2023 Golden Lock Awards

The Room Escape Artist team is excited to announce the 2023 Golden Lock Award Winners.

Since 2015, we’ve bestowed the Golden Lock Award annually to honor our favorite experiences that we played and reviewed that year.

This year’s winners primarily highlight North America, extending from coast to coast. However, we are also thrilled to include winners from Matthew’s trip to Israel.

2023 Golden Lock Award Ribbon beside text that reads, "25 Escape Games You Must Play! ... and 4 You Can't"

Categories

For 2023, we are including a new category for escape game events. We’re honoring experiences from this year, as well as bestowing legacy awards to a handful of outstanding events from years past. You can’t play them anymore, but we wish you could!

In 2022, we added a new category for tabletop escape games, and we’ll be recognizing winners in that category again this year.

Finally, we have the main event: real-life escape games!

Of note, in 2020, we introduced a new category for online escape games. Although we aren’t recognizing any winners in that category this year, we expect that the online category may return in a future year, as we know creatively continues in the online medium.

Rules

  1. We established no arbitrary minimum or maximum number of games that could win the award.
  2. A company could only win once per year, per category.
  3. A REA reviewer had to play the game between 4/1/22 — 3/31/23.
  4. To be eligible for the “Real-Life” category, we had to visit the venue in person to play and review the game this year.

As we did in 2022, all the REA reviewers nominated their favorite games for the award. It was a team effort to coalesce around the winners.

2023 Golden Lock Award Winners

Category: Events

Listed chronologically in the order that we published the reviews:

Club Drosselmeyer

Green Door Labs – Boston, Massachusetts

The Drosselmeyer big band on the beautiful guilded stage with a couple dancing in front of them.

This reimagining of The Nutcracker as a World War II-era techno-conspiracy blended swing dance, immersive theater, puzzles, music, and costumes into a magical evening. Since its inception, Club Drosselmeyer has been our holiday tradition. It felt like it was made for us.

The Order of the Golden Scribe

Patchwork Adventures – New York, New York

Lisa and Neil Patrick Harris solving a jigsaw puzzle during tea time.

We were being inducted into a secret society over tea. With each passing course – unlocked through elegant puzzles – the characters and their relationships grew increasingly complex and intriguing. The Order of the Golden Scribe pulled a number of simple components into a beautiful whole.

Category: Legacy Events

Listed chronologically in the order that we published the reviews:

Escape From Godot

Mister and Mischief – Los Angeles, California

In-game: Three actors performing a scene. One actor looks very surprised.
Photo credit: Anne Rene Brashier

Escape From Godot originated at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2018, and it felt like an actor’s nightmare in the best possible way. It was a trailblazer in mixing escape room gameplay with immersive theater, and the actors wowed us with their ability to guide the players while delivering their lines.

The Summons

Seven Forces – Cincinnati, Ohio

In-game: View of the room from the stage with 8 different tables, and a balcony full of seats above.

Set in an imposingly beautiful Masonic Temple in downtown Cincinnati in 2018, The Summons was ahead of its time and its market. The NPC and inter-team dynamics were constantly shifting and the more we gave, the more we earned. The whole experience was energizing.

The Privilege of Escape

Risa Puno & Creative Time – New York, New York

In-game: a large black 20 sided sculpture.
Image via Creative Time

In 2019, The Privilege of Escape used the escape room medium to explore societal struggles, artfully and organically delivering its message through gameplay. Playing The Privilege of Escape was thought-provoking. It pushed the boundaries of what the escape room medium is capable of.

The Last Defender

Nathan Allen, Sandor Weisz, & Lee Keenan – Denver, Colorado

In-game: 3 players in orange flightsuits working at the Operations cabinet.
Image via The Last Defender

With runs in Chicago and Denver between 2016 and 2019, The Last Defender blended story with truly challenging puzzles. In this intense and dark scenario, we had agency and our actions mattered. The unique gamemastering and moments of levity brought our group together and balanced the experience.

Category: Tabletop

Listed chronologically in the order that we published the reviews:

Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery

Trapped Puzzle Rooms

A stack of suspect files featuring mugshots of illustrated dogs, with Julia Dripping and Richard Ruffington at the top

With its clever construction and whimsical design, Ruff Bluff stands out from the pack of play-at-home puzzle games. It’s equally sophisticated and fun-filled, with a thoughtfully refined game flow framed by a wholesome whodunit in an amusing setting. And if you like dog puns, all the better.

