Escapely – Escape the City [Hivemind Review]

Escape the City is a location-based, puzzle-solving experience created by Escapely.

Hand holding an Escapely box and looking down at it as their dog jumps up towards it.


Style of Play:

  • Play on demand
  • Light puzzle hunt

Who is it For?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Newbies
  • Players who want to explore a location while puzzling
  • Local enthusiasts or enthusiastic tourists (who also like puzzles)

Required Equipment: The box, a fully charged mobile device (and perhaps a battery), and comfortable walking shoes. You may also want headphones depending on your location and group size.

Recommended Team Size: 2-4

Play Time: 3 hours

Price: $49

Booking: purchase and play at your leisure


Teams start at a defined city location, then will walk a total of roughly 2 miles to new locations as puzzles are solved. Using items in the box, the real-world objects around you, and a well-designed web interface, you solve puzzles. With each solution, the web interface gives clear instructions to a new location, where you will solve the next puzzle.

Scott Olson’s Reaction

San Francisco, CA

Escape the City by Escapely provides an excellent reason to get out and explore your city or a new one. Game box materials are well made, with clear directions, QR codes for entering solves, and a progressively helpful hint system. Puzzles which would be considered basic in an escape room become more engaging and interesting by using the built-in environment as a main puzzle component.

Open box Escapely box from San Francisco. There is a locked compartment and many files with seismic notation.

Our San Francisco team of 4 players spent 3 hours rebuilding our anti-earthquake device (which I named the Reverse Zorin so criminal masterminds won’t try to destroy Silicon Valley), taking us to accessible locations in a vibrant part of the city. A choice at the denouement enhanced the theme. Most locations had welcome food, beverages, and rest opportunities, creating a well-rounded game and city experience.

Brett Kuehner’s Reaction

New York, NY

  • + Starts with a high-quality physical item in the box as part of the first puzzle
  • – Difficulty level of the initial puzzle is a little higher than the rest, which might discourage some beginner players (but hints are available)
  • ? Overall difficulty level is low-to-medium, which is good if you are a novice or want light puzzling as you walk through the park, but it will not give hardcore puzzlers a satisfying workout
  • + Puzzles were fun and varied, using different mechanics and structures
  • + Solutions were clear and clean, and confirmed via entry on the web page for each puzzle
Screenshot of the Escapely website indicating that a code is close but incorrect.
  • + Uses the environment well; takes you on a tour of Central Park and most puzzles utilize the places and items in the park in some way
  • + One standout segment had a series of puzzles that led us through a maze-like section of Central Park. The puzzles for this section were almost too numerous, but each one had a very quick solve, avoiding tedium
  • + Puzzles and story are specific to the locations, and unique to each city
  • + Very good incremental hinting, starting with a list of the items in play for a puzzle, progressing through gradual nudges to a full solution walkthrough if needed
  • + All audio segments include text transcripts on the same page, for quick review or general accessibility
  • -/+ Many of the puzzle components in the box are on paper cards, but they are high quality stock, well-printed, and have clear and appealing design
  • ? With some care (and some extra paper) the game could be passed along to another group to reuse, but that is clearly not the intent, and a few aspects would suffer slightly
  • + A “No Stairs Please” button offered a bypass for segments that involved walking up or down stairs
  • + Each step includes a photo of the location and a map showing how to get to the next location once you’ve solved the puzzle
  • + The game is polished, with considerable thought put into not only the puzzles but also the accessibility and overall experience
  • + Good enough that I’d consider playing the games designed for other cities if I were visiting them

Cara Mandel’s Reaction

Los Angeles, CA

Escapely’s Escape the City series is a fun concept: A pre-packaged scavenger hunt-style, location-based game with a narrative through-line. I could see this being a fun afternoon activity for a family with younger children or those new to the escape room community. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience and the production quality of the contents of the box was high.

Hand holding an open Escapely box with a map of a puzzle-covered Santa Monica in Santa Monica.

