A guest post by Nick Moran, formerly of Time Run in London, England.
It’s March. I’m in St. Louis, ostensibly for a conference. (It’s Transworld’s Halloween and Attraction’s Show – have you been? If not, you should. It’s crazy. If you like skeletons and pumpkins, then Transworld is your bag: your giant, several hundred thousand square-foot bag).
But, in actuality, I’m just a passenger on the Lisa and David train, which is pulling into countless escape game stops on a whistle stop tour of the area. It’s fun. It’s as if they know how to organize… trips… *cough* Have you booked your place in their New Orleans escape room tour?
After a frantic few hours of playing, we pulled into Escape STL. They’re a little ways out from St. Louis, in a place called Maplewood. The area seems nice, from my limited exposure to it. They’re located near a Bottleworks and, according to Google Maps, something called the Salt Room, which I guess is pretty good news for condiment fans worldwide.
Right, the venue: the lobby is nice and clean, a plush basement in an office complex. We were early so loitered outside the entrance, peering into the office of the company opposite: a business that looked almost disturbingly and performatively normal. Seriously, take a look if you go. It’s weird. Soon, our snooping ended; we were seated around a long table, signing the usual forms and waiting, our anticipation growing.
On the wall there was a sign detailing how Escape STL’s games worked: a five-variable scoring system, which spits out a single figure as the team’s score. A clever idea. Our paperwork completed, a young lad in a great hat began our briefing, in character, of course.
We were investigating the apartment of a suspicious woman with an even more suspicious name: a Miss Treedeath. Murder was afoot. Perhaps even likely. Our objectives were manifold: primary, secondary, and tertiary. I respected the lad, the hat, and the objective structure. It made sense. We were primed.
Now, the name. It’s obviously a pun. You got that; I got that, but there’s a lot in what a name does. A name can set the tone of your experience and can give a hint of how you will and should play. (Did you know Lisa likes names?) And what does a name like a Miss Treedeath say to you? Well, to us it said… cheeky. Not frivolous and not stupid, but definitely mischievous. And let’s be honest, after an afternoon of hectic stops around the St. Louis area, we were already in high spirits and the flamboyant intro had readied us further. We were prepared to play.
Games, at their best, are sandboxes that give space for players to be the most playful versions of themselves. On this particular metric, Investigation of a Miss Treedeath is an unqualified success. As we moved through the noir-tinged mystery, every little detail heightened our mood. The walls were littered with pictures of dead trees. The victims of the perpetrator were executed for imperceptible comic slights. The game had its tongue so firmly in its cheek that it was practically pushing bone.
By the middle of our game we were on the verge of some sort of hysterical breakdown. When one of our teammates posted some postcards in a fit of pique, I thought I would explode. It was clearly a massive error, but still, the game laughed with us, not at us, despite our manifold failings.
By the time we won, Investigation of a Miss Treedeath was already a treasured escape room memory. It was a game that leaned in, hard, that was determined to ensure that players came out grinning. Certainly, it was the highlight of my trip to St. Louis and gets my firm stamp of approval.
Is Investigation of a Miss Treedeath the best game in world history? No.
Is it a really lively experience, one that gets all the fundamentals right and so much more? Definitely. If you’re in the area, check it out. I would. I mean, I did.
Update 6/22/21: If you enjoyed Nick’s guest reaction here, we hope you’ll check out our interview with him on The Reality Escape Pod.