The Shivers

Pop Fiction Games

Pop up of a victorian parlor with pop up furniture and characters investigating.

The Shivers is a beautifully designed pop-up mystery board game. Between the modular room setup, multiple playable episodes, and the ability to design your own campaigns, it provides many hours of adventure and challenge. You can even play as a little black cat! What more could you ask for?

Category: Real-Life

Listed chronologically in the order that we played them:

Dragon’s Song

Casa Loma Escape Series by Secret City Adventures – Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Closeup of a massive dragon's head.

Spanning 4 floors in the turret of a historic castle, Dragon’s Song was a grand performer-led fantasy adventure complete with puzzles. This all melded together into something epic, more than the sum of its individual parts.

The Extraction

Crypto Escape Rooms – Newmarket, Ontario, Canada

A long corridor that looks like a cross between a sewer and a machine with various wheels and switches.

With Extraction, Crypto Escape Rooms created another game in their signature style, blending story with beautiful sets and invisible tech. In a memorable reveal, we encountered an unexpected plot twist – and characters who emerged within – all of which captivated us.

Hollywood 117

Hype Esc – Tel Aviv, Israel

An old western bank beside a water tower.

Hollywood 117 was a fantastical patchwork of delight, nostalgia, and magical moments. Hype Esc’s creation was so clearly a labor of love, with an abundance of “cool for the sake of being cool” props and interactions that guided our adventure through childhood cinematic highlights.

The Intervention

Escape Center – Rishon LeTsiyon, Israel

A very well stoked, dramatically lit bar.

The Intervention told a legendary tale that smartly took advantage of the escape room medium on multiple levels. Whether you are a Barney Stinson aficionado or have never before seen the show, this room’s story was cohesive and self-contained. With perhaps the most elaborate and polished set in all of Israel, Escape Center equally delivered on gameplay and narrative-driven moments

The Vikings

Escape Sign – Petah Tikvah, Israel

A horn beside a bottle of liquid soap at an archeological dig.

The Vikings was one of the only actor-driven escape rooms in Israel — and it was truly sublime. Escape Sign’s surreal cinematic encounter on an impressively handcrafted set piece still stands out as one of my most vivid escape room memories of all time.

Robin Hood

Action Game – Kfar Saba, Israel

Two knights holding crossed poleaxes, guarding a castle door.

Robin Hood was equal parts charm, polish, and adventure. From the moment we entered Action Game’s Sherwood Forest to our eventual escape from the castle, we were immersed in a world of feel-good puzzles, fantastic doorways, and memorable characters.

The Sting

The Maze – Petah Tikva, Israel

A kitchenette in an escape room.

The Sting is truly an escape room for escape room enthusiasts. The theme is one which I’ve long dreamed of but which seemed impractical, and yet the creators at The Maze managed to pull it off in a way that reasonably plays to a general audience and not just as an inside joke for escape room enthusiasts.

The Body Shop

Red Fox Escapes – Cambridge, Massachusetts

A body shop interior with a motorcycle being worked on.

Red Fox Escapes surprised and delighted us by purchasing a one-of-a-kind game, and elevating it, adding depth, clarity, and extra humor to The Body Shop’s dark comedy.

40 Thieves

Mind Trap Escape Room – Temecula, California

An Arabian bazaar with various vendor carts.

With absolutely exquisite decor, smooth puzzle flow, and a lovely story, 40 Thieves shined in every way. This truly felt like an adventure in another world, and 40 Thieves is an industry-leading example for immersive and fun gameplay.

The Weeping Witch

Cross Roads Escape Games – Anaheim, California

A seance parlor with 5 people standing around a table looking upwards with wonder in their eyes.
Image via Cross Roads Escape Games

Cross Roads Escape Games created a game where safe spaces to puzzle blended seamlessly with horrifying actor-driven interactions. The Weeping Witch showcased that you don’t have to choose between puzzles and horror; you can have both in an incredibly strong experience.

