Houdini’s Room Escape – Oval Office [Review]

Hail to the Chief

Location:  Cincinnati, Ohio

Date Played:  December 28, 2018

Team size: 2-16; we recommend 4-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit: Yes

REA Reaction

Ever since we played this game, I’ve been pulling my phone out to show photos of the set to friends. It was absolutely amazing. For me, it was worth the price of admission simply to spend an hour in Houdini’s Room Escape’s recreation of the Oval Office. I deeply regret that I didn’t take a picture of myself pensively peering out the window.

In-game: The President's desk, and the seal of the President at Seal of the President.

From a gameplay standpoint, Oval Office was a traditional puzzle room with themed puzzles added into the set. Few puzzles felt deeply ingrained in either the environment or the story. In short, the gameplay felt dated.

Regardless of experience level, if you’re near Cincinnati, Oval Office is a must-play, if only for the novelty and craftsmanship that went into building the space.

That said, if you’re a newbie, I’d recommend playing at least one or two other escape rooms before tackling Oval Office. Afford yourself some comfort with the escape game format so that you can spend more time enjoying the space itself.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Presidential history buffs
  • Anyone who wants a picture of themselves sitting in the Oval Office
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The room is a faithful recreation of the Oval Office.
  • Large volume of puzzles
  • That room. Seriously!

Story

While on a tour of the White House, we had wandered off from the group and found ourselves in the Oval Office. It was really cool until someone accidentally hit the President’s silent alarm and sealed off the office. We had to find our way out before the Secret Service found their way in.

In-game: George Washington's portrait over the Oval Office's mantle.

Setting

Oval Office looked like the Oval Office. This set was gorgeous.

The room was round. The rug, couches, desk, chair, windows… it all looked like the Oval Office.

While the room completely avoided modern political references, Oval Office had a number of iconic references to past presidents, most notably, Ronald Reagan’s jellybean jar and Harry Truman’s “The BUCK STOPS here!” sign.

In-game: President Truman's "The BUCK STOPS here!" sign on the President's desk.

Gameplay

Houdini’s Room Escape’s Oval Office was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a jar of jelly beans on the President's desk.

Analysis

➕ The set was phenomenal. Houdini’s Room Escape had faithfully recreated the Oval Office in their facility. It was oval, first and foremost, and sizable. It looked a lot like the real thing. The staging was impressive.

➕ Houdini’s Room Escape took advantage of the room’s unique layout. Oval Office hid its secrets… as one would expect. These reveals were the best moments of the escape room.

In-game: A 60 minute timer screen beside the windows and doors of the Oval Office.

➕ The gameplay was structured such that everyone could get involved early on and become familiar with the gamespace. Oval Office onboarded players well.

➕ Houdini’s Room Escape packed a lot of puzzle content into Oval Office.  There was a lot of gameplay in this exquisite room.

➖ Oval Office contained one puzzle that didn’t work well and wasn’t easy to access. Houdini’s Room Escape had attempted to make this one easier, but that change wasn’t clued, and instead left us awkwardly struggling to set this thing correctly… until the gamemaster bypassed it for us, which they do a lot, it seems. (The bypass was truly appreciated.)

In-game: Close up of George Washington's portrait.

➕ Houdini’s Room Escape added detail to the props and clue structure – through weathering and choice of materials – that made them feel more natural in the space. The set and props were lovingly crafted and presidentially themed. The hint system fit the space as well.

➖ For the most part, the gameplay felt tacked on to the room. The puzzles were in the props rather than the room itself. Although thematic, they weren’t integrated into our story or any one cohesive reason. It felt like playing a themed escape room on a grand stage rather than experiencing an escape from that stage.

In-game: The President's desk in a surprisingly accurate replica of the Oval Office.

➖ We had a frustrating playthrough with a bad reset that led to at least one fully bypassed puzzle and a lot of other confusion. Given the volume of content in this game, a reset issue was especially detrimental to our experience.

➕ The Oval Office was not non-partisan and not political. The design leaned into history. It was exciting to spend an hour in Oval Office.

Tips For Visiting

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

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

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

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