail rather than a clandestine jailbreak.

➖ There was wear on a few props. One in particular showed its true colors too soon. With a bit of maintenance, this one would be safer from inconsiderate hulk-like players and more exciting for all teams.

➕ The setting worked well. It was minimal, but jail is minimal. The music created the right ambiance. The staging supported the gameplay.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking in this neighborhood.
  • If you’re coming by subway, take the B/D to Grand St, the F to Delancey, or the J/Z to Bowery.
  • We recommend Vanessa’s Dumpling House for a quick meal or Lena for wine and tapas.

Book your hour with PanIQ Room’s Jailbreak, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: PanIQ Room comped our tickets for this game.

Spy Code – Hackathon [Review]

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes Jr.

Location:  at home

Date Played:  December 20, 2018

Team size: 2-9; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 5 – 20 minutes per round

Price: $12

Publisher: YULU

REA Reaction

Hackathon, YULU’s kid-friendly take on the classic communication game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, was tangible and easy to learn.

The device activated, lights glowing, there is 14:41 on a timer.

Physical interactions that are both unusual and satisfying have been a hallmark of YULU’s game design. They delivered that again with Hackathon, although to a lesser extent than in some of their previous games. This served Hackathon well. It didn’t feel like it hinged on a gimmick.

The emphasis of Hackathon was on puzzles and communication. The devices and other components were there to facilitate.

Hackathon would be a great game for younger puzzlers and gamers. It was enjoyable as an adult, but more in an “I’m content playing this with a kid” kind of way… which in my experience is far more entertaining than most kid-focused games.

Who is this for?

  • Younger puzzlers
  • Younger tabletop gamers
  • Families

Why play?

  • Great interactions
  • Solid children’s puzzles
  • Amusing team collaborations

Story

Your spy team’s identities have been stolen by a group of villains. You have gained access to the super-advanced Console that holds your information. Time to steal it back.

The catch was that only one of you could access the Console, while the rest of the team was elsewhere deciphering the Console’s operating instructions.

The activated device, the USB, an allen key, and a stack of cards.

Setup

The team split into two. One person went with the Console; the rest stayed with the instruction cards.

Once the player with the Console had activated the device, they needed to communicate what they saw to the people with the instruction cards. Those with the instruction cards deciphered the instructions, solved a puzzle, and told the Console operator what steps to take.

This loop repeated a total of 8 times, each with a different challenge, or until the Console operator ran out of time or made a critical error and failed.

An assortment of 8 puzzle cards.

Gameplay

Spy Code’s Hackathon was a child-friendly play-at-home puzzle and communication game with a low level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around communicating and puzzling.

Closeup of an allen key attached to the corner of the device.

Analysis

➕ This was a lovely, kid-friendly take on Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

➕ Hackathon was easy to setup and quick to learn.

➕/➖ Most of the challenges in Hackathon were entertaining for all parties involved. That said, a few of the interactions feel like throwaways.

➕ There was a switch on the Console that would kick it into different modes, 1 through 4. These modes didn’t really change the difficulty, but they opened up different solution paths to keep the game interesting.

➖ It would be nice if there were more room for puzzle variation or even a purchasable expansion pack that could add more variety to the solutions. If you play Hackathon a lot and have a good memory, it would be entirely possible to memorize the solutions.

➕ The wrenches necessary for some of the puzzles were fun to use and connected elegantly to the Console.

Closeup of the USB key in its slot.
It just doesn’t stay clipped into this slot. Good thing it’s just for storage.

➖ There was a clip on the underside of the Console meant to store the “Flash Drive.” It didn’t grip properly and the drive always fell out. It was just a storage mechanism and didn’t impact gameplay, but it wasn’t on par with what we’ve come to expect of YULU’s design and build quality.

➕ Yanking the drive out to complete the game was a great, physical way to stop the clock. I never would have thought to design it that way, but it felt so much more satisfying than pushing a button.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table or the floor. Players will need to be split so that they can hear one another, but cannot see each other’s materials.
  • Required Gear: 3 AAA batteries and a small phillips screw driver to install the batteries.

Buy your copy of Spy Code’s Hackathon, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: YULU provided a sample for review. 

(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. We appreciate the support.)