One Before – Shpola Ziede Room [Review]

Puzzler on the Roof.

Location:  Brooklyn, NY

Date Played: March 31, 2019

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Shpola Ziede Room told a complex story of the immigrant experience. The story was Jewish, but the themes would resonate with Americans of many backgrounds. We believe that escape rooms are a storytelling medium and that by interacting and solving, players can connect more deeply with themes and stories. One Before was striving for a lofty goal.

In-game: A wooden menorah on a table in a cabin.

Unfortunately, in telling their story, One Before overlooked some critical aspects of game design: The puzzles lacked clue structure. The puzzles didn’t necessarily work as intended. Much of the tech was finicky.

Puzzle design and gameplay are fixable. Shpola Ziede Room offered something more than that. We hope One Before can continue to iterate on the gameplay and smooth out their immigrant experience escape room so that it enables players to take in the story through play and not be bogged down with frustrating solves.

One other thing that I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention was how the handling of female characters felt uncomfortable, like something was lost in cultural translation.

If you’re looking for a Jewish escape room, or an immigrant experience escape room, or simply something unorthodox, and you can overlook the stumbles in gameplay, we encourage you to journey deep into Brooklyn to visit One Before.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A cultural experience
  • An unusual escape room theme and story

Story

We began our story at Ellis Island, piecing together the lineage of the Polonsky family and their journey from Europe to America. Then we were visited by the spirit of the legendary rabbi and mystic, the Shpola Ziede.

In-game: suitcases in Ellis Island.

Setting

The Shpola Ziede Room opened in a bureaucratic office on Ellis Island. There wasn’t a ton going on in this space, but it did have that Ellis Island feel.

The late-game took us to Ukraine in the 1700s. Once again, it wasn’t the most ambitious set, but it had a unique look and what felt like the correct vibe for the time and place.

In-game: A partially completed family tree that looks like a tree.

Gameplay

One Before’s Shpola Ziede Room was a standard escape room with a Jewish theme and a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ One Before told a cultural story with the Shpola Ziede Room. Escape rooms are a medium with immense storytelling potential. We liked the unusual story and how players could experience it through gameplay.

➖ The storytelling was bogged down in text. While there were some more interactive moments (and these were the best moments!), much of the story and the puzzles required a lot of reading.

➕ One Before had added set details that made an office-y space feel more engaging than a run-of-the-mill office. The walls and choice of colors gave it an Ellis Island-y feel.

➖ The second act of Shpola Ziede Room was dimly lit. This made it extra challenging to solve puzzles, especially given the amount of text to read. Because we didn’t feel that the darkness enhanced the storytelling, it only added frustration.

➖ The early gameplay bottlenecked severely.

➖ One layered puzzle lacked clue structure. This puzzle involved significant written text, and when combined with incomplete cluing, it was especially frustrating to work through.

➖ There was a long audio clue sequence that included both story and cluing. Once over, the clues within could not be re-triggered later.

➕ We especially enjoyed one action, a cultural touchpoint, and a concept that worked well for an escape room puzzle. This moment was unique and culturally relevant.

➖ One tech-driven puzzle didn’t work well; it seemed broken and felt unintuitive. It was also supposed to be solved by trial and error. The combination of an entirely unclued solve with a finicky and poorly responsive interface forced a lot of wait time. It wasn’t fun to solve.

Shpola Ziede Room addressed immigration. This theme, central to the Jewish experience, can have broad appeal to escape room players of many backgrounds. We respect One Before for building a story that will be both intimately familiar to Jewish players and thematically accessible to those of other backgrounds.

➖ One Before aimed to target a general audience, but Shpola Ziede Room assumed knowledge that would be considered outside knowledge for a general American audience. One such example of this is the knowledge that Hebrew is read right to left. (Players do not need to read any Hebrew.)

Shpola Ziede Room’s handling of female characters was… uncomfortable. When exploring the Polonsky family tree, women were essentially ignored. The puzzle that involved evaluating women to make a marital match came across as demeaning. I don’t think that this was intentional. Nevertheless our entire team (2 men and 2 women) felt the same way. If One Before is serious about reaching an audience beyond the religious Jewish community, reshaping this section would be an important step.

➕One Before has a gallery space in their facility. They have partnered with a local Jewish artist and they display her work in their party/ conference room. We love this idea and how the business is engaged with the community’s culture beyond the escape room.

A painting of a Cossack and a bear in a dance off.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking in the neighborhood.
  • Take the Q to Avenue M.
  • You do not need to be Jewish to play this escape room.

Book your hour with One Before’s Shpola Ziede Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: One Before comped our tickets for this game.

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