A Look Back, A Glance Forward

2016 has been a horrible year for iconic celebrities, but it has been an incredible year for escape room players in the United States.

There are over 1,500 individual companies in the United States; many of them are creating interesting, intense, and innovative experiences for players to enjoy.

Yesterday we honored 13 of those games with our Golden Lock-In Award. That recognition is only a small part of the story.

Painting of a lock. The background is pink, purple, and black. A large old lock holds teh door shut.

Rapid innovation

In our earliest review we made a commitment to ourselves and our then non-existent readership to forgo a “star rating” or scaled system because we knew even back then that the rate of change was going to greatly exceed the lifecycle of an individual escape room.

We had a hunch that anything we rated a 5 out of 5 in 2013 would not be a 5 out of 5 in 2014 and there would be no way for us to objectively reevaluate.

In 2016 escape room designers truly proved us correct in this regard.

Looking back at our 2015 Golden Lock-In Award recipients, only 3 of the 10 winners would have even been in the running in 2016. The competition, innovation, and rate of change has been exceptional. (I won’t name the three, however, because we awarded those winners for 2015, and that stands.)

Superlatives

There were a few games that we visited in 2016 that didn’t win a Golden Lock-In, but still deserve recognition.

Listed chronologically in the order in which we played them.

Boda Borg

This was basically an escape room amusement park. There was something for everyone at Boda Borg, but particularly for the physically fit and highly coordinated puzzle thrill seekers. Mentally and physically, it was a wonderful workout.

Komnata Quest – 7 Sinful Pleasures & Boxed Up

Komnata Quest’s brand of love-them-or-hate-them games pushed boundaries and deliberately made players uncomfortable by creating some seriously strange situations.

Casa Loma – Escape From the Tower

Built in a real castle of historic importance, Escape From the Tower incorporated the building’s history to tell a story that spanned four floors through puzzles and actors.

I Survived The Room – Sanatorium

Believable actors and a foreboding environment made this Joker / Harley Quinn inspired game intense. The killer ending was one of the most unforgettable escape room interactions of the year.

Escape Artistry – The Railcar

Made almost entirely from recycled and reclaimed materials, The Railcar was beautiful, unusual, and political without ever ramming its message down your throat.

Palace Games – Houdini Room

The Houdini Room combined some of the best puzzling I’ve seen in an escape room with impressive technology.

Unfortunately it couldn’t be considered for a Golden Lock-In because Lisa wasn’t able to play it.

Epic Team Adventures – Vault of the Volcano God

A half-dozen puzzle dispensers spewed a seemingly endless stream of puzzles. Epic Team Adventures created an episodic series of puzzle hunt-hybrid room escapes for those of us who love a challenge.

Out in 60 – The Pyramid

The ultimate DIY game, Out in 60 made just about everything in The Pyramid themselves and 3D printed almost all of the props and set dressing.

The Basement – The Boiler Room

Small and intense, there was no waste in The Boiler Room.

Unfortunately it couldn’t be considered for a Golden Lock-In because Lisa wasn’t able to play it.

It’s A Trap – The Legend of the Cea Sisters

While they are closed as of 2017 because life can be cruel, It’s A Trap created so many innovations in their game design, from replayable / reversible rooms to a brilliant approach to in-game actors.

Curious Escape Rooms – The Dollhouse

The Dollhouse had some brilliant use of video. Curious Escapes Rooms proved what we’ve said over and over again: small companies in tiny towns on thin budgets can make memorable, innovative, and unusual games when they steer into their own strengths.

Room Escapers – Naughty or Nice?

In this temporary, seasonal game, Room Escapers went out of their way to rethink a game element that most designers take for granted: how the game begins.

Looking forward

If the advances of the past year are any indication of the coming year, we are so hopeful for the escape room industry.

We’re often asked, “are escape rooms a fad?” Our answer is, sure, the hodgepodge of furniture and basic puzzles is probably a fad. I can’t imagine that people will buy tickets to them in five years… but there’s a larger concept here and it’s constantly evolving. The excitement is in where we are going and the incredible things that are being created so regularly in our community.

With the quality of innovation and the ever-expanding variety of experiences offered by escape room companies, I certainly do not think we’re looking at a fad. This is not a one-dimensional form of entertainment.

Thank you

Lisa and I started writing about escape rooms when damn near no one in the US had even heard about them and just about every conversation began with an explanation of the concept followed by a defense. “No! It’s not like Saw!”

We wrote about these experiences purely out of passion, when pretty much no one was reading. We’re still shocked that our readership for a single day today is roughly the same as our first 3 months in total. We have been blown away by the intelligence and kindness of our readers. While we would still be writing about escape rooms even if you weren’t reading, having you here makes this journey so much more fun.

We’d also like to extend a special thank you to everyone who has ever done anything at all to support us: from the eagle-eyed readers who point out our typos, to those of you who help keep our map current, and those of you who supported us by buying a t-shirt.

In alphabetical order, we’d like to thank the folks who have gone so far above and beyond that we have been humbled by their support:

Adam, Amanda, Brett, Chris, Clara, Dan, Darren, Drew, Essa, Eva, Jessica, Lindsay, Mason, Melissa, Noam, Noelle, Pá, Patrick, Paula, Rex, Tommy, Trapspringer and we’d be remiss if we left out the Room Escape Divas gang.

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