In April of 2020 we introduced the REA Hivemind as a pilot to cover the many new games available from all over the world for online play.
David and I have always sought to meet other escape room players on our travels. As much as we love playing these games, we also enjoy grabbing a meal or a drink with our teammates afterward and reflecting on our experiences.
We have a shelf full of notebooks dedicated to these amazing conversations.
For us, one of the joys of 2020 has been unpacking escape rooms and how to write about them with the REA Hivemind, an incredible group of players, thinkers, and writers.
If the Hivemind demonstrates one fundamental truth about experience design, it’s that there’s no accounting for taste.
Experiences can certainly be objectively better or worse in different ways, but individual enjoyment is a product of many other factors. It’s about the team, the theme, the types of puzzles, the avatar or game host… and so much more.
Room Escape Artist has always avoided publishing escape room rankings because we don’t expect to ever find a “best” escape room. We aren’t looking for one.
Rather, we seek outstanding experiences that we enjoy, and that we think others will too. We operate in shades of gray. When we recommend escape games, we think about what type of person or player the game is for.
About The Star Ratings
The Hivemind reviews of digital experiences include a star rating. While the symbol is a star, this scale is not a classic 3-level system. The reviewers consider each experience in the context of a pandemic, where they are not leaving their homes regularly for in-person entertainment venues. They “rate” the games based on whether the experience was worth the money and time they invested in it.
We present this as star ratings, but the stars are tied to distinct meanings.
This type of “rating” leads to qualifying statements from the reviewers in their reactions. For example, in Locurio’s The Vanishing Act Remote, one reviewer notes in a 2-star rating that “there were definitely a few minutes of it here in the form of large set pieces and audio interactions that I would have loved to explore/ experience for myself in person.”
The ratings are more nuanced than the iconography might lead you to believe. I encourage you to not just scan the stars, but to read the reactions and get to know the perspectives of the different reviewers.
Our favorite pieces demonstrate the new opportunities available with a larger team of writers. These reviews take advantage of their diverse backgrounds, different perspectives, and immense creativity:
Read how 4 writers with different levels of puzzle hunt experience all enjoyed Boxaroo’s Colby’s Curious Cookoff in different ways.
In our review of Emergency Exit’s Exorcist one writer chooses to depart from a standard reaction in favor of more in-depth commentary on a specific aspect of the experience design, knowing the others will cover what he leaves out.
Sometimes one person can enjoy an experience so much that they write “This game made me want to go back and play their first one, and I am excited for the third installment!” and another can decide they don’t even want to see it through, writing “When it came to a large puzzle requiring extensive swiping action, I actually lost interest in finishing the game.” Such was the case with co-decode’s Oldervik Online: Chapter 2 Operative Onboard.
We love the unorthodox review style from the final writer contributing to Project Avatar’s First Mission, something she was able to put together with the help of her Hivemind teammates.
Meet the Writers
There are 16 Hivemind writers. They are mostly based around the US, with one person in Switzerland.
On the REA Contributor Page, you can find bios for all the Hivemind writers, in addition to bios for folks who work on other REA projects such as RECON.
How do you choose which games the Hivemind plays?
We look for games that are likely to be doing something interesting with the online format. We are most interested in games that are deliberately designed for or adapted to online gameplay, and are making the most of the medium.
We also take requests from the Hivemind reviewers, REA readers, and creators who reach out to us asking us to review their games.
Since online games are not geographically locked, we try to play games from different parts of the world, including countries we are unlikely to visit in person.
We continue to look for games from new creators and balance this with returning to new games from creators whose work we’ve previously enjoyed.
How do you choose who reviews each game?
The writers self-select into the games they want to review. They choose whether they want to take a chance on a game that might not be their style or want to stick to games they think they’ll most enjoy. Their self-selection into games is also heavily based on their availability at any given time.
Why do I see David’s perspective in the hivemind reviews, but not Lisa’s?
I’m the editor. This whole endeavor has me all over it. I turn each collection of individual reactions into a cohesive piece that I feel best represents the experiences. I also organize the games, communicate with the companies, and work with the reviewers when there are writing questions.
How do I find the reviews my favorite writer has contributed to?
The next step for us is to make sure that each byline links back to the writer’s tag. This isn’t ready yet, but we’re going to get to it soon. Stay tuned.
I just created a digital escape game! Will the Hivemind Review it?
Contact us with more information about your game. Please include the name of your game and your company, and a link to the complete information about the game (type of game, expected play time, cost, availability, etc).
Please do not ask us to review a “mostly finished” game. Your game should be fully playtested and available for general booking before you reach out.
Will the Hivemind review non-digital experiences?
We’ve started branching out with Hivemind reviews of tabletop escape games such as Box One. We’re exploring other content types as well. As the world changes, and the games change, we’ll continue to adapt the Hivemind to fit the needs of the industry.