Headcase

Breaking Point Escape Rooms – Rancho Cucamonga, California

A beat up, old, dentists chair beside a tray with medical equipment and a bag of blood on a pole.
Image via Breaking Point Escape Rooms

In Headcase, Breaking Point Escape Rooms used well-produced video to set the scene, integrated it in a novel fashion within the experience, and then relied on it again to tie off the conclusion. In addition, the nonlinear set-based collaborative gameplay shined from start to finish.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

13th Hour Escape Rooms – Wharton, New Jersey

A black & white front porch of an old farmhouse.

13th Hour Escape Rooms transported us to Oz. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a magical recreation of one of the 20th century’s most iconic stories. And we’re excited to tell you to follow the yellow brick road to Wharton NJ.

Dream Walkers

Cabinet Mysteriis – Québec City, Québec, Canada

A child's bedroom with a yellow bed, bookshelf with toys, a blankey, and a book.
Image via Cabinet Mysteriis

In Dream Walkers, Cabinet Mysteriis cast us into the fantastical nightmares of a young girl and explored the creativity and absurdity of the dream world. It moved us from scene to unlikely scene adeptly, as dreams do.

Abstraction

Eliviascape – Québec City, Québec, Canada

An old, worn sign for CHDQ Hospital. It looks dingy.
Image via Eliviascape

A haunting blend of narrative and gameplay, with each transition Abstraction pulled us into its world. And the late-game interactions were as brilliant as they were novel. Eliviascape has created one of finest escape games in North America.

Chapter 1: Room 303

303 Escape – Thornton, Colorado

An old, rundown hotel room with antique furniture, a twin bed, and stained plaster walls.

From the lobby to the hallway to both of their games, 303 Escape presented a singular game world. Chapter 1: Room 303 especially pulled us into that world with exceptional environmental design and crafty interactions. And with an added dash of humor, this murder hotel stood out.

Hide & Seek

The Escape Warehouse – Ponchatoula, Louisiana

A large chair in a living room, beyond it is a wall that has the words, "You can't hide" written repeatedly on it.
Image via The Escape Warehouse

As a new company, Escape Warehouse opened its doors with a bang. Their creepy first experience explored physical space and ultimately tied off by creatively fulfilling the promise of the title, Hide & Seek.

Disappearance of Flight 13

13th Gate Escape – Baton Rouge, Louisiana

View into the cockpit of an airliner. The space is lit dimly red.
Image via 13th Gate Escape.

A stylistic departure from 13th Gate Escape’s previous games, Disappearance of Flight 13 leaned more heavily into story, taking us on a trip to the unexpected and landing in a surprising destination. The realistic aircraft set didn’t hurt either.

Neighborhood Watcher

The Escape Ventures – Orlando, Florida

A wood-paneled attic room in an 80s house. The walls have band posters.

In Neighborhood Watcher we were lured into a situation that perfectly straddled humor and intensity. The Escape Ventures used a talented performer to produce unique and exciting moments; these interactions moved us through the story and made the game really special.

Possession at Haddon Heights

The Bureau – Orlando, Florida

A hand holding a flashlight to a the RAM logo of Haddon Heights Elementary School painted on a brick wall.

With a unique approach to soundscape, The Bureau got into our heads and convinced us that we were in a haunted elementary school. Possession at Haddon Heights’ dark and foreboding vibe blended with the weathered set to do the theme justice. Plus, the novel interactions delighted us.

Pins & Needles Tattoo Parlor

The Exit Games FL – Clearwater, Florida

A sculpture of a gorilla wearing a crown beside a wooden hand covered in tattoos raising its middle finger.

Pins & Needles Tattoo Parlor was the most hyped game we played this year… and the hype was well deserved. We were captivated from the introduction through each set change and story beat. The Exit Games FL inked this game into our memories with 2 especially thrilling scenes.

Madness 1917

Doors of Divergence – Brooklyn, New York

A long, decaying hallway in a rundown asylum.

Doors of Divergence lived up to their name: the decisions we made in their first game set the scene for Madness 1917. Through a blend of performance, practical effects, and puzzles, we chose our own chilling outcome. We’re excited to play this escape room again and see what madness another path delivers.

Congratulations to the
2023 Golden Lock Award Winners!

Past Golden Lock Awards

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