I will, however, note that I encountered a few hiccups worth mentioning. Right off the bat I misinterpreted the first instruction and took off on foot for a long walk to where I thought I was meant to begin the experience. After a frustrating few minutes of confusion upon arrival, I decided to take a hint only to discover that the first step was meant to be accomplished virtually using a map rather than physically going to each spot. That’s partially on me for being unobservant, but also the game could benefit from some clearer cluing overall. The second noteworthy issue was due to the time of day I began the experience. The game website instructs, “START game within this window: 7am – 8pm. Play time is 2-3 hours.” However, I would discourage folks from starting this game any later than mid afternoon as the Santa Monica pier and third street promenade area gets a little sketchy after dark, a fact I became keenly aware of as I wandered around alone on foot after the sun set, rushing to complete the experience while there were still other people present in the area.

That aside, the game was whimsical and I enjoyed some of the puzzle mechanics it employed. Make sure your phone is charged and you have a good data plan as much of the experience will require you to read or view content on mobile via QR codes. I would also encourage you bring a set of headphones to listen to audio as the promenade can be a noisy environment. Have fun investigating!

Hall & Gwinn Family’s Reactions

Chicago, IL

We reviewed the Chicago box, which was focused around the Fulton Market neighborhood. We did the box as a family—two parents, a 15-year-old and an 11-year-old. All in all, we walked somewhere between 1 ½ and 2 miles over the course of a couple hours. It was a hot day and our kids were getting near their limit by the end of the afternoon, but for most people the exertion level should be totally manageable.

Open box Escapely box from Chicago with a high school aesthetic.

Peter’s Reaction (Dad)

The puzzles do a great job of incorporating real-world architectural and design features of the neighborhood. This was not primarily (as our older kid feared) just a simple scavenger hunt: e.g.,“Find this statue. How many fingers is he holding up?” They are actual, legit puzzles.

There’s a pretty wide range of difficulty among the puzzles, mainly regarding how challenging it was to find the real-world element. One puzzle was inside a small business where it was blatantly obvious what the puzzle involved, and then on top of that, the puzzle was simple. Another puzzle involved searching a city block, not really knowing what you were looking for, which was trickier. Most of the puzzles could be easily completed by one person. But overall, the puzzles pack some satisfying aha moments. And if you get stuck, there is a very good hint system to help you out without giving the whole thing away.

Emily’s Reaction (Mom)

This box was caught in an “uncanny valley” between escape room and pub crawl. There was too much walking and too much story to be a beat-the-clock challenge, but there wasn’t enough content to justify stopping to patronize every business on the path.

This box came with a story (working your way through suspects to solve a crime). This story involved way too much text. Before and after every puzzle, we were expected to read long pages of story—this was usually Peter, reading to us off his phone, while standing outside on a street corner. Given the nature of the activity, this is probably better as a date activity. 4 people huddled around a phone (especially for the video elements) was just too many people.

On the plus side, every bartender, bouncer, hostess, etc. that we talked to knew about the boxes. We received multiple knowing versions of, “Oh, you guys are doing the puzzles? Have fun!” And they were more than willing to point us in the right direction, if we needed it. Even more surprising was the creators’ haughty disregard for the amount of turnover in the restaurant industry! If this concept interests you, I would do it sooner rather than later, just to be safe.

Teen Reaction

Mediocre puzzles, not enough hands-on stuff, and so much walkinggggggggggg. Also, it kinda defeats the purpose of going to all these different local bars and such when you can’t drink alcohol. 4/10 (my own made up scale) and +1 point because I ate a [redacted for spoilers] and it was tasty.

Tween Reaction

Overall, it was a fun puzzle box that was a cool way to see parts of Chicago. The puzzles are not too complex, and were good for people who are just beginning their escape room journey. I would recommend this if you like puzzles and walking. I’d do another one–but only if it was a cool city.

Disclosure: Escapely provided the Hivemind reviewers with a complimentary play.

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