Escape Room LA – The Alchemist [Review]

Is there a word for taking gold and transforming it back into lead?

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date played: October 16, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 6-8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per ticket on weekdays, $37 per ticket on weekends

Story & setting

The Alchemist was your standard wizards-and-magic setup: enter the library, work your way into the sanctum, and puzzle your way to the mystical maguffin.

It’s a time-tested setup that works well, so long as you create the right environment and build interesting interactions throughout; Escape Room LA did just that. The gamespace looked great and absolutely conveyed a slightly cartoonish, but generally compelling wizard’s lair.

In-game - a wizards study with paintings on the walls, a large bookcase, and sigels painted on the door.
Image via CNET.

Due to Escape Room LA’s adherence to standard wizarding tropes, they didn’t need to add a lot of story or exposition for the narrative to reveal itself through gameplay.

Puzzles

The Alchemist had a strong mix and large volume of puzzles. This was a big game that required a cooperative and attentive team.

The puzzles were a ton of fun to solve. They made great use of the room as well as the themes that the game played with. Escape Room LA was the most puzzley company that we encountered in Los Angeles. Unlike the other game we played on our visit, The Alchemist combined puzzle-centricity with a beautifully constructed set.

Standouts

The Alchemist’s puzzles and interactions were wonderfully embedded into the scenery and environment. This was the heart of the game.

The gameflow was interesting. Where some games will force a team to split by locking them up in different parts of the game, The Alchemist produced a natural split of the team and accomplished it without interference.

Shortcomings

The Alchemist was a game with a lot of rules and most of the unusual restrictions prohibited exploration. Violation of these rules resulted in additional condemnation.

Our gamemaster was in costume and in character as a silent monk. She provided hints, handled a finicky interaction, broken interactions, and chastisement while silently miming at us. The in-game gamemaster wasn’t inherently problematic, but the regular discipline was.

Most of the game took place within a large room, but there were sections that we weren’t even allowed to look at until we had “reached” them, even though they were in plain sight. With 10 players (about two too many) in the room, a couple of us would take a look at the future puzzles to get a sense of what we had to do down the line. Our gamemaster would mime her castigation at us for this, which somehow felt far worse than vocalized criticism. This soured the experience.

One of the set pieces and interactions within The Alchemist was so iffy as to require our gamemaster to step in and fully control it; another broke completely. There was a third utterly infuriating interaction that took us something in the realm of 10 minutes to complete after we started doing the right thing. The sensor’s tolerance was so tight that we couldn’t get the thing to trigger.

Should I play Escape Room LA’s The Alchemist?

We love puzzle-based games, especially when the puzzles are integrated into the props and make us solve our way through a narrative. After we won, we walked out feeling pretty bitter. The root cause of this was purely gamemastering and overall customer care.

Our first game with Escape Room LA began late, so our second game began late as well. During our walkthrough, Lisa took out her phone to text our friends whom I was meeting at the Basement to cancel our pre-game plans. She was yelled yet because phones were forbidden because heaven forbid that any photos of the game get out.

The grand irony here was that I had already seen video of every section of The Alchemist because Escape Room LA let CNET film the game. So, if you’re curious what The Alchemist looks like in intimate detail, please feel free to watch the video, but do so knowing that it shows the entire gamespace and spoils a few puzzles. You’ve been warned.

The Alchemist is a strong game, especially if you’re a puzzler, and I absolutely recommend it. However, go in knowing that metaphors involving rods and rectums may apply to your customer service experience. The tragedy of The Alchemist was that they put us into a great game and then spent an hour finding new ways to diminish an otherwise brilliant experience.

Book your hour with Escape Room LA’s The Alchemist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

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