In mid-November 2021 Room Escape Artist hosted an Escape Immerse Explore tour to The Hayden Farm at 13th Hour Escape Rooms in Wharton, NJ. Based on my experiences on previous tours, I purchased a ticket without knowing very much about 13th Hour or what to expect from their escape games.
On October evenings and weekends when the haunted house next door is operating (sometimes including Christmas & Valentine’s Day), the escape rooms have an added twist: actors. The actors roam the escape rooms providing character, hints, and the occasional jump scare. They are also the gamemasters. The actors take on the personas of the different members of the Hayden family, a clan of murderers who use the tricks and traps installed into the different rooms of their old farmhouse to capture their next victims.
Room Escape Artist was able to pull some strings and bring the actors back in for our post-Halloween visit. This was the best example of in-room actors-as-gamemasters that I have ever seen. Days afterward I was still marveling about how impressive they were.
How It Works
On the day we visited The Hayden Farm, 4 or 5 escape rooms were running at all times. These games were serviced by 4 in-character actors (in complete haunt style costume and makeup) along with a 5th team member in the control room. The actors were free to roam the entire facility as needed. They would periodically visit each game individually or as a group. They would interact with the players and each other, adding story, comedy, scares and hints to the games.
Playing Both Sides
The motivation for the fictional Hayden family members is to have you fail the game and therefore be trapped in their house where you will meet an end of their choosing.
I was fascinated by how clearly this storyline came through, while they made sure each team escaped in just enough time. For slower teams, they gave just enough hints to keep them progressing. For teams moving quickly, they’d playfully sabotage, but always to just the right extent so that the players escaped on time and the actor could then play up their disappointment at having to eat spaghetti for dinner again instead of dining on the flesh of their victims.
Their knowledge of all the games allowed them to provide in-character hints that didn’t feel like hints. They used dialog and physical acting to clue players towards important information.
Connecting With Players
Since we were playing multiple games on the same day, the characters became familiar to us, and we to them. Ongoing jokes, nicknames and running gags added so much fun to our visit.
One frustration I experienced as a player was that due to the building design there can be some sound bleed between rooms, but it works in the story world because the setting is a single farmhouse with multiple rooms. Our actors used this to their advantage to both understand what was happening in other games and to communicate with each other to help facilitate their visits to each team. Hearing the characters screaming and arguing with each other throughout the house was both spooky and believable.
Hear It From Tour Attendees
Here are some comments about the actors from other tour participants:
“It’s really an incredible skill that they have to be creepy, sweet, funny, kind, and cutting all at the same time – and also be great gamemasters.”
“They seemed to strike the perfect balance between leaving us alone and giving us help, and they were always there to help us cross the finish line which was really appreciated.”
“Live, in-person hinting can already be tricky, so to do it through multiples rooms running simultaneously, while staying in character is #chef’s kiss”
“There seemed to be musical or sound clues they responded to. For example, the “daughter” was with us in the parlor and ran off quickly when she heard a song play in another room. Likewise, they all showed up when a music cue went off in the parlor.“
“The performers were terrific! They did a great job balancing messing with us and giving us hints, and kept us laughing the whole time.”
“I thought the actors were wonderful. They heightened the immersion and brought the games to life in a thrilling but campy way. They walked a fine line between scary and humorous and made the experience wickedly fun!”
Consider Escape Immerse Explore
My experience at The Hayden Farm was surprising and wonderful. An EIE tour once again went above and beyond what I was expecting. It introduced me to a style of gamemastering that will be hard to top.
The service that Room Escape Artist is providing by running these tours is quite remarkable. Escape room players from all over are able to gather and experience some of the best games and the most interesting styles and techniques on the market today. The tours also provide a means of connection and community-building that is important for our industry. I encourage everyone to keep their eyes peeled for announcements about future Escape Immerse Explore tours from Room Escape Artist.
If you want to make sure you’re informed when the 2022 tours are announced, contact REA and note your interest in future